28 Dec 2008

The Winchelsea Street Game: Blue Team Till I Die.

Another day in East Sussex, another bizarre, centuries-old Christmas ritual.

It was Boxing Day, and the Winchelsea Street Game: a medieval no-rules, no holds-barred contest in which three teams compete to gain possession of a Frenchman's Head


and stuff it in a beer barrel.



I mean, how rough could it be? Everyone is  (as the 'referee' reminded us) subject to the Laws of the Land, and the last fatality was in 1808.

Blue Team were short a player, so I handed Mrs Botogol my sunglasses for safekeeping, stripped off my coat, kissed the children a tearful goodbye, donned a blue neckerchief, and strode purposefully, amidst wild applause from the crowd, into the fray; keeping just half an eye on the dangerously young and strong-looking Green Team who were staring closely at me and nudging each other.

"I'm not a tourist!", I said, bravely, "I have a house here!"  They looked away, but there was something familiar about team Green: I had a strange feeling I had seen a couple of them before, but I wasn't sure where. 

Then the Frenchman's Head was tossed into the melee and all hope of the running, passing game we had planned evaporated as the three teams formed a 25-person collapsed maul on the hard and unforgiving surface of Castle Street.



"Mind the Clematis!", shouted the ref (it's that sort of village) "Mind the Lexus! Mind the man with crutches!"

In the midst of the scrum, the Head suddenly rolled free and I scooped it up and headed for the goal, with just three Greens to beat.



As I lowered my shoulder I suddenly recalled where I had seen then before: the George, Christmas Eve:    "Get the Catholic!",  they cried.

"No, wait!", I shouted, "you're labouring under a perfectly understandable misapprehension! I'm not actually a  ouch! oomph!"



"And do you really live here?" said a voice in my ear, "or is it just a holiday house?"; I tightened my grip on the Frenchman's bonce and fought for dear life.

The result, you ask? Well, cough, ahem, we won! By 4 goals to 3 to 2 and not, I like to think, without a contribution from myself1

Afterwards we all repaired to the New Inn for roast potatoes and to compare grazes. I had three. Grazes I mean, not potatoes (which is five fewer grazes than I received falling off my bike this morning).

"Actually, Dad, you quite surprised me", said middle-child, reflectively, "you were, well, quite aggressive".

====================================================================
1 I only went and scored the winning goal :-)


More pictures here and here
(Unaccountably the scenes of the crowd carrying me shoulder high through the streets of Winchelsea, chanting my name - all failed to come out, so you'll have to imagine)

27 Dec 2008

A new blog


picture by Laineys Repertoire
I have known Mystery Shopper for twenty-five years.

Some time garage attendant, fence-builder, cashier, waste pipe unblocker and strawberry handler (unfortunately, yes, in that order), I always knew that one day he'd make something of himself.

And now he has: he's a Frustrated Poet - and you can read his new poetry blog here.

26 Dec 2008

Little Donkey


picture by publicenergy
Mrs Botogol loves a Carol Service at Christmas and because I love Mrs Botogol this year I agreed to go with her.

But which Carol Service to choose? Well, of our houseful of Christmas co-celebrants only one is a regular church-goer and it's the Catholic Church where he worships so, of course - it being Christmas and all - it was to the RC gig which we agreed to accompany him.

And of course -  it being family and all -  he bailed out at the last minute; leaving Mrs B and I quite alone to brave the warm, friendly, and somewhat enveloping welcome at the Church of St Anthony of Padua in Rye.

I determined to be completely inconspicuous, but I had reckoned without the sign of peace, and the constant standing, kneeling and gesturing of the Roman ritual, and suddenly it seemed to be extraordinarily hot in the small, bright church.  Worst of all: the congregation was, shall we say, short of stature, and every time I stood up, bobbing half a tempo behind, I found myself towering a full head above the little old ladies in front of me, and face to face with the startled priest. "May the Lord be With You" he said, looking directly into my eyes.

 .."And Also With You", I replied; just a moment too late. I think I was rumbled.


It was a Family Carol Service and so not the best occasion for the priest, you might have thought, to devote his sermon to a denial of the presence of any donkey or oxen in that holy stable 2000 years ago; but that is, in fact, what he did.

There must have been 200 people crammed in that tiny church on Christmas Eve, and 198 of them comfortable and secure in their harmless - if evidently misguided -  belief in that poor blessed donkey.

It was the kind of clever argument which, delivered enthusiastically at the dinner table, would have earned me a sharp kick on the ankle from Mrs Botogol but with no wife to restrain him the earnest Father Joseph ploughed relentlessly on:  there is no donkey mentioned  in the New Testament, he preached, and no ox neither.  Their placement in the crib is a misapprehension, he explained, begotten of a myth, by way of a prophecy. So there.

It was an inordinately nihilistic message from (the Catholic) God's representative in East Sussex and while the tiny worshippers filed up to Communion I thought of  - and preferred - the optimism and hope of that famous atheist, Thomas Hardy, on the same subject nearly 100 years ago.

 -----------------------------------------

After the service we repaired to the George where we were inordinately chuffed to be recognised as locals . . and rather nonplussed to be offered a regular drinkers loyalty card.

Then, while Mrs Botogol carefully filled in the application form, the Taproom bar slowly filled with our accidental co-religionists, also on their way home from the service, who nodded, waved and smiled to us across glasses of sherry and local cider.  "Look away, dear!", I whispered urgently but, to my alarm, I couldn't restrain Mrs Botogol from waving back and joining in.

A glass and half later and "Yes, I was with you in church", I admitted, helplessly, to a middle aged table of merry donkey-deniers "but really: I am not of you"

I'm not at all  sure I've made quite the right first impression in our second home.

20 Dec 2008

Deadbeat


picture by ~ fernando
Yonder see the morning blink:
The sun is up, and up must I,
To wash and dress and eat and drink
And look at things and talk and think
And work, and God knows why.

Oh often have I washed and dressed

And what's to show for all my pain?
Let me lie abed and rest:
Ten thousand times I've done my best
And all's to do again.
AE Housman.  'Last Poems'

We all need a break, sometimes. Even greedy investment bankers.

I'll be back on 6 Jan 2009.  Happy Christmas!

18 Dec 2008

The Spirit of Christmas


picture by law_keven
At work this year I have received just one Christmas Card:
Dear Botogol
it said
Have a very Happy Holidays 
(we don't have Christmas in Investment Banks, we have Holidays)
and thank you for all your help
Kate

'Ah, isn't that nice", I thought,
"I wish I knew someone called 'Kate'"
I stared at the scrawled handwriting trying my best to turn it into a 'Jane' (I know a Jane) or a 'Mark' (I know a Mark) or even a "Parminder". 
Not that I could recall helping any of them, mind, that didn't sound like me. But anyway it remained, defiantly "Kate".
Must have been delivered to the wrong office?

But then there aren't many people called Botogol where I work.

Frustrated, I took the option of last resort: with a creak I opened my office door and poked my head out to interrogate my team. "Oi!, team! did you see who left this card in my office?"  
They quickly minimised facebook, minicllip and www.get-a-bigger-bonus.com and concentrated carefully on my question. 
"No, Sorry", said Jane
"Didn't see anyone", said Mark
"I'm not sure?", said Parminder, who is quite young?  "because I don't really know her? but it might have been that woman from Controllers? Kate Jones?"

"Oh", I said, "right", I said, "It was Kate then. Well, thanks"
My Help
I wonder if I am supposed send her a card.



16 Dec 2008

Random Connections


Connections by alles-schlumpf
[There now follows a geek interlude. Normal service will be resumed in the next post]

When I see something interesting on the internet I post a link to it on the sidebar here on my blog 1 . Most days I post two or three links for delight of my readers who have all - so far as I can tell - entirely failed to notice.

The good news is I can do this in just a couple of clicks using delicious, which is a cool tool: for one thing: when you make a link you can see who else has bookmarked the same page, and then click through to see what else they have marked and if they are interesting you can add them to your 'network'.

So, wouldn't it be interesting, I idly thought one day, if there was a tool to search all of delicious and find users with similar bookmarks?   A cyberfriend-finder, no less.

Well, if you have an idea nowadays you can bet your IP-Address that someone else has had it first first and sure enough, after three minutes googling, I find myself on this website, which turns out to belong to one  andreas.s  - who is (drum-roll) one of only four people already in my delicious network.

Spooky eh?



So, now you are asking:  OK, then, Alibert, go on (sigh)  so which delicious user does share the largest number of wierd, random bookmarks with you, then?  And where can I find his blog? Perhaps he's writing about something more interesting today.

Well, using this cool tool  I found someone: he has bookmarked 604 sites - I have 900 -  and between us we have (drumroll, drumroll) no fewer than 12 bookmarks in common.

He is  Matthew Paul Hansen  - and he doesn't list any contact details but if he uses google alerts on his own name (and doesn't everyone) then I imagine he'll be along shortly.


--------------
1 Over there, on the right,  "Seen Elsewhere", see it?

9 Dec 2008

Party Time


Carnival by AARigo
Mrs Botogol and I did indeed go to a party at the weekend.

When did everyone start hiring staff for their parties?

It's hard to recall, now, the precise moment when our friends suddenly crossed this boundary that separates the ordinarily middle class from the genuinely wealthy.

It can't be that long ago: I can definitely remember being greeted at front doors by the hostess rather than a bewildered Serb, and taking my own coat upstairs and piling it on the heap on the bed rather than having it pulled lightly from my shoulders with a  "thenkyu, and iss thiss a pressent? I vill tek thet es vell"

In the hierarchy of wealth Canape Shifters must have come after cleaners and probably after Having Our Colours Done,  but before, I reckon, Cranial Osteopathy, personal trainers and dog walkers. I wonder if all these services will be relinquished in tidy reverse order now that the carnival is over for the wealthy bankers as well as the extremely wealthy bankers.


Still, the axes don't fall until next week, and meanwhile it was a good party, a fin-de-siecle-party, a stuff-the-credit-crunch and drink champagne all night, a we've-even-hired-a-band party and there were loads of staff: not a canape went unpassed, not a glass untopped up and not a guest unwelcomed.

It's good to see old friends, and we were amongst bankers so I was thankful I didn't have to single handedly defend the Wall Street bonus system all over again.

I did wish I had a pound for everyone who asked me whether I had been fired yet, for I'd have eleven pounds which would make up the rather repetitive small talk:
- "Good to see you as well".  "No, not yet luckily Ha! Ha!".  "Well anyone working for an investment bank has to be worried don't they?". "Well, I hope you're right".
"No, no idea at all, ha ha! Perhaps I'll hand out canapes at parties."

If there are any canapes, and if there are any parties.

4 Dec 2008

Paradise Lost last night


picture by AHMED...
Yes, the performance was in a church, yes, a real live vicar introduced it enthusiastically  [ "I just know this is going to be excellent. Unfortunately I can't stay to hear it myself. Bye"  Why do people do that?]

Yes, the subject matter is theological, and yes God, Satan, Adam and Eve all have speaking parts and yes it was written by a devout man - but still, but still. . .I reckon Paradise Lost is a deeply irreligious work.

And that's probably why I like it so much.

Perhaps, like any great work, there are so many threads, so many levels in Paradise Lost that every reader can find in it the narrative they want, and no doubt the other members of the audience in St Giles in the Field last night (the retired and aged, the rapper off the street for the free wine, the young earnest muslim, and the half-dozen assorted A-Level Students) no doubt they all heard, through the prisms of their conventions, something else entirely; but for me Milton is a subversive: Milton believes in a god, of course, but he believes in a god that no one could possibly worship:  A god that is cruel and humourless. A god that is sentimental and yet pitiless. A god of entrapment and condescension. I can't believe that Milton worshipped this god.

Whatever: he certainly didn't manage to justify His ways to this man.


The vastly likeable and entertaining, but slightly cheesy, Lance Pierson performed Book IX, in an assured and compelling piece of theatre, and it was excellent, but dispiriting:  a young married couple, idealistic and naive, commit a foolish deed in the pursuit of an illusory goal, and the roof simply falls in on their world, destroying the contentment they had.

But they were suckered, taken for a ride, and manipulated; as defenceless as the poor snake that Satan enslaves and are as badly treated. They have been advanced a loan they can't possibly pay back and suddenly it's the mother of all credit crunches.

It all ends in tears and, worse, mutual recriminations, Eve and Adam momentarily forgetting that they are on the same side.


It was an abridged version - of course it was - and naturally some of my favourite passages, it turned out, were not Lance Pierson's favourite passages and they were omitted. So in case any of the other forty people present are blog-searching for reviews tomorrow morning  (yeah, right) - here's two they missed:

Satan's state of mind as he approaches Eden.
                                          the more I see
Pleasures about me, so much more I feel
Torment within me, as from the hateful siege
Of contraries; all good to me becomes
Bane, and in Heaven much worse would be my state.
But neither here seek I, no nor in Heaven
To dwell, unless by mastering Heavens Supreme;
Nor hope to be my self less miserable
By what I seek, but others to make such
As I, though thereby worse to me redound:
For only in destroying I find ease
To my relentless thoughts
hasn't everyone felt like that. Doesn't everybody hurt, sometimes?

And here's Eve's defiance in the face of danger.
If this be our condition, thus to dwell
In narrow circuit straitened by a Foe,
Subtle or violent, we not endued
Single with like defence, wherever met,
How are we happy, still in fear of harm?

And so out she goes to face down whatever is out there. Doesn't everyone wish they were brave enough to feel like that?


Lance Pierson ended as Milton ended, and if it's good enough for them, it's good enough for me. Here's Adam and Eve as they leave paradise (It's kind of like being made redundant but being sent to a good outplacement consultant)
Some natural tears they dropped, but wiped them soon;
The World was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide:
They hand in hand with wandering steps and slow,
Through Eden took their solitary way.

2 Dec 2008

This Old House


picture by Mc Morr
Like everyone who works for an investment bank we have two properties: one to live in and one to lie awake at night, worrying about, when it's empty.

Still, at least it gives me plenty of time to practice my DIY, now that we're unable to afford any workmen, on account of the credit crunch; and the totally irresponsible lending policies of HSBC (what on earth were they thinking of lending me 134 times my bonus?), and last weekend I mostly spent painting (it turned out when I lifted up the old and evidently porous newspapers) our front doorstep.


Next weekend I am mostly removing paint, and that may not sound like fun, but actually it's a reassuring thing having a weekend planned ahead. Normally I wait for Mrs Botogol to tell me what to wear, then I put on the clothes that are indicated, inspect myself carefully in the mirror and I might think  "Smart shirt, stripey trousers? Hey, I reckon I'm going to a dinner party!" or  "Boots, Jeans, Jacket? - a long walk"   Last weekend I found myself in old t-shirt, shorts and trainers:  "Am I going jogging?"  "No you're washing the car"

The house is looking nice now; even if the front door does need another coat.
15th Century it is (the house, not the door) in Rye, if you would like to rent it. Then I could use the money to get a man in.

28 Nov 2008

He Sings the Songs that Remind Him Of The Good Times


picture by MatthewBradley
From: YouTube [mailto:no_reply@youtube.com]

Sent: 21 November 2008 03:18
To: botogol
Subject: A copyright owner has claimed content in one of your videos

Dear botogol,
Video Disabled A copyright owner has claimed it owns some or all of the audio content in your video TRFC U9 Rugby.
The audio content identified in your video is Tubthumping by Chumbawamba. We regret to inform you that your video has been blocked from playback due to a music rights issue.

Now, I'm all in favour of copyright and I understand why record companies have a hard time with Limewire, and I'd be really miffed if people copied out Greenideas and pasted it all over the internet 1 but I find it hard to believe that Chumbawumba's inalienable rights and long-term financial security are being seriously violated by the TRFC U9s.

In fact the reverse: you would think that in the world of the long tail, and a sea of content flooding the internet, that sound-track might serve to keep their ditty alive and remembered a little longer.

So how does it work anyway? Have record companies built bots that download all the video on youtube, and listen to it, searching for their unique chord sequences?  That must be a rewarding job: "I'm in the Music Business" "Oh, yes, what do you do?"  "Umm - music silencing department"

And all that effort to prolong a business model that must, surely be dead. I think we'll look back at the music business as a distinctly 20th century coda, a wierd period where large companies were, astonishingly,  able to control the distribution of . . . music. Kind of like GM seeds.

Sigh - so there must be a service that allows me to disguise the soundtrack so that it is unrecognisable to robots and but sounds exactly the same to the mums and dads of the U9s?
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
1Transparent lie warning : of course I'd love it :-)

25 Nov 2008

Diverse Attractions


The financial world as we know it may be ending, the bear may be prowling the corridors, the greedy getting their comeuppance, and lights going out in Canary Wharf, but Investment Bankers still know how to party and last week I scraped a ticket to a client-focused, flagship philanthropy event in a major London gallery: drinks, canapes, and a private tour of the collection. What's not to like? 

The word was: 300 had been invited -  bankers, dealers, rainmakers, sales staff and clients both corporate and hedge fund.

43 turned up - product controllers, IT, risk management, paralegals and admin as well four others with jobs indescribable.

It seems like no one actually wants to party any more. And who can blame us?

On the tour we admired this painting, and how much the artist had packed into it, cryptic references piled onto obscure allusions all competing for attention in a crowded space (imagine!), for instance the major elements of the nativity story are all there: the stable, the three kings, the annunciation to the shepherds, the holy spirit descending from the star.

One of the themes of the painting (our guide explained) is that the old give way to the new: there's Joseph (that's him in the doorway, dressed in orange) portrayed as an old man, while Mary looks no more than sixteen. Look at the bottom where there is an old dog and a young dog. Look at the buildings: the old, classical and ruined giving way in the distance to a church, modern, fine and young.

The older employees looked ruefully at one another and shifted their feet.

The three kings themselves are represented in the conventional way: one black, one white and one Eastern. Their races are unspecified in the bible, it's a convention - explained our artist - that developed in the Renaissance. Three kings, one each of the major racial groups of the time. It was a device, said our guide, to stress diversity and universality.

I looked over my shoulder at our own corporate display board - a group of serious, but smiling employees gathered around a boardroom table, and then back at the painting.

plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose

19 Nov 2008

On the treadmill


picture by dead_squid
I used to absolutely hate running. Always.

But then suddenly, in one of those inexplicable, but seemingly permanent, changes that one goes through at around the age of forty, I started to to enjoy it, and now I run as often as I can in the Bushy Park  5km1 each Saturday morning.

My PB is a shade over 22 mins, and I am exceeding proud of it, being of a certain age and not, to be honest, entirely of a runner's build2 and if I work hard, and run as often as I can, I have calculated I'll reach my 100th race, and receive the coveted T-shirt, and a round-of-applause-in-front-of-the-impatient-crowd before I am fifty. Just :-(

On the other hand, before I get too big-headed, 22 mins works out to be an average speed of 13.6 km/h, while the world record for the marathon was set last month in Berlin at an average speed of 20.4 km/h.  That's fast.  Running at that speed Haile Gebrselassie would win the Bushy Park 5km every single week. Often by more than a minute.

How far, I wondered, could I run at 20.4 km/h?

Well, another splendid thing about working for an Investment Bank is that we have a gym in the basement (and even more splendid - there are fewer people in it every month) so yesterday I put on my fastest trainers, set the treadmill to 20.4, pressed the big green button and sped off.

Afterwards in changing rooms, making idle small talk3 with strangers, I was sure I could have run  further, yes much further. What stopped me, you see, thundering along on the treadmill, heart pounding, arms flailing, feet stomping on the belt, sweat dripping from my temples, headphones dangling from one waxy ear, wasn't exhaustion or lactic acid build-up in the calves. Neither was it the increasing realisation that just one tiny misstep or stumble and I was likely to lose my balance and be ejected smartly from the back of the roaring machine on my stomach.

No - what stopped me was the consternation and - if I am honest - look of absolute fear on my neighbours faces on the treadmills either side, and so that's how it was, that after just 250m I was forced to press the big red emergency stop button and call it a day.

===============================================================
1 for all my American readers (cough):  5 kilometres = 3.11 miles
2 the race is dominated by skinny, unhealthy-looking 20 somethings with 30" waists and long legs. Meh.
3 will our top management be sacrificing their bonuses; if they did would it be a trick; and - most importantly - would it mean a smaller or larger bonus pool for the rest of us?

13 Nov 2008

Socially Challenged


picture by massdistraction
There are some very splendid things about working in an Investment Bank and one of them is the personal training that we receive in the good years.

I've worked in the City a long time and there have been very many good years; and I have received a lot of personal training. Some of it I even remember.

So this morning there I was in the hustle and bustle of the breakfast-time canteen, only slightly knackered after my 8.5km pre-work run and entirely focussed on toasting my reward bagel (pumpkin seed, to be lightly done with butter and marmite), but the toaster was running too fast - or too cool - so that the conveyor belt was delivering a flow of hot-but-still-raw bread products, each retrieved with increasing impatience by their owners and returned for a second, or even third, passage through the deeply disappointing inferno.

And so I was tut-tutting with rest of them and huff-puffing with the best of them, and then for some reason I remembered my old coach and the well-meaning, if uncomfortable, challenges she used to set me: like smiling at strangers, just for the hell of it; and a little bit of nostalgia, or recklessness, or madness must have crept over me for suddenly, and quickly before I could change my mind, I turned to bloke behind me (two slices of unappetising, limp white sliced bread, third time through) and I smiled brightly and said: 'Huh, well it may be annoying for us, but anyone with a hitherto unfulfilled craving for very warm, but yet completely uncooked bakery goods must be having a great morning"

And he smiled back warmly and said "They sure must be" and then turned away from me to claim as it tumbled from the conveyor his steaming but still totally white bread and as he did so he muttered quietly, but perfectly distinctly under his breath, 'wierdo'

I should realised that he was the dangerous, humourless type, from the bread.

12 Nov 2008

Brodies Notes 2075/76 English Literature GCSE Module 4: "Blogs"


picture by Ole Begemann
Sub-Module # 6523 "Green Ideas" http://blog.greenideas.com

(a guide for dummies)

In 2008 Alibert Botogol took Green Ideas in a fresh direction: rebranding the site for a short while as 'Green Ideas is Credit Crunched' with over half of its content concerning life in an 'Investment Bank' 1

Contemporary critics suggested this was no more than a transparent and cynical attempt to attract more hits by including popular search terms2 in the title of the page, but kinder readers suggested it was a genuine attempt to open a window into a job  which was genuinely indescribable but fleetingly topical

Whatever the reason, Alibert's relaunch wasn't a complete success for, despite the radical new logo and colour-scheme and minor adjustment to the, seldom-read, right-hand side-bar, the style of writing still remained that of a cryptic smart-arse and by Nov 2008 he had still only four 'followers'. One which was himself.

His November 2008 post 'Cowslip's Warren' was typical of the style of the period being particularly cryptic and yielding no fewer than three comments of complaint and is worth looking at in more detail to unravel its meaning. Especially for Americans

In this post Botogol is preoccupied with people leaving his Bank and the different ways in which departures are handled. For any Investment Banker beyond the age of 40 this was entirely normal.  The first style of announcement that he discusses is fulsome and warm, but, he says,  reserved for the 'time'servers' - senior bankers who didn't set the world alight. The most successful bankers ('rainmakers') on the other hand, he claims, generally leave on bad terms and receive only grudging notices

Botogol allows a hint of bitterness to show through in his desriptions of the first two styles, but his tone changes as he discusses the departure of the hapless 'RIFFED' (victims of a Reduction In Force, or redundancy programme).

The post's title, Cowslip's Warren, is a reference to the popular novel Watership Down, in which the travelling rabbits encounter a strange warren whose inhabitants live a life of unimaginable riches, provided with generous bounty of  luxurious food and protected from pests by a local farmer. However it turns out they pay a terrible price for not only are they humiliated by other rabbits at Dinner Parties, the farmer also sets snares for the unwary, and any rabbits caught are dead meat.

The rabbits of Cowslip's warren develop a complex culture that detracts attention from their doomed and shallow lives, a culture with one strong taboo: those who disappear are never mentioned again.  Botogol likens this to the fate of the riffed - who in Investment Banks at the time were normally removed suddenly, and without farewell from the working environment; or 'Cubicle'



Footnotes

1. Investment Bank - in the 20th Century the economies, and employment markets of US and UK were dominated by Investment Banks, controlled by greedy, bonus driven executives, the banks failed to survive to the great Crunch of 2008-2017, brought down largely by the greed of the employees, as every fule kno. (see Golden Goose)

2. Popular search terms in 2008, mention of which any in a blog-post being sure to attract readers included 'credit crunch', 'greedy', 'investment bank', 'jonathan ross' and 'russell brand'


Needlessly Cryptic References Used by Botogol in Cowslip's Warren
Bigwig - a hardworking and loyal character in Watership Down
Owsla - Middle Management team in a warren.
Outer Party -  Middle Management team in the novel 1984 by George Orwell
Parsons, Tom - Unperson (someone who is disappeared by the state) in the novel 1984

10 Nov 2008

Cowslip's Warren


picture by letneo
You can tell a lot about an Investment Banker's career by the manner of her leaving it.

The hierarchy of styles-of-exit is subtle and complex; but also well-studied and instinctively understood so even the greenest, youngest, Assistant Vice President will be able to describe the three basic manners:

The grandest (but not, curiously, the most prestigious) is by way of the Obituary in  CorporateNews
Fred T. Bigwig has left the bank to pursue other opportunities. He joined in 2002 as Director in charge of Complex Transactions EMEA (exc. South Africa) and in 2004 was promoted to Co-Head of Financial Engineering, APAC where he oversaw three-fold growth in revenues. In 2006 he was honoured by Risk Magazine for his contribution to Diversity in the City. He is leaving to pursue opportunities elsewhere.
Translation: Outer Party, Owsla time-server: eased out with nothing but several million Euros in shares to salve his pride. No genuine rainmaker ever gets a send off like that - for then no genuine rainmaker ever leaves on good terms. Fired, retired, competitively hired, whatever: they all get Exit Style #2.
Please congratulate  AnneT Bigwig on her promotion to Global Co-Head of Deal-Making. She replaces A Rainmaker who after 6 years with the bank has left for personal reason.


But in the time of the Credit Crunch the most common style of exit we see is neither of the above. It's the hushed but steady, unmistakable departure of the RIFfed, and it's a quiet sort of event, an embarassed type of event, a please-step-up-to-the-27th-floor-to-see-HR type of event and there are no individual announcements of the names of the At Risk, just suddenly empty cubicles, hushed water-cooler conversations and in the email directory a give-away #.  
#Parsons, Tom is out-of-the-office and is not responding to emails. Thank you for not mentioning his name.

6 Nov 2008

Obama

Well every other blogger in the known universe seems to have written about Obama, so I might as well add my twopennyworth, and say:

One the one hand, I am very relieved that Obama & Biden won, seeing off the - frankly scary -McCain/Palin duo.

On the other hand it does seem to me that the reason for all the fuss yesterday is that the world is judging Obama not on the content of his character, but on the colour of his skin.

That's OK, though. There'll be plenty of chances to display the former over the next few years.

1 Nov 2008

What it's all about

words in the last few posts - created on wordle.net how cool is that?

Meanwhile, back in the real world I set a new PB for 5km run today. Not so old after all.

31 Oct 2008

Unpremeditated Theology

The Seeking Truth: Science, Mystery and Human Identity discussion series at St Paul's Cathedral finished this week with the appearance of some unexpectedly novel theology, and the non-appearance of Robert Winston.

Winston was promised on the St Paul's website right up the last minute (I checked. In fact: he's still listed there) but he didn't pitch. One the one hand I was disappointed, as he was the star turn, but on the other - as someone with an anthropological interest in religion - I was also gratified to see that St Paul's management, holy as they are, aren't above a bit of sleight of hand in their pre-event marketing: Winston had evidently cancelled sufficiently early for them to find a replacement speaker, and to print the programmes without his name. It was only, oddly enough, the promotional website that they hadn't quite get round to updating. In my seat stupidly early and realising the situation, I picked out the most self-important looking of all the ushers and challenged him on the matter. He said he wasn't able make any comment about that, Sir, although 'sorry' might not have choked him.


Amusingly, this weeks panel ("Is there a place for the soul on the human genome?") were under instructions not to mention Richard Dawkins  [do they read Green Ideas? In fact, Keith Ward nearly mentioned him once, but I think he got away with it] and I was forced to abandon my parlour game, and instead actually listened - with increasing surprise - as the religious panel members developed a purely secular definition of the soul: Keith Ward, Dennis Noble and John Polkinhorne concurred that the soul is a process or a pattern. A pattern that could, conceivably, be re-embodied into another physical body (Keith Ward considered that a God would be required for that bit but really that's just a practicality)

I wandered if they had signed up for cryonics, but I think I know the answer, for a couple of well-chosen bulls-eye questions from the audience revealed a panel shying away from the logical implications of their own theory.  When asked 'What happens to the soul in dementia?' it was perhaps their religious or ethical sensibilities that prevented them from confronting the obvious: the pattern is decaying, the process is breaking down - the soul is leaving.

And then when asked if a machine could have a soul: Dennis Noble replied with linguistic dexterity that if it did, why we would no longer call it a machine. True enough, but the answer surely demanded by the 'pattern or process' model of the soul is 'Yes'.

I had detected some back-pedalling. I wondered if the discussion, and indeed the evening, was going entirely in the direction that the St Paul's Institute had intended. Perhaps the soul of the unmentioned Dawkins, the pattern of his thinking - was in fact still with us.

Then it finished and we all went to Ping Pong where I ate eleven coriander dumplings

29 Oct 2008

Ageing Calmly


Clearly a pub for grown ups (Teddington Arms) 
Last week at the Bank of England we were shown round by the Curator of the bank's museum. He told me he had joined the Bank in 1960 which is a long time ago by anyone's reckoning.  He didn't swear, but then he was quite comfortably Over 21.

I found the very existence of a Museum - and a curator - to be very reassuring: it's pleasing that the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street cares about history (new joiners are apparently even encouraged to read it):  a sense of history and a knowledge of the past crises must be eminently useful when a once-in-a-lifetime event happens along.

Happens along every week for two months.

Anyway, even despite the end of the world, I'm having a week's holiday. Yes, it's probably unwise: almost anything could happen while I am away: I wonder if there will be a department, let alone a job to come back to on Monday. I comfort myself only with the fact that I occupy a very small and very remote part of the Organogram .

Anyway it's half term, and it's good to get away from it all, so this week Mrs Botogol and I have had some old friends round for a dinner party and we have been to the theatre.

Our dinner party guests exhibited no rudeness,  and neither did they wear caps - even with the heating switched off in the new, cost-conscious-credit-crunched Botogol household.  However, over the cheese course, they did all gang up on me as the sole representative of the Global Investment Banking Industry present holding me personally responsible, by way of excessive greed, for the gloom that now threatens to engulf even totally blameless Brand Consultant Thingummies.   Perhaps I did start it, when I referred to Richard Fuld as a Master of the Universe. Whatever; it was Mrs Botogol who certainly put a stop to it when she leapt unexpectedly and somewhat frighteningly, to my defence.  "He's not a greedy Investment Banker, he's just a very naughty boy".

But again, she didn't swear, and neither was she rude - which is a good thing: when you get to our age too much swearing is, quite frankly, unsettling, especially if it's loud swearing and for that reason our theatre trip also wasn't quite the success we hoped for and I can't necessarily recommend How to disappear completely and never be found at the Southwark Playhouse where they swear a lot; and very loudly indeed.

The play is a modern day Reggie Perrin (who was forty-six in the first novel, cold, chilling thought, but also didn't swear). It's about a seemingly successful executive who finds himself suddenly overwhelmed, friendless and all at sea...

He decides to disappear.

In his last few days at work Charlie humiliates himself flunking a sales pitch and - in a direct nod to David Nobbs  - goes to see the company doctor, who hands out drugs very much stronger than the two aspirin that poor old Doc Morrissey doled out to Reggie, and accuses him of being depressed.

"But, that's the thing", says Charlie, "You see, I'm not at all sure the problem does lie with me: I'm afraid that things might genuinely be shit"

23 Oct 2008

Nerve Centre


picture by NinJA999
"If you're going to the Bank of England this evening", said Mrs Botogol from behind the newspaper, "to meet the Governor, then I think you should wear a tie."

I was halfway out of front door, but I paused.

I haven't worn a tie since investment banks dressed down in 2000 in response to the dizzy heights of the dot-com boom... but I had a horrible suspicion she was right.

"In fact", she continued, languidly, buttering her crumpet, "you could wear the tie I bought you in the Christmas of '05, you know: the one you've never worn yet"

"OK, but wh..."

"Second drawer: at back, on the left; still in it's box"; and when I fetched it, she put it on for me.

It was an alumni evening for graduates of my old alma mater: a tour of the Bank of England, and then drinks with Mervyn King himself. Just for a few minutes, he has economies to save. He shook hands and conversed enthusiastically with the assembled company.

"Do you feel sorry for all the investment bankers losing their jobs in the credit crunch", someone asked, "or don't you think some of them deserve it?". 

Nice to know where you stand, that's what I always think.

20 Oct 2008

Fox-hole friends


picture by over.expozed
The bear seems quiet, but cubicle wisdom says : it's not gone. It may be even be an armoured bear, built to last.

It's not a good time to work in a bank, people keep their heads down and think of other careers.

Back in the summer the FSA raised cheers in back offices  City-wide when it warned banks not to cut back on control staff, but August is a long time ago: why there were still investment banks around back in August.  Now in October with perfect irony just as our new joiners all arrive, snatched in the hiring frenzy that was the collapse of Lehman's, employee consultation starts for another reduction in force, and it doesn't feel unduly pessimistic to believe the rumours that a further round follows close behind.

At the bank where I worked in 2002 each successive wave were rumoured to receive a worse deal. I don't know if the people on the first list of 2008 will feel angry or relieved. Either way I suppose they will go to dinner parties and reflect that they are greedy irresponsible risk takers and deserve it (were there so many people actually welcoming the propsect of a recession last time around? But then, were so many people with Government jobs and up-yours final-salary pensions last time around? Still, at least they are not greedy.)

It's a time for networking. Alumni groups flourish and old colleagues pop up on LinkedIn with freshly minted profiles.  I have three friends, which is 145 fewer than my daughter has on Facebook. "That many??", I said, "Wow... On the other hand - you've been doing this for ages". "Yes", she said, "nearly a week".

16 Oct 2008

Time Out: The Bear consults with his maker


picture by J.Salmoral
Last Tuesday I snuck out early from work. Impending doom is supposed to focus the mind, but  for me: not: it clouds it, and I couldn't concentrate. Instead I holstered my Blackberry and hurried through the warm evening to St Paul's Cathedral, to hear the first of their series on science and religion. I had been invited by a religious friend, Mark, who has never quite given up hope that'll he convert me. I agreed to go with him for much the same reason.

The panel were not a cross-section: they believed, and so each of them were dominated by a great unseen presence of their imagining: invisible but constant, with an authoritative answer to every question,  a small assured voice in their ear, nagging at their better judgement. I refer of course to Richard Dawkins who dominated proceedings from afar.

I wrote in my notebook the words "DAWKINS" and "GOD", and underlined both and annoyed Mark intensely by making a tick every time either got a mention. "First to ten?" I whispered, as Dawkins took a commanding 6-2 lead.

The panel soon achieved a consensus: science and religion should work together. There was no need to see them as fundamentally separate, they can learn from each other: different domains, you see.

It was all terribly Church of England. I longed for a fundamentalist view to spark some controversy, some hissing even: a scientist with contempt for the supernatural? an evangelical bible-literalist to tell us we the earth was younger than the Great Pyramid? Either would have been good, but instead we had Nancy Cartwright, Nicholas Last, John Millbank and Roger Trigg.

In my notebook I recorded every thought from the speakers that seemed to me interesting or novel. Trigg had the most  - by a country mile -  so here's two of his:
  1. If you cannot conceive of anything that could shake your faith, in other words if your faith does not exclude anything... then you believe in everyhting and nothing at all. He was thinking 'religion' I was thinking 'climate change'
  2. Scientific study as we know it could only have arisen in Christian context. It was Christian teaching that allowed the possibility the God could have created the world anyway he wanted...so it was in order to investigate exactly how he did do it. I was thinking 'Arabic Maths? Egyptians measuring the circumference of the Earth?'
Nicholas Last asked the unbelievers present (I sat up straight) what they would consider to be evidence for the existence of God.

It was a good question.

Last had a poor answer - that the whole world was evidence for God [see (1)].  I thought of Carl Sagan's answer. That would do it for me.

At the end there were self-important questions from the audience "Don't you agree that science itself requires more faith than belief in  God?" (No), and then were released into the humid night.

I took my friend to one my favourite pubs, which was a mistake because that was evening it had no beer. God saw us coming...or did he? We settled into a corner table and considered the evening.
"It ended Dawkins 15, God 11", I told Mark. "I call that a clear win"
"You can say that if you like, he mumured, "but Dawkins wasn't even here . ..and we have to assume that God was"

We are going again on the 28th.

12 Oct 2008

Life in the time of the Bear


picture by chefranden
"It's like mowing the lawn while the house is on fire", announced a gloomy colleague, half-way through a long meeting on our Corporate Archiving Policy during which the financial world as we know it collapsed in sea of red. "I mean - what are we doing here? Look at the screens! Look at the share price! Who cares anyway? Archive? Shmarchive! "

It was a Code Blue. Following established protocol (and a brief comparison of rank) the most senior Managing Director present took control: "George! Step. Away. From. The. Whiteboard. And. Put. Down. The. Marker-Pen"

Poor George collapsed into his 7-way-adjustable swivel chair and we smartly tipped it back, rendering him helpless. Thus imprisoned in the nylon mesh fabric, we followed our MD's lead wheeling him to the 47th floor, the lair of the bear, all the way to the very gates of  HR department where she dumped him in front of the bored Security Guards. "One for the RIF" she said, grimly.

"What will happen to him?" asked a wide-eyed AVP from Corporate Centre.

"Let's just say he's At Risk"

9 Oct 2008

The Business School of Hard Knocks


Boardroom by Paul Watson
It's the end of the financial WAWKI but, with the delightful optimism that comes with youth, and lots of government money the Young Enterpise  2008 is going strong

My daughter Boto-Teen is entered, and her company have been instructed by their Non-Executive Chairman (Mrs Adams, the biology teacher, for it is she) to develop an innovative product or service, relevant to 2008

"Bankruptcy consultants, manufacturers of snooping tools for local governments, wind farm demolition experts, asset fire-salesmen, redundancy counsellors, providers of specialist spin doctoring and Facebook friend-finders",  I rattled off, "Chewing gum street scrapers, house repossessors, IVA arrangers, soup kitchen organisers, pan-handlers, managers of Troubled Assets, and shoe leather repairers". I paused. "Benefits Claims Officers, burger flippers..."

"Oh do be quiet, Alibert, dear" said Mrs Botogol, "didn't Mrs Adams have any suggestions, dear?"

"The Non-Exec Chairman, you mean", chided Boto-Teen, "not really, but she wondered if perhaps we could create a product or service for deaf people"

I suggested taking them to Harlequins games for the price our tickets, and in return describing the action to them as it unfolded; and she looked at me blankly. "But they are deaf" she said.


Young Enterprise starts with the students selecting the management team: CEO, CFO, CIO, COO, CMO, CRO and Head of HR.  The team negotiated for two hours until they had shared out the jobs on a democratic and equitable basis. Then the Non-Exec Chairman injected a note of genuine true-to-life corporate reality by announcing that while they were planning she had head-hunted a sixth former from Tiffin Girls to be the new CEO in return for a guaranteed bonus and 20% of the revenues (talent like her's doesn't cheap, she explained, and anyway Tiffin had attempted a buy-back)

It was a bit of a shock in C-suite, but you have to applaud the way the Non-Exec Chairman thinks: not just a Biology teacher after all.

"But didn't you mind?" Mrs Botogol asked Boto-Teen when she heard the news.
"Not at alI: I, for one, welcome our new Tiffin overlords", the crest-fallen Boto-Teen told us sincerely: she will go a long way.
"OverlordS?" asked Mrs Botogol, "plural? are there more than one?"

It turns out that, although the management team has supposedly survived intact, the new Chief Executiff has installed three 5th form heavies acolytes in her own private office in the roles of Chief of Staff, Head of Expense Management and Communications Director . Between the four of them they therefore control the purse strings, the compensation, and the company facebook group. "Oh, she's good", I said, "she's very good"

"Yes", sighed Boto-teen, "and they spend all their time behind a closed door, planning and making product decisions. A sort of inner circle. It's not righ: these things should be decided at board meetings.  A real company wouldn't be like that, would it?"

I shifted a little uncomfortably in my armchair, "And what have they set you doing?"

"Not much. What do deaf people like, anyway?"

5 Oct 2008

Crisis Management


picture by ton3vita
Well that was an exciting month to take a break from blogging: while greenideas was away banks collapsed in the worst financial crisis that even old timers like me can remember.

It's an astonishing 23 years this month since I started work in the City.

(I can still remember my first day: it was an appropriately high tension, sweaty one as I found myself hopelessly lost walking in small circles around Holborn viaduct looking for an office I had never been to before, without the aid of an A to Z or even, in fact, the address)

In the first twenty-two years, eleven months of my career I witnessed just three financial events of the where-you-when? variety. They were:
Each one of those I experienced closely but vicariously for I wasn't actually an Equities trader in '87, and nor was I an FX dealer in'92. Nor, if truth must painfully be told was I even a high-rate tax payer in '88. (I pretended I was though).

And, if there was pattern to my witness it was that on each of those events I didn't actually have a clue to the full extent of the crisis before me, and each time I mainly got on with my work, glancing occasionally at the screen, before going home to have my tea.

Actually it's a good job I wasn't a trader because I don't think I would have been a successful one: a key skill in the markets is realising, seeing, understanding the situation you are actually in, the crisis that is unfolding, the options and opportunities available; and then choosing one. Indeed perhaps that's the key to facing any crisis whether financial, military or indeed of the soul: it's not choosing the fork in the road that's hard: it's noticing that you were, in point of fact, at a fork.

So third time around, facing the collapse of the financial markets and quite possibly TEOTWAWKI, I was determined to do better and to pay more attention and so, instead of merely working, I have spent the last three weeks chuckling at the sardonic wit on alphaville, standing outside Lehman brothers watchnig laptops walking out the building in what amounted to a mass looting and, in the evenings, mainly panicking.

I was a believer in omens, or superstition I would have noted how the extraordinary events in the markets were once again accompanied by extraordinary weather: while Black Monday was preceded by a hurricane, the fall of Lehmans and Merrill took place with Canary Wharf bathed in unseasonal sunshine, and on the Friday evening, ten days ago, several thousand people gathered in Jubilee Place to drink and talk in the eerie, late autumn sunshine.

Twenty-three years previously, in October 1985, as it become later and later, and I became sweatier and sweatier, it eventually dawned on me that I was actually going to have to ask for help and, at my wit's end I went inside an open church door, and asked the vicar. For an unbeliever I seem to have spent a lot of my life in churches.

The priest was kind but clueless, but right outside I met a grimy street cleaner who had no trouble at all pointing out the Coopers & Lybrand building. I hurried away, and when I remembered to look back to thank him he had disappeared. I got to work at 8:59; perhaps he was an angel.

15 Sep 2008

Credit Crunched and All Burned Out


picture by The Rocketeer

I'm taking a little break from blogging.
I'll be back on October 6th.


While I am away

Bespoke Joinery


picture by florriebassingbourn
At the weekend I bought a new cat flap for Mrs Botogol (no, don't be silly, of course not: for her cats)

Now, when it comes to fitting cat flaps I actually have form. I don't want to rake over old domestics, so I'll just mention a new cat-flap, a stupid glass cutter where you simply scratch a circle and then (supposedly) sharply tap once and remove the glass, and an emergency glazier. On Boxing Day.

So this time I read the instructions very carefully.
First, measure the belly-height of your cat.
"KIDS!", I yelled, "I've got a job for you" and went off to fetch the muzzle.

31 Aug 2008

What's in a name?


Johannesburg. Pic by Michael Heilemann
When we lived in South Africa I made an unusual friend.

It was 1994 and I was 31, but Vaatjie must have been nearly 40 when I knew him: a large man, a South-African man, a boertjie oke, and he looked it.  Indeed every inch of him looked the Afrikaans-speaking, beer-swilling, braai-loving no-nonsense-taking, very restless prop forward that he was.

There was something dangerous about him.

"I was born on the wrong side of the tracks, Alibert" he'd sometimes tell me over over his third Castle. He never elaborated but one winter afternoon outside the Loftus Versfeld I witnessed a chance encounter with an old acquaintance: a burst of Afrikaans swearwords (I'd learned those), raised voices and a flash of anger; and it was easy to believe him.

Vaatjie was a middle manager in a large South African bank where he was in charge of a chunk of one of their change programmes - the change programme that evidently required hot-shot, 31 year-old international management consultants to help run it. If ever there was a fish more out of water than Vaatjie hunched over a spreadsheet in the Programme Management Office, then I never saw it.

In twelve months living in Africa he was the only white person I ever heard speaking native languages to black people, "What was that?", I asked one time, after a bunch of kids had agreed that they would 'watch' my car for only 5 Rands, "Ah, look, man, it's a mixture, ja? but mostly Zulu, it's how people speak at work - in the mines in the farms". I asked him where he'd learned it  "Ah, see, Alibert I grew up on the wrong side of the tracks".

When we moved back home it was hard to keep in touch - he's not really much of a letter writer. In 1996 I was back in Jo'burg and I looked him up; we went to Ellis Park to see Gauteng Lions play the Crusaders and outside the stadium the women handing out leaflets for the local lap-dancing club greeted him by name.

Around 2000 Vaatjie emailed me to tell me that had been, as the South Africans have it, retrenched.  Like so many jobless bankers before him he found work in Saudi Arabia.  On the personal scale just as much as the international geography is destiny, and I live in England. He did come to London once - we saw England beat South Africa again - and that was the last time I saw him. It must be the best part of 10 years.

Vaatjie is pronounced Fikie. It's not a  name - it's a nickname; it means 'barrelly', in English he'd be called 'Tubby'. Not so dangerous after all.

27 Aug 2008

Good Things Come...


picture by bob the lomond
Is WH Smith the new Post Office?

Why does shopping there always involve standing in a painfully long, painfully slow moving queue? All I wanted was a Private Eye... 8 minutes!

For the longest time I imagined it was a problem just with the branches in Waterloo Station. Well, yes, all three of them. But holidaying around Britain last week I discovered that there's a queue in every single WH Smith in the land.

Is it that WH Smith is fewer, or dimmer, staffed? Do they have till software designed by ETS? Is it because they spend too much time trying to cross-sell Toblerone at the checkout?


I know, I know, I'm grumpy, but there's something cruel about returning to work, with London shrouded in some sort of permanent autumnal gloom, after a fortnight's break: two weeks, just doesn't work does it? Not long enough to forget your work-worries, only your password.

20 Aug 2008

Bonnie


Bass Rock bathed in Scottish sunshine. By D.Y
After nearly two weeks holiday in Scotland I think I can safely report that:
  • it's true: Global Warming really has stopped.
  • Indeed if the prevalence of wetsuits on the beach is any guide at all, then an ice age is imminent, again.
  • fortunately we can rely completely on the ever-present lukewarm rain in Northern Britain to melt the glaciers and save us from the spreading menace.
It has to be said that the Kingdom of Fife isn't at its best in the rain. Which is a shame, because it seems to rain a lot.

"Out in the distance", proffered our guide, as we traipsed round the local National Trust castle "you can see Bass Rock. Keep a wee watch on it ev'ry morn" [Look, you'll just have to imagine the accent, work with me here, OK?] "and ye'll see it's a different colour every day, do ye ken? Perhaps you've even noticed some different colours already in your stay?"

Yes. Grey.

At the Cocoa Tree cafe, chock full of damp tourists, I divulged to the cheery waitress that I was from London. "Oh, well ye'll be wanting the internet access, then", she said (No, she wasn't Scottish).

But she was right! It's not at all a bad place to sit and blog over a small and extraordinarily good cup of intense hot chocolate with a dash of chilli (recipe kept determinedly secret despite two separate and heartfelt requests)


"When I was your age, you know, we didn't have wetsuits", I sniffed to the Botogol children.
I felt about 74.

18 Aug 2008

From the Fringe..


Translation: It isn't very funny. With PR
like that, who needs critics?


The fringe festival is raw market capitalism at its best: while the official festival ballet and opera rest on their arts council subsidised backsides (more money than on wind farms, but less than on Olympic Cycling) the High Street throbs with hoards of performers pressing flyers into the hands of would-be play-goers, with hardly any hyperbole to speak of (we went to three world premières and fourteen five-star shows)

"Do you think they target who they give their flyers to" asked the Botogol girls, and their friend, after a particularly arduous ascent of the Royal Mile. We sat down over a deep-fried Mars bar with cider on the rocks, and compared our stash: the three teenage girls had received invitations to a dark drama about teenage suicide, the Women's stand-up comedy awards, a dark drama about bulimia nervosa and the Chippendales. I had scored a leaflet for The Scottish National Trust's Georgian House in Charlotte Square.

Later that evening, in an iconoclastic defiance of stereotype, I woke up Mrs Botogol to take her to the Supper Club in the Assembly Rooms at Midnight. I promised her relaxing cabaret, soulful jazz, tearful blues, the whole spiced with erudite and witty comedy. What we got was sub-1930s Berlin Cabaret, but more squalid and more low-brow. It's a good job we are broad-minded.

The lowlight of the show was the German MC in wig who sang songs of unbearable crudity, without rhyme or metre and totally devoid of wit. Perhaps in the original German they rhymed

The highlight? Well, Mrs Botogol told me not to mention the pale stripper who excitingly fought her way out of a gigantic parcel in a bikini (the stripper, not the parcel) for Mrs Botogol doesn't like strippers. So let's, rather, go with the middle-aged luridly eye-shadowed black man, 23 stone if he was a kilogram, encased from top to tail in a neon-pink lycra body suit, singing... well, I quite forget what he was singing, I was too busy shrinking into my chair trying to avoid attention, for I recognised him - indeed he knew us - for he was none other than the big guy who had plonked down in front of us earlier, and politely apologised for blocking Mrs Botogol's view "Don't worry, I'll be going in a moment".

Now on stage he picked us out of the crowd with no trouble and beamed and waved enthusiastically, flickering his mascara eyelids at us, until the music stoppped. I knew what was coming next.
"So what's your name dear", he asked me, "yes, yes, I do mean you"

I swallowed, sat up straight and looked him firmly in the eye: "I'm Brad Majors, and this is my fiancee, Janet Weiss"