Friday, April 30, 2004

The Eternal Sunshine of agreeing to disagree

Well I suppose it had to happen sooner or later, Sarah and I went to the cinema tonight and came out with completely opposite opinions about the film.

This is not to say I ever believed our tastes were identical, but we’re usually pretty good about knowing which films we’ll both like, which we need to see with other people and which we both need to avoid like the plague.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is one that we expected to fall into the first category. I loved it; Sarah, checked the time on her mobile every 15 minutes.

I’ll accept it did need sharper editing, particularly in the central section and that the time shift techniques are hardly new in either film or literature, but despite this I found it a charming, intelligent and engaging film - probably one of the best I have seen for a good while.

Maybe I was predisposed to like it; after all I love the previous work of the write Charlie Kaufman (such as Being John Malkovich and Adaptation) and Michel Gondry (how's your French?) is one of my favourite music video directors. So, OK the jump to feature film is a fairly major one, but like Spike Jonze I think he’s carried it off with aplomb, but then what else would one expect from the guy who transformed the White Stripes into Lego?

On the other hand, I still struggle to feel positive in advance about a Jim Carrey film, who, despite other excellent parts over the years (The Truman Show, Man on the Moon etc), I still have trouble separating from his Liar Liar/Cable Guy type personae. This film should help me get over that prejudice - it’s a cracking performance, probably his best to date.

Tom Wilkinson is another actor for whom I find it hard to shake off past roles. In Eternal Sunshine… he plays the doctor who has pioneered the memory wipe procedure. For me however I still had strong associations of British TV roles and The Full Monty running through my mind whilst he was on screen. I half expected some garden gnomes to start dancing outside his bedroom window!

So what were Sarah’s reasons for dissing the film? Well the primary candidate was “I’d worked out the ending within the first few minutes of the film.”. I countered that this was hardly surprising given that we see the (almost) ending at the start, but this observation was received with a withering look…

Oh,, and apparently the other reason I like the film was “because Kate Winslet’s character’s relationship with hair colour is pretty similar to your own!”.

Best friends can be so cutting at times!

Warrington Old Town

Very occasionally people enquire why I work in W@rrington, but don’t live there, preferring instead the hellish motorway commute. My stock response is “you’ve never been to W@rrington, have you?”.

Maybe that’s harsh, but I need to live in a place that has some form of culture that I can relate to. I’ve been working in and around the W@rrington area for more than ten years now and in that time I can only list the following two events that have enthused me to any significant degree:

  1. The original Virgin Festival, V96, in Victoria Park – a fabulous day that included Gorkys Zygotic Mynci, Lamb, Gary Numan (hilarious!) and culminated with Pulp at the height of their powers.

  2. Radiohead - again in Victoria Park, this time in a tent in 2000.

So much of W@rrington is “New Town” that it can be easy to forget that beneath and alongside the acres upon acres of anonymous housing estates, employment parks and road networks devoid of pavements, lies a very old town with it’s own history and heritage.

I was reminded of this last night however on a trip to The Cottage on Church Street. This ancient building dates back to the 17th century and it’s claimed that Oliver Cromwell stayed here in 1648, after defeating the Royalists.

Nowadays it functions as an Indian eaterie, with a modern twist. The interior is unexpectedly spacey due to a clever conversion and the food comes with the swirls of jus and garnishes that one might expect in a more nouvelle establishment.

I have to say though that the food wasn’t bad at all. I wouldn’t quite rave about it like some of my W@rringtonian colleagues, but then I’m probably spoilt in this arena by having Rusholme on my doorstep. Compared to other eating experiences I’ve had in Warrington however, this was streets ahead.

Thursday, April 29, 2004

How do you know that?

It's more usual for me to see how I take skills from the day job and utilise them in the work I do for Greenbelt, but just occasionally the tables are turned.

Today a colleague and I were discussing the noise constraints being applied to one of our schemes by the local council. "How come you know so much about noise monitoring, ambient levels and so forth?" he innocently enquired.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Pathways of Desire

One of the concepts we’ve been discussing in our meetings about how to improve the Nutsford Vale open space, is “pathways of desire”.

This is an approach that says that rather than planning new footpaths in a development, you hold back and let people ‘tell you’ where they need paths to go. Very quickly tracks appear that denote the common routes. You can then form the pathways to meet the established needs.

Looking at the aerial photos, I think our lines of desire are incredibly clear!

I like this idea of planning, it has humility in its founding principals. Such a refreshing change from the all too common approach of many professionals, which focuses more on a “we know what you need” line of thinking.

Of course it is entirely possible to go too far in the other direction, pathways of desire can be compromises forced by external factors (areas of poor draining boggy ground or inappropriate planting would be two that spring to mind on Nutsford Vale). Maybe the role of the professional is to use their skills to understand all these inputs, listening strongly to people’s needs, but also being able to see the wider picture and bring their skills to bare (“if we improved the dr@inage would you take the more direct route?”).

I suspect that the concept of Pathways of Desire has resonance far beyond landscaping work. In all our dealings with others how do we map and understand their pathways and avoid simply imposing our own?

I want to think about this more.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Slugfest 2004

After the glorious weather of the weekend, it rained a little today, enough to leave the roads and pavements damp. Accordingly today appeared to be the first day of the new slug season.

As I called round to my best mates tonight, it was a veritable obstacle course getting down her front path.

I loathe slugs. They leave disgusting trails everywhere, they eat your vegetables and valued plants and, dear lord, if you accidentally step on one… .

They also look completely unpleasant. At least snails veil their sliminess in a shell.

I can’t think of a single thing slugs are useful for.

Do they eat other garden pests? No just my plants.

Do they provide food for something further up the foodchain? Well, hedgehogs if you’re lucky, but I haven’t seen one in our neighbourhood for years. Judging by the shameless way the slugs flaunt themselves over paths and walls they would certainly appear to be untroubled by the prospect of potential predators.

So what is the point of slugs? Do let me know if you have any ideas, it could help me tolerate them better.

Monday, April 26, 2004

A little more co-operation

Another work trip to Rochdale today; this time in search of old design drawings.

As I drive into the town I pass under a railway bride that proudly announces “Rochdale the Birthplace of Co-operation”.

Quite a grand claim; even when you realise from the typeface that this is a reference to the modern co-operative movement.

Not a bad thing for a town to have produced; especially given that the only contribution to more recent cultural heritage that I can associate with Rochdale is Gracie Fields and Lisa Stansfield.

When I get home, the Co-op is still on my mind as I quickly design a poster and leaflets for an Open Public Meeting next month, which will be held in the new Northmoor Community Centre located in a former Co-op building.

The meeting is for the Nutsford Vale Park Project, a local project trying and preserve and improve a large expanse of informal open/green space in our inner city neighbourhood. The land was original clay pits for the brickworks, then in the 70’s it was landfilled and capped over. This most un-environmentally friendly of histories has perversely preserved this area of wild space from building development. Accordingly the land has now become home to a diverse range of wildlife and is also a valuable amenity in the area.

This is not to say that it is without problems. Over the past 6 years the NVPP have raised ten’s of thousands of pounds to improve the perimeter security to deter fly-tipping and misuse of the space my trail-bikes, relay hedgerows, manage the vegetation, plant wildflower meadows and so forth. The group has also undertaken numerous clean-up days on the land and lobbied for a proper future plan for the land.

Sometimes it feels like we are fighting a losing battle trying to get the voices of local residents heard. Major plans for the land happen with zero or minimal consultation. The frustration of having well meaning parties undertaking schemes that fail to appreciate the dynamics of the local context continues.

My personal bĂȘte noire, is the planting of dense bushes and shrubs in vast swathes of formally open land immediately adjacent to major footpaths (you can see the areas being prepared for this in the aerial photo). Surely it doesn’t take the brains of a rocket scientist to grasp that dense planting in an area with one of the highest crime rates in Britain is just a little foolish…

Sunday, April 25, 2004

Sun and the City

Around this time each year there is the ‘sunshine weekend’. The weekend, when, after the long winter months, the sun really breaks through, showering down promises of summer.

It’s the first weekend, when you can go out safely without a jacket, when evenings in a beer garden become attractive and when you can sit out in the sunshine and feel the warmth spread to your bones.

This was that weekend.

I spent Saturday in the city centre, shopping and getting the old barnet trimmed and coloured (well hey you didn’t think it was naturally this colour did you?). Exchange Square was absolutely packed. Crowds covered the sloping benches, watching the big screen, kids jumped from stone to stone in the water feature/stream beneath your feet, passers-by stopped to discuss the new sculpture being erected and drinkers at The Wellington Inn and Sinclair’s Oyster Bar pubs, spilled over far beyond their outdoor seating area.

This has to be about my favourite bit of the recent changes to the city centre. However, the catalyst was so terrible, that it still feels slightly bittersweet. Rejoicing in the wonderful new layout and structures that replaced some truly hideous carbuncles comes tinged with an underside of guilt.

I suppose that a more productive way of looking at it is that good things were made to form out of bad. Although the bombing can never be redeemed it can at least be recovered from and triumphed over in a way that says that this city will not be held back by such things.

The new M&S and Selfridges building that stands on the site of the bomb blast is top to toe glass. If buildings could speak I reckon this one would be saying “Screw you!” as it flicked the finger at those who choose the path of violence and destruction.

I’m not sure what the Wellington and Sinclair’s buildings would say. They’ve seen it all. The Wellington dates back to the 16th century and Sinclair's is part Georgian. Back in 1972 they were raised by several feet to accommodate the building of the concrete jungle that was Shambles Square (oh if ever a name were more appropriate!). Following the destruction of the square by the bomb blast, these timber-framed buildings were dismantled piece by piece, wooden peg by wooden peg, then shifted over towards the cathedral and lovingly reassembled – piece by piece, wooden beam by wooden beam.

I suspect they enjoy their new location better. They now have a wide vista and sit proudly, asking to be admired. They overlook the newer buildings with slight detachment, the older relatives who have seen fashions come and go and sit back secure in their own identity.

Friday, April 23, 2004

Gender Identity Crisis or Crap Science?

In his blog the other day, James referred to a page on the bookblog website that proposes it can identify the gender of the Blogger by analysing the text.

It appears that every one of my last 7 blogs have allegedly been written by a male.

In fact analysing my entire blog gives me a male score of 14,393 as opposed to a female score of 7,416. Which certainly highlights the dangers that can arise when people start working on generalisations of men/women are good at x, or write like y, or think like z etc.

Which in turn leads me to ponder the age old nurture versus nature debate. Maybe my written style appears masculine because I work in a hugely male dominated industry. Although things are getting better; when I started work 10 years ago, I was the first female graduate they had ever had in a design department of around 100; today I sit in a similar sized department and have 7 female colleagues. Which could suggest that it's not so much that women inherently aren't cut out to be engineers, but rather that they haven't been cut out to be engineers.

Then again, I’m not aware that my communication style has been significantly influenced by engineers. After all, I regularly achieve more than a grunt in greeting (early mornings excepted) and frequently use words with more than two syllables…

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Blogging and self-censorship

In a discussion with a fellow blogger last night, the subject of ‘not bitching about people on a public blog’ cropped up.

Of course you never now who might read one of these things. Hence it’s probably best not to say too much about the muppet of a co-worker who pissed you off today, moan about the acquaintance who’s seriously getting on your tits or even share your thoughts on the latest blatherings of some idiot on a discussion board or newsgroup.

Now obviously having to avoid such subjects is no problem at all for myself or my fellow blogger – seeing as we are indeed the very personification of sweetness and light. Certainly not the sort of people who might, for example, have the motto "If you haven't got anything nice to say about anyone...........come and sit next to me".

It must however, be quite a restriction for anyone who finds such subject manner a rich comedy furrow that never tires of being ploughed.

They must find it very difficult indeed…

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Birthday celebrations - round 1

One advantage of having a good friend's birthday on the day before yours, is that it’s an easy date to remember.

A second advantage is that it makes for excellent combined celebrations.

A third advantage is that between the two of you, it becomes acceptable to actually have two lots of celebrations.

Hence last night Phil (aka birthday boy), Sarah and I had a small celebration meal round the corner at That Café in advance of the bigger party planned for the Strawbury Duck sometime next week.

These two venues are great examples of what I love about living in Manchester.

Even in the most run down of areas you find pearls like That Cafe - probably the best food I have ever eaten anywhere. Check the weekly menu and tell me your mouth doesn't water! Of course I could go on to mention that before 7pm you can get two courses for £10.95, but that would just make any Southerners reading this jealous...or worse still, move here.

However if you prefer a more rural location for your drink/meal, the Duck is well and truly out in the sticks. Popular with ramblers it's nestled on the side of a hill up above the series of picturesque reservoirs that lie beyond Bolton. For those less inclined to walk for their pint, it handily has it's very own railway station - requests stops only - on the direct line from Manchester.

And before, you ask, yes the spelling is right. You can discover the reason for this and many other bizarre Lancashire mysteries here.

Monday, April 19, 2004

Sometimes even the www lets you down

More nostalgia today as we passed my old high school as part of our trips out and about. There are small changes, but by and large it looks much the same. There’s not much you can do to improve the look of that particular style of 60’s architecture.

It’s not as bad as some, there is at least brickwork to compliment the concrete; even so it’s hardly “inspirational” for potential scholars.

The architecture of the new high school around the corner from me in Manchester seems a little better. It's still highly functional, but at least a nod has been given to aesthetics. I'm not sure how the feature wood panelling will weather though. I'd assumed google would throw up a link with photos of the new building so you could see what I mean, but the best I can get is this St Peter's.

Saturday, April 17, 2004

Could it be magic?

My brother, sister-in-law and niece and nephew travel across from West London today to spend the day with Nana, Grandad and Aunty L1z.

Over lunch I tell Ruth and Jamie about how Grandad and I can do magic and make objects fall through the ceiling from upstairs onto the dining room table. They obediently stare intently at the ceiling to see if they can see anything come through. Despite their intense concentration they manages to miss them however and time after time various hazelnuts, almonds and brazil nuts magically appear on the table.

Jamie at three accepts all this but at the grand age of five (and a half), Ruth is way too smart for this and after being initially impressed, the suspicions quickly start to form in her mind and I’m dragged upstairs to investigate the source of the nuts. Fortunately we’re one step ahead and with a bit of co-operation nuts really do proceed to disappear from upstairs only to reappear downstairs.

I give it a year before she twigs that there are two of us magicians, whilst she can only be in one place at a time. Simple misdirection works fine for now however and a new generation of Chapmans believing in the ceiling trick is born.

Five years old is too young to stop believing in the wonder of things. I’m glad we’ve postponed her loss of innocence in this area a little longer. After all her first tooth is about to fall out, so now would be no time to stop believing in the tooth fairy ;-)

Back in the world where innocence has long since departed, I receive a call from a neighbour, Peter:
“L1z, just ringing to tell you that a stolen car has been dumped in your garden.”
“Oh…right…how do you know it’s stolen?”
“What other than the fact it’s dumped in your garden? Well the driver was about 12 years old”
“I’ll call the police and keep an eye out to make sure the scallies don’t come back and torch it.”

Friday, April 16, 2004

Eco-guilt and tax-free shopping

A manic day at work, major deadlines to hit and one of my team finishes his contract today. All in all this means I’m later leaving the office than I had hoped and that combined with heavy rain on the motorway, means that it’s a major rush to get to the airport in time for my flight to London.

The height of decadence I know, but whilst they are continuing major engineering works on the West Coast Mainline the Manchester to London train journey can be unbearable. My return leg would likely take me nearly 7 hours door to door, which is just ridiculous for a weekend visit. Alternatively I can pay an extra £20 and do it in well under 3 hrs. Ecologically I feel guilty, but I decide to suffer that for the extra time it gives me with my folks.

Of course it also helps that the whole experience of airports is so much more civilised than the scrum of train and tube – even if the boarding gate's always three miles away. The opportunities for retail therapy in the departure lounge are also a plus that I invariable make the most of (this time: two posh lipsticks for mum and two for me). Just think of the savings!

All in all, by the time I settle back into my seat with my free 'vodka and coke', my eco-guilt has almost entirely disappeared.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

A story involving horses and a fire crew, that has nothing to do with Greenbelt

As a kid on the beach, did you ever pat a lump of moist sand until it went runny and turned to quicksand? Well if you did you were unwittingly conducting experiments into the liquefaction of granular soil types through cyclic loading (and your mum thought you were just making a mess!).

Weird how a bit of vibration can turn something solid into something liquid like that. In fact I spent a good part of the final year of my degree course in a geotechnical lab studying this very subject; so I could explain this phenomena in a few thousand words if you’d like?

No, thought not.

So why am I thinking about this today? Well just occasionally these weird bits of scientific research find an everyday example, such as the story I was told today.

Imagine if you will, a construction site with pretty little stream that passes to its side. Being responsible contractors, they had created a bund of hay bales, to ensure that any slurry spilt on site in the course of the construction work, wouldn’t enter the stream.

All very innocent and unremarkable until you add two extra ingredients:
a) an area of ground that has experienced liquefaction as a result of the vibrations from the construction plant, and
b) a greedy horse that decides to break out of its nearby paddock and make a bee-line for the hay bales

I’m told it’s not easy to extract a horse that has sunk up to its back into the ground…

Of course we shouldn’t be too surprised that even this wasn’t too much of a challenge for the local fire and rescue service and the horse was duly rescued unharmed.

So a happy ending…which is just as well considering how funny we’re finding this.

Love to see their revised risk assessment though!

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Aliens Return Captive Alive and Well!

A subsequent phone call to best mate has ascertained that:

  1. said book was purchased second hand as the desperation third title in a three for one pound offer in a Southport bookstore

  2. she will not be attempting any of the twee flower twists around a straw hat style that surely constitute an offence to persons of taste everywhere

  3. the purpose of such efforts is due to her having to do arrangements as part of her priestly duties at present and hence allowances should be made

< sighs with relief as world recomences turning around it's axis >

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Best Friend Abducted by Aliens Shocker!

My best mate has informed me that she has bought a book on flower arranging and is teaching herself (photos available of two attempts to date).




< lost for words >

Monday, April 12, 2004

The return of Street Cricket

When I first moved into the close, street cricket was a regular feature; we could field a full team plus reserves and represent at least 4 countries. The kids would set up a wicket in front of the end garages and the boundary was defined by the surrounding houses. The mothers (and “Aunty L1z” as token singleton and honoured occasional babysitter) would set up some old chairs to the side. Here ‘keeping an eye on the kids’ and minding the babies could be combined with the opportunity for a right old gossip session (generally carried out in around 3 different languages, with translations overlapping each other!).

Here we’d set the world to rights over some of Zaheeda’s samosas or Naheed’s seek kebabs and raita, washed down with juice from my fridge (“L1z, you work too hard, you have no time to cook”).

Once we’d finished with world affairs and fiscal policy we’d move on to how useless husbands can be, segued neatly and without a trace of irony with “L1z, why do you not get married yet, no one likes an old bride…”.

Sadly the cricket tradition died away a few years ago. Naheed’s family moved to Burnage and I haven’t seen her since another neighbour’s daughter’s wedding last year. Zaheeda separated and had to move out and so the kids are only here part of the week. We also hit a period where the older kids grew up and moved on but the younger ones were still too young to play unaided.

However today the close echoed once again with the sound of children shouting and tennis balls being hit over fences. A new family have moved in to the top of the close and field a strong team of 4 new recruits, combined with Zaheeda’s youngest 3 (now older than I care to think about) sufficient numbers were achieved for a decent game.

It makes me realise how much I miss Zaheeda and Naheed, there’s a far greater language barrier between me and the remaining mothers and so our conversations are sadly much more limited (though we do a great line in mime). Even so it was great to hear the new generation of cricketers at play in the close; interrupted as ever with the regular shout of “Car!”.

Sunday, April 11, 2004

Chocolate and 31 other songs

I was woken this morning by a phone call from Norman the Greenbelt Senior Fire Officer: “Morning darlin’, can you do me a favour?…Sorry did I wake you?” .

I guess as Ops people go, I’m probably going to be a good bet for who will be in at 10.20am on Easter Sunday morning… even if I’m not necessarily going to be up and about!

Forty minutes later we’ve run through a couple of issues and I’ve emailed him a document he needed for the crew leaders meeting that was about to kick off at his place.

I make a mug of hot chocolate, grab a yoghurt and a granola bar, shove Scissor Sisters’ eponymous album, Snow Patrol’s Final Straw (their Chocolate is just about my favourite current tune) and REM’s Automatic for the People on the CD player and head back under the duvet to read (hey it’s a holiday and I’ve not been well!).

I started Nick Hornby’s 31 Songs yesterday – he’s kind of the literary equivalent of comfort food, perfect for a taking it easy bank holiday weekend. That said I’m not totally enjoying 31 Songs – especially the couple of chapters for which I’m not familiar with the source tracks.

There’s also definitely a problem with the age gap between author and reader in a few cases. The second paragraph of the chapter on Paul Westerberg’s Born for Me, starts with “For those of us who were born in the late fifties and fell in love with rock music during the early seventies have a complicated relationship with the solo.” as the prelude to an anecdote in which he walks out of a Led Zeppelin gig. Well I’ve never (knowingly) heard anything by Paul Westerberg, I was born in the period in which he was falling in love with rock music and I have a very simple relationship with overblown rock solo’s – zero tolerance. I suppose I can relate to the walking out on Led Zeppelin bit though, I had an ex boyfriend who was a fan and the minute it hit the stereo I’d hit the road. Come to think of it he was also into Pink Floyd, what the hell was I thinking?

Anyway I nearly make it to the last pages, before the combination of “Learning from Los Lobos” and Michael Stipes beautiful tones lulls me back off to sleep and I awake slightly stunned a few hours later.

A bunch of us head around to Phil and Sarah’s tonight for an Easter Barbeque and I raise my disappointment with 31 Songs. Stuart sums it up well saying, “Well I could write essays on my favourite 31 songs, but I can’t imagine it would really be of any interest to anyone apart from me”. I think that’s it in a nutshell, the reason you enjoy a bit of music is so intensely personal that it’s probably never going to make the greatest of subjects for a book.

Saturday, April 10, 2004

Nature versus nurture

Today I caught my first glimpse of the year, of the daffodils on the bank of a piece of land that lies along the side of the M67 (the fastest route out of town and up into the Peaks).

Last year I noted that nature appeared to be in tune with corporate rebrandings as the daffs that formally spelled out a three letter abbreviation had become the new two letter version. In a scary moment that demonstrates that you never know who might be reading your blog, a person in the know, let on that there had indeed been a human hand involved.

Further evidence is available this year that nature is not entirely working hand in hand with the corporate giants. The edges of the letters are starting to blur and the odd additional dot of yellow is popping up elsewhere on the bank. You can’t hold Mother Nature down.

Which reminds me I really out to do some pruning in the garden.

Friday, April 09, 2004

One Pedestrian Away from an Ace

The first of four days off!

The sore throat is really starting to worry me now (I usually shake these things off super-fast), but I’ve been telling myself all week that 4 days of relaxing will hopefully do the trick.

I’ve also discovered that I’m not the only one starting out on one of these blog things. Caroline is giving it a go as well – so we’re sharing ignorances re HTML and Java!

Caroline has the ability to write emails that have me close to wetting myself laughing. She has a fantastic turn of phrase and is a master of spoof and satire. A very evil sense of humour, which it appears I share.

If even the smallest slice of these writing skills makes it to her blog, it’ll certainly be an entertaining read.

Oh and by the way, I am that “ace”.

Thursday, April 08, 2004


My friend Matt rang last night, it was so good to talk to him. He and Karen have just made a life-changing move. They’ve downsized as the jargon goes, giving up jobs in journalism and computing to move to the country (well actually a different country – Wales!) and go it alone.

A combination of free-lance journalism and setting up web and computing businesses is the idea. Matt tells me it’s taking a while to get off the ground – longer than they had anticipated. I think they’ll make it though; they have the talent and the determination.

We arranged a weekend for me, Rionne and Mark to visit them. Matt obviously knows me well enough to know to pin me down and get me to commit to dates!

It’ll be great to see them, I missed them enough when they moved from Manchester to Stockport, but Wales seems so very much further away. Matt assures me it’s only a couple of hours’ drive. It’ll be totally worth it for the chance to catch up with Matt, Karen, Seren and the bump (which BTW, it turns out, has double occupancy!).

I’m still slightly suspicious that the real reason for the move is rather less about the opportunity to be one’s own boss and rather more to do with Matt’s oft stated concern that Seren and the imminent arrivals might grow up with Manc-esque accent.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Still missed

Today’s NME dropped through the letterbox this morning and I’m reminded that tomorrow it will be 10 years since the death of Kurt Cobain.

Memories of hearing the news came flooding back. I was shopping and heard the news on a Radio One news bulletin as I stood surrounded by cheap plastic container boxes in a pound store on the Stockport Road. I was stunned and so deeply saddened.

As I walked home I passed people wearing their Corporate Rock Whores T’shirts. The face seemed so poignantly inappropriate. I shared sad smiles of acknowledgement with the wearers.

I got home and played Bleach, Nevermind and In Utero again and again. They’re never too far away from the stereo even now.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Ready for the prime time?

“So when will you be ready for the prime time? I wanted to link to your blog today...” This was the question I was asked by Pab in an email I picked up today.

So far Pab is the only person (that I know of!) that has read this blog. His session at the Wing and a Prayer was partly the reason I decided to give a year round, personal blog a try. So I told him I’d started it…without disclosing the details.

Thing is, before it was anything like a fit state to be “in company”, the sneaky chappy sussed the url and came a visiting!

Something to do with being able to see a record of where people had accessed his website from. These geeks are far too clever to be properly trusted you know…

Pab’s question regarding taking this baby public, does raise again the issue of what the purpose of this blog is. I’m not sure I have the answer. Thus far I’ve really just enjoyed writing it for writing’s sake. The idea of an audience, an unknown audience is strange, but it’s been there all along – otherwise I’d hardly be posting on the www now would I?

I think the concept of a potential audience gives me a sense of discipline that will hopefully help me keep it up. We’ll see.

I’m slightly intrigued as to who would want to read this guff. I’ve added a comments option so maybe I’ll find out. So kind stranger, if you happen to stumble upon this – take a moment to click below and introduce yourself.

Monday, April 05, 2004

Astonishing Splashes of Colour

At Book Group tonight we discussed Astonishing Splashes of Colour, by Clare Morrall. The verdict was unanimously favourable. A simple and informal style makes it an enjoyable read – not a great novel, but certainly a good one. The only major pretension is perhaps the illusions in the early chapters to synaesthesia – unsurprisingly it’s not a theme that the author really manages to sustain through the entirety of the work and I have to say it probably added little anyway. That’s not to say that synaesthesia wouldn’t be a fascinating issue to explore in a novel, but despite it’s title this isn’t that novel.

One of the elements that does make this novel successful is the regular inclusions of fantastically well observed detail of human behaviour. The use of these scenes and moments ties the action firmly to the believable as the plot development becomes increasingly dramatic. An example of this crops up in one of the most dramatic scenes, in which key disclosures regarding the family’s history are made at a wake. As this unfolds we are also kept aware of the very human and mundane behaviours that accompany the main action. As the shock revelations are made, people continue to nervously consume the snacks laid out before them. Our heroine becomes aware that one of her brothers is shovelling in crisps, but in the shock is not chewing, but rather swallowing them whole; accordingly in tandem to her thoughts about the truths that are spilling out, we hear her concerns that he might scratch his throat.

Elsewhere in the book our heroines uses the No 11C bus that journeys round and round Birmingham in a never ending orbit, to escape her increasingly disintegrating life. Here she can spend hours disconnected, aimlessly circling. However, she is appalled when a bus driver nods in recognition to her. A friendly gesture shatters her desire for anonymity. It’s beautiful observed.

It possibly also explains why Travel West Midlands have sponsored the book!

Saturday, April 03, 2004

April Ops Meet

A horrendously early start this morning, as five of us met in Chorlton before heading down to Leicestershire for a Greenbelt Ops Planning day.

Unfortunately our good intentions and sleep sacrifices are undermined by a massive traffic jam on the M6. We are pretty much stationary for about an hour, just north of where we want to turn off.

Sitting in a car with a prominent Manchester City banner in the rear window starts to feel uncomfortable as we become aware that we are attracting stares and gestures from vehicles of Man Utd fans heading down for the FA Cup Semi-final.

Our opinion of Reds is not improved as various already boozed up lads (and it’s only 8.30am!) decide to alight and relieve their bladders on the fast lane. Classy.

Fortunately we get moving eventually, but to add insult to injury a loose bit of grit thrown up by another vehicle hits the windscreen causing a small but distinct chip on the passenger side.

In the end we are only a bit late for the Ops meeting, but it does mean we are straight into with no time to say hello to anyone or grab a drink. It’s intensive stuff – we have so much to get through. Plans are shaping up fast; the deadline for confirming venues, passed last week and the programme is developing daily.

We also got the licence on Friday – wahey! 17,500 here we come.

It’s quite daunting though. The growth rate is fantastic, but it gives us quite a challenge. Much of today’s discussion revolves around the logistics of making everything work for that many people and the stretches to programme and venues that will go hand in hand.

I’m so glad I have Ben and Gaynor helping me head up the Venue Managers now. I really don’t know what I would do without them.

As I look round the room, I’m awed by the people I see: their abilities, their professionalism, their dedication and commitment. I feel honoured and blessed to be part of this group; this strange sort of family.

By the evening my brain hits meltdown and on the journey home, the pain of an embryonic migraine spreads through my head like the fingers of hairline cracks spreading out from the windscreen chip.

Friday, April 02, 2004

Prisoner Meerkat reporting

If Lowry were alive today what would he paint? The smoking chimneys, aqueducts and factory gates are fading from the psyche of the working landscape in 21st century Britain. Instead we have the call centres and office complexes that spring up on the edge of the corridor towns that line the motorways that carve up the space between our cities.

I’m currently seconded to an office that sits in an imposing building in a strange quasi village. It’s a strange collection of red-brick and glass structures, set around landscaped grounds and man-made lakes.

Visitors reporting to the visitors’ reception at the gatehouse have their route explained to them by a pointer and a massive aerial photo. There’s something vaguely Dr No-ish about it. Perhaps a secret missile launch pad is located below the main duck-pond…

Nah, nothing so interesting, this is a dull place, monochrome and soulless, climate controlled with perma-locked windows. The office I work in consists of a large floor, containing swath, upon swath of open plan cubicle hell. We take on the appearance of veal calves awaiting the slaughter; precious few of us are fortunate enough to see daylight. Occasionally there is a disturbance and then we switch our impression to meerkats peering over our grey dividers.

Escaping the village in the lunchtime is not easy – there’s nowhere close enough to go to. Accordingly people tend to sit at their desks, nibbling sarnies and reading books.

Others, driven by the need to experience “real” air and light, escape outside whatever the weather. You see the lonely figures traipsing around the myriad of paths that weave their aimless and circular routes around the buildings and meres. Hunched up, with their collars turned up against the chill and the rain, their bodies lean into the wind. Perfect Lowryesque poses.

The other day a visiting colleague peered out the window from my office, down onto the weather beaten figures defying the elements and trudging around in circles; “It’s like an open prison” he commented.

Thursday, April 01, 2004

Shirley Not?

My day started with a phone call from Stuart R, telling me that he and Karen needed to pull out of our car-share plans for Saturday, because, they’re not really telling people but... Karen has been selected to appear on Stars in their Eyes and the filming is on Saturday.

It takes me about 2 seconds to remember today’s date, but nice try.

I shall however be demanding to hear her Shirley Bassey impression in the car at the weekend.

As I drive home from work the phone calls start again (hands free and “no, I’m not home yet”) and continue through the rest of the evening. One after another, after another…

Issues for Saturday’s Greenbelt meeting from people who can’t make it. Checking on social plans. Friends who’ve had tough days wanting to rant. My wonderful mum struggling with discovering that "she’s supposed to be the extrovert" in her lent group book discussions. Nicky wanting to know if I’m staying over on Friday. My sister in law, ringing to tell me that the book I so carefully found on-line and got delivered for my brother’s birthday is not the promised 3rd edition that he wanted. Oh and my workaholic, brainiac of a brother has also caught some horrible stomach flu, but is insisting on trying to go to work tomorrow. And so on…

All conversations I want or at least need to have, but so tiring.

The straw that breaks the camel’s back is my dad asking what I want for my impending birthday. A personal assistant maybe? Can you get them on ebay?