Monday, October 26, 2015

The Hipster Eclipse part II - Birth in a Million Sunrises

How does a fashion and whole life style genre gain a critical mass and go on to become so iconic as Punk was in the late 70s, hippie before that and now of course the urban woodsman look and artisan lifestyle of the modern-day  Hipster?

Every such 'movement' , being more than an off the peg fashion choice and more a total lifestyle statement, has its roots long before they emerge and then they have their protagonists who propell the sect into the limelight. The hippies can trace their roots back to the free spirits of the post war motorcylce escapists who became part of the beat generation, and then the hipsters of the 1950s who were spawned of the late 40s beats into the 1950s and early 60s.

In my last essay I blogged about the root to Hipsterdom but here I wanted to inject a little more theory into the evolution of the biggest fashion movement this last two decades,  since white boys started wearing puffa jackets, baseball trainers and squinty oversized baseball caps. Also I wanted to think through out loud the economics of Hipsterdom and earlier incarnations of the heavier lifestyle fashions which have arisen post war.

Innovators and Early Adopters

In consumer studies (and I would say studies rather than theory, this is more empirical than philosophical) marketing academics talk about three phases important to a product category. These phases relate to the chronological graph of growth in a categories volume or value over time. The innovators come first, followed by the closely associated group  of lead consumers, the early adopters and then the next group which are either called the 'early majority' or broken down a little more as the second standard deviation when considering the burned out graph historically.
Usually this graph is referrred to as the Product Life Cycle but when considering a whole genre ecompassing many fashion items, styles and products then it is kind of a primary trend graph from which other product life cycles can trace their ascendency.

A fashion or lifestyle genre is very much aligned with this because it is all about conspicuous consumption. Even if you were like me, part of a quite underground movement - me an eighties indie fan -  you are making a very visible statement to your peers if not society at large, and in choosing to shy away from the 'plastic public' you are making a similar decision as the Chelsea set shopping in exclusive designer boutiques on the King's Road.

As I wrote in the first "Hipster Eclipse" these roots are echos down the decades, and I propose that they all trace back to the post war Beat generation in the late 40s and early 50s.

Soldiers, aviators and those in homeland defence factories, were spat out at the other end of the war in the USA to a country which offered the clean cut and educated a lot, but which was rapidly becoming more overtly socially conservative as would be seen in the reaction against the racial rights movements and in McCarthyism in the subsequent decades. Some of the great warriors and industry workers were left disilussioned with having to fit in as a cog in a greater machine, and got a taste of different culture, artisan food and drink when compared to their mass produced rations and the very ugly machinery of war.

Some of these characters took to Harley Davidson and Indian motorcylces, or railway hoboing and became the drifters who would eventually let their hair and beards grow, thus becoming the first North American bohemian prototype for the hell's angels, the hippies and then today of course, the Hipsters. Others became artisans, working on something niche like fixing old motor bikes or wood turning, smoking meats and fish and so on, to live an individualistic lifestyle and deal with customers in small numbers they could relate to directly.

Individualism and its self statement through lifestyle and dress sense, can be linked to those who are the innovators and those who are nearest to them or those who are most receptive and indeed neophilic - seeking the new, the exciting, the unique. Even a very small core of very visible innovators can influence these neophiles via media or metropolitan districts which attract the educated artisans, misfits and drop outs of the day. At this point of transfer it has become a fashion - people no longer are just trying out new things and maybe forming new connections and exhcanges of ideas. The early adopters are following more than they are leading.

However in turn the early adopters spread the word and image and the often young, fashion conscious consumer wants in on the act. There is an obvious critical mass. The 'beautiful people' are doing it. It has also become safe enough to dare just that little to go into it, and available enough through chain stores or by the proliferation og specialist outlets such as the Carnaby Street roll out in the 1960s. The threshold to mass consumption is physically and psychologically lower, and it snow-balls out perhaps reaching an exponential phase in adoption numbers or value of sales.

So who are these innovators in the Hipster movement, and who are the beautiful people who were so keen to adopt a hick back woods beard and braces look?

The Beautiful and Often Gay People of Innovation and Style Leadership

I think that you can see that in the 1960s various threads of fashion were first adorned literally by the beautiful people - the models and pop stars of the time, and this became the cliche of the glam rock 70s and then the product placement 80s.

 Hipster is far more underground though and I think personally you can trace the biggest echo in its fashion root to the 1980s gay scene, and eventual 1990s style "gurus" epitomised by " Red or Dead". In the eighties there was a sudden gay reaction against the plastic and pretentious club fashions of the time into crew cuts, cheque shirts, 'docs' (boots) and head to toe faded denim. It was both dated and very ironic because it was pretty much like the so much maligned skin head fashion of the late 70s. It became all the rage too with lesbians who could have a boyish, tough look while communicating surreptitiously to other lesbians without perhaps the public noticing. The whole look took off amongst mid to late 80s students, being affordable, highly functional and quite cool, only to be then later regurgitated in the 1990s as oh-so-knowingly ironic and high priced designer trash clothes.

Talking of trash,  In fact though you can see from going back to the 1970s that hipster is a carbon copy with some gilt edges of the 1970s post hippy redneck woodsman look. With wild sideburns and quiffed short back and sides, this made a side show in the 1980s as the post punk "Pyscho Billy" genre. Full beards remained firmly for old, fat real ale drinking farts and the young men of the Apelachians.

I would like to have the time and budget to find the modern day proto hipsters, who I would say belonged to the gay community and developed the look as early as the late 90s. I dare say that they were the innovators and a large part of the early adopters. I think you can see that Hipster as a gay movement in outset by the fact that the fashion is very, very male dominated.

Somewhat ironic that the male Hipster look has become very iconographic for the modern, alpha male with soft edges that women may desire. This is in large because many male models came out with the big beard look maybe five or six years ago, and it has a staying power.

Why Hipster is More Hip Than Fashion in General 

At this point in the product life cycle something a little odd happens. This is because, a bit like going the whole hog as a punk in 1977, the hipster look, appendages and lifestyle takes more committment than just going into a chain store when they decide to roll out the look via clothes and accessories.

Hipster has a far higher threshold to participation. Firstly there is all that beard growing and trimming the old hedge into the Achaen columner beard, more down than out so to speak. Then there are artisan tattoos, one of those guilt edges which mark the modern Hipster as in the cognicenti and not just in a rusty pick up from the sticks. Ink is for life, and says something about you.

For the new rich set, despite Hipster fashion swaggering down the odd cat walk, it just does not capture the right communication for them. The children of the Reagan era born into wealth and corporate opportunity are looking for conservatism and exclusivity, not being called a douchebag walking down Fifth Avenue or on the beach in the Hamptons.

Then there is also all the "Hipster douchebag" slagging which started as soon as the internet meme media got hold of it. Prior to this, a bit like our anti-plastic-league 1980s indiedom, insults hurled across a street from a gang of squares or bitchy comments passed on the "pixettes" by highheeled working class tarts in a down town bar, were taken as confirmation and that we were doing the right thing! Being shouted at by some dick means that there is often safety in numbers so there are hipster communities springing up on the cheap side of towm, and in cheap towns like Detroit, where an otherwise economically unviable lifestyle and logistically difficult set of tastes can form a nuclear core with enough critical mass to humm yet not explode.

The Hipster Economy

Following on from this last point, the whole artisan and rather twee consumer attitudes of the Hipster means that they congregate around districts and towns where there is a high availability of things like craft beers, period leather and tweeds,  and slow food.

Being aritsan in nature this sets a large barrier to further explosion of the Hipster lifestyle as an industrial fashion. Artisan does not scale well. Yes you can buy new, premium priced designer Hipster clothes and paraphenalia, but the core of followers are still the modern disilllusioned.

You could argue that Hipsters are basically cheap skates, finding a fashion affordable by the charity shop availability of the themes of clothes, cameras, typewriters and so on. It is true to say that many Hipsters find their lifestyle choices and lower middle class status has marginalised them economically compared to the mainstream of corporate american, and even the skilled blue collar worker.

In fact for women coming to the movement, a blog worthy in its own right, it offers an alternative route to fulfillment than just being as pretty as you can and hoping to marry a corporate executive or trust fund playboy. Where are women in Hipsterism ? Yeah, a lot less visible but a powerful force no doubt. Do they follow, are they the modern housewife second job ? Or are they many of the new SME leaders ?

The Hipsters are/were middle class kids who just see the whole corporate America thing for the cubicle slave debt factory it has become. They see house prices in their middle class subburbs as being unattainable and the yuppie life style of the 80s aspirational as  now being for the few from far wealthier families who can get those wages or share portfolios to fund a Porsche and Ralph Lauren lifestyle which once any hard working graduate could achieve in the 80s. Like Hippy, Hipster is very much turn on, tune in drop out.

Economically then for many it is about being niche and loving it, and about finding the cheap areas which are just safe enough from gang violence to be habitable. It is also about seeking non traditional, artisan and entreprenerial lifestyles or careers within comunity work and social enterprises where you can get a job turning up in a cheque shirt without having shaved for six years.

The Hipster Economy self protects then to an extent. It is still a niche market and while growth may be high, potential is limited, thus Anheuser Busch may scout for new beer recipies, but wont be going into the market. It is kind of self exclusive then, the barrier to entry for corporate is its small and undefinable future size,  and the barrier to mass consumption is the lack of scalability of artisan based products and service businesses.

I think that in fact the Hipster economy could become the new mantra for middle class kids who see that meritocracy has all but evapourated in corporate careers, and wages have been stagnant and eroded in the SME sector of squaredom. The opporunity for young intelligent, energetic people with no ivy league and country club connections is to reduce their living costs and use some of their income either to become artisan entrepreneurs or to consumer and be consumed by these new bread of Hipster spawned SME.

Hipster- Eclipsed by Its Own Success

Here we come to close the circle on what my thread of discussion is and why I have entitled this blog "The Hipster Eclipse". No longer can you say 'beardy weirdy", the genie is out of the bottle and the verdict is cool amongst many folk ready to be influenced, while the squares of other worn out fashions and lifestyles can shout 'douchebag' all they want.

So if hipster does overcome the cries of  " douchebag " and go mainstream big time, then it will not implode but simply evolve around the mass marketed image to become something new, or rather old - perhaps quoting from punk or clean shaving beatnik days. However its legacy in the artisan SME economy may eclipse the size of the movement and become the luanch pad for the new 'belle epoque' for the artistic, the educated, the disillusioned and the young entrepreneur.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

The Hipster Eclipse

The hipster fashion, neigh, movement was a very long time in icubation and now is likely to be at its asthmus, ready to implode after this total self eclipse.
If you avoid the whole facial hair thing and make it a cross gender consideration, then the modern naughties and tens (2000s and 2010s) are part of a very long, slow rebirth of the 1950s hipster, beatnik and protohippie style. It began in the 1980s when students and young folk were looking to react against both the whole terylene and sequin 1970s pop kitch and the spandex and heavy eyeliner, main stream eighties. You just have to look at some of the bands of the time who were alternative aka indie, to see how the oxfam (charity) shop dress code and short back and side haircuts or wilder, anti eighties coiffures. Just pick up any NME or history of underground pop in the 80s and you will see the whole underground, post punk anti style epitomised by The Smiths and Dexy's Midnight Runners.
The greatest thing about the 80s for us who were teenagers and young adults then, was the underground culture. In fact Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground were amongst the must own vinyl albums of the decade, they seemed to be both perfectly ancient and completely timeless at the same time. Unlike maybe the beatnik period of the 1950s with their polonecks and Monk records in smoky basements, the 80s underground was way more diverse, feeding off many musical and style genres. Parodying some, as in the pyscho-billy movement. Hanging onto others like the punkier gothic style who all listened to the damned as well as Bauhaus and The Cure. The "pixettes" with their lovely vintage mini dresses bought from Starry Starry Night and other retro second hand boutiques. The ubiquitous  1950s rocker style bike jacket, which accompanied all from goth, through the smiths and into main stream with Bros. Doctor Martins affordable, street wise shoes and boots, hijacked from the needs of the ageing working class for comfrotable work shoes.  The the huge plethora of indie scene followers, like myself, wearing cheap but really high quality clothes from charity shops, once the fine coutoire of the well to do, and re-dyed army surplus combat trousers or jackets. 
Beards were out in the 1980s, it was seen as just old hat, hippy shit, when we had access to the first really good Gillette double blade with glide strip and wet-dry electric shaves. A clean shaved chin was a good thing for pulling one of those sexy wee pixetes, who didnt want stubble rash to belie her last nights indescressions and casual petting. One thing that was in, courtesay of Morrissey, was side burns, which were a kind of tip of the cap to the 1950s and at the same time bohemia and the English tradition of the lamb chop. Long before Mr. Darcy on TV, the brace of peripheral squirrels was popular in many different walks, trimmed or bushy, and I adorned a variety of them, although never a full sized Lemmy Chops set it has to be said.
The other great thing though about the whole scene and fashions,  was that apart from some of the day's indie stars signing for the likes of EMI, the whole stramash or visual and oral cacophany was never commercialised beyond being underground. In fact apart from music and bars and shoe shops suddenly having three shelves of the doc martin range, none of it became either main stream or artisan commercial. It was a kind of anti business style consumption as much as it was anti top-of-the-pops and anti Thatcher or Reagan. To marketers in fashion it was really a kind of unwanted mould. The fashion industry was for the 'plastics' and the 'designer nightmares'. This spilled over of course into grunge, but by then designers were more prepared to cash in on what a few years before , they saw as style detritus.
One are which did all get very twee was the whole retro thing, with vintage cloth shops becoming just about as expensive as designer boutiques into the 1990s, and some iconic nineteen fiftees consumer items like cameras, shoes, belts, leather jackets becoming highly sought after and basically highly over priced items of desire by the self appointed post grunge cognicenti.
Retro in the 1990s was still at the fringe, but it had become high margin low volume post indie 80s Carnaby Street tosh for the same type of mentality who were the credit card 'designer nightmares' of the young plastic public of the 80s. This mentality meant spending a lot on clothes, buying something of obvious 'build quality' and hoping you could string it together as style, often amongst the gay community in New York,  London, Brighton and the Scottish Central belt, and many other metropolitan areas. Designer hot shops like " Red or Dead" rode the back of this, churning out vastly overpriced kitsch which you could easily take out of a dusty wardrobe in Islington and don on a Detroit super hipster today. Cheque shirts, retro jeans, a kind of manual worker look for the fashion editor or stylist of the 90s.
Facial hair made a big come back, after the demise of the much loved 1980s 'designer stubble' which george michael sported in it must be said a very manly and iconic fashion, which appealed to me with my youthful apple cheeked complexion at the time as a 18 year old. The goatee and the porno donut, although both were just known as goatees made a huge comeback maybe unconsciously or maybe by some style leaders quoting beatniks and fifties hipsters via the brush strokes of Gillette.
From all this you get the sense don't you that the modern day hipster was gestating away from the womb of the underground 1980s, which was a mix of all different kinds of shit mainly bought at Oxfam and small, dusty record ships run by ageing rock fans with thinning long hair like uber shredded wheat over their domes.  Many a twee wee fuck back then would have some retro possessions - an old turntable and 1960s amp, An aquired Beatles collection of \original vinyl (found in dad's shed) , a communist block 35mm compact camera or maybe an old Leica if you had been to a 'soggy biscuit' school and had a trust fund. The cheqeured 'lumberjack' shirt and the scruffy, flung together look wandered as I said from indie over to the ubiquitous grunge look, ripped jeans from Bros. following too. There were plenty of references and then there was the whole rejecting the main stream.
Indie teeners an me felt that grunge stole our thunder to some extent, and was too narrow a genre to actually be taken seriously, and it all became too mainstream, too marketed at too exponential a rate, leading to the untimely and grusomme demise of its dark prince and anti hero, Kurt Cobain.  I remember then some really twee fuckers into the early 1990s when indie was being in some parts commercialised while in others killed off, who turned to the whole retro designer thing, seeking out style ques from the 1950s and before. They were anti marketing yet consumerist and although they were now proto yuppies, they smirked at me now wearing a suit and being a nine to five square in my first jobs in business.
Well the mainstream of the mid to late ninetees and into the  naughties deterioted into just a great mish mash of styleless fashion orgasms in all direction and then quickly became very conservative. The off the peg Oasis manufactured indierock or reborn mod look seemed to take up where grunge left off. There after there were just various styles competing to be fashion amongst youth, and the only one which stood out for its rediculousness was the black rapper on white youth look.
Where were the middle class youth in the aftermath of sagging and squint base ball caps and 'yo bitch' chat?
They were ready to get Hip, and I would say that it most likely started with some older 30 something gays with  burned out careers looking for something original, something which oused difference yet was a style and protrayed quality and personalisation. Queu ink too, which also was a real 90s youth thing. Gone those all too hideable surfer inspired maori wavey rings on the upper arms, in were arm long and neck line crossing works of art, as well as bad copies of your kids over your back.
Hipster became very identifiable, and very male dominated. A bit like punk, women are notably second fiddle to the lead of the vertical hanging garden of gingery face-fungus. In fact the hipster look is just as instantly identifiable as the moheikan of 1977, if just of course a little more male. Females can kind of wear goofy sun glasses and androgenous work clothes, or just fling on charity shop ensembles and hang out with male hipsters it seems to be on board. How is oral sex with all that fuzz FFS? WTF?  Maybe women want a new male icon, tough but caring, independent but approachable, after the years of rap culture portraying them as Hoe's with Booty. Perhaps hipster is actually far more inclusive than all the ' pop fashions' since grunge, I dont really know.  Maybe beard extremism is like bra burning was in the 1970s, a phoenix for the inner man which brings him closer to his woman.
What I do know though is that where as in the 1980s we revelled in our secret underground culture, and had a shoe string of a budget for clothes and haircuts, the modern hipster is very, very conspicious consumption. In fact it is about to disappear up its own ass, a total self eclipse as the central 'first two' standard deviations decide that Hipster is the new black and throw out their multibladed, overpriced razors. Hipster is a highly commercial movement, it spawns businesses selling basically overpriced stuff at high margins- yeasty beers which give you the runs, single source arabica coffee which taste very like nespresso, lumberjack shirts, turtle neck jumpers and other Millet store 1982 back shelf stuff, hand sewn at a hundred quid a shot and you still look like a kind of dustman who used to chop wood for a living before the chainsaw was invented. Style never goes out of fashion, it just gets mass marketed for a while and a whole load of non cognicenti start cladding themselves out like them, and hence the cognicenti GTFO.
If it were not for the late Steve Jobs penchant for black polonecks, I would have bet that the next thing the cognicenti would get into would be the beret wearing, Mailer reading, Ginsberg reciting,  slow chain smoking beatnik down in their jazz basements, in the shadows with their joints, illegal absinth, and epiphredine or what ecver the fuck they sped on. Hipster has no defence position. It is conspicous, it is talked about, it is not underground. Most of all for the average male 19 to 45 year old it is darn comfortable and pretty low risk to get into, especially if enough people are into it. Hipster, both hello new trivial follower  and farewell old compatriot.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Life Bugs and the need to find Some Stress Hacks

As you go through life there comes a good deal of maturity - that is to say that you make better decisions and enjoy life based on rational learning experiences over many years, through trial and error where learning from mistakes and through the luck of close shaves or the misfortunes in life from injury, love scorned and berievement.

However a parallel process in many adults is that you pick up more bugs along the way, which means that you feel stressed more often. Pyschological challenges and personality issues from childhood are often blown aside in the rush through early adulthood when we expose ourselves to many challenges and go through our young sphere with little responsibility for others and our own concentration on the pursuit of education, career and economic rewards. This headonistic period is of course these days being ever extended with the average age of committing to a mortgage in the UK now a staggering 37 years old...we are changing careers more often and seem to have an equally consumerist attitude to partners and friends. At the end of this road for most of us around the average level of sub clinical insanity which is the human condition after all, we meet with mundanity of the job, and the committments, responsibilities and joys of families. Suddenly the load we feel on our shoulders increases and the demands placed on us in terms of stability, attention, level headedness, financial responsibility and selflessness suddenly exposes our weaker sides.

We tackle stress or rather the loading often with a worse perspective in that we have been bachelors/bachelorettes or D.i.n.k.y.s. far too long. Our maturity has centred around how to suceed at work, or at least get by, and how to thereafter enrich our own selves or just hedonistically entertain ourselves in a great string of consumerist mind orgasms. Mortgage and the patter of tiny feet bring this all to a hault, but we have gone much longer and also we are the first generation who have not only moved often far away from our parents, but become so old that grand parents are too frail to be a working part of the extended family care unit if you like. Light baby sitting on occaisional visits.

This disconnection to the chain of parent skill learning and to-hand support means that we are especially challenged as parents. Often too we expose ourselves to pregnancies and births with the backdrop of unsound relationships. with some people actually having more children in order to try and make up for a failing love between them. Demands to run two careers in the one household now place larger strains  on time and common interests. We cant go back to the majority of women being housewives, so we need to understand each others position in the work-life equation and how important to the old ego each respective career is.

Now, into your early or mid forties is my friend, the time to grasp the thistle of your chain of bugs and your childhood issues, insecurities, neurosies and mental ailments which have come to home to roost. Maturity runs deep, but our ability to tackle stress can run away with itself and we have to stop and not be complacent, awaiting that further maturing process will help us to grow out of it. I have not looked at the stats, but I dare say that the average age of 'nervous breakdowns' is either getting older, or fragmenting into two peaks - one in early life with the stresses of education, and early career, while the other being in middle age when trying to square the circle of work, domestic finances, ambition, family, a love life and play.

The reason these bugs and underlying neuroses will not get better with more years, is that they are intwined with biological processes. We become shorter tempered for example, if over time we allow our temper to run free. Our biological 'hackles' are  up quicker and quicker so to speak. This happens subconsciously for temper and on a wider basis, stress. Our coritsol response triggers at a lower threshold, we enter a viscious cycle where we are more often in a flight or fight biological status and our experience of stress and ability to cope with life's challenges deteriotes.

One approach to how we consider how to define stress, actually helps alleviate stress. That is to not define the external stimulus, the situation, as stressful or being on overload, but in describing stress as something internal. We can consider positive stress, but for the purpose of this essay, we would talk about challenges which people set about tackling in an aroused manner. Stress is rather to my mind, the negative outfall of not having early screen tackling techniques. We let stress build and do not master being able to cope with stimulus and situations, Indeed the feelings and 'fight or flight' bio-status when we are exposed to our own internal stress responses. Stress then is an unwanted, internal outcome of having a loading upon our perceptions and interactions out in the world,.

This approach then, considers stress as an internal set of factors. composed of a biological element and a cognitive element. ie a hormonal, visceral response and a though related response. The two are inexorably linked. We can never break this link completely, because some of this is intrinsically important to our survival reactions hence they are called 'Fight or Flight'. However much of the system gets loaded up with small bugs over time. We find a job stressful. We get sacked. We get dumped by our partner. A parent dies. We are socially not accepted in a new group. The larger loadings build up and these larger negative events it is believed, especially childhood trauma or exposure to forms of abuse and bullying, then colour our the experience in challenging situations. We are more likely to have a biological stress response which is disproportionate to the more minor type of 'stimulus'. These then become a series of further bugs which collectively can then have an effect upon us. Infact I would say of course that a proportion of those suffering the severe effects of stress, including adrenal gland burn out at the extreme end, have only been exposed to series of small bugs through life and no majore traumatic events.

We must realise that we just aren't going to get better., For me it started in a professional capacity, considering assertive behaviour patterns in the workplace. Later I became increasingly short tempered in my private life, and was really more or less forced into going to anger-management if I was to continue in a family home. More recently a different perspective again from the workplace in management education on stress within individuals. I have had real benefit from the anger management, and also learned very much from the two courses, the latter being ongoing.

The main common thread between all these three courses, with the latter two being somewhat closer in language at least, is that you have to break the cycle of having a bio-emotional response to everything  In assertiveness we want to have the personal tools and the team appreciation that we behave objectively and we speak to each other as adults. We stop our agressive behaviour by being aware that this can be to others at a far lower threshold than we would consider our approach is. We stop others aggressive or domineering behaviour by taking them to common perspective discussion. Playing a little chess, we have a short gambit followed by a game where we force the proponent to talk and act on level terms. It comes naturally to many people, but some go either way ....being agressive, overbearing and placing unreasonable demands from a position of authority or simply being a coworker bully, or being too inclusive, too passive, too democratic and worrying about keeping everyone on board before making decisions and requesting actions or feedback.

Anger management and stress management are far more closely related and focus almost exclusively on the internal processes of the individual. Arresting detriomental bio-emotional responses in their tracks by various techniques and employing PMA - positive mental attitude to ourselves and situations. We learn to see ourselves from an external perspective and understand that our processes are running too wild in either outcome, anger or stress.

Many physicians consider that there is a source of stress, that the stimulus is the main cause of our response, Given a large stimulus which can be removed - the workplace, a difficult partner  for example - then they are likely to try and solve the situation by removing the person from source of stress. Sick leave, or 'go an live at your mums for a while'. However in doing this they may completely oversee the fact that the stress response was disporportionate and above average. It gets them out of their surgery. The situation resolves itself because the absence leads to a discussion at a later time when the patient has had time to think. However the trick is missed that this was a person in dire need of decoupling their stress response from everyday situations as much as having acute need for stress relief.

Luckily there is an entire armoury of cognitive techniques for reducing stress, many of which have been found in everyday human life and culture for several milennia. Prayer as a form of meditiation and PMA, the church and holy texts as a source of solace and therapy, our extended families in the past being around us and able to help us cope. Nowadays the modern lifestyle we find ourselves in -the secular, disjointed family non collective culture,  longer working hours, a high divorce rate, children planned later in life, and so on - means that we need new techniques to practice on our own.  These are well documented and can be found in many source books. courses and on line. These are cognitive and therapeutic approaches and they include (not exhaustively):  The ABC/D stop model, the assertive behaviour model, self body language, meditation, PMA courses. lightening therapy.

Returning to a point about the biological-cognitive nature of stress. Cognition is a huge area of science and current research. In the stress response much of cognition is unduly influenced by the sub and peri-concsious and these processes are flawed in many of us. Further more to make matters worse, we are very used to internalising and rationalising our behaviour. We then actually start to believe that negative automatic thought patterns emulating from the feelings of being stressed, are correct and fit in with our own summation of the situation and even our own view upon our life regulations if you like. Breakign then the cycle can contribute to people becoming more positive and fulfilled individuals in society.


The author proposes that stress be considered as an internal response to challenges placed upon us. It is composed of biological and psychological components and becomes often negative when these two become grasped in a viscious circle, exacerbating each other and reducing the threshold we experience stress at, while also potentially increasing the stress response disproportionately to the challenges we meet in everyday life or exceptional situations like berievement or being made redundant.

Over time we then can develope an ever worsening ability to cope with challenges and problems in life, and we do not mature out of this, rather the opposite. The demands of the modern western lifestyle or 'human condition' impose greater strains on our coping ability, while at the same time the traditional support mechanisms of family and religious wisdom are falling away, while health care systems are more stressed and more expensive.

We need to realise the case that the biological and emotional cycle is detrmimental and much of it works on the subconscious, while we have an unfortunate innate tendency to conclude that the resulting negative thoughts are correct and appropriate for us.

Luckily there is an armoury of self help techniques which can considerably reduce the level of stress we encounter in response to life's rich pageant. Attending a course is to be recommended by the author, especially when the content includes a mix of cognitive and indirect therapeutic techniques such as posture and body language, meditation and sublimation.

Friday, October 09, 2015

Recipes in Sheer Boredom and Accidental Harvest - Rhubarb and Green Tomatoe Chutney and Rhubarb Crumble

For the first time in my life I have access at home to two ultimate pieces of household paraphenalia from my childhood 1970s. Firstly a soda stream, which I coveted sinfully 40 years ago as a nipper when the posh Naval officers families all had one. The cola and lemonade tasted more ICI than barrs or pepsi, but the orange was at least pretty decent. It was not just the novelty of doing it at home, it was the litte bit of industrial machinery which was maybe a little risky for the kitchen even. Mums could handle several times atmospheric pressure from the space age looking bottle of CO2. Gone is the fancy sleve and locking lever, and in is the simple, threaded sealing system twixt bottle and tower. Over the years it has been whittled down to the minimum possible of actual engineering and materials, which is both rather elegant with the machine being a descreet tower in capsule-espresso style , practical because I dare say the gas cannister is larger than in the 1970s,  while the whole system becoming a flimsy feeling triumph of design over content, marketing over machinery, chain store margin greed over consumer brand value. (well that little rant went longer than I had imagined and was totally tangenital to the main topic here! You bought into it, Fred/Rants ))

The other quintessential 1970s household item which appeared in green houses., front windows, balconiies and south facing walls in summer, was the domestically tamed tomato plant. It was aided and abetted in its rise to a stranglehold on sunnier areas around UK households by the wonderfully simple "grow-bag". Compared to Que Gardens or even Percy Thrower, the grow back was the Idiot Savant which brought a little bit of Tom and Barbera's Good Life to thousands of socially aspirant UK homes. Semi dwarf varieties were available which did not grow to jungle like proportions in the course of one or two seasons at least. At the same time as the supermarkets had coluded with foreign producers to breed strains which would go red while not actually being sugar content or flavour ripe what so ever. Supermarket tomatoes became imposters - small botanical versions of polybutanate bouncy balls crossed with rubber water bombs. The clyde valley tomato industry which had supplied local, tasty if sometimes a little squisy tomatoes to us in the early 1970s, collapsed against the tide of continental pseudo food.

People then could reap a  bountiful harvest of lovely ripe tomatoes grown from within arms reach of their kitchen chopping boards, and often grown in those very kitchens with their newly installed glassed porches or floor to celing windows. There in lay the very problem with many of these varieties. The fruit, as is factually and taxinomically the reproductive organ of the plant and not a vegetable, ripened quite nicely, but then so did they all. In their dozens. There may have been a few cheeky early arrivers to the party, but the majority turned green to red in the course of a sunny satruday afternoon and the wood be indoors farmer was inundated and festooned with the damn little red globes. Also in less silubrius locations for the plant, or with a late planting of seeds or starter saplings as it were, the plant would grow a pile of green fruits which blankly refused to ripen in the weaker sun either side of the summer months.

As a response to this suprising bounty, our  amateur horticulturlists donned their chef du parti funny hats and aprons with boobs and suspenders on, to make various dishes, soups, salads, bakes, pastas and condiments which  included the plentiful little round visitors. This included Tomato chutney, and as many found out, you could precrop unripe or slightly ripe fruits so as to ease  your burden of the culinary rush hour which otherwise ensued upon the arrival of this most soft and savoury of fruits. A lack of sugar content in the greenish fruits was no hindrence to the masters of pickeling and condiments, because in the Atkins ignorant bliss of the 1970s, shoving masses of sugar into jams and chutneys was not seen as life threatening. As long as it had a home grown or nature picked source of flavour and colour, then you had grabbed your very own wee bit of 'the good life', and very content you were indeed in your crocheed tanktop and corduroys.

Time passed and despite an aversion to GMO, in part because genes that are stuffed in can also hop out, the plant breeders employed armies of botanists to do cross breeding and selective refinement to produce tomato plants which could achieve the Nirvanna of the grow bag aficionados, a plant whose fruits developed at different times, and plants which had also multiple flowering in the same season.

Now, we  the spawn of the 1970s all lived happily ever after or rather we all had to work harder, worry about our careers., lose our first couple of potential spouses to 'wander lust' or 1980s consumerist 'choice paralysis' and didn't grow up to be Tom and Barbera, rather Gordon Gecko or a wayward endless cast of Slackers . We shared accomodation and avoided such discussions, as can I have a small holding on our smoking veranda ? Grow bags and aphid complexions became something pensioners did, not somethign we the supposed Yuppie generation bothered to waste time on. Time became money, and then we started to get less and less of it. Suddenly three quid for enough tomatoes to make a home attempt at campbells reddest and bestest soup, seemed liike a lot of money, and we mostly never did get very upwardly mobile in the delayered course of the late 1980s and the dreary grey early 90s.

Finally we got round to producing offspring and not giving too much of a damn about our careers any more, we had a place of our own, just like mum and dad did in the 1970s, only smaller while like a perverted Tardis, eating up more of our joint economy than in those rosey years of 1970 to 1977. We did though have space for those bonsai like chilli plants someone gave us fo an anniversary. And we remember with some fondness those grow bags the cat used to take a fly crap in, and the pleasantly wiffy plants and their pretty offspring.

Now we can have all sizes of tomatoes on plants which ripen them progressively and seemingly in cooler parts of the house and the near extremities of the summer.

Extremities though do have  their finite horizons, and we now have a sizeable crop of green fruits from button sized to 'biggy' marbles hugeness as winter marches over our fields once summer.  So I thought back to those craft fairs and the odd visiting gifts in re/used robinson jam jars disguised with string bound chequed cheese cloth bonnets round their lids. Chutney and pickles and home made jams. A concurrent and somewhat lingering crop of rhubarb lay in  a sad little sprawl as the last-man-standing in the six by four earthy bit we hope may become a vegetable garden and not a potential venue for mud wrestling.

Here then is what I threw together, and it tasted magic>   Branston What?

500g of green tomatoes
150/200g of Ripe rhubarb
250g of demerrera sugar / aka brown sugar but that has a heroin connotation
500 ml of vinegar , good quality if you can> i made a little economic cocktail of 200 ml Red Wine Vinegar, 100 ml balsmic vinegar and 200ml of a nice sharp brown vinegar.
Two challotes, large, chopped quite coarsly
Half a red onion
A handful of raisins (couldnt get sultanas)
A small palmful of dried cranberries
Two fresh or dried figs, 'filleted'

Two pinches of salt and freshly ground pepper, two teaspoons of chilli flakes or powder,. a desert spoon of corriander seeds, a pinch of cumin seeds or powder, two teaspoons of curry powder, two teaspoons of mustard seeds, three clove sticks , two teaspoons of ginger powder or finely chopped ginger, a large bay leaf, three cardemonn pods.

Yessirreee this is a spicey, heavily laiced concoction. The leaves and the pods need fishing out after.

Chop up the tomatoes into one centimeter type bits / quatering cherry sized tomatoes that is.

Dry heat the curry powder, chilli, ginger and some of the seeds for a couple of minutes on a medium heat, then add the onion and stir until the spices are taken up. Cast in the chopped tomatoes and add about 25ml of water and stir these up on a higher heat. Put the lid on for two minutes. Add 25 ml more water and the chopped rhubarb and simmer quite hard for another five minutes Then add the vinegars and boil up for 5 minutes, before then throwing in the sugar and the rest of the spices, the dried fruit and reducing the heat to a good bubbling simmer, striing and taking care it doesnt stick or burn, for up to an hour or so until it thickens and looks pretty much like a dark chutney.

Boil up jars and their lids, and when the concotion has cooled a lot, but is still a bit warm, stuff it in with just a small air space, and get the lids on tight so they seal once the header air cools and contracts.

Rhubarb Crumble

For the crumble top you can find any old recipie and it is like making dry mud pies with your hands. I used a well milled whole meal and spelt mix with just a little white flour up in it, and added the brown sugar towards the end of the finger squishy mixing time. Nutmeg is nice in it, a pinch of salt can help it too. Baking soda is good to keep it light.

Enough for five or six folk:

I cut fine about 150 g of rhubarb, while having nice chunks of 350 g. I boiled the small stiuff with just 100ml water and a tespoon of cinnamon, for 5 minutes until they became jam like and added about 150g of fructose sugar. Then i added anbout 50 ml water with the chunks and a pinch of salt. Boil up then simmer until the fruit is softened but still has some texture, about a further 8 to ten minutes checking often. Add lemon juiice if it is not tart enough, or add more sugar if it is too tart. Add water 25ml at a time if the mix is too thick under simmering. Preheat oven to 200'c non fan, 190 fan oven.

The cooked fruit should be about 2 cm deep in a baking dish or pyrex form or caserole. The cover should be about one and a half to two deep, being about 500 g total flour. Spoon in, bake for 15 mins and check it, then bake for up to another ten minutes checking to see if it is browned and the whole of the crumble is cooked through.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Bye Bye Facebook, FaceBook Bye Bye.....

I saw on BBC scotland's post on FB that the bay city rollers were doing a comeback, I guess their pensions weren't as good as they thought they would be. Also I was getting a little tired of some people's obvious pub crawls and Shares of either pro refugee or anti refugee news and blatant propaganda.

 Now there is a huge round of Birthdays popping my mobile, tablet and Hotmail inbox, making it all a bit tedious when about 75% of those with Birthdays this month never posted anything on mine last month.

Sour grapes? Well you bet actually, I mean it should be a social facility for interaction and dialogue, but it is all too easy to either over post, over Like or over Share yourself and be put on Ignore...sorry..Hide ...sorry I meant Don't Follow. People have a very low tolerance it seems for the amount they get from one person in one evening. Some people were rediculous however- my sister in law became a nightmare- a tirade of consumerist Likes and cause/charity Shares, with very little origianl posting. Coupled to her only real comments on any family posts of ours being ' Aunty's wee sweetie pops" or the like about our kids. On the birthday of her middle daughter, she posted that out and got about 6 likes and 4 comments from her 450 strong 'freinds'. Even her family had her on ignore.

FB went through a period of trying to second guess what you might like to see, and who you may like to see that from. Also it used to allow a kind of sensible approach to not seeing Shares and Likes of others, but the word-of-mouth marketing lobby reversed that no doubt, it being dangerously anti consumerist and removing their beloved consumer self endorsement and virality. Now I don't know how it works, and I think most people have just grown tired of each other and either dont post or cut off most following.

I have had also an on off bullshit with my longest standing friend- not my best friend you understand, just the oldest at over 43 years or so - he started with posting a lot of cheeky comments, the odd semi porno thing and so on to wind me up, and then it went on to writing really purile sweary stuff and editing it immediately, which meant you got a preview which you thought you had better rush in and fix.  Since he reached about 7, he has enjoyed teasing and irritating and being rude to those around him, later developing a bit of a superiority complex like his dad had. Now he has lost the little threshold he had for listening or reading other people's points of view or banter if it does not interest him or he does not have an cheeky come back. FB has maybe kept us together more than would be natural come to think of it, and I have defriended him at least once that I remember. Lately I took him back into the fold of social media, and sent him mid MSM Messenger an e-card image "un-fuck you" which is about as far as it went, and he has behaved himself slightly better since.

So my oldest pal then has also become the wee albatross round the neck who like a lot of people I really shouldn't spend any time on, has a basic lack of respect for me and other folk. He is often the first and often the only to comment on my posts and still about half or more are just cheek or innane puns etc.

That was one major frustration.

The other was that people who face to face are pretty interested and sociable with me, never really Like or comment on my posts. Even if I try to nurture comments on their and not too keen likes some time after a post I like pops up. So piles of them went on ignore a while ago out of pure tit-for-tat spite.

Other folk who I like to hear about have all but given up with FB in the last year, or my NewsFeed decides to deprioritise their blatantly un commercial posts.

Given the lack of content from some buddies, the number I put on ignore because they are spammers, the ones I hid spitefully in the last four years, the ones I just deleted or those who deleted me, I just seem to get a lot of news now. Which is quite nice, but FB is not just a big RSS feed. It should be about being sociable. I have toyed with the idea of Twitter, especially in these interesting political times, but it just seems to be something that would eat up my time and ping away like blazes, and attract lots of Flamers and Haters.

So finally I am entering total facebook media burn out. I didn't close my account or the like, I just simply removed the buttons from the start pages on my phone and tablet. I haven't had it as a start tab on Chrome or Opera for ages either on my laptop. On my mobile it is replaced by BBC podcast, which in contrast to their stupid iPlayer, actually plays BBC Radio Mp3s and lists them in by station and then by show in alphabetical order. On my tablet I have just left a nice gaping hole to remind me of that twitchy finger and the time I would spend just having a wee tiny peek... for 25 minutes when the kids were supposed to be getting their supper.

It started to get a bit like the BBC was at some point in the 1980s when it was all Noel Edmunds and repeats. Crossed with the new commercial TV's obsession with 'indecent exposure of personal trivia and neurosis' aka reality real time shows. Meets Esther Rantzens trite 'That's Life' nice stories, consumer rip offs, exposees....Chewing gum for the eyes, with people liking causes and stories which they will never donate to or do anything about. It is all a bit 'right on' and my bidey-in is getting intolerable to the stage where I could easily put her on ignore, sorry 'dont follow'. It is getting that way a bit in our face to face relationship anyway.....

I don't miss it! Cold Turkey is so far working. I prefer to look at a whole nes category when I am in the mood for it - BBC, Scotland, Sailing and so on. That is more brain freindly and time effective. Also I listen to lots of podcasts and get on with other things at the same time.

For those people I want to communicate with on a regular or sporadic basis, I do so in MSM Messenger, with some groups there too, and on the new Viber, which has good call-out when you need it. I get a direct reply, or if I share too crass a joke in a group MSM posting, then I get a terse silence as reply. There isn't a lot of content, sometimes we have a real laugh, other times it fizzles out due to kids needing their teddy putting back in bed....or just middle aged nodding off, or just a polite Davey Cameron ' I will not deam to give that any respect or notice by replying to it'.