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M is for My 2012.
Dominic Cooke's 'The Comedy of Errors' sums up 2012 - I watched it in January - being a Shakespeare hater, I allowed my cynical eye to scan the performance just as dear Quentin Letts does while taking the Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck out of parliamentarians on a weekly basis. Lenny Henry could have done a sporadic dance to Footloose and the audience would have hooted and applauded, but he didn't, being in Henry's direct vision, he looked me in the eye from the stage and I thought: 'Where's your dignity man?'- 'Go and do a hit show with Dawn French?' I suppose even the great Lenny Henry has to go where the work is, regardless of talent, qualifications, who he was married to, and star quality. I knew then that 2012 was going to be a year of 'comedic errors' alas, not of the funny kind. I remember 'The Occupy Movement' was less about occupying and more about keeping warm in their Knights-bridge flats, than shivering it out in their tents, which lay dormant, unoccupied every night. I found myself thinking how pointless this movement is: supposedly fighting against social and economic inequalities, wearing ludicrous masks simulating a Batman fiend. Why doesn't one of the scally-wags stand on a soap-box and shout about Marxism, or some-mat? - Instead of leaving it to economic Queen Stephanie Flanders who did the honour, on a BBC budget, doing OM job single-handedly. The OM were far too busy supping a Starbucks Mocha and fingering their iPhones, till it got too cold to fiddle, to take any notice. Ironic, now that it has come to light Starbucks has fiddled the books for years - ah, a comedy of errors, indeed. Notably, Dominic Cooke's comedic timing was impeccable - whether it was a fluke or of formidable foresight, the theatrical performance predicted 'pleb-gate' which sketched out the career fate of Andrew Mitchell, who was actively doing the cycle to work scheme - Mitchell obviously was attempting to work-off the hot pasty he consumed which poor people cannot afford thanks to the 20% VAT. Cameron added bull to the fire by lying that he had a pasty not long ago at a train station up north - the said pasty vendor had been closed for two years. Now Cooke would've been proud of that comedy of error - truly Shakespearean it was a 'Ham-omelet', filling. Nor did he know the price of milk, or who composed 'Rule Britannia?' - A composition by Thomas Arne in 1740. Asking him what he thinks about 'Das Kapital?'- would've been beyond embarrassing: "Ah, the Italian cruiser, a terrible disaster, my heart goes out to the victim's families and friends". 'No, that's the 'Costa Concordia', PM!' One year on, and the 'Costa Concordia' is a morbid tourist attraction, well, the Italian tourist industry is 'dead in the water', mimicking their mountain of national debt.
The more I got use to what 2012 will be remembered for, the more I wished I'd stayed naive and had a mere inkling of what the economic cuts meant. A Food-bank got resurrected from a porch to an odd warehouse, whereby professional workers would go for their daily groceries. I met too many, having come from work Roberta had to feed her three children. Child-care was like a financial black-hole to her, a working poverty trap, where there is no immediate escape - it was a case of 'Heating or Eating'. A marriage break-up was the cause of her downward economic spiral. The vile Pay-Day Lenders were to blame, prying on the hard-up professional. They are a capitalistic blot on the British economic landscape - these are purely designed to cripple home-owners due to the disingenuous interest charges they plague consumers with. In turn, causing immense stress, panic attacks and sometimes lives, yet again Trading Standards are powerless to such businesses it seems. 2012 has brought white-collar workers into the Food-bank - something I thought I would never see from the seventh biggest economy in the world, this was a real eye-opener - A 'foray of terrors' is a better synonym, hardly comedic, although somewhat Shakespearean, in regards to, insurmountable tragedy. 2012, duly was a year that the term; 'plug the......gap', was part of everyday living. A four hundred percent rise in regards to the needy having no option but to use a Food-bank - from the end of 2011. Usually crippled with debt, stress, and some of them resemble images of the starving during the Kosovo War - cowering and tired, with tea-bags under their peepers, claws as hands. These are not job-seeker claimants but blue-collar workers struggling to keep their bobble hats above the rising tide of 'everyday living' - In April 2013 this analogy could become the norm for bread-line workers - with housing benefit cuts and energy bills eating into household income, greater inequality beckons. All it takes is one unsuspecting bill such as a boiler breaking, or a funeral - for some they're playing catch-up - Always a month behind, locked into a whirlpool of 'debt, work, debt and work'. These poor souls could be characters from Ian McEwan's novel 'The Child in Time' - where a man is so demoralized by his personal tragedy, despair and internal sub-humanity, he gapes at daytime TV Shows - watching his counterparts humiliating and embarrassing themselves, on the off chance he feels comfort - His 'democratic pornography' - his choice of ennui.
2012 was a year of reality checks. Every week I got fresh groceries for the Food-bank - wishing it wasn't needed. I have an itch to strike my very own reality check to Cameron, even if he was to visit and smell the acrid breathe of the hungry - he'll see the lethal injection he is inducing the 'working wounded'. Those who're too busy to complain or belong to 'The Occupy Movement', too impoverish with time and finance to enjoy a Shakespearean play - if they had a say on stage, it'll be a hell of a performance.
So, is Mary Portas the latest victim of ageism on the BBC? The so-called 'retail style guru' has noticeably moved to Channel Four for her latest show called 'The bottom Line', seemingly replaced by busty Alex Politzzi in the same format and time slot that Mary owned. Alex is younger, sexier and flirtier with the boys, not Mary's thing anymore, recently 'outing' herself as bisexual and living with Grazia magazine fashion features editor Melanie Rickey, and with a baby on the way. Has the mop top moved to the alternative channel with her alternative lifestyle as the money is better or, whispers it quietly; she is too old for the 9pm slot on BBC2? Politzzi is playful and sexy and loves the camera, taking the opportunity to squeeze into a magnificent leather bikers outfit when helping to help a family firm turn their garage business around in Manchester. Mary just seemed to change her outfit for every camera angle, going through an extraordinary amount of costumes for her show, a self-publicist attention seeker. She simply didn't appeal to men with her big gob and bossy manner and so had to go. I'm happy with Alex.
So, after sorting out the charity industry and various businesses and boutiques across the land our Mary has used her celebrity power accrued from the BBC to launch herself as the Portas brand, the House of Fraser flagship London store project last year a big success and to be fair very popular with middle-class mature women as she sold clothes they actually wanted to buy. There's no doubt she knows what she is doing and very entertaining on this type of inspirational makeover TV but has she outlived the non commercial BBC now she tries to build her fashion empire through them, Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsay style?
Like Jamie Oliver, Mary has moved into that guru territory where you exploit working-class people through the medium of television and who know no better and let the tears flow as they 'go on a journey'. The plan this time around for good TV is as absurd as Oliver's plan to make Rotherham get thin or school the nations chav's with celebrities, here Portas rocking up in a once thriving northern town and trying to kick-start the clothing manufacturing industry by making 100% British made underwear, the sort of impossible task even a James Bond villain wouldn't try. Mary thinks that if the product is good and home made then middle-class women- presumably- will pay ten pounds for a pair of cheeky knickers. If they will pay three quid for a cappuccino then there is a chance, right? Well no as you can be seen drinking the coffee but few older women get men to see their knickers these days.
Cheap foreign and child labour means 90% of the clothing industry has left Britain because 90% of the country doesn't give a crap about the poverty of sweatshops and just want cheap pants, the industry halving in the last ten years alone in the UK from what it was in the 1990s. But Mary knows better and believes because Chinese labour costs are rising so the west can compete, a pretty deluded observation if I may say so as sweatshops just move to poorer countries when that happens, the fundamental mechanics of a sweatshop. The only profitable clothing factories in the UK are illegal sweatshops in places like Bradford and Leicester who exploit illegal immigrant labor on three pounds an hour, a documentary also recently shown on Channel Four.
In episode one Mary recruits her sewing staff alongside some older skilled staff from the unskilled unemployed of Middleton, Manchester, where the mill industry once ruled, plenty of jobless moody Northerners to pick from to create the characters that are essential to these shows and plenty of empty units from that industry to base their factory. The queue is huge for the interviews, Mary looking almost disappointed that the young people want to work, no doubt a lot of middle-class fashion students in the queue wanting to get ahead from her connections or kids just wanting to be on TV. Mary tries to fob off the demand as Work Program kids told to attended and so belligerently selects the least likely eight from the queue to get the trainee jobs, kids that cant sew and looking rather overweight, fitting the jobless stereotype to appease the middle-class sneering viewers watching on who tuned in for exactly this reason and will reciprocate to the commercials during the show that sell them nice things they want to buy even more now because they don't live like these poor people. Maybe the guilty ones will even buy Marks knickers made by the poor?
So with all the 'characters' in place the kids begin to learn to get up for work in time and use a sewing machine, three of the eight being young guys, all on minimum wage for nine months, the first principal of the sweatshop, the bottom line. Knickers, no money. Get it?
As Mary and the team get to grips with sourcing materials for her knickers the plan is to make and sell 5000 in that nine month period to make a decent profit. But the first cheat is Mary is allowed to pull on her various connections to get things done and no doubt waved her badge round when suppliers were late or sent defective materials, as did the lace manufacturer from Nottingham. These shows don't work without false economies of scale television shows will deliver.
The kids seem willing to work and Mary clearly struggling to find the 'human story' to produce more tears, one stroppy overweight twentysomething all we have so far. She was Marys pick, clearly aware that the show needed drama, where you always get cynical about these shows. Mary isn't putting up much of the money for the shows venture - one presumes - and so still needs to make a TV show. You want her to succeed but at the end of the day it is just exploitative television. She is a hard-headed business woman and so the methods she applies to make this television show are the exact opposite she advises her clients as a high street fashion guru to do, her other job, a scheme like this pure folly. The reason why 90% of our clothes are made abroad is because that's the only way we can afford them and why 90% of us pay as little as possible for pants that will soon have more skid marks than Silverstone! I guarantee you 100% that if Mary was advising a private client how to launch an underwear range she would say make them cheap in China and enjoy the greedy mark up here. How long it will be until silly documentaries like this are outsourced to China is the big question here.
Channel 4 at 9pm Thursdays if you're keen guys....