Thursday, 30 October 2014

Good without God

I have just completed my second stint this month of looking after the pub and am gladly ensconced back in the flat. Spike has been watered, Charlie has returned safely from her marathon drinking binge (I mean girls' holiday) in Portugal and much is right in the small world of Finnginn that previously seemed askew.

When I stay above the pub, I have a little morning routine whereby I stroll out to get the papers from the nearby paper shop and loop back to the pub stopping to pick up a bacon sandwich and a vegetable samosa from Louis' Deli (home of the best sausage roll in Norwich). That sounds nice, you may think, a thoroughly pleasant morning walk with the incentive of a locally-sourced free-range bacon sandwich with homemade tomato ketchup to munch in front of Millionaire Matchmaker before opening the doors of the bar to the public. But you have not made the mistake of once wearing a badge that bore the legend: 'Good without God' and thus incurred the fury of the enthusiastically religious guy who runs the paper shop. The first exchange went something like this:

"Good Morning." 

"How can a morning be Good without God? God is goodness. There is no goodness without God."

"I just mean... I mean the badge means... I mean the message that the badge intends to convey and it is a message I agree with is that atheists can be moral people."

"There is no goodness without God."

"Fine, can I have an Evening News as well please."

"You should take off your badge."


"£2.75 please."

"May I have a receipt with that?"

The next day it was raining and I was wearing a different coat.

"Good Morning."

"I see you have removed your badge."

"I'm wearing a different coat."

"Is this the coat you wear when you realise that you cannot have goodness without God?"

"No. This is the coat I wear when it is raining. Can I have an Evening News as well please?"

"You should renounce Satan."

"I'm sorry?"

"£2.75 please."

"May I have a receipt with that."

The next day, I went to a different paper shop, but it was much further away and the route didn't take me on a convenient loop back past Louis' Deli and I was running late and I didn't have time to grab a bacon sandwich. So that night, I downloaded The Euthyphro - Plato's dialogue wherein is contained the proof that God and goodness cannot be equated if God wills us to be good.

Essentially, the argument raises the following question: does God will us to do good because certain acts are good or are certain acts good because they are God's will? For the atheist this is a no-brainer. You can remove God from the question and be left with human acts both good and bad. But if you believe in God then you are left with the tricky choice between saying: 'acts are good or bad regardless of God's will' or the rather empty: 'God wills what is God's will'. 

Thus prepared, I donned my badge and set off to buy the papers.

"Good morning."

"Good Morning, would you like an Evening News to go with those?"

"Why thank-you yes I would."

"£2.75 please, here is your receipt."


"Next please."

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

The Wire and the Swiss

The usual arrangement when I look after the pub is that I do the dayshifts and then sit upstairs watching back-to-back episodes of The Wire until called upon for help by whoever has agreed to do the evening shift. The hypocrisy I felt in running a business and telling staff what to do was balanced by the fact that I really like The Wire and my boss has the complete boxset.

But recently the usual order of things has been upset. When my boss took his family away this summer, I did my first dayshift and went upstairs excited to restart season 4. The boxset was gone. Turns out it was never his in the first place. He had just borrowed it from a friend and kept it for two years. During which time, I had looked after the pub only enough to times to view three seasons.

People think that if you run a pub then you spend all your time drinking. But it's nothing like that. I enjoy a drink in my free time, but when you run a pub you have no free time. But then who needs to drink when they have felt the joyous ecstasy of locking the bar door after the boors have bolted. The echoing silence of an empty pub after a raucous night. Slam the toilet windows shut. Kill the slot machine and the pool table lights at the socket. Double check the doors are locked, then tap each light-switch on a large panel of switches to its 'off' position until only the back bar is illuminated. Zed the till. It's 2am. Ten hours until opening time.

As if the disappearance of The Wire boxset wasn't enough to contend with, in my most recent stint of management I couldn't hang out in the flat upstairs at all. The pub had been adopted by an enormous group of Swiss students so I had to work the evening shift as well (this is referred to in the trade as an AFD - I'm sure you don't need me to spell out why).

The Swiss are a raucous bunch. Our ones I mean - the students who've been drinking in the pub - not the nation. I'm no tabloid journalist but even I know that the national characteristics to be ascribed to the Swiss include fastidious bank-accounting skills and devotion to accurate timekeeping. Not raucousness. But this lot are young enough to just want to get drunk and hook-up with each other. However, they do react with astonishment when the our British taxis don't arrive exactly when they say they will so there is hope for them yet.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

The Cons

Nothing puts a chap off breakfasting on the remains of the previous night's curry like switching on the television to see David Cameron giving a speech to conference: the smug oiliness of his delivery, entitlement oozing out of every pore. The loathing rising inside of me met the slightly stale but dhal-dipped coriander and garlic naan bread on its way down and, strong of stomach though I consider myself, caused a slight acid reflux for which David Cameron is squarely getting the blame.

"Three million apprenticeships! Full employment! The most competitive corporate taxes in the G20! Elimination of the deficit through spending cuts not tax rises!" 

If you don't speak Tory, I can translate these promises for you:

"Passing the responsibility and cost of youth employment to the private sector! Fudging of numbers to remove single parents and incapacity claimants from the unemployment statistics! Tax breaks for the rich! Removal of essential services for the needy to raise money for enormous banking corporations!" 

Then came his sop for people like me: The Conservatives, if elected, intend to raise the threshold at which subjects start to pay income tax to £12,500. The upshot of which is that if you work a thirty hour week for minimum wage (currently £6.50 an hour) you would pay no income tax. My hourly rate is slightly more than that and I would pay no income tax. Presumably there would still be National Insurance deductions so I wouldn't get the full whack. 

You may be shocked to read this, but last tax year, I paid £500 income tax (and about the same in National Insurance). Can David Cameron buy me for £500? That's a lot of money. I could use a new laptop.

Five hundred quid. What do I get for that? My share of all the schools, hospitals, roads, drinking water and Middle Eastern wars must be pretty small. 

Five hundred quid. It seems a small amount for our ruler to offer for a stealth disenfranchisement. "Here's your five hundred quid," he seems to be saying, "Now go and spend it (preferably on booze and fags and gambling so that we can get most of it back) while we get on and cut the services that make your lives tolerable."

Five hundred quid? What do I have to do to get the money? "Vote Conservative in 2015." (Vote for another 5 years of austerity for the poor and relief for the wealthy). And when do I get the money? "Er... by 2020." 

No thanks.


Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Ambiguous predictions

I consider myself uncannily good at making predictions. At work, I always like to guess in my head what drink a customer is going to order and have something like a twenty percent success rate on first drinks and maybe 90% on second drinks (most people drink the same thing all night). Regular readers will have already observed that most of my predictions for 2014 have come true: just pumpkins, moustaches and Xmas to go.

A family story tells that when I was a little boy, my mother bought some heather or a rabbit's foot or something from an old gypsy lady. The gypsy pointed at the ginger-locked toddler accompanying my mother and said: "That child will never have a grey hair!" My mother, who wanted me to grow up to look like 80s newscaster Nicholas Witchell, was delighted by this. But when I was old enough to understand the prediction, I saw it for what it was: a curse. However you read the gypsy's prediction, I would die before a grey hair appeared on my scalp. At what age do people start to go grey? I wondered. Forty? Thirty? How long did I have?    

For a really long distance prediction, you need to instill a degree of ambiguity. There are two main ways of doing this. Ambiguity of date and ambiguity of encryption.

Ambiguity of date works as follows: I might make a prediction for Scottish Independence, say, but as long as I don't specify a date for the referendum/revolution/destruction-of-England-in-nuclear-war my prediction will never be wrong, just in a kind of "hasn't happened yet" limbo until it happens. Successful religions employ this kind of ambiguity with their Second Comings and Judgement Days. Never be pinned down to a date. You just look like an idiot when nothing remotely apocalyptic happens on the 15th March 2015.

Ambiguity of encryption is the type of prediction practiced by Nostradamus and his ilk. The cryptic signifies that we have entered the realm of prophecy. With sufficiently cryptic prose you can claim to have predicted any momentous event after it has happened:

When winter winds wind widdershins,
Then thorns that threaten thrice
Shall sink Scotland's shallow shining sun.

(Worryingly, when I googled Nostradamus for the above link to his Wikipedia page, the third link was to an article by online stocktrader rag Business Insider hailing Michele de Nostredame as a savant genius.)

My first grey hair came and went years ago. So our gypsy's oral prediction of my early demise has not come true. But a third ambiguity may come to her rescue. An ambiguity of sound perhaps in the form of a homophone. I have never possessed a grey hare.