People are stupid part 1

It strikes me that I haven’t written anything really worthy of the title Misanthropic Musings recently. And as I have 30 posts to churn out this month, I’m going devote a few of them to rantings about stuff which really annoys me.

I had a colleague when I worked for a hire car firm in Newbury who was constantly bemused by the notion that our customers were not familiar with our internal processes. On on occasion a customer rang up wanting to know why his car hadn’t been collected from his house several hours after he’d told us to end the rental. My colleague explained to him that it could take up to 24 hours for cars to be collected following the end of the rental period, hung up the phone, then started ranting about how stupid he’d been. I disagreed. From what I could see, the customer had no way of knowing that it could take up to 24 hours for his car to be picked up. It wasn’t written in our terms and conditions and he hadn’t been told when he ended the rental. Furthermore, given that his car had been delivered to him in within a 4 hour window, there was nothing inherently illogical in his assuming it would be collected within a similar time frame.

My colleague was unable to grasp why he would have jumped to such a conclusion. She understood why cars might not get collected straight away, but she didn’t appear to understand why the customer might not.

This reminded me vividly of a psychological test conducted on young children. I don’t know a lot about child brains, but I gather that a fairly critical point in their cognitive development comes when they become aware of ‘other minds’. That is, they grasp the concept that other people have their own views and memories of events.

The elegant test consists of taking the child into a room and showing them a closed smarties tube. The child is asked what they think is in the tube. The child replies, “Smarties” which is of course an entirely logical answer given the information they have at the time. The tube is opened, and it is revealed that the tube does not contain smarties, but instead contains a pencil. The tube is resealed, and the child’s parent is bought into the room. The child is then asked to predict what their parent will say when asked the question “What is in the tube?” Up to a certain age, the child will answer that their parent will think that a pencil is in the tube. The child has processed the information that the pencil is in fact in the tube, but is not able to grasp that someone else who is not privy to that information will be guessing according to what the child first thought before the pencil was revealed. The point at which the child answers that their parent will guess Smarties are in the tube is the watershed moment when the child can comprehend the concept of ‘Other minds.’

At that moment my colleague, raging away at the insolence of this customer, seemed like a toddler who is unable to grasp that a separate person who is not in possession as the same facts that they are, will come to a logical but incorrect conclusion. In the context of the test it seems like a very obvious thing for a mature adult to be able to wrap their mind around. But I see evidence that adults can forget this simple but powerful concept of ‘other minds’ all the time.

My quantum children

Terry and I decided a long time ago that we were never going to have children. We have many, many reasons for this. Some we have in common, some we don’t. One of mine, which I don’t think Terry shares, is that I could never come up with a satisfactory answer to the grumpy teenager’s wail “I didn’t ask to be born.” Now I’m sure this is usually said in a spirit of hormonal, rather than existential angst. Nonetheless they’re quite right. They didn’t ask to be born. Someone else made that decision for them. They were dragged into existence at the whim of another person.

For the record I understand that human souls do not hang around in a quantum state of existence waiting for the determination that will actualise them. Unborn children are not able to contribute to a discussion as to whether they should be granted existance. To say “I didn’t ask to be born” is in some ways meaningless since there is no way it could be otherwise. You can’t ask someone if they want to be born. So it is a rather impotent complaint.

Each October Terry and 1 have been together both as a married and unmarried couple for x years and 9 months. A few weeks ago it was 11 years and 9 months since we got together. I realised that if I had become pregnant then, our child would have been 11 years old. That was the age I was when I left home to go to boarding school. Perhaps in that alternate universe, we would have made the same decision and we would be just starting to get our adult lives back to ourselves. Or maybe we would be facing empty nest syndrome and we would realise we had only stayed together for the sake of providing stable formative years.

But that is alternate-universe-Terry-and-Liz’s problem. The other day I saw on Facebook that another old schoolfriend had just give birth. I’m happy for her. But each time I see another peer has joined the ranks of parenthood I wonder if their children will ever cry out in a fit of pique that they didn’t ask to be born. And across the void dividing the universes I hear my own non existant child make that complaint and I think, “No you didn’t. And so I made sure you never would.”

Endless Ocean 2

I posted a while back about how much I enjoyed Portal. One of the things I loved most about it was the lack of pressure. Taking the relaxed approach to gaming a step further I have recently been playing Endless Ocean 2: Adventures of the Deep. Don’t let the subtitle put you off though, this is as laid back an adventure as you can get.

I remember at university attempting to play the 60s Mod version of Grand Theft Auto on the PC. As I have mentioned before, my hand-eye coordination and general motor skills are really quite poor. I struggled to control the car, and had tremendous difficulty negotiating corners, let alone avoiding obstacles. A friend laughingly suggested I might get on better with a driving game with no road, no pavements, no pedestrians or really any difference in terrain at all. There should just be a big expanse of space and I could spin around in it to my heart’s content.

Endless Ocean is like playing that driving game set in a giant fish tank. There is an environment which your avatar inhabits, but you move so slowly that it’s almost impossible to have any problems moving where you want to. The game basically consists of swimming around in diving gear, encountering different kinds of marine life. In a bid to introduce a small amount of peril, there are certain points where great white sharks come and attach you. I say attack – they swish you with their tails, and a small amount of extra oxygen is depleted from your tank. At any point you can return to your boat and then start a new dive which means you get to carry on exploring with a fresh tank of oxygen which is good for 10-20 minutes of swimming depending on the depth, temperature of the water and your ‘diving level’.

I haven’t yet played the first Endless Ocean game, but I gather the 2nd game has got a bit more of a structure to it. There is a story of sorts, and lots and lots of side quest action, whether seeking out particular species to photo or spending time playing with the multi-sensor to salvage potentially valuable items from the sea bed. You get points, which can be spent on upgarding equipment and later on changing your avatar’s hairstyle, none of which seem to be misson critical. No grinding away by cutting grass or killing moblins to earn enough rupees to buy magic armour!

One of the things I used to enjoy most in games was fully exploring the field of play, particularly if you got a map which was uncovered square by square as you ventured further into unchartered territory. This game is just the same, so I can dive over and over again in the same area until the map is fully revealed.

Everything about this game is focussed on taking things at your own pace. I would get mildly irritated during my beloved Zelda games when having completed a particular dungeon the dialogue of the non playing characters tried to hurry me onto the next story element. “Hurry up, we have to get to such and such as place before so and so dies!” But I didn’t want to hurry up. I wanted to take some time looking at the surroundings. In Endless Ocean the whole point of the game is to take in the environment. The story mode is there to progress the action, but can be safely ignored until you are satisfied you have exhausted everything else you can do in any particular arena of play.

This is without a doubt the most soothing gaming experience I have ever had, and I love it for that!

How I predicted the Credit Crunch

Yesterday I blogged about my sorrowful experience of working in the retail banking sector. I left through a combination of the realisation that I was really bad at being a cashier and horror at the hard-selling tactics we were expected to employ to meet the banks targets.

Most of the recent coverage of the evils of this approach has focussed on PPI – the extra insurance policy sold with personal loans, supposedly to cover the borrower in the event that their circumstances changed and they were struggling to make repayments. Fortunately I was never really involved in this side, and I’m not really up on all the ins and outs of this particular product. But I was asked to recommend customers for loans based on the activity on their accounts.

I totally get the logic of consolidating lots of high interest debt into one lower interest loan. But it was always very obvious that the bank wanted us to push customers to borrow money whether it would be advantageous to them or not. After work one day I popped to the cash point and saw the following advert on the screen:

“Want it? Why wait? Ask us about our personal loans today!”

I’ve always been interested in personal finance, and my parents instilled in me a tremendous sense of fiscal responsibility. My Mum would frequently say to me “Whatever you have, spend less.” So my answer to the above question, “Why wait?” is usually along the lines of “because that’s the sensible thing to do.”

I appreciate that modern finance doesn’t work the way it used to. Living without any debt at all is tricky, particularly if you went to university which means you will probably have a student loan if nothing else, or you own your home rather than renting, which means you’re likely to have a mortgage for a substantial period of time. But I always tried to live by the general principle that borrowing money should be done after careful consideration of its purpose and an absolutely rigorous repayment plan, taking into account what might happen if circumstances changed. I felt the cash point advert trivialized these aspects of borrowing and encouraged a frivolous attitude to both taking out a loan and spending it.

In the last few weeks that I was working at the bank Terry and I started hunting around for a mortgage. This was the spring of 2003 so 5 years before what would come to be seen as the start of the credit crunch. it turned out that the high street banks were falling over themselves to lend money to a pair of employed graduates. We had carefully budgeted out what we thought we could afford, and were looking at properties priced according to this budget. To our surprise virtually all the representatives of the banks we spoke to tried to get us to borrow more money than we had asked for. We icily informed them that we didn’t intend to spend the rest of our lives paying off our first mortgage, and they backed down.

The day I left the bank I drew the manager aside and told her that their whole attitude to consumer credit was unsustainable. I didn’t know a whole lot about economics, or the housing market. But I had seen that in every bank in town, vulnerable and ill-informed customers were being encouraged to borrow more money than they could reasonably afford to pay back. I know that in reality righteous and indignant speeches rarely come out the way they would in fiction, and I have spent the past 9 years in a haze of l’esprit de l’escalier. I think I said something like “this is going to end badly you know” and stormed out. Then realised I’d forgotten to return my keys and slunk back awkwardly. That’s real life for you.

My dark days in banking

Many years ago during a much darker period in my life I worked for a bank. I was fresh out of university with a 2:1 degree in philosophy and needed work. Terry and I had just moved to Newbury where he was about to embark on the Vodafone Graduate Training scheme. His career was about to take off, and I still had no idea what I wanted to do with my life (aside from wanting to share it with Terry.) So I tarted up my rather insubstantial CV, put on a cheap suit and trotted down to the nearest recruitment agency.

As luck would have it, though with hindsight I’m not sure it was lucky at all, the local branch of Nat West was hiring. The fact that I had a degree all but guaranteed me an interview, and so I found myself sitting opposite the deputy branch manager answering insipid ‘competency based’ questions. While at university I’d held down a Saturday job at a jewellers for a year, so I was able to give my examples of “providing excellent customer service” and “paying close attention to detail” with relative ease.

Then came the part of the conversation where I said one of the stupidest things I’ve ever said in my life:

Deputy branch manager: A large part of this role will involve you reviewing customer accounts and suggesting more of the banks products to them. Is that something you think you could do?

Me: (airily) Oh yes! At the jewelers I was tasked with selling insurance policies to go with high value products and I was really good at it, so hitting sales targets is something I’m totally comfortable with.

If a time machine ever gets invented and I have opportunity to use it, I wouldn’t go back to see dinosaurs, or meet Shakespeare or clean up in the dot.com bubble. I would go back to that room on that sunny September morning in 2003 and punch myself repeatedly in the face until I stopped talking. It was true that I had sold crappy insurance policies to customers too stupid to realise what a waste of money they were. It was true that I was actually ok at it, but I hated doing it. I hated manipulating people, I hated implying that this extra expense was critical to their full enjoyment of the product, and I hated that I had to meet a target of selling this thing on 10% of my transactions. Saying I was comfortable with meeting selling targets had as much truth as saying I was comfortable with sticking pins in my eyes.

I suppose I could chalk some of this up to the naivety of a 21-year-old with little experience of the working world. I could also quite legitimately point out that having chosen to do a degree in philosophy, I didn’t have any obvious career options opening up. I needed to get an actual job, and in that instant I convinced myself that I would be ok at selling. I would have no problem silencing the moral qualms, and I would develop great transferable skills and make lots of lovely money.

Unsurprisingly they offered me the job on the spot. I know that sounds arrogant, but I was a smartly presented, well spoken, university educated person who had just professed to enjoying sales, and had produced credible examples of great customer service (that bit was true – I was and still am frickin’ awesome at Customer Service) so of course they gave me the job.

And guess what? The job sucked! The money sucked, the hours sucked, the Nat West/RBS corporate bullshit sucked, but most of all, being forced to sell unsuitable bank products to every customer sucked. The targets were virtually unreachable, even if you were actually quite good at persuading people to take out loans they didn’t need or shouldn’t have, and you had a gaping hole in your psyche where a sense of moral responsibility was meant to go. fortunately my ethical disgust, perhaps indignant at having been silenced during the interview, spent the next 6 and a half months screaming so loudly that I never got close to hitting any of my targets. So I am reasonably sure that no one has ever had to pay out any compensation as a result of my mis-selling anything.

On top of all of this I was also meant to be doing the job of a cashier, at which I was stupendous awful. My mental arithmetic is pretty dreadful at the best of times, and my till was repeatedly either over or under what it was meant to be. I can absolutely see why I was given the job in the first place, but how I kept it remains a mystery to me. When I handed in my notice six months later the manager warmly thanked me for my service and promised that if I ever wanted to return she’d be happy to take me back. All I can surmise from that is that I wasn’t the worst bank employee they’d ever seen, which is really quite depressing.

In the latest bout of complaints over the mis-selling of PPI, a former Nat West employee has written an account of being forced to persuade customers to take out these unsuitable policies. Reading this bought the whole experience flooding back with horrible clarity. I’m grateful I manged to get out when I did, and that I never got high up enough to have to sell the really nasty stuff like PPIs.

The other evening I was chatting to someone about the infamous Milgram experiment concerning the delivery of a lethal electric shock to a stranger on the instruction of an authority figure.
We both agreed that we would like to think in such circumstances that we would be brave enough to refuse, but accepted that statistically this was unlikely. While it might sound like a stretch to put electrocution in the same box as upgrading a bank account, I don’t think it’s totally off the mark to say that some of the same social dynamics are at play. I did things I felt were wrong because my superiors told me to, and I’m not proud of that. But I also think the experience has made me more wary, and accordingly I would hope I’m less likely to get stuck in such situations again.

My love affair with alcohol

I’m off to the Woking beer festival today, for the 3rd year running. I love real ale. It took me a few years to get into it – I admit I was a lager swilling heathen through my university years but I wouldn’t touch that stuff now. Now in the beer stakes I get the nicest and/or most interesting beer possible. Pale Ale’s or Golds for preference, but I’ve also had great successes with ruby bitters. I have yet to understand the appeal of porters and stouts, but then I don’t do any manual labour, which is why they were invented.

At the beer festival Terry will seek out the ciders and perries. We usually have something of the Weston’s Vintage ilk in stock at home. Magners/Bulmers/Gaymers is a bit too mainstream and Babycham is just a joke!

Wine was my introduction to alcohol. From a young age my parents would give me half a small glass of wine on special occasions which I would top up with water. The logic being of course that by introducing me to alcohol in a controlled environment I wouldn’t go utterly off the rails later – an approach which for the most part worked very well indeed.

I enjoy learning about wine, and I like the fact that my tastes have changed over time. I went from preferring fruity floral whites, to deep earthy reds. There was a time when my untutored nose and palate told me that a Shiraz smelt and tasted like Jack Daniels. These days I smile indulgently when my husband claims that all red wine tastes like feet. Fortunately we are in perfect accord when it comes to desert wine. The end of a frustrating encounter with the Post Office Credit Card was gleefully put behind us with the help of a bottle of Viennese Eiswein. But sparkling wine remains the go-to drink of celebration. Even though I have bottles of Cava at home a quarter of the price of some bottles of ‘regular’ wine, nothing denotes an occasion like the popping of a cork.

Sherry for me will always be the taste of the 80s, drank from tiny stemmed glasses accompanied by dry roasted peanuts. I found fresh use for it sloshing a glass over frying coins of chorizo resulting in a brief spurt of flame and leaving a sweet glaze. Similarly vermouth and marsala get used mostly for cooking, but I have no objection to a glass of chef’s prerogative of either of those. Port brings out the old man in me. One glass and I will not stop going on about the need to teach logic in schools. Sake has a special place in my heart having spent a glorious evening at a Siamese restaurant in Norwich with Terry celebrating his achieving a 2:1 in Computer Science. I think it’s no understatement to say that with that result the trajectory of both our lives changed. The world was in front of us, with all its new experiences. Amongst those new experiences was the lesson that a flask of warm sake each was way too much! But I rarely have sushi at home without it.

Then there’s the spirit world. I hated gin as a young adult thanks to an unpleasant experience at my high school prom with my date who was fortifying his courage with a small bottle of Gordons in his inside breast pocket. It took my visit to the Bombay Sapphire Experience at Vineopolis many years ago (which has sadly since changed into something else) to appreciate the delicate botanical flavours within that beautiful square bottle.

Vodka was the drink we were all warned against as I grew up, with its propensity to fade into oblivion against a backdrop of juices and sodas. Were a person so inclined you could put a fair quantity away without tasting the alcohol at all until you realised you’d fallen over.

Until 3 years ago I’d always got along ok with rum. It wasn’t my favourite tipple but I was happy enough to drink it if it was offered. Unsurprisingly it was my holiday to the Caribbean where I started to really appreciate the subtleties of flavour, the differences between light, dark, golden, spiced and so forth. I always thought of the humble Cuba Libre as, well, humble, but now a wedge of lime and a shot of Morgan’s Spiced in a glass of coke transports me back to the Antiguan beach where I watched the sun set over the ocean.

I’ve had mixed experiences with Whisky. I felt that it was a tremendous commendation of my maturity when my parents bought me back a tiny little bottle of single malt Scotch from holiday when I was about 16 and I never had the heart to tell them it tasted horrible. A decade later Terry and I celebrated our 1st year of marriage with a trip to Dublin, and the Jameson’s Old Distillery taught me a new appreciation for the drink.

Cognac remains a closed book to me (it’s one of the few drinks I feel I’m not old enough for) although the Pear Cognac Xante we had a couple of years back was unutterably delicious. The bottle of basic brandy in the cupboard is used exclusively for fortifying deserts.

Tequila and I have a chequered history, but I recently began mixing margaritas with lemonade which went beautifully with home made veggie tacos.

Bringing me to cocktails – which I started concocting at a tender age and never stopped. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t, but the results have never put me off. We have an extensive stock of liqueurs:
Our massive booze collection

Nonetheless I am always confident of strolling into a cocktail bar and finding something I wouldn’t make at home. Nights out at university were plotted around the city’s many cocktail houses: first The Bell, then Owen’s, then Chandler’s (later Imagine) for then on to Old Orleans, detouring to Bedford’s if we were feeling brave enough. It might sound either tragic or clichéd to say that my drinking experiences were some of my fondest memories of uni, but I truly learned a lot about the wonderful aesthetics of alcohol there. Throughout my life I’ve known people who couldn’t, wouldn’t or shouldn’t drink, and I’ve always felt intensively grateful that I’m not amongst them. I was told once by my grandmother that she didn’t drink because she had seen the terrible things people could do under the influence of alcohol. Even as a child I caught the term ‘could’ with all that implied. Once I was old enough to start appreciating everything booze could offer I resolved to do everything in my power to ensure I never had to stop drinking because I abused it.

Predicting the election

The day Barack Obama won the US election I wrote about how I struggle to deal with the stress of the unknown and it would have been great to have a big old spoiler in front of the whole thing telling me who won, such as appeared at the start of Season 7 of the West Wing.

Apparently such a thing did actually exist, in the forecasting of one Nate Silver, a US statistician who correctly predicted the outcome of the election with substantial accuracy. The first I heard of this chap was reading Twitter on Wednesday morning and seeing people congratulating him. I read a little more and gathered that he had taken a fair amount of flak from Republicans who didn’t like what he was saying. A couple of weeks before the election a disgruntled right winger by the name of Dean Chambers wrote a piece about how Silver was going to be wrong, and making some rather homophobic comments into the bargain.

Yesterday Chambers apologised for the nature of these comments. Well, he apologised, but spent half of this follow up piece quoting some other bloke who had made uncomplimentary comments about him. Not that it matters. He is still apologising because that’s the kind of decent upstanding guy he is. Even if the other side started it. Which he isn’t saying they did. But he’s still apologising, so there!

(As apologies go this reminds me rather of this editorial I read a couple of months back about the startling inept efforts of Andrew Mitchell to regain public support after pleb-gate.)

However the thing that really interested me was Chambers has managed to make this all about his slur on Silver’s appearance. It therefore doesn’t engage with the slurs he made on Silver’s integrity, intelligence or capability. “He [Silver] gives Obama a 73.4 percent chance of winning Ohio, which is downright absurd…” Except that it wasn’t absurd in the slightest. Obama did win Ohio, admittedly with a smaller percentage than Silver had predicted, but he was still way closer to the mark than Chambers.

Elsewhere it was a bad night for Karl Rove who seems to have taken a leaf out of Cornelius Fudge’s book of how to handle stuff you don’t want to believe is true. Courtesy of Jon Stewart I got to see Fox anchor Megyn Kelly asking Rove “Is this just math that you do as Republican to make yourself feel better or is this real?” Says it all really.

How my Oyster card helped me lose weight

I wrote a while back about the weight loss project I’ve had going for the past 2-3 years. A couple of people have asked me if I have followed a particular food or exercise plan. I never even bothered trying something like Atkins or joining Weight Watchers. When I started I knew that the biggest challenge I would face was sticking to whatever I decided to do. So if I went on a restrictive diet I knew that the chances were that I wouldn’t stick to it, and being a miser I hated the idea of spending money on something I was sure I could do on my own.

But I did spend some time thinking about the best approach. I concluded that I needed to make small changes which didn’t disturb the rest of my life too much. I needed to figure out what would slot nicely into my everyday routine. The easiest thing to start with was my commute to work. Soon after I started my job I fell into the habit of catching the bus to and from Waterloo. But as I was using an Oyster card each time I travelled it cost me money.

This gave me a big financial incentive to start walking. The 3 mile round trip actually provides a decent amount of exercise, and every time I walk in I’m saving myself £1.35. Not a vast amount granted, but across a month that’s well over £50, or £600 a year. If I had a pre paid travel card I’d feel like if I didn’t use it I wasn’t getting my money’s worth, which would conflict with the goal of exercising more. So by ensuring that my twin goals of losing weight and saving money are not working against each other I’m much more likely to achieve them both.

The creature from the Black Lagoon as a progressive milestone in cinematic history

As we approached Halloween night Terry was joyfully scouring the interwibbles for 3D films we could watch on our brand spanking new 3D telly. Some have worked really well, others less so. I hadn’t realised how many ‘old’ movies had actually been shot in 3D for cinematic release back in one of the previous eons where 3D was the exciting new thing. So we settled down to watch this icon of black and white horror.

It’s from 1954 and I’d already seen the picture of Julie Adams sprawled over a rock in her bathing suit, so I had a pretty good idea of what to expect in terms of gender roles. I am so happy that my pre-conceptions were at least partly wrong. The character of Kay Lawrence is strikingly independent, educated and pragmatic. She’s in a relationship with one of the other characters, but from the banter between them you don’t get the impression that she’s under his thumb. She’s works at a research lab studying marine biology, which is awesome. I know I’m a few weeks’ late for Ada Lovelace day, but I’d venture she’s a pretty good candidate for a female science role model. What’s equally impressive is that she actually understands the importance of funding. In fiction (and for that matter in reality) scientists are often starry eyed idealists who think that situating their work within the confines of reality, for which read curtailing their budget, is an attack on their integrity and commitment to their work. In the film Kay takes the role of peacemaker between the ambitious entrepreneur Mark Williams who wants results he can show off to his backers, and the David Reed who just wants to do cool science-y things and discover stuff.

So here was my next surprise. The scientists are the goodies. I was expecting a Frankenstein style sermon on the dangers and limits of science, but instead I took away a fairly progressive morality tale about the importance of ecology. The scientists are perfectly happy to leave the creature be, and if memory serves it’s Kay herself who suggests that they would learn more by allowing the creature to remain in its natural habitat. But the money-grabbing Mark Williams sees an opportunity to score a trophy, and unsurprisingly the creature doesn’t take too kindly to getting harpooned.

There are still plenty of things which mark this as a 50s horror. There’s the screaming, but actually far less than I expected. I think a couple of them could be classed more as a shriek of surprise, which when confronted with what is basically a Silurian is fair enough. Then there’s the lingering shots of Julia Adams swimming around just a few feet from the creature gazing at her lithe form from beneath her. (Actually, scratch the lithe bit. Adams is sporting the pointiest breasts outside a Madonna video and there’s no way those are conducive to aqua-dynamics.) But there’s plenty of eye-candy for those who prefer their screen idols to come with a Y Chromosome, and for my money the shots of Richard Carlson and Richard Denning cavorting in their swimwear is no less gratuitous than the sequences of Kay splashing about, particularly when they come to a brief bout of fisticuffs!

Yes, ultimately Kay gets captured and has to be rescued by the men folk, so loses feminist marks there, but the character of Kay is not the one-note damsel in distress I had anticipated from any film of that era.

How good is the West Wing at predicting the future?

I loved the West Wing. It’s one of the few shows I got into a few seasons in (around about season 4 I think) and liked so much I went back and watched it all from the beginning as I waited for the next season to start. I loved the characters, I loved the writing (I don’t care if Sorkin was off his tits on cocaine – no one does diatribe quite like him) and I loved the political fairyland he created. I wanted to live in a world where Jed Bartlett was president and he beat his political opposition off with a stick because he was cleverer, wiser, more engaged and had more integrity. “In the future, if you’re wondering, “Crime. Boy I don’t know.” is when I decided to kick your ass.” Come ON people!

But one of the things that always confused me was the prequel to series 7, where they basically tell you who wins the election at the season climax. They may have had a good reason to do this, but I never got around to looking it up on the internet to see if there was some rational. Contrary to appearances I don’t spend all my time watching TV shows and then thinking about them.

Anyway, despite my confusion as to the reasoning behind it, I found the massive spoiler at the start actually quite reassuring. It turns out I don’t handle suspense that well. As the season progressed the election stuff gets pretty fraught, and by the end it’s basically a really close run thing. Knowing the eventual outcome took a lot of the stress out of watching Santos and Vinnick fight for political immortality.

Sadly real life is spoiler-free unless we find some cool way of mucking about with the space-time continuum. And so I don’t know who is going to win the US Presidential Election in just a few hours’ time. Tantilisingly, as the show was coming to its end bits started coming true. I’m sure other people have covered this in tremendous detail, so here are just a few of my highlights. The character of Congressman Matthew Santos was based in part on the political career of one Barak Obama. So when Barak Obama actually became president 4 years ago the climax of Season 7 seemed like it had been a fabulous harbinger. Shortly after taking office Obama appointed his great political rival Hilary Clinton as Secretary of State. True, in the TV series Santos appoints the republican candidate, but that kind of cross party politics really does seem terribly far-fetched in reality and John McCain is no Arnie Vinnick.

Jed Bartlett himself wins his second term with a margin which is tolerable, if not comfortable (think sleeping on a lilo rather than a four poster bed.) Clearly that’s not going to happen this time. I suppose I shoud be grateful that at least the GOP won’t win by a landslide, and perhaps if Romney wins it will be by such a narrow margin he’ll wish he lost. After all, if the decline and fall of Nick Clegg is anything to go by, it’s much easier to garner popularity if you’re not actually in charge of anything. Being the opposition and getting to snark at everything the ruling party does seems like a doddle compared to shouldering the responsibility of actually running a country.