30 July 2008

Dragon's Den

picture by dro!d
I like Dragon's Den.

My reason is: it's the only programme in the entire BBC ouvre that looks positively at the business of making money.

And don't give me The Apprentice: that whole programme is edited with the purpose of making today's world of business seem entirely cut-throat and nasty1
A man is never so innocently engaged as in the pursuit of money (Dr Johnson)
1No, it's not. Not entirely.

28 July 2008

Bon Mots

picture by divedi
The citations in the Oxford Book of Quotations must be a google-game now..... "That's a good! I wonder when they said it first. . . . so, let's see...ooh look, somebody blogged it in 2008"

So here's two for posterity....

Kelvin Mackenzie "I like rich people, I wish there were more of them - I'm fed up of being surrounded by the dim and skint" At the Intelligence2 debate on taxing the rich (more)

Lisa Reichelt "We registered his domain name before we registered his birth" At Interesting2008, on having a child in the digital age

I was there.

(Aside - could you make money by cybersquatting names? Could a shortage of domain names reinforce the trend for silly-made-up-ones? Like botogol?)

26 July 2008

Fashion Statements

On Thursday while cycling to work I was overtaken by another cyclist.

Now, that doesn't happen very often, and when it does I am always a little peeved, but this time I was actually mightily annoyed because
  1. I was going at 23mph; you just don't expect to be overtaken at 23mph on a London road; you have no business being overtaken at 23mph on a London road
  2. His bike was equally as inexpensive as mine, thus invalidating my normal excuse when this happens.
  3. Despite his cheap bike, he was clothed from head to toe in bright, dafodill yellow, brand new, 2008 Saunier Duval kit. Who did he think he was? Ricardo Ricco?
I haven't been sitting around wasting my summer. I've been sitting around watching Le Tour on Eurosport, so I knew what to do: I immediately kicked hard, bridged the gap and got right on his wheel, where I was able to draft comfortably for quarter of a mile or so (at an impressive 26mph) before a gear change and a noisy derailleur click gave away my presence.

He glanced behind and saw me, then he feathered his brakes just enough to break my rhythm, stood up on his pedals and shot off, calves bulging like base-balls, his skinny yellow backside weaving from side to side through the traffic.

We cyclists are anything but naïve and I knew exactly what this meant, I filled my lungs and bellowed after him as loudly as I could: "Druggie!"

Meanwhile it was my birthday on Tuesday and I got a manbag. I have been out wearing it once. It's OK as long as the kids don't mention it.

They mention it a lot

21 July 2008

Autre Lands Autre Moeurs

Last weekend we went to France to entrust our oldest child into the hands of a foreign family we had never before met.  We knew they would be OK, though, because we found them on Facebook

No, not really! Ha ha!  The truth is that the grandmother of the French family (the grandmere if you will) went to university - back in the 60s - with the mother of one our friends and since then their two families have indulged in some reciprocal god-parenting, and meeting up in the Languedoc, and anyway they are both doctors so I am sure they'll be all right;  and they have children just about your age, well a little younger and so you'll have a great time, anyway it's Bastille Day on Monday, so... fireworks!

Such are life's connections made.

We arrived early and so we parked up outside their apartment for 20 minutes of nerve-racking anticipation.

As we waited the sun went behind a cloud, the temperature dropped and it began to lightly rain. Along the pavement walked a grizzled, tobacco-stained Frenchman, who paused to stare into our car. I wondered aloud if she would get a room of her own or would she have to share with the truffle-pig, and our middle-one suddenly cracked 'It's not too late!", she cried, "Get back in the car! Drive for the ferry!"

But it was too late and forty minutes later we found ourselves seated around an immaculate Louis XIV table, with hosts of ineffable French elegance, sipping the tiny coffees we had been given and wishing we weren't all wearing jeans.

In came a small child, about 10, but as elegant as her mother, and without a flicker of hesitation surprise she gravely went around the table introducing herself to each of us in turn, with a kiss on each cheek.

The family Botogol were each of us thrilled and appalled, on the edge of our chairs with the rising tension, as she progressed inexorably toward Botogol-minor, the last in line writhing in his seat, breathing hard, glancing from side to side searching for means of escape, 11 years old et ne jamais avant été embrassé

17 July 2008

GAFCON or Not?

Finery by Lawrence OP
A fascinating consequence of the looming schism in the Church of England is the rare window it opens into my religious friends' souls.

In polite conversation one isn't supposed to do God so while I know perfectly well that my three cycling buddies all rush off to worship at three different churches after our Sunday morning rides, I've never been able to discern whether it is differences theological, ontological or even musical that draw them to their different altars.

Indeed I couldn't begin to describe what it is, actually, that they believe in - for they are all Anglicans.

For instance do they believe in the Garden of Eden? in Noah and the flood? In the water-boarding of Job? What's their opinion of the Filioque Controversy and was Jesus unbegotten? Do they believe in the bodily assumption of the Virgin Mary? or in the secret marriage of Jesus to Mary Magdalan with a resulting bloodline protected through the centuries by the Knights Templar?

I have simply no idea. Their religion, they will tell you, is central to their lives, and I acknowledge that, but about the details its simply not polite to ask. (I do know that they don't all of them count the Catholics as properly Christian but that hardly sheds any light)

So, when I bumped into one of my three God-fearing friends at the station last week, and he and I travelled up to town together chatting about the weather, the credit crunch and the stories in our morning newspapers, the front page schism spread gave me the a rare and unexpected opportunity to delve a little deeper.

I asked whether he was thinking of joining the GAFCON cell that's formed in Twickenham (apparently they have booked the church hall under the disguise of being of a harmless Yoga group and, having fallen out with the St Margaret's GAFCON, must communicate directly with Richmond GAFCON Command via double-blind dead letter drops)

Well, he said, smiling, no he hasn't "After all, we have a woman vicar at our church, and I'm perfectly comfortable with her"

"But this is all about women bishops isn't it?", I asked, "What about them?"
"No", he said, "I don't agree with women bishops but I wouldn't leave my church over it"
"And what about gay priests? Would you leave your church over them?"
"Well now that is different - Yes, if my church had an openly gay vicar, I think I would have to leave and go somewhere else"

A little silence, as tumbleweed drifted down the aisle.

"The lad Mark Cavendish did good on Wednesday didn't he!" and then we were at Waterloo and we separated.

My friend works at a large and very successful global firm (you will have heard of it) which firmly - and I believe sincerely - champions values of inclusion and diversity. They have plenty of women partners and an active LBGT network, and no doubt gay partners as well.

I thought back to the Ken Costa, and his campaign to bring God to the workplace; and I couldn't but help a little shudder.

15 July 2008

Shut Out

This evening I kicked down the side door of our garage.

Well, the lock had somehow broken, and I clamped the up-and-over door completely closed some years ago after the garage was burgled (they stole an electric drill and pair of gloves... ie equipment with which to perform more burglaries. "Burglar bootstrapping" I said to the police with a chuckle, and they asked me how to spell that and said they would come round eleven weeks on Friday.

The key was revolving round in the lock with nothing happening. "It's broken", I pronounced gravely and I took a credit card and slid it into the small gap between the door and the frame. This works in films. It doesn't work in real life.

I fetched my boots and prepared to use force. Mrs Botogol came out to watch, this she was not going to miss. I was not without trepidation - would it do a lot of damage? did I need a sledgehammer? how much force would be required - would it bruise my heel?

I took a deep breath and kicked as hard as I could.

The door flew open immediately and I fell over onto my backside.

13 July 2008

An Isle of Joy

CW in the smoke by waltz4aidan
The main drawback of working at Canary Wharf is that too many of us spend too many hours doing just that ... (working).

In the back office of an investment bank 9 to 7 is probably standard; it's longer at month ends and when working on a big project .. and when there's an R in the month... in any language.

For the increasingly neeky traders it's more like 7 to 6, while salesman work, say, 9.30 till dinner and if there's a deal on it's 10am to 2am and takeaway pizza at your desk for the self-important bankers and lawyers.

But no matter what your department the culture's the same: if your team hasn't finished its day's work: then you're not going home. You stay until the job's done1. No doubt it's this finish-the-job culture in the banks (yes OK, and at the consultants and at the lawyers) that goes a long way to explaining why we have pay 18 year school leavers £21,000 pa to reconcile spreadsheets and newly qualified accountants £65k to do much the same: not many people have the stamina, or the desire, to do jobs like ours once they can see an alternative.

All of which is simply by way of explanation of how little time I get, really, to blog, and that's my excuse to taking five days to respond to Old Fogey's broadside last week.

Now don't get me wrong: I like working in Canary Wharf, and I've run - and walked - often enough and far enough abroad to be familiar with the sights that Fogey mentions (and I can tell you that his nameless bar on Narrow Street is called Booty's and that it's remarkably empty of a Friday lunchtime considering it has a fine river view, a nice pint, and Coq au Vin, and the the old Barley Mow is no more, now a Gordon Ramsay restaurant, F*** me, eh?) But the thing is: I've been to Manhattan, I've worked in Manhattan, I know Manhattan, and Old Fogey, Canary Wharf is no Manhattan.

To be honest it's unfair to even compare the two: to do so is to make what logicians call a 'category error' for they are not same thing at all: Manhattan is an enormous space that contains the beating heart of the magical city of New York, while Canary Wharf is tiny thumbprint of architecturally ordinary development on the geographical, political and cultural fringe of modern London.

It's true that London and New York are (non-identical) twin cities, and so it's really not unreasonable to look for similarities, but our Manhattan is not the Wharf...... it is, rather, the Cities of Westminster and London combined. And then some more! for where is Westminster's Central Park? Well throw in ancient Richmond Park then, and where is its Harlem? Shall we lob in (not entirely convincingly) Brixton, Notting Hill and what? Peckham? and where are the City's skyscrapers? Yes, indeed: to the bustling twin hearts of London, we must add dear Canary Wharf and now the sum of the whole to finally hints at the scale, the diversity and the excitement of the island of Manhattan.

Now, Canary Wharf is a fine place to work in: you can any type of shop, restaurant and bar here (more shops within 10 minutes walk than I ever had when I worked on Fleet Street, or Angel Court, or Broadgate) and all the major chains, but that's the problem: it's too planned and so there's exactly one of every type. And three Starbucks. We have an All Bar One, a Davy's and a Slug and Lettuce, all full of slick-suited twenty-somethings, and we have a Gap a Monsoon and a FCUK, a Carluccio's a Gaucho and an Itsu Sushi.

What we don't have is an eccentric and charming Pavilion End on Watling Street, or a secret and hidden Wynkyn de Worde in St Brides (where I once saw Will Carling dining out, flush-faced and chubby with reflected Princess Di fame) or unique and historic Meson Don Felipe at Waterloo, or the little greengrocer I used to visit off Ludgate Hill with 20 different kinds of wild mushroom and tattered order books from all best hotels, or even the a bustling Broadgate Arena where the old pensioners arrive from the East End at 11:55 to grab the best seats for the lunchtime Jazz, or an Old Doctor Butler's Head, or even a New Doctor Butlers let alone a luxurious, but comfortable Leadenhall market or even a Roux brothers like Finsbury Circus. Of course, a quick bit of Googling confirms that neither does the City have most of these things now, either. Perhaps the world has moved on.

But, sigh, neither do we have a street of Korean restaurants, or an Avenue of South Indian ones, or restaurants that serve entirely raw and vegetarian foods, or Mortons where the steaks weigh 24 ounces and the hash browns are the size of a pizza. And we don't have an Irving Place or a New York library or a JP Morgan museum and we certainly don't have a super-sized China Grill where I remember the leader of our bid-winning team taking us all, on a whim, Table-for-23-please no-problem-sir, margaritas-all-round, coming-right-up, back in the heady, wealthy 1990s.

Sigh, yes give it time! Give Docklands an age. Perhaps one day Canary Wharf Management Ltd will quit spending their time and effort sawing off and removing the cycle locks of its hapless office workers and rent out a shop or a bar to an independent trader with an innovative idea. Perhaps one day the buskers will climb the elevators and ply their trade outside of the tube station, and maybe people will play softball leagues in barren Mudchute.

But until then... I'll take Manhattan.

1 Unless, that is, you are lucky enough to be on what is (astonishingly) known as 'flexible working' in which case you'll be leaving no matter what at 5:50 to pick up Felix from the nursery.

04 July 2008

Uncertain Tales

Engleby by Sebastian Faulks

Privileged and bright, Mike Engleby has no problem winning a place at a top university in the 1970s where he considers himself the voice of sanity in a bizarre and surreal environment. As his first-person, self-serving story develops the incongruities and unlikely flashes of foresight hint to the reader that this is a narrative that can't be entirely trusted. Colourful, but not entirely convincing secondary characters come and go and the reader is left entertained but not entirely satisfied

8/10. Compelling, if uncomfortably close to home. What if all Cambridge experiences were like this?

Liars's Poker by Michael Lewis

Privileged and bright, when Michael Lewis leaves his top university in the 1970s he has no problem lucking into a dream job at Salomons, where he considers himself a voice of sanity in a bizarre and surreal environment. As his first-person, self-serving story develops the incongruities and unlikely flashes of foresight hint to the reader that this is a narrative that cannot entirely be trusted. Colourful, but not entirely convincing secondary characters come and go and the reader is left entertained but not entirely satisfied. Or not all of them

7/10. I liked it, if a bit uncomfortably close to home. What if all investment banks were like this?

The odd thing is: I picked up this book hard on the heels of Engleby, thinking it would make a change.

02 July 2008

Nolstagic Reminders of Projects Long Neglected #1: Statuesque

Large Mermaid by botogol
I joined flickr in 2005; not so early that I can call myself a pioneer, but way before the dead hand of yahoo almost spoilt it all.

In those days flickr was small as well as cool and for a while I hung out with some genuine photoheads, but it turned out I was among them but not of them: my flickr DNA reveals I have posted 408 photos and been favourited only once.

Sticking photos on the web is fun, but I wanted more and, looking for the web2.0 idea that would make my fortune, I started one hundred and twenty eight groups but none of them, alas, turned out to be lolcatz.

This is my best idea: statuesque.

Founded 2005 it now has 41 active members and 67 photos - and not all of them uploaded by me! You'd think that was impressive - until you realised that it's 280 fewer members than love my hamster, and 5,800 fewer members than squared circle (yep I did a four of those as well).

For my money I think statuesque is an idea 160% better than lolcatz (but obviously only 53% as good as dogbook). It deserves so much more and I wonder how one goes about getting more members.. Other than seek and go pimp (HT George Oates) Blog about it perhaps?

Warning: Statuesque can seriously spook your children. A promising statue and a tiny reach for the camera can cause them to scatter precipitately with neither sense nor caution.