Stories From the Whitstable Gazette Essay

A selection of stories from CJ Stone’s Whitstable Gazette column, Written in Stone.


I’ve just bought a TV, but before I could watch it I had to assemble it. What is it about instruction manuals these days? Everything is packaged for the international consumer. There aren’t any written instructions any more, only illustrations.

First of all I had to install the monitor stand. This came in two parts, but there were ten pictures to show you how to assemble it. Picture one showed the monitor stand base and the connector separately. Picture two showed you the monitor stand and the connector joined together. Picture three showed you the screw underneath the monitor stand, which you tightened in order to secure the two together.

So far so simple.

It was after this that things began to get weird. Picture four showed the TV lying face down with a pair of hands touching the back, with a little arrow turning counter clockwise, and an inset showing a close-up of the hands doing something mysterious with the subatomic structure of the TV.


It looked like something Paul Daniels might do before flicking a card from up his sleeve.

The hands seemed to be immersing themselves in the substance of the monitor in a way that would only be possible if you were possessed of telekinetic powers. This seemed less like an instruction manual, more like a lesson in quantum mechanics.

And so it went on. Picture six: more insets, more weird, ritualistic hand movements. Picture seven: more transcendental explorations of the nature of reality. Picture eight: obviously a picture of Mr Spock from Star Trek engaged in a Vulcan Mind-Meld with the monitor.

Picture nine showed two little arrows showing that the job was finished. Picture ten showed the TV monitor being held upside down by the base, with a circle around it and a dash indicating that this was something you weren’t supposed to do.

In the end I just looked at the TV monitor, looked at the base, saw there was a connection point, and joined the two together.

I’ve still not got the hang of that Vulcan Mind-Meld, but the TV seems to work fine without it.


“This is the day that the world came together to fight back against the global recession,” said Gordon Brown after the G20 summit.

It was also the day that the new President of the United States stepped onto the world stage for the first time.

I must say I’m sceptical. I’m sceptical about the G20 and I’m sceptical about President Obama.

The reason I’m sceptical about the G20 is that, despite the widening of the circle from the previous G7 or G8, it was still an incredibly narrow platform from which to make decisions that will effect the lives of 6.7 billion people.

It wasn’t really the world coming together to fight the global recession, it was twenty politicians from the richest nations, some of whom, including Gordon Brown, were responsible for creating the mess in the first place.

The sight of Saudi princes amongst their number was particularly revealing.

Saudi Arabia is one of the most corrupt and repressive nations on the planet. So while some of the democratic leaders were there – at least nominally – to represent the interests of their electorate, the Saudi royal family were there to represent the interests of no one but the Saudi royal family.

As for Barack Obama, he is clearly much more intelligent than his predecessor, much more laid-back and charming. But then that’s not saying very much.

The whole world has pinned so much hope on the figure of this one man, but on what basis exactly?

That he is the first black President of the United States, as if the lack of precedent tells us anything.

Colin Powell was the first black Secretary of State, and he led the United States into an illegal war, while Condoleeza Rice – also black, and a women too – continued by launching a whole raft of aggressive interventions around the world.

Margaret Thatcher was the first British woman Prime Minister. Where did that get us exactly?

Neither race nor sex have anything to do with it. What matters is the intention.

We have yet to find out what Barack Obama’s might be.


Aren’t you dead yet?

By the time you read this you will have received the government pamphlet about swine flu. You will also have seen the avalanche of media reports on the subject.

The way they’ve been going on you’d think there were bodies piling up in the streets while ghostly figures roamed around ringing bells, calling, “bring out your dead, bring out your dead.”

Some people are justifiably scared.

It might help if we got some of the terminology clear. What’s the difference between a “pandemic” and an “epidemic”? An epidemic is when a disease effects a large percentage of the population. A pandemic is an epidemic which is wide-spread geographically.

At the time of writing there were approaching two thousand cases world-wide, and 30 fatalities. I’ve just tried to work out what that would be as a percentage of the world’s population, but my calculator doesn’t have enough room for all the noughts. Let’s just say it is so miniscule as to be statistically irrelevant.

This is nothing like a “pandemic”. More people die falling over while tying their shoelaces.

Some version of this story seems to pop up every year. If it’s not swine flu it’s bird flu. If it’s not bird flu it’s SARS.

The problem is that the World Health Organisation has cried wolf so often now that if ever a real pandemic were to break out we wouldn’t believe them.

Some people with a conspiratorial bent are saying it is a media-led scare story designed to take our minds off the unravelling of the banking system, or the on-going danger of global warming.

The difference is, of course, that these crises are entirely man-made.

It’s as if, in contemplating our future as a species, we would rather blame our problems on some outside force rather than the human greed, mismanagement and incompetence that are the real threats to our future.

Meanwhile the first couple to contract the illness in the UK have signed up Max Clifford as their press agent, which tells you a lot about the real nature of this disease.

It’s a world-wide epidemic of media hysteria.

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