Troy Does Not Exist

There’s nothing more breathtakingly frustrating than modern technology. When something that in your foolish innocence you assumed would be a simple task turns into a battle of Woman Vs Machine. I’ve just had this experience, rather unexpectedly, and I’ve utterly lost the fight.

I’m writing some descriptions of Turkish holiday resorts for work at the moment and I thought – stupidly as it turns out – that I’d look up how close a particular destination was to the ancient ruins of Troy so I could put in a Fact. Usually this sort of thing is a very minor bit of effort – I use the Get Directions thing to find out how far X is away from Y and then away I go. But this time, despite the map being centred on a resort in North West Turkey, when I typed in ‘Troy’ it whisked me off to some small and unimportant-looking place called Troy in America. And this kept happening. I almost wept with frustration, as I just couldn’t believe that it wouldn’t be marked properly – it’s Troy, for God’s sake.

It doesn’t help that Troy is called half a dozen different names in Turkey, but really, it is appalling that Google Maps doesn’t show the site of this ancient city, given its importance in world literature. It’s a staggering example of the American ego at work: they carefully label all the American towns called Troy, but not their namesake. I tried to advise GM of this omission but got lost and even more frustrated within their Byzantine (pun intended) complaints system so gave up, as I think was their intention.

Theoretically I know Troy is tucked away somewhere to the south of Canakkale, but other than that, you’re on your own.

– Ha! I just finished writing and did a quick search for images of Troy to illustrate this post. And what do you get when you google-image the word ‘troy’? Pages of bloody Brad Pitt.

There is something colossally wrong with the world.

“A non-chain chain”

My latest fit of apoplectic rage has been gifted to me by the arrival of the bread shop Gail’s in Crouch End. The statement on their website is quite breathtakingly irritating:

Like our bread, we handcraft each GAIL’s shop to be unique and have its own personality. GAIL’s fits into its local environment, adapting to give the customers in each area what they really want or need: a bread shop in an area that is missing out on great bread, a calm place to chill out with young children, a place to come and use Wi-Fi and so on.

We like to think of ourselves as the non-chain chain. Although we do have a number of shops, we are against the “chain” mentality where each store looks exactly the same and the people are robots. We want our customers to take pleasure in visiting our shops, get to know our staff by name and feel a sense of community.

This is a fantastic example of cynical corporate Newspeak. To translate: a non-chain chain is Newspeak for what you and I would call a chain. The phrase feel a sense of community equates to give us repeat custom. They are doing exactly what politicians do, which is to say something terribly earnestly, as if simply the act of earnest utterance makes it true. The arrogance of their statement, with its missionary zeal to bring these things to the poor benighted people of Crouchie, should fool no one.

The underlying contradictions of their message rise up to the surface with the slightest disturbance of the text.  They ‘handcraft each Gail’s shop’ but they all end up looking the same, as any real adaptations would dilute their brand identity. They imply that they care so much about our ‘community’ that they’ve discovered what Crouch End lacks, and are selflessly offering to provide it. The only trouble is that anyone who has ever actually been to Crouch End will know that we are far from lacking in “great bread, a calm place to chill out with young children, a place to come and use Wi-Fi”; it’s fantastically arrogant of them to assume otherwise. We have loads of brilliant bakeries that really are independent shops, rather than chains who would like have us think of them as independents. Our best bakery, Dunn’s, has been in Crouch End since 1820 and sells pumpkin bread so tasty I have literally had dreams about it. That is the normal, non-Newspeak definition of a local community shop that sells great bread. Gail’s don’t even make very good pastries, apparently.


If they’d really been wringing out their souls over what Crouch End ‘really wants or needs’ they would have organised for us to have a proper independent bookshop, since we need one after the demise of lovely lovely Prospero’s (WEEP). But this is not their mission: they are here to make a profit, and they might at least be honest about that. Their presence in Crouch End will actually harm the community by competing with our real independent shops, who are already struggling with massive rents, higher food prices and the general impact of the economic crisis, and who don’t have the luxury of corporate funding behind them. The fact that they don’t give the least bit of a toss about the ‘local community’ is made evident by the lack of research they have done into the place.

I could go on quite a lot more about this. Don’t even get me started on ‘Jim, the Crouch End resident’, who appears later on. I call it twee-washing: the cynical, faux-caring bullshit that companies come up with to try to bamboozle us into buying their product. It’s the equivalent of banks using earnest homespun folk music on their adverts while their executives trouser millions in bonuses, and it utterly infuriates me. They are wolves in wonky, hand-knitted, organic wool jumpers: I shall be sticking to Dunn’s.

Rant of the Week

I may be a bit slow off the mark here, but I’ve just come across this. Over in the God-bothering land of Arkansas, there’s a cable tv show dedicated to a family with 18 kids ‘and counting’. (I’m not even going to start with Nadya Suleman, who I think is more of a victim of bad social services.)

I really don’t know where to begin with how howl-at-the-moon stupid I think this is. I mean, first off, they’ve called them all names beginning with J and as a J myself I resent having my initial hijacked to serve the cause of rabid lunacy. (Although I am mildly impressed they managed to think up so many names. I think after the first half dozen I’d have to resort to numbers.)

Secondly, I hate people who say ‘I have a right to have children’. Being biologically capable of something does not give you an unlimited right to it – unfortunately, as I feel biologically capable of administering a couple of punches right now.

Childbearing is a responsibility, not a means of acquiring a collection. With the best will in the world these procreators – I hesitate to call them parents – cannot possibly give their children the attention they need. And their whole ‘look! We’ve made another one!’ attitude is deeply suspect. Leaving aside the obvious desire for fame, what psychological disease is driving them to have so many children? Before birth control became available huge families were a life-threatening curse on the mother, necessary, if at all, only because of high infant mortality rates. To carry over this practice into modern life is ridiculous;  as anachronistic as someone trying to drive a horse and cart down a motorway, only much more dangerous.

Of course the Catholic Church’s irresponsible attitude towards birth control doesn’t help. A general squeamishness towards sex – because God forbid you should simply enjoy yourself – would be fine if the consequences of unprotected sex weren’t so destructive. Leaving aside the devastating effect of AIDS and HIV in Africa, Russia, and the rest of the world, it’s utterly immoral to condemn birth control when the world is dangerously saturated with people – this couple should be counselled, not given their own show.

Some might argue that it’s none of our business how many kids they bash out. Sadly it is our business. Leaving aside the fact that they’ve made it a public event by having their own show, population growth is the elephant in the room of many other discussions about the earth, climate change, increasing competition for natural resources, even swine flu. In 1950 the earth’s population was 2.5 billion: now, fifty years later, it’s 6.8 billion. Every week the number grows by more than 1.5 million: that’s ten thousand every hour. This is a crisis far bigger in impact than any of the worries about swine flu and carbon footprints and everything. Unless we take serious measures to slow the rate of population expansion, soon enough there simply won’t be enough resources in the world to feed, water and clothe everyone.

You might have noticed that each natural disaster seems to have bigger and bigger death tolls. Just this week we have news of the tsunami in the South Pacific and earthquakes in Indonesia. It’s no great mystery as to why events like these, and the devastating tsunami in ’06, kill so many people: it’s simply cold mathematics. There are far more people in the world to be killed. This is one of the most awful aspects of population growth: as more and more people pop up, they have to expand into low-lying areas which are vulnerable to floods and tsunamis. They are packed into shaky high-rise blocks which tumble during earthquakes. They’re pinned closer together on public transport, so viruses spread.

In this world, deliberately having more than two children should be seen as an overindulgence, and I’m saying this as someone who loves kids and knows and likes a lot of families with more than two. The Duggars, as an extremity, should be reviled just as much as the bankers-with-a-W who have similarly contributed to fucking up the world through selfish desire.

Unless we go down the Chinese route, which, I think everyone can agree, would suck, this is a problem that can’t be solved on a national or governmental level. It’s a cultural shift that must be made: a conscious, responsible choice on the part of each one of us 6.8 billion individuals. Otherwise we’ll have screwed ourselves. Quite literally.