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Can finish, won’t finish

2014 July 7
by Passer over Perilous Ways

A not-so-wet dream has me pondering both the predictive power of our sleep-time show-time,
And the waning power of my libido

A limp weinerWet dreams are of course most readily associated with the hormonal holocaust of adolescence. When a fortysomething like myself wakes up in a damp patch it’s far more likely to be an early visit from the incontinence fairy. But, though they are something of a rarity for me in these days of my dotage, I will admit to still waking up from time-to-time to find that I’ve shot my load in my shorts.

The trigger is always the same; a dream in which I’m having sex which suddenly feels partly real, in which the mental division between pure fantasy and physical sensation short-circuits and pretty quickly jolts me awake. Not always though, quickly enough.

Wet-dreams are rare enough to have just some novelty value for me now and I’ve been round the block far too many times to be embarrassed by them. They’re somewhat “as-per”.

Only I recently had one which was not “as-per.” A wet-dream in every single respect bar one, a sexual dream which suddenly seemed real and jolted me awake, only it wasn’t a wet dream but a dry one.

I didn’t come in reality because I couldn’t come in my dream.


Can come

I’ve never had this problem in real life (no, honest!) I get sex far too rarely to be in any way jaded by it and I’m a long, long way from pestering my quack for some Viagra or one of its bathtub variants. Hell, I’m still working on stopping myself from finishing too soon, let alone not being able to finish at all.

Which makes me wonder where this dream came from (no pun intended). Our dreams are a by-product of how our brains work; using its night-time down-time to take stuff from its inefficient short-term memory and mapping it into its long-term memory. It’s a process where our mind hunts for patterns, rules and relationships between our entire life’s experiences and the events, preoccupations and worries of our immediate experiences. It throws up some bizarre images, but when you look into the few you might be able to hang onto the following day you can usually find some logic and sense to them if you dig deep enough.

So, as a man not especially preoccupied with my aging, not suffering from an obviously waning libido, who’s only problems with sex are getting it and keeping it going long enough to have a chance of getting more of it, and who hasn’t had any recent conversations with friends about sexual inadequacy or read about it or seen films or TV shows relating to it, I am at something of a loss to explain why I would be dreaming about humping a hot eighteen year old for two straight hours and tapping the mat only when she’d fallen asleep and wouldn’t know that I didn’t get off.

Where the hell did this come from?

Unfortunately I can only find one credible explanation.

And it isn’t a comforting one.


Won’t come

More romantically disposed people than myself (i.e. idiots) may believe in a certain mysticism surrounding dreams; that they can predict the future or that they hold messages for us from beyond this world. To a realist like me this is total horseshit. Dreams are a by-product of our experiences, both near and far. They may reflect back to us aspects of our reality that we’re consciously ignorant of, and in this regard they can surely have some value, but they are firmly rooted in who we are as a person and where we’ve been as a person.

My dreams became sexualised before I consciously became sexualised myself
But this glib little summing up isn’t entirely accurate. Our dreams can sometimes be ahead of the curve too.

I hit puberty in the eighties, well before the sex-everywhere days of near-pornographic music videos and easily accessible Internet smut that we live in now. When I hit puberty, I was totally and utterly naïve; my knowledge limited to a single sex education lesson at high school that I didn’t remotely understand.

Yet, before I detected puberty happening to me and well before any experiences sprung from it to fuel my dreams, I was nonetheless having sexualised dreams. I didn’t understand why I was suddenly obsessed with girls and fantasising about seemingly bizarre situations with them, yet I was. My dreams became sexualised before I consciously became sexualised myself.


Don’t come

So it would seem then that our dreams do reflect more than just our experiences; they reflect our nature and our instincts too, even before we’ve acquired any experiences from following those instincts. Dreams can’t predict the future in the crystal ball sense of that phrase but they can act as harbingers of the future by reflecting changes in the natural life-phase we are in, even if we don’t yet know we’re in it.

Our dreams do reflect more than just our experiences; they reflect our nature and our instincts too
As an adolescent I dreamt about girls far before I had any real understanding of why and far before I had any material for such dreams. As a middle-aged man I find myself dreaming about a waning sex drive far before I have any material for such dreams too. Could it be the same thing?

If so, if this is a case of a dream that is ahead of the curve, I hope it’s a long, long way ahead of it!



The case for change, in your change

2014 June 22
by Passer over Perilous Ways

Are there more Scottish banknotes in circulation in the run-up to the independence vote?

Scottish bank notesAs someone regularly engaged in a spot of missionary work north of the border I’m well used to the odd Scots’ fiver or tenner passing through my wallet.

Most Brits are aware that Scotland (and for that matter Northern Ireland and on a subtly different legal basis Gibraltar) have their own banknotes. Even those who have never travelled to the outskirts of the Union will have been landed with one at some point in their lives and been greeted with grumbles and rolling eyes (or even flat refusals) when trying to pass them to a tradesman or shopkeeper outside of their country of origin.

Fortunately I visit Scotland often enough to avoid this particular “sport” (and, both knowing and loving the Scots’ sense of humour, I wonder if it’s the only reason they print them in the first place). I visit Scotland often enough to be able to hold onto them ’til the next time I’m up there.

I also visit Scotland often enough to notice a change in those ethnic fivers and tenners recently.

There seem to be an awful lot more of them.


Historical facts

According to the Committee of Scottish Bankers the first Scottish bank to issue banknotes was The Bank of Scotland in 1695. According to the Bank of England’s latest Scottish and Northern Ireland Banknote Issuance report they have been regulated by the British Government since 1845 and have been under the purview of the Bank of England since The Banking Act of 2009. Currently there are three Scottish commercial banks who print their own banknotes – The Bank of Scotland, The Royal Bank of Scotland and Clydesdale bank – and current legislation allows them to do so on the condition that they hold sufficient assets to back their issue.

Of particular note to the conspiracy theorists amongst us is that the issue of Scottish banknotes is not within the power of the devolved Scottish assembly, nor for that matter the British government, it’s entirely down to the commercial banks themselves. This perhaps partly accounts for the anomaly that, whilst they are legal Sterling currency they are not legal tender – not even in Scotland where no currency technically enjoys the status of legal tender; their acceptance is entirely at the discretion of whomsoever one is trying to pass them to.


Statistical facts

The Committee of Scottish Bankers website states that “The majority of banknotes circulating in Scotland are issued by the Scottish banks.” It is therefore not surprising that I’m well used to a regular stream of these fivers and tenners passing through my hands when exchanging a crisp English twenty pound note for a Starbucks or a takeaway when I’m up that way. Of late though I seem to be getting back Scottish banknotes almost exclusively and, with the independence referendum just round the corner, that this particular symbol of nationhood seems more prevalent has my spidey-sense tingling more than somewhat.

Scottish Banknotes in circulation - June 2011 to June 2014 (source: Bank of England)

And the Bank of England’s regulatory reports, available online for the last four years, seem to suggest my suspicions may not be entirely groundless. In the three years between June 2011 and June 2014 when these reports are issued, there has been around an 18% increase in Scottish banknotes in circulation, from approximately £3.5bn to the current £4.1bn.

This is hardly a smoking gun of course, but that’s still well ahead of price inflation or GDP. And bearing in mind that they are printed by commercial banks rather than the government – hardly a flourishing sector at the moment – and that they must be backed by assets in order to be printed, that increase does seem something of an, er, achievement to me.

And while the Scottish Nationalist majority in the Scottish Assembly might not have direct control over their printing (at least not yet!) that doesn’t mean a little soft-power isn’t being wielded somewhere.


If I were a Scotsman…

On September 18th 2014 Scotland will vote on independence from the United Kingdom and, without wishing to appear dismissive, as an Englishman I don’t really care much which way the vote goes. I mean, for me, what really changes? It’s not like Sultan Salmond will be sawing Scotland off at Carlisle and towing it away the minute he’s freed from the imperial yoke. Scotland belongs to the Scots; if they vote for independence then the best of luck to them and if they vote to stick with the UK, hey, that’s just great too.

If I were a Scotsman I’d be sorely tempted by the idea of independence. As a man who has been self-employed for most of his life the notion of going it alone and doing better for yourself is deeply ingrained in me. Yet, and in spite of that, I would most certainly vote to stick with the Union.

At least under the current system the Scots and the rest of the Brits are sharing the cost of a smaller pool of these bozos
Because countries aren’t run by people like me. Countries are run by politicians; the sort of people who inspire the thoughts of spin, gamesmanship and backroom deals that make me instantly suspicious when I notice an increase in the number of Scots banknotes I’m getting in my change. Like most of my compatriots I wouldn’t trust them as far as I could throw them.

And therein perhaps lies the most pragmatic and overarching argument for sticking with the Union. Independence means two smaller administrations and the law of economies of scale states that the sum of those parts will be greater than the current whole. We’ll all end up paying more money for more politicians and more civil servants.

At least under the current system the Scots and the rest of the Brits are sharing the cost of a smaller pool of these bozos.



Euro no hope springs eternal

2014 June 8
by Passer over Perilous Ways

The EU rules that spring onions must now be called salad onions?
Code or canard it exemplifies the dire state of the union

Spring onions or salad onions?I don’t pay much attention when I’m out shopping. I just see the stuff I want and throw it in my basket once I’ve pushed my way through the loitering mass of picky package-squeezers who seem to feel the need to man-handle (or more accurately in this case woman-handle) everything on the shelf before selecting which to take.

Therefore I was particularly ill prepared, on a recent trip to my local convenience store, for the exchange of small talk that greeted me at the checkout:-

 Cashier: Spring, er, Salad onions … (sarcastic smile) … we can’t call them spring onions any more.

PPW: (eyes narrowing) Why’s that?

Cashier: European regulations … we can’t call them spring onions because they’re grown all year round so we have to call them salad onions from now on.

PPW: (eyes rolling) Urrgh … makes me want to vote UKIP.


The case for the defence

While, like many of my countrymen, I despair of the bloated bureaucracy and petty policymaking of the European Union and recognise its urgent need for reform and realignment I will not, of course, be voting UKIP. That was just an idle one-liner at the corner store.

As a man with a passing interest in economics I recognise that whether Britain is in the EU or out of it Europe will remain our biggest trading partner and therefore we’ll be subject to the vast majority of its legislation anyway. At least from the inside we have some say in those rules and the most possible forewarning that they’re coming, unlike countries like Norway and Switzerland who can only wait in fear for them to come off the fax machine.

As a man who has read How to win friends and influence people, Dale Carnegie’s unfortunately cheesily named 1937 classic on the psychology of people handling, I also acknowledge that by far the best way to change others is to work with them, to show them respect and make your objectives coincide with theirs, rather than hurl abuse and threats from the periphery and threaten to take your ball home.

And as a born sceptic I recognise that any story, whether from the media or from the man in the street, that plays to prevailing populism cannot be taken at face value.

And this one smells a little bit like horseshit to me.


The case for the prosecution

But it seems to me that in this example the truth doesn’t actually matter because the problem with this example isn’t its factual accuracy but its believability.

I don’t think I’ve ever looked at the label on my M&S spring onions in my life before this weekend so I’m hardly a credible witness
I could hardly be bothered to pop into the Google-cave to see if there was any substance to it at all but a quick search revealed little more than a couple of discussion boards where the same rumour had been discussed. If this change is a result of European legislation then it’s almost certainly an interpretation of some obscure clause rather than the result of a clear and specific decision. If indeed there has been any change at all – I don’t think I’ve ever looked at the label on my M&S spring onions in my life before this weekend so I’m hardly a credible witness.

Yet, if it were the result of a clear and specific decision from the European policy machine few of us would be surprised. It’s exactly the sort of micro-meddling that the populist press love to jump on and therefore, fairly or otherwise, we’ve all come to expect. It’s therefore equally believable that someone would presume a supermarket changing the name of its salad products for no apparently good reason was doing so because of an EU regulation; the story starts to spread and a another widely accepted canard is born.


A shopping basket-case

May’s European elections lived up to two widely trailed expectations.

First was the predictably low voter turnout. The UK managed little over 1 in 3 people bothering to cast their euro-ballot, though that’s actually pretty respectable compared to previous euro-votes.

Second was the expected rise in the share of votes for anti-Europe parties. Taking a couple of examples from the subsequent coverage in The Economist Britain’s UK Independence party managed over 27% while France’s National Front got around 25%. Overall the broadly Eurosceptic parties will occupy over a quarter of the seats in the next European parliament.

Both reflect an unhealthy degree of disinterest and disdain for the European Union and this is as much a result of its political performance (or lack thereof) as it is of popular perceptions (or indeed misconceptions).

The EU needs to work better at the things that really matter and perhaps more importantly needs to show it’s working better at the things that really matter. The UK may face a referendum on its EU membership over the next few years and I doubt the turnout will be anywhere near as weak if it does.

And, unless things change, I also doubt we’ll be the last country to get one.