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1st January 2005
Although I wish all readers of Thoughtcat all good things for 2005, there'll be no silly photos of us celebrating the new year this year. Cameras and champagne and even staying up much past midnight were far from our minds last night in the wake of the tsunami tragedy. Indeed, today's papers report that most new year's celebrations were muted for the same reason.
Regular readers of Thoughtcat will know of our Thailand connections. Thankfully, none of our friends or family were directly affected by the disaster, although we do have friends on Phuket who worked in a luxury house which was wrecked, and other Phuket friends have been going to the beaches to help drag in the corpses that are being washed up every day. The Guardian has pages on each of the regions affected by the tsunamis, including one on Thailand.
We can't relate to the fact that just a few months ago we were standing on those very beaches and - thanks solely to the hospitality of our friends - swimming in the pool at that now-wrecked mansion. None of which feelings, of course, no matter how confused, mean anything compared to the total devastation in the country or the region as a whole. I guess it's a lesson to us all never to presume that anything's forever, to enjoy what you've got when you've got it and to help out others in their deepest time of need.
Accordingly, I made a donation to Oxfam but as a person of ordinary means what I could afford seemed pathetic, so I'm currently trying to think of ways of earning or raising some more money to donate to either Oxfam or Disasters Emergency Committee. (The Guardian incidentally has a very useful page giving websites and contact numbers for a range of appropriate charities. I'm also very pleased to read that donations from individuals have exceeded the government's own pledge, and probably embarrassed Blair & Co into vastly increasing that amount in the process.) I'd be more than happy to offer some time or do some work for which my "fee" would go straight to the charities, but even though I do quite a few things for free (mostly for the enjoyment value), none of that ever really has a financial value anyway. If any Thoughtcat readers therefore have any propositions for me, please email me.
Then again, there might be other small ways in which people like me can generate cash we didn't know we had. For instance I visited Amazon.co.uk today and the familiar message came up saying, "Mr R Cooper, make £73.13 by selling your past purchases at Amazon today." I could never be bothered to actually do it but if that £73.13 went straight to the appeal, it'd be worthwhile. Equally, maybe eBay could start an initiative encouraging people to auction stuff they don't need (especially unwanted Christmas presents), with the proceeds going to charities like DEC.
An even more radical idea went through my head today. Someone wrote to the Guardian to suggest that income tax be raised by a couple of percentage points to fund rebuilding work in the affected region. I would say go further than that and introduce an obligatory flat-rate "charity tax" of £5 a year on everyone, the proceeds of which would then be given solely to countries who really need it. Everyone in the UK can afford £5 a year, and although £5 in itself is practically nothing, multiplied by 60m people that's an incredible £300m that could be made available by some of the relatively richest people in the world to the objectively poorest. Having a tax like that wouldn't put off the people who can afford to give more from doing so if they wanted. Flat-rate taxes, and taxes in general, are of course controversial and provoke cries of "nanny state", but surely this is the sort of thing Tony's nanny state should be doing - i.e. as opposed to stopping a few people from hunting foxes and forcing us all to carry ID cards.
Something that rather annoyed me in today's Guardian meanwhile was Simon Hoggart's column, headlined Scottish balm for flayed souls. Thinking this was something to do with Scotland's charitable response to the disaster, it actually turned out to be a reference to the beneficial effects of Scottish Christmas hospitality on the holidaying Hoggart clan whose souls had been "flayed" by the events of a couple of weeks ago, in which Thoughtcat neighbour Hoggart had been exposed as another of Kimberly Quinn's lovers. I have no doubt that Hoggart's affair caused a lot of distress to his wife and children, and that the columnist himself is not wholly to blame for the headline chosen for the article, but surely if there was a time for people to shut up about their pathetic personal indiscretions and get things in perspective, this is it.
All of the above lamentation is not to say, in fairness, that I didn't enjoy myself over Christmas and the New Year. I'm verily getting into one particular present, the first volume of Bob Dylan's much-trumpeted autobiography Chronicles, which is appropriately fascinating, compulsive and confusing - he keeps messing around with said "chronology", for example by getting a couple of sentence into an introduction of someone, then talking about someone else, then about another time a few months later, then going back at greater length to the person he was originally talking about before hopping forward a few more years via an anecdote about Dave Van Ronk's shoes, someone else's raspberry sofa and several references to the wind. Don't get me wrong, I love the style, and it does of course follow both the real nature of memory itself, which doesn't present stuff to you in any particular order if it can help it, and Dylan's lifelong Piccasoesque approach to the world by looking at things from lots of different angles at the same time.
Apart from the Book of Bob there were two great documentaries on TV, one on the life and work of Dennis Potter, featuring some fascinating contributions from his children, and another relating the history of the Secret Policeman's Balls. And last night Mrs Thoughtcat and I saw in 2005 in time-honoured fashion, in the company of Jools Holland and his Hootenanny chums, who this year included Eric Clapton, Franz Ferdinand and Amy Winehouse, all of whom were in fine fettle. (Aside to other guitar nerds: interesting to see Clappo playing a very old Strat - a bashed up sunburst with the old-fashioned single-coil pickups, practically unheard-of in his act since at least 1985.) Jamie Cullum lived up to his reputation of being the Jamie Oliver of jazz, i.e. by playing very well but being unnecessarily irritating (and mistaking the top of his piano for a pair of congas to boot). Legendary joannameister Jools dropped a bombshell by playing guitar on one number while his brother Chris played piano (amazingly well, it has to be said, although I would have thought that given Jools's instrumental role-reversal, surely he could have persuaded Eric to tickle the ivories for a few moments? Now that I would pay to see...) Best of all though was the appearance on the show of none other than Thoughtcat's favourite living band, the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, who did a plucking good version of Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit. Thanks to the dulcet tones of Tony Penultimate (q.v.), it was the first time I'd ever been able to understand the lyrics of that song ("understand" in the sense of "hear", not "comprehend") and the UOGB managed to practically turn it into a comedy number - all of which showed real pluck!
Skipping back, in Dylanesque fashion, to the programme about the Secret Policeman and his Balls, it was interesting to see Rowan Atkinson give a TV interview for the first time in, well, ever, probably. It was quite out of character for him to be out of character, in fact. He did say one very odd thing, though, when he wandered off the point a bit to voice an apparently serious fear that technology could very soon be able to "read our minds", thus restricting perhaps the biggest freedom of all, the freedom of thought. That started me wondering, and it occurred to me that perhaps this is already happening - in the form of the humble internet. After all, who knows what organisations are spying on the sites we visit and the emails we write, all of which go some way to indicating what we're thinking, whether it be about politics, sex or money? That said, of course, the web cuts both ways: while it is possible for the paranoiacs of the world to track what AN Other is "thinking" from their browser history, many of the ideas, ideologies and opinions (especially political ones) which AN Other might not normally find out about - especially if the FBIs and CIAs had their way - are being communicated and disseminated to an unprecedented level by the very same medium.
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