Sunday, July 31, 2005

The pudding was called Angel-Food

Yesterday evening I was at a dinner party held by Mr and Mrs Swarichevski. Mrs Swarichevski was an old, marginal, friend of my mother’s (they were both friends of Mrs Blanchard). Some people condemn Mrs Swarichevski as a vain and silly woman, but I quite like her (she is one of those people who are likeable because of their failings). A large lady in her mid-sixties, she claims to be related to a former Home Secretary from decades ago (you get the impression that this is a very distant relationship). In 1995 she married a retired American colonel many years older than herself - large, hearty and good-natured, he bounds about their house with incredible energy. Her marriage gave her access to seemingly unlimited amounts of American money and they set up home on the escarpment where she lives out a fantasy of pseudo-aristocratic life in (a parody of) an English country house.

The house is in a little hamlet, and is supposed to have been designed by Lutyens (not sure this is true - it has a few Lutyens touches, especially the chimneys, but is basically a very big Edwardian villa faced in grey pebbledash). I went round to the back and into the kitchen where I guessed (correctly) I would find Mrs Swarichevski organising the dinner. The kitchen is the biggest room in the house, with lots of original features (big stone sinks, huge dressers that looked as if they hadn’t been moved since the house was built, colossal solid wood table and chairs).

I talked to Mrs Swarichevski for a few minutes but she was obviously preoccupied so I went further into the house where the other guests were gathered (about forty people - I didn’t know any of them apart from Mrs Blanchard). On the ground floor of the house there were five rooms, all of them large and with high ceilings, but so crammed with furniture and ornaments that with the addition of the guests there was little room to move (there was so much gold and gilt-work on display that entering Mrs Swarichevski’s drawing room was akin to stepping into Tutankhamen’s tomb, an experience accentuated by the mummified appearance of some of the guests - ancient wrinkled faces, bodies swathed in layers of expensive wrappings, ears and necks adorned with jewels). Most of the other guests had arrived by the time I got there. As I had expected, elderly people predominated. They were all very sociable and welcoming apart from the local butcher (not a nice person, but as there was so little room to move I couldn’t get away from him). Everyone was well-dressed, the women being dressed to excess (Mrs Swarichevski’s outfit being the most excessive - black silk with black sequins, diamond broach, a trailing silver sash that people had to avoid treading on).

I was given some very good champagne, extremely cold, not in a champagne flute but served in those gold-edged flat glasses you see in 1950s films. About half an hour after I arrived the dinner began. Because there were so many guests two dining rooms had been set up, Mr Swarichevski presiding over one, Mrs Swarichevski the other. I was in Mr Swarichevski’s room, twenty of us around a big square table (not a great deal of room, but we were not cramped in any way). The dinner was cold soup, followed by a traditional roast (huge joint of beef). The pudding was called Angel-Food and consisted of a sponge cake and meringue confection, topped by a mound of red currents in a very sweet sauce.

Mr Swarichevski talked about military biographies he had read, especially praising one on General Patton. The butcher talked about his shop and its vast turnover and how his business had made so much money he was able to buy a house two doors away from the Swarichevski residence (this house apparently has a ghost, the butcher telling us: “Every evening at the same time we hear the latch lifting and someone entering the house, but all you see is something white out of the corner of your eye…”). The butcher’s wife told us how their shop had once been over-run by rats (this was said while we were eating - later Mrs Swarichevski made a point of telling me the beef had come on a military flight from America, one of the perks her husband still enjoys).

After the dinner I sat with Mr Swarichevski in the Sitting Room (surrounded by so many china ornaments that free movement was severely curtailed) while we drank coffee poured from an enormous silver coffeepot that must have weighed several pounds. He talked about his time in Iran, attached to the Iranian embassy on the eve of the Iranian revolution. This account of a society on the brink of collapse was fascinating. Colonel Swarichevski’s role was the monitoring of seismic activity (was this spying on Russian nuclear weapons testing?). He worked in the Shah’s hunting park, an immense territory closed to outsiders (he gave a vivid account of the arrest of two Russians caught in the park, and how they were dealt with). Anecdotes about the arrival of the Ayatollah and the sinister way in which Iranian society changed, and then the sudden requirement for him to leave. He destroyed the membership list of the Isfahan Masonic Lodge (of which he was Secretary) as he was escorted to the airport by Revolutionary Guards.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

The weather has been grey and overcast

All of today the weather has been grey and overcast, with light rain occasionally falling. On Thursday evening the most incredible amounts of rain fell - I’ve never seen so much water fall from the skies in such a short space of time. The lane became a river (no exaggeration) and the water flowed along until veering off into the north field, cutting a shallow defile through the earth and pouring into a deep boundary dyke.

I am hoping the rain will hold off for this evening. I’ve been asked to a neighbour’s house for dinner, and as the neighbours are a bit overpowering it will be nice to get out and walk around the garden for a break. My brother was also asked to the dinner, but he’s refused to go (I was in two minds, but as we have turned down several invitations so far this year this is likely to be last one unless we respond - and when you live in a small community you can‘t really afford to offend people).

Anyway, I’m due there at eight-thirty. I’m a bit apprehensive. I know I will be the youngest person there (by a mile).

Friday, July 29, 2005

I can more or less come and go as I please

Temporary work - just a few hours a day at a local company. Not the sort of company that could afford a full time marketing person (the Managing Director told me this at our very informal interview), so I know there is no future to it. I don’t really need the money, but it’s interesting to see how marketing can be developed at this company, and I can more or less come and go as I please.

Most of the morning I worked on accounts, totalling the marketing expenditure and processing all the paperwork before the end of the financial year (which runs July to June). The Accountant, Tony Plumber (late twenties, Birmingham accent, very full of himself) was stung by a note I sent to the MD (on a yellow post-it sticker stuck to my interim report) suggesting some of the marketing budget had been siphoned off for other uses. He came to my alcove swearing and trying to get me to retract my figures, but I was very cool and held my ground (later he came back and apologised saying: “I was right out of order”).

Lunchtime I went to the bank. The weather cooler, with some sunshine. Everywhere seemed soaked after yesterday’s torrential rain.

In the afternoon there didn’t seem much to do so I considered going home (I can set my own hours, filling in a timesheet day by day). Peter Hignet, the yard supervisor (hair so short it is basically just bristles), came up to introduce himself, asking if I was going to do the publicity for all of the company (there’s several different, disparate, units). Later his brother Paul (who works as a sales estimator) came up and we devised a rough draft of copy for a company brochure. We worked very well together, and I soon grasped the essential selling points of the service and put them into order. After about an hour working on the brochure he started telling me about his plans to buy a derelict Methodist chapel and convert it into a home (he is married with two small children, one being disabled). He had put in an offer and was waiting to hear if it had been accepted. He seemed very excited about the project and couldn’t stop talking about it.

Eventually I left at three, later than I intended. Probably I’ll try to limit my temp work to just two or three mornings a week, otherwise it will interfere with everything else I’m trying to do at the moment. On the drive home I listened to the news about the latest arrests in London.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Kings Cross

I’m often at Kings Cross, usually meeting Gary Spencer coming in from north Hertfordshire. The station is in the news a lot at the moment, being connected with the recent bombings in London. The station was also bombed by the IRA in late seventies or early eighties.

What most people don’t know is that you can still see evidence of the German bombing from the Second World War.

If you go to the east side of the station (the side adjacent to St Pancras) and walk along the platform you eventually come to a way-out that leads to the suburban platforms (where you catch the trains for Cambridge and Kings Lynn). Leaving the station by that entrance, walk out into the open and look upwards to the left. You will see that the range of Victorian offices (called East Side Offices) has a big gap in it, and the topmost floor on the left (overlooking the Great Northern Hotel) has just a wall of blackened wooden slats.

That whole top floor was cut off when the Luftwaffe bombed the station in the Second World War. The then railway authorities (this was pre-British Rail days) took the decision that it was too dangerous to try to get to the offices so they have just been left, exactly as they were when the bombs fell. I used to know someone who worked in East Side Offices, and he said occasionally maintenance people look into the floor, but basically it’s been left untouched.

I like to think that behind the wooden slats the corridor goes on, leading to range after range of big double offices filled with heavy desks (integral green leather tops), heavy bakelite telephones, big wall charts showing the wartime movement of munitions.

(Above): basically it’s been left untouched.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

A belated tribute

My cousin Vanessa was married at the weekend, so this is a belated tribute. My brother and I gave her a present of a jug. Big ugly jugs are a traditional wedding present in our family.

Big ugly jug - Mason's Ironstone (cost about £70).

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Marc Tauss

Marc Tauss must be one of the best portrait photographers in New York, and yet he specialises on book illustration. More commercial I suppose, but I wish he would produce more portraits.

I think this photograph is of the American author Janet Hobhouse (who wrote The Furies - Janet Hobhouse died in 1991 at the age of 43). This image is my photograph of Marc Tauss's photograph, so I hope it doesn't infringe any copyright. I like the way it has crossed from being a photograph to acquiring the depth and mystery of an oil painting.

Monday, July 25, 2005

It can only be a matter of time

On average I try to make one job application per day. The process starts each Monday with The Guardian where most marketing jobs tend to be advertised (or at least they used to - in the last year or so the number of marketing seems to have declined). This morning’s newspaper didn’t have many options - there are probably four advertisements that I will respond to.

On a rational level I know I have many skills that employers are looking for, and that it can only be a matter of time before I get another good job. Occasionally however, I do feel a bit isolated. As if the tide has gone out leaving me stranded.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Worthless second-rate kitsch

I’ve always been aware that some of the things in our house came from Mentmore when the estate was sold-up in the 1970s. Thirty years ago country house sales were not the big events they are now (media exposure, glossy sale catalogues, rock stars outbidding each other). We still have the Mentmore sale catalogue - it’s just a long list of items, separate price estimates (all incredibly low), a few black and white photographs of the more important lots.

Thirty years ago Mentmore was apparently considered an ugly Victorian house full of worthless second-rate kitsch. The National Trust wasn’t interested in taking it on (in those days the National Trust supposedly believed good taste didn’t survive the year 1837). All of the Mentmore collection was sold off and would be impossible to reassemble again.

Historical environments such as Mentmore can be very vulnerable. Once the objects are dispersed they are gone for good. It makes me wonder what things today will be considered valuable in (say) 2035.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

At the Royal Albert Hall

Today’s Promenade Concert at the Royal Albert Hall included Bruch’s Violin Concerto Number One. The soloist was Leila Josefowicz, young, blonde and beautiful, a talented musician, a model (the “face” of a well-known perfume), an energetic volleyball player. When she plays the violin the force of her concentration is so intense that her beautiful face becomes contorted, the passion of her feelings making her appear almost grotesque.

Bunches of Sweet Williams for sale

A flower stall, Saturday Market. Bunches of Sweet Williams for sale. Sweet Williams were named after William Duke of Cumberland who crushed the Jacobite rebels and destroyed Scotland as a rival power to England (in Scotland Sweet Williams are called Stinking Billies).

BBC2 every Friday evening

Newsnight Review on BBC2 every Friday evening. The presenter Mark Lawson (continuously blinking, rapid eye movement being the sign of a dreamer) has a knack of fusing the guest commentators into a symposium where the conversation becomes more important and interesting than the subjects being discussed. Popular American television dramas, hack novels by deceased actors, political satires performed in obscure venues - all the art is new.

Tony Parsons, in striped black and white socks, was deferred to by the other two critics and so felt less need to interrupt (interruption being an intrinsic part of his previous style). Perhaps the huge number of his book sales has elevated him from the category of journalist to a more elevated state of author. His slower speech made the things he said seem more interesting.

Newsnight Review is at its best when Tony Parsons, Germaine Greer and Tom Paulin appear together, chaired by Mark Lawson (or perhaps they have never appeared together and this ideal programme only exists in my imagination?).

Friday, July 22, 2005

The defence of London... the forces of Good vanquishing Evil

It was a mild day and I decided to walk from Old Street into the City. Because I had a couple of hours to spare I decided to look at three churches designed by Sir Christopher Wren. First to St Margaret Lothbury opposite the Bank of England. It consisted of a cube with an adjoining tower surmounted by an obelisk steeple. Inside was an exquisite interior - white walls, heraldic glass in the windows, amazing woodwork that was highly ornate and baroque. As if to underline the overall design, much use had been made of gold highlights, especially impressive on the capitals of the Corinthian columns. Iron sword rests (only used during visits by the Lord Mayor) were topped by gilded crowns. In the south aisle the reredos consisted of an 1891 painting of the Annunciation. Above it was the sacred tetragrammaton (Hebrew consonants of the Divine Name). All around the church, studding the walls like barnacles on the underside of a ship, were grimy marble tablets commemorating a bewildering number of dead worthies - lawyers, doctors, bankers, traders and the like. For a moment I felt I was surrounded by the numberless ancestors of London’s past.

Down past the Mansion House to St Mary Le Bow. Again it was of classic proportions, the spire one of Wren’s finest. Inside it was even more ornate than St Margaret Lothbury, but everything was new (the church had been gutted in a German air-raid on 11th May 1941). I particularly liked the chapel of the Blessed Sacrament where the altar was encased in a monstrance inspired by a Wren design. Displays of white lilies, more gilded Corinthian capitals, more heraldry (including a banner of the Australian Order). Woodwork carved in Oberammergau. The bells of the church are important as they define a true Londoner - to qualify you have to be born within the sound of Bow bells. The bells are commemorated in the children’s rhyme Oranges and Lemons. Recordings of Bow bells were broadcast by the BBC to Occupied Europe during the Second World War as a symbol of freedom.

A short walk to St Mary Aldermary, the only church Wren built in the gothic style. Inside it was as if I was in a parish church in the country, so potent was the gothic aura, so authentic the gothic atmosphere. An elderly man showed me round. The church was one of only two in the City to escape German bombing in the Second World War (although all the stained glass windows had been shattered). There was an impressive new stained glass window which portrayed the defence of London during the 1939-45 war, including a panorama of the City and the figure of St Michael overcoming the dragon (representing the forces of Good vanquishing Evil).

St Augustine with St Faith, Watling Street (near St Pauls tube station). Only the tower of this Wren church survived bombing in the Second World War. It is now covered in scaffolding and tarpaulins like a building wrapped by Christo and Jeanne-Claude.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

I think I did fairly well

In the morning spent more time registering with web sites that are advertising marketing jobs. Looked again through yesterday’s Guardian (has the most marketing jobs of all the national newspapers). Also completed an application form - it had to be hand written, so it took ages.

Then in the afternoon went to Finsbury Park for an interview at a big charity. It was quite a long walk uphill to the charity, housed in a collection of nineteenth-century buildings (modern additions tacked onto them). I was met by publications officer Sarah (“I’m still here after two and a half years” she told me, as if she was surprised by the fact). First to a small upstairs room where I was tested on how to mark-up copy (very easy test). Then a guided tour of the site, which was quite large and seemed to have been originally a convent for Methodist nuns (although the charity is no longer religious). My overall impression from the tour was how old-fashioned the organisation seemed to be (just from the look of the offices, and also the numbers of people they had in various departments - the design studio looked very top-heavy).

The interview (for the post of Communications Manager) was with a panel of three, each of them taking it in turns to ask me questions. I think I did fairly well. Afterwards Sarah showed me to the front entrance. Thinking about the place later, I feel it is the sort of organisation that once you enter, you stay for many years, with no pressure to move on. Comfortable in the short term, but ultimately leading nowhere. Possibly the place might be difficult to commute to.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

A rack of postcards where people have put up personal items that they want to sell

In Somerfield (supermarket, prices expensive but food only average quality, staff untrained with a tendency towards incompetence) I saw a rack of postcards where people have put up personal items they want to sell. For the past few weeks there has been a postcard advertising a wedding dress “…never worn…white with pearls and lace…long fitted train…” Obviously no-one wants a second-hand wedding dress as the card is still up there.

It made me wonder what story might lay behind such an advertisement. Did she have second thoughts? Did she catch him in an act of betrayal (with his ex / with her best friend / with a casual pick-up at a coastal resort)? Was he the one to break things off? Did her mannerisms start to annoy him? Did someone better come along (with fake blonde hair and the advantage of silicone implants)?

Anyway, she’s not at all sentimental about the occurrence and has put her wedding finery up for sale. And she has done this publicly, for all to see - a brave decision since there are many people who will laugh at her for this. Not for her the fate of the jilted Miss Haversham, sat in her wedding dress in a shrouded darkness while the cobwebs gather around her and she grows old and bitter.

Last Saturday The Daily Telegraph gave away a free copy (on DVD) of the 1945 film Great Expectations, dramatising the novel by Charles Dickens and starring John Mills and Valerie Hobson, with Martita Hunt as Miss Haversham.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

It is a job I would really like

(Above) I’ve never really noticed the initials before

Monday - an interview in the Farringdon area. It is a job I would really like (the company does interesting work, the marketing tasks are well within my capabilities, the money is in the range I am looking for). Plus there is the bonus of an immediate start, which means I could keep more of my redundancy money.

The interview was late in the afternoon (5 o’clock). I arrived at Farringdon Station too early (allowing for any disruption to the tube) and because it was so hot and humid I went to Vic Naylor’s bar in St John’s Lane where I had an iced tonic water, sat directly below one of the ceiling fans. Then, because I was still early, I walked around Smithfield taking photographs until it was nearly five o’clock.

The company was located in a small mews running northwards (claustrophobic alley, paved courtyard with a wall of green climbers, rational glass façade leading into a big communal workspace). The interview was in a glass office at the back of the building, and lasted about an hour. Only once, when discussing InDesign, did I find myself starting to flounder:

“You’re familiar with the CS version?”

“Er, how do you mean CS?”

“Creative Suite… InDesign Creative Suite.”

“Oh yes, of course” I said with a confidence I didn’t really feel.

Only later, when I got home and checked my InDesign manual, did I see the CS initials that I had never really noticed before.

After the interview I went over to Hyde Park, but rain started falling so I had to take shelter (it was very fine rain, not refreshing in any way - the air still remained hot and humid). Later Gary Spencer rang me to ask how the interview had gone. I have a one on four chance of getting the job (they are interviewing four people), but these things are impossible to predict.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Norman architecture

Sunday, and driving out in the countryside I passed an old church with a hand-made sign saying “Open every day”. It looked an interesting building so I stopped to have a closer look. Now an out-of-the-way place, the village must have been quite important a thousand years ago, judging by the evidence of Norman architecture.

Most impressive is the south arcade, where these tremendous round arches (with Norman zigzag pattern) carry the weight of the chancel roof. The floor must have been lower than it currently is, as the pillars are so short and do not proceed from any defined base. The bulk and presence of Norman architecture seems to convey visually the military strength of the Norman regime.

Norman font - the intersecting arches are typical of Norman design (there are good examples on the west front at Castle Acre Priory in deepest Norfolk - one of my favourite ruins).

1743 monument of an angel with a trumpet. I like the contrast between the marble of the monument and the different coloured stone used for the trumpet and olive branch. Pevsner calls this monument "very conservative" (I can't see anything particularly conservative about it).

Sunday, July 17, 2005

An uncanny experience

(Above) Poppies in Mrs Blanchard's garden, about two weeks ago. Her garden is close to the edge, but the slope is quite gentle at this point.

In very hot weather there is a period, between about two o'clock and three o'clock, when the landscape seems to fall absolutely silent. Being at home these last few days, I've noticed the regularity of the phenomenon. Not that there's a great deal of noise anyway - a car over a mile away makes a low faint whooshing noise that indicates it's moving along the connecting road (from nowhere to nowhere, since there are no through roads in this part of the county). But usually there is the noise of the birds, or the sound of the wind in the trees, or some indeterminate scuffling in the undergrowth.

But between two and three the world falls silent. It's as if I have suddenly become profoundly deaf - until the passing of a bee, or other insect, intrudes and breaks the heavy tranquillity. It's an uncanny experience.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

“This is our part of London…”

(Above) Russell Square looking south.

This is the first weblog entry I have posted on a Saturday!

Yesterday (Friday) I went to an agency in the city that specialises in marketing jobs. It took nearly an hour to "register". My experience of such agencies is not good - usually they put you forward for jobs that are entirely unsuitable, then nag you to go to the interview (which then turns out to be a complete waste of time).

Afterwards I met Helen B for a quick drink. We went to Bloomsbury as she felt we ought to make a gesture.

"What do you mean, a gesture?"

"You know, a gesture. Of solidarity. Show them we're not afraid."

Anyway, we walked nearly a mile, to the Kings Bar at the Hotel Russell in Russell Square. The Hotel Russell is an incredible building, designed by architect Fitzroy Doll (who also worked on the interiors of the Titanic) and opened in 1898. The building is faced in terracotta and is supposed to resemble the Chateau de Madrid which used to stand in the Bois de Boulogne in Paris.

"This is our part of London" said Helen as we came in through the south side of Russell Square. In many ways she is right, when you add up all the lectures attended in Bedford Square (at an outpost of our Surrey based college), the hours spent in the British Museum, the books purchased at Dillons, the afternoon-sleeping done at Senate House Library, the coffees drunk at the Tavistock Hotel, the visits to the Courtauld Institute, the Institute of Historical Research, the Institute of Archaeology etc etc.

There were a sprinkling of people around the Kings Bar, most of them tourists I would guess. As always happens when Helen enters a bar, she ordered Brandy Alexanders. As always happens in response, the bar staff didn't have a clue how to make the drink. There was some conferring at the end of the bar by the till and then one of the waitresses went off. We sat down at a table in one of the windows. The waitress returned with a short, elderly, Indian-looking gentleman who came briskly over to us and said, importantly: "I can make it, I can make it." He went behind the bar and, because he was so short, and because the bar was so wide and substantial, he entirely disappeared from view, although we could hear him bustling about among the bottles. Minutes later he came back to our table and explained he couldn't make the drinks because the hotel didn't have any white Creme de Cacao. He looked utterly crestfallen, as if he had waited half a lifetime for someone to ask him to make that particular cocktail.

We ordered cocktails from the commonplace list on the table. The leather chairs were difficult to sit in comfortably (we should have chosen one of the big sofas). Just as we finished our drinks and were preparing to leave Helen asked me if there was any news of Robert Leiper.

"Robert Leiper has moved to California" I said with a finality that effectively closed the subject.

Detail of the front exterior of the Hotel Russell.

Can't remember the names of the cocktails we ordered. I don't really like cocktails much anyway. I think Brandy Alexanders are disgusting.

Chandalier in the hotel lobby. The Hotel Russell is a magnificent building, but has been allowed to become a little shabby. A programme of restoration, employment of a top chef in the restaurant, and a sustained marketing campaign would transform this hotel into a world-class establishment.

Consuming African culture

The recent emphasis upon Africa at the G8 Summit has made me think about the different ways in which I consume African culture. Africa as a producer of agricultural products and raw materials, trading with the other continents of the world, will go some way towards providing gross national income for participating countries that will (eventually) trickle down to village communities and family clans. However, this tertiary sector (food, bulk raw materials, diamonds etc) is made up of generic products that are unlikely to command premium prices.

It is as a producer of intellectual products (which are as good as any in the rest of the world) that Africa has the best opportunity to achieve significant levels of income, providing surplus cash that will, through the accelerator effect (by which money circulates and re-circulates, providing investment and employment at every phase) regenerate societies without dependence upon the volatility of commodity markets.

African costumes, African music, African literature all have a unique identity that deserves to be more widely known. It is by consuming African culture that we can, on a basis of true equality, trade with the African continent. There are also many good African weblogs, including - a Kenyan-based weblog which I have been reading for over a year (the writing is very fine, some of the best I have come across).

African costume design - costumes of the Morenada dancers on display at the British Museum.

The British Museum caption reads: The dancers in the Morenada troupe represent the black Africans who were brought to work as slaves on farms and in mines during the colonial period. The dancers are burdened by heavy costumes weighing 100 lb or more. The costumes represent the wealth of the mine owners. They take months of devoted and skilful ingenuity to prepare. Led by the Rey Moreno (Black King) the troupe advances slowly shaking hand-held rattles in unison to imitate the sound of the iron chains that once bound them...

African music - Mali singer Rokia Traore on the cover of her album Mouneissa.

I bought this CD on the recommendation of Unganisha (otherwise I would never have heard of it, as I avoid the over-hyped "world music" sections in music stores).

African literature - Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe.

Spare manner of writing, laconic style, important universal issues.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

The end of an era

Wednesday - last day at work before my post became redundant. I got up at the usual time (6pm) and opened the house up before setting off to work. The traffic was fairly slow, and I started to accelerate and overtake until I realised there was no need to worry about being a few minutes late - it probably wouldn’t have mattered if I had been half an hour late.

Anyway I got to the office and sat at my desk and began working through all the loose ends that needed to be tidied up. It seemed like any other day, especially as there were several “just do this before you go” requests that kept me busy until midday. Gradually the surreality of the situation became apparent and I stopped processing tasks that I knew would never be finished.

My assistant Caron Maryatt arrived (she started at 9 o’clock) and I could tell something was bothering her, so I asked how she was feeling and she told me “I feel worried sick”. We talked for a while, and it turned out that there was nothing in particular that was worrying her (money wasn’t a problem since she didn‘t really need to work), it was just the process of being made redundant that was so stressful (I suppose she felt it as a personal rejection, which was ridiculous since out of all the staff in the company she has been one of the most loyal and conscientious). She also said she was very keen to find another job since she has always had her own income independent of her husband.

Lunchtime arrived, and I suggested to Caron that we had lunch together to mark the four years we have worked in the Marketing team. She is a Jehovah’s Witness, so taking her to a pub was out of the question, but about half a mile a way from the company is a quiet little garden centre that has a café, and I knew that would be her sort of place. Outside in the car park the heat was incredible (92 degrees Fahrenheit by the gauge in my car) and we were glad to get to the café where a rudimentary form of air conditioning was in operation.

Toasted ham and cheese sandwiches, pieces of fruit cake (so hard they were almost uneatable), tea served in little individual teapots. We talked about all the Marketing projects that would come to a stop, and how much the company would miss us once we had gone (I didn’t tell her my private fear - that once we had gone the Marketing department will be completely looted within about two days, everything we have built up over the years will be destroyed, and within a few weeks most people will forget we had ever existed. Not having a Marketing Communications department is certainly going to cause the company difficulties, but it will be some months before the situation becomes acute and by that time a cover-up and blame deferral operation will be in full swing).

Back to the office, and less than an hour before the final meeting with Human Resources. Various people came over to say how sorry they were that we were leaving. E-mails still kept pinging their way onto my PC but I left them unanswered and switched everything off. The meeting with Marion Conway, Human Resources Director, lasted about twenty minutes - the formal letter (and P45!) was handed over, the (generous) cheque was handed over, then we chatted for a while about how Marketing had established itself over the years and how lucky we had been with the quality of staff (“There’s never been any problems with your department” she told me).

Emerging from Human Resources, I found Caron was waiting for me in the (now officially abolished) Marketing department. We walked all around the general office shaking hands with people and saying goodbye, then did the same round all the individual departments (the Accounts Manager, who joined the company the same day I did, insisted on hugging and kissing me and saying she would miss our talks). Down to the warehouse, again just shaking hands and saying goodbye to people - the entire process took us nearly an hour (fifteen of which we spent with Sales Director Neil Hancock).

And then we walked out the door. I could tell Caron Maryatt was very relieved (“We’re free” she kept saying, “we’re free!”). We were (I think) the last of the twenty redundancies to be effected.

The end of an era, but also a good opportunity to move on and up to the next level.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Issue a Fatwa against suicide bombers

Paul Waddingham (an old friend, but sometimes his ideas are a bit crazy) telephoned last night, talking about the bomb attacks last Thursday. His point was that the only way to curtail the suicide bombers is to use some religious sanction against them (since they will only listen to religious commands). “We need the senior Muslim leaders in London to issue a Fatwa against suicide bombers” he said. “They should initiate a formal religious process that will declare war on any Muslim person who commits atrocities in London. All the religious scholars and Muftis should act together.” Not sure if this would work – the bombers seem to have a chaotic and unstructured view of the world.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Walk through the woodland

The heat over the last few days has been so intense (temperatures in the eighties) that ordinary routines become disrupted, and the main concern is to keep in the shade. To make this situation even more difficult, since Friday I have had a chill and sometimes find myself struggling to breathe (nights are the worst). On the hottest evenings it’s nice to get out of the city and go home and walk through the woodland on the escarpment, pursuing my hobby of studying and recording the flora of the county’s upland (another of the many interests I have that never seem to lead to anything).

Sunlight through a lime canopy. The lime (Tilia) is the tallest broad-leaved tree in the British Isles, and the fine-grained wood is prized in the construction of musical instruments. The stringy bark was used in the past to make rope and mats. Posted by Picasa

Sunlight on nettles. The stinging nettle (Urtica Dioica) can be used to make a (supposedly pleasant) tea. Application of stinging nettles to inflamed joints has been used for hundreds of years as a relief for arthritis (presumably the stings take your mind off the arthritic pain).  Posted by Picasa

Dog Wood (Cornus Sanguinea). The hard white wood was once used by butchers to make skewers. The berries were once used to make oil for lamps.  Posted by Picasa

Pink campion (Silene Dioica). The flowers become scented in the evening. In rural areas of the county people used to fear this plant - it is believed to be extremely unlucky to pick the flowers (really not to be recommended).  Posted by Picasa

English oak - king of the woodland trees. Oak Apple Day is celebrated on 29th May, but is no longer a national holiday. Oak wood was once used in construction of ships for the Royal Navy, and is still used to make furniture and panelling. Posted by Picasa

Sheep keeping in the shade as the light fades (but the heat remains). In the distance you can see the gently rolling English countryside sub-divided by hedgerows that are a mixture of hazel, blackthorn, hawthorn, dog-rose and crab-apple - some hedges are up to five hundred years old. The fruit of the blackthorn (Prunus Spinosa) are known as sloes and are used to flavour gin. Posted by Picasa

Monday, July 11, 2005

The interview for the interview

At lunchtime I went for an interview – actually it was a preliminary interview (the interview for the interview). The vacancy is with a subsidiary of a big Danish healthcare products company. The post is for a Marketing Manager, with fourteen staff reporting. The salary is fifty per cent higher than my present job, so I suppose it has to be regarded as a long shot. Last time I was looking for a job (four years ago) I made an average of ten applications to get one interview, and went through five distinct interview processes (first and second sessions, plus psychometrics) to get one job offer. My ideal is to hold two job offers and then make a choice between the two alternatives, therefore I am resigned to making a hundred separate applications.

The preliminary interview was with an HR consultant working for the Danish company (she had on a black shirt and grey pin-striped trousers, with wavy black hair, black rimmed glasses, no make-up – despite her severe appearance her curvaceous figure made her appear very feminine). The meeting was held in an upstairs room at a city centre location. The windows were open, temperatures being above eighty degrees Fahrenheit, a fan in the corner blowing the hot air around the room.

She talked far more than I did, and seemed to be selling the job to me (or perhaps she just liked the sound of her own voice). The interview went on for over an hour. I left thinking: it’s not likely that I’ll get the first job I apply for.

Bike Night – “They knew what they were doing”

Thursday evening – most of the day had been cold and wet, but by seven o’clock it had become warm and dry, the sun shining. Hundreds of motorcycles were on display at the Bike Night, with newcomers arriving all the time, holding up pedestrians as they roared into the car park. I walked up and down the rows of bikes – Kawasaki, Suzuki, Honda. A slight breeze propelled wave upon wave of exhaust fumes over the assembly (the smell was not unpleasant). The sound of hundreds of motorcycle enthusiasts, and the roaring of the motor bikes, almost drowned out the local music station playing heavy metal music (at full blast). Among all the macho swaggering and mechanical mutual admiration were two young women (Julia and Clare) – identical twins with wavy blonde hair and blue eyes, their slim figures enveloped and accentuated by their leathers (“they knew what they were doing” said Winnie Parry when she saw the photos of the pair, her Welsh voice having a condemnatory tone as if she was looking at something indecent).

Wurth products - they claim to be original and best. Posted by Picasa

Motorbike groupie (the toddler's pushchair somehow detracted from the air of tattooed bike-orientated fanaticism).  Posted by Picasa

Motorbike rider - Go! Yamaha Gauloises. Posted by Picasa

The motorbike as symbol of past achievement - Triumph. Posted by Picasa

The motorbike as symbol of present dominance - Harley Davidson. Posted by Picasa

The motorbike as nostalgic heritage: vintage MJR racer. Posted by Picasa

The motorbike as means of transport:

"Isn't overtaking like THAT dangerous?"

"Er, isn't taking photographs like THIS dangerous?" Posted by Picasa