The iPad is the opiate of the people, or little blue aliens and the meaning of life

Another confession. I’m quite fond of those lovable blue aliens in the Argos ads. They’ve had a few quirky misunderstandings. Amused us by their attempts to get to grips with western society. But on the whole they’ve acclimatised to consumer culture pretty well. Which for Argos’ purposes that was all they ever needed to do. No complex moral issues. No agonising over money. Presumably there’s a printing press in the basement. Or alien credit cards with infinite limits in mum and dad’s wallets. Seems like a pretty nice life to me.

Of course things might be a tad more complicated for any real aliens who fetched up in the middle of a British shopping mall. The whole being blue thing’s going to cause endless problems for a start. Makes you stick out like a sore thumb. People get nervous about differences like that. I can well see how an extended visit to Yarl’s Wood might be the end result. Not a great introduction to consumer culture. Especially with the prevailing pay and conditions there.

Lets assume, for the sake of argument, that our visitors evade capture by the immigration authorities. Human society’s going to be harder to crack than consumer culture. How to fathom a breathtakingly wonderful planet crammed with beauty and diversity, whose dominant occupants seem hell bent on exploiting it to the point of destruction? So for the benefit of any aliens who might get in under the radar, here are a few home truths about life in the UK.


It’s all about the money …

One of the first things you’ll find out is what we humans say and what we do are two very different things. We pay lip service to the idea that people are important. Then we exploit them mercilessly. We’re outraged when 1100 people lose their lives in a Bangladeshi garment factory. But we carry on buying clothes from the companies that profited from the disaster. A year and more later very little has changed.

It takes no more than a cursory glance at the pay structure of most western societies to figure out the priorities. People who work with money get huge salaries. Bonuses. Expenses. Company cars. Subsidised housing. You name it. Those who care for human beings. The young. The old. The sick. The vulnerable. They have to get by on minimum wage. People are worth a whole lot less than money.


and how you look

Here’s where being blue is a real disadvantage. You’re just never going to match up to conventional standards of beauty. And believe me, looks make all the difference. You can become a celebrity. Make more money than you ever dreamed of. For no better reason than that people like the way you look. Personally I’m still reeling from the news that there are people out there who think an allegedly violent criminal should be released simply because he’s good looking. No really. Physical appearance is actually that important. Probably why I’m still a few quid shy of my first million.


The human body is anything but a well-oiled machine … except on a Saturday night

I don’t know what kind of spaceship you arrived in. I wouldn’t mind betting it was maintained to the nth degree though. You don’t want your clutch burning out just this side of Jupiter after all. It’s a bit like that here on earth. Machines, we look after. You won’t find the owner of a Maserati going three years without changing the oil. The human body’s a different matter. More complex than any machine, it’s totally dependent on its owner for four basic needs. Food. Water. Rest. Exercise. In the right amounts. Of a reasonable quality. Air intake is beyond our control. Thank God. Otherwise we’d probably tamper with that too.

As for the rest, it seems we’re utterly incapable of getting it right. A 2004 survey found that more than one in four adults in the UK were dieting at any given time. Actually it should probably be more than that now. Sixty-four percent of us were classified as overweight or obese in a survey published in January this year. Including me. Just in case anyone thinks I’m being self-righteous here. We’re not much better at water. One woman in five in the UK drinks less than the daily recommended amount of water. Says the Daily Mail. On the other hand we’re far too worried about our fluid intake. It all depends on what you read.

Our attitude to rest is positively punitive. Mrs Thatcher has a lot to answer for here. Apparently she got by on four hours sleep a night. It was a badge of honour to her. One that may just account for the lunacies of her heyday. These days we’re inclined to look upon anyone who admits to needing sleep as an utter wimp. This despite good evidence that sleep deprivation plays havoc with our physical and mental health and can have far-reaching consequences. Maggie herself fell victim to dementia in the end. And I wouldn’t wish that upon my worst enemy.

Exercise? Don’t even go there. Most of us are so conflicted over the benefits of exercise that we spend our lives on the sofa in front of the telly. Much safer that way. Especially for the kids. After all, if they’re mesmerised by a 42” 3D smart TV for 18 hours a day they’re not going to break a leg playing footie in the park. Stands to reason really.

All-in-all the average human body can really only be considered a well-oiled machine for a few hours somewhere between eight and twelve on a Saturday night in the pub. And then only because of a quirk in the English language.


The iPad is the opiate of the people

I’d like to spend more time on opiates and alcohol. No. Not doing them. Writing about them. But it’s just too hard to fathom how we’ve settled for a society where so many of us need to be off our heads before we can feel happy. Never mind explain it all to someone from another planet. Karl Marx once said religion is the opiate of the people. Doesn’t much matter who Karl was right now. Although he may turn out to have been a good deal wiser than most people give him credit for.

Here in the UK religion doesn’t major on controlling people’s lives these days. We have the internet for that. Nevertheless religions the world over have an appalling record on human rights abuses. Triggering and perpetuating wars. Oppression of women. Abuse of children. You name it. And it ain’t over yet. If anything, it’s getting worse. In all those far-off lands. Iraq for instance. Places we think are none of our concern. Especially if we happen to be Tony Blair.

The last thing I want to do is confuse you. But I don’t think I can avoid it here. There’s a fundamental tenet found in every religion on earth. The golden rule. Treat other people the way you want them to treat you. What’s that? I don’t know. Perhaps you’re right. Maybe there are religious people who want to be oppressed. Abused. Randomly slaughtered. Violently controlled by people who think they know what’s best for them. Not just religious people either. Come to think of it, if we take do-as-you-would-be-done-by as a basic principle for human behaviour there must be an awful lot of masochists out there. Politicians. Rapists. CEOs. Murderers. Bankers. Domestic abusers. To name but a handful.


We’re gloriously human

I can see you backing towards that spaceship already. It’s not all bad news though. There are plenty of people trying to change the world. Or at least to live a little more kindly. Charities. Campaigners. Food banks. People with alternative lifestyles. People who choose spirituality over religion. Who don’t want to force everyone to see the world their way. Who opt for peace. Love. Delight. Non-violence. We don’t always get it right of course. But we know we don’t. And in the end, maybe that’s what makes the difference.

Now about that unlimited credit card. There are one or two things I could do with the next time you’re in Argos …




I’m blogging to raise funds for a charity close to my heart. I’ve given up NOT being a writer for 125 days in support of One25’s work with vulnerable women in Bristol. If you’ve enjoyed reading this, you can find out more about what I’m doing by visiting One25’s website at You can also support them by visiting my fund raising page at where you can make a donation and suggest an idea for a short story or a post on the blog. Thank you.


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