Thursday, 19 October 2017

just a girl...

Like many people, I've been genuinely shocked by the number of female friends in my Facebook timeline using the #MeToo hashtag to show that they have been the victims of some form of sexual assault or abuse.

In spite of my best attempts to check my privilege in at the door, I've still been somewhat shocked too by some of the articles and commentary that have followed in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal that kicked all of this off in the first place.  I just struggle with some of the generalisation: I'm a man, so perhaps it's inherently harder for me to understand, but it's difficult not to feel at least a little bit got-at when it seems like my whole gender is under suspicion.

Look at this article: Want to Treat Women Better? Here's a List to Start With.

There's a lot of common sense here (although, maybe a big part of the problem is that these things aren't commonly understood).  I realise that it's my privilege talking, but it feels as though a lot of the stuff here isn't only about gender, but is really about basic human decency:

 - Don't talk over people
 - Don't get defensive when you get called out
 - Don't make assumptions about someone's intelligence based on the way they dress
 - Be aware of your inherent power in any given situation
 - Don't send unsolicited dick pics

etc.

These are basic principles for not being an arsehole, right? (I nearly said dickhead, but the words you choose are important and it's easy to avoid the gender-specific insult and just go for a body part that we all possess instead).

Also, the last point in that list..."Don’t read a list like this and think that most of these don’t apply to you".... doesn't that read to you as just a little self-satisfied; as though the person writing this has just dropped the mic, fixed you with a glare and folded their arms?

Look.  I get it.  I really do.  I try hard not to be part of the problem.  I'm a big guy, and although you and I know that I'd get blown over in a stiff-breeze and wouldn't say boo to a goose, I noticed very early on that my physical presence sometimes intimidated.  If I was walking behind a woman at night, I quickly learned that they sometimes felt uneasy and threatened by my presence.  I knew that I had no ill-intent, but I also realised that they had no way of knowing that and the simple act of crossing the road helped to signal that I wasn't a threat.  It's only a small thing to do and I was happy to do it.  Frankly, not sending unsolicited dick pics is even easier.

I don't pretend to be a feminist, but I'm certainly not one of those guys who gets inarticulately and irrationally angry at ridiculous things like the all-girl Ghostbusters or the new prominence of female roles in the Star Wars films (the First Order is a much more equal opportunities employer than the Empire used to be, so they're not all bad).  Although I grew up without strong female influences on my life - mostly single sex schooling and no sisters - I've spent much of my adult life surrounded by the most amazing, intelligent, high-achieving women.  The idea that women are in any way inferior is just laughable.  My wife will doubtless tell you that I fall too easily into traditional gender roles at home and don't pull my weight enough with domestic chores, and she's probably right (although, I think that's essentially down to me having much lower standards than it is assuming that they're primarily a woman's jobs... but I could definitely do more).

It's just not helpful to label large, diverse groups of people with one big stereotype, is it?

That doesn't mean we don't have a problem, mind.  My Facebook friends have shown me that clearly enough over the course of this week.

Monday, 16 October 2017

back-scrubber...


On the way to work this morning, I was listening to 6Music and they played the lead single off Morrissey’s new album, “Spent the Day in Bed”. I saw him performing it a couple of weeks ago on Later…. (watch that here) and wasn’t terribly impressed. It sounded better second time around, I think at least partly because the very sight of Morrissey now annoys me and I was able to just listen to the song without any other distraction.

There was a time in my life when I absolutely adored Morrissey. I discovered The Smiths relatively late, in my first year at University, but I fell hard. My gateway song was “Half a Person”, heard on a friend’s cassette copy of the compilation album, “The Complete Picture”… but the timing must have been just right for where I was in my life at that time, and I was in love. I even spent a fair bit of time, way back in the early days of the world wide web mucking about getting into arguments on alt.music.smiths and alt.music.morrissey. I wonder what happened to thrill/Jill. She was easy to bait but remains the most passionate Morrissey fan I ever came across, and that is really saying something. He certainly seems to attract them, doesn’t he?

It sounds ridiculous now, but at the time, their entire back catalogue was deleted and you could only buy the albums on import. I remember being delighted to find a French import copy of “Hatful of Hollow” on CD at a record fair at the Birmingham NEC. It was quite an event when Warner Brothers re-released the back catalogue (which managed to upset Rough Trade indie purists, of course… extra track and a tacky badge and all that). In 1993, my three housemates and I agreed that we would each draw another housemate out of the hat and buy that person a Christmas present instead of everyone having to buy something for everyone else. I was given a limited edition 10 inch vinyl copy of “Hatful of Hollow”, still my favourite of their albums and something that I had framed and still has pride of place in my man cave to this day. I didn’t even own a record player until 2015.

Eventually, I started to realise that Morrissey was a bit of a prat. Not only that, but the quality of his output seemed to drop off a cliff and he seemed to disappear entirely for a few years towards the end of the 1990s. Maladjusted was pretty bad, I know… well, have you ever met a keener window cleaner? I still loved a lot of the music ("Bona Drag" is brilliant, “Vauxhall and I” is a classic and there’s lots to like on “You Are the Quarry” too, even if it’s been very patchy since), but something had changed. Maybe Morrissey had always been like this and I’d just got a girlfriend and moved on with my life… but he’s obviously pretty awful now, isn’t he? Do you think he ever looks at the seemingly endless cycle of feuds with his record companies or the press or high court judges and former band mates and ever wonders if perhaps it might be him? Maybe, just maybe we were prepared to overlook “Asian Rut”, “Bengali in Platforms” and “National Front Disco”, but when he’s trumpeting on about Nigel Farage, Brexit and his noxious views on the Chinese? Hmmm. Was he always like this and the fans were just too blind to see it?

As the late Sean Hughes once remarked, “Everyone grows out of their Morrissey phase. Except Morrissey.”

Well, whatever… Let's just say that, as the years, have gone by I’ve come to realise to a much larger extent quite what a pivotal role Johnny Marr played in the Smiths.

The thing is, it’s started to become difficult to separate the man from his music. “Spent the Day in Bed” might have grown on me, but there isn’t a cat in hell's chance that I’m going to buy the album. It might be catchy, but I can’t hear this lyric:
Stop watching the news!
Because the news contrives to frighten you
To make you feel small and alone
To make you feel that your mind isn't your own
without immediately thinking that, rather than perhaps talking about the inherent subjectivity of the news that is editorialised and presented to us for uncritical consumption, the reactionary berk is instead brainlessly barking “FAKE NEWS”... uncomfortably like that other kindred spirit in the US with an overly-elaborate stack of hair.

I've never really been one of those fans who hang around on True to You and think it's clever to pepper every sentence with old Morrissey lyrics... even at my most lovelorn, I think I've had far too firm a grasp on my critical faculties for that.  Even so, given that it seems to make me angry to even look at the man now and I find his studied archness irritating even before I've considered the nonsense he's actually speaking... I suppose you can say I'm probably over Morrissey now.

Damn, but the Smiths were a good band.

Please never re-form.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

don't stop moving...

There was a time when thought I was essentially immune to the common cold.  Well, perhaps not exactly immune, but I just never seemed to catch the infections that clobbered everybody else around me.  I might wake up one morning with a slightly scratchy throat, but it never seemed to develop into anything more substantial.

Rather smugly, I always put this down to the fact that I was reasonably fit and healthy and ate quite a lot more fruit and vegetables than average. Then I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and began to inject myself regularly with a drug designed to suppress my immune system.  The colds quickly followed.

It turns out that I wasn't immune to the common cold after all and that, actually, I was just being protected by a hyperactive immune system that was spoiling for a fight with almost anything.  The immune-suppressants soon put paid to that.

Dammit.

Worse still, when I go down with a cold now, I seem to find it almost impossible to shake.  Where most people are more or less back to normal after a week or so, I find that the symptoms drag out for months longer than that. For each of the last few years, I've had that a cold develops into something else in my lungs and, although it doubtless started out as a viral infection, I've ultimately needed an inhaler and some antibiotics to finally shake it off.

As a runner, of course, this is doubly frustrating as anything in your lungs makes running a very dubious prospect indeed. I lost six weeks of running at the back end of last year with a particularly persistent cough and every single day not running really eats away at my own personal sense of wellbeing.  I had to watch the Turkey Trot half marathon instead of running it. Imagine!

This year's cold, I'm told, is a particularly nasty strain.  Naturally, I caught it almost immediately.

Because I'm stupid and I'm stubborn, although my cold really developed over the course of the last week, I still dragged myself out on Sunday to run around the Royal Parks Half Marathon with my wife.  It was a lovely, sunny autumn morning and the course takes you through Hyde Park, St James Park, around Horse Guards and past the Palace.  It's well-supported and quite delightful.... but I predictably found it more of a struggle than either of my full marathons.  For (almost: mile 15-16 in our first marathon) the first time time running together, C found herself gently trying to pace me around the course. Not in the least bit surprising, right?



I look a bit like death in that second photo, eh?  Nice medal though.

I hate colds.  For someone with an incurable chronic illness, I have a surprisingly low tolerance for being ill.  Well, I've still got a couple of days before my next half marathon on Sunday, so.....

Thursday, 28 September 2017

it's the loneliness that's the killer...

The cat seems to be going through a phase of hunkering down low with her chin on the ground peering underneath things: she spent a couple of days staring under the fridge and has most recently taking to looking intently underneath the table that holds the television.  As far as I can see, there's nothing there.  Mind you, she once spent a few days staring down a drain in the road outside, where we assume she may have seen a rat, so perhaps this is just another normal day for our cat.  As it's autumn now and we seem to be in the middle of the annual migration of the spiders into the house, I thought she had probably chased some poor arachnid undercover.

We do have a huge spider in the house at the moment.  We call her Aragog because she's one of those spiders that's so big you can pretty much hear her footsteps.  The cat was chasing her around - at a respectful distance - the other day when Aragog suddenly changed direction and started moving towards her.  The cat - perhaps sensibly - backed up and then ran away.

Anyway.

There was a slightly funky smell in the front landing the other way.  It was a sort of cheesy mustiness, so I assumed it was probably my trail shoes (which have been in some pretty boggy places this year).  I picked them up and gave them an exploratory sniff, but then went to fetch the vacuum because the act of picking them up revealed that I should really get on with some rudimentary domestic tasks before my wife got home from France.  I carefully moved all the shoes in the hallway, hoovered, and then put them all back and nice and tidily.  I then moved on to vacuum the rest of the house (I like to call it hoovering, even though I know that's a brand name and not the makers of our particular vacuum cleaner.  I persist in using the word because I know how much it would irritate James Dyson, and he's the sort of person who needs this kind of low-level trolling).

The next time I was in the hall, the smell was worse.  By the time C got home, it was positively rank... so the first thing she did after dropping her bag was to hunt about to see what might be causing it.

She quickly found out.

It was a beautiful little mouse, quite dead and curled up neatly in one of her old running shoes that was next to the radiator.  Who knows how long it had been there.  Long enough, I guess. I suppose my moving of the trainers released the full bouquet of decay.  It was quite heady.

Our cat is not a killer, but she seems to have some dormant instinct that has taught her to chase things, but she has no understanding of what she is supposed to do if she should catch them.  Her track record with mice is somewhat limited and restricted to tossing one poor thing around in air because she wasn't sure what else to do with it and holding another one down until it died of fright after emptying its bowels and trying to gnaw its way through the carpet.

How this one wandered in, I don't know.... but I rather suspect that it tried hiding from the cat underneath the fridge and then underneath the telly but eventually took refuge in that shoe where it quietly died trying to avoid a predator whose fundamental ineptness it couldn't possibly know.

Poor little thing.

What a smell, though.

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

but I'm soft....

Language is important and words have power.

I've enjoyed words and wordplay for as long as I can remember. As chance would have it, in the last couple of years, I've accidentally fallen out of a career in IT and into one in communications. I seem to cause amusement, irritation and consternation in almost equal measure when I patiently explain to people why "ladies' gift" requires a plural possessive apostrophe and both what an oxford comma is and why it's sometimes crucial to the meaning of a sentence.  I'm sure most people think I'm being either a smart-arse or a pain (or both), but precision in the language you use is important and I think it's important to get it right so that you are saying exactly what you mean to say.

As part of my job, I'm required to attend various meetings and conference calls where the performance of the business is discussed.  I don't generally say all that much, but I'm there because it's my job to make sure that the key messages and priorities are captured and included in any communications that we send out.  When business performance is discussed and we're not hitting our targets, this is almost always described as being "soft" against the budgets.

Everyone uses that word in that context, and although I didn't initially give it much thought, now it's starting to bother me. Why?  Because by "soft", they mean that performance is weak: underwhelming, limp, flaccid... you get the idea.  Presumably, the antonym for "soft" in this context is "hard".... but I've never yet heard someone describing good performance as being "hard against budget".  I assume that this is because that word seems so much more obviously sexual and exposes the origins of the expression.

Let's not make any bones about it: this is a sexual, masculine simile being used in a business context and I don't believe that it's appropriate.  Actually, I'll go further than that, I think that it - perhaps subtly, perhaps not so subtly - contributes to a misogynist culture because it's an expression not only celebrates the phallus, but it celebrates "hard" as being good and "soft" as being weak. Presumably, are we to assume, if you don't have a penis at all, hard or otherwise, then you are the weakest of all.

I mentioned this to some people today after one of these conference calls and, perhaps not surprisingly, they'd never thought of it like that before and just laughed... perhaps simply because they thought it was funny that I'd said the word "hard".  Maybe one or two of them will now think twice before using the expression again.  One can only hope.

Words are important and how we use them is very revealing of our culture, I think.

The company where I work actually has a reasonably high number of female executives, including the managing director, but it seems that the hallmarks of a macho, masculine business culture are lingering and pervasive.

It's a good rule for life at the best of times, but we really should think before we speak.


Thursday, 21 September 2017

ski-bi dibby dib yo da dub dub...


This weekend, I'm off to Cambridge for a stag-do... which will likely consist of drinking, the races at Newmarket (which will mostly be drinking) and then some more drinking in Cambridge.  I'm a 43 year old man and I don't especially like being drunk, so I imagine I'll be able to avoid the peer-group pressure and avoid becoming a shambling mess.  Probably.

I suppose it doesn't really matter as long as I shake off the hangover in time for next week's wedding.

The groom is one of my oldest friends.  I first met him in around 1983 at school, and I've probably spent more time with him since than with almost anyone else in my life, probably including my parents.  He told my wife the other week that, on our first day at a new school together in 1987, I told him that he should stick with me and that I would look after him.  I have no recollection of this and it doesn't really sound like something I would say at a time when I was busy worrying about myself... but it's a lovely memory anyway.

We go back a really long way together.  Thirty-five years! Well, apart from anything else that might have happened in that time, we're both certainly older and have less hair now, anyway.


I couldn't be happier that he's getting hitched and I can't wait to see the daft sod tomorrow.

First wedding, too!  Amazing!  That's the emotional damage wrought by a boarding school education for you, eh?

Thursday, 14 September 2017

this shit is bananas, B-A-N-A-N-A-S!

7/10, earlier
Is it strange that I sometimes just take against a piece of fruit? I bring them into work with me on a Monday morning and, almost immediately, I decide that I don’t like the look of it. I won’t throw it away until Friday evening, but from that moment, I know that I’m just never going to eat it.

I mention this because I’ve had an excellent banana week. I’ve eaten three bananas from two different bunches and they’ve all been good: peaking at an 8.5 / 10 and only dropping as low as a 7 / 10. My team were on tenterhooks this afternoon and actually asked me when I was going to eat my banana as they were keen to know the score. They were a touch disappointed that it was only a seven after the high point of Wednesday’s banana, but there’s no disgrace in a seven and that’s a perfectly acceptable piece of fruit. I actually stopped to chat to an old colleague of mine the other day and noticed that she had a rather sad looking banana sat next to her monitor. It had been there long enough for someone to write “banana” on the peel in biro.
“Are you ever going to eat that, do you think”
“No. Probably not.”
“You’ve taken against it, haven’t you?”
“Yes. Yes I have”.

You see… it’s not just me!

Some types of fruit are reliable – it was put to me today that the apple is the McDonalds of the fruit world: safe and with very little risk. Well, that depends on the variety and the time of year. At the moment, I’m really enjoying English apples, but I find that I only really get on with them if I cut them up with a knife – a Granny Smith I’m perfectly to crunch up direct from the core. On the other hand, the pear is a low percentage fruit: at their best, they’re fantastic… but how often do you catch a pear like that? 1 in 100? The other 99 won’t get beyond a 5 and the minor disappointment of each one adds up to outweigh bothering to find a good one.

There was mild consternation in our office this week when one of the team started munching a kiwi fruit without bothering to peel it or to scoop it out: he just wolfed it down, skin and all. He didn’t understand why everyone else was so horrified and maintained that the skin contained all sorts of nutrients that would otherwise be lost… but we’re not beasts, are we? Surely, peeling a kiwi is what separates us from the animals?

Everyone else thinks of fruit in these terms, right?

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

back....

Although nominally signed off sick until this coming Wednesday, as I've already mentioned, I’ve actually been back at work since last week. That might sound crazy, but my rationale for this is that:

a) the surgeon initially told me that I’d need a week off, then two weeks – which I arranged with work – and then, on the day of the operation itself, three weeks. Once I’d established that I was going to be experiencing discomfort rather than pain, I didn’t really want to string things out any longer than necessary. My stitches have nearly dissolved now and everything

b) I was going a bit stir-crazy, rattling around by myself at home and needed some company. I was in the most ridiculously good mood as soon as I got back into the office purely because I like my team and I was delighted to be spending time with them, work dramas notwithstanding

The plan was that I would ease myself back in with a week of shorter days, trying to leave for home by about 3pm. I’m still not allowed to cycle or run, so I’ve been forced to bring my car in too… so at least this would mean missing all of the traffic.

I sounded optimistic that I could make this work but obviously, just as no battle plan survives contact with the enemy, this plan worked for all of two days, both of which saw me home early enough to pop up to Trent Bridge for an hour or so of country cricket after work. So far, so good.

Then Friday happened: there was a major incident at work that saw me staying at the office until gone 8pm, then up on Saturday for a 7am conference call and a weekend of multiple conference calls (about nineteen in total) and quite a lot of sitting at my desk working. I was then into the office for 06:30 on both Monday and Tuesday, as the incident rumbled on.... and will be on Wednesday too, and probably the rest of the week too.

I also don’t get paid any overtime.

Oh well. I tried.  My sick note expires tomorrow and I'm back to work as per normal.

*sigh*

Good times.

Friday, 8 September 2017

address unknown...

I got a card through the letterbox the other day. It was advising me that there was a parcel for this address being held at the local sorting office because the sender had paid insufficient postage and there was £1.50 owed. Normally, this would be relatively straightforward, but although clearly addressed to my house, the recipient on the card was apparently called “King”.

This presented me with a dilemma: we’ve lived in this house for 15 years and I don’t recall ever receiving any post at any point for someone called King. Should I go and pay the outstanding postage and see what it was, or should I just forget about it as likely being a wasted journey to collect something that wasn’t for me and was for someone for whom I have no forwarding address.

Hmm.

In the end, curiosity got the better of me and I decided that I should pick it up.

When I got to the sorting office, I paid the outstanding £1.50 and was given a small, homemade package made out of sellotaped cardboard and clearly containing a CD. It had a single second class stamp. It was addressed to “The King in the North Midlands”.


…I opened it to find a CD of the PS3 game Grand Theft Auto 5 that had kindly been sent to me by a friend who was worried how I was going to fill my time of work productively and sought to take some action to help a friend in need.

Nice one, Steve.

That Game of Thrones reference was sadly lost on the Royal Mail. Perhaps they were indignant about the fact that Nottingham is clearly in the East Midlands… .although then the joke wouldn’t have worked, would it?

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

guess who's back, back again....

Today, two weeks after my operation, I returned to work.

When I initially spoke to the surgeon about the procedure, he suggested I'd need a week off work; then, when we booked the surgery, he suggested I'd need two weeks... so I arranged that with work... and then on the day of the operation itself, he signed me off for three weeks.

Great.

Apart from a lingering concern about exactly *why* I'd need to take three weeks off work, I didn't really think for a moment that I wouldn't be back at my desk after two.  I 'd asked about what sort of pain I could expect after surgery, and when the surgeon told me he would be sending me home with ibuprofen and paracetamol, I knew I'd probably be okay.  That's discomfort rather than real pain, right?

Thankfully, that's pretty much how it transpired.

After worrying that I wouldn't know what to do with myself, I've actually kept myself pretty busy over the last fortnight.  I've not even watched all that much TV (except when the cricket was on), and I've been doing loads of reading and trying to make sure I get enough walking done to hit my daily steps target.

Have I missed work?

Hell no. Let's be honest, although I really like the people I work with, there's pretty much nothing about my job that is worth getting stressed about.  That doesn't stop people getting stressed and trying to transmit that stress and drama to me and my team.... but I find that a really helpful perspective to hang onto, and I try and transmit that to my team.  In fact, our team motto is "Save the drama for your llama".  When things look to be getting a little fraught, I point at the llama and we all take a deep breath.

So, I didn't miss work, but I did miss my team... and as I seem to be healing pretty well, I went back to work a week ahead of schedule.

When I got back to my desk this morning at a little after 07:30, I found this on my keyboard.


I think they sort of missed me too.

It was good to see them and I've been smiling all day.