22 Apr 2009

An Excursion

picture by Believe Collective

On Monday I received an unexpected summons to the Strategy and Planning Department - they wanted me to brief them on the progress of Project Phoenix.

My spirits were lifted, as I don't often get to visit the C-Suite on the 27th floor. "I would be delighted", I emailed back, "I am free any morning next week between 10 and 12".

They suggested 3pm the following afternoon.

Everyone likes to go up to the 27th floor.

Not for the thick carpets, free mineral water and expensive art on the walls, but because it reassures us that our company don't all spend their time performing reconciliations, testing SOX controls, writing progress reports and wrestling with the automatic bulleting software in Powerpoint.  Nope, up on the 27th floor we also make plans, decisions and budgets. "It's like work", I was once told by an indiscreet SPD staffer, at his leaving drinks, "but makes you feel really important - and without having to connect to the outside world"

I had sent my slides ahead, and when I arrived in the SPD conference room, there was the quick thrill of seeing my presentation printed out and bound up, a pack neatly at each seat at the table. But this time something was different and seeing our familiar Phoenix logo brightly on each cover page I gave a sort of squeak of surprise, and was too much taken aback to hold my tongue: "You can print in colour!",  I said. "Yes," they said, "we can print in colour, We have that privilege"

I hurried through my presentation, which was entitled Whence Project Phoenix and which asked whether the stakeholders were realising the benefits from which and indeed by which the project was justified.  After five slides I was interrupted by senior MD who looked up from his blackberry momentarily to ask "Sorry, but who exactly are you?". I smoothly referred him right back to slide one, and was allowed to continue.

All in all I think it went pretty well: I didn't losing my thread, and I got to the end without asking if there was anyone there from Tarporley.

But I wish someone had warned me about that colour printer: If I had only known I would have taken the trouble to make sure that all green traffic light symbols adorning my handouts were, well, green.

14 Apr 2009

You are 45 minutes from the dinosaurs.

The diplodocus in 1904

and in 2008, by Richard Carter
A wet Bank Holiday afternoon in London.

I didn't get where I am today without spending wet Bank Holiday afternoons in London at the Natural History Museum looking at the dinosaurs; so that's where we went.

It was rather more crowded than it was in 1904 - we queued for 10 minutes until we reached a sign. "You are 45 minutes from the dinosaurs", it said, so we went to the Darwin exhibition instead.

Darwin changed the world with an astonishing idea
which he hugged largely to himself for over 20 years until the same idea was had by Alfred Russel Wallace who wrote it all up in a neat essay and sent it to... Charles Darwin. Oops.

One idea, two authors. The reason we now remember name of Darwin is because Darwin was a partner at McKinseys the more senior and illustrious and able to speak with the right voice.

The reason Darwin had sat on his idea for so long seems to have been largely because he didn't want to upset his wife. The ironic thing is: he nearly didn't have a wife, for the most memorable item in the exhibition is his notes on the pros and cons of marriage and you can see for yourself it was close run thing.

Which point was it, do you suppose, decided him in the end?

In Victorian times most people refused to believe that a species could change, despite the clear evidence of their own eyes. Even now it can be hard to believe what's in plain sight: for instance if you look closely at the two pictures you'll notice that at some time in the last 100 years the diplodocus has stirred, stood up and lifted its tail...

13 Apr 2009

Sunk Boat

picture by jocelyn.aubert
A wet Bank Holiday weekend in England.

I didn't get where I am today without spending wet Bank Holiday afternoons in the cinema, so I asked Mrs Botogol to accompany me to see The Boat that Rocked , the latest offering in Richard Curtis' increasingly misogynistic oeuvre.

It's billed as a "light-hearted ensemble comedy".  I can't recommend it.

The reviews criticised it mainly for its length and its incoherent plot. I didn't mind either of those: the thing that spoiled it for me, rather, was the light-hearted, ensemble attempted-rape scene. Laugh?  It made my skin crawl.

So, what was going on?  Is Curtis constructing some kind of triple-layered, post modern, ironic point that is almost too obscure for words?  Is he engaged in some kind of cinematographic Stanford prison experiment: seeing exactly how far his cheeky-chappy, blackadder image can be employed to to push his actors, his production teams and his audiences before someone stops laughingm stands up and actually objects, his nihilistic point justified by foolish, uncomfortably-giggling cinema audiences and a general imperception of what is before our eyes?  Really, does no one even notice, other than an obscure blogger or two?

Or am I a dinosaur?

7 Apr 2009

I gotta house in the country...

I am not a number, by pinkangelbabe
The nice thing about our house in the country is that - actually - it's in a town.

An ancient town.

So while we are 70 miles from London (and quite beyond the reach of google streetview) we are nevertheless - in extremis - never more than 100m from a double espresso.

Not that it's all so sophisticated as that, mind: it's also rural. On Sunday, walking 15km of the 1066 Country Trail we picnicked in an apple orchard, tiptoed past a somnolent bull, sighed at a dead sheep, admired, awestruck, a pale and silent, eerie and creamy daytime owl, and at lunchtime found ourselves in a pub of quite unexpected charm. We sat outside in the garden with the smokers but buying a round in the Sunday-roast-infested table-packed interior I saw a blackboard: "From 4-6pm today" [it said] "the Fling".

"What is it? Some sort of traditional game, rustic and charming, yet competitive and violent?" I asked the barmaid, hopefully

"No", she replied, "He's a one-man band. He's very good"

We discovered a previous engagement, and pressed on.

We were back home in time for a Chilean Semillon-Chardonnay in our late-evening-sun-soaked garden. A long way away from Canary Wharf.

Rye, East Sussex
Queens Head, Icklesham