16 Dec 2009

a change of climate

9 Lessons and Carols for the Godless, Robin Ince's annual atheistic shindig at the Bloomsbury Theatre, demonstrated last night (just in case there is any lingering any doubt about the matter) that themed comedy doesn't really work.

The brief for the comics *was* a hard one: tell us some jokes about science; poke fun at religion, but DON'T be rude; be funny and only Dara O Briain really managed it, although respect to Josie Long who bravely snuck an anti Dawkins joke into an otherwise clumsy routine ("If this doesn't work I don't want any of you blogging about it, OK?" Oops.)

Q: What do you call themed comedy that is actually funny?
A: Comedy

The unexpected fall guy for the evening was Johnny Ball, erstwhile star of 1970s kids' TV and father of Zoë. He died on his backside out there with "get off!" lights flashing in his eyes, hisses of "Stop" clearly audible from the wings, and slow hand-claps, whistles and boos from a riled audience.

His unforgivable crime? An agonisingly childish routine with arrows drawn on a piece of cardboard "Now it points left, but now it points right - oh no! Left again, and now its pointing up!" A trick with which I have delighted four year olds at three different birthday parties. For that he would have deserved 'the treatment' but no, the audience sat dutifully silent, no doubt lost in the mist of nostalgia.

What did trigger the audience's protest - eventually - was a sustained AGW-denial riff, that started with a childish song, followed by a ten minute rant descending to a incoherent ramble. Doubting that the tiny proportions of CO2 in the atmosphere can cause global warming at all, and doubting still more that the tiny amount of CO2 from man-made emissions makes any difference Ball was on dangerous territory: the audience had signed up for an attack on the old religions, not the new one and feet shuffled, and people murmured.

Mrs Botogol fell asleep.

The crunch came when Johnny rather clumsily invoked the discredited CRU scientists at UEA to his cause. A cry of "shame" from the audience broke the dam, the boos started and a perplexed and shaken-looking Ball was finally forced from the stage.

"We weren't telling him to get to get off because of what he was saying", reassured the hapless Ince when he finally regained control of the stage, but because he went 13 minutes over his time"

Yeah, Robin, that might have been why *you* were booing.

Ball lost his skirmish last night - but significantly he was heard out for a full 12 minutes before a counter-attack came. Since the UEA fiasco broke two weeks ago the climate of the debate at least has changed, AGW deniers have gained much heart, and they are on the front foot now.

I think that in the months to come we're going to see more and more dissent like Ball's brave, but misguided, speech last night.

13 Dec 2009

the sound of guffaws

Off to watch the Varsity match last week I searched everywhere for some old college regalia.


rugby_match by Jim Grady

My old rugby shirt? Nope: borrowed by a member of the 3rd XV for the infamous '85 tour of Wales and never seen again.  College scarf? cufflinks? umbrella?. all lost.  I gave up and then I suddenly realised I still have my gown!

It's kept in the dressing up box; it's commonly known as the Harry Potter Outfit.

"Don't be silly", I told myself a few minutes later, inspecting my crumpled appearance in the mirror: "you can't possibly go to Varsity match in your gown"

I took it off but impetuously stuffed it into my rucksack anyway (well, you never know). Then I headed out and followed the sound of guffaws to the stadium. Were we like that when we were students?

The first time I went to Varsity Match I was a student. It was 1982 and 60,000 people were there. We stood in the wooden West Stand and cheered the three members of my college who had made the team.  Nowadays only 30,000 turn out and all the team are from Hughes Hall and St Edmunds  (the undergraduates play in a U21 curtain raiser). Perhaps those things are connected.

This time I was sat in a corporate box and there were eight of us -  with food for 12 as the party from our supplier's other client had failed to pitch. Beef Wellington, a glass and a half (cough) of claret, Bakewell tart and meat pies for tea, and afterwards there was a sea eagle to scare the pigeons!

What's that? Oh yes, Cambridge won.

Walking home, happily, later that evening I found myself alongside a group of girls from my old college. They were wearing their red boat club fleeces and college scarves, and laughing and joking with some rugby players from the college next door.. I felt an insane urge to approach them -  "Hey, I used to go to St John's as well!"

I restrained myself - obviously they wouldn't believe me, and would no doubt take me for some random, drunk and sad, middle-aged wierdo.  If only I had had my cufflinks to prove my bona fides.

And then I remembered my gown...

9 Dec 2009

Rye Christmas

More Rye Yule, really.  There seems to be something, something old, something sinister, something pagan perhaps about the Rye Christmas Parade that stirs the Gods: for each year they send rain. Perhaps they are tipped off by prayers from the Kindly Ones

At the front of the parade strode the town cryer, stern faced under an umbrella, looking quite unlike the familiar, welcoming soul who announces the wedding party to thrilled tourists on a Saturday morning.

Following him: giant puppets of wire and papier-mache glowing with inner light, each accompanied by shadowy black-clad children peering out from rain-sodden hoods, and no little donkeys, oxen nor sheep neither: but bright, ungainly mermaids, centaurs, gryphons, orcs and chimeras,

And then at the heart of the procession: the Rye Drummers , blown in the sea wind, dressed in black and red, faces painted, drums adorned with skull and cross-bones, they hunched into a circle, backs to rain and the crowd, hat brims dripping, in their midst a sweating soloist as, red-faced, black-faced, grim-faced they sounded out the rythms of Saxon Rye when the sea pounded at the land-gate causeway, and the French raided and stole the church bells, when Old Winchelsea stood, still, in Rye Bay.

And it wasn't about the children, either: even as Father Christmas approached, waving and hohohoing from an ersatz american limousine, the Rolf Harris-sound-alike MC, in a gold lame jacket made sure to puncture the spirit of Santa, slurring suggestions of his half-pint too many. Beside me a mother gripped her daughter's hand tightly, a whistle blew and the drums restarted.

Afterwards Mrs Botogol and I retired to the steamed-up Apothocary, its drawers with hand-lettered promises of Hemlock, Foxglove, Monkshood and Laburnum
"Well, they need to sort it out", opined a local shopkeeper, warming his hands on an espresso, "is it supposed to be late night shopping or not? We need to be organised".

8 Dec 2009

Reunions

Every year on the anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo the Duke of Wellington would hold a banquet at Apsley House.

For the first few years the meal was in the 'small' dining room and it was limited to thirty-five or so officers who had actually commanded at the battle. In later years the Duke built the Waterloo Gallery and the guest list became slightly less exclusive and as many as a hundred of the great and good might be invited, the dinner attracting great crowds to the pavement, eager for a glimpse of the great and good - a bit like the big brother house.

Here's a painting of the sumptuous 1836 event



Wellington was son of the Earl of Mornington and brother of the Governor General of India. He was nothing if not an establishment figure and his annual dinner was a triumph of the values of tradition privilege and patronage

Even while Wellington was fighting the Battle of Salamanca in July 1812 the Grande Armee was marching on Moscow in the ill fated Russian campaign. The French army, composed of conscripts, peasants, foreigners lived through the most unimaginable conditions. Men froze in their boots standing in the cold, cut meat from their horses and stole clothes from their prisoners' backs. Only 50,000 men came home from Russia and Sergeant Bourgorgne recounted in his memoirs that whenever veterans met, years after, their talk always turned to Moscow, and Borodino, and the crossing of the Berezina.

French veterans were not recognised until 1857; they did not have banquets in Apsley house.

Which type of reunion would you be proudest to attend?

2 Dec 2009

suspiciously simple

Older daughter has brought home some recruitment brochures

Day 85/365: We Love Diversity by kugel


I am looking at a typical cover - it is for an international Fortune 500 company and it depicts a 50th floor meeting room with floor-to-ceiling windows affording a panoramic view over a blurry city.

On the table sits a laptop and a single sheet of paper: the laptop is showing a colourful, but suspiciously simple-looking, graph. Standing over it is a tall, good looking, even-toothed African American man (yes, somehow you can tell he his American) who is wearing a tie. He smiles as he points out something to a young, beautiful, smartly dressed, even-toothed, Asian-American girl seated at the table. She is beaming at him

Questions for discussion:
  • is this picture in any way dishonest? if so what justification could you offer for this?
  • should recruitment brochures portray a firm as it is, or as it would like to be?
  • can you name any dimension of human diversity that firms might aspire to, other than employing different coloured Americans?
  • in a typical Fortune 500 firm, which department do you imagine is the least diverse in terms of race and sex
    - sales
    - engineering
    - information technology
    - financial
    - the recruitment department

30 Nov 2009

I guess I thought...

"Talking of kids", said Ray, "well -"
"Don't tell us", interrupted Julie, "your new wife is pregnant and you're going to be a dad again?"
"Don't tell us", said I, "one of your kids is pregnant and are you going to be a granddad?"
"Bugger off, Alibert! Really! I had forgotten what you're like!"

What am I like?

It was a reunion from my first1 job: 1986 to 1989. Six of us. Twenty years ago. I have seen them all individually in the intervening years, but it was the first occasion we had met as a group.

One is  now a contract project manager, one an MD in Morgan Stanley, one a housewife, one retired, one a guru, two still at the same bank. Only one in a job indescribable. None still programming, three of us missing it. The seventh invitee, absent, also programmer when we knew him (and not a good one, he ploughed my test at the interview but we were desperate and so we hired him anyway) well, he turned out to be a serial entrepreneur and is now a multi-millionaire venture capitalist in Texas, with his photograph on the front page of his company website.

How did that happen?

What was I like?

Twenty-two years ago the computer system that we all worked on went live. The six of us all laboured an entire weekend, even sleeping in the office. On the Thursday night prior to go-live the wind woke me up in the middle of the night and I went outside to shut a slamming  gate and was nearly killed by great hunks of masonry falling from the roof. It was the night of the great storm and the next day the trains weren't running and I walked to Brixton to catch the tube, marvelling at the fallen trees, On the Friday, the Saturday and the Sunday we worked eighteen hour days installing the system, testing and bug fixing, waiting around and playing Digger.

It was fun.

On the Monday morning the system was live and we sat by our screens drinking coffee with our fingers crossed. And that morning the market fell 25% in a single day, and the financial world crashed around our ears - It was black monday and it was also my first system go-live and guess I thought all go-live weekends would be like that.

What was I like?

Julie had some pictures: a Christmas drinks party twenty years ago. It was in the Arbitrageur in Throgmorton Street, that underground palace to 80s hedonism. People were smoking. There was I in the background with a narrow tie and a white shirt, I put my glasses on to see more closely, to try and make some connection with the 25 year old in the picture, to establish the persistence of a unitary self.

And Julie dragged me back to 2009

"What?"
"I was saying, Alibert do you remember the support log that you wrote that weekend"
I was clueless
"Go on, of course you do! It was really good. I can still remember bits"
And she quoted2:
-2:05am back up job finished
-2:10am arm-wrestling competition with Julie to determine who has to deliver tape to Stratford
-2:30am In taxi to Stratford
"It was funny! Alibert ...you should write a blog"

The tug of the persistent, unitary self. That's what I'm like.


----------
1Well, the first one on my CV, anyway, but in reality my second. My first job, forgotten now, I walked out on after 6 months.
2yes, it was like When Harry met Sally

27 Nov 2009

two dozen bayonets

I waited discreetly for a quiet moment before approaching the counter with a box of 40s and a coral-pink LED as an alibi. When the assistant was busy bringing them up I leant toward her, and whispered my samizdat request andm startled, she looked left and right to make sure we weren't overheard.

without air by Daniel*1977


"It's OK, I am a regular customer", I reassured her "I bought an outside heater last year so I know how to keep my mouth shut. Its my wife, you, see she hates the dim light"

The assistant stared at me for a moment, then made a snap decision and led me up some stairs into an inconspicous store room, and there they were: box after box of 100w incandescants, frosted, opals, tulips...I felt a sudden catch in my throat an unexpected surge of emotion.
"Are you ok?"
"Yes, yes, I'm fine - I just never thought I'd see so many of these in one place again"

After some negotiation she let me have two dozen 100w bayonets and put my name down for a couple of 150w screw-ins from the next drop 1


Across the road from us lives Lillian who is over 90: she bought her house from plan and has lived in it more than seventy years. Her energy usage must be less than a tenth of ours. On the way home I knocked on her door slipped her a four-pack: I don't suppose she ever burns a light bulb in more than one room at a time and for the life of me I can't understand why it shouldn't be a 100w one.

What sort of government is so dogmatic, so puritan and so spiteful as to deny its citizens a bright light?

------

1 OK it wasn't quite that bad. The owner told me they are still receiving 1,000 a week, but with all production forbidden and imports illegal he reckons the country will be entirely devoid of 100w bulbs by early 2010. I bought forty - a rucksack full. Stock up now before the rationing starts.

26 Nov 2009

Look, I fixed it

"I reckon I can turn my hand to any DIY task!", I said proudly over my shoulder, while feeling gingerly with my toes for the top of the step ladder.

Mrs Botogol wasn't overwhelmingly impressed. "What do you mean: any task, dear?"

"Well you know: fencing, tiling, roofing, guttering, perching"

"Perching?"

"Perching on roofs, fixing gutters."

"Ah.... So is it fixed, dear?"

Reaching the ground I turned and together we surveyed my work 1:
- a gutter previously sagging
- a block of wood, hacked roughly to size and skillfully jammed under.

"You know: some people would get a man in for a simple job like that"

---------------------------------------
1 If you look closely you can still see the gunge




25 Nov 2009

Taylor's Mom was there as well

OK. I wasn't necessarily the oldest person watching Taylor Swift's gig at Wembley Arena on Monday night.  For instance Taylor's Mom was there as well.


taylor swift by whittlz

And younger daughter certainly wasn't the youngest person in the Arena either - for instance Justin Bieber (that would be the guy on the stage, with the microphone and the backing dancers) is only 15, going on 11... and I have to say he didn't look like he'd last long in the U16s at my local rugby club.

But even if I wasn't the only Dad in attendance, neither was I exactly a typical audience member: let's just say it was a high-decibel, oestregen rich environment, with more than a little shrieking. And clapping along: watching Bieber (who was actually quite good) I felt like Prince of Wales at the Royal Variety Performance.

But he was the mere fluff compared to Taylor Swift herself: Tall and striking, playing up the girl-next-door goofiness but at the same time more than slightly fierce; she is never vulnerable, always focused and perfectly in control of herself and her show. The demure look and shy smile that occasionally played on her lips in "London, England" was each time belied by a fiery glint in her eye: she owned the gig - and I can't help it if she looks like an angel.

But all the same: there's something different about Taylor and I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn that, at home, she alphabetizes her herb drawer, pairs up her socks and arranges her scarves and gloves in different ziplock bags.

Stars out of 5 : 5
Worst part of the journey home: Willesden Junction
Best Song that night - Hey Stephen. Taylor accompanying herself on by fantastically earthy-sounding 12 string.

Here's a video of her playing that song.. on a different day.

24 Nov 2009

One Friday, last month

Looking back, I had felt weird all afternoon.

Not due at the restaurant until 7.30pm nevertheless, bored silly, I left work at five and took the tube to London Bridge from where I wandered, against the flow of the crowd, through the closing-up remains of Borough market and out on to the South Bank.

It was autumn-chilly, but I wasn't cold and I pushed on past the Golden Hind, Vinopolis, Clink Street, the Globe and to a bank building where in 1996 I had worked for over a year as a consultant and where, now, I paused and stared into the windows trying to catch a glimpse of my former life.

When I reached Tate Modern I calculated I had still an hour to kill and so I went inside, vaguely in search of a Kandinsky, vaguely in search of a surprise and a few minutes later ventured, intrigued and hesitant, into How It Is, an enormous dark steel box that occupies the Turbine Hall. Completely dark, but clanking and echoing with the footsteps of others, and with whispers echoing from within, I felt not alone but disconnected : It was uncomfortable although not scary, disorientating but not debilitating and it was impossible to perceive how many people were inside with me. I was glad, when I turned around, to find that the way out was clear and obvious.

At the entrance to the box stood two identical twins in identical bright scarlet dresses, and identical ribbons in their hair, talking to a curious young man, and I thought I heard one say, quite distinctly: "Actually, we're an exhibit".  At the time it made no sense at all.

They did have a Kandinsky, though it took a moment  for I didn't immediately recognise it as one of his: Lake Starnberg: a confusing, false colour view of an autumnal Switzerland.

I scurried away, glad to be outside, and hurried to Waterloo.

By the time I reached the restaurant it was raining and it felt like a long time since I had left Canary Wharf. We were eating with another family, a birthday treat. Greasy antipasti and two cool beers later I felt the warm excitement of a Friday evening but the restaurant was windowless and too dark and it was hot and noisy. The antipasti was filling and the beer was cool and when my cheeseburger came I chewed a couple of mouthfuls and suddenly I needed to stand up very quickly.

And then I was back inside the steel box, but now the Kandinsky was there as well, and the colours brighter but it still it made no sense, and this time I could tell there were lots of other people there, and far away I heard someone shout "My goodness! - it's Alibert" and I laughed.



And then I was standing at the other end of the restaurant, leaning against a counter and a worried-looking Mrs Botogol was there with me, staring.

"You fainted", she said, "How long were you out for?" and I could only think "I'm supposed to ask that" and it wasn't fair, and I had no answer and so, for quite a few moments, I didn't say anything at all.

22 Nov 2009

Dinner Party Redux

"Are you going to blog us again?", asked my host, expertly wielding a welcome bottle of champagne,  "like you did the last time you came round to ours?"


A is for Access by Ben Zvan
I was embarrassed:  "Well, ha ha!, I... well, sorry about that. No, I don't think so.. I mean I don't write about everything I do!"
"Oh don't worry: we didn't mind at all: after all it was very funny"

I searched his face for any hint of sarcasm, but he held my gaze unwavering. 
"Oh. Well... thanks"
"Yes, very funny indeed. The kissing and the shoulder and all that..."

I helped myself to a too-large handful of wasabi peas and groped desperately for compelling change of subject but had barely even mentioned my opinion of Jedward before my hostess edged in our direction.
"Ah, darling, I was just saying to Alibert how funny his blog was at the New Year"
"Oh yes!", she smiled, "tell me, Alibert, did Sylvie really say that to you?"
"Oh, well, I don't remember!  No doubt I exaggarated a bit, you know, ha! ha! ... but hey! who would have though Simon would save them the other week, eh?"
"Oh, do you often exagerate in your blog?"
"Well, ha ha! writers' license and all that, and anyway she was hardly likely to read it, and I don't expect I'll ever meet her again"

At that precise moment,the doorbell rang. And, of course, straightaway I knew.  Without a trace of a shadow of a doubt,  I knew.

"You have other guests?" I asked weakly, and Mrs Botogol glanced sharply at me from across the room, "is it anybody we..."
In the far off hallway door opened and the newcomers bustled in...
"Sylvie!"


23 Oct 2009

Milestones, Myths and Naked Ladies

You have probably imagined me trapped beneath something very very heavy, unable to reach my keyboard to tweet for help? Or banned from any more screen-time until I have finished my chores? or perhaps, rather less plausibly, snowed under at work and too busy to blog?


The dragon wing of night o'erspreads the earth by harold.lloyd
Well the truth is I temporarily mislaid my blogging mojo1

Look, it can happen to anyone perhaps it's old age, perhaps its something else.

Not that I haven't been busy, mind; I have been. And not devoid of bloggable experiences either: why, just in the last three weeks or so I have:
- seen my eldest daughter pass two lifetime milestones
- tackled, in the den, a whole barrel of naked ladies
- been present at the birth-throes of a new, national, political party
- unaccountably failed to award a clear penalty try, and
- seen, in the flesh, but failed to photograph, an animal I've previously believed was entirely mythical.

You're wondering about the naked ladies,aren't you?  Sigh, I guess every blog gets the readership it deserves.

Well anyway it was like this: red centre broke clean through on his own 22 and sprinted all the way to the line pursued by two blue players and a puffing, sweaty referee. Just before he got to the line red was brought down by a tackle round the neck, hit the deck and managed to ground the ball for a try.

Well, he sort of grounded it. Sort of fumbled it a bit as well. Indeed, someone2 idly watching from the touchline just might have go the impression he dropped it in the course of being nastily high tackled as he crossed the line.. . I did award a try, mind, but .... not a penalty one....... and I did speak crossly to blue 9 (it's always blue 9) but hmmm... the try I awarded was in the corner and the conversion was missed and.....

Anyway the naked ladies...  it was Mrs Botogol's idea actually, but to us both, it was totally normal for a large party like that. However it turned out that, despite all the parties the eldest Botogol child and her ilk have attended in the last few years, this was the first time they had seen anything like it.  Mrs Botogol and I were quietly chuffed, but surprised - in our day everyone always got a barrel in.

You are wondering about the milestone? Well if there is a lifetime milestone more important than the passing of a driving test I have yet to hear of it3. We have a chauffeur!  Yes, it does make you feel old when your children drive... but hey! the family finally has a long-term designated driver!  Mrs Botogol and I didn't waste any time cashing in: we arranged to be picked up and fetched home from a dinner party last Saturday night, at 11:30. This was an opportunity too good to miss..
- at 11:25 we texted to say we weren't ready yet, could she give us an hour
- at 11:45 we texted to say was it OK if she also took our friend home on the way? Wandsworth, actually, but, look, her bf has gone off without her, so
We spared her the snogging in the back seat.

But we did regale our sober driver with incredible stories of a mythical beast. A beast not just glimpsed... but watched for several minutes in the back garden of our hosts; for we saw last Saturday night, in a suburban street near Kingston, an animal that even Outside Jane herself has never seen, an animal I was convinced was a masive hoax, an invention of the BBC...smaller than a great dane, bigger than a fox....

...a badger.

No, the elder Botogol daughter didn't believe us either.

=======================================================================
1  I retraced my steps. 
2 someone like, for example, red coach.
3 except, well,, the birth of your first child would be one...a milestone which, in the case of Mrs Botogol and I, happened eighteen years ago this month.

5 Oct 2009

In the interests of science

It was a damp, cold morning in Hounslow and the clocks were striking eight when I presented myself at the UK Biobank offices ready to sign away my body medical records to science

Staircase to hell by Jano De Cesare


'Yes', said the bored security guard, 'they are expecting you' surreptitiously pressing a button under the counter.

I was the first to arrive and foolishly early, but the white-coated, young, pleasant but strangely unreal staff were unruffled, and before long I was meekly seated at a computer console answering intrusive personal questions about my medical history. Behind me a middle-aged woman was being mysteriously reassured, as to my left a sinister-looking young asian sat down at a console and pretended to be answering his own survey... while all the time keeping an close eye on me.
 
A door swung closed with a click. A window blind fell. Above me I could see an ATMOS CCTV camera, red light blinking, pointing directly at me.  It suddenly didn't seem right at all. What was really going on here? Who was watching me? I imagined a large room on an upper floor, a giant monitor, my face filling the screen.. before it a huddle of Daleks angrily commanding some hapless human, "YES! .. THAT ONE... THE BALD ONE WHO HAD THE TONSILLECTOMY IN 1969. BRING. HIM. TO. US! HE MUST. BE. EXTERMINATED!'

"Mr Botogol?", I leapt out of my chair,

"Please come this way, Alibert... would you like a biscuit?".   At least, I figured, at least I'd die with a chocolate hobnob in my mouth..

1 Oct 2009

computer wants a blog


It's not as though I haven't been busy since my last post: two visits to the Hammersmith Apollo (Rich Hall and Paolo Nutini), 10km Charity Run (4 minutes slower than last time, oops) Bacon and Egg sarnie in the Hampton Court sunshine...

But no glistening bloggable triumphs or disasters.

My software developer I hear you ask? seven approvals gained - just one more to go :-)  That's quick.

23 Sep 2009

Devoid of Pointlessness

"I want to raise a requisition to hire a software developer " I told the suspicous but not unhelpful Singaporean who was manning the Corporate Helpline 1

frustration by e-magic


I glanced at my watch, it was 11:35pm in Singapore. I wondered how she had ended up doing that lonely job in the middle of the night and whether all her friends from Uni were at this moment in a crowded bar at the harbour enjoyng chilli crab and beers. I resisted the impulse to ask her what time she got off that evening..

"Do you have authority to hire software developers", she asked.
This was a trick question, of course, but I wasn't born yesterday.
"No, I don't have the authority", I replied, evenly, "I'm only a level 7B. No, what I want to do is raise a request to hire a software developer; which will route to my Global Department Head to authorise"

(fifteen all)

"But has your Global Department Head", she countered, "given you prior authorisation to make this request?"

(thirty-fifteen)

I paused and considered this carefully for a moment.

"I'm going", I said slowly, "I'm going to say: 'yes' " (I'm good)

We stared the whites of each others eyes 2  for a moment or two, sizing each-other up..... and she blinked:

"Very well, then: in order to raise a requisition you have to use the I-Buy system"
"I thought that might be the case, but I am not an authorised user of I-Buy"
"Aaaah"

(deuce)

On my screen I watched the Project Phoenix count-down clock flip over: 10,944 hours until we go live. I had wasted the whole of hour 10,945 on this.

Over the phone I heard a bleep and  I wondered if my young interlocutor was allowed a cell-phone in the call centre - were her mates at the bar at this very second tweeting her photos of the crab she was missing? Or was there a boyfriend texting patiently at home, and english lessons, and proud parents and a dream to one day move to Manhattan?  Did she yearn, I wondered, did she yearn, in that lonely call centre late at night for a job that made a difference? a job devoid of pointlessness, a job that contributed something measurable to the company for which she worked?

"Can you give me.."
"I'm not authorised to give you I-Buy authorisation.  You need to complete a request for I-Buy, which will be routed to your manager to approve"

"So .. I make a request... for the authority... to make a request?"

But I knew not to push it any further; and I sighed, and clicked on the link she had already emailed me.


================================
1 Press 1 for Technical Support, Press 2 for Building Maintenance Press 3 for Human Resources...  3 .....  You have pressed 3, Human Resources.  Please don't press 3 unless your need is urgent.


2 Yes, that's right -  we were on the phone. It's a metaphor.

20 Sep 2009

Heffalump's Footsteps

Walking to work last week in the low, dazzling September exalting in the cool, milky autumn air; I was juggling my mp3 player, my newspaper, my blackberry, my phone and my old-man glasses when the phone rang.

Parallel Worlds by alicepopkorn ( in and out )


Glancing at the display I was nonplussed to see who was calling for there on the screen was flashing  Alibert Botogol [Work]

Now, I've seen an episode or two of Dr Who in my time, so I knew pretty much what to expect: most likely my alter ego from a parallel universe was taking advantage of a tiny wormhole in the space-time continuum to place a call to summon my assistance with a problem that was threatening the security of the entire multiverse.

Either that or someone was burgling my office, had found my address book, and was having a laugh at my expense.

Not sure which prospect was the more frightening and full of curiosity but not without hesitation, and somewhat gingerly, I took the call.

"Hello, Alibert Botogol speaking?", I said just as the person at the other end said exactly the same thing. "Hello? Hello?" we both continued,  talking over each other, until, spooked, I fell silent. So did the other guy.... I waited, coolly....

...until a tiny squeal from my pocket distracted me and I fished out of my jacket... my blackberry. I must have forgotten to lock the keys when I stuffed it away for it seemed to be making a phone call.....

15 Sep 2009

12 of 12



Ok, so it's one of those meme things. The idea is: on the 12th of the month you take 12 photographs and... well... that's it, really.

I actually got the idea from the this blog's cyber-namesake, (or, as we say in the trade, HT: verseau).


Now, the last time I tried something like this it wasn't at all popular, so Anonymous? (you know who you are) ... you may wish to look away now.

The rest of you - well, here's what I did in 12 Sept.

14 Sep 2009

Madison Violet


Madison Violet enjoying themselves
There's nothing like a late Sunday evening for a crush in the  overheated room over the Cabbage Patch that plays host to the Twickenham Folk Club (now cunningly rebranded as TwickFolk@CabbagePatch)

We were there, Mrs Botogol and I, to hear an obscure Canadian country roots/folk duo called Madison Violet (as featured by whispering Bob Harris on Radio 2)


Doors were at 8pm so, obsessively punctual, I hurried us there for 7:59. But there were two support acts. Of course there were; it was very hot and the wine was warm. Mrs Botogol was not amused.

But it was worth it!  If we had not been entirely warmed up by the slightly sulky1 Good Intentions who preceded them ("We've come from Shoreditch. Just now that is. Actually, we're from Liverpool. Well Gaby's not") it wasn't our fault, but when these two upbeat, wise-cracking  women took the stage, positively revelling in each others' company, it was impossible not to smile.

In a packed set they played almost all of their new album - No Fool For Trying - the upbeat title track contrasting with the bitter and angry tones of Woodshop and Black and White, the yearning of Ransom and charming nostalgia of Small Of My Heart

There were a couple of Flight of the Concords moments as very dedicated tour-following fans fresh from New Brunswick and Switzerland made themselves known, Lisa and Brenley handling with aplomb, and the crowd sang cooperatively when called upon.

Here are MadViolet singing the most moving song of the evening -  Woodshop - Brenley MacEachern momentarily choking up in her introduction as she recalled the death of her brother, and the family tragedy about which the song is written.



The set finished with singular - and sinister - cover of Simon & Garfunkel's Mrs Robinson, the  somehow menacing arrangement and heartfelt, angry vocals emphasising the less than wholesome nature of the story - and the familiar song suddenly took on a unexpected hue.

Exclellent. They are touring UK and Ireland in next two weeks - go see them.




1 - I reckon they had a row in the traffic, for their music was actually laced with some wry country wit "I was a poor boy this morning / and I'll be one again tonight / there is nothing I call my own / and I will not need my 12 string / when the angels call me home"

10 Sep 2009

I know what I like...

..and I like what I know.



In 2004 I worked for a week in New York and when I finished up the gruelling, sixteen hour, grinding first Monday that is given to the transatlantic Investment banker, and I settled in to my room-service cheeseburger and New York Times in front of David Letterman, and I discovered that Phil was playing Madison Square Garden that Friday, I was made up

But on the Tuesday my young American co-workers, even the few that like me, looked at me blankly. 'Phil who? you mean the Tarzan guy?  waddyamean this Friday?'

So on the Wednesday I walked down to the ticket booth in Union Square and bought one ticket. 'No, really, one ticket'  That's right: one billy-no-mates ticket to Madison Square Gardens.

It actually would have been OK if they hadn't sat me in a whole row of nohope, singleton losers. On my left a small chinese-american hunched over a laptop, on my right a large Ukranian with a forged ticket waited for the wrestling. He had been done.

I bought a beer and a corn-dog from a roving beer and corn-dog salesman. It was the first corn-dog I had ever had. It was the last corn-dog I have ever had.

Phil played and I enjoyed every moment.

I saw Phil play Earls Court in the 90s, I saw Genesis play Twickenham in 2007; I listened to him sing almost every day from 1978 to 1985 but never went to see him.

On February 14, 1994 Mrs Botogol and I enjoyed a candlelit dinner and a Phil Collins tribute band in the Village Walk hotel, Johannesburg.It was ace.

 I won't hear him drum again.

Take me home.

3 Sep 2009

An Urban Wind

When I left for vacation the Canary Wharf evenings were still warm and full of promise; the pale, gold, stupidly expensive Chardonnay in First Edition was still sweet and, after work, the dockside tables at All Bar One thronged with strappy-topped women flirting with their close-cropped, jacketless co-workers.


Urban Shred by ecstaticist
 It was summer.

Now I am back from vacation and each lunch time a cold wind, an urban wind that carries rain and also dust, howls through Westferry Circus. Outside Smollensky's chairs lie overturned and the evening crowd huddles indoors.  On the pavements of the Wharf prowl disconsolate security guards, dressed as policemen, with bolt-cutters confiscating the unguarded cycle-locks of the hapless, and I?  I have a chipped tooth that will force me, reluctantly, once more to visit the dentist.

It's the New Year (I cannot be the only person, surely, whose year begins in September?), but it's not yet a Happy one ....  and sometimes all of our thoughts are misgivings.

The old year ended in August with two strange encounters: an old friend and I went on a date, and a cyber-friend became real:

The date was with Frustrated Poet, whom I have known twenty-five years, and our expedition was to admire Gay Icons...  followed by dinner. No, not that sort of date, and the icons weren't all gay, either.

As FP and I ambled slowly around the National Portrait Gallery I amused myself feigning incredulity at the portraits we encountered Elton John? He's never gay!  Will Young? get away! Hang on? Be serious now - Graham Taylor's gay? 1 Until, after a while, we tired of my game, and amused ourselves otherwise: quoting When Harry Met Sally, competitively, over fish and chips and a very fine bottle of Burgundy 2  My, we got some funny looks.


The cyberfriend, just a few days later, was none other than M4GD, regular of this blog, who revealed her true identity - and a surprise - when she met Mrs Botogol and I to listen to Pasadena Roof Orchestra playing a free gig in Canada Square ("Um, Good Evening, Canary Wharf" - well, let's just say: Glastonbury it wasn't)

Meeting an on-line acquaintance in real life is always an ineffably odd experience: I have done it several times and yet still I am unsure whether masks are truly dropped....or raised.  On balance I suspect it's only on-line where you really know someone.


So, now, back from France (moules frite in the square, rose wine on the table, drunk too much, spent too much, penniless again) the rhythms of the New Year (school, rugby, sunday roasts, a new season at Richmond theatre) firmly re-assert themselves and by way of self-improving New Year resolutions I have joined the Royal Institute and booked my 2010 Triathlon.

At work for the next month or two we are mainly budgeting:  for - at the centre of this institution that champions capitalism and thrives on risk, that makes decision on the minutest flicker of a price, in which millions of dollars turn on a basis point - at the centre of this institution there beats a Stalinist heart --  and we are updating our five-year plan.

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(1) Not gay. And not totally overwhelmed with enthusiasm for being a Gay Icon either, by some accounts..
(2) Was it even two bottles?

22 Aug 2009

21 Aug 2009

I am away


picture by Laura Mary
In France, and I don't think we will have internet access, so back in September.
(and no, not it's not me in the picture... think more Bruce Willis, less John Mankowitz)

9 Aug 2009

Bodging it

OK, so the problem was that the rain didn't actually drip into the gutter - oh no - it was running round the edge of the roof-felt and back along the underside of the roof, through the gap between the gutter and the wall..

(see it?)



and then down the wall.

..making the wall very wet.
Solution?
Get a man in?

No, sir!
I bodged it...
 
 
 
Good eh?
And this evening I have fixed my computer by taking it apart and hoovering out all the dust. 
Is there anything I can't bodge?
I think not.

7 Aug 2009

Wine and Cider


picture by vad_levin
Over two weeks at our house, our very big(1) house in the country(2), Mrs Botogol tells me that we have entertained 26 guests, not including the builder(3).  That's a lot of wine and cider drunk (and a lot of tea as well), and plenty of conversation and much opportunity to learn the new and the unexpected.

"No", said one of our guests, "that's not how it works at all - in fact Come By means clockwise and  Away means anti-clockwise"

It made so much sense. I have often wondered how sheep-dogs worked out the problem of my-left versus your-left, and there was my answer: not left and right at all, but clockwise and widdershins.  Because wherever in the field you are standing my clockwise is always your.... clockwise.

Yes, with 26 guests you learn new facts like these, and by way of these facts you learn about people.

In this case about myself: for although I knew our friend was a sheep farmer, and a resourceful and self-reliant entrepreneur, and a person who is often under-estimated, even so it still didn't occur to me that she had actually trained her own sheep dog.

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(1) not really....
(2) the nicest thing about our house in the country is that we are in a town.
(3) there is always a builder. If you own a second house, there is always a builder.

5 Aug 2009

While I am away



It cheers the weary soul.

But reveals the frailty of memory: seeing a haka so timid and self-conscious was a shock. I don't remember it like that, is the haka then, far from being a traditional war-dance, actually a modern phenomenon? And did you notice that in 1973 they performed the dance facing across the pitch - at the cameras

And the sizes of the players, some of the 73 All-Blacks would look small in a modern club U17s (I am not joking)

Here's what the haka looks like today.




(HT: Sackerson)

2 Aug 2009

On Camber Sands...


picture by Hiddenson
..we could connect nothing with nothing.

Actually, it wasn't that bad: we made a pretty good hash of our Fibonacci spiral.

We had a 30m line and a stick and we worked out an effective MO: one of us at the action end applying a considerable centrifugal force to drag a tethered stick through the heavy, wet sand to mark out the sections of the spiral, the other at the centre playing the important role of 'dead weight' : anchoring the line and encouraging the hapless scribe: "keep it taut! keep it taut!"


We constructed 10  sections, the last with a radius of about 25metres, marking out, then, a pitch of about 500m2
  
The beach rangers didn't like it all. "We don't like it at all", they said, dismounting from their landrover. "What is this about and can we please see your CRB certificates"

"It's a Fibonacci Spiral", I said, "constrructed from a famous sequence of numbers discovered by Leonardo of Pisa, son of Bonacci, and often, it turns out, found in nature, defined as F(n) = F(n-1) + F(n-2), Pete! Keep it Taut!"

"And with the ratio of successive terms tends toward the Golden Section!", exclaimed the young beach warden, relaxing, "That's OK - we were worried that you were doing something irregular".

1 Aug 2009

Sam Gribley

We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn, which does not forsake us in our soundest sleep.
I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavour. It is something to be able to paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue, and so to make a few objects beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look, which morally we can do. To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts. Every man is tasked to make his life, even in its details, worthy of the contemplation of his most elevated and critical hour. If we refused, or rather used up, such paltry information as we get, the oracles would distinctly inform us how this might be done.


I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion. For most men, it appears to me, are in a strange uncertainty about it, whether it is of the devil or of God, and have somewhat hastily concluded that it is the chief end of man here to "glorify God and enjoy him forever."

Henry Thoreau - Walden


Botogol is on vacation.
and not doing DIY until Monday.

28 Jul 2009

This madman was interrupting

The breakaway had 2'30" on the bunch, with just 15km to go.

picture by fras1977

You can normally count on an organised peleton to make up only about a minute every 10km, and so with the slight downhill, if the leaders could work together they still had a chance.

At the front of the bunch Columbia were the only team riding and I could sense their resentment that no other teams were prepared to do any work..

And then someone knocked and came into my office.

 "Good afternoon, I have come to check whether you are having any mouse problems"

I looked at him blankly. And I looked around my neat and hermetically sealed office with bemusement. "Well", I said slowly "No, I don't think so, but ...  are there mice on this floor?"

It was his turn to look confused "Well, yes, everyone has one. Don't they"

A stand off.

Out of the corner of my eye I could see Astana coming to front of the bunch. This madman was interrupting the tour my work, I had to get rid of him before the leaders reached the flamme rouge.

"Well", I said very slowly and carefully, ''I haven't seen any mice"

"OK", he said, undeterred, "well, if yours is working that's OK then. But with all the sticky mice, well I'll be collecting them all up this evening - they'll be replaced with optical ones"

The penny dropped at last. "Ah", I said, "you're from the IT department. You're a ... You're a.."

"I'm a mouseherd" he said, flatly.

27 Jul 2009

At least you'll know


Secrets by Avery Edison
So here's a difficult decision for a rationalist, philanthropic, scientifically-minded cycnic: I have been invited to share all my medical records with strangers, at the BIOBANK.

To help science.

On the one hand: the scientist in me whole-heartedly approves of long-term longitudinal studies, and applauds the sheer scale and ambition of this one.

But on the other hand I am of a school that says: be wary of divulging to the government any information you are not absolutely required to.

I wondered what was in it for me. "Well", said Mrs Botogol, "think about it: if they do notice something wrong with you - something else I mean - then they'll tell you, and then at least you'll know"

Oddly enough, when I found out that actually they wouldn't tell me,  I was reassured.

23 Jul 2009

The round, pistachio ones

Tuesday was my birthday, and it was quite a milestone:

Passage of Time by ToniVC
I have reached the age that Reggie was in the original David Nobbs novel : The Death of Reginald Perrin.

Appropriately enough I was an eleven minutes late that day: delays on the Jubilee line following earlier signal failure near Stanmore

I don't normally let on at work that it's my birthday but this year, perhaps in honour of Reggie, I impulsively ventured out to the claustrophobic, low-ceiling shopping centre in the wharf, and spent £37.50 on a small tray of delicate cakes for my co-workers.

The cakes turned out to be still frozen: the baker had done me.

One of Reggie's biggest problems (which actually was brought out rather well in the much maligned recent BBC adaptation of the book) was his growing sense of the pointlessness of the activities carried out at work.

I am lucky that my job is much more interesting than either Sunshine Desserts, or Groomtech. For instance: just on Tuesday we had a conference call with the Cambodia office, who want to temporarily use a non-standard solution for their storage needs. They have cleared this with IT, chiefly because enhancing the standard solution to meet their requirements is non-budgeted and not in the book of work, but they are not sure that IT have the authority to give them the authority to disregard policy and at the same time Compliance are worried that the solution adopted, while in use in many banks,  might not be in the spirit of an obscure, ambiguous and implied commitment that we made to the Japanese regulators back in 2003, when the Cambodian subsidiary was partly owned by our Japanese firm .  The relevant subject matter experts have left the bank and, Alibert, what do you think we should do?

"I'm sorry... I was looking at the dust in the sunlight which is really ... quite beautiful... Hey, do you think those round pistachio ones have thawed yet?"

12 Jul 2009

You could set it as a problem

Last week I have been mostly listening to Paolo Nutini.

No, I'd never heard of him either, until I watched Glasto on BBC2 where he was the highlight of the highlights singing the wonderful Pencil Full of Lead.



His new album - Sunny Side Up was released last month. It's a cracker and with its eclectic and eccentric mixture of references and genres it's also a curious thing. You could set it as a problem for a musical Ingénue:
Popular Music 101: Listen to these ten tracks and identify the genres.
Bonus marks are awarded for detecting influences and musical references.
Pencil Full of Lead?  It reminds me of no one more than Louis Prima 1, and with the reinforcing reference to Reet Petite,  I'd identify it as swing.

Here's my other favourite - 10/10



I'd say that was is Ska. Other songs are variously country, pop, folk and is that even a Calypso tune? Anyway it's all great stuff, here's a playlist of my favourites: sharpen your exam pencil and post your analysis in a comment.


=======================================

References
(1) it's no surprise, therefore that you can also find Nutini covering I Wanna Be Like You on YouTube.

5 Jul 2009

The dockland breeze blew chill

I was sitting in the sunlight, the early morning sunlight - the pearl grey sunlight that settles over Cabot Square, sipping a rich and hot, bitter and dark, Cafe Brera macchiato.

I was cooling down after a long and weary, fast and furious, almost record-breaking two wheeled commute.

Hunched over my blackberry I quickly sent enough emails to give the impression that I was in the office, (that is worth something when you think about it, that is worth some money) and then I stretched out my legs sipped my coffee, and turned to the Guardian crossword

"Excuse me?"
It was a kid, early 20s, besuited, betied, hot-looking. I tried my hardest to glower
"Can tell me... I mean sorry to disturb you... but do you know.... I mean I thought that you would know:  Which one is Morgan Stanley?"

I looked him up and down for a moment or two not, I hope, unkindly:

"Interview, eh?"

And the early morning sunshine darkened as the ghost of my interviews past returned to earth.

The interview where they kept me waiting... and waiting.... until I finally up-sticked and left. The interview-while-walking-around, the 'How do you value a knockout option?' interview, the 'What's so bad about inflation anyway?' interview, the time I was assaulted on the tube on my way to an interview, the flying back from New York overnight on Friday for a Saturday morning interview, and the 'I've read your CV carefully and I have to say I have absolutely no idea why you applied for this job" interview.

The dockland breeze blew chill, and around the edge of the square swayed the bourganvillea and roses of Jericho.

"Um, yes actually, it is an interview", he said, "how did you know?"

I smiled, I hoped enigmatically, "Never mind, hey well, best of luck with that, anyway! Morgan Stanley? Sure, of course I do:  it's that one over there" and I pointed carefully at Barclays Capital.

For I have a dark side.

And one day he might write a blog and then he'll thank me for it.

1 Jul 2009

Can you tell what it is yet?


On a street corner in Richmond a modern revolving advertising hoarding has been removed to reveal an intriguing ad painted on the bricks beneath:

Choose your house AND THE TEMPERANCE

What could it mean? Is 'choose your house' to be taken literally?  The sentence is still hard to parse, the stumbling block being that definite article: what was the Temperance? a place? a club? a newspaper?

It took me a week to work it out - can you do better? 
(when you have it a quick google will suffice to confirm)

17 Jun 2009

polka-dot

Well, we made it. Over the two days my handlebar-mounted GPS reported that it had travelled 98.6 miles, exactly.


Caen Hill by lovestruck.
I, in contrast, travelled 104 miles approximately

The difference? Well, it was the three miles-or-so that I cycled along the tow-path while my GPS was no longer, it transpired, handle-bar mounted.... and the four-miles-or-so that I sweated back along the tow-path looking for it. (no it wasn't at the pub where we had lunch, it was on the ground near to a nasty pothole and no, I obviously didn't loop the fail-safe lanyard properly around my handlebars and, yes, I am therefore an idiot who deserved this extra 25 hot and sweaty minutes' pursuit.

Fortunately, I have considerate friends who, despite still smarting from my cougar-like ascent of Caen hill and consequently unassailable hold on the polka-dot jersey, agreed unanimously to wait for me.

Well, they said, in fact they thought they might keep going, they said, until they got to the next pub, they said, where they would wait for me there; and it was my round so don't be too long, will you?

Still, my carelessness gave them time to check their blackberries, upload their photos, post to their blogs, download details of nearby geocaches and text their tweets, for we are all - much to our children's incredulity - connected, now.

For isn't everyone? Seems to me 2009 is the year that forty-somethings finally found facebook. So for the older in tooth, but curious despite themselves, here are the seven stages in the adoption of social networking:
  1. ignorance... what's a blog?
  2. incredulity, derision and willful misunderstanding .. you mean several times a day, short messages, but who on earth cares that you've just finished the washing up?
  3. fear and suspicion... when I was their age we spoke to our friends, it can't be good all this screentime - and these people I heard of: they tweeted they were on holiday and their house was burgled
  4. unwillingly intrigued... well, apparently she saw it on facebook and so..
  5. toe in the water... No, I'm only on it to see what the children are doing..
  6. gentle usage - no, hardly at all, just a few status updates, but, wow, it's surprising all these old friends that find you, I hadn't seen her for nearly 20 years and out of nowhere she friended me
  7. immersion - so, I've got my facebook updates going out automatically as tweets, plus on the sidebar of my blog, I've got 129 friends, which is too many really, I'm going to start refusing
At what stage are you?

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Here's where we went...


View Kennet & Avon Canal by Bike in a larger map

13 Jun 2009

wildlife

I am become death, the destroyer of winged insects.

Those that i dont swallow, I trap in the vents of my cycle helmet, where they buzz and struggle until i, frantic, crush against my pate.

We have covered 67 miles yesterday and today so far. .

12 Jun 2009

half way to reading

today, i have been mostly cycling.

Four of there are, the regular Sunday morning crew, and we're Bristol to Reading via the Kennet and Avon canal. Bed and Breakfast in the Royal Oak in Pewsey.

It's quite a long way from Bristol to Reading - about a 100 miles, but we're hard men, we are, and there's talk of pressing on tomorrow all the way to Windsor.

Well this morning there was talk, no much after the ascent of Caen Hill Locks.

It's hungry work, cycling - we had breakfast in Reading (train stop) lunch in Avonbridge, tea in a garden centre in woodbridge and, delightfully, our B&B is 300m from an Indian Restaurant, so we're all sorted for dinner (1)

Unaccountably we failed to stop for elevenses.

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(1) A chicken tarka calls (its like a chicken tikka, but a little 'otter)

10 Jun 2009

the whole of August

For an under-bonused, over-stressed banking-monkey with a long commute is there anything more tantalising than the offer of unpaid leave?

Two weeks extra leave in 2009 we can have, if we want it; the credit-crunch ill wind blows some good after all. Two weeks!  What's not to like?

Except that, ah yes, for a moment I forgot, it's unpaid leave.

So, I could have the whole of August off (hurray!) but with no money to spend (boo).

What to do? Hang out at home? Except everyone knows that it's impossible for a family of five to enjoy themselves in London for less than £200 a day. Could we enjoy ourselves in Paris for less?

The world is our whelk.

8 Jun 2009

just one more lap

It was raining when I got out of the car, it was raining while I racked my bike and put on my wetsuit, and it was raining when I jumped in the lake.


Raincycle by OskarN
While I ran up the hill back to transition it rained, and it was raining while I took off my wetsuit and strapped on my helmet and set off on my bike.

Careering around the Blenheim Palace Triathlon circuit at over 35mph on the downhill, through pools of standing water it rained still, and it was raining when I ran through the finish line at the end of the run and collected my medal.

I was wet.

After I was finished and trudging back to the transition areas  I watched a young women speed up to the bike finish, dismount, and then pause uncertainly to speak to the marshall while competitors whizzed past her at no small speed.

"Three laps!", I heard him say, "That's right, three laps..... Well, how many laps have you done?"
"I don't know"
"Well, have you done more than one?"
"Two I think"
"Well, you'd better do another one then"
She nodded, awkwardly turned her bike round and faced the way she had come, swallowed hard and got on the bike. Then she burst into tears and got back off again.
"Go on", said the marshall, not unkindly, "it'll be OK - just one more lap. And then, um, then the run."
And she nodded, took a breath, got back on a second time and pedalled off.


I was 1 hour 36. Not bad, but I didn't acquit myself well in the run and I seem to have fallen asleep in Transition 2, taking about a minute more than I needed.

I reckon I could shave six minutes of my time next year.

5 Jun 2009

amusing but spiteful

Every so often at work they invite external speakers, successful in their chosen fields, to inspire us with their ideas, experiences and achievements

A New Dawn by Thomas Hawk

There are canapés, and I always attend.

Last week the speaker was an entrepreneur venture capitalist. No, not one of the ones on Dragon's Den, but if you are the sort of person who could name five entrepreneur venture capitalists, then perhaps you would have heard of him.

His messages were simple, and they were simply told and there were two:

Lesson the first: Perseverance.

It is perseverance, he said, that creates 'so called luck' and in particular luck is created by being out and about and connecting with people - people who have ideas, or who might be able to help you.

Sitting eight rows back I shifted uncomfortably in my seat with the realisation that every single one of the entrepreneurs who have come to speak to us have given us pretty much that same message.

And then, because I am British and not American and therefore value cynicism over optimism, I thought of all the entrepreneurs out there who have not yet persevered long enough to create their luck and have not been invited to speak to us at work

Lesson the second: - Adaptability

If you have an idea you will face setbacks. You need to constantly reassess: you must ask yourself  "Do I have a good idea?" and if you do have good idea then see 1) Perseverance. But also see 2) Adaptability, lest your idea is good one but your approach is wrong.

For sometimes you might open the doors of the room that contains your idea and stride in expecting a ballroom but find yourself in a cupboard. This doesn't make it a bad idea, just a cupboard-sized idea. Or perhaps you have an idea the size of a cupboard and open the doors to find yourself in a ballroom?  Whatever: Either way you need to recognise and adapt.

Now, as well as being a cynic I am also a pragmatist, and I did like that.


Afterwards over canapés I encountered a colleague I hadn't seen for a while and James and I spent a happy glass of wine or so picking over Project Phoenix until we were disconcerted by the organiser of the event, a senior executive normally to be found on the 27th floor, who came smoothly over to shake our hands and ask us who we were and what we thought of the speaker.

Never too shy to express an opinion I said that I thought our speaker was entertaining and engaging and, I judged, in the top quartile of recent speakers.  Indeed, I continued, sipping some more Chardonnay, remembering previous speakers, and warming to my theme, "on a scale of " gesturing now, hand at knee level, I named a famous chef, to (reaching high in the the air), a famous businessman,  "he was about here" (armpit).

I was rather pleased with my improvised bon mot / bon mime, but as the VIP excused himself and hurried away I reflected how no one likes a smart arse, and that unconventional is rarely clever.

Of course I should have come up with something much blander, something more right-thinking, something interior-decorated that surrendered self in favour of conformity. Or more cleverly still, something that drew attention to the quality of my interlocutor's speech of introduction, rather than to my own amusing but spiteful glibness. Lesson the third - diplomacy.

On the other hand James choked on his canapé and said 'good one' so it was a quip not entirely wasted.

All the same I was glad I had given a false name.

4 Jun 2009

Today's giant ballots

I know where my democratic duty lies in this time of crisis and disillusionment: to make a protest vote.

At 7.15am this morning  Twickenham polling station was almost deserted as I collected my ludicrous, 70cm long, ballot paper, and watched the teller carefully enter the serial number against my name on the roll.

Does any seriously believe that our votes are actually secret?

Can there be any doubt whatsoever that ballots for parties like the BNP are not subsequently retrieved and carefully traced back to the individuals who cast them? As was done to communist votes 40 years ago?

Fortunately, I voted neither BNP nor communist, so I dont suppose anyone will care.

Even after folding and refolding my silly ballot paper the teller had to use a ruler to help me poke it into the narrow slit.  He told me they only had one ballot box at the station (same as usual) and he was worried that it will not be big enough for all of today's giant ballots. I agreed.

I worry we may have a 'hanging chad' type problem of our own today.

2 Jun 2009

hoots of derision

In half term the family Botogol went not once but twice to the theatre. At both events the interval discussion was heated

The Winslow Boy by Terence Rattigan
starring Timothy West

Arthur Winslow is an unexceptional man but he is a patriarch in a small way - that's to say he's a patriarch to his family which I suppose is the only sort of patriarch there is.

His family depend upon him and that's quite a responsibility for any man and he has acquitted himself adequately. But when he perceives that his son's future is threatened by loss of reputation and honour he is overwhelmed and he fights in the only way he knows how: with the law.

His fight destroys his family, and himself.

In the interval the Botogol girls had trouble imagining any circumstances where the marriage and education of the one sibling might be rightly sacrificed for the benefit of the other.  "Over a postal order, no, I do see your point,"  soothed Mrs Botogol, "but perhaps", she ventured, "if your brother was faced with prison...".  Hoots of derision: their brother, chorused the girls, would undoubtedly deserve it.

Arthur Winslow is commonly supposed to be engaged in an act of principle: justice at any cost for a son he believes innocent.  I didn't see it that way at all: I saw his actions as visceral, his support unconditional: he fights for his boy, with no more than a cursory nod at the truth of the matter. Perversely, it's the QC's support which appears conditional on belief in the boy's innocence.

A view from the Bridge by Arthur Miller
starring Ken Stott.


Eddie Carbone is an unexceptional man but he is a patriarch in a small way: that's to say he's a patriarch to his family which I suppose is the only sort of patriarch there is. His family depend upon him and that's quite a responsibility for any man and he has acquitted himself adequately.

But when he seems to be losing his niece to a boy with a strange magnetism he cannot understand he is overwhelmed and he fights dirty with eventually the only effective weapon he can find:  the law.

His fight destroys his family, and himself.

At the interval the Botogol girls opined that he was a monster, they found it hard to imagine any circumstances where a father might feel it necessary to go to such great lengths to save a daughter from herself. Especially not a completely grown-up daughter all of eighteen. "I do see your point in this instance", I soothed, "but perhaps sometimes a father's experience might enable him to see something his daughter could not" . Hoots of derision: Fathers, they chorused, knew nothing about modern life.

Eddie Carbone is commonly supposed to be....well, I find I can go no further: this is a play I studied for O-Level so I have only entirely conventional opinions

Both of these plays are on tour and I recommend them - and take your family.