Monthly Archives: December 2015

Work/Life Balance…

…Every three weeks the project I’m managing awards someone the title of ‘Team member of the iteration.’ It’s a nice idea – whoever wins receives the adulation of their peers and has a photo taken for the board in which they smile whilst holding an item associated with the company’s brand – an umbrella. This time around we decided to give the award to a group of people – the offshore software testing team, working out of an office in Chenai, India.

In the last week Chenai has been hit with the worst rainfall in over a hundred years. The city has experienced flash floods that submerged whole suburbs and turned its river into an ocean. In the face of this hardship the testers were literally forced to flee for their lives and relocate to another city hundreds of miles away. With the very real possibility that their homes had been destroyed they nevertheless focused on making up the time they had lost and diligently worked through the weekend and evenings to catch up…

…and then we got them to pose with umbrellas and took photos of them.

Travelling to work the next morning I imagined the train being derailed,  waking up in a hospital bed having had both legs amputated and my first priority being to balance a laptop on my stumps so as to pick up wifi cos that progress report wasn’t gonna write itself, to later have a grateful colleague present me with a Thomas the Tank Engine duvet and a card declaring ‘You’re a Winner!’

‘Oh my God, we’re monsters!’ I announced to the office. The general consensus was that it probably wasn’t that bad. I unleashed my Thomas the Tank Engine analogy, but not being aficionados of Ringo Starr’s difficult second album the cultural reference was lost. (At the risk of appearing too heroic I should point out that I wasn’t that vociferous in my assertions as they are keeping my project on track).

Over the years I’ve worked with many offshore teams, and the two things they all have in common are i. Uber-politeness, and ii. An insane work ethic.

I met an old friend for coffee and the subject came up.

‘Do you think maybe we’ve (I’ve) been monumentally insensitive?’

In clear earshot of the baristas, all of whom are either African or South American exchange students he replied, ‘That’s what outsourcing’s all about.’

White people…Jeez…

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Books, Guerrilla Marketing, Uncategorized

Guff & Gubbins…

Imagine an embryo in a suit sitting at a desk in a cubicle disguised as an adult. Somehow it has made its way into central London on a grad scheme; the main responsibility of which appears to gravitate around the concept of making me feel old and decrepit. More pressingly (he) is now occupying the room that houses the cabinet in which my work shoes reside. I tap on the glass and open the door.

‘Hi, do you mind if I just get my shoes?’

All the blood drains from of his face. The transformation is quite dramatic. ‘Yes.’

‘You do mind?’

‘Yes I do…sorry.’

‘Oh…well I’ll jus-‘ The wall of stench hits me. He was been breaking wind – a lot. It’s a very tiny room and he clearly wasn’t expecting company. I am physically repelled and contain the outbreak with a hefty slam of the door.

Given a moment to think I realise that I probably should’ve handled that better – maybe acted as if there wasn’t a paint-stripping reek assaulting the inside of my throat and calmly returned later. I smile through the glass to show him that there are no hard feelings and that I shall retrieve the aforementioned footwear in due course. Shortly thereafter he scurries away.

4084833608a5daa7c93e65460d0af83b885b907724ee782c48b0b2c36307d596d5ad42c7Later I am returning from lunch when I see the lift doors closing. I make a dash for it and step inside. There is already someone within – the graduate! He seems mortified to be in a confined space with me. The lift takes an eternity to begin its accent, and we are only moving for a few seconds before a robot announces ‘Emergency call activated.’ The graduate steps forward. A red light is flashing in the space recently vacated by his ass-cheeks. He becomes flustered.

‘Don’t worry about it,’ I reassure. ‘It happens every other day. They should probably think about relocating the button. Someone’ll ring through in a minute and we’ll be on our way.’

…And then the stench hits me – worse then before! We are in an even smaller room. There is no escape. Embryo won’t look me in the eye. His suit looks highly flammable. He is taking a very great risk. This is too glorious an opportunity to pass up.
‘Seriously, there’s no point squeezing one out stealthily. I’m the only other person in here and I know it wasn’t me.’

‘What wasn’t you?’

Come on!’

‘How do I know it wasn’t you?’

What wasn’t me?’

‘…Whatever it is you’re talking about.’

‘How do you know? Cos it was you. If there was one other guy in here then there might be an element of mystery, but as there isn’t, there isn’t.’

Before we descend into a he-who-smelt-it-dealt-it territory a muffled, metallic sounding voice comes from the lift’s side panel. ‘Can I help you?’

‘Yeah, you can let me out of this dutch oven before I asphyxiate.’

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Guerrilla Marketing, Uncategorized

Summon the Posh

There’s nothing more skank-ass-ho than a man walking through a park at 8am wearing a tuxedo. And it’s not like I didn’t take every precaution to prevent this from happening. I left the Christmas Party at a reasonable time, caught the train, cranked up my headphones to drown out two Gen Y girls who were engaged in a competition to see who could be the least socially aware (‘I’m such a free-spirit that men can’t handle me…’), shared some ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ type vibes with fellow passengers (‘We all did it!’), got delayed, commenced the walk home, saw my car at the midway point, knew for certain that I was way too drunk to drive, got into the passenger seat just for a minute, just to rest my eyes, just to get a bit warm and then – BAM – right in the middle of the school run and kids faces at the window and ‘Mommy, is that man dead?’ and ‘No darling, he just doesn’t have his life together’…oh, and the judgemental eyes of the upwardly mobile middle-class like I’ve stumbled into the hood and am gonna get stabbed up or barred from Waitrose or both…

I looked at the dashboard clock – too late to go home and change before dropping my car off for its MOT. An image of the queen popping out of Buckingham Palace to buy some fags was firmly ensconced in my brain as I rucked up at the garage – lop-sided tiara and foie gras stuck between her teeth. My deodorant, impressive though it was, had long-since given up the ghost and my waxy skin / stubble combo spoke only of shame.

Various overall wearing staff made no attempt to hide their amusement as I stumbled up metal steps to a port-o-cabin and heard a voice that sounded like Eartha Kitt’s demonic transgender uncle mumble that I was here to drop off the Audi.

‘Why are you in a tuxedo?’ the man asked

‘Why are you not?’

‘Fair enough.’

Then came the annoyance of him asking me complicated questions like ‘Is this your address?’ and ‘Has your phone number changed?’ and all I could think off in response was: I am an aristocrat in decline, I’m going to be spectacularly overcharged, Where can I purchase the healing elixir that is bacon? 

With both hands I reached into my coat pockets to retrieve the car keys and came upon the handles of a set of maracas (which I already knew were in there from when I got out the car, but for some reason had failed to stow in the glove box).

The man could see them (and hear them) and now I was off the chart crazy. An explanation was surely forthcoming. Should I use the real reason (So that I’ve got something to do when I’m waiting at the lights)? No, of course not:

‘It’s how we, The Elite, identify ourselves to each other in public. I usually use a French horn, but my butler’s having it polished.’

Leave a comment

Filed under Guerrilla Marketing

You are fragile and temporary…

2015-02-09 15.35.23 copyEnding One: The Thorn Tree was a pub in Wakefield, infamous for being an excessively violent place in which to drink. My friend had taken me there specifically to prove this point and was duly rewarded. Within an hour a fight broke out between two women. Some karaoke was hastily cobbled together. The mood calmed somewhat.

I believe (if memory serves – it was a long time ago) that I was in the process of being light-heartedly chastised for something when my friend stopped mid-sentence and glanced over my shoulder.

‘I think the man behind you is dead.’

‘What?’

He repeated himself. I turned to look.

‘No, don’t look. It’d be rude!’

‘How am I supposed to verify if…?’

For a few awkward moments we debated what to do – finding it semi funny / semi disturbing, and pretty certain that it would all turn out to be a misunderstanding.

‘No, I think he really is dead.’

We both stood up and took a few short paces over to the man’s table. He was sitting bolt upright, his face composed, eyes wide.

‘Evening,’ my friend said.

‘Excuse me?’ I added.

‘No blinking – He’s not there.’

An old gent, out on his own, a half finished pint, a silent slipping away. It was real.

Whilst my thoughts drifted towards the realms of ‘Is it sad that he died alone or good that he died in pub?‘ my friend had far more practical considerations in mind. Eager to preserve the man’s dignity he calmly made his way over to the bar and informed the landlady. Her reaction was the complete opposite of what had been hoped or intended. Rather than quietly dealing with the matter she flew into a fluster and started making it all about her. A very public call to the emergency services alerted the entire room to what had transpired, and we watched in bemused horror as she draped a bright yellow tea-towel over the man’s face in order to hide the fact that he was dead.

‘What on earth do you think you’re doing?’ I asked.

‘Well I can’t hardly use a sheet can I? He’d look like a ghost. ANYONE KNOW WHO HE IS?’

‘I can’t tell,’ one of the punters replied. ‘He’s got a bright yellow tea-towel over his face.’

Some in the room found it tragic; others hilarious. A few (me included) found it both.

This blog is read by a few hundred people. Statistically therefore one of you (us) is going to die a comedy death at some point, and all the things you’d like to be remembered for – being a great man, woman, lover, philanthropist – will take second billing to having chocked on a dildo during a hen-do gone horribly wrong, or decapitated by a shard of frozen urine being expelled from a plane (‘You remember Pete?’ ‘What, Pissy-Pete?’ Or ‘Hey, how about Phil?’ ‘Oh yeah, the tea-towel guy?’ etc)…

Think on…

 

Ending Two: Mike, 59, ex-marine, ex-North Sea oil rig diver, IT developer, salt-of-the-earth, two weeks from getting married for the second time, December 2005 – my leaving do. Mike’s a naturally scruffy person (a man after my own heart), but under his fiancée’s instructions he’s gone out and bought an incredibly expensive suit – Armani, voluminously huge – the kind Al Capone would’ve worn. He spends the evening taking it out of a travel bag to show people, uttering a single, well rehearsed line of dialogue and replacing it in its bag. The line:

‘I’m only going to wear this twice. Once when I get married and one when they bury me in it.’

At 10pm he leaves – last train to the south coast. We shake hands. It has truly been a pleasure. We’ll see each other tomorrow for my final day.

The next morning a phone call diverts me from the office towards a coffee shop. ‘Leaving presentation’ my all-about-me brain suggests. I push through the front door and someone is whispering in my ear that Mike died in his sleep from a brain aneurism. There then follows a fog of floating into the office, gathering up my traumatised team and taking them somewhere they can breathe. We are joined by our project sponsor, a very senior manager who laments ‘It’s a shame the pubs aren’t open. If ever there were a need for a stiff drink…’

The phone rings – my boss – Where are you? – In a coffee shop – Your team? – With me – Have you forgotten that you need to get a software build out my lunchtime? – Mike… – Yeah, I heard – Then you’ll know that the software build will need to wait a little while – I know you’re in shock, but that’s no excuse for being unprofessional – There are grown men here crying, you need to dismiss the idea from your mind – Listen Martin I will not…

The senior manager can hear what is happening. He makes a gesture to me that I should hand over the phone. ‘Hang on, Rob want’s a word.’

‘Hi Andy, it’s Rob. Yeah listen, show some compassion and f@$* off!’ He ends the call and hands the phone back with a wry smile.

I write to Mike’s fiancée (whom I’ve never met). She asks me to read the letter out at his funeral. The whole team are there, and the senior manager, and his manager, but not my (now ex) boss. All throughout the service I am feeling sorry for him and thinking that he has failed to grasp one of life’s fundamental lessons – that life does not go on, and that all things stop for death.

Mike’s fiancée comes up to me afterwards and says: ‘He rolled over in the middle of the night and whispered, ‘Great to be in bed with the one I love.’ That was the last of him.’

In moments such as these you can only go with your gut. A phrase like that doesn’t need my sympathy. It needs admiration:

‘My word,’ I reply. ‘That’s how I want to go out!’

 

Ending Three:

On Christmas day 2001 I went with my father to lay a wreathe on his mother’s grave. It was cold and had snowed recently. It was a sombre moment and there was a pregnant pause that needed to be filled with some poignant words.

But I wasn’t the one to fill it. Feeling somewhat belligerent I decided that my father (a man private about his feelings) was going to be the one to speak and not me. A considerable amount of time passed in silence. It became awkward, oppressive, slightly funny, then awkward again. Eventually, when he realised that I wasn’t letting him off the hook my father turned to me and said:

‘You know, when I pop my clogs, I’d like to be buried in a snazzy cardboard box – a pink one – something garish that offends the mourners.’

This is how we’re dealing with bereavement is it? I thought. OK, I can run with it…

‘When I die,’ I responded, ‘I’d like to be liquidised and surreptitiously added to the reception punch. I could then literally be a pain in everyone’s arse.’

Father upped the ante: ‘I’d like to be loaded into a catapult, fired into the air and, wherever by body lands, be left to rot…no, not a catapult – a trebuchet – I’d go further.’

I brought it home: ‘When you go I’m going to have you fitted with animatronics so that I can remote control you to rise from the grave going RRRRAAAHHHH!’

‘And that’ll help you cope will it?’

‘I imagine so yes.’

‘Oh good.’

 

Epilogue: Why have I written about death? It’s not because I’m building up to a personal revelation. It’s simply this.

I was meeting an old friend for lunch on Friday, but she cancelled due to fears about getting on a train to London. The killings in Paris had her on edge. I was socialising with a client a few days beforehand when we heard that a couple in San Bernardino had killed fourteen people over a work dispute. They themselves were later shot dead by police. On Thursday a man in London arbitrarily pushed a complete stranger off an underground platform into the path of an oncoming tube. The blogosphere is currently alight with debates over gun control and whether or not to invade Syria, blaming God, David Cameron and the American senate to name but a few. A company I’m working with offers terrorism insurance. I’m led to believe it’s now a fairly standard practice. I have a strong opinion on all of these things, but in some respects that’s also part of the problem – Everyone shouting into an abyss. Never before in human history have people been spoon fed death, terror, death, terror by ubiquitous media morning, noon and night. Never before have they had to be so sophisticated in compartmentalising certain horrors and placing others into context so as not to go insane, so well done you!

That’s probably the only point I was trying to make – Well done you. That I’ve chosen silly slants on the stories is part defiance and part irreverence. I once saw someone I love die and there was nothing warm or graceful about it. Afterwards I carried the mantra around in my heart: You are fragile and temporary. It would help all of us I think to know our place in the grand scheme of things…

…But statistically the world is becoming a far safer place – more parts of it enjoy more liberties then ever before, there is more diversity, less racism, greater rights for women. If we can work out how not to use everything up we might just get where we’re going.

For example: In the dim and distance past if I’d taken a shine to another man’s wife (or his cave) I’d have had to bash his head in with a rock and move in. Now alI I have to do is stalk her on Facebook, take her out to an obscenely priced restaurant, get criticised for not knowing which fork goes with which course, have her post my faux-pas on Twitter and subsequently struggle to gain the acceptance from all of her judgmental friends.

Simpler, happier times…

3 Comments

Filed under Books

Peruvian stand-off

In an earlier post (El Stake-out) I evoked widespread scepticism amongst the writing community by suggesting that a nefarious cadre of elderly Peruvians were at large and up to no good in the Royal county of Berkshire.

Well get ready to apologise people cos I’ve got absolutely no evident for a second incident!

Quick recap: Four Peruvians in fully lacy regalia – I bump into them freakin everywhere – The 6th sense: I see red people – followed them / they followed me – presume other people can see them too, but this is yet to be verified. I may turn out to have died at the beginning (spoiler alert)…and you’re all caught up…

For weeks now it’s been quiet – Not even un peepo pequeño, but on Tuesday morning…

…Hills meadow, the scraggy bit next to the car park, a lone man walking along a solitary path at dusk, late for his train, flustered, handsome etc. He looks up…and blocking his path…the four Peruvians (the two women at least – the man are waaay back). They see him. There are devilish smiles of recognition. The punishment for having arbitrarily stalked them one afternoon will be swift and severe. Its too late to run; too late to take a photo (conveniently). He later pens an exact drawing of the ordeal and hazards a guess at their names (Big Mike levitated apparently).

IMG_1043

In his head he hears David Attenborough narrating: ‘The Berkshire man is bigger, but at 39 he’s well past his prime. The lighter, nimbler predators can sense that he’s disorientated. They wait to see if he’ll do something douchey like fall into the canal or start crying…’

A few years back I narrowly avoided  a head on collision with an ice-cream van in Sri Lanka. Later I envisaged my father reading the eulogy and choking back grief in order to savour the immortal line: He died a clown’s death. Given the choice however between ice-cream and South American smack-down I’m going with the former. Either way I’m winning the Darwin Awards that year, but everything’s relative.

What to do?

Think dammit. Your cover’s well and truly blown. You need to reach your extraction point. Where is it? You don’t have one. You are, after all, an IT consultant… I wonder if there are men who died simply from watching too many Steven Seagal movies…I tell you what – don’t think!

Big Mike’s looking tasty – all four feet of him. I’m reckoning that if push comes to shove I can probably drop kick him into a bush, but then the women’ll be all over me like stink.

How to appease them? The only Spanish I know fluently is the phrase ‘Lo siento para mi esposa’ (I apologise for my wife) and, though useful as a general statement, is of no practical application here!

But wait, a woman is coming and she’s pushing a pram. I’m going to avoid a massacre by invoking operation human-shield. The Berkshire man is past them, onto the train, still debonair etc.

But now I’m having to get up 20 minutes earlier every morning to go the long way round the park, and Google’s been no help. Typed in “some sort of tracking device (or blow dart) that fits into a panpipe” – Nothing.

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized