Monday, 28 January 2008

Temptation and obligation

I was really pleased today to find a millipede crawling its happy way across the floor of the office. It was about 3cm long and had lots of legs. How symbolic, I thought to myself, that such a creature should choose this time to appear in this most barren of corporate landscapes.

How apposite that I have happened across this tiny messenger of nature, sent to remind me of the primeval spirit which lurks in all humanity and it's works.
I named him Gerald, on account of his very thin legs and ribby-bits, which were much in evidence. He seemed a Geraldy type.
And so I turn to the message brought by Gerald (...obviously not verbally. Oh no! Millipedes are not known for their powers of conversation. Dear me, no. Think how noisy the average woodland would be were that the case! The houmous would be humming with gossip and chatter. Indeed, perhaps, it is anyway!)

What I mean is that it is no coincidence that a millipede should suddenly appear in our midst.
What this says to me is "nature is here. Don't fight it." So, giving in to an animal urge, I went to the chocolate machine. If I can't indulge one of my major animal urges, I shall appease a lesser one.

As I walked into the coffee area, I became aware of a sensation of not being alone, like someone was watching me. I looked around, but it being relatively early, there was nobody I could discern who could see me. Puzzled, I reached for an Earl Grey teabag, detached the string preemptively and poured on the water.
"Life: Magnificent, isn't it!" said a squeaky but somehow still commanding voice, a hint of a sneer just noticeable around the edges. "Why be strong? One day you will be old and toothless. You will be overlooked, insignificant, the object of nobody's desire. Go on! release your spirit!"

I looked and there, on the worktop, was a small red figure about a foot high. Becoming vaguely aware of the brimstone odour, I regarded him suspiciously for some moments, while he stared back with a mixture of mischief and diminutive menace.
"Methinks you are spellbound, young sir!" He laughed at last, his large yellow eyes narrowing to a squint.
I still did not speak, wondering what manner of creature he was, but suspicion mounting of his identity.
He was a strange sight, his skin red and leathery, but like well kept shiny leather, as Doctor Marten's boots become after years of loving applications of spit and ox-blood polish. His grin, ever present and always slightly sideways, showed an array of small pointed teeth, kittenlike but with a more sinister aspect, possibly due to the leer. His forked tongue flicked delicately as he spoke. He was naked but for a red satin cape and a leather, studded pair of trunks.

"I know you!" I said at last, the accusing tone stronger than I had intended.
"Sir, you do not!" He replied with mock indignance. "You think you do, but I have taken great pains to keep myself hidden, though all your life I have accompanied you in your every movement, nudging here , coercing there. I am one of many of my kind, allocated at conception to you ephemeral but fascinating creatures"

The implications of this suddenly dawned on me in all their massive import, and I was about to
reply with the myriad of questions which suddenly broke the surface foam of my mind.

"Look!" Said the red bloke, swishing his tail in what I at first took to be irritation, but soon realised was eager amusement. "You ephemerals, you spend all this time agonising 'Should I do this? Should I do that?' and you just don't get it! That's all there is! Get on with it!"
His eyes opened wide now, vertical pupils widening momentarily before shrinking again to a mere black line. They glittered with some feverish, madness-tinged enthusiasm and bore into me as if to emphasise his words.

"If I were you, I wouldn't waste time. Do you not suspect that life could taste as sweet as the first strawberry of Wimbledon? If I were you, young sir, I should think no more about relative and debateable ethical concerns. Avail yourself of all the pleasures you can discover. One day you will be dust and all this will be as nothing. But for now, take your life in the palm of your hand and pour upon it a good measure of reckless abandonment that you may reach peaks of delight which cause you to gasp in astonishment and wonder. You know it makes sense! You FEEL this! I dare you: Contradict me!"
And with a puff of yellow smoke he disappeared, leaving only a vague whiff of sulphur.

Then, I heard the other voice, sweet of tone and clear in a way only other-worldly creatures can be, say "Ahem!"
Standing on top of the bin was another little figure, this time dressed in a white nightie, shining with a saintly aura. He stared at me for a moment in a most stern way. He opened his mouth to speak.
I quickly shoved him into the bin and scurried hastily away, clutching my kit-kat for all I was worth.

And the moralistic shiny little bastard can stay there for now...

Friday, 18 January 2008


I saw that plane earlier, we flew over it and I saw it from not very high up. It looks in a bad way.
Fair play to the flight crew. They have my utmost admiration, especially the co-pilot for gliding it in and the Captain for telling everybody who did it.

Bloody good show.

I might even fly BA again now. we'll see...

Thursday, 17 January 2008

German beer blog

A bar somewhere in Germany. My weekday resolve weakened, I order a beer. Irena, the lovely barmaid, smiled her probably-professional smile at me and said 'A large beer?' and I was sunk. And why not? I left home at 2 p.m and arrived at 10:35 p.m. Local time. That does not do justice to the inmtervening seven or so hours: seven hours where I insinuated myself into the flow of traffic on the M4, trudged with the shoeless, coatless stream of suspects in the security queue, squeezed myself into the apparent child-seat on an embraer and catapulted a volkswagen sharan off the sliproad into the speeding madness that is the autobahn.

With two hours of A2 and A33 and egged on to outrageous speed by some rousing and potentially fatally encouraging music, I arrive at my destination: "Ziel erreicht!"

The first beer, forbidden fruit on a weekday, is so welcomed by my grateful chops, that it lasts about as long as I took to write thus far.

A sense of expectation from Irena bullies me gently into another beer. She really does have a lovely genuine smile. Of course it is genuine and especially for me.

A large party arrive. They are British. Academics? Not sure. I will listen. Shall I engage them in conversation?
I could. I could find out what their specialisation is and I am sure to know something about it, however obscure. I seem to know something about pretty much everything. Except football. This defeats me. But I am pleased to be confident that most subjects I have touched in the urgings of my unquenchable curiosity. And those I haven't I am happy to venture into and learn about. For now, I am content to write and listen.

A couple sit opposite each other. I guess they are late forties. He seargeant-majorish, clipped grey moustache, bald head, fit looking. She also in seemingly good shape, leather trousers which fit just fine. They sit in silence, looking immensely bored. Not necessarily bored with each other, although the lack of conversation would indicate this, but just that generic boredom that people seem to get. Heads swivel idly occasionally to glance at different points of the room but nothing really seems to catch their interest. I wonder if this works for them. Are they happy in their boredom? Or are they desperately wishing they could think of something to say?

The Brits get louder now, as the beer sinks in, but they are all educated, considerate types so the jollity is muted by politeness, ingrained from birth not to be too intrusive or attract undue attention. They seem released somehow. I like them, they seem friendly and interesting. I wonder about striking up a conversation but they seem fairly occupied so I just watch for a bit and try to work out what line of work they are all in.

Irena looks bored now. In the natural lull between the ordering of rounds that drinking synchronicity produces, in the early stages of a social occasion anyway, no beer needs ordering, all wine glasses are half-full. I catch her eye and, conscience nagging at the litre of beer I have already downed, I order and apfel-schorle, which is apple juice and sparkling water. She expresses surprise but I am not to be swayed.

It lasts a very short time indeed but is immensely refreshing. I remember I have travelled and how dehydrated I unwittingly get on such occasions.

The party continues and feeling tired and a bit of a voyeur, I decide it is time to go to bed. An hours time difference is no great disruption, but I note it is past midnight local time and I have to be up at the equivalent of 6:30 uk time.

So, paying my bill to my room and apologising for having no Euros, I close this rather useful little gadget and head for my bed and the Science of Discworld III. Good night

Thursday, 3 January 2008

NOT about resolutions!

But... being back in the office, I am reflecting a lot. After speaking to many people who, in comfortable middle-class jobs, are feeling a sense of unwellness, I have the sense that something is very amiss.

It started (well, I say started, but in truth, the idea merely began to coalesce from disparate feelings that have been floating around for some time, indeed, I may have mentioned it once here before) when I bumped into an ex-colleague whilst Christmas shopping.
A former, diligent, dare I say, excellent employee, she had been reduced to a state of psychological inoperability by the ever increasing workload placed upon her. An unfeeling machine, such as many corporations are, had exerted such pressure to produce and perform constantly in the red of the rev counter, that ultimately, she was unable to sustain it and broke down. I have seen this too many times now for it to be down to component failure. Her conscience and work ethic had been so manipulated and abused that she had pushed herself to the brink of mental illness trying to meet what became ultimately, impossible demands.

Something is going on here.

So, my old dad dug holes in the road for the council, drove lorries that made him deaf, to Smithfield at unearthly hours where he unloaded beef all night before driving back next day. It was hard work. I remember what it did to him.

But it was different and I am not quite sure why. (Perhaps someone could chip in on this particular gap in my understanding.)
When you talk to people, they are always busy. "How are you doing?" "Oh.. you know, a bit tired. Work is just soooo busy!"
"Hey! Lets go surfing!" "Oh, I can't sorry! I would love to but I am too busy at work"

And people get home after their long day and seem to sink into a chair, flick on the telly and have a glass of wine until, suddenly , Its bedtime.
And in all of this, where is the leisure that such toil should rigtfully bring? Where is the reward and the recreation that should make it all worth it?

Ok, so everyone mainly stays warm and dry and doesn't have to break their backs for some slavemaster to earn a crust. Largely, we have few physical demands and know where our next meal is coming from.
So what's going on? why is everyone busy, exhausted, as targets rise every year and workforces decrease whilst workloads increase?

It is as if, taking the Maslov's triangle model of needs, that all the important ones are met. Food, shelter, all those knds of things are mostly secured. Lower down though, something is lacking. Perhaps it lies with the self-actualisation, or even the security bit. I am not sure. But it is something we ignore at our peril.

Within all this frenetic striving must be a small but vital component that is not being acknowledged, something like, as an analogue, a vitamin, the absence of which may even go as far as to cause death, after a disfiguring and debilitating illness. And the worrying thing is, unlike with a lack of food, no hunger is manifest to alert you to the deficiency, save a small nagging feeling of something being "not quite right". Some need is definitely not being met and it is damaging a lot of people.

How then, do we innoculate against this? Well, ironically, I have to do some work now, so I will have to write about that another time. But, I am thinking very hard about it, I can assure you.