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I know I run the risk of sounding like a blithering paranoiac on a steady diet of dodgy mushroom omelettes but ever since I first moved into this house six years ago, I’ve been utterly convinced that the place emanates some seriously bad vibrations. Up until yesterday, it really wouldn’t have surprised me to have discovered that we lived on the exact same spot where the locals used to hold witch burning parties in the early 1700s, or that the foundations of the place were laid over a Roman fortress decimated by smallpox. Now however, after finally dipping my fingers into the fascinating world of feng shui, I can confirm (though not with any great relish) that all of our property woes are the direct result of a near apocalyptic series of feng shui disasters. Seriously, this place could have been set up as an experiment in how to ruin your own life through the attraction of negative energy… and if we were ever to invite around a feng shui consultant to help us re-arrange the coffee tables, I doubt they’d even make it through the front door before they collapsed in a writhing, screaming heap and started frothing at the mouth.

Ten seconds into my online research and I start coming across lines like “Do you live in a cul-de-sac?” (Yes actually I do…) and “Is your backyard sloped?” (Yes actually it is…), and then other, altogether less encouraging lines like “these houses will have challenging Feng Shui that needs to be taken care of.” And it’s so painfully obvious that the word “challenging” is just a polite way of saying “seriously and irredeemably fucked” that I have to curb the compulsion to bundle my family into the car and check indefinitely into the nearest Travelodge. In contexts like this, “Challenging” is a serious word indeed, it hints at dark and disturbing truths that are too hideous to be faced in their naked form. “Challenging” is the word that teachers use in the school reports of their most criminally deranged pupils: “Johnny’s recent experiments with a chainsaw in the playground raised some challenging behavioural concerns”… or politicians trot out whenever they get busted: “a Government spokesperson conceded earlier today that the photos of the prime minister dressed as Mussolini whilst snorting cocaine off the naked breasts of a Thai prostitute have created a challenging PR situation.” Let’s face it, “challenging” is bad… and nobody in their right mind would want to get home from a tiring day at work to be “challenged” by the very existence of their property on the spot where it currently resides. There really is no escaping the fact that what we’re dealing with here is a remarkably concrete problem. A cul-de-sac is a cul-de-sac… a hill is a hill… and no amount of online feng shui hints or tips are ever going to amount to anything more than a second rate palliative care programme unless I call in the bulldozers and destroy the entire street, or convince the council to shift a few hundred thousand tonnes of top soil.

And if it’s depressing to fall at the first hurdle, imagine how it feels to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and then slap the tarmac at the second hurdle as well. It seems that a good feng shui house requires “a smooth, strong and clear energy flow to its front door”. A nice, simple, gently curved pathway is the thing you’re after – something that imparts an air of cheerfulness and calm, maybe a couple of moderately proportioned bushes and a water feature to finish things off. “Big trees, old pots and recycling bins” blocking the way to the front door are (not unreasonably) frowned upon, whilst weeds, dead flowers and any other inauspicious signs of decay should be promptly removed from the scene. Needless to say, the path to my own front door deviates catastrophically from this feng shui blue-print. Picture instead a hideous procession of vomit yellow slabs (with some sort of fungal infection) lurching aggressively away from the front of the house like a drunk being ejected from a nightclub. Then picture this path taking a completely insane right angle about a third of the way down a decidedly patchy lawn before stumbling to the left for a few feet and then abruptly terminating at a narrow driveway of black tarmac. Throw in a few dandelions prising their way through the cracks in the slabs and finish off with a pair of ornamental cement tortoises – one of whom was sadly decapitated by the lawn-mower a few years back – and you get a good sense of the place.

You know, the more I think about the layout of that path the more it pisses me off. What kind of a fuckwit building company would force a family to skulk sideways into their own house like they were about to undertake a kidnapping? And I mean seriously, how could a home ever appear warm or inviting when you have to tip-toe down the side of your car and then navigate a series of jarring, unnatural right angles before you even get your God damn keys out? Feng shui… environmental psychology… the physics of light and space… geometrical relationships… common sense… call it what you like, it’s abundantly clear that our builders decided to turn a blind eye to any of these principles… and as a result of which we got well and truly shafted to save the price of a couple of dozen paving slabs. And would it really have cost our builders that much money to put a bit of weed repellent sheeting down? I could easily go off on one about all of this shit but this post is supposed to be about feng shui rather than unscrupulous building developers so I’ll save my wrath for the great day… and besides, the Tao Te Ching (which I always try to consult in times of high dudgeon) clearly states that there is no “greater misfortune than having an enemy.” Wise words indeed… and a difficult point to ignore – I suppose I could ruin the rest of my life tirelessly fighting for the “cause of the curved path” and the building giants would still throw about right angles like fucking hand grenades. Far better to remember yet another line from the Tao Te Ching, “stop thinking and end your problems”. Maybe we should just go off and live in a tent somewhere? A round tent. Like a Mongolian Yurt.

Anyway; once you’ve navigated the negative energy of the topography and the garden path, the next feng shui disaster waiting to throw a spanner into your psyche is the front door itself, which screeches like a stuck pig whenever it’s opened or closed… not to mention the fact that it’s impossible to swing the front door back even a full 90 degrees because of our tunnel-like hallway (for obvious reasons any entrance way worth its salt should be broad and inviting). Oh and then there’s the question of the bathroom located directly above it – which, also for obvious reasons, is a massive feng shui no no. I actually went so far as to check the position of the toilet bowl itself, and now realise that I have the great masochistic pleasure of metaphorically shitting directly over the entrance to my own little fiefdom every single morning! Allow me to quote just one more illustrative example from my friends at fengshui.about.com

What is the first thing you see as your enter your house? Where do you feel the energy (your attention) goes right away? Does it go straight to a bathroom that is close to the front door, or is it pushed right back by a mirror facing the front door? Do you have a staircase facing the front door? Maybe your front door is aligned to the back door, so that most of the good energy that enters the house easily escapes?

No prizes for guessing who has a back door directly lined up with his front door… a “french” backdoor no less, with nice big sheets of seven foot glass to bounce out any wayward positive energy that may have accidently made its way across the threshold. Also no prizes for guessing who has a stairway in his hall… and a downstairs toilet as the very first thing you pass as you walk into the property. I could go on for another ten pages about giant mirrors opposite beds, and hexagonal dining tables throwing off energy streams like killer fucking lazer beams, and sofa’s tucked behind doors, and colour schemes that would kill plant life on contact… but I think the point has been made.

You know, as naive as it sounds, until I read up on all this feng shui stuff I’d never really processed any of these issues. My dissatisfaction with the house was vague and free-floating – the endless tug of a thousand negative spatial arrangements just beneath the water margin of my own consciousness, bubbling away, day in, day out, like a toxic cauldron. Of course, now that I’ve seen the feng shui light as it were, everything about this weird house and it’s flat malevolent vibe is starting to make sense – and maybe as seemingly little a thing as the position of your toilet bowl and the angle of your garden path really does make a difference… it’s that whole death by a thousand pin pricks idea. And hey, why would I ever be arrogant enough to doubt the idea that a bunch of ancient Chinese sages who spent their entire lives living close to nature and contemplating this stuff would have less of an understanding of it than I do myself?

If like me, you’ve ever looked into getting a couple of red eyed tree frogs, you’ll no doubt have read the endless online articles about the need to replicate their natural environment… and that it really isn’t good enough to simply provide them with the necessary heat, light and food for their survival. Being tree frogs they need greenery and foliage and high places… and if you fail to provide as much for their “tree frog-ness” as their biological requirements, you’ll have a couple of very unhappy tree frogs indeed. Maybe they’ll be so pissed off that they’ll go on hunger strike and die. It might sound strange but in many ways I think this is where feng shui can play a part in our lives today. It’s a body of knowledge that is older than this strange world of glass and brick boxes we seem to have built around ourselves… and it’s sensitive enough to the psychology of human needs and environmental requirements to ground us back in nature… where, like all animals, we rightfully belong. Feng shui seems to understand a human’s “human-ness” in the same way that the owner of red eyed tree frogs needs to understand those tree frogs fundamental “frog-ness”. Something your average property developer wouldn’t give a fuck about.

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I thought I’d set the tone by publishing a divorce letter I wrote to Tesco a few years back when I’d just come out of hospital after knee surgery… and was stuck in an armchair for seven weeks with a stash of anti-capitalism books and the complete “Monkey” DVD boxset. Good times!

Dear Tesco,

Please find enclosed the shredded and charred remains of my Tesco clubcard personal-surveillance device, which I return in its present condition as a symbolic gesture of the utter contempt in which I hold your odious corporation. I am writing this letter to demand that my name and personal details, underwear measurements and grocery preferences, along with any other purchase related data I may have generated, be erased in its entirety from your Stasi-like web of databases and index systems… and if that means altering sixteen thousand pie charts by a millionth of a percent then so be it. It’s my data, and I want it back. I make this demand on the grounds that I have decided (belatedly I admit) to cease frequenting your stores on a permanent basis, and as is the case in all such divorces, it has come to the point where by the parties in question must crouch over the carcass of their relationship and take what is theirs. I also see this letter as an opportunity to get off my chest some of the Tesco-related moral outrage and pent up frustration it never seemed fair to call forth upon an innocent checkout worker desperately trying to earn a living on the insultingly low wages you callously insist upon palming people off with.

That’s right Tesco, I have finally gained enough of a sense of my own humanity to opt out of your globally destructive suicide mission for good. I am ready at last to turn my back on your in-store psychological blanket bombing and your multi-million pound ad campaigns and walk away. I have clambered off the treadmill of mindless over-consumption upon which you placed me as a child and cast your two-for-one offers, your piss poor self-service checkout systems and your eerie lack of shopping baskets into the giant wheelie bin of disgruntled customer oblivion. Never again will I find myself crippled by the sheer banality of my own indecision as I stand alienated and dehumanised before a 50ft wall of assorted male grooming products, slowly dying inside, at 7.45 on a grey Tuesday evening. Nor will I have to endure again those endless hours of catatonic drift past mile upon mile of tasteless pre-fabricated junk food… air fresheners that will pointlessly vary the chemical stench of your home on a 20 minute basis… gleaming mountains of status boosting electrical goods with a built in obsolescence that will barely see you across the car park… schizophrenic stockpiles of slimming aids and cream cakes, health supplements and cigarettes… the vacant expressions of former human beings pushing their weekly piles off hollow dreams towards the flashing light and automated voice recording that used to be a person…

It feels good to be rid of you Tesco – liberating and life affirming, like waving goodbye to a tumour or a crack addiction. And of course, none of the above are even amongst the more important reasons for giving up the cankerous blight of your free market imperialism. Far more rewarding indeed is the knowledge that I will no longer have to worry about blinding a 12 year old girl in a Bangladesh sweatshop when I place a pair of socks on a checkout conveyor belt, or stop up my ears against the uneasy babbling of my own conscience as I knowingly toss two pence (seriously. Two pence) at the blistered feet of a half-starved plantation worker in the developing world for a £1 bunch of bananas – my tacit contribution to Tesco’s global dragnet of child labour and worker exploitation, has finally come to an end. Gone too are the days in which every grocery purchase I make hammers one more nail into the coffin lid of another local business; where every penny I spend is instantly sucked out of community circulation into some distant capitalist tax haven, further impoverishing the already vague and atomised sprawl of my local neighbourhood. While we’re on the subject of money, is it really true that your chief executive takes home an astonishing four million plus a year in pay and bonuses? And what, might I ask, are those bonuses for exactly? Certainly not putting the health and happiness of some of the world’s most vulnerable people before the avaricious profit requirements of fat-arsed, jag-driving city banker types… or providing a decent supply of shopping baskets for that rare breed of shopper who doesn’t intend to cart home three times his own bodyweight in freezer foods every week. Unless of course you want to try and convince me that people on the other side of the world enjoy working 80 hour weeks, and that they do so out of an inordinate love for repetitive manual labour rather than any grim financial necessity?

Any corporation that can so brutally dismantle the economic infrastructure and cultural diversity of its host environments in favour of the bland and homogenised dystopian blueprint Tesco seems to favour, isn’t just a little bit naughty in any loveable rogue “business is business” sense of the word, but fundamentally and irreversibly Evil. Even a five year old child, once presented with the facts, would come to the obvious conclusion that it simply isn’t possible to commit such an abominable catalogue of crimes against the basic principle of universal human compassion by accident. And that, in the proverbial nutshell, is the heart of the problem – your entire business model hinges upon your ability to discreetly ravage the collectively torn sphincter of the world whilst smiling at the people like some sort of saintly and benevolent service provider. I see you in my dreams Tesco. Or should that be nightmares? You are a bloated and repugnant lounge lizard, stalking the nightclub of life with an etherised hanky and a stash of Rohipnol. You have paid off the doorman, and the police officers, and the magistrates of the land, and the only thing that stands between yourself and your victims, is their ability to stay clear of your dubious charms and your spiked free drinks. Behind the grease paint façade of “consumer choice” and the “feel good shopping experience” is a cold and ruthless machinery of exploitation so criminally adept at hiding all the nastiness it gets up to behind closed doors that the average consumer is too busy cod-eyeing a pile of mobile phones or looking for a bloody shopping basket to even notice. I suppose that’s how supermarkets, in their ecological wisdom, can get away with flogging locally produced “five mile and closer” vegetables that they’ve flown to Poland and back to get washed and packaged on the cheap by underpaid Eastern European workers (you couldn’t make this stuff up if you tried!).

Think about it Tesco, in previous generations the only people who showed any interest in wrestling control of the food supply and managing society’s access to basic human provisions were despots and dictators. As Lewis Mumford points out in “The Myth Of The Machine”, wherever traditional agrarian cultures have given way to urbanisation, “the political agents that collected and distributed the grain could control the entire population” It really is the oldest racket in the book; and one that you have obviously done very well out of over the years. When you see the population, week in, week out, crawling around your stores in supplicant obedience to the power and pull of your overwhelming control of the market, it must make you very proud of yourself. Of course, once upon a time, the idea of creating a world that could be governed entirely in accordance with your own capricious and self serving desires was reserved for the likes of a Caesar or a Napoleon – rather than a boardroom full of flabby middle-aged executives. Perhaps you’ve simply forgotten that you’re supposed to be a supermarket (that humble place where people buy tins of pilchards and rice pudding), rather than an axis power? Let me clarify something for you from a slightly more human perspective; if it really is true that one in eight pounds in the UK is spent in your stores, that doesn’t mean that there are seven more pounds to “go after” as your head honcho once famously suggested; what it actually means is that you need to stop being such greedy monopolistic bastards and give us our money back before we start getting ideas about descending upon your stores in an altogether different mood and expropriating some of those millions of hours of hard earned wages you have taken from us.

It is for these reasons (and many more along similar lines) that I refuse to help sponsor your international campaign of worker misery and cultural degradation any longer. Since finally leaving behind our abusive relationship I now enjoy the incomparable pleasure of shopping at a pair of family run local grocery stores, and even if they do only provide me with a shockingly poor selection of 6 breakfast cereals combined (how will I ever manage?) the hardships I endure as a choice-less consumer are more than recompensed by the warm and fuzzy feelings that spontaneously well-up inside me when I am recognised with a smile, talked to like an old friend and treated with patience, sincerity and kindness. Not possessing a soul yourself, I imagine this particular argument is hard to comprehend so I’ll move on to something more concrete.

Much to my surprise – thanks largely I suppose to your endless barrage of perception bending media – I soon realised that my non-Tesco shopping bill is between 10 and 20 percent cheaper every single week! Even with the far tighter profit margins smaller shops must surely have to contend with! 20 percent! And before you get the wrong impression, this figure does not include the bloated cost of all those chemical convenience foods and other toxic perishables I would have been tempted into buying from your stores – it comes from running my current grocery receipts through your crappy website delivery service for a direct comparison. It seems that somebody’s price fixing policy – sorry, price flexing policy – has been ripping people off more than they might have imagined: just one more example of your Evil master plan at work I suppose. One thing I really would like to know is what will happen to your pricing policies once you really have killed off all of the competition? Will you stick to your immensely condescending “every little helps” marketing slogan or go for something more honest, “pay or die – there is no alternative” perhaps? I suppose, if you’re the only store left, there will be no need for you to assault our senses with your shinny happy advertising campaigns at all? Every cloud has its silver lining as they say.

More than a hundred years ago, in his seminal text “The Conquest of Bread”, Peter Kropotkin passionately argued that if the people were ever to free themselves from their social and economic enslavement, it was imperative that they fought to once again control the destiny of their own food supply – that the parasites and the exploiters, the merchants and the middlemen that stand between a population and their “bread” (this is you of course), needed to be permanently cast aside in the name of justice and equality. I want you to know therefore, that as I cultivate the scrap of land that my suburban existence and the horrors of private property afford me, I do so as an act of open defiance: I refuse to deplete the worlds dwindling supply of natural resources pointlessly shunting about potatoes that could happily generate themselves in half a dozen sacks in the corner of a patio. I refuse to swell the profits of greed driven corporate shareholders buying farcically priced strawberries that would just as well grow in a row of old plant pots. I refuse the inherent perversity of complacently sanctioning the payment of slave wages – silently endured by millions of agrarian labourers around the world – when a little care and attention, a little sweat and elbow grease can bring forth a myriad of home-grown organic vegetables of a quality and freshness the cryogenic produce departments of your over-lit stores could never even dream of.

And if all my words and actions be written off as the inconsequential ravings and futile gestures of just another angry lefty (as doubtless they will) at least I can take solace in the happy realisation that I am but one of an ever growing number of ordinary people who have knowingly rejected participation in your sordid bid for world domination; that I can go to bed at night with something approaching a clear conscience, and the quiet hope that I may be but the first of many to “burn and return” my Tesco clubcard to HQ. I also hope, in a more poetic sense of the word, that I live long enough to enjoy the priceless spectacle of your Empire of exploitation crumbling beneath the boots of a galvanised proletariat who, having awoken from the media induced slumber of the last century, burn their TV’s in ceremonious piles on the corner of every street and arm in arm, reconnecting in a disconnected world, make a stand for what is right against the wrongs of the capitalist system you so perfectly embody.

If of course, after removing my data from your records, you find yourself unable to comply with my more general wishes by ceasing to exist (an evolutionary certainty of your unsustainable business model at any rate) please at least consider finally relinquishing your painfully dreadful blue-and-white-striped corporate branding. It’s hideously ugly, overwhelmingly tacky, and makes me want to vomit on sight.

Yours faithfully

Steven Pepper

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