28 May 2009

the edge of the precipice

Married - not unhappily but to a self-absorbed man unaware of her worth - Corrine meets a soulmate and begins an unexpected, immersive affair.
Told against the historical backdrop of 9/11, this densely-stranded novel deals with marriage and infidelity, North and South, the familiar and the new, life in metropolitan New York and with secrets: between spouses, between lovers and between generations. Together Luke and Corrine push their love's story, and her marriage, to the edge of the precipice. Not many novels afford a central place to the separated hermaphrodites of Plato's Symposium, but this one does. One of Jay McInerney's finest, a must read.

Married - not unhappily, but to a self-absorbed man unaware of her worth - Mary meets a soulmate and begins an unexpected, immersive affair.
Told against the historical backdrop of the Cold War and Kennedy's election this novel deals with marriage and infidelity, East and West, the familiar and the new, life in metropolitan Washington and with secrets: between lovers, between spouses, between friends. Together Frank and Mary push their love's story, and her marriage, to the edge of the precipice. Not many novels afford a central place to the separated hermaphrodites of Plato's Symposium, but this one does. Not, actually, Sebastian Faulks finest, but a good read nevertheless.

Jay McInerney, The Good Life, 2008
Sebastian Faulks, On Green Dolphin Street, 2001

27 May 2009

Swiftly but gingerly

The half-second or so between the realisation that you are going to crash, and the actual crash lasts an age: time really does slow down, the brain, astonishingly, works faster (it's possible, then)

Nervosa by forezt
On Monday, in the short moment between jamming on my brakes and hitting the floor a great many thoughts passed through my mind:
  • I am about to have a crash
  • It can't be more than three months since my last crash: bad luck? or bad cycling?
  • My brakes are rubbish, I should have sorted them out weeks ago
  • I wonder whether I will be injured when I hit the ground?
  • I wonder whether the dog will be injured when I hit the dog?
  • After I have hit the dog, and I am on the ground, very possibly injured, will the dog, very probably angry, take the opportunity to bite me?
  • After I have hit the dog, and I am on the ground, very possibly injured, will the dog's owner, very probably angry, take the opportunity to bite me?
And then I hit the dog.

It was a large, reddish deaf dog, with two large dog-friends. The other two had heeded my bell and swerved away to avoid collision, but the third veered directly into my path.  I did brake hard, and can't have been going very fast when I hit it for it yelped, loudly, and then it ran off.  Swiftly but gingerly, I picked myself up off the path and got to my feet.

Out of the corner of my eye I could see the beast's owner running toward me; so I leapt smartly back on to my bike - time enough to look for grazes later - and pedalled away.

As I escaped I heard, behind me, the breathless owner yell at me: 'Sorry!'

20 May 2009

An abundance of woo

So, on a scale of implausible silliness ranging from reflexology through Cranial Osteopathy Homeopathy to Crystal Therapy... whereabouts would you rank Chiropractic?1

(bones by kevinzim)
On Monday evening I witnessed comedian Dave Gorman bravely inform a packed meeting of anti-chiropractic rationalists that, of all the 'complementary' medicines, Chiropractic has the least woo.  I was surprised, initially, that he didn't get hissed; but the meeting was only partly a demonstration and mostly a love-in in support of Simon Singh, currently snookered in the libel courts; and it's not the done thing to heckle at love-ins, not even the comics.

The British Chiropractic Association may or may not have an abundance of woo, but it has no shortage of sharp lawyers and last week in front of a sympathetic judge (in a still little reported case with far-reaching implications) they won the first round in a libel action against Simon Singh who described the BCA as happily promoting bogus treatments for childhood asthma and ear infections.

Wait a minute, you say, ear infections? are you telling me that chiropractors are in the habit of manipulating children's spines to treat their ear infections?2   Well, yes, that's (if you will) the rub - chiropractic actually treats everything, you see. It's to do with subluxation (at so at least slightly wooy, then).

The meeting was in the basement of Penderel's Oak, a confined, confusing and noisy space designed to intimidate autists, and it was packed with an intriguing mixture of besuited lawyers, TV personalities, journalists, MPs and angry rationalists. And me. I must be getting younger: last year I went to me very first demo, this year to my very first activist meeting.

"What can we do to help?", asked an earnest young woman, with a moleskine "Write about it on your blogs!", said Chris French3 , "Tweet about it! Join our Facebook group!" Yes, this was Activism-2.0.

"I have a blog", I said to my neighbour, an equally earnest young man who was surreptitiously sharing my pint. "Yeah", he said, "we've all got blogs." and he eyed me up disdainfully, "A fiver says you still use blogger", he said, suddenly. "Am I right?".

I eyed him up right back, and next moment we got out our technorati authorities out and slammed them down on the table... his blog was bigger than mine. "I've got my own domain name!", I said "and.."
But he was updating his Facebook status and he wasn't listening..

Nick Cohen raged amusingly against the injustices of the English libel system, Evan Harris talked calmly about the poor understanding of science in parliament, and Brian Cox bounced about and grinned a lot. I wondered if it was too late to give up banking and become a journalist, an MP or a theoretical physiscist (cum TV presenter). Or best of all: a libel plaintiff 4 ?

At the end we heard from Simon Singh himself, and when he was done we all cheered and clapped enthusisatically and felt very glad that it wasn't any of us, cornered into making a principled stand.

While I whooped I gazed around the crowd: The meeing had been quite well publicised and I had no doubt that the audience would contain an undercover chiropractor or two listening out for actionable statements. I wondered if they give themselves away, by not cheering as loudly as the rest.

Looking right round I cricked my neck.

2wouldn't any normal person use reflexology for that?
3Although a large proportion of the population believes in the paranormal, the evidence presented to support paranormal claims is generally not very convincing in scientific terms" Great Stuff
4 please make defamatory comments below, being sure to leave details of where a writ may be served.

15 May 2009

I see ghosts

My Ghost by piccadillywilson
How might you know if you are a brain in a vat? Short of being able to order up a useful mind-focussing, clarity inducing red pill, on the internet, that is.

One clue that might lead you to believe your life was a scripted simulation might be the sudden emergence of new themes, or abrupt changes in your story - as unseen undergraduate experimenters move on to a new module in their degree course and devise a new set of experiments for their imprisoned but unaware and virtual subject.

Has your life suddenly become dangerous?  Is everything recently very French? Are you encountering purple vegetables with worrying regularity?

In my case I am being tortured by frequent encounters with co-workers from my old consultant days.

They are everywhere.

Encountering two in a Canary Wharf wine bar last month was unremarkable happenstance; meeting a third at a mini-rugby festival felt like coincidence, but when I noticed fourth ex-co-worker running on my shoulder at the Richmond Park 5k  I suddenly suspected enemy action

By now I was even beginning to recognise them and recall their names. (Somewhere a tentacled hand pressed pause and made a note of my pleasing progress)

So, when a fifth ex-colleague phoned me up out of the blue last month to ask me for coffee, and then a sixth turned up at in a meeting at work I wasn't even surprised. "I've been expecting you" was my (slighty unusual) opening conversational gambit but she wasn't thrown (they're good, the holo-deck programmers, they're very good) and somewhere far away someone decided turned up the heat a bit "I know! How about giving him a an alumni reunion?" and lo, I have been to two such occasions in a fortnight.

I see ghosts, I see them all the time. And last night I saw very many of them. And if the spectres of age, and the credit-crunch and a sense that things could have been different, if those spectres were also there, and they haunted us, well, we didn't let it show for there was free wine and canapes.

It had been ten years since I last saw David and it's been fifteen years since we worked together in a city in Africa, and it was good to see him again, and when everyone else had gone we stayed and we reminisced about old friends and narrow escapes, sale pitches won and lost, clients satisfied and upset and do-you-remember-whens, when suddenly it hit me

"You know, David", I said, "you know - we used to be friends didn't we" and he laughed, "Yes Alibert, so we did".

Since I last saw him he had found time to get married and father an eight year old - and I didn't even know.

"Have you been to many other reunions lately?", I asked; and he looked at me strangely.

14 May 2009

What's in a Name?

The Colour of Money by penguincakes
Don't underestimate the importance of science and art of naming1 for our name controls our destiny.

So, many years ago, when I wanted a domain name of my own I thought long and hard of what the name might be, what the name should signify, what it would mean and it tickled me immensely when I hit on a memorable phrase that was designed explicitly to be meaningless.

Someone had already registered it, of course, and I had to buy it for an amount I have never disclosed to Mrs Botogol, but then registered it, and made a site and it was my very own.

And if I tell you that it was some years before it occurred to me that "green ideas" had environmental connotations it will tell you both about how long ago this was, and also about how quickly our language changes for  a meaning had risen to fit my meaningless name.

And now, in 2009, I find I could sell my name - for people are interested  - and everything has a price, doesn't it? It would be feel like selling a little part of myself, so my price is a large one. Of course it is.

1 so why is there no name for it?

10 May 2009

TRI-ing Times

Buoys in the Lake by 10b travelling
"First Time?", they asked me and I nodded, "Don't worry, the lake's not too cold now, just sign this disclaimer.... and this one.... and fill in this one.... Now, what colour hat will you be wearing?"

Hat? I needed a hat? I suddenly had that Golf Club feeling. You know, it's like that dream when when you suddenly realise you are naked, but worse: you are at the Gold Club, addressing the ball at the first tea when a steward coughs and indignantly hauls you back to the clubhouse for wearing shorts that are insufficently tailored.

And you are not dreaming  (This has happened to me twice)

"I, um, I didn't know I had to wear a hat"
"Well, you're supposed to, really: it's just so that the safety boat can see you clearly"

It was getting worse and worse.

And then they pointed out the 750m buoys to me. "No, not that one - look see the red one? No, not that one, further than that, no further than that, no further than that...."

Impetuously I suddenly hauled up the zip on my (surely too tight?) wetsuit and I leapt in.

It was very cold. I quickly realised just exactly why everyone else was wearing a hat.

Four weeks to go

07 May 2009

In Fighting

picture by Thomas Hawk
So last night I went to the IT Department Project Phoenix Planning Office drinks. 

I am in the Stakeholder Office Project Phoenix Planning. We perform *precisely* the same role as the IT PPPO, but on behalf of a different department, which doesn't trust them. 

The IT-PPPO are supported by a well-known consulting firm for whom I used to work for many moons ago - something I had previously managed to refrain from mentioning to the team, but that night I was rumbled for who should be there but an old colleague, still at the firm, who recognised me and strode over before I could escape. I remembered her well (apart from her name, naturally), as a well-meaning woman of conspicuous mediocrity. She's a partner, now, of course. We reminisced of ghosts from my past, and exchanged entertainingly salacious gossip.

The IT-PPPO drinks were held as part of their global onsite, and we at the SOPPP were invited as a gesture to build better relationships with eachother, so that we could quit squabbling, work more closely together, and - in time - perhaps even unite against the common enemy: the McKinsey Project Phoenix Planning Team (who perform exactly the same function, on behalf etc etc)

The Reggie Perrin remake  is pretty rubbish - but it does capture something of corporate life.

06 May 2009


picture by carf
When I went out to buy my lunch I had it with me; but when I got back to my desk and unwrapped my sandwich .... it had gone.

My phone.

Oops. Cue lots of slapping of pockets, checking inside sandwich bags, and let-me-see-now-when-did-I-last use-it?  Until I had a more sensible idea: I called my own number, and was strangely nonplussed when it was answered immediately.

She had found it in Canary Wharf, she said, in a strong Italian accent (or was it Polish?). No she was no longer in the Wharf, but she would be back later this afternoon, could I meet her at 4?  I could.

It was 12.45; three hours. How much, I wondered, would three hours on the phone to Rome cost me? Or Warsaw. I thought of phoning Orange and having the SIM disabled... but it occured to me that if I did that then I wouldn't be able to contact her again. Reluctantly, I went with the trust thing.

Three hours later I turned up, not entirely confidently, to find my limited faith in human nature boosted: there standing patiently in Cabot Square was an attractive and elegant woman clutching my phone.  I was smug that I had thought of turning up with bunch of palest and pinkest perfect tulips for her, and she accepted them gracefully with a smile, handing me, in return, my precious Nokia. She was Italian; there was a brief moment when I nearly kissed her, and an even briefer one where she seemed to expect me to. But it passed and we went our separate ways.

"Thanks again", I called to her as she left, "muchas gracias!", I yelled, for I am an oaf.