The problem with capitalism, in one easy lesson

“Capitalism affords economic freedom, consumer choice, and economic growth”, apparently.

Let me prove that this is wrong.

For several months now I’ve been trying to buy a white shirt, to replace one that I bought in 2009 and which has now seen much better days.

It has to fit the following criteria:

  • White
  • Long-sleeved
  • Longer than waist length, and with a curved hem
  • Buttons all down the front
  • Cotton or linen
  • Thinnish (this is to wear over a vest top or something in the summer, largely)
  • With a collar

In other words, a very simple plain white thin long shirt.

“Easy!” I hear you cry. “I could get you a handful from one trip to the shops.”

Oh yeah? Just try it. At least in Sweden, what is on offer are shirts with the following features:

  • Patterned/coloured
  • Short sleeves
  • Short and/or with a straight hem
  • Only three or four buttons
  • Nasty artificial fabrics
  • Material so thick you could use it as a duvet
  • No collar, a plunge neckline, or a bow (a bow! Who am I, Thatcher?)

And to respond to your other suggestions,

  1. No, I’ve not looked at men’s shirts as my days of wearing blokes’ clothing because I can afford nothing else are over. I want something that complements my shape, not something that drowns it in a tent.
  2. Buy clothes off the Internet? Not likely. I’m not a particularly standard size, and given the price charged by the Swedish Post Office for the inevitable returns, it would be cheaper to clothe myself in material made from diamonds.

So my point is this – if I can’t even buy a really simple basic garment like this, despite several months of looking, then what of consumer choice? This consumer wants something slightly different to the latest fashions. It’s not like I’m asking for an adult sized pink bustier with My Little Pony on it.


Why are we continuing with the capitalist system, using up the world’s resources, forcing people to work – and in some cases die – in sweat shops, filling our roads with lorries and our seas with oil and plastic… if we aren’t actually fulfilling the promise of capitalism?

Summer writing circle assignment #4 – a text based on this David Hockney painting

Conveying the purple frog


”Ready.” Helen shifted in her uncomfortable chair, shut her eyes and tried to relax. She really wasn’t in the mood for this today.

”OK”, came Tom’s voice from inside the house. “I’m visualising an object. I’m holding it in my hand, and looking at it carefully, viewing it from every angle. I’m smelling it…” He paused. “And touching it with my fingertips, feeling the texture…”

She loved to listen to his voice. When they first met, three years earlier at a meeting of the Psychics’ Society, she’d been attracted to his warm, velvety tones from the start, and she had never tired of hearing him speak.

Concentrate! she thought to herself. This is important! She wriggled her shoulders and tried to tune in properly.

The ESP technique that they had developed together was revolutionary, and the result of three years’ intensive trial and error. The result, too, ultimately, of that first meeting in a freezing cold church hall one February night, after which they had gone to the pub to defrost with the other attendees from the meeting – and never really been apart since. Her friends at work had thought she was mad even to go to the meeting in the first place.

“A load of loonies”, Lisa had said, picking the currants out of her hot cross bun, when Helen had mentioned that she intended to go. “You’ll end up in a pork pie, my girl, and if you do don’t come running to me!”

“She’s right”, Mandy had agreed, adjusting her headset over her new hairdo for the umpteenth time that morning. “Ghosts and ESP and all that. A load of effing… Accounts department, Mandy speaking, how may I help you?”

Helen had laughed and shrugged off their comments. She’d just had a feeling she ought to go to the meeting, ever since she’d seen it advertised in the local paper. She’d always had an uncanny aptitude for card games, and she’d read somewhere that this could indicate someone with a high natural level of ESP.

And she’d been right. They’d had a connection the first time they set eyes on each other. Not exactly love at first sight, but definitely something special. And now they were really starting to get somewhere. Tom had recorded the latest version of their specially designed instructions, and now she listened to the recording every night as she slept. By combining this sleep study with hearing him sending the object, using equally carefully developed wording, they’d achieved amazing breakthroughs.

Before each session, Tom would go into town without her and scour the charity shops for suitable objects. They needed things that were a uniform colour and relatively simple in shape – and above all that Helen hadn’t already seen or touched. They were kept in a large cardboard box in the corner of the study, which she was under strict instructions not to open.

Last time they’d done really well. She’d got the bright pink colour of the jug and the shiny surface of the mirror. Maybe this time she’d get the object itself. If only she could concentrate.

“Anything?” said Tom, appearing in the open patio door behind her.

She turned and smiled ruefully at him.

“Afraid not”, she said. “But we’ve only just started. Let’s try the next one.”

“Right oh”, he said cheerfully, disappearing back into the house, then popping his head out again.

“Oh, by the way, that one was a big yellow chrysanthemum.”

A yellow chrysanthemum? She’d had no feeling of yellow, or any idea that the object had been a flower. She sighed and shifted again in her chair. Last time they’d tried this it hadn’t been so sunny. Maybe that was making a difference. Or maybe it was the sight of Rascal, their tiny Yorkshire terrier, sniffing about the garden. Resolutely, she shut her eyes again.

“Ready”, she called.

“Right. I’m visualising an object…”

But today nothing worked. She kept getting distracted by Rascal’s antics, by the smell of the flowers, the noise of nearby weekend lawnmowers and the swallows darting above the house. They tried for two hours, until she was exhausted from listening and Tom was hoarse. Although their best results had previously been achieved with her on the veranda and him indoors, they tried it with her indoors, in the same room as Tom; even back to back. But nothing appeared.

The ring with the red stone, the blue ball, the purple plastic frog… all of the objects that Tom visualised remained stubbornly invisible to her. Eventually they gave up for the day.

“Never mind”, said Tom into her hair as he gave her a consolatory hug. “We did really well last week and we can’t expect to make progress every time.” He stepped back and slapped his hands together.

“Now let’s take Rascal out for a walk and blow the cobwebs away. And then this evening maybe we could have a pizza and go to the pictures, what do you think?”

She hugged him back. She loved him so much. And she knew that one day he’d be famous – they both would –- for having achieved success with their new method. It would just take more time, that was all.

As he trotted in front of them along the path to the common, Rascal decided that his favourite had been the blue ball. Although the purple frog had looked interesting too.


Summer writing circle assignment #3 – a text based on your dreams

She leaves her room and walks towards the lift. She is annoyed to see that there are a load of other people – at least four adults and several children – coming from the other direction. She quickens her pace, arriving at the lift before they have turned the corner. The lift doors are just closing. She is too late, really, but it is either this or travel down in a lift full of people and squawling brats. She dives through the doors just as they shut.

Of course this means that the lights have gone out in the lift. She blunders around in the dark for a few seconds before she finds the buttons, then counts up from the bottom, trying to remember how many floors there are below the one she wants. Her fingers move across the large round buttons as the warm darkness pushes in around her. She presses a button, then another. She has to get out of this smothering darkness, and quickly.

When the door opens, she shoots out of the lift without waiting to see what floor she is on. It isn’t pitch black at least, but the light here is very subdued, painting everything a weird dark orange colour. She is in a large open space, some kind of circular lobby with several corridors leading off it. In the centre of the space stands a tall, multi-armed dark figure, like a cross between a bare-branched tree and a woman, its lower limbs melting into a wide trunk that blends with the slightly sticky black surface of the floor.

“Kali?” she thinks. “Is that who I mean?”

Around the figure are scattered others, smaller, equally black but rounder, grotesque creatures with flexible, rubbery limbs and wide sharp-toothed grins. As the first of them begins to ooze slowly towards her with a horrible sucking noise, she turns and flees into the nearest corridor.


“Um, this is a statue”, she says, struggling to find the right words in the foreign language, “about the lost children. About children who have disappeared, who are… dead.” She looks at the other woman to check that she has understood.

Around them, people walk on through the subway, and in her head are images of the 1960s: Audrey Hepburn and Laurence Olivier, Mia Farrow and Robert Redford. The death of Mia Farrow, strung up like a small bird from a lamppost.

She looks at the small empty bronze shoes and the handwritten notes, each describing the pain of loss.

“Yeah, um,” she says.


She walks along a pale, dusty track between low stone walls and orchards. The road curves around the orchard and splits, one arm leading up over the ridge, the other down towards the blue sea in the distance beyond dark tree tops. Behind her, below her, she knows, is the village, of honey-coloured stone with its strange half ruined buildings. On another day she would explore them, try to lay claim to one of them and hope for peace for a while before someone noisier, more expansive, came to take it from her.

But today she just walks on, in the shade and the sunlight, towards the sea.

She wants to find a beach where she can stand with her toes in the sparkling water, but there are no beaches visible yet. First she reaches a section where the track runs along the steep, almost vertical shoulder of the hill, sloping away both above and below her and covered with dense low foliage. The sea is a long way beneath, on her right, and the view is dizzying. She sees a point, a little ahead, where the foliage shrinks away from a bald headland, and feels the fear/attraction that she knows will take her right to the edge.

Standing there, with the seagulls turning and calling above and below her, and the wind lifting her hair, she feels alive and powerful. She lifts her arms to the sky and smiles broadly.

And then, in a movement so sudden it feels perfectly natural, the ground beneath her shrugs, and she is launched into the air. Her first – only – thought is resignation; how inevitable that she will die in the deep dark water. And then she is falling down past the green solidity of the sloping land, so close but so far out of reach, down, down, to the solid blue-grey mass of the sea.misty #1

The scenes in this piece are all from dreams in the last ten days, which have been even madder than usual because I’m still recovering from this bloody flu.

The first one I wrote down when I woke up in the morning.

The second one I wrote immediately I woke up after having it, in the middle of the night (which is just as well, because I’d completely forgotten it by the morning).

And the last one – which is actually two in one – is a recurring dream I’ve been having since I was about 15. Including the ending. Interestingly, it’s getting less and less frightening over the years.

The problem with Swedes

In many ways, Swedish people are lovely. They’re generally well educated and pleasant. The odd time I’ve ever run into trouble with Swedes (drunks, for example) they’ve backed down immediately as soon as they’ve realised that I’m British, too keen to practice their English to cause any problems.

But they do have their issues. For all their self-professed egalitarianism, there’s a – to me – shocking level of passive -isms among Swedes. Sexism, racism… and aggression. Wow, the agression.

As a race, they have passive-aggressivity down to a fine art – indeed, it’s a cultural trait that they don’t even recognise. Here’s the latest example that I’ve encountered.

About 3 weeks ago I last met my friend – I’ll call her Anna – in the flesh. We don’t live near each other so we meet quite rarely. When we met, she did something that hurt me deeply, and, as it was far from the first time she’d done this – and promised never to do it again – I made a sarcastic remark. But over the last week I’ve been noticing that her emails have been full of passive aggression. Today, in an effort to find out what I’d done to offend her, I’ve looked back and realised that in fact this all dates back to when she was in the wrong and I had the temerity to call her on it.

So now what? If I mention it, she’ll imply that I’m imagining it. If I ignore it, I’ll keep getting more and more annoyed. I love her dearly, but maybe it’s just time to give up on her? Then again, any other Swedish friend would almost certainly exhibit the same behaviour – and I live in Sweden. Sigh.