Saturday, July 29, 2006

The loonies at work

Work is full of charlatans. They're pretty easy to spot. Charlatan salesmen always use too many words in their sentences. This is to prevent you from butting in and telling them to go away. When you pick up the phone and hear "How are you on this very fine day today?" you know you've got someone who is either crap at selling, or selling crap.

Then there are people who have jobs which have made up words to validate their existence. Made up words distances the user from those who might question their purpose. This week I was working with a knowledge management specialist who continuously patronised me when I offered some possible alternative approaches to get her failing project back on track. The problem was that I knew nothing about knowledge management, apparently. She pulled out a 'brilliant book on the subject I should read' (for this read: I've read it, well I've bought it, please don't read it you might find me out). As I always do in situations like this, I opened the book and read the contents to show polite interest. The opening chapter was titled The massification of knowledge.

Then there are problem orientated people. These are people unable to offer any solutions, but are good at offering problems. One senior manager I work with complains about our culture and communications (always a good one for senior managers to complain about). In recent time he's successfully identified that we have an email culture (which is too impersonal), a meeting culture (too unproductive), a water cooler culture (too gossipy), a bottom up culture (not strategic enough) and a top down culture (no engagement or buy-in). Next week we will be communicating only in semaphore.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

No Irish, no dogs, no blacks

Wiggaz is an old old friend but we don't meet up as much as we should. Last night we managed to find a suitable date. We wanted a beer in the evening, so we went to to find a suitable venue.

We settled on The Cricketers at Littlewick Green. Not least because of this review from one John Bonser...

"Splendid country pub a couple of miles west of Maidenhead just off the A4, situated in a pretty village overlooking the cricket green. No real fire on our visit yesterday - we were sitting outside in the warm summer sunshine, enjoying a fine lunch. No scumbags or lager louts in sight, just friendly locals and visitors like ourselves. Note the exceptionally large factory clock in the main bar. This pub is highly recommended - well worth seeking out."
He was right, there were no scumbags or lager louts, one or two people from Honda Maidenhead, but they kept themselves to themselves.

Monday, July 24, 2006

A trifle underhanded

Moggiopoli, the corruption case, has ruptured Italian football. The verdict of relegation and points deductions for some of the country's biggest clubs, is as startling as the level of corruption that lead to it.

However, I must reveal a level of corruption that beats even this. Emma's mum has a friend that she knows "only through email". From the friend she managed to purloin a recipe for a chocolate trifle. An innocent exchange of remote friends, you may think.

Furnished with this information, Emma's mum then heard on Radio Oxford, that they were running a competition. People were invited to send in their recipes; the best would be made up and tasted and the best would win a prize. Emma's mum chose to send in her chocolate trifle recipe. It reached the final, and she won.

Her defence, she says, is that everyone pinches other peoples' recipes. Which may be true; but not everyone wins prizes with them. It was a prize worth winning; an all expenses meal on a train which is (according to Emma's mum) "like the Orient Express but it runs to Didcot".

Thursday, July 20, 2006


It seems that pop success nowadays is only valid if you've built up a following through the Internet, or more specifically through MySpace. No number one is valid without a story of a starving muso in a basement flat using more than adequate recording equipment and broadband to get their sounds out to the world. It's an edgy, DIY approach screaming 'fuck you' to the music industry. It also hides the fact that most of the music is actually inoffensive MOR-lite acoustic pop. Mmm, underground.

The Arctic Monkeys, widely fabled to have built their fanbase through the Internet, have dismissed the idea as 'a load of bollocks'. Gnarls Barkley, who were the first to achieve number one status through downloads alone, were hardly unknowns. The musical mastermind of the duo, Dangermouse, produced the last Gorrillaz album. Now, Lilly Allen, described as "the queen of MySpace" sits at number one because of the fan base she's built up through her 'ickle space on the web. Of course, her success has nothing to do with the fact that Allen is the daughter of well connected media whore Keith.

Or, in fact, that MySpace is owned by Rupert Murdoch.

Sandi Thom, another one, perhaps gives it away with her debut number 1. She wishes she "was a punk rocker with flowers in her hair". She yearns for "69 and 77 when revolution was in the air". She then, laments, however, that she "was born too late to a world that doesn't care".

Didn't punk and the hippy movement happen because the world didn't care? It wasn't sanctioned by the establishment, created through focus groups and market research. If she's in a world that doesn't care then she was born at the perfect time to be a punk rocker with flowers in her hair. What does she want the world to do? Give her a favourable mortgage rate and secure job before she starts wearing stuff her mum might frown at. Of course, it would make her a deluded retro-phile, but it shouldn't discourage her from fulfilling her dream.

Friday, July 14, 2006

10 things I didn't know on the 5th May

Millie is 10 weeks old, so here are 10 things I've learnt about parenting.

  1. Parenting gurus give their advice like they're stating scientific fact. If it were scientific fact then it would have the same effect on every baby in the same way. You can't know that blowing in the baby's face means they're more likely to be a concert pianist without years of evidence. If the book was written in 2004, it's all guesswork.
  2. If you're concerned about something, ask yourself whether they'll be like it when they're sixteen. For example, if they're not lifting their heads up by six weeks, question whether its likely to be a factor in sixteen years time. On the other hand, if their leg falls off, worry.
  3. Birthing plans are a nonsense. You have no choice about how the baby is coming out.
  4. Your life doesn't change as a result of having a baby. This is your life, a continuation of what you had before, with new influences and factors to consider. If you're life is so heavily locked into a particular routine, so hardened that you can't move away from it, you're either very sad, or you're OCD.
  5. People who know the mother best, think the baby looks like the mum, those who know the dad best thinks the baby looks like the dad. Agree, whatever the view.
  6. Baby poo smells great, at least your baby's poo smells great. A baby has a minimal vocabulary, so they communicate their well-being through poo. A big smelly one is great to see.
  7. It is easier to agree with people that you're not getting any sleep and nappies are a nightmare than to explain that it's all going really well, you're sleeping fine and you're enjoying it.
  8. Doctors are always right. If your philosophy is that if a doctor gives you bad news then they're right, but if it's good then they're telling you a bunch of lies, you'll quickly end up in a puddle of your own paranoia. You have to make a simplifying assumption that what you're hearing is the truth and that a vast-majority of doctors have the same values and objectives as you.
  9. Phases don't last long. If you can remember a time when she went through a phase of finding it difficult to settle after a bottle; it was probably last night.
  10. Don't think about the future. The future may hold Neo-Nazi boyfriends, piercings and heroin. Today they don't, tomorrow they may do. As the great Gaulish chief says, Vitalstatistix says, 'Tomorrow never comes'.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Hot cuppa

A good World Cup, not a great World Cup. Beautifully staged, fantastic stadia full to the brim, omnipresent sun, a pleasant way of spending a summer's evening after work. But then, so is Big Brother.

So why wasn't it great? In part, it's circumstance of the the modern era that even the most ardent fan has enough football on TV to satisfy their needs. Wall-to-wall-to-wall live football means that it's no longer a treat to see the games. Once upon a time live football was a novelty, from overseas was a positive curiosity. Now it's all a bit too familiar. All but a handful of the squads had players who play or have played in the Premiership and the even those who don't have players familiar from the Champions League, Spanish and Italian football. Very few players emerge at a World Cup. Once upon a time a Brazilian would arrive at a World Cup having played in his domestic league, he may be picked up by a bigger European club, but the gateway was the tournament. Now players outside Europe barely play in their home country, picked up before they get a chance by the hugely efficient scouting systems of the top European clubs. 

Overall, however, there's been no narrative. Every great World Cup has a narrative. The emerging nations failed to compete like they did in 2002, the hosts didn't fulfil their destiny like France in 1998, England failed predictably unlike 1990, Ronaldihno didn't turn up to complete the Holy Trinity of footballing greats joining Maradona's beatification in 1986 and Pele's in 1970. There have been great goals and moments of great skill, but no truly great games, like the 1982 France vs Germany semi-final. 

The rebirth of Zidane flickered briefly against Brazil with a thrilling performance of panache, but then age got the better of him and he was subdued against Portugal before going completely mad in the final. Italy's corruption backdrop, a mirror image of 1982, is a story, but, ironically, it's like the remake of The Italian Job - it may be well made and visually spectacular, but in the end it still stars the lead singer of Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch. Perhaps above all, this was the World Cup England were supposed to win, the nation was no longer enthralled by its betters, or charmed by those lower down the order. The country had a purpose, to efficiently dispose of all that came their way and win the cup. Perhaps next time we need to set our sights a little lower, and allow ourselves to be surprised about what's given to us.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

How the mighty have fallen

When seeing The Mode at the Wireless Festival a couple of weeks ago, we came across the UK Garrison, a small outposting of Stormtroopers redundant from the occupation of the whole damn galaxy (c'mon Mr Bush, get in the game, you nobody unless you own the whole galaxy).

Stormtroopers, sinister anonymous androids with the ice cold glare of a mechanised man-fly. Devoid of emotion and cold and calculated whether patrolling the wretched hive of scum and villainy at Mos Eisley Spaceport or buggering womp rats out of sexual boredom whilst marshalling the supply line down the Kessel run. It's some fall from grace to have been stationed in the UK with a PR/peacekeeping brief, how they must lament, whilst manning little recruitment booths at six form colleges in Essex, that it's not like the old days of the Empire when they indulged in an endless orgy of violence all on expenses.

We resisted the temptation to wave two fingers in front of them saying 'these aren't the droids you're looking for'. Whilst they may not have been the actual 'Troopers to have been duped by the simple Jedi mind trick, the shame that it has brought on the good name of the Empire's finest must still smart today. That, and they'd probably heard it every hour on the hour for the five days of the festival.

We looked on, watching people having their pictures taken on their knees with the hands behind their back in a kind of Guantanamo Bay chic. The Stormtroopers posed for photos pointing their blasters at the craniums of the bowed, giggly, mildly inebriated festival habitue. How the temptation to engage in a little 'weapons malfunction' must have eaten away at them. These guys were running the galaxy, now they were turning tricks for buttons in some obscure outpost.

At least the Stormtroopers' fall from grace is shielded by their anonymity (read the FAQ's on their website, it's an enclosed netherworld, you can't join them, you get invited - presumably only if you can prove you are a clone of Jango Fett and pay your subs on time). Whilst it is easy to mock, you do know that there are millions more where they came from. Unlike Darth Vader, who is so iconic and whose story is so well known, that he is a mere parody of his original being. He was the Dark Lord of the Empire, a shadow across the galaxy, distanced from every individual yet capable of ordering their destruction with a nod. Now, there he was, stripped of his dignity, wandering around trying to get the attention of portly men in Nine Inch Nails t-shirts. There was a time when he would have ordered the destruction of whole planets for wearing aged industrial rock merchandise. It was like seeing David Beckham driving a taxi.

I may be wrong but I'm sure I heard him slurring to one disinterested punter that he'd 'had that Skywalker in the detention centre of his imperial cruiser last week'.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Shoe do you think you are?

The bunion, the scar of women's battle for equality, the Blahnik and Choo, the spoils. Womenfolk place a lot of importance in their shoes. They're a celebration of sexuality, choice and independent wealth. A pair of women's shoes is an episode of Sex And The City distilled into footwear. Eclecticism, achievement, vivaciousness, cocktails and lunch.

Whilst the battle for gender equality has been a fierce one, women's shoes are also a place for the genders to meet. The passionate fixation of a woman on her shoe collection remains baffling, yet above all they openly recognise men as a component that is both required and sometimes desired. It is the terms and conditions that have changed.

Psychologists say that one of the reasons a pair of heals is deemed sexually attractive is because the shape of the shoe, and the angle of elevation offered by the heal make the toe look like a furry front bum. Shoes say, look at my fanny, but you're not actually going to get to look at my fanny unless I say so. Oh, and stop looking at my tits and keep your eyes on the floor, damn you.

The sexual subtext of the shoe is a deep and layered. You know, therefore, you're in the wrong party when one of the first things you hear is "Ooh Margaret those sandals look comfortable".

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Sven will we share precious moments?

OK, I can't let it pass without comment.

The familiar pattern of England's exit from the World Cup on Saturday left me rather cold. There was a time when I would have got excited by the tournament. The squad recognised that the Quarter Finals no longer represent success, their interest was the final. For me also, only achieving something beyond the quarter finals would have raised the excitement levels.

And so to the aftermath. Was Eriksson overpaid? His agent, as agents always do, stresses that he was paid market rate. So if the buyer is willing to pay £4million a year for something, then it's not unreasonable to accept it. It would be unfair to blame Svennis for taking the money, but the FA ought to take a look at themselves for offering it. Argentina's coach was paid £100,000 a year. This recognised the facilitator role of a national coach; they can only work, for very short periods, with the product they are given. The national coach should be paid a premium for the pressure, but that's it. Seb Coe cited Jack Charlton's philosophy with the Republic of Ireland; choose the system, pick the team, practice set pieces, rest a lot, then let the players get on with it. The national coach's role is not to improve players, but to simply choose the best 11.

The billion pound Premiership machine has produced a slew of quality players coached to the highest possible standard. Sven needed to marshal this glut of choice, and resist the rampant media. The first choice eleven was self selecting. Take the Beckham versus Lennon debate. Lennon has just begun to emerge as a talent, Beckham, though not having the pace, has years of success behind him and contributed to 50% of England's goals. Using Lennon as a replacement for Beckham to chase a game, or stretch the opponents is a good one. But Beckham, though not as influential as he used to be, remained the obvious starter. That said, I hope he will retire from international football now, it would be a shame to watch him be dropped and remembered as a has-been.

Eriksson had precious few decisions to make, but the one key one, was wrong. To take only four strikers; two injured, one teenager and an acquired taste was a key error. Owen's injury against Sweden meant that Rooney had to play on his own. This was frustrating and exhausting, leading in part to his sending off against Portugal. Had he taken Defoe in place of the unused Jenas then there was a ready made replacement for Owen, the system didn't need have changed, the players could have got on with playing rather than trying to re-learn the pattern of the team. I'm not saying that England would have won the World Cup, but the over-complication certainly contributed to failure.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Back in the old routine

It's a bloggers bind; you have to have a life in order to blog but if you have a life there's no time to blog. Routine does not a good blog make, but routine is what I currently have. I've spent three years at work developing a department that functions so well we literally get to the end of the day having no idea what else to do... we're a bit like that now, Big Brother and the World Cup are a ubiquitous presence on the TV, even Millie has settled into a routine. I went to the O2 Wireless Festival to see Depeche Mode last week, and the week before we went to see Gifford's Circus. Great though both were, we knew what to expect, because we've been to both before.

It's not that I feel in any way restricted by the routine, on a meta-level there are many non-routine things happening, but you don't want to know that Millie has developed a phase 2 sleeping pattern at night that's different to the phase 1. As perfect as she is, I know you're not going to be as interested as I am.

The most routine of all is the gym. For a year now I've been going regularly in the morning. Up at 6.30, on the bike at 6.45, forty-five minutes and I'm out again, in the winter I'm sixth in, in the summer I'm 12th. I started going five times a week, but that's dropped to three. I'm a stone and a half lighter and people are starting to notice. Women in gyms are made up of two types; those who pull their trousers up after they get off a machine, and those who pull them down. The former are there to work out, tone up and burn calories, the latter feel the gym is an extension of their Heat inspired image, they buy the latest sexy skimpy gym-wear, including the low slung trackies that reveal their 'just above bum crack' tattoo and then use each machine on the lowest level for about 45 seconds each abandoning them when they feel an minor ache. When they've finished they leave swigging on bottled water dabbing the sweat off their forehead.

The 6.30am crowd is made up wholly of the former. Serious gym-bunnies. We're all acquainted in an eye-brow raising, half smile kind of way. Those who do the Spin class on Wednesday and Friday seem to talk to each other, everyone else just gets on with what they're their to do. I, being I, now know everyone only by what I've observed. So, in an occasional series, for this read, will get bored and/or forget about it before long, let me introduce you to some of the people from the gym:

Miriam T - can be quite abrupt and rude, especially when people leave the doors open rendering the air conditioning useless. She once commented that I'd really started looking good since coming down the gym. I said I'd lost over a stone, to which she replied 'Wish I could': I wasn't sure whether to give her a hollow reciprocal compliment or to laugh weakly. I did the latter. Actually, I don't think her name is Miriam T at all, it's a name on the signing in list, but I think that might be another women who gets in early. Miriam T will always be Miriam T to me.

The Kid From Fame - The Kid from Fame has a dizzying array of elaborate 80's-chic gym-wear. Cropped lycra tops under a t-shirt made of netting, three quarter length leggings and matching trainers is not unusual. The trainers change with the outfit. Serious about working out, serious about what she looks like when working out.

Tumble Turns - You can tell which of Tumble Turns' many routines she's going to do the moment she walks in the gym. Cycling shorts and she'll be on the bike for ages; running shorts and you know she'll be running. One morning I saw her head for the pool, which the gym overlooks. I couldn't see her in the pool until I worked out that the women powering up and down in a Speedo swimming hat, googles and doing tumble turns was, indeed, Tumble Turns.

The Robot - The robot is a woman who has been put together by a computer calculating the perfect female form. She's 5ft 6", slim, with pert breasts and a round, though not fatty bottom. She has long silky hair, white teeth and a symmetrical face. Her gym kit is subtly colour co-ordinated and fits perfectly without creases. There are no bulges anywhere. However like Laura Croft in Tomb Raider, she doesn't seem real enough to be attractive. She's being gently wooed by the Sales Rep, a man who looks like a sales rep. His tactics so far include writing 'nice bum' on the signing in sheet next to her name, and turning her running machine up whilst she's on it. It's horrible to watch.

Moby - Short and bald, probably not a sexually ambiguous Christian, vegan, techno rock behemoth. Not that it stops me thinking he is.

There are more, lots more...

Newer Posts Older Posts Home

Blogger Template by Blogcrowds