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

"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 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...