Thursday, November 22, 2007

Up On The Roof 

Coughs and sneezes spread diseases, and when Company X blows its nose it practically lifts the roof off.
Everybody's got something or is coming down with it. I've had mine for a fortnight and just can't shake it off, so at lunchtime I went up to the roof in the hope of a bit of peace and quiet from all the germy spluttering.

“You there!” called Bill Surname CEO, waving his hanky in my direction. “What do you know about telescopes?”
I walked over to his plinth.
“Regular one in for service. They loaned me this. Doesn't bloody work.”
I removed the lens cap from his courtesy telescope and suggested he try it now.
“Capital! I can see for miles!” He seemed surprised by this.
“Name?” he asked.
“Tim,” I replied. “Unix team.”
“How long have you been at Company X, Tom?”
“Twelve years.”
“Excellent! And how are your settling in? Finding your way around alright?”
“Very well thank you,” I said. “Everybody has been very kind.”
“Good good!”

Bill Surname CEO surveyed his kingdom. Swooshing great rolls of rainclouds skudded across the gun metal skyline. Away in the distance, the spire of St. Walburge's slipped in and out of consciousness. Further away to the south, the Winter Hill transmitter shuddered and swayed in the wind. All of Granadaland huddled in the workaday gloaming.
Down in the lower pasture, Rex the security guard rounded up the dairy herd for milking time, and in the Sunken Heart Rose Gardens a group of first year helpdeskers congregated furtively before making their way to the potting shed to play spunky biscuit.

“I say, Tom,” he said. “See those cars approaching the car park? A fiver says Death makes it to the parking space first.”
“Alright, you're on,” I said and we looked on as Death (Mitsubishi Arse Pump) and Creepy Keith from Accounts (Audi Razorblade) battled it out for the only available spot.
It ended, as per usual, with a screech of brakes and the tinkling of brakelights, and Charlotte, Bill Surname's loyal PA, rushing out with a bucket of Junior Dettol and a mop. Keith was beside himself with rage.

Poor Charlotte - it's a difficult time for her, what with the turkey order in chaos, and half the country's banking details left lying around on a park bench for tramps to fight over and sell to the highest bidder, and now this: Steve McClaren.

I motioned to reach for my wallet, wondering whether Bill Surname would wave it away with an extravagant “Put it away, Tom, I don't need your money! Buy your mother some flowers instead!”
None was forthcoming.

Sunday, November 18, 2007


The party was pretty good.

I caught up with folks I've not seen in a while, Charlie and Leanne and Canoeing Instructor and Fairly Famous Actor, and there was drinking and a bit of dancing and balloons, so it was good fun. Somebody brought along the only Abba compilation in the world that doesn't have a decent track on it, which was strange.
This snapshot is the closest I've ever come to capturing that whole 'Henri Cartier-Bresson Decisive Moment' thing which photography buffs twitter on about. I like it a lot and the subject is generous enough to allow me to post it here, which I really appreciate. So cheers Shorty, x.

Today we met Joella in Favoured Pub, which was pleasant as always. It's the kind of place where, once you've settled down, it's very difficult to tear yourself away and not have just one more pint. She reckons we would have enjoyed the Patti Smith gig. Hmmm.

Continuing today's arts theme, there's a shop near us with an old fashioned curved window, and it always reminds me of Hopper's Nighthawks.
It's wasted as a soft furnishings store. In the background is a neon lit Italian restaurant, and I've always meant to get round to taking a few snaps to see how the comparison holds up.
So this is my rain soaked 'on the way home from an afternoon in the pub' cover version of Nighthawks.

“Sure is quiet tonight, Bobby Jo. Too quiet. Etc.”

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Someone To Watch Over Me 

There are half a dozen or so kids on the train, in their early teens, slightly frazzled and sugared out from a day at Blackpool Pleasure Beach. They chat happily, joshing amongst themselves, joking about this and that. They are unsupervised by adults and perfectly well behaved.

Two slightly older kids settle into the seats in front of us, maybe sixteen years old, a boyfriend and girlfriend.
She is pretty, sports long eyelashes almost certainly assisted by some product of the beauty industry, and has clear, glowing skin. She wears a pristine white beanie hat.
He's not one of those 'pretty boy' boyfriends that a certain type of teenage girl seems to be drawn towards – presumably because they're so like themselves. But that said, he is also wearing a beanie.
They sit in a companionable silence, relaxed in their own company. They're studying some photos of the pair of them strapped into harnesses, laughing as they clutch each other's arms. The pictures are on a single A4 sheet, arranged in a T-shape, in such a way that you can create a photo-cube with them, and were taken on one of the rides - Infusion, I think. After a while the girl carefully places the A4 sheet back in its envelope, puts it in her bag, and gives her boyfriend a little kiss on the cheek. Then I notice that they are signing.

The teenage couple are deaf. And because I don't often come across deaf people, I'm now fascinated.
When the ticket collector comes along, it's the girl who does the talking, in barely a whisper. The ticket collector takes a moment to twig that she's speaking with a deaf person, but when she does is patient and sympathetic, and shows her the display on the ticket machine to try to help explain the transaction.

As the train pulls into Preston the couple sit up, eagerly looking for a sign with the name of the station. They're clearly unfamiliar with where we are - not fretful or panicky or anything, but simply concerned not to muck up their journey. It's Saturday evening. You don't won't to miss your stop, or hop on the wrong train and find yourself late at night in, say, Glasgow or Plymouth, when you promised your parents you'd be back in Chorley by teatime. It's easily done.
We leave the train and climb the steps to the footbridge, and I look over my shoulder to see the two of them standing on the platform, speaking with the conductor again, just trying to clarify where exactly they are and where they need be to get to where they're going.

I'm trying hard here not to sentimentalise or patronise – Hold The Front Page! Deaf Teenagers Perfectly Capable Of Looking After Themselves Shock! - but I found this little tableaux terrifically moving.
It's that old 'Two drifters off to see the world' thing. Two people plucking up their courage and saying “Sure, we can do this,” then heading out into a bewildering world – not to say an occasionally hostile one. I felt like I was watching a story unfold, and wanted to turn the page to read what happened next, to see how the plot would develop. It was genuinely humbling.

And – but of course! – you take a scene like this and internalise it to inspect what it says about yourself.
When I was sixteen and utterly hopeless, I would have dearly loved to have somebody sweet and companionable to walk the world with, someone to look out for and in turn be looked out for by. Who wouldn't? It would have transformed me, and God knows I was ready for transformation.
So I guess what we're discussing here is envy and regret. And that's never pretty, is it? Move along people, there's nothing to see. No, really.

I try – not very clearly or succinctly – to explain all this to Girlfriend as she tugs my arm, and we head up the steps, over the footbridge and out into the rain to look for the party.
“That couple in front of us,” I say. “Did you notice they were deaf?”
“Yeah,” she says.
“Yeah. Me too.”

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


Tabs waltzed into our office with an armful of photocopying and was immediately knocked flying by Creepy Keith from Accounts who was heading in the opposite direction at some velocity. She let out a screech. He didn't even notice.

“Forget libido,” he bellowed into his mobile, somewhere by the wonky vending machine by now, judging from the distinctive echo. “Right now, Jeannette, I'd be amazed if you could find me someone with a pulse. What yelping? Oh, she's just the girl who does the admin. Yeah, not bad but already spoken for. Now listen, no more bloody zombies, OK?”

I kneeled down to help Tabs pick up her papers and she said “Hey good looking,” which surprised me for a second, until I realised she was speaking to my colleague and her fiance Terry, who was by her side in a flash, re-alphabeticising the fallen reports. I carried on anyway.
“Yo ass sho iz lookin' damnfine, Be-itch,” he complimented her, taking her hand and helping her to her feet when they were finished.
“Who yo callin' be-itch, Dawg?” she replied and slapped him on the cheek.
Then she gave him a peck on the other cheek and they simultaneously sighed “Fresh!” and smiled at each other.
“What the fuck???” I said, more out loud than I'd intended, which was not out loud at all, but if they heard me they ignored it.
I returned to my sudoku and noticed that the box which was either five or seven had to be a seven. There was a three bottom left, which meant there was already a five on that row. Sudoku is so now.

“That guy makes my skin scrawl,” Tabs complained to Stella, my eighties style yuppie witch of a team leader, moments later.
“Who? Tim? I think he means well.”
“No, the other one. Keith.”
“Oh Keith,” replied Stella. “There's one thing I'll say for Keith. He's not afraid of rejection. Some guys, you tell them no, and they withdraw into their shells and spend the rest of their lives beating themselves up over it. One push back and they're done for. You see some bloke you knew at school pole dancing in The Reflex, and you walk over and say Hi and they just shrivel up like you poured weed killer over them in 1991 and they never managed to grow back again.”
Tabs reached over to Stella and pulled a feather out of her hair. “Anyone in particular?”

“I'm through with men shrivelling up on me, Tabs. It was sixteen years ago. 'So I wouldn't go to the pictures with you? Should've asked someone else.' You'd have seen Dances With Wolves with Ten Hands Thompson, wouldn't you?”
“It was Kevin Costner, actually,” called Terry, ever the funny guy.
“Hmm. Ten Hands Thompson. Tough call.” Tabs produced another feather, then another. “Not even if I was dead. Dead and gagging for it.”
“Not Keith though. I've turned him down twice today already and I know he'll be back tomorrow. I kind of like that. Rejection just washes over him. He saw his ex-wife last week. Every couple of years she tells him to come over and they hire a judge and stand outside court in their best clothes, and the judge re-declares their divorce proceedings. She likes to remind herself how lucky she is, Keith says.”
“Awww, that's so sweet,” said Tabs. “Duck down?”
“Don't ask,” replied Stella. “My friend Becky asked if I fancied a quick bite at lunchtime, and I said so long as it was a quickie. Ended up in a pillow fight.”
“Oh, they do get everywhere, them feathers. Don't they, Terry love?”

The rest of the puzzle solved itself from that point on. Sometimes all you need is a little break and to look at a problem with fresh eyes. The eight, then the nine, then the two over there, there, and there, and you're laughing.
I shouted out “Sudoku!” the same way as you'd exclaim “Snap!” or “Bingo!” or “House!” or whatever. I appreciate that nobody else in the entire world shouts “Sudoku!” when they've completed one, but I do. It's my own little private joke to myself.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Yes, Yes, Yes, It's My Autumn Almangac 

I recently took off to Aira Force, Ullswater, to spend some quality time with my tripod and a neutral density filter:
This is one of a river looking moody and magnificent.
Here is one of the same river, this time looking blurry and wet.
OK, so here's another picture of blurry water.
Can you tell I quite like these river pictures?

Closer to home, here is the latest in the developing garden story:
All the leaves are brown.
Bamboo gets twisty.
I can't remember what this red stuff is called, but it looks Christmassy.
Thoughts of a dying sunflower.

More news as it happens. Carry on.

Friday, November 02, 2007

You Make It Easy 

“What time is it?” asked Stella, my eighties style yuppie witch of a team leader, during this morning's predictive blame storm.
This is a meeting where you decide who to blame for a project which hasn't gone wrong yet, but you know is about to.
We met her question with a surly silence.
“Come on guys,” she said. “I've got Mars bars.”
“Ten o'clock?” I offered tentatively.
“Too literal,” she snapped.
“Beer o'clock?” suggested Mike.
“What Mike said,” said Terry. “It's always beer o'clock somewhere.”
“Well done Terry, you're closest,” said Stella, and threw him a Mars bar.

The correct answer is “Now.” Well, duh.
“Worldsourcing is the new market force in town,” she said, absentmindedly shuffling her Rubik's Cube. “It wouldn't be inconceivable for a successful IT company like ours to be staffed entirely by low cost workers in, say, China, or India, or the Outer Hebrides. Or all of the above. Customers expect us to reduce our costs or they'll look elsewhere. Bill Surname says everyone else is going to do it even if we don't.”
“Low cost wokkers in the case of China,” contributed Terry.
“In tomorrow's 'Always On' twenty four hour Company X,” continued Stella, her flow uninterruptible, unlike our electricity supply, “the only workable answer will be 'Now'. From this moment on, the time is always now. Get used to it.”

Terry yawned. Stella put down the now solved Cube on her desk with a triumphant whack. Mike let out a silent one.
After a brief pause to consider our prospects, we pressed on with the meeting. We agreed unanimously that the cause of Project Binbag's untimely demise will be Pestilence, in the comms room, with a badly specified network switch, then were despatched back to our workstations with a Mars bar each to enjoy how and when we pleased.

Later on, after the going home bell had rung and everyone had legged it, I told Stella about my eighties.
“There were two types of kid at our school: those who'd worked out how to do a Rubik's Cube, and the rest of us.”
“That was my friend Becky on the phone,” replied Stella. “She wanted to know if she gets a Mars bar too. Cheeky cow.”
“The brainy kids used to pull theirs to bits and smear vaseline all over their parts to quicken their times.”
“I said, “Why don't you come round tonight? And if I decide you're good enough, I'll give you one.””
“The rest of us had to buy the book,” I said ruefully. “That's how I learned. It's not the same though, is it?”

“She still owes me for fixing her PC last Friday. Graphics card had come loose from the motherboard. I had to get the case off and everything.”
“I bet Mike and Terry smeared vaseline on their parts. Spods.”
“She keeps it in her little box room, under a tiny little desk. And you know that I'm no techie, Tim. So I'm scrambling around for ages on the floor trying to get the case off.”
“I don't mean to sound grumpy, but that's my entire career in a nutshell,” I said.
“So there I am, squeezed under her little desk, fumbling around, and I realise I'm stuck with my head wedged between her legs.”
“Sometimes I feel so, you know, thick next to Mike and Terry. They're naturals. I'm not.”
“And Becky says “I really appreciate you doing this for me Stella, but you've been down there twenty minutes and it's just not happening, is it?”
“That's exactly what I'm saying, Stella,” I said. “Some days you just need a small victory, some piddling consolation to keep your spirits up.”
“And I'm determined that I can do this, but my friend Becky's saying, “Don't worry about it. We can come back to it later. Let's go downstairs for a bit, yeah?””

“Am I being grumpy?” I asked. “Is it so bad to admit that, you know, sometimes things can get on top of you?”
“So I said, “You're a genius Becky! It was staring me in the face. So we take the PC and my toolset downstairs.”
“That's what I'm saving my Mars bar for. As an incentive for when, I dunno, I decode all my DNA or something.”
“And, of course, we have it off on her dining room table in next to no time.”
“It'd be nice to think, just occasionally, that I'm good at what I do. Fucking worldsourcing.”

Outside her window, Rex the security guard was raking leaves in the descending darkness. He gathered them into a bin bag harnessed to Geraldine's back. There was a smell of woodsmoke and rotting apples.
Creepy Keith from Accounts swaggered out to his new Audi Razorblade. At lunchtime he'd tried to persuade Stella to join him for a spin and she said, “Keith, that's not a car – that's a symptom. You need help.”

“ I'm being grumpy, aren't I?” I said. “Just ignore me.”
“Oh Tim, I wish you'd been there to see it. I felt so proud. A few quick screws and job done.”
“Yes. I'm being grumpy. I'm going to stop now.”
“Back of the net,” she said. “Everybody happy.”

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