Thursday, 31 July 2008

Claws For Thought

My cats have discovered an exciting new game to play: it’s called Unnerve The Stupid Human.

Now it’s already been mentioned by greater writers than I will ever be that Cats like a good game every now and then: in his book “The Unadulterated Cat” Terry Pratchett names several, including Staring At The Fridge and the deeply complicated Cat Chess (which involves spotting another cat and watching it for long periods of time until one or the other gets up and walks away)

But Unnerve The Stupid Human began with the Great Door Openings of May 2008, back when I was still na├»ve enough to think that just because they didn’t have opposable digits my cats would be kept downstairs overnight by the simple act of closing a door shut (as chronicled in my blog “Not So Much With The Singing” on 26th June)

Cats have many ways to Unnerve The Stupid Human – the most fun of which are spotting your car returning and running out behind it when you’re trying to park, random requests for indefinable things, silent running, refusing to acknowledge your existence, demands for attention now this minute and the gift ceremony.

Random Requests For Indefinable Things: I mentioned before that my cats wanted to hide their true identities on the internet, so will again refer (or should that be re-furr) to them as Fluffy and Tiny. Fluffy is much bigger than Tiny, but Tiny can make twice as much noise – so they both come out quite evenly in this game, which involves skittering around your feet (connected to the other fun game – Break The Stupid Human’s Neck) meowling whilst you try desperately to decipher exactly what they want. So you empty and re-fill the bowl that was full of perfectly good, but untouched, cat food – but no, they’re not hungry, so you empty the equally full bowls of milk and water and re-fill those –but they’re not thirsty either. So you open the door for them to go out and they just plonk themselves down in the centre of the floor and look at you imploringly whilst you scream “Well what the hell DO you want?”

On the subject of random requests there is an unwritten law about Cat food – which goes: Cats will love the sample of expensive cat food given to you for free and when you buy a single tin of the stuff at rip-off prices they will slobber it down; however, when you see the same cat food on offer at a quarter of the price for 20 tins the cats will know and refuse to touch the food ever again.

Silent Running: a popular favourite at the moment which involves silencing the bells around their necks and creeping up on you in the night, so you wake up with cat faces two inches from your ear - as if they're watching you to decide if eating you would be more fun than waiting for you to open a tin.

Refusing To Acknowledge Your Existence: in my house only Fluffy plays this one. You could be standing right next to him with a fog horn and he still wouldn’t acknowledge your call to come in. If he is sitting in your seat the only option you have is to pick him up and move him, because he would happily let you sit on him rather than move. However - don't let him fool you into thinking he's deaf, because he can pick out the sound of your car two streets away and can hear a tin being opened over a distance of two miles. Another popular favourite with Fluffy is Hiding Under The Neighbours Car (positioning himself under the wheel – who knows, maybe this is the Cat equivalent of dangerous sports or something).

Just last night I tried to combat the Refusing To Acknowledge Your Existence game by standing in the back doorway shaking a box of cat biscuits. Within seconds somewhere in the region of 500 stray cats had popped their heads over the fences and long grass – in fact it was only two, but somehow they exuded the menace of 500 – but no sign of Fluffy or Tiny (Fluffy was later found Hiding Under The Neighbours Car)

Demands For Attention Now This Minute: mainly Tiny that plays this one. She waits for me to go upstairs and then follows me about meowling non-stop until I climb into bed, whereupon she head rolls and lifts her paws expecting her belly to be rubbed constantly for the next twelve hours. This behaviour made me feel a little wary at first, until I researched it on the internet and discovered that it could be signs of her being in heat – since when it has made me feel vaguely how a prostitute must feel.

The Gift Ceremony: not something that either of my cats has done yet, but I live in daily fear of it. This is when, much like the Mafia, they leave something dead in your bed. The only big difference between the Cats and the Mafia is that leaving something dead in your bed is meant as a sign of affection, not to scare the living daylights out of you.

So there you go; they’ve clearly decided that come the revolution they’ll be in charge and are pre-warning me of this fact on a daily basis. I’d be interested to know if anyone out there knows of any more games played by cats…or else can speak cat and tell me what the hell they want!

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

What On Earth?

OK, OK, I know I only posted something yesterday, but an article that I read on http://writerquake.blogspot.com/ titled “To Talk Of Many Things” reminded me of something I wanted to tell you about.

When I was at school (back when we had to wear leopard skins, carry clubs and chisel our names into granite – or it feels that long ago anyway) me and my 2 friends started ducking out of the grounds at lunch time and going for long walks down the nearby country lanes.

Now, you have to understand that this was Strictly Against The Rules, which stated you were only allowed off school grounds if you were on a list as going home for lunch or had died during a particularly lengthy Rugby scrum, but amazingly we were never caught and were only late back twice in 3 years.

Anyway, in those days there was a big expanse of green belt land behind our school. For those of you who don’t know land in the UK is designated as certain types: Brown belt – previously industrial land, Green belt – “protected” as a green area (note the quotation marks), etc etc etc

This Green Belt land ran for miles, with only a few country lanes leading to farms and a nearby factory. Some years later the Government protection proved to be worth slightly less than a free course in Esperanto (failed project to launch a universal language) as a large connecting road was built through the heart of the green belt land, cutting it in two in order to service the factory.

Most of the country lanes we had walked down swiftly became dead ends and cheap drop centres for the fridges, sofas and burnt out cars of those too lazy and stupid to go to the dump.

But here’s the thing I wanted to tell you: within a few short years these roads had changed beyond belief. Where once there was a road just wide enough for two cars there is now little more than a muddy path; leaves have fallen and stayed, turning to compost for the next generation of plants to grow on and continue the reclamation of the world.

Why do Archaeologists dig in the dirt to uncover the past? It is because Nature is always waiting.

We think that we are so important because we have invented transportation, computers, war and civilization. We think that our needs are so vital that we barely stop to consider the impact they have on the planet and barely pause to think about what kind of world the next generation will find as a result.

But Nature is patient, Nature is strong

And the plants will not miss us when we’re gone.

Quite recently I was stopped by a Manic Street Preacher. Not one of the band from Cardiff (now that would be an interesting story, especially if it were Richey James), but the type trying to sell you on Religion. This chap asked me if I thought the world would survive.

And pretty much my first thought was of that road and how nature had claimed it back within a decade.

The analogy I’ve heard the most often is that time on Earth is a clock – with the Dinosaurs hanging around from 9am until 11am.

In the General Scheme Of Things Humans have been around for about five to ten minutes on that clock. We’ve done a lot in a small period of time – not all of it good, but not all of it bad either.

So if you want my opinion Global Warming will mean changes to the variety of life on Earth, just as that variety has changed before (look what happened to the Dinosaurs). Everything changes and maybe that's not such a bad thing.

But then maybe it’s way past time that we took responsibility for our actions and our impact on the planet. Maybe its time for the human race to grow up?

Monday, 28 July 2008

Take Art?

There’s a chap – don’t ask me his name: I’ve never been any good with names. Twelve months on in my job and there’s still people I see every day that I would struggle to name if my life depended on it. In my last job four people all started at the same time and for the first month or so I couldn’t even tell them apart (considering one of them had Ginger hair, this was pretty bad)

Anyway – this chap: most of the time he repairs cars with those airguns that spray paint in controlled bursts onto a surface. Only in his spare time he creates portraits in the same way, working mostly from photographs. These portraits are so good and so detailed as to make them practically indistinguishable from photographs.

And the thing is that the Art World, in its infinite wisdom, has dismissed this man’s works as “a mere display of skill” and not art, on the grounds that there is no artistic interpretation or statement going on.

This is the same Art World that lauds people for displaying their Unmade Bed (Tracy Emin) and filming themselves wondering around an empty hangar dressed as a bear (Mark Wallinger). This is, presumably, the same Art World that dismissed LS Lowry and Beryl Cook as being “too popularist” during their lifetimes, but couldn’t wait to laud them when they were dead.

Now – I have to be honest here and say I don’t completely get Modern Art. The first time I went around Tate Modern in London was just after they’d opened and there was a room with a pasting table and lots of paints and brushes – I wasn’t sure if it was an exhibit or just work in progress. Don’t get me wrong, Salvador Dali was clearly a genius (admittedly a barking mad genius, but still a genius) and some of Andy Warhol’s work was deliberately provoking and interesting as a result, but I like to see something that requires a bit of effort and I’m sorry to say this, but if you take a pile of bricks and put them in an exhibition they are still, at the end of the day, a pile of bricks and not suddenly worth millions of pounds.

I like to look at a piece of art and think “that required skill; that person clearly had to work, train and think hard to create that” and tend to think that anyone who rips out the urinal from their local pub and puts it on display is, quite literally, taking the piss.

But then I quite admire those Japanese Performance Artists who sneak into the Tate and have a pillow fight on Tracy Emin’s bed – arguably an artistic statement 100 times more relevant than the original piece.

Damien Hurst may have made his millions and be the flavour of the moment, but TV artists like Tony Hart and Rolf Harris did 100% more to inspire me by taking the everyday and showing how anyone can create art. I used to love watching Rolf take his huge house brush and, with a few seemingly random jabs create something stunning whilst singing a song about a Jolly Swagman (whatever one of those may be)

What seems more important these days is the ability to explain away what you have created and justify it – I actually read about an “artist” who claimed to have canned his own excrement and put it on display. It was later found out that the cans were empty and now the big argument is – are they worth more or less as a result?

Often Art is only art because we say it is, or is it arguable that everything is, eventually, art? If I hand a paintbrush and some paints to an elephant and let it slap about on a piece of canvas will it create an intricate artwork or a random splash of colour? (Either way – can you make money out of it if you happen to have paint, canvas and a bloody great elephant to hand?)

I think the real art is out there in the streets and the classes, hidden away in hot rooms on summer days where enthusiastic amateurs gather to create and learn something new: not for fame or glory, not to make any great statement – just to have fun and exchange ideas. Perhaps that is the greatest form of art after all?

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

As The Vinegar Runs Through

‘What about ‘The Frying Squad”?’ Suggested Pete
There was a general groan of disapproval, ‘We had that half an hour ago,’ complained Simon, ‘and I still think “The Happy Haddock” is a good name’
‘I’ve got it!’ cried Trevor, ‘”In Cod We Trust”!’

There was a roar of laughter at this and The Regulars ceased their amicable bickering for a few seconds, before Trevor turned and yelled, ‘What do you reckon ‘arry? “In Cod We Trust”’

Behind the counter Harry just smiled and let the conversation roll on. It had been a quiet night – like most Thursdays were. Sometimes Harry thought Thursdays were just a day in waiting for Friday and he knew that if it wasn't for the company of The Regulars he would close up on Thursdays and consider it a day gone but not missed from his calendar.

Harry picked up the metal spatula and turned the fish in the batter, watching it cook. Tuesdays was Mrs Duckworth, with her pukka pie, mushy peas and chips: every second Wednesday was the Smart Young Man. Harry didn’t know his name, but he guessed he was an actor or something, because he knew that Wednesdays were matinee days at the local amateur drama group. Thursdays were The Regulars. Not that they weren’t here every night; it was just that Thursdays were, in some indefinable way, their night.

Their conversations were wild and varied, almost with a life of their own, straying from topic to topic like a shifting wind. Sometimes a book one of them had read would be explained and discussed in slow, painful detail; sometimes the conversation was about their jobs, their most recent girlfriend or their lives. Mostly they spoke the philosophy of the streets, putting the world to rights. Tonight's topic of choice: a new name for the shop, whether Harry wanted one or not.

Pete, the oldest of the group, liked his chips piping hot from the tray, on a plate and with only a splash of salt. Simon, who was small but stronger than he looked, liked his the traditional way; in paper and soaked through with vinegar until the paper dissolved under the acid. Trevor, the unofficial leader of the clan, was in charge of ordering. Every Thursday they would come in and take their usual seats at a battered formica table whilst Trevor shuffled to the counter, raised his huge caterpillar-like eyebrows and said, in his best booming voice, ‘Surprise me ‘arry’

Harry smiled again as he laid the first lot of chips onto a plate: one shovel-full for a small lot, two for a large chips – slightly less if it was with anything. There was something infinitely satisfying about the time honoured procedure. In an ever changing world he prided himself that the one thing his customers could count on was the size of their portion of chips.

35 years he’d spent working in the city. Every day commuting on the train, every day staring at the same spreadsheets and dealing with the same stupid questions. They’d called it a mid-life crisis, but the truth was it had been coming for years. He could still remember that last day in the office, as he'd walked calmly through and taken his leaving gifts with good grace; each pair of watching eyes wondering if he hadn't gone mad. It had felt good to know that he was the only truly sane one there.

Harry watched Pete pull a battered pack of cards from his pocket and start dealing them between the trio, savouring the moment. These three came here every day, ordered the same meal, sat at the same tables, talked the same nonsense. They lived by what they did – true, hard graft that brought its own rewards. Not one of them would know what to do with a spreadsheet and Harry knew in his heart that they were all the happier for it.

There was a poem he’d read once, about a priest in a chip shop – longing for the life he could have had. It had been a simple poem, only seven lines long – but it had touched him and called out to him in a way that no other words had ever done. It was just a small poem in an anthology, easily overlooked - but Harry had known exactly what it meant; it meant that you only get one chance, so get it right.

Harry poured the last of the chips onto the plate and pulled a bottle of wine out from beneath the counter. He walked around to The Regulars and placed it on the table in front of their surprised gazes, then he solemnly walked to the door and locked it, turning the sign from “open” to “closed” as he did so. He took a long look at the silent street outside, shrouded in late-evening darkness. Each street light offered a small patch of life, a path to take, a choice that had to be made. Left or right, business or pleasure - every step you took changed the route of your life in some small way. For the moment he pulled down the blinds and took a deep, contented breath, realizing that there was nowhere else he would rather be. Then he turned and, with a beaming smile straight from the heart, he sat down and said, ‘Deal me in boys, sky’s the limit’
----------
Vinegar, by Roger McGough

sometimes
i feel like a priest
in a fish&chips queue
quietly thinking
as the vinegar runs through
how nice it would be
to buy supper for two
----------
NB: the above story was not inspired by this poem, but about half-way through i realised that it was what it was about. I would recommend Roger McGough's poems to anyone.

Monday, 21 July 2008

Something For The Weekend

Thought I’d try a different type of posting today, by offering you the chance to re-create my Current Household Favourite Meal – Lentil Moussaka (my apologies for any spelling errors)

Items Required (based on sufficient for 2 people):
1x good sized saucepan
1x deep tray
1x oven with hob (don’t ask me about this new fangled Electric malarkey, we still use flints, firewood and stones here!)

Main dish
1-2 sticks of celery (depending on size)
½ - 1 whole onion (depending on size)
1 clove of garlic
1 tin of tomatoes (either pre-chopped or chopped by you to save 2p at Tesco)
125-150 grammes of Red Lentils
1 small-to-medium sized Aubergine (Egg Plant to you Americans)

Topping (optional)
2x eggs
150 grammes of Fromage Frei
Parmesan Cheese (or dairy free alternative)

Instructions:
Chop the celery and the onion very finely – the smaller the better with the onion. You can either chop or crush the garlic.

Put a bit of low fat oil (olive oil is good) in the saucepan and cook the onion, celery and garlic until the onion becomes translucent

Put the lentils (you can substitute Green lentils, but I’ve found that Red give it more taste) and chopped tomatoes into the pan and stir in – cover the whole mixture in water and leave to simmer for 40-45 minutes (checking from time to time that it hasn’t dried out)

At about 30 minutes take your Aubergine (they’re mostly purple here – leading us Brits to be severely confused as to why they get called Egg Plants) and slice thinly – put the slices under the grill and grill both sides until they change colour.

Take your deep tray and spoon out a thin layer of your lentil mix, followed by a layer of aubergine, then lentil mix, finishing with aubergines on top.

If you’re making the topping mix in the eggs and the fromage frei and spoon this over the top of the aubergine until it’s covered – then shake your parmesan over the top of this liberally. Put the whole thing in the oven on Gas Mark 4 for 30-35 minutes

Finally – don’t tell your vegetarian partner about this meal, as it’s so nice that they will demand it every other weekend until you’re utterly sick of it!

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Are You Experienced?

About the only thing I hate more than having my haircut (and remember, this is an experience that comes higher on my list of nasty things to do than having all my teeth pulled without anaesthetic) is applying for a new job.

Whilst the secret Hairdresser pact destroyed our national morale with the Perm, the Mullet and the Rat’s Tail the Scientists that vie with the hairdressers, cats etc for control of the world have struck back with that most soul-destroying of all tasks – trying to find a decent job.

The first depressing thing about applying for a new job is the fact that you are only going through the dreaded process in the first place because the last job you leaped into to get out of the previous awful job is so basically soul destroying. If this job had turned out to be anywhere close to the Interesting and Exciting challenge billed in the job advert (instead of the steaming pile of horse manure that it actually is) then you wouldn’t already be looking for something else.

Then there’s the job advert. I mentioned before that all jobs have to be advertised under British employment law, meaning that 90% of all jobs advertised have already been filled internally by the time they appear in your news paper – the other 10% of jobs are of the “Chief Urine Tester To The Queen’s Corgi’s” variety (IE you wouldn’t touch them with an extremely large barge-pole.

Then there’s the qualifications you need to be considered for these already taken positions. You need to be 18 years old with 25 years experience of Zero-gravity and a degree in Astrophysics just to get behind the counter in McDonalds these days – and no one is interested in training someone with applicable experience.

Once you have decided that taking out your own spleen and dicing it with your pencil sharpener seems marginally less fun than filling in the application form you are faced with the Person Specification – which seems designed to ask the same question twenty times. True, things have calmed down a bit since the early 1980s when you needed a member of Mensa (organisation for people with high IQs), a step-by-step manual and three weeks to fill in the twenty page Council applications – but they are still incredibly frustrating. My least favourite bit is the “Equal Opportunities” bit, where you have to declare that you are a single-parent immigrant from Alpha Centuri with one leg and an eye-patch to gain any chance of an interview (any organisation that actually believed in Equal Opportunities, rather than just paying lip service to it, would dispense of this form and just chose applicants based on skills and experience)

Assuming you make it through the marathon application form without spontaneously combusting and get an interview you are then faced with the standard interview panel – where you are interrogated by either two of those Stormtroopers from the Star Wars films or by two people you wouldn’t trust to find the floor with their feet – let alone a suitable candidate.

They all ask the same experience based questions – give me an instance when you have experienced conflict. This means that the game becomes not “who has the best experience” but “who can answer the questions with the most bullshit” and, inevitably, results in companies full of employees who are great at answering stupid questions, but rubbish at actually doing the job.

If you’re really lucky you might get one of those team building interviews, where you sit in circles and decide which fictional person you would leave to drown if you were stranded on a desert island.

Finally, of course, should you get the job – you are by this time so desperate to get out of the hell hole you were stuck in previously that you find yourselves taking the first job offered – only to find out that the silver light you saw from afar is actually bat’s urine and that you will now have to spend another depressing few years chasing another dream in the hope that this one works out better.

My problem is that I am too experienced for the lower roles, but don’t have the qualifications (mostly thanks to employers who promise training, but never deliver) for the higher roles – meaning that I have an extremely narrow window of hope…

Still, a window of hope is better than no window. Maybe next time I will find myself a job with a career ladder, instead of a job where the career ladder appears to be locked away

Leaning against a different building

Leading straight to a huge fire

Behind a sign saying “Beware of the leopard”

We can but hope!

Thursday, 10 July 2008

The Final Cut?

If the world isn’t run by the cats, the scientists, the dolphins, the mice, the traffic-cone manufacturers or a bizarre secret government/alien pact to turn us all into zombies (known as Plan 9) then it’s definitely run by Hairdressers.

Whilst the cats stop us discovering solar fission by unexpectedly throwing up on our sofas, the scientists control us via making the photocopier break-down at inopportune moments (via way of the Annoyance Chip fitted to every machine, capable of detecting your mood/work load and breaking down accordingly) and the government/alien pact invades our television screens with the living dead (how else do you explain the cast of Big Brother?) it’s the Hairdressers that hold the real power over our daily lives.

This could be my personal experience here – my childhood hairdresser looked like a slightly taller Benny Hill and, so far as I could tell, used the same pair of scissors until he retired – but every single thing about going to have your hair cut seems to be designed to be truly awful.

Firstly: there’s the shop name. Why is it that every single hairdresser thinks it is original and amusing to call their establishment “Beyond The Fringe”, “A Cut Above”, “Scissor Sisters” or “Cutting Crew”? There are very few exceptions to this rule – suggesting that there could be some hidden code going on here.

Secondly: the barber’s pole – red and white to remind you that, in the days before their expertise stretched as far as asking you about your holiday, cutting off half your ear and giving you a short-back-and-sides they used to do a bit of doctoring on the side. What they tend not to tell you is that most of their patients died.

Thirdly: the queue. No matter what time you go in to a barber (unless you’re one of these strange people that makes appointments and gets charged extra for the privilege – and even then there’s no guarantee) there’s always a big queue of burly blokes sitting on the chairs, bench, windowsill and leaning on the coat-racks. There is nothing to do for your wait other than to position yourself between two pairs of heavily muscled men’s buttocks and pick up a worryingly stained copy of GQ magazine – unless, of course, that rare thing of a battered Rubik cube with half the sticky squares missing is present.

Next, and tied into issue three: there’s the Inevitable Conversation About Football (NB: Soccer – and note the capital letters). No matter how much you protest this conversation Must Be Held (this is Hairdressing law and probably included in the 2 years military training they get in Totnes) – the conversation going as such:
Snip
Hairdresser: So, did you see the match yesterday?
Me: No, I don’t like football
Hairdresser: I fancy Arsenal for the final, what do you think?
Me: I wouldn’t know – I don’t like football
Snip
Hairdresser: (pause, trying to take in this information) So, which team do you support then?
Me: I don’t – I don’t watch football at all
Hairdresser: You don’t watch football?
Me: No!!
Snip
Hairdresser: (long pause) Still…Manchester United are playing well this year, aren't they?

And so forth – with the general focus on being asking me about football, my weekend, my work or anything other than actually getting on with it and cutting my hair.

Fifth on the list of horrors: the actual cutting experience. Once the Inevitable Conversation About Football is into full flow there are three hairstyles generally available to men in British Hairdressers: Long, Short and Shorter. Long only confuses them and they never seem to have the right clippers for Short, so you end up going for the old standard short back and sides. All the time they are cutting your hair and warbling on about football you have to sit and look at yourself in a huge mirror that takes up the whole wall.

Then, when they have finally finished pushing your neck from one side to another in an attempt to break your spinal cord they hold up another mirror and show you the back of your own head, as if to prove they haven't accidentally severed a vein or anything and ask you if it is ok. What exactly are you supposed to say? "Well, it's certainly still my neck"? Even if you look at the reflection and see that they've tram-lined rude words into the back of your head there's precious little you can do about it now - so instead you mumble "thanks" and start fumbling for your wallet. This is my least favourite bit of all – aside from the bit where they hand you with a bit of tissue at the end. For us reserved Brits this is a terrible dilemma – what the hell are we supposed to do with it? In the old days it was a sneaky way of selling a contraceptive – but since these are now freely available at Boots there seems little point to continue the tradition now and you are left standing there with the thing in your hand wondering whether to throw it away or pocket it (if anyone knows the correct etiquette please let me know)

Finally, and worst of all, the Inevitable Stupid Comments At Work (otherwise known as Stating The Bleeding Obvious): “Oh, had your hair cut then have you?”, “Ooh, fall under a lawnmower did we?” Hilarity, as I’m sure you can imagine, ensues.

Monday, 7 July 2008

Your Call Is Important To Us

Thank you for calling the United Nations. Your call is important to us. Unfortunately all our agents are busy at the moment. Please hold whilst we play irritating music to you.

Put your hand on your heart and tell me, it’s all over…woah, woah, woah

All our agents continue to be busy. To help us prioritise your call please select one of the following options: press one if you are a nation seeking inclusion in Europe, press two if you are currently being threatened by a dictatorship, press three if you would like to make a threat to the western way of life

BEEP

Thank you. You have chosen to indicate that your country is currently being threatened by a dictatorship. Press one if the dictator is embarking on a regime of genocide, press two if the dictator has paid off the local police and is forcing an election, press three if the dictator was brought to power by the CIA or press four if all three apply

BEEP

Thank you. You have selected option four. Press one if the USA or Britain have recently sold this dictator arms, press two if your country is a major oil supplier or press three if neither of the above

BEEP

Thank you. Unfortunately you have chosen to select option three. The United Nations regrets to inform you that as we did not recently sell you weapons and you are not a major supplier of oil we will continue to arse about for months on end making a decision before considering any sanctions against the current genocide you are being subjected to. Please call back in the meantime if you should discover any oil, in which case you can rest assured we will come in, guns blazing to safeguard our interests – or continue to hold to speak to an operator

Put your hand on your heart and tell me, it’s all over…woah, woah, woah

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Tilting At Windmills

Following on from my last blog I was asked the question why I felt so strongly about not feeding the pixies. Always keen to get a cheap laugh I replied, rather glibly that feeding them only encourages them.

The truth is that, as always, it’s more complicated than that. In fact, I’m not sure there is a full and frank answer – so instead I’ll tell you a story.

There was a girl I knew - we'll call her Girl A. I didn’t know her particularly well – we worked in the same office, in the same department and occasionally we said hello. That was pretty much the extent of our relationship, except I knew from reputation that she was a good and honest hard worker who knew the job well.

She got “seconded” to the role of Team Leader – this basically means a promotion that they can take away any time they want, and they don’t even have to pay you any extra money.

And the thing was that she was a great Team Leader, but she was very quiet and didn’t interview well. Now anyone who doesn’t know British employment law may not realise that you can’t just promote someone for doing a good job these days – you have to advertise the job out and interview people…so even though she’d been doing the job 100% every day for 6 months, then 1 year, then nearly 2 she never got promoted because she didn’t tick the right boxes in interview. Finally she got another job somewhere else and the company lost a great employee.

Then there was another girl - Girl B, similar age. This girl i knew all too well. She was the bane of my life for 6 months or so. Every day i'd come into work wondering how much of my day would be spent clearing up her mess. She knew nothing about the job other than how to pass the buck and I've yet to meet a single person who had a positive word to say about her, but boy could she tick boxes and smooth management egos– result: instant promotion.

But moving on with the story – during the summer I cycle to work. Cycling, next do doing creative things, is one of my favourite pass times. I love the feeling that I get when I turn down a new country lane and find myself stuck in a farmer’s field. When I cycle to work, and it’s a nice day, I have to fight the urge to just keep going, going, going and never come back. The world feels so full of promise that it hurts.

These are the moments that keep us all going through the boring and the unfair bits – the days where we save an awful job for the afternoon because the alternate is having nothing to do, the moments where we feel our lives slipping away. We console ourselves with the thought of the painting we will create at the weekend, the book we are reading, the partner we long to hold.

I look at the world with my head on its side, amusing myself with its peculiarities and its rules and regulations. Sometimes I think the alternative is to go insane.

And you can only listen to the people telling you that they’re more important for so long before you see them for what they are – and with that revelation comes a certain degree of freedom.

And then you find yourself standing at the bus stop, watching the sun reflect in the broken window of a derelict building and you realise how much beauty there is going unseen and how much we miss by sleepwalking through our lives so much.

Some years ago I was stopped by a religious person in the street whilst photographing a pile of bricks. He told me that it was the devil working through me, pointing towards the destruction and debris. I feel sad for this man - if you look hard enough you can see evil in anything...but as someone once said "you have to see with better eyes" (please, someone remind me where that quote is from?)

When Cervantes wrote Don Quixote he created a character who finds himself let down by the reality of the world around him, who creates an elaborate fiction that the world is full of heroes and giants and that one man, no matter what his age, can make a difference. Not such a bad delusion at the end of the day.

This isn’t much of an answer to the original question, but it’s the only one I have.