“The New Status Symbol”: Home Interiors Open To the Public Gaze:

What’s the purpose of curtains? The American novelist and socialite, Edith Wharton, once described them as “a necessary evil” used in badly designed homes. Most decorating companies, of course, tend to disagree and instead extol their virtues.In the opinion of “Furnishing Tips.com”, among the main advantages of curtains is that they control the amount of sunlight entering a room, significantly reduce airborne dust and external noise levels as well as providing insulation for the windows, hence lowering the cost of utility bills.

Perhaps most important of all, they contend, is that even those made with lightweight material enable the occupants to enjoy the view but simultaneously minimize the ability for someone to see in from the outside. The wall-covering specialists Wallhub.com likewise depict them as offering a sense of protection, security, privacy and a restriction on unwelcome “prying glares”.

However, it appears that the well-off sector of US society, unlike Wall-Hub, doesn’t feel the need to have a barrier between themselves and the outside world. On the contrary, as the Atlantic magazine correspondent, Michael Walters, reported on 22nd January, many rich people there now don’t cover their windows at all. If you walk round a wealthy neighbourhood at night, he observes, you might be surprised by how much you can see, perhaps a large flatscreen TV, a curved couch, a marble kitchen or a chandelier: “Of course (he acknowledges) some of the curtains are closed – but many are flung open, the home’s interiors exposed, like you’re peering into a showroom”

Walters was citing the results of a US government study showing that Americans who earn $150,000 pa (about £120,000) are twice as likely to leave their windows uncovered as those earning up to $29,000 (£23,000).

The Evening Standard contributor Prudence Ivey and her CNN counterpart Katja Brokke, have both pointed out that this isn’t “just a US phenomenon”. Many people in Holland, for example, either don’t have curtains or blinds and even if they do, never close them. According to Brokke, the Dutch themselves don’t consider this unusual: “It’s so interwoven in their culture that researchers have struggled to figure out why people in the Netherlands care so little about their privacy”.

The British, by contrast, have a reputation for being “generally quite private in their nature”. At least, that’s what the Expactica online guidance resource tells prospective visitors to the UK. This doesn’t, however, quite correlate with statistics from a survey conducted by the Burton Roofing company and highlighted by the Flux magazine contributor, Alexa Wang. This indicates that almost third of residents in Britain don’t close their downstairs curtains at night and that more than 60% of those aged over 65 don’t bother to do so even when they’re changing their clothes.

Brian Davenport, the owner of “The Solar Centre” has warned that this could pose a definite security risk, as it enables potential burglars not only to see whether there are valuable objects inside worth stealing but also to check the layout and best entry points to the property.

The Burton investigation has additionally revealed that 80% of people in the UK, when walking around their local area, will look through the windows of houses they are passing if the curtains are open. That’s because “we love to see how other people live and how this compares to us”. Nevertheless, the more traditional way of following what’s happening in the street outside has long been to indulge in “curtain twitching”, peeping through them (especially the ones made of net) without being seen oneself.

Research commissioned by Swift Direct Blinds has discovered that, for “tactical reconnaissance purposes”, nearly a third of “nosey neighbours” look through the same window in their home each time, while six out of ten prefer to switch windows to get a better view of the action. For some of them, Olivia Heath, a lifestyle columnist for Housebeautiful.com has noted, this doesn’t completely satisfy their curiosity, so 27% will turn down their TV or radio, open a window (21%) or put their ear to the adjoining wall (11%) to better hear an argument going on next door,15% will peek over the garden fence or pretend to be watering their plants to find out who’s visiting and 9% will use any possible excuse (for example, taking over a parcel that’s been left with them) to see inside the other house.

Furthermore, it seems that 35% would consider carrying out home improvements, such as renovating their kitchen, to keep up with their neighbours and to ensure that the value of their property doesn’t fall behind theirs. The residents in Cardiff, Wales, have been classified by Anglian Home Improvements as Britain’s nosiest neighbours, followed by Norwich, Nottingham, Liverpool, Sheffield, Plymouth, Newcastle and Brighton.

The Daily Mail journalist, Mario Ledwith, has asserted that a third of the UK population is now using the internet to “snoop” on those living closest to them – in effect, that “curtain twitching” has gone online.

 

Filed under: Society | Posted on February 15th, 2024 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

Stolen Goods For Sale: The (Almost) Unknown Police Service:

Have you ever wondered what the police do with all the lost property that’s handed in and the items they’ve seized from thieves if they can’t return them to the owner?” The answer, as Hannah Wílliams, a contributor to savethestudent,org, pointed out on 23rd December, is that they sell them for economical prices at police auctions, so if you know where to look, you can obtain great bargains. And the best part of this, she adds, is that not many people even know about it.

The other disposal options available to the police under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 are either to use it for training purposes, donate it to charity or destroy it. As Karen Jaundrill, a Detective Sergeant with the Financial Investigation Unit, emphasised to the Manchester Evening News, any money they manage to raise from sales goes either to good causes, victims of crime, or is reinvested in funding local police initiatives.

However, before any item recovered from criminals can be transferred to the “Evidential Property Services” (EPS) for auctioning purposes, the Investigating Officer in charge of the case or a senior supervisor (SIO) needs to be completely sure that it won’t be required in court as part of the evidence for the prosecution.

The way the system works is that if a member of the public discovers an apparently mislaid object in the street (for example, a wallet) and gives it to the police, they’re entitled (if they want it) to get it back if it hasn’t been claimed by the rightful owner within two months, but must then retain it for at least a year after it was first found.

The “Money Magpie” correspondent Jasmine Birtles and her counterpart with the “Next Generation Investor”, Angeline Mbogo, have both provided comprehensive step-by-step guidance as to how to access and make a profit from government and police auctions. As they note, these are organised separately by each individual local police station, so only they can provide up-to-date information, either in person or on their website, when and where the next one will take place.

Many of them use trusted auctioneers located in their areas: For instance, the east London auction house Frank G Bowen Ltd acts on behalf of the City of London Police and likewise Hartleys in Liverpool L6 for the Merseyside constabulary. However, anyone purchasing an article in this way must also pay the auctioneer a buyer’s premium of up to 20% plus VAT on top of the initial selling price.

Unsurprisngly, as “moneysavingsexpert.com” has pointed out, the most common categories of items available are the ones most usually retrieved from robberies – watches, cameras, jewellery and mobile phones – but can also include toys, books, clothing, shoes, household utensils, antiques, sculptures, purses and even pet supplies. Some police forces specialise in the articles they put up for sale: In Warwickshire, it’s mainly prams, ladies and children’s cycles, CDs, DVDs and videos, whereas in the West Midlands it’s electrical goods, tools and gardening equipment.

Birtles and Mbogo particularly recommend Bumblebee Auctions.co.uk, as “a great place to start”. They portray it as a cheaper though less user-friendly version of eBay, but to register on it and then start bidding it’s necessary first to set up an e-money account with Nochex, (for a £2 administrative fee) which is the only payment system Bumblebee will accept. If your bid for a product is successful, you then have to inform the local police station when you’ll be collecting it, with advance notice of at least 48 hours usually required.

{British Military Surplus: Army Clothing & Boots}.

Birtles observes that not only is it not uncommon to find bikes worth £300 at Bumblebee for only £20 but it’s also sometimes even possible to acquire cars there for very little cost, albeit they tend to be in fairly poor condition. However, “if you fancy putting in some work and cleaning a vehicle up, you could make a real profit when selling it on to someone else”.

Anyone hoping to procure army clothing and equipment discarded by the Ministry of Defence (MOD) such as combat boots, ceremonial tunics and regimental towels, however, is more likely to locate them on the British Military Surplus  website rather than at police auctions.

The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DLA) conducts frequent auctions around the United Kingdom at which motorists can purchase personalised car number plates. Government organisations, local authorities, banks and building societies appoint designated auctioneers, for often considerably reduced prices, property that’s been repossessed due to the owner falling into arrears with their mortgage payments. But that’s another story.

Filed under: Society | Posted on January 25th, 2024 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

Fancy Dress Costumes: Observing Cultural Sensibilities:

If the Government declared tomorrow that fancy dress parties were banned, nobody would mind”. That’s because, according to the British comedy novelist, Nick Spalding, no-one really likes going to them. You spend weeks beforehand (he declares) worrying about what to wear and how much it’ll cost you. You eventually find a leather jacket that looks slightly like the one worn by Harrison Ford in the Indiana Jones films or “one of those mass-produced garments that fall apart before you’ve even arrived at the party”, where you immediately realize that everyone else’s is a hundred times better than yours”.

Spalding isn’t alone with this view: The Newcastle University student, Siobhan Fuller, has acknowledged in the campus publication “The Courier” that ”In the rush to acquire something to put on that night, you end up spending half your food money on wigs, props, tutus and feather boas”, hence she prefers to stick with her “trusty pair of jeans” and so save the cash.

Exactly what costume Fuller could have chosen is anyway likely to have been influenced by the trend in recent years among many student unions (SUs) across the UK to prohibit certain types of fancy dress. Edinburgh’s was the first to designate as “inappropriate” any outfits resembling mexicans, gangsters, arabs, Pocohantas (the daughter of the north-american Powhatan tribe’s chief in the 16th century), cowboys and indians, or Nazis. The Kent SU then attracted considerable media attention by issuing similar guidelines, warning its undergraduates not to use props such as maracas, but deeming as “acceptable”the portrayal of cave people, extra-terrestrials, cartoon characters and ancient Greeks & Romans. Sheffield’s SU banned somberos because (in its opinion) they “mock and demean mexican culture”.

The justification for all these proscriptions was that fancy dress themes should not be centred around stereotypes and that students “should be mindful of whether any offence could be caused”. Ruth Langsford, a presenter on the Channel 5 TV consumer entertainment programme “Do The Right Thing” subsequently contended in response that “Dressing up and having fun is now under threat”.

In March 2022, Eleanor Peake, a contributor to vice.com, queried whether fancy dress shops were on “the verge of extinction”. She cited statistics issued by the Local Data Company revealing that between 2020-2022, 36 of London’s costume shops had closed down, mainly because there products had not been required for parties during the pandemic. Despite this, her assessment was that the remaining establishments in the capital would persevere, confident that they’ll continue to be needed.  Indeed, the Mobcater website has predicted that the the demand for fancy dresses among adults and children will grow “exponentially”, inspired by Hollywood “blockbuster” movies such as Star Wars, Batman ans Spiderman: “People are now spending big money on transforming themselves into their favourite fictional Hollywood character and having a lot of fun doing so”.

Furthermore, emphasises “StartUpBizHub”, the public impression that this sector is only profitable at Halloween is mistaken, since the demand is all-year-round. That’s why “Mad World”, from their basement emporium in Tabernacle Street EC2, also cater for, among many others, Christmas pantomines and festivities, Scotland’s Burn’s Night (25th January) Valentine’s Day (14th February), St Patrick’s Day (March 17th), Chinese New Year, the Goodwood Revival (“a celebration of classic cars from 1946-1966”: 6th-8th September) and Oktoberfest. “Mad World” have reported an upsurge in requests for Ken & Barbie and Willy Wonka outfits.

StartUpBizHub highlights the fact that, although most new fancy dress businesses usually begin by hiring out only memorabilia from popular movies, they quickly realise they also have to stock a much wider selection, including circus, halloween, fairytale and pirate apparel as well as imitation body parts, wigs, assorted headwear, fun jewellery and neckwear, accessories and even fake weapons.

Some people, observes “Britain Explained.com” like fancy dress so much that they join special groups such as the Sealed Knot Society (recreating historic European battles) or the Dickens Fellowship (remembering the 19th century English novelist Charles Dickens) and meet regularly in costumes. Amber Butchart, the author of “The History of Costume in England”, points out that “rituals involving disguise and costume are a feature of most cultures around the world and are an integral aspect of the history of humanity”. She notes that not only are “mainstream costume events” thriving in the 21st century, but that there’s been a resurgence of traditional English festivals such as “Obby Oss” in Padstow, north Cornwall and “Jack ‘O The Green”in Kingston,Surrey (both on May Day) and “Straw Bear” in Whittlesey,Cambridgeshire (13th January).

Meanwhile, anyone who wants to go to a party dressed as a Christmas tree can obtain the costume from Amazon for £26.22, a Brown Reindeer zip-up jumpsuit with face-hood for £29 and a luxury Santa Claus outfit for £44.39. Among the many other options are to turn up looking like a Christmas pudding (Smiffy’s.com: £21.99), a Giant Pigeon (orion: £60.59) and (from FancyDress.com) either as a Hedgehog (£40.99) or a Dinosaur (inflatable version: £61.99)

Filed under: Society, Theatre & Film | Posted on December 22nd, 2023 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

Britain: The World’s Most Apologetic Nation?

I’m profoundly sorry”. That’s how Matt Hancock, the former Health Secretary, expressed his regret at the Covid enquiry in London on 27th June for his part in the mistakes that ensured the UK had not been properly prepared for the pandemic. Indeed, as the Guardian journalists Peter Walker and Robert Booth noted that day in their coverage of the event, Hancock became quite emotional when acknowledging his responsibility for “all the things that had happened, both in his department and with the agencies that reported to him”.

Yet it appears from a recent YouGov survey that this display of contrition is unlikely to have convinced the British public. Its statistics, cited by the Progressive Policy Think Tank IPPR, indicate that trust in politicians has dropped by 9% in 18 months and that only 4% of those questioned believe that parliamentarians are doing their best for the country. Nor, so it seems in Hancock’s case, did the words he chose to express his penitence prove particularly persuasive.

Another YouGov study has shown that only 34% of respondents consider a declaration, whether by a public figure or an organisation, that they are “Sorry for the bad experience with us” to be a genuine apology and “We regret the inconvenience caused” (for example, for the cancellation of a flight) just 48%.

The problem for large corporations in particular and for anyone with a high media profile, as the Huffington Post correspondent Marina Fang pointed out on November 10th, is that the logistics of an apology can get complicated , hence crisis communications professionals are often involved in its formulation. It must sound completely authentic, not easy when “ego and power are added to the mix”, as the public can immediately discern whether whoever is making it is being forced to do so in order to downplay the dimensions of the scandal.

Aaron Lazare, the former Chancellor of the University of Massachusetts Medical School, has defined a “non-apology” as an attempt to persuade citizens that the future will be better and the past should be forgotten, while a “pseudo-apology” only provides a vague and incomplete acceptance of the offence. There will probably also be, observes Fang, “a lot of different audiences for the apology, depending on the situation”, such as a company’s board members, shareholders, business partners, customers and employees as well as fans of sports clubs or families who’ve been adversely affected and are looking for recompense.

Furthermore, if there are ongoing legal proceedings involved, these could limit what the person can say and the extent to which they can profess their remorse. This was a factor of which the Government of the Province of Ontario in Canada was acutely aware when it ratified its “Apology Act” on April 23rd 2009. This stipulates that an apology cannot be considered as an admission of fault or liability and is not admissible in any civil proceedings initiated by the person apologised to. Which presumably is why a restaurant in the county of Cayuga, Ontario, felt there was no risk for them in putting a sign outside proclaiming that they offered “ All Day Breakfast, Bad Food, Lousy Service, We’re Open, Sorry”.

With the exception of the territory of Yukon, all Canadian jurisdictions, as well as 30 states in the US, have adopted similar legislation, the objective being “to avoid litigation and encourage the early and cost-effective resolution of disputes”.

Karina Schumann, a psychologist at the University of Pittsburgh, has emphasised that, although it’s difficult to compile data on the frequency of apologies in different countries, “there’s certainly speculation that the Canadians and British do so more than, for instance, the Americans”. YouGov has estimated that 80% of people in the UK say “sorry” if they’re in someone’s way in a doorway, but just 72% in the US and 58% if they make a joke that upsets someone, compared to 50% in the US.

According to a nationwide study commissioned by the chocolate biscuit vendor PICKUP!, highlighted by the bustle.com contributor Alice Broster, 88% of British residents admit to regularly saying “sorry” for things that aren’t their fault, with a large number apologising an average eight times a day, 4380 times every year and on up to 200,000 occasions during their lives. In her book “Watching The English”, the British anthropologist Kate Fox, co-director of the Social Issues Research Centre (SIRC), describes how, when she walked down a street deliberately bumping into people, 80% of them said “sorry” to her despite the fact she was the one who’d caused this to happen.

It thus seems, suggests Broster, that there’s no limit to what people in Britain will say sorry for, including when someone is standing on their foot in a crowded underground train or they’d like to occupy an empty seat on which another passenger has placed their bag.

The “Sports Beats India” website diplomatically attributes the British inclination to apologise so frequently to “their natural aversion to confrontation” their desire to diffuse potentially tense situations and maintain social harmony.

Filed under: Politics, Society | Posted on December 6th, 2023 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

Sleeping In A Public Park Risks A £100 Fine:

If you live in or occasionally visit the London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham and have an electric scooter, this will affect you. As from 18th October, under the new Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) implemented by the local Council, using it along the pedestrian parts of the Thames Path has become illegal. The purpose is to “eliminate speeding and dangerous traffic behaviours” in the designated section and also applies to quad bicycles and hoverboards.

Electrically assisted pedal cycles (EAPCs), however, are exempted as long as the power of the motor doesn’t exceed 250 watts and cuts off when the speed of the vehicle reaches 15.5mph. Anyone breaking this regulation will have to pay a fixed penalty of £100 (reduced to £60 if paid within 7 days) and repeat offenders could be fined up to £1000.

As Rosie Brighouse, a member of the legal team at the human rights organisation Liberty, pointed out in an updated article on 18th September, PSPOs and CPNs (Community Protection Notices) were introduced when the Anti-Social Behaviour,Crime and Policing Act 2014 (ASBCPA) gave local authorities the power to prevent individuals or groups carrying out “detrimental activities” in public spaces in their area. Since then, she notes, hundreds of PSPOs have been created, some of them relatively mundane, but many others “completely ridiculous”, such as trying to prohibit football fans on the way to watch a match at Manchester United’s Old Trafford stadium from using “foul and abusive language”.

On 20th July, the Guardian columnist Sarah Marsh observed that “the seemingly bizarre nature of some of the fines issued under PSPO legislation” saw them increase from 10,412 in 2019 to 13,433 in 2022, with some of the punishments meted out being for shouting, loitering, busking, swearing, feeding birds, “rough sleeping” or being asleep in a vehicle. Marsh cited a report compiled by Josie Appleton, the director of the Manifesto Club, which campaigns for freedom in civic life, insisting that the “thousands of petty restrictions which have been imposed” need to be scrapped or severely reformed”.

Many councils, observes Appleton, are taking advantage of the 2014 Act to devise excessive and wide-ranging regulations that ban people from doing anything that potentially annoys any other person. Rugby Council, for example, has criminalised the climbing of trees at Newbold Quarry Nature Reserve “to protect and enhance habitats”; Wiltshire forbids the possession of stones “capable of being launched as a projectile by a catapult; in Rother and Welwyn Hatfield, it’s now an offence to have a nap in a park or sleep in a public place. According to the Dartmouth Chronicle, in Devon,”busybody misdemeanours” include feeding seagulls on Exmouth seafront, talking too loudly in Teignmouth and handing out leaflets in Barnstaple.

In Richmond-on-Thames, Surrey, the number of dogs that can be taken for a walk by one person is now just four, although professional dog-walkers can apply for a permit for a maximum of six, with similar rules in force in Manchester, Pendle (Lancashire), Hammersmith and the London Borough of Hillingdon.

This summer, it became a PSPO infraction to feed or pat the ponies in the New Forest, Hampshire, or to start a barbecue there .CPNs have likewise been deployed as sanctions against barking dogs in Sunderland, north-east England, “offensive hand gestures” in Kings Lynn, West Norfolk, while Mole Valley Council in Surrey has used one to admonish someone they considered to have too many cats.

The Manifesto Club is particularly concerned about the growth in councils, especially those of Peterborough, Hillingdon and Bedford, employing private security companies to collect payments owed for a breach of a PSPO. Furthermore that, despite explicit Home Office guidance that the most vulnerable and impoverished sections of society should not be targeted, many local authorities are using the powers derived from the 2014 Act to prevent the homeless from begging and sleeping rough. Imposing fines, declares Appleton, is not the solution to the vagrancy problem.

She’s also alarmed at the impact PSPOs are having on the right to free speech and free assembly, as they enable authorised officers or private contractors to break up any activity of which the council disapproves, such as a political demonstration, irrespective of whether or not the participants are behaving in an anti-social manner. Invoking a PSPO as a punishment for using an amplifier during a political gathering (Bolton) or against “persons congregating in a manner that obstructs other people in the vicinity”(Haringey) in Appleton’s view fundamentally undermines our rights of free association in public spaces.

The human rights commentator, Rosalind English, acknowledges there is a collision between the state’s responsibility for the smooth functioning of civil society and the right of citizens to draw attention to vital moral issues. Which do we support, she asks, “Freedom of physical movement or free expression of thoughts?”

Filed under: Society | Posted on November 8th, 2023 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

Life Without A Fridge-Freezer: The Spiralling Cost Of “White Goods” in the UK:

If you’re moving into new accommodation, what are the basic commodities you need to bring with you or purchase if you don’t already have them? For anyone who’s not completely sure, the Sofa & Carpet Specialists ScS, whose HQ is in Sunderland, north-east England and has 98 stores around the UK, has provided a checklist of what they consider to be the most essential 87 appliances and utensils for all homes.

Although items such as a kettle, pots and pans, cutlery, tables & chairs and a bed are obvious necessities for almost everyone, ScS’s proposed inventory goes far beyond these. Kitchens, they declare, should have a toaster, microwave, washing machine, tumble dryer, a fridge-freezer and a dishwasher. The living room, in their view, won’t be complete without a TV, a coffee table and of course sofas and rugs, a selection of which is available from their company. If you have a garden, or access to one, then you’ll also require a lawnmower, some spades and a rake. Furthermore, contends ScS, a household can barely function properly without a vacuum cleaner, an ironing board, an alarm clock and a toothbrush holder.

The ScS recommendations, nonetheless, are quite modest and restrained compared to those advocated by thespruce.com website. It seems they can’t imagine the daily domestic routine without a blender, a rolling-pin, a spice rack, a panini press and a waffle maker plus a whole range of other exotic artefacts. Neither ScS nor The Spruce, however, appear to question whether the newly arrived occupants will be able to afford all this equipment on top of their mortgage payments or rent and the expenses they’ll have accumulated during the transition from their previous lodgings.

As the Guardian’s economic correspondent,Richard Partington, has observed, it’s not just supermarket groceries that have risen in price. He’s cited Office For National Statistics (ONS) data indicating that the cost of refrigerators, freezers and fridge-freezers has increased by 18%, cookers by 12.3% , carpets and rugs by 10.7%. The BBC’s business reporter, Daniel Thomas, has likewise highlighted research conducted by the product comparison service Price Runner indicating that between January 2020 and February 2022 many white goods and gadgets became 50% more expensive, with washing machines going up by £152 and a tumble dryer up by £70.

On 23rd June, Chris Choi, the consumer editor for ITV News, reported that an investigation by the Pro Bono Economics (PBE) organisation has revealed that 1.2 million people in the UK live without at least one major appliance. As a pensioner in Brentwood, Essex, told him, because she didn’t have the funds she needed to buy a cooker, she had to manage without one until a reconditioned model was acquired for her with the help of a local charity.

According to the Talker News.com contributor Charlie Bayliss on 18th September, due to the cost of living crisis and in order to raise cash, nearly one out of ten of the population in Britain has been obliged to sell either their car (24%), coffee machine (23%), television (20%), fridge (14%), freezer (13%) or washing machine (11%). Devices which have been retained are being used a lot less to reduce energy bills, especially ovens (42%), kettles (26%) and dishwashers (25%).

The PBE categorises the estimated 50,000 households (130,000 adults and children) without either a washing machine or fridge-freezer as being in “appliance poverty”. They emphasise that people in that situation often have to rely on fast food or takeaways for their meals and to either handwash their clothes or make frequent, costly trips to a local launderette. Hence, on the basis of HM Treasury’s well-being evaluation guidance, their life satisfaction level would improve significantly if they were able to obtain or were provided with these two vital pieces of domestic hardware.

Although the Department of Work & Pensions confirmed in September that an additional £852 million has been made available via the Household Support Fund to County Councils to help people in their areas struggling with “inflationary challenges”, the PBE has noted that not everyone in financial difficulties is eligible for these grants. There are, fortunately for them, several alternative non-governmental sources of assistance, the details of which feature on the website of the London-based Turn2us charity organisation.

Wavelength”in Cambridge, for example, arranges donations of TVs, radios and laptops “to enable individuals cut-off from society to reconnect with the world”, the “Essential Living Fund” operated by “Glasspool” in east London offers small grants for white goods and clothing such as school uniforms and the “Lighthouse Project” in Middleton, Greater Manchester, aims to supply “affordable refurbished appliances” to those on low incomes who have no other means of acquiring them.

Glasspool, however, warns prospective applicants that, while they can request a maximum of three items, in most cases they are only able to assist with one, apart from exceptional cases such as replacing defective or dangerous flooring that presents a “trip hazard” to the fragile and infirm or paying for the TV licence for those unable to do so themselves.

Filed under: Society | Posted on October 17th, 2023 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

London Fashion Week SS24: The Discarding Of Traditional Concepts:

T LABEL

HARRIS REED

The fashion industry’s reckoning has arrived. With concerns surrounding waste,ethical treatment of workers and inclusivity, the status quo is no longer sustainable”. This declaration by the Huffington Post’s lifestyle commentator, Jennifer Barton, in September 2020 and her prediction that the brands would need to “pivot quickly” to stay relevant and desirable accurately anticipated the changing attitudes of consumers regarding how they shop and the clothing they buy.

CLAUDIA WANG

The British Fashion Council (BFC) in particular and the sector in general has taken due note of the fact that “more of the same” is no longer enough. As the Guardian correspondent, Lauren Cochrane, observed on the first day of LFW SS24 (15-19 September), attendees at the shows “should expect to see something different from the familiar format of models walking down a catwalk”. Ballet dancers, live musical performances and artistic extravaganzas, she pointed out, this time would feature prominently in the schedule of 111 physical and 36 digital activations, along with the participation of 82 designers and 137 brands.

MATTY BOVAN

MATTY BOVAN

What the BFC depicted in its advance press release as “a festival of creativity and innovation” certainly confirmed that this was a fundamentally different occasion from the first LFW in 1984, held in tents in a car park outside the Commonwealth Institute in Kensington, West London. Who could have foreseen then that, in September 2023, a Spanish inventor of an experimental pattern cutting method, Eva Iszoro, would be presenting a collection using artificial intelligence (AI) in combination with virtual reality?

Or

LONDON ORGANIC

that a nightclub opposite the River Thames, “Proud Embankment”, would be the 

                    NOKI

location on Sunday 17th September for a three-hour showcase and panel discussion on sustainability (“Green is Gold”) organised by the environmental group “London Organic”? Their objective, they emphasise, is to make fashion more ethical, inclusive and diverse, hence their 

MASHA POPOVA

events reflect their values by including wheelchair-bound, transgender, disfigured, plus-size and able-bodied models from every race, gender and religious belief. Among the six panelists was Karen Gray, the managing editor of Atmos magazine, which is “devoted to ecological and social justice” and Laura Vehanen, the Brazilian co-founder of “Bearth Solutions”, whose mission is “empowering consumers to assess the environmental impact of the choices they make”.

ANCIELA “LATIN NOTES”

Similarly, the “Latin Notes” Show at the “Crypt On The Green” in Clerkenwell on Monday 18th September presented by “Anciela”, whose creative director is Jennifer Droguett Espinosa , from Medellin in Colombia, addressed themes like immigration,identity and “our shared responsibility towards the environment”. This event was concluded by one of the models giving a rendering of a Colombian song accompanied by a trumpet.

PROPHETIK – LFW SS24 – BURLINGTON ARCADE.

That same day, the Evening Standard’s Fashion Director, Victoria Moss, urged the newspaper’s readers not to forget that the “rampant churn of fashion production” comprises 10% of total world carbon emissions, that 85% of all textiles go to dumps each year and that in Chile, “there’s a pile of discarded clothes so big that it can be seen from space”. In her view, overproduction is one of the most insidious parts of the fast fashion industry, but that “thankfully, the new crop of London designers have one thing in their sights – reducing the environmental impact of their creations”.

                   APUJAN

Meanwhile,the cost of living crisis, high rents in London and the impact of Brexit on supply chains are all, in the opinion of Jonathan Anderson (the Northern Irish owner of the JW Anderson label, quoted by the Evening Standard columnist, Alexandra Jones on 18th September) making running a fashion business in Britain quite complicated. He considers that, with so much “red tape”, it’s an almost impossible situation for young designers who want to 

MALAN BRETON

become famous quickly. A major  factor, according to both Paul Souber of the property consultancy Colliers and the independent designer Edeline Lee in the ES Journal

                          ERDEM

on 13th September, is that the removal in 2021 of VAT-free shopping has made purchases in the UK 20% more expensive for international visitors and so put London at a competitive disadvantage with other European cities.

METAVERSE INVITATION

           MALAN BRETON INVITATION

None of this, of course, deters the most dedicated fashion aficionados from trying to get access to as many catwalks as possible. Obtaining a ticket or invitation, however, is difficult without a connection to the fashion industry, though if you’re a blogger or influencer you can try to convince the designer’s press contact that you should be     allowed to attend.

Another option, suggests fstoppers.com, is to make friends with someone already in the queue and so get in with them on their ticket. The only problem with that is, once a venue’s capacity is full, those still waiting outside are refused entry, as happened with the Prophetik catwalk at the Burlington Arcade W1 on 14th September.

Stevie Rowley, a contributor to the the French fashion magazine “L’Officiel”, noted on 7th May that the invitations themselves can often be quite glamorous and elaborate because they play an integral role in expressing the theme of the show.

Filed under: Media, Society | Posted on September 22nd, 2023 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

“We’re Managing All Right Here, But It’s Chaos Out There”: The UK’s View Of Current Global Events:

People in Britain are happy with their lives but not the state of the world”. That’s the conclusion from research conducted for the Guardian newspaper and cited by it’s social affairs correspondent, Robert Booth, on 6th July. Although many of those questioned agreed that recent years have been especially traumatic, with everything that’s happened – Brexit, the pandemic, the vaccines, “partygate” ( former Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Downing Street festivities during covid), then Ukraine and the cost of living – the study suggests that 70% of UK residents are “just getting on with their daily activities, worrying less about what they cannot control, are personally optimistic and in fact that 90% of them feel absolutely fine”.

As was evident on 11th July, however, Booth’s colleague, the Guardian’s economics commentator, Richard Partington, doesn’t entirely share this interpretation. He emphasized that, although the UK’s hottest June ever resulted in an upsurge in the purchase of swimwear, beach towels, garden furniture and barbecue food, this was accompanied by growing anxiety over the pace and scale of global warming. Furthermore, with everything becoming more expensive, as many as two in five customers are choosing more “yellow-sticker” short-dated food and drink items in supermarkets to help their finances go further.

An analysis by Office For National Statistics (ONS) on public opinions and social trends in Great Britain between the 14th – 25th June has enumerated the main concerns among adults across the country. Top of the list were the 62% who reported that their outgoings and overheads had increased significantly compared to the previous month. This was attributed by 96% to the escalating prices of food in the shops , the rise in gas or electricity bills (62%) and fuel (34%). Another 43% reported that they were struggling to afford their rent or mortgage (up from 30% in June 2022) and 2% admitted that they were behind with their payments. The other important issues highlighted by the ONS were the future of the National Health Service (NHS) and the backlog in hospital appointments due initially to the pandemic but latterly to the strikes by doctors, nurses and radiologists (82%), the condition of the economy (77%), as well as mounting apprehensiveness about climate change and the environment (60%).

All this does appear to explain why the UK has slipped down from 15th place in 2019 to 19th in the World Happiness Report (WHR) 2023 published by the World Economic Forum (WEF). The USA is now at 15th position, above Germany (16th), Belgium (17th) and the Czech Republic (18th) but below Australia (12th), Canada (13th) and Ireland (14th). Finland is again top of the rankings, as its has been for the past five years and is well ahead of its nearest rivals, fellow Nordic countries Denmark and Iceland.

The WEF has acknowledged that both the index and its definition of “happiness” have been criticised on the basis that, in the case of Finland, for example, “satisfaction with their lives” would have been a more accurate description. Indeed, as the Finnish writer Frank Martela, has pointed out in the Scientific American magazine, although Nordic countries predominate on factors such as GDP (Gross Domestic Product) and freedom from oppression, “if you look instead at how much positive emotion people experience, then suddenly Latin American countries such as Paraguay, Guatemala and Costa Rica become the happiest countries on earth”.

The Business Insider contributor, Beatrice Nolan, observed on June 10th that many people she interviewed in Helsinki expressed surprise that they are still the first and are exasperated and even annoyed by the global perception of them as “happy”. A better word to describe Finns, she was told, would be “content”. That’s partly because, suggests Nolan, they are “less dramatic” in their aspirations regarding wealth, but also the result of one of the most robust welfare systems in the world. Healthcare and education are free for all residents and if someone loses their job, the State will help them out until they find a new one: “Thus there’s less preoccupation about money than in somewhere like the US or UK”.

On a rather more encouraging note, an international survey conducted across 29 countries, highlighted by the Observer columnist, Mark Townsend, on 17th June, has found that people in Britain have the third most enthusiastic views regarding refugees, just behind Spain and New Zealand : 56% believe they make a positive contribution, compared to 39% in France and less than 33% in Belgium. Attitudes towards the European Union (EU) have also mellowed considerably since the Brexit Referendum on 23rd June 2016. According to the YouGov organization, 58.2% of residents in Great Britain would now vote to rejoin the EU , not least because many of them have more trust in the European Commission than in the current UK government.

Filed under: Politics, Society | Posted on August 4th, 2023 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

“Respect & Good Behaviour”: The New Criteria For Holidaymakers:

Go home, tourists”. This was, as the Reuter news agency correspondent, Joan Faus reported on May 25th, just part of the “expletive-laden graffiti” that had been scrawled along the side of Barcelona’s opera house in the renowned La Rambla boulevard. It clearly wasn’t, however, a complete surprise to the city’s mayor, Ada Colau. She emphasised to Faus that, although they like to have visitors, the influx of more than 30 million a year was causing mobility, speculation and gentrification problems, putting their local way of life at risk and undermining everything that makes the place attractive, so had to be regulated – which is why, among other measures, in 2021, Barcelona became the first European city to introduce restrictions on the Airbnb formula of short-term rentals of private rooms and apartments.

Statistics issued by the Eceltur Association confirm that Spain’s tourism sector, which contributes more than 12% to the country’s GDP, has experienced a post-pandemic boom with the mass return of holiday-makers. The consequence has been the rise in what the University of the Balearic Islands has depicted as “tourism-phobia” , in particular antipathy by local residents towards overseas visitors who behave in what is deemed to be an inappropriate or ant-social manner. Alicante, for example, has banned loud music on the beach and the manager of the Palma Beach restaurant in Mallorca, Juan Miguel Ferrer, no longer admits customers who are shirtless or in football jerseys: “ They arrive at their hotels around 10 am and by 2pm they are so drunk they can’t walk”.

This trend is also evident elsewhere in Europe. The Sunday Times travel analyst, Ed Grenby, noted on 18th June that Mato Frankovic, the mayor of Dubrovnik, Croatia “has prohibited tourists from using rolling suitcases in the city’s historic old town to alleviate the pollution caused by luggage wheels on cobblestone”, bikinis have been forbidden in the centre of Sorrento, Italy and in Athens, Greece, it’s now illegal to wear high heels at sites such as the Acropolis. An assessment of “overtourism” in the Guardian on 21st June highlighted the campaign by French tourism authorities to persuade visitors to explore less well-known regions because currently 80% of them focus on just 20% of the country.

Much further afield, the governor of Bali in Indonesia, Wayan Koster, is considering introducing a quota system for people wishing to go there. On 29th May, Mark Johanson, a contributor to lonelyplanet.com, pointed out that the meteoric rise of almost 7 million visitors per year to the island of 4.3 million inhabitants has resulted in an increase in traffic congestion and violations, an unsustainable accumulation of garbage and a significant upsurge in the numbers of foreigners completely disregarding Balinese rules and customs.

None of this is good news Airbnb.The Investopedia specialist, Trevor I Nath, estimates that the organisation has over 150 million users in more than 200 countries, with an average of six renters checking into an Airbnb-listed property every second. Its primary source of income is derived from the service fees for bookings paid by both guests and hosts.

It was founded in 2008 by two roommates, Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia who, in order to help them finance the high cost of their San Francisco apartment, put an air mattress in their living room which, along with breakfast and internet access, they then offered to passing travellers looking for somewhere inexpensive to stay. Since then, declares substack.com, the company has “democratised the hospitality industry, enabled individuals to monetize their spare space and simultaneously provided renters with a “home-like environment” not available at hotels”.

Airbnb’s success has, however, proved highly controversial, mainly because , as the Yahoo! News commentator Angela Symons observed on 12th June, it has been accused of inflating house prices, pushing out local people and fuelling overtourism. Cities and governments around the world have reacted either by introducing far more stringent rules or completely banning Airbnb arrangements, as Florence has done recently for temporary holiday rentals in its historic city centre. Parisiens who want to rent out their primary residence on a platform such as Airbnb have to register with their local town hall, in Berlin Airbnb hosts who don’t obtain a permit receive hefty fines and Portugal has stopped issuing new licences for Airbnbs (except in rural areas). The authorities in Penang, Malaysia, have done likewise in an effort, they say, to “curb antisocial tourist behaviour”.

In the UK, under government plans, people in “tourism hotspots” in England who want to convert their property into short-term holiday lets will have to apply for planning permission. The culture secretary, Lucy Fraser, quoted by the Guardian journalist ,Nadeem Badshah, on 12th April, is not opposed to tourists having more choices than ever before, but that this shouldn’t deprive local people of the chance of purchasing their own home in the area in which they live or work.

Meanwhile, according to the New York Times, the American Hotel and Lodging Association has “effectively declared war on Airbnb”.

Filed under: Travel | Posted on July 8th, 2023 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

Travelling By Plane in 2023: An Unavoidable Ordeal?

The days of flying being fun are long over. It’s become a nightmare”. That’s the view of William McGee, a senior fellow for aviation and travel at the American Economic Liberties Project, as quoted by the NBC News reporter Rob Wile on January 21st. For the acclaimed Irish novelist Stewart Stafford,“an airport is a place where you go through hell to reach your alleged paradise”.

1950’s In-Flight Dining:

Meanwhile, Erika Ebsworth-Goold, the executive director of strategic initiatives at Washington University, has expressed her nostalgia for “the way air travel used to be”, the now distant era when taking a plane was a special occasion, security was simple, there was ample space between the seats, quality meals were provided (not just packets of peanuts or pretzels) and fellow passengers were more considerate.

Why, for example, does everyone rush to get a good position in the queue as soon as boarding is announced? According to the American travel consultant, Anthony Berklich. it’s partly because society trains us to believe first is best, but is also due to the fear that there won’t be sufficient overhead locker space to store their cabin luggage, preferably immediately above their seats.

Ebsworth-Goold’s lament about having a “squashed-in, claustrophobic feeling”on flights correlates with the updated analysis of the air travel industry published by the consumer protection organisation “Which” on 9th May, confirming that plane seats are officially getting smaller, mainly so the airlines can cram in more paying customers: “Today, you’ll get around 31 inches of legroom, if you’re lucky, compared to the comfortable 40 inches in the golden age of the ’50’s”.

A survey conducted by the Priority Pass organisation, who since 1992 have provided frequent travellers with “independent VIP airport lounge access worldwide”, has revealed that almost half (49%) of those questioned feel most tense when waiting for their suitcases to arrive on the carousel. Other major concerns are getting stuck in traffic on the way to the airport (63%), misplacing their passports or missing the plane altogether (57%), having to pay extra for luggage because they’ve miscalculated the weight (45%) and getting stopped at security (40%). About 6% of respondents say they’ve forgotten their passports, though “surprisingly” this increases to 16% among business travellers.

Trepidation about the actual flying is much further down the list (for 35% the most anxious moment is when the plane is landing) but, as the Sunday Times contributor, Cathy Adams, noted on 2nd June, this may change because, due to global warming, flights are getting “bumpier”. As she observes, a joint study by the University of Reading and the Met Office has concluded that the skies are becoming more prone to turbulence since higher air temperatures can lead to sudden alterations in wind speed or direction.

In fact, it’s evident from the the Priority Pass investigation that virtually every stage of going away produces some element of stress – packing the bags, travelling to the airport, checking in, passing security, keeping a vigilant eye on the screens in the waiting areas for announcements about either departures or delays, the often lengthy walks to the boarding gate, getting onto the plane, finding your seat, the flight itself, the landing and the baggage collection.

Although Ryanair has acquired the image of being the UK’s most unpopular airline, in the opinion of “Which” that’s no longer justified. They advocate instead that the one to be avoided is the fast-growing Wizz Air, which this year “operated just 56% of its flights on time, cancelled nearly 2% of them within 24 hours of departure and generally treated many customers to an awful experience”.

Jet2 is at number one in the approved category and gets 5-star rating for its “exceptional customer services, clean cabins and well-organised boarding”, while EasyJet receives just one star for its boarding procedures and seat comfort and British Airways (BA) is portrayed as having become “thoroughly mediocre”. The worst problem with BA, declares “Which”, has been the thousands of cancellations: “Ensuring that the flights on sale actually take place would be a good start to the improvements they need to make”.

The best UK airports, declares “Which”, are the small ones, which is why they’ve awarded five stars to Exeter and Liverpool’s John Lennon, compared to four for Heathrow Terminal 2, three for London Gatwick North & South, Stansted, and Heathrow Terminal 3 and just two stars for Heathrow Terminals 2 & 4 and Luton. The worst queues, both for departing passengers going through security and returning ones at passport control have been at Manchester Terminals 1, 2 & 3, Luton and Stansted. This situation was exacerbated in May when all 270 e-gates at UK entry points stopped working.

Finally: “If you’re travelling as a pair, reserve the aisle and window seats. A solo traveller will only book the dreaded middle seat if they have no other option, so there’s a good chance you could enjoy the bonus of an unoccupied space between the two of you”.

Filed under: Travel | Posted on June 15th, 2023 by Colin D Gordon | No Comments »

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