Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Trial by audit

I haven't posted about work for a while - mainly because it's been loads better than when I used to moan about it: the one day each week that I'm doing art and art-related stuff is so much more than enough to compensate for the most challenging days that might occur. So, the rest of the week, if (or when) shit happens, I feel much more centred and able to deal with it: the impact on me of having the opportunity to develop art practice in a group setting is incredibly sustaining and nourishing.

But right now, to use a phrase I hate, it's a real rollercoaster. That's right folks, a real rollercoaster! Ugh. The auditors are in and they're looking at our fine toothcombs with even finer toothcombs, and then submitting those even finer toothcombs to the utmost scrutiny whilst uttering buzzwords and phrases such as quality, choice, measurable outcomes and a sausage dog which pisses milkshake. Not sure about that last one, but it works for me (well actually it doesn't, but what the hell).

We're right in the middle of this. I might find out tomorrow that I don't have a job to go back to since the powers that be, having previously overspent, are now ensuring that services which don't deliver quality, choice, measurable outcomes and - perhaps - milkshake-pissing sausage dogs, aren't going to be around for very long.

I'm calm, perhaps in part because I had a complete meltdown last week. Ensuring that one's written records over the last 20 months are robust enough to withstand the finest of toothcombs - and then finding out, one working day before the audit begins (that's right - one working day), that a fundamental part of the written records has changed, and that one needs to revise all of one's written records accordingly - takes its toll, but allows one's perspective and priorities to come into sharper focus.

I now personally feel more equal to the Kafka-esque machinations that are required, once again, to complete the task at hand (regardless of whether it's ultimately successful or not).

But I also feel like I did in the fortnight when I did jury service some years ago. I was serving as a juror on a nasty, depressing case: the fact that I was having to deal first-hand with many nasty, depressing issues in my job, meant that this felt like a holiday. Not that I took the issues at hand lightly, not at all: but the fact that we, as jurors, were quite literally compartmentalised, ie in our own little box - and that our task was to observe, to listen, to take in information, and not to take action or make decisions, meant that I felt pretty unburdened by the matter in hand.

Others on the same jury found it stressful, confessing that they weren't sleeping as well as they might, for example. I'm not trying to say that I was an altogether more calm, relaxed person than they were, for that's surely not the case: but I was perhaps more able to process the kind of issues that were being dealt with in the trial, given the kind of things which would regularly crop up in my main job, and which would sometimes necessitate direct intervention.

There was an earth tremor one night during this time, everyone at court talked about it the next day (it was in the papers too) - but I had slept soundly throughout.

When it came to the deliberations however, that's when it hit me. This was the point, of course, at which our thoughts and decisions would potentially have a very big impact on those involved in the case. I felt very engaged in the process - we twelve jurors had an excellent and extremely thorough level of debate over the course of two days - and I took an active part in it from start to finish.

But this was the point at which it weighed heavily on me. I still slept well, but - once out of the courthouse and back home - I wasn't the same. For a good few evenings, I shut myself down - if the phone rang, I didn't answer it, and I made no attempt to ring or otherwise communicate with anyone I knew. I brooded, I threw myself into the tasks I would normally carry out - cooking, domestic chores, going out for a walk, working on music, whatever - with great intensity, most of it to shut out the raging noise generated by the sense of what felt at stake, and what level of responsibility lay with me.

I'm feeling a bit like that right now. There's been so much information to process - and break down, and discard, and start anew, and reprocess over the space of weeks and weeks, if not months - and right now is crunch time.

So I've felt for days that I'm shutting the rest of the world out. I think it's more the case that I just don't have the energy to let the rest of the world even have a peek in at the moment.

Whatever the outcome, it will pass.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

I, precarious

I saw Dead Man's Shoes last night. Nasty, brutal, utterly compelling film - I'd strongly recommend it if you like your films to be nasty, brutal and utterly compelling.

What was of particular interest for me was a certain dichotomy - that of ruthless, cold reason, against a desperate and frightening loss of rationality. This dichotomy existed both within specific individuals, and in opposing groups of people, which made for quite a powerful element of psychodrama as the sequence of dark events unfolded.

The narrative skilfully made room for the viewer (well, me anyway) to be able to extend a sense of empathy to the central figure, despite the fact that he was out to seek murderous revenge. That empathy was to be necessarily checked later on, but it served to cast light on how a particular event - or sequence of events - can cause a person to take a certain path, dramatically repositioned outside the realms of the everyday.

But this is the key to its strength for me - that ability to draw one in, and to make one ask, under such desperate circumstances, could that be me ? Could I take that course of action, fully mindful of the likely consequences?

It also made me think - perhaps a little tangentially - of the TV film Threads, made in the middle of 80s nuclear-attack paranoia, about the aftermath of such a cataclysmic event.

I don't actually remember much about it - and I'm not vouching for its quality or lack of - but the salient point here is the title, and what it refers to: the notion that everyday, ordinary life (whatever that is) is held together only by delicate little strands, which could break at any moment in the face of certain events. After which chaos and disorder ensues, both within and outside the self.

All of which is way too ridiculously grandiose for the point of what this post was originally going to be about (namely, me), and as such I may well have just written myself into a corner.


Well anyway. At the weekend, my mind was brimming over with thoughts about two situations which have occurred in very recent days. These are both related to my employment, but there any similarity ends between them (except that also I won't mention any details about either, since they're necessarily confidential in nature). All I can say really is that both, had they been handled differently, could have been quite pivotal for all concerned.

My sense of preoccupation, such that it was, was about the sheer sense of potential that these two situations carried. I'm not talking about potential in a positive way either: in the one case especially, had things happened in a certain way, there could have been a notable impact both on myself and on a number of other individuals. Over the weekend I still had room for an element of doubt as to how well that situation had been resolved, and so it gave me the space in which to project forward any number of possible scenarios.

Not a great place to be.

Thankfully it turned out fine, but that window of tangible uncertainty allowed enough space to get more than a glimpse of huge changes, of normality rent asunder. It reminded me just how vulnerable and precarious one can feel, or can actually be: often without realising it. I'm still feeling the aftermath of this sense of precariousness.

It was a disturbing blip, which reminded me of a rather humdrum train journey one Friday evening: I was sat in a crowded compartment, full of what looked like businessmen/women, office workers and so on. All sorts of conversations were taking place about finance, accounts, deals in this and that. My eyes rested on a group of four such people sat facing each other just ahead of me: smart in their suits and ties and accessories, and emblematic of so much that I just could not identify with.

I remember actually delighting in finding them irritating as they waffled on about things which I neither knew nor cared about. It all seemed so mundane to me, so ordinary and downright dull.

And then one of them just froze. He looked like he'd got the thousand yard stare - glazed over, impenetrable. He started shaking violently, hands and jaw clenched. Saliva dripping from his mouth. The atmosphere in the carriage swiftly changed as more people saw this happening.

In the moment between witnessing this and realising that he must be having some sort of epileptic seizure (his colleagues were calm and unfazed), there was such a huge gulf between my prior thoughts and assumptions and what was unfolding before me, that it seemed as though someone had just made a big rip in the fabric of that point in space and time.

As with these work-related situations which I've had to be annoyingly vague about here, it served as a wake up call in terms of taking certain things for granted.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Tags (7)

I received this award twice, first time round from katherine, and second time from leigh. Thank you very much to both of you! Both, I believe, first wandered over to these parts via the Black Box widget, and I'm glad to have made their acquaintance(s). I've been rather tardy in properly acknowledging them having awarded me an award, so please both accept my humble apologies (how many times can I get the words both and award into one paragraph?).

Also, leigh had some questions to answer, I'm assuming rightly or wrongly that I'm expected to do the same. Well either way, given that my mind is buzzing with all sorts of other things at the present moment, then it's one of those rare occasions where I'm happy to be charged with the task of answering a few questions, so here goes.

1. Where is your mobile? On the chair arm.
2. Where is your significant other? Pass.
3. Your hair colour? Brown and (increasingly) grey.
4. Your mother? On my mind, presently.
5. Your father? Gone but never forgotten.
6. Your favourite thing? I filled in a job application form once, which asked for hobbies - I think I put "Art, music, literature, pub." I know that's four things but there you go. I didn't get the job either. But there's perhaps a circular kind of logic in the fact that work isn't one of my favourite things.
7. Your dream last night? Quite a depressing one for some reason, which seemed to be about my mother's frailty hence the answer to (4), but which had a rather memorable and funny moment: I was outside in the street looking up at a window, where there were two cats looking out. Both had electric guitars and were playing them with serious intent, and posing a bit as well.
8. Your dream/goal? Self-realisation.
9. The room you're in? Living room.
10. Your hobby? I'm not sure. I don't know if I have hobbies.
11. Your fear? Too many to mention.
12. Where do you want to be in six years? I don't look that far ahead.
13. Where were you last night? At a rockabilly night (not something I've done before).
14. What you're not? Certain.
15. One of your wish-list items? Peace and quiet.
16. Where you grew up? Derbyshire.
17. The last thing you did? Cook.
18. What are you wearing? Trousers.
19. Your TV? Don't have one (though the TV licence people seem to find it very hard to believe)
20. Your pets? I don't have any.
21. Your computer? PC (this one anyway).
22. Your mood? Weary and preoccupied.
23. Missing someone? Probably.
24. Your car? Don't have one.
25. Something you're not wearing? A dress (or for that matter, anything not listed in Q18. Well, except a t-shirt which I'm wearing as well, but I prefer the answer I gave above).
26. Favourite shop? Anything which has some individuality, not part of the identikit high-street chain-store blandness. Now I wouldn't call it my favourite shop, but what springs to mind is a baker's shop in Chesterfield which had a beautiful and very old interior, with amazing black and white floor tiles.
27. Your summer? Did we have one? Well, yes we did, because I got plenty of cycling done.
28. Love someone? Once.
29. Your favourite color? Blue.
30. When was the last time you laughed? Earlier - at my own stupidity.
31. Last time you cried? Reading a book (already mentioned in these pages) a few weeks ago.

As per usual I shan't pass this one on, because I'm rubbish with such things!

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

A taste of horror more violent and sick than anything you can imagine

I was going to call this post Slaying Demons (2), following on from this one. I decided not to because, in the wake of the harrowing experience I'm about to recount, demons have been faced but not slain. Also - and crucially - I thought it better to go with a far less dramatic, less over-the-top kind of title.

An obsessive bloggy-stalker might have seen many a comment of mine on other people's blogs, relating to children's tv programmes, in particular those from my own childhood. Then again an obsessive bloggy-stalker might have printed out those comments and made some sort of shrine, or fashioned them into speech-bubbles and put them on little home-made action figures and played weird games with them.

Anyway, I'm getting off the point slightly.

I had a conversation at work which was a kind of distillation of many of the aforementioned comments - for example, how Mr Benn was (as far as I'm concerned anyway) a metaphor for illicit substances. You know: bloke goes to see a man in a shop, gets to "try on a costume," then spends a whole afternoon having weird and wonderful adventures in strange lands.

Or how incredibly poignant and sad Bagpuss was, and how I don't think I could watch it now for those reasons, and how it served to gently introduce to children the concepts of loss and grief (so someone told me anyway, but it has a resonance).

And so on and so forth.

My colleagues listened and shared their own reminiscences, and then I found myself thinking about it. That programme.

That horrible, dark, scary, squalid, nasty little programme - full of shadows and evil intent. I shuddered.

Did any of you ever watch Pipkins, I asked.

Shit, I'd let the cat out of the bag now. I would have to go through with it.

Pipkins? Can't remember, what was it like?

How to describe it? It was a horrible, dark, scary, squalid, nasty little programme - full of shadows and evil intent, I replied.

Blank looks. No, don't think so.

I went on to describe how it used to scare the shit out of me, how it was all these seedy, malevolent creatures who lived in this shadowy attic, and everything they did was just dark and hellish. Yet I would watch it every week, and it would leave me feeling like I'd had a brush with something evil.

Still blank looks, indeed a furrowed brow hither and thither too. There was one thing for it. I went on the net and found a clip.

It was easier to watch, knowing my colleagues were there with me. A brush with something evil shared, is a brush with something evil halved (or something). They watched, they squirmed, and they understood.

Days later, they're still talking about it - and I'm still shuddering.

Monday, 13 October 2008

Misreading the signs (1)

(with apologies, for the title, to Reading the Signs).

Possibly the first of many such posts: possibly not. But I do seem to continually misread newspaper headlines, billboard ads, posters and any other such texts when I see them at a glance.

Today's, then, was

While the bus is in motion, passengers are requested not to stand forward of this sign, or otherwise wound the driver.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Nostalgia ain't....

If you read this, if your eyes are passing over this right now,(even if we don't speak often or ever) please post a comment with a COMPLETELY MADE UP AND FICTIONAL memory of you and me.

It can be anything you want - good or bad - BUT IT HAS TO BE FAKE.

When you're finished, post this little paragraph in your blog and see what your friends come up with.

(go on. i DARES ya!)

(Cut and Pasted from B's blog)

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Everything in moderation

I'm back home.

Yes I know, I didn't even mention I was away. Well I wasn't far away, just house-sitting for some friends who were staying elsewhere for a week or so. Nice to have a change of scenery and routine and all the rest, and some feline company: said cat being resident at the aforementioned house. I presume he saw me as a temporary change of staff.

It was all very civilized and relaxed, unlike the times when I used to house-sit for some other friends who lived out in the countryside. It was relatively isolated so I wouldn't have much (if any) human contact - and the cat in this particular abode seemed to delight in developing, manipulating and refining a peculiar set of dynamics between he and me.

In short, by the end of my stay there it would feel like a cross between The Shining and one of those fight sequences between Inspector Clouseau and Cato. I could be walking from one room to the next and, to the sound of a bloodcurdling wail, suddenly be set upon by the cat which had launched itself from some devious vantage point. He would be constantly spoiling for a fight, and would also delight in walking up to me and then sitting down facing away from me, his neck scrunched up into his shoulders, as if to say, fuck you .

One day I had the upper hand in one of our skirmishes (started by him yet again) and, utterly disgruntled, he sloped off to sulk in some undisclosed location. I was getting a little worried when I realised the lateness of the hour and there was still no sign of him. Slightly woozy after a couple of drinks, I made sure there was cat food on his plate, did a tour of the house, and then decided he'd have turned up by the morning.

I switched all the lights off.

I went into the spare room and got into bed. I was starting to doze off when I heard the faintest of noises.

I opened an eye, with which I did a quick scan of the darkened room from where I was lying. I couldn't see anything. A faint noise again, from very close by.

I slowly started to move, craning my neck to look behind me: the window was behind the top end of the bed. As soon as I began to move, I caught sight of a cat-shaped silhouette sat in the window: simultaneously, a low and very eerie growl issued forth from that same silhouette.

There you are! I said, and lay back down to get some sleep...except that he wouldn't let me. Everytime I moved, he emitted the same sinister growl. It was hilarious and weird at the same time - but if I laughed, he would growl again. The end result though, was that I wasn't going to get to sleep anytime soon while this situation continued.

After some time, I realised what I had to do. I put my hand out towards the cat, who might more accurately be described as a Feline Attack Unit. He went in for the kill, and I made some token efforts to fight back. In other words, I let him win. Then, and only then, did he exit the room and leave me in peace.

Completely unrelated to the above, all comments for the next couple of days will be subject to moderation.


No reason whatsoever, I'm just genuinely curious to see how it works.

Friday, 3 October 2008

Something lighter

I found this on the internet years ago, can't remember where, but it still makes me laugh:

Wednesday, 1 October 2008


...having just read this. Beyond a few choice ones, it's not easy to find words for those with such a callous, casual disregard for someone's life.