Sunday, 24 March 2013

On the Mic - Surrey Life - Feb 2013

On turning 40, in February.

It’s my 40th this month. February 7th to be precise. A birthday I share with Charles Dickens and Jimi Somerville. Woo.

It has to be better than my 39th. Despite feeling unwell the day before, I decided it wasn’t anything I couldn’t cope with and my breakfast show on BBC Surrey would be fine. Whatever was trying it on with my immune system had other ideas. 

I woke sweating and delirious. Trying to string a coherent sentence together at 6am when you’re running a temperature and dripping snot on your equipment is not a good look.

So fingers crossed, this time round, I won’t be ill. I also won’t be on air, as my birthday doesn’t fall on a Saturday. 

I suspect I shall have a party. Mrs Wallis turned 40 in September. We put a marquee in the back garden, got some caterers in and really went to town. It nearly killed us. For five hours it was the best fun we’ve had in years - it was the five hundred hours of preparation that left us wondering if we’d made the right decision. 

Still, if you don’t mark it properly, what are you going to do? Wait until you’re 50?

I think 40 is a significant age for so many people because you become aware how fast the clock is ticking. You look at what you have and what you’ve achieved. You also start to worry how you are going to finish off. Poor? Miserable? Happy? Rich?

Up to now, I’ve been lucky. I’ve been able to do what I want and get paid reasonably well for it. I suspect that is about to change. The rewards at the top of the game for broadcasters and journalists can still be huge, but that tapers away quickly. 

It’s possible to make a living, but in recent years pay has remained static, and as we all know, the cost of everything has shot up. When you throw in very little in the way of job security, you start to wonder if you’re doing the best by your family.

I met up with an old friend the other day. We were in a (terrible) band together when we were 18. Like me, he’s now got three kids. In an alternative universe (where we had been blessed with any talent whatsoever) we’d have met up to drink champagne in one of Surrey’s best restaurants and plan our next world tour. 

Instead we nursed a few cheap bitters before he made his way back up north to be with his family. He looked tired and - may he forgive me - old. I suspect I looked the same to him.

But amid the constant drudgery of childcare there are moments. Having responsibility for three beautiful little ones can provide some of the most meaningful experiences life has to offer. And there’s fun to be had away from the joys of bringing up a family, as the monthly pub meetings of the Walton-on-Thames Knackered Dads Society will attest.

There are worse places to turn a significant age than with your family and friends in the best county in the best country in the world. All I can hope is that I’m still contemplating a knees up and few drinks in 40 years time. 


April's edition of Surrey Life is on sale now for £3.25.

Previous columns:

January 2012 - why January should be about headaches, mild depression and whisky

December 2012 - on doing more stand up comedy
November 2012 - on stopping doing weekday breakfast
October 2012 - on trying to engage brain and mouth on air
September 2012 - on my BBC microphone
August 2012 - on the Olympics
July 2012 - on being on holiday with three small children
June 2012 - on joining a gym
May 2012 - on making live radio
April 2012 - on being ill

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Bankers, bureaucracy and blogs

Tweetdeck is my favourite twitter interface. It presents a cherry-tree of tantalising options, laid out on a continually updating grid. I like to survey my feeds as they scroll across the screen, dipping in and out of the informational foam before magisterially alighting on something promising.

On this occasion, alcohol was the trigger. I'm not drinking for Lent, so when a Guardian article popped up announcing we are all boozing and smoking much less than five years ago, I took the bait.

The article basically confirmed my suspicion that saying we're drinking less than we were five years ago is different from actually drinking less.

I reached the end of the piece, and instead of going back to my feeds, saw a link to a rant by  Simon Jenkins, bashing bankers. A 
couple of weeks ago I wrote about the government's attempts to scupper an EU directive limiting bankers' bonuses to 100% of their salaries. Jenkins tackles the same subject with furious, spluttering incredulity. It's a fine piece of work, but terribly (and possibly knowingly) simplistic. So I dipped into the 600+ comments for the counter-arguments.

Among the dross, some gems. The best broke the situation down into a social problem. It's not the bankers who are to blame: we all are, for buying into a cockeyed winner-takes-all system predicated on greed, consumption and owning stuff. It's a choice, and we went for demented free-market capitalism, rather than... say... morality, helping each other out and trying to leave the place more or less as we found it.

No matter how good the comments below any piece are, I always feel like I'm wallowing in vitriol, but before I clicked out, something shiny caught my eye. One commenter had linked to a hilarious pamphlet published in 2007 by a pair of senior free-market Conservatives. It decried the dead hand of state intervention and pervading evil of regulation thus:

"Government claims that this regulation is all necessary. They seem to believe that without it banks could steal our money, bakers would put nails in our bread, drinks manufacturers would water the beer, pie makers might poison us, and builders would construct houses that fell down when the wind blew. This shows ignorance of how a competitive market works."

As Simon Jenkins points out, the banks have stolen our money, one of the biggest brewing houses on the planet is being sued for allegedly watering its beer and the thought that something in a meat pie may not be what you think it is..? Neigh, never.

Although I was now getting into serious rabbit-hole territory, I couldn't help clicking through to read more. The document was so conveniently ridiculous, I wondered if it might be a spoof. Especially as the site which hosted it was a blog called "Flip Chart Fairytales". Click, click again... and I got a surprise.

Flip Chart Fairytales is not a mad person's fantasy. It's a beautifully thought out, well-constructed blog, concerned with, as it says:

"Business Bullshit, Corporate Crap and other stuff from the World of Work"

I urge you to take a look. Bureaucracy is bad, right? Wrong. Entrepreneurs and small businesses are the future of the economy, right? Wrong.

I love it when someone who can write casually dismembers a whole bunch of sacred horses.  And I love finding this sort of stuff by accident.