Friday, October 13, 2006


I’m outside Charing Cross, drinking a coffee. There is a small area of seating, and I’m one table back from the edge. On the edge table, a young couple. To my left, four student types. I’m wearing a linen jacket, panama hat and my home shirt, and I’m writing a blog on the laptop.

I become aware of someone ranting loudly, near the couple. A stream of consciousness rant about shoving something up someone’s arse. Before I can fight the reflex prejudice, but the image of a beardy, staggering, pissed old bloke comes to mind. One of the couple says,

“Do you mind?”

I look up. I realise the beardy, staggering, pissed old bloke, for it is indeed he, is talking at me. And I’m not even wearing me bloody trenchcoat. He’s still going,

“…not you you fucker him he’s fucking he’s the devil he is stay away from my cigarettes devil I should shove that up your bastard don’t come near me fucking Canadian bastard you’re evil you are sitting there with that that…” etc.

I maintain eye contact, slowly close the laptop, which seems to be the source of some of his irritation, and zip the case shut. This is an almost reflex protection measure. I say nothing and keep my expression impassive. Everyone within earshot is watching, nervous, embarrassed and a little afraid. There is the distinct threat of violence, and the signature of it’s equally distinct partner, adrenaline, in the air.

However, my would be adversary decides not to pursue his attempt to unmask me as the Antichrist, or relent and offer me a cigarette. He starts to back off, and shuffle away, keeping eye contact and mumbling until he round the corner. I reopen the laptop, and take a drink. Everyone is still staring, some still in slightly comical ‘frozen in mid sip / sentence / motion poses.

I decide, spontaneously, that a tension breaker is required. Relying on my wit and sangfroid, say,

“Well, that’s the price of gin these days for you. Still, ‘Canadian’ was a bit low.”

This does the trick, a few people actually laugh. I get back to typing. I reflect. I could have said something sympathetic, or at least understanding, that made it clear I was not afraid of beardy, and that the last thing he probably needs is fear and ridicule. But I didn’t. I think ‘you total bastard!’

Still, that’s going to be par for the course when my 1000 years of Infernal Diabolic Rule reduces you mortals to a state of agonised servitude, so you’d all better get used to it. And you can forget about nipping out for a fag break, too.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006


I’ve just tried to take a crap on a train. Didn’t bother, as the bowl was full of paper, and the tank empty, so it wouldn’t flush. And in my current state, well, I’ll spare you the details.

This is, though, not an unusual experience. Attending to basic hygiene on trains is becoming increasingly hard. There is often no water to flush, or wash hands with. Washing hands is a current concern of mine. But, most irritating of all, is the loo roll. If there is any, you are expected to pull it out through an aperture of such restricted size, that it basically acts as a shredder. You need to coax the sheets out one by one, and end up with each fifth attempt yielding a functional sheet. I asked a guard why, recently, and was told it was to avoid theft. Yes, that’s right, the shredders have been installed to stop people nicking the bog roll. I can just imagine the board meeting…

Suit 1. Very good, it’s great to see we’re making real progress in achieving a financially stable, cross-service, non-flavour deviational catering provision with built in costumer choice restriction. Great work, team. Now, the next item, sanitary systems delivery in a cost constrained budgetary environment.

Suit 2. Yeah. Thanks. Right. We’ve progressively rolled out an all-fleet refit of hygiene related paper issuing systems with hard engineered theft elimination protocols as standard. (Pauses to allow emphasis of ‘as standard’ to sink in.) As you can see from the spreadsheets (cues a powerpoint slide) this is delivering a month on month suppression of theft related paper loss of between 7 and 19 percent! These are unprecedented outputs, and I think this train operator can be confident we sit at the bleeding edge on this one.

Suit 3. See where your coming from, Mike, but (looks down laptop screen) if we could cue table 4.2, we can clearly see that this is hitting our bottom line.

(Stunned silence)

I mean, our comparable paper related outlay is actually showing an elevation above the high level prediction trend line of 3 to 7 per cent! Over the last quartile, this represents a real world cost of a full 2.76% of our total revenue take!

Suit 1. Hang on, you trying to tell me that this whole paper non-theft compliance policy is costing us money, Steve.

Suit 3. Bang on, Mitch. And that’s before we factor in the full costs of the paper issuing equipment refit, which amounts too... (scrolls through some more spreadsheets)

Suit 2. (looking peeved) Just a moment, here, guys! These socially excluded transgressors were perpetrating massive incidences of unauthorised paper removal! Any inaction in the face of such activity would be tantamount to approval, this is a moral issue. It’s a new world out there, and, post 9-11, we have to consider more than the bottom line. It may be costing us to eliminate paper theft, we may actually be using more paper to deliver the same hygiene related functionality, but we need to take a stand here. That paper’s our paper, and it should damn well stay ours till it hits the tracks, and I’ll quit squash before I let some filthy arsehole have it any other way!

Suit 1. See your vision, now, Mike, like your thinking. Could be a Queens Award for Industry in this for you.

Suit 3. Gotta hand it to you, you were just too darn out of the box for me there. Nice work.

Suit 1. Good, glad that’s sorted. Now, active information cross compliance platforms for on demand timetable distribution frameworks. Anyone got a clue what the fuck that means?

Tuesday, October 10, 2006


I hate going to work. It’s wrong. The imposition of it, the arbitrary, artificial, super scaled, sheer bloody pointlessness of the vast majority of it. It’s got to go, all of it.

So, why don’t I just quit? Why do I do this every day? Well, most days? Let’s think.

1. Fear? Partially, I suppose. But I’ve done much scarier things.
2. Conditioning? Perhaps, partially. But it’s not like I’ve got a mortgage and a conventional lifestyle to support. Not by some distance. But cultural pressure is a strong thing.
3. Duty? Unfortunately, yes, to some degree. I actually like most of the people I work with, and my bailing would cause them some problems. But not so many that a months notice couldn’t be used to sort them out.
4. Sheer bloody mindedness? This, I fear, is the snare that has me. I am of the belief that by quitting, I’ll be letting ‘Them’ win. How did I come to subscribe to this monumental piece of Doublethink? I shall attempt to explain.

Most of the people I work with do not seem believe change is either as desirable, as possible, or can be as quickly brought about as I do. By doing what I do, how I do it, I am in some way convinced that I am actually making things better than they would otherwise be. The Job is not a bad one, it’s about as ethical as you can get, it pays OK and I have a large degree of, cough, ‘freedom’, within the given paradigm. Nice long chain, comfy cage. I even get a hall pass.

This is the most subtle and dangerous trap of all. The trap that binds you in, without requiring you to recant. The trap that holds you in slowly tightening, velvet jaws. The trap that gradually brings the walls in, and leaves the windows open, until, after reading an article in the Metro (aka The Daily Mail Lite) on the morning commute, you finally close them and fit the locks all by yourself.

I really should know better at my age. I know it’s not that scary outside. Quite the opposite, in fact. And I will come out play, just as soon as I finish this…

Sunday, October 08, 2006


I’ve had a great summer. Not even the sub-kafka absurdity of my job in the twilight world between Machine Bureaucracy and Corporate Inertia, not the impending annihilation of my (and many other) species through our collective folly, not even the fact we got done two - nil away at Bolton last week, can take the gloss of it. I’m happy. And hungover.

So, I hear you ask, what’s that all about then? You in love or something? Well, no, unless it’s the something. Basically, and this where it all threatens to get sentimental, I reckon it’s all down to me mates. They do incredible things. Outrageous, audacious and unconstrained things. Things driven by love, anger and a deranged belief that through action - personal action - the way we organise our world can be transformed. That the stupid, ignorant and complacent patterns of behaviour and belief that have got us into the mess that passes for modern life can be slowed, stopped and eventually be reversed. That, despite lives and times that constantly would seem to demonstrate the opposite, we are not all shit-for-brains, hopeless gluttons on a one way shopping trip to oblivion.

If it wasn’t for them, I’d have given up years ago. It’s sometimes got pretty close even with them, to be honest. But I haven’t, because they haven’t. As someone said, a very long time ago, “Mind shall be harder, heart the keener, spirit the greater as our strength lessens.”* They may well fall. We may well all fall, with no hope of anyone to record or remember it. But I will fall with them.

*For those who are interested, the quote is a translation of the Old English lines “Hige sceal þe heardre, heorte þe cenre, Mod sceal þe mare þe ure magen lylað” taken from the Battle of Maldon.

Saturday, October 07, 2006


On my way to the station. I suspect a number of my pieces will start this way, as it’s one of my best thinking spaces. Much of my poetry has it’s roots in the walk to the station, or the wait for the bus. Yes, poetry I’m afraid. I’ll give you fair warning, you’ll probably get some of it later.

The sun is bright and late summer, a cool breeze stirs, a flash of blue as a kingfisher takes flight. A lone jackdaw paddles slackly through the humid air as a small peloton mirages across the T junction. So far, so Grantchester Meadows.

I cross the road. I’ve pushed the button, but the main road is all at red, and no one is using the filter from either the main road, or the lane. So, I cross. As I get close to the other side, the lights change – not to green, but amber. A fat, balding guy in the lead car of the small queue applauds, in a manner that can only be described as sarcastic. I mean, that’s how I read it.

I suppose it could have been a compliment on my choice of hat, or football shirt. But that’s not how it felt. How it felt was ‘how dare you use The Road in a manner which in any way could impinge on my divine right to get to the next set of lights a second quicker that I now will be forced to by your desire to get to the station in time to catch your train.’ OK, I admit he had no way of knowing I was going for a train, I doubt he even knows there is a station around here, and I wasn’t actually that late, but, no need to ruin a perfectly pleasant walk.

Self absorbed, overfed, carbon spewing bastard.

Thursday, October 05, 2006


I have, not too put to fine a point on it, being suffering recently from dodgy guts. I will try and avoid any unpleasant details, but feel it is only fair to warn you that my squeam threshold is quite high.

Now, I can normally throw practically anything at my digestive system and it will be quickly and efficiently dealt with. I do have a reputation for a little socially questionable ‘gassing off’, and I would have to admit that my diet, while not exactly conventional, is also not hugely wide ranging. I have been described as fussy, but that’s mothers for you. But, for my part, I have no complaints.

This summer, though, I have had two incidents of disturbance. And not your average five pints and a curry disturbance, but full on gastric insurrection. Complete with incapacitation, violent purging, weight loss and ‘oh shit, why is that so yellow?’ moments. Like Peter Crouch, nothing for ages, then loads at once.

I could, fashionably, put this down to a number of possible causes.

1. Stress. I mean, modern life is so hard. Time for a two week yoga break on Pathos.
2. Not eating the right food. I should obviously start eating wheat grass and eliminate all other wheat products.
3. A build up of tension in my bowels. I should pay a therapist lots of money to clear my chakras, or (resists urge to insert crass pun).
4. Despite the opinion of two NHS doctors, I am actually very, very ill, and must immediately seek the attentions of a private healthy care specialist.

Alternatively, I could just remember to wash my hands more at festivals, and urge everyone else to do the same. Oh, and stay off the cider.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


Last Saturday. Off on a date. A proper one. With a fair chance of getting an invite in for coffee. So I decide to make a bit of an effort.

Shower. Think a little more about clothes even than usual. Clean teeth. Shave, even though I didn’t actually, by my normal standards, need one. And, of course, I cut my self. Just on the collar line. A neat line of small nicks. Not enough to really bleed for any length of time, but enough to ensure any shirt I wore would rub just enough to open them up and get bled on.

I pondered this event, and came to a few snap conclusions:

1. I am mystified why anyone would choose to shave more than is absolutely necessary, and doubly so why I still do. This requires more thought.
2. I decided to wear my home shirt, as we were playing that day. If that caused things to go badly ( and I had no reason to believe that it would, and I was right) then so be it. No point pretending to be someone your not.
3. If I’m going to shave, I must shave tactically, to reduce the occasions of razor use to a minimum.
4. Shaving is best done some time before, liken the night before, you want to appear shaved. If sandpaper is a problem, you can always claim to grow stubble very fast, before ‘fessing up to the truth.
5. It might just be possible that our squad rotation policy needs limiting a little.

Monday, October 02, 2006


I got a leaflet in the post this morning from the bank, and I noticed that they are still using an old image on their ethical policy leaflet. You may know the one, a riot cop is baring down, face a dehumanised black mask, round shield raised. A long baton is grasped in a gauntleted fist, held high and level above his helmet. It’s a powerful, iconic image, and is used by the bank to convey the emotional context of their statement that they do not support ‘oppressive regimes’.

Fine. All very ethical. However, that image isn’t from, as most of it’s recipients probably expect, Pinochet’s Chile, or Franco’s Spain or Saddam’s Iraq. If the original image was shown, you would see the cop is on horseback, and the word POLICE is carried on his shield. The bank actually used to use the version where you could see this. It is an image from Thatcher’s Britain, from South Yorkshire in the miners strike. A fact the bank have altered the image to disguise.

And I’m not surprised. It does, I suppose, raise some questions. Like what they mean by oppressive regime? And which of these regimes they don’t support, exactly? Because they quite blatantly had no problems with the regime they borrowed their poster boy for tyranny from.

They do actually define, in small type at the foot of the image, that they regard an oppressive regime as one that engages in civilian murders and executions, a bar set far lower than the image suggests it is. The point being, they have picked an image that conveys something at odds to their actual policy, a contradiction that forced them to alter the image to avoid making this obvious. It gets worse when you look at their subscription based premium account. But, more of that another day.

More surprising to me, though, is that anyone thinks this make much of a difference anyway. Banking is basically, after all, about storing and moving money, and charging for that service. The bank can impose some controls on the first degree of separation of with whom and how they trade, but not beyond that. There is currently no separate, parallel, ethical international banking system, just as there is currently no separate, parallel, ethical international capitalism. Only niche markets within it of slightly lighter tone, depending on how much laundering is done between me and the death squad.

You pays your money and makes your choice, but don’t ever kid yourself the money is clean.

Sunday, October 01, 2006


October is here, the season of ghosts.

Walking to the station, I am past at the foot of the hill by a red hatchback, driven by a ghost. The same shade of blonde, carelessly cast back in a ponytail. The same small frame, betraying the constant, nervous energy within. The same expression, lips held between the teeth in pensive concentration. Just a flash, a transient few frames as the car past by, up the hill. I was a little shaken, and checked myself, turned and pointlessly looked at the hatch as it swung round the corner, beyond view.

We see what we expect to see, and what we want to see. It could have been her, 20 years older, but what are the odds? And what if it was? There was no moment of brake lights as she stopped and backed up, asking for directions. No scrunch of gravel as, five minutes later, the car pulled alongside and the voice asked if I was who she thought I was. And there was no expectation that there would be, these things only happen in films, don’t they?

Until they happen to you. Rare and shocking, they hold you in the lamps beam, stumbling to even grasp what’s suddenly happening before choosing to grasp the moment, or let it slip away.

When they do happen, whatever the consequences, the disruption and turmoil, grasp them, grasp with both hands and hold on tight. Such moments are rare in our brief lives.