Girls and boys of the world, take care of your mobile phones.
One of my colleagues lost his in the pub last night, and only found out when they arrived at work. In the mean time, their phone had been used to send a large number of text messages, including three to myself between the hours of four and five in the morning. The messages were - how can I put this delicately - of a personal nature, suggesting that the sender would enjoy a more intimate relationship.
I wasn't the only one to get the messages. Family members, old colleagues, other people here, all were lucky enough to get these delightful messages. As a result, the individual in question is now phoning everyone they can think of, and apologising. Profusely.
It's interesting how we reacted, though, those of us who got these messages. We said absolutely nothing until the message came through that X had lost their phone and someone had been sending out the messages. And then all of a sudden we all breathed a sigh of relief and admitted that we'd had two, three or whatever. We haven't discussed the contents. And we won't.
I feel incredibly sorry for X, but I can at least look them in the eye. Which is just as well, when they have to work for me.
It's made me worried about the security of my own phone - which I take fairly obsessive care over when I'm out drinking to avoid this happening. But I know that it could. I don't use half of the security features, and I don't really know anyone who does. If it's been turned off, then I enter a code to turn it back on again, but that's all. Maybe I should hunt out the manual and see what more I can do. Because there are some conversations that I don't want to be having with my aunts.
We said our goodbyes long before we left Hong Kong. Really, we did. Much as I loved Senga, her boyfriend - later fiance, now husband - made it quite clear that he didn't want to associate with gay homosexuals, and so cut half of her friends out of her life. I tried to keep an occasional friendship going, hoping that maybe he would change his mind, but it never happened. Such is life.
I'm thinking of Senga today because for most of the last five years she's been working on a single project. Hong Kong Disneyland opened today. East meets West meets magic kingdom. I hope she's happy, because she deserves it. Truly lovely person, who deserves to have every happiness. I wish I really believed that she would get it with her husband.
But we had that excellent Christmas together in her orange flat in Tower 125. We were all single then, admittedly some of us were more single than others. M gave me two mugs and a plastic coffee jar from Pacific Coffee. The mugs have gone now, although we used them for ages. The coffee jar still sits in our kitchen. It's odd, the things you remember.
He left a few months later, off to London to play off his Scottish ancestry and work for the Guardian. M was always full of stories, peopled by characters I never met, whose backgrounds I never found out. He would bring them to life through his words, and so I feel I know the full horror in the newsroom, the bickering and jockeying for position that went on in the rush to reformat the paper, although not the web site yet.
I've had my own little milestone too. Four years since I started in this job. It's had moments, but they have just been moments, little islands of pleasure in a mass of tedium. I look back at the people we were that Christmas, back at the end of 98. In some ways it was the best of times, and in some ways the best was yet to come.
It rolls around with a distressing familiarity - the fag end of the week, the day when any enthusiasm has gone from my team, and we become a crowd of inefficient macontents, moaning about incompetence, whinging about pressure, achieving nothing.
There's no pressure on a Friday, no sense of urgency. We have deadlines but nobody chasing things, we get e-mails but the phone never rings. Some staff are away for the weekend. Others leave at lunch time. The urgency that characterises the office for the rest of the week is utterly absent. Almost all of the desks are empty. Those of us who are here are present in body only.
We've talked to each other all week. We know the minutiae of each other's lives. We ask each other what we're up to at the weekend, knowing that it will be a mixture of sleeping, drinking, shopping, and visiting family. The day starts quietly and remains quiet.
It is the perfect time to do those bits of work that I never do - the things that involve some thought, an attention span beyond a few seconds. Time to take that luxury of a continuous hour to read the paper that's been awaiting my comments for a fortnight. But the words dance on the page. I build three computers in theory, and buy none in practice. I answer a few questions. I twiddle my thumbs.
It is an unday.
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Way way back, many centuries ago, not long after the bible began, someone invented the Video Recorder. Weeks, possibly dozens of weeks later, my parents bought one. I say "my parents". It'll have been "my dad", but back then, they were just one amorphous blob of controlling my life and making me go to school and eat up all my greens and do my homework.
That was the thing... homework. After coming home from school, you had to do your homework. And you couldn't watch television until after you had done your homework, so while Blue Peter and Crackerjack were safe there was a chance that you might miss something gripping like White Horses or Heidi or the Badly Dubbed Eastern European Singing Tree. And that would be unthinkable.
But now we had this big shiny silver box in the corner. It was black, and matt, and top-loading, but that's irrelevant. It was a big lump of flashy new technology, which could tape two hours of children's telly on a single tape, so that you could do your homework, you could play for a while, and then you could watch the children's telly that you missed. And we did, for a while.
I don't know how long we did it for, because I was about ten, and therefore had no idea of time passing. Terms lasted forever, summers lasted forever, friendships lasted forever, so we probably did this forever. Instead of sitting quietly in front of the television for half an hour, we sat in front of the television with our parents for two hours.
I'd like to take this opportunity to apologise to my parents for that. I'm really, really sorry.
One of the regrets I have in my life is that I didn't realise earlier that by this stage in my life I would find myself wanting to argue about social and economic issues, about how the two interact, about church and state, and the fact that I have a very strong world-view and it's entirely mine and it's different from anybody else's and how part of my world-view automatically embraces diversity.
I didn't know I would have any sort of insight into cultural stagnation, into progress versus preservation, into the role of corporations in perpetuating economic growth. I didn't realise that I would see any of the links that I see when I look at the world, the vasy cultural tapestry that has formed the mess of the last thousand years, the way that a few groups within a few societies have through imperialism, terrorism, propaganda and lies shaped the world we live in.
As a result, I don't have the language to describe half of what I see around me. I can't put a name to the phenomenon whereby we can't see the world as a group of six billion people, and we need to divide down and down, to belong to ever decreasing circles, until we cross our own personal styx and get in to our own personal hell. I can't adequately explain why I feel a greater bond with someone I've only ever chatted to through the internet than I do with people I talk to every day.
Sometimes, it just completely overwhelms me. I know that I don't have answers, I know that no one individual has answers. The entirety of the human experience can't be governed by one book or one faith or one economic theory, and let's face it - we would be immensely poorer if it were.
And that takes me back to my biggest regret. If I had spent my formative years, the years when I was immersed in books reading up on economic theory and philosophy, perhaps my arguments would be more solid, perhaps I wouldn't be re-treading the same issues that have troubled generations before me and will continue to plague generations to come.
Because in a sense there is nothing new. Different trappings, different fashion, but the same issues persist. Things stay the same, things fall apart, there is an endless cycle of rebirth and renewal. I know that, in some sense I actually feel it, and it's what makes me the person that I am now. So excuse me my clumsiness. I'm just like all of us, struggling for answers.
There is a malaise in modern business. Or at least the corner of it that I work in. It works like this.
If someone calls you, or comes over to talk to you, sends you an e-mail or even just starts talking to you, you are supposed to stop doing whatever you're doing and start dealing with them. This hit me particularly badly yesterday afternoon, when I came out of a two hour meeting with lawyers to be faced with a barrage of complaints and queries, which started before I had even sat down. For forty-five minutes, I had a queue at my desk, including one person who came back after half an hour to ask how I'd got on with the piece of work that she had asked me to do half an hour earlier.
Is it any wonder that in our place, nobody ever actually does anything?
Today is bliss by comparison. I've had two phone calls, both of which were pleasant. I've had no meetings. I've talked to two other people, but we started with a bit of small talk first. There was no sense of rush or urgency - and I've achieved an awful lot more.
But I know our office, and I know our management. It won't last.