Hitched and sealed

Getting married at London's St Paul's Cathedral

Last month I got married at London’s St Paul’s Cathedral. (Yes, really.) Nothing to do with my humdrum family history – rather, it was my new wife’s illustrious parents that gave me the chance. As anyone who’s seen my profile pictures (“shot in the back of the head”, every time!) across the web knows, I prefer anonymity and the shadows to letting it all hang out; you do better work for longer that way. And religion is no part of my life. So why did I go for a ceremony guaranteed to have me appearing in 100 strangers’ selfies when we emerged onto the steps of one of the world’s most famous buildings?

For the story.

Life is about big stories. Sequences of events that make everything make sense. Marrying later in life than most (although I still feel too young to settle down) I wanted that big moment when it all came together, something we’ll remember forever. A full-length thriller not an espresso short. Something to anchor the memory to the reality with a big thunking CLANG, setting me up for a new life with my beautiful bride. (A girl whose stories started a lot earlier in life than mine, and involved events far more dangerous.)

And it was a big day. I can’t remember a moment when I wasn’t smiling. To over 100 guests who flew, drove, and sailed thousands of kilometres to be there for us… thank you.

And also as proof that life’s adventures don’t have to stop. I’m writing this a month after the big day, in Florida’s Fort Lauderdale airport, about to head home after an adventurous honeymoon involving driving, drinking, shooting, swimming, and getting my SCUBA certification in Key Largo. The stories don’t end. But this phase of my life started with a building.

Simple solutions to complex problems: target the hardcore criminals

The USA’s “black budget” – the part of security spending outside scrutiny, including the NSA’s spy-on-everyone programmes – is now an incredible $59bn. All of it unaccountable with the figure rising each year. There’s a much better way to achieve national security – one that preserves civil liberties for the law-abiding while creating half a million jobs for no net increase in cost. The solution: focus on the actual criminal.

Let’s look at some UK figures first. In England & Wales, a hardcore of 5000 people commit around half of all crime. Raise the set to 100,000, and you’ve basically covered all crime except the odd parking ticket. Assuming the same dynamic applies to the USA, that’s 25,000 people on the Most Dangerous List and half a million on the Watch List.

(The USA locks up a lot of people for life who’d merely be cautioned in the UK, so the actual figures might be higher, but the principle holds.)

The simple solution to this complex problem: for $59bn you could pay over a million people a decent salary to watch one person each.

That’s it: all these new employees do is follow one specific lawbreaker around, day in day out, reporting on what they do and who they’re doing it with. Infringement of civil liberties? These people are known criminals; they’ve already demonstrated their lack of interest in civil society. And the upside – no need to listen in to everyone in the world’s emails and calls – is a far greater prize.

Imagine: the ancient legal principles dating back to the Magna Carta – the right to be free of unreasonable search or seizure, to not be detained without reasonable suspicion – actually coming back into force, regaining the rights we’ve all lost since 9/11.  Big win for the honest citizen.

The cost structure is appealing, too. Many of those 0.5m offenders will be low-risk and nonviolent. (There are plenty of people in jail across the USA because they got caught with a joint at 18 or slept with a girlfriend aged 17.) So watching them like a hawk wouldn’t even be a full-time posting: the odd phone call and app check-in would suffice.

This means the hardcore ones could then be assigned up to a dozen Watchers each: experienced professionals whose sole job it is to stick closer to the offender than their own shadow. There’s an excellent career path for a young Watcher. In your first years on the job, you get Mildred Who Once Took a Bong Hit Near a Window. With a bit of seniority, you get assigned to Fred Who Repeatedly Drives Uninsured. Five years in, you’re into Boris the Bag Snatcher and Mohammed The Hate Preacher. Stay in the job long enough, you might even get the worst of the worst, a tax-and-spend socialist or something. (OK, but you get my point.)

That’s my simple solution: target the people who actually do crime. Civil liberties get respected once again: the lawbreakers earn credits based on how long they’ve stayed on the straight and narrow, giving both watched and Watcher aligned incentives. The jail population shrinks by two-thirds overnight; over a million people return to society within strict limits. It also erases the artificial distinction between criminal and civil law – which in the USA and UK doesn’t really exist in practice anyway, with 1% of the population in jail and white-collar crimes being charged under Terrorism legislation.

We don’t need a secret security apparatus watching our every move, where everyone is a suspect and your thoughts are used against you. We just need to do the sane thing – watch the criminals.

 

 

Freestyling: the mark of a true Londoner

Tube logoIt’s not about your ability to delete homeless people from your field of vision. It’s not about having a minimum of three locks on your door, or believing £30 is a reasonable sum to spend on a takeaway. No, being a true Londoner is about …. freestyling!

Freestyling is the skill of staying upright on the Tube without holding on to straps, poles, or parts of other people’s anatomy – “riding” the floor of the train as if it were a surfboard. (Of course, we’re assuming the surfboard is huge, dry, stops every couple of minutes, and is shared with a hundred people. Use your imagination.)

The rewards for doing so successfully are enormous – out-of-towners gaze at you in amazement, recent immigrants to the capital look mournfully at your smug no-hands-ma poses, and you’ll have the chance every couple of rides to prevent an attractive female person hitting the deck in a tangle of heels and miniskirt, for which she’ll be duly grateful. (Or alternatively, enjoying the amusing sight of less-attractive people spreadeagling themselves on the floor with a thump.)

So, as a service to Londoners who haven’t quite got the hang of it all, here’s A Tube User’s Guide to Freestyling! First I’ll cover the basic techniques.

The Tube User’s Guide to Freestyling

Basic skills

1. Be a tripod. You have three legs, not two. (Stop sniggering at the back.) Instead of thinking of your stance as a two-dimensional line, do what martial artists do: feel how balanced you are and compensate a couple of times a second. As the train sets off, slows, or makes one of those inexplicable stops in the tunnel that happen about ten times a journey, see the spot on the floor that offers most support and move your weakest foot there. Three legs is the most stable arrangement for any chair or table; be a tripod.

2. Keep it moving. The game’s to stay upright, not resemble a statue in the British Museum. The physics for this is “metastable” (the movements, not the statue); keeping yourself slightly dynamic can combat any Circle jerk or Northern rattle. Keep your weight forward on the balls of your feet (balls being a necessary component of Freestyling on the older lines) and always, always keep your body supple and joints unlocked. You are a coiled spring ready for anything, not a life model. Keep it moving.

3. Think about it. However good the thing on your Kindle, keep one thread of your mind focussed on your stance. Some stops (hi, Northern after rushhour!) are stamp-on-the-brakes sudden and there’ll never be any warning. Board each train as if there’s a brick wall across the track that the driver can only see once he’s within ten feet. (On older lines, this is partially true.)

Imagine there is a metal pole, floor to ceiling, in the carriage. (Er, OK, there really is, but if you were holding onto it you wouldn’t be a Freestyler, would you?) In your imagination, you are circling slowly around this pole; it’s there if you need it. Keep that vertical pillar in your mind and you’ll tend to stay upright.

4. Laugh at losers. On every train, at every start, there’s at least a couple of people in every carriage who seem baffled by the basic physics of it all: when the train starts off, a body will attempt to remain in place, leading to said body stumbling in a direction opposite to that of travel. It’s too late for these people: they will never learn, so it’s okay to laugh at them. It’s not too late for you.

Over the next few blogs I’ll look at the individual characteristics of each Tube line and the advanced techniques needed to successfully Freestyle each. More later!

Things you don’t see every day

 Something I’ve never seen in ten years as a Londoner: a fully-laden gravel & sandbags open-bed cargo train, with open-platform steering wheel and everything, going through a Tube station! Of course, I knew such things must exist – it may be twenty storeys beneath the streets but it’s still a railway – but it just felt weird, seeing heavy industrial equipment moving through the clean-tech, electrically operated, sanitised cool hiss of the Jubilee Line.