Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Making a mess of things

I had a complaint in the office yesterday that one of our workmen had made a mess of a carpet in one or our client’s rental properties. “You may care to train your operatives to use dustsheets!” said the customer, haughtily. By way of placation he was assured that the matter would be investigated fully and that those responsible would pay with their lives. Or possibly something a bit milder; I forget.

I later collared the employee in question but as I was berating him he pointed out that the culprit was in fact a tiler who had been in over the weekend. My man had left the place spotless on Friday afternoon and found the floors covered in dried tile adhesive when he got there on Monday. Aha! A perfect ‘pass the buck’ scenario, since the tiler had clearly been employed separately by the client and was nothing to do with us.

The client was called. “In fact,” he was told in Columbo style exposition, “the blame appears to lie with the tiler you had in over the weekend. He must have been a really sloppy worker because he’s made a hell of a mess and, according to my man on site, his workmanship leaves an awful lot to be desired.” Bingo! Blame apportioned, other tradesman denigrated, my firm’s reputation restored. We’re the good guys.

There was a pause. Clearly he was swallowing his pride in preparation for making a deserved apology.

Actually,” he growled, “I did the tiling myself.”

Sunday, 9 August 2009


Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Get out of hell free

Look what I found!

Don't worry, I have hastily applied for my Heathen Certificate to annul it, but it did set me wondering about what the purpose of this document might be. Are people supposed to carry them around just in case they're ever accused of not partaking in a pointless ritual when they were too young to have any opinion on the matter? Do you have to flash them at the door before they let you into church on a Sunday, with the vicar playing the part of the sarcastic policeman?

"Left it at home, did you sir? How many times do you think I've heard that excuse? Step out of the building please and keep your hands where I can see them."

But really, what's the point of it? If I had died in my cot the following day were my parents supposed to wave it in the air like a winning lottery ticket exclaiming: "It's okay! It's fine! We got a deluded man to splash water on his head so he's not going to hell!"

Sorry you wasted your time, Edgar.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

A post post post

Back in 1997 I was convinced that the World Wide Web was a very nasty thing indeed. If it were a person, it would be the kind of person who would pull wings off butterflies and microwave gerbils just for the hell of it. I foresaw only negative consequences for what was then a small but growing force and decided that I was going to remain haughtily aloof and have nothing to do with it. As its momentum built, and URLs started to accompany mainstream advertising, I feared for a world that would depend on interaction with VDUs and felt that personal relationships would suffer irrevocably.

I had over 20 penpals at the time. I'd return home from school and spend almost every evening fashioning endless ambitious epistles to my gathered group of faceless friends. I never asked for photographs; it wasn't important. A few were sent unsolicited, but for the most part the appearance and demeanour of my chosen communicants was revealed only by their hand written words over time, like the door to a beautiful walled garden slowly creaking open in a summer breeze.

Without a computer or the desire to own one, I filled pages of A4 refill pads as my biro struggled to keep pace with all the thoughts and questions that my stimulated mind was suggesting. I used carbon paper to make copies of each missive, carefully cataloguing them to keep track of what I was saying to whom in order to avoid repeating myself. A loner then as I am now, it was a way of escaping the walls of my bedroom and tracing my fingertips over the seams of these people's lives, looking for ideas and presenting my own.

There was a news story at the time about the rise of email and how fewer letters were being posted. It was suggested that to counteract this, emails should require virtual stamps before they could be sent, or that a daily limit should be imposed. Good, I thought. Make them suffer. Make it as inconvenient as possible. The internet advocates scoffed at the idea. They had nicknamed the postal service Snail Mail, which made me seethe. I mean, you could post a letter in Plymouth and have it arrive in Edinburgh the following morning - as far as I was concerned that was miraculous. And it wasn't a digital facsimile, fragmented into binary code and impersonally reconstructed at the other end; it was the actual paper I used, embossed with the tactile strokes of my fervent pen. It was thoughtful. It required more effort, which afforded it greater value. I vowed that I would never send a email as long as I lived. Do you remember those reply cards that they used to put in CDs? You filled in your details and they sent you information about forthcoming releases from the artist in question. Most of them asked for an email address in addition to the other information and I took great pleasure in writing NEVER across the space provided. It was a feeble stand, but I enjoyed taking it.

I can't remember what changed my mind, but over the months the number of penpals began to drop. We had shared what needed to be shared and the time span between letters eventually turned into realisations that I would never hear from an individual again. No fanfare, no eulogy, just silent divergence. I purchased my first PC, a Pentium II behemoth with 64Mb of RAM and a 10Gb hard drive that the retailer assured me I would never fill. He was right. I just used it to type up a novel I had written in longhand. I could see the benefit in that. However, a couple of years later curiosity got the better of me and I purchased a modem. Wise men examine both sides of the coin before assessing its value, I reasoned, but soon I saw that my misgivings were an embarrassing misjudgement that I would have to bury and pretend I never held. Ahem.

The point I was going to make, and from which I have meandered quite a distance, is that communicating is a lot harder for me these days because it's easier to do it. I still have the copies of those old letters and if I flick through them now I'm surprised at how vibrant and inventive I was. I still keep in touch with three of those old penpals, two of them exclusively by post, but the letters I write now don't have the same sparkle that the old ones have because I've fallen out of the habit. All the effort I put in back then is what makes it appear so effortless when reading now. That feeling of reaching outside my bedroom that I used to get has become so accessible and commonplace that of course it is taken for granted, but it would be nice to get it back.

Obviously I'm a fully paid up advocate of the internet these days. Somehow I fragmented my luddite self and reconstructed my code into something more nerdlike. But I'm glad to have grown up in a time when the only common forms of communication were landlines and letters; it gives me a sense of purpose and deliberation to remember, acknowledge and aspire to.

Monday, 3 August 2009


I drew this last week and, since it's often nice to share things, I thought I'd post it.

What has she seen? I don't know. Any ideas?

Sunday, 2 August 2009


You may be aware of the Fourth Plinth in London's Trafalgar Square. Between 6 July and 14 October it is playing host to Antony Gormley's One & Other project, where successful applicants can spend an hour being a living exhibit.

One such applicant was Andrew West, who today took the atheist message to the masses by teaching them the moves to Michael Jackson's Thriller. I took these screengrabs from the webcast.

As you can see, Ariane was leading the dancers and it was all very enjoyable until the dreaded cherry picker arrived to take him away. I haven't seen any of the other 'exhibits', but clearly this has made the entire project worthwhile. Good work, Andrew!

Edit: I have subsequently realised that the whole thing is archived here, which rather trumps my screengrabs.

Bobby Robson

I went to Portman Road yesterday to see the tributes to Bobby Robson. I didn't start supporting Ipswich Town until after his departure - I was only five when he left to manage England - but a glance at the history books is all that's required to see what an incredible job he did for us. There have been a few good times since but nothing to compare with the decade under his command when we were right up there with the best.

It didn't start well though. In his first three full seasons we finished 18th, 19th and 13th in a 22 team top flight. Fans called for him to be sacked but the board gave him their backing. Would this have happened in the modern game? Probably not, but such is the value of patience. Over the next ten seasons we finished 4th, 4th, 3rd, 6th, 3rd, 18th, 6th, 3rd, 2nd and 2nd. And while the 18th place was an aberration, winning the FA Cup that season was pretty good compensation! The UEFA Cup followed in 1981 (back then a more prestigious competition), and but for an unjust FA Cup semi final defeat and a paper thin squad required to play 66 games, we could have carried home the treble. Those were, indeed, the days.

So it's no surprise that the people of Ipswich have such great love and respect for Bobby Robson. He earned every bit of it by making a small town club into a genuine force in European football.