My older son has swapped conventional education for the University of YouTube. As a result, he know nothing about the Wars of the Roses or the Industrial Revolution, but is becoming something of an expert on 9/11 conspiracy theories, UFOs and cats that look like Hitler. He's also good at hacking, so it's probably only a matter of time before he's extradited to the US.
I've been trying to make him think more critically about the information he finds on the internet, questioning the sources and asking what their motivation is. It's been an uphill struggle, but I'm glad that he now accepts that the moon landings were genuine.
The internet is a minefield of lies and half truths. Many of us are able to negotiate it successfully, but the more vulnerable struggle to separate truth from fiction. It doesn't help when companies that we trust lie to us.
Sometimes the lies are easy to spot. This display in Tesco, which I tweeted last week, is one of the most absurd things I've seen for a long time:
I would love to know how this nonsense got to the stage of being signed off and printed. Do we even want passionate people to prepare our food? As one person commented, "I'm not sure which sort of passion would be worse. If they're angry they'll have spat in it, if they're amorous, well...."
Aside from the fact that passion is a bit foreign, I'm also concerned that Tesco are violating Equal Opportunites legislation, discriminating against those who are unable to feel strongly about manufacturing yogurt.
The Tesco example is crude and obvious. Other lies are more subtle, such as these depictions of helpline employees:
Apparently, when we phone call centres, we will speak to attractive,
slim, middle class people who can't wait to speak to us. Perhaps they're
smiling because they know that the caller has just been listening to a
loop of Richard Clayderman for 37 minutes.
The adverts never feature anyone who is fat, depressed, ugly or scruffy and the employees are shown sitting in rows in a light, airy office. In reality, people are treated like battery hens, squashed into tiny cubicles in a noisy room with no natural light or fresh air.
It's not quite the Lancashire mills, but it's still pretty awful that anyone should have to spend 40 hours a week working somewhere like here:
I've never quite trusted corporate websites after an experience with this company, in the pre-internet era:
In the 1990s, I constantly received catalogues from a UK stationery company called Viking.
Unlike most junk mail, I used to enjoy browsing through the contents because at various points, a man called Ian Helford would be shown using the products. In the illustration above, Ian is merely pointing, but it got more exciting inside and he could be seen in a variety of positions, carrying boxes, labelling shelves or testing a broom.
I began to develop a mild fascination for this publicity-shy businessman in his 60s and envisaged him speaking with a slight London accent and living in a vulgar new mansion in Billericay.
You can imagine my horror when I discovered that it was all a fiction.
On a trip to the US, I saw a Viking catalogue on a table. "It's good to see a British company doing well in the US" I thought, and decided to have a look. Ian was on the front page, pointing at some A4 paper, but in this catalogue he was called Irwin.
Who was this man?
Further investigation proved that Ian really was Irwin and that rather than being a British company doing well in the US, Viking was as American as apple pie. 'Ian' didn't live in Billericay, but if the portrait below is anything to go by, he did live in a vulgar mansion:
I can see why Irwin Helford was 'rebranded' for Viking's entry into the UK stationery market. Irwin is one of those very American names, like Elmer, Chuck or Hank that would have identified the business as a global corporation. Ian Helford was a local man. Someone you could pick up the phone and do business with.
It was a fib. In fairness, Viking never clained that Mr Helford was British, but by changing his name there was an element of disguise. As internet usage grew, Viking wisely changed this to 'I. Helford' .
These days, there's no excuse for ignorance. With the click of a few buttons, it's possible to find out that Innocent smoothies is now owned by Coca-Cola and that Starbucks is guilty of tax avoidance in the UK. But we have to learn how to use the internet.
I'm concerned that my son's critical faculties aren't being developed. I do what I can to discuss things with him, but teenage boys aren't naturally inclined to listen to their fathers. Ideally, he'd be able to discuss issues in a classroom environment, but my son's school have admitted that they don't know what to do with him and his days are now spent indoors.
With no qualifications, my son's job prospects will be grim. But as he has displayed an aversion to daylight and fresh air, preferring to spend his time hunched in front of a screen, maybe there's a position waiting for him at the nearest call centre. He's also quite passionate, so perhaps Tesco would be interested too.
But I'm not giving up yet. I hear that they're paying people who know how to do coding up to £18 an hour, so I think I'll put the call centre on hold. Who knows, in a few years' time, my son could be richer than I've ever been.
It has been a frustrating week. I'm back on painkillers and
antibiotics, following a dental abscess and tooth extraction. I'm fully
aware that it is a routine, relatively trivial problem, but after last
month's appendectomy I feel as if I'm being slowly disassembled.
My slightly melodramatic response is probably a reaction to the recent illnesses of friends, a setback with my older son and an approaching 'special' birthday. But I need to remember that these are isolated events, not part of some divine plan to punish me for stealing paper from school when I was eight.
that no further bodily parts are removed, I intend to begin a regime of
regular exercise and healthy food before I end up looking like Homer
Ideally, I'd spend a week or two in a Swiss resort, where I could enjoy the mountain air and go hiking with a guide called Erich. Interlaken is supposed to be rather pleasant in the spring and has been a popular destination ever since it was 'discovered' in the 19th century.
There don't appear to be many photos of Victorian hikers - the cameras were rather cumbersome in those days - but one enterprising gentleman in Interlaken came up with an ingenious solution:
With the aid of fake grass, a cardboard rock and a misty background, the beauty of the Swiss mountains were flawlessly recreated by Johann Adam Gabler. Whether you were a seasoned mountaineer or an indolent aesthete, the results were the same.
This is one of Gabler's more realistic shots, carefully staged to recreate the tension and excitement of hunting. But not every portrait was this successful:
The attention to detail was sadly lacking in this photo, as Herr Gabler's fakery is clearly visible. If only he'd moved the camera a few degrees to the left.
A happy honeymoon couple, still glowing from a night of passionate lovemaking.
This costume is a cut above the average electric blue Berghaus kagool. Half 'Brown Owl', half Italian revolutionary.
I don't think it would be unfair to say that this chap, who looks a little like Debussy, is a stranger to the outdoor life. Even the rigours of the studio scenery are too much for him and he has wisely opted for a more sedate, arcadian setting.
It's so antisocial when people keep checking their Bibles for a text. The friend is clearly not impressed by her companion's behaviour.
This is a splendid outfit compared to the shapeless, synthetic hiking gear of today. The act of getting dressed must have been a pleasure in itself. However, I'm not sure how this gentleman's clothes would have fared in a downpour.
After looking at these photos, the answer is clear: I need a large sum of money, a time machine and a valet.
I'm sure that a week in the 1880s, hobnobbing with minor royals and exiled aristocrats, would restore my equilibrium, so that I could tackle the rest of the year with renewed vigour.
But until time travel is invented I have this, which is the next best thing:
I've just found this gem of a clip, featuring an on-screen spat between Gore Vidal and Norman Mailer on the Dick Cavett Show. The real only winner in this embarrassing encounter is the veteran journalist Janet Flanner:
I can't remember the last time I saw two writers arguing (or even agreeing) on a chat show. It's a pity.