Who’s the miserabilist of them all?

The first round of nominations in spiked's hunt for the King of the Killjoys.

Brendan O'Neill

Brendan O'Neill
chief political writer

Topics Politics

spiked has launched a hunt for the most miserable miserabilist: the man, woman or organisation who has done most to spread doom and gloom about humanity and its habits in 2006. From the proponents of the New Austerity – who tell us to buy less, eat less, holiday less, and basically live less – to politicians of all persuasions who treat a Saturday night piss-up as a public order problem and view sexual liaisons between young people as dangerous and diseased, to penny-pinching, smoker-hating, anti-youth local councils who really do put the F U into fun: we want to hear your nominations for the Miserabilist of the Year.

I mean, we can all agree that one of the small pleasures in a hectic working week is to take a long relaxing bath, right? Not if Gallions Housing Association has its way. Nominated by spiked contributor Austin Williams, the London-based association is pre-empting the UK government’s Code for Sustainable Homes, which will impose a duty on households to reduce water use, by building small baths in all its new houses. According to Gallions’ sustainability manager Rebecca Miller, this will ‘encourage’ (ie, force) tenants to use less water. Williams said: ‘While the managers luxuriate in their baths, their tenants will be sitting with their knees under their chins. At the moment, it is a moot point how often tenants will be allowed to bathe…’ For good measure, Gallions has also banned power-showers and insists on ultra low flush toilets.

Welcome to the world of miserable-sod sustainable living, where you get backache from the bath, can’t have a quick power wash in the mornings, and will probably have rotten pongs emanating from a toilet that doesn’t flush fully. In the past, anyone who lived like that would be considered a Steptoe-style miser; now they are celebrated as wise and caring model homeowners.

Speaking of washing, economics journalist Daniel Ben-Ami has nominated EnergyAustralia, which also wants to stop people from relaxing in the bathroom. The Australian energy supplier has launched a campaign against singing in the shower in order to save water. According to its research, showering normally takes an average of 4.35 minutes – but if you sing while showering it takes 8.96 minutes. You shouldn’t listen to music in the shower, either, as that ratchets the time up to 8.91 minutes, while relaxing in the shower (God forbid) adds up to 8.84 minutes and thinking while showering adds up to 8.08 minutes. So, no songs, no thoughts, no chilling; just scrub your body and get out! It’s like Borstal.

EnergyAustralia also aims its ire at children, those pesky little users of too much of the wet stuff. It says: ‘Brushing teeth, singing, playing with toys and just daydreaming are some of the reasons why young children are showering longer.’ Apparently, 16 per cent of children in 500 families surveyed play with toys in the shower, the unthinking, uncaring brats. Ben-Ami said: ‘There was no mention of the environmental impact of having a bath but presumably, if EnergyAustralia has its way, that will soon be a criminal offence.’ It doesn’t need to be made a criminal offence, when we have the likes of Gallions Housing Association making taking a bath plain uncomfortable.

spiked reader Mark McArthur-Christie nominates Oxford City Council, which he accuses of ‘taking another thin slice from the rump of human kindness’. In order to stop motorists from kindly passing parking tickets with unused time to other drivers – which happens in car parks and streets around the country – Oxford City Council has updated its parking machines so that you now have to enter your registration number. So tickets will fit one car only, and you will be fined if you dare to share your ticket with another car. Well, we can’t allow anything like ‘the kindness of strangers’, can we? ‘Drivers have long shared parking tickets’, says McArthur-Christie. ‘It raises a smile. It’s a way of showing a little humanity. This, of course, is anathema to the nylon-trousered bureaucrats at County Hall.’

Reader Duncan Willmore nominates the local newspaper in Bradford, the Telegraph and Argus, which, together with local MPs, is campaigning for a ban on the sale of fireworks to the public, except to responsible official types overseeing strictly organised public displays. Apparently the rest of us can’t be trusted with a Catherine wheel in the garden. The campaign has made it as far as Parliament, where an Early Day Motion signed by 38 MPs is calling for no more shop sales of fireworks, because it can lead to ‘fireworks abuse’ (whatever that might be) and fireworks can cause distress to local residents and ‘in particular pets’. Willmore says that a ban on sales of fireworks is a bit like ‘banning the sale of presents at Christmas’. The anti-sparklers lobby is motivated by ‘a desire to sanitise and make safe anything remotely risky’, he says.

From Down Under, spiked reader Dom McCarthy nominates the organisers of the Ashes tour, who launched a campaign called ‘Dob in a Yob’ – which could just as easily have been named ‘Grass on a Pom’, says McCarthy. Cricket fans were encouraged to text authorities to tell them the whereabouts of overzealous fans at Brisbane’s Gabba cricket ground. (It’s official, you can do everything by text these days: vote someone off a TV show, dump your partner, sack an employee, and now even grass on someone to the cops.) The ‘Dob in a Yob’ policy was backed up by 130 heavily armed police officers (complete with guns, pepper spray, batons), 230 ushers and 85 CCTV cameras. Upon receiving a text about fans exhibiting dodgy behaviour, officials used CCTV cameras to zoom in and monitor said dodgy fans before deciding whether to send an usher or policeman to feel their collars.

McCarthy is no fan of cricket (‘it’s far too dull and boring for me’), but he argues that the fans – both Australian fans and England’s ‘Barmy Army’ – have, until now, managed to inject some colour into the anodyne sport: ‘In the Beefy Botham era, Gabba fans threw a live white pig on the field with “Botham” written on its sides. The local men like to dress as women in short skirts and get outrageously drunk. Others get around bans on taking alcohol into the ground by bringing in alcohol-filled watermelons – and once the alcohol is consumed, the outer shell makes an interesting helmet cum sun hat. But now it appears that’s just not cricket. Rather than the colourful and bawdy carnival it should be, the event has been turned into something for the narks and killjoys to enjoy as they are urged to collaborate with the authorities to ensure the boring on-field antics are reflected by the fans in the ground….’

spiked writer Neil Davenport nominates UK public health minister Caroline Flint who, alongside campaigning against binge-drinking (that is, having anything more than a couple of pints), spearheaded the ‘Carry a condom’ campaign aimed at 18- to 24-year-olds. Cue posters of young men with the words ‘I’ve got chlamydia’ across their Y-fronts, and young women wearing knickers saying ‘I’ve got gonorrhoea’. Charming. ‘For sheer saucer-eyed idiocy and patronising puritanism, this mumsy miserabilist deserves a special mention’, says Davenport.

Writer and professor James Woudhuysen nominates Sir Nicholas Stern, author of the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change (which until now has won Stern plaudits rather than nominations for miserable-git status). Woudhuysen argues: ‘For Stern, widespread thawing of the Earth’s permafrost and frozen peat bogs is likely, through the release of methane and CO2, to add to the extra warming that could be caused by weakening of the planet’s carbon sinks, such as the Amazon rainforest. Then the North Atlantic Thermohaline Circulation, including the Gulf Stream and North Atlantic drift, could collapse, the Greenland Ice Sheet could start to melt irreversibly and the West Antarctic Ice Sheet might collapse. So we should worry about regional disruption, migration and conflict, catastrophic climate impacts, and non-market impacts on human health and the environment. In short, everything that could go wrong probably will go wrong unless we tighten our energy belts now!’

Woudhuysen continues: ‘Stern believes that there is an almost 10 per cent chance of human extinction by the end of the century.’ Remember when it was only lonely loons who paraded through the streets with placards saying the end of the world is nigh? Now they’re in the pay of the government.

Two readers anonymously nominated their workplace Green Teams, including one that advised against sending Christmas cards to your fellow employees because it is a waste of paper. Scrooge lives! And reader Andrew Cox nominated London mayor Ken Livingstone for….well, being Ken Livingstone. ‘For suggesting people should not flush the toilet every time they pee. For his attitude to 4x4s, which shows how parochial, small-minded and prejudiced he is. He calls 4x4s “Chelsea tractors”, but the likelihood is that the majority of 4×4 owners do not live in London. Not everybody lives in his little London goldfish bowl. I hope he steps out in front of a 4×4 before he plunges London into more despair’, writes Cox. Ouch.

Are there more deserving miserabilists than this miserable lot? We will publish the second round of nominations next week, and the third round the week after – and then just before Christmas we will announce the whiner. Send your sods to me at {encode=”” title=””}.

Visit Brendan O’Neill’s website here.

Read on:

Who should be crowned King of the Killjoys?, by Brendan O’Neill

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Topics Politics


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