The office bitch rolls up to me. She's all business suity squeezed in to tight clothes that show off the figure that she's had since she was twenty and she's still insanely proud of now she's nearly a hundred. Straight in to my personal space and leaning over me like a vampire ready for that final necking. Lovely.
- Why did you invite Bob and Jim to the meeting this afternoon?
She organised the meeting. She wanted the meeting. She wanted me to run the meeting. As far as I was concerned, that meant I was going to invite as many people as possible who would be on my side. Because meetings with her are always about picking sides and hoping that the CEO will be on the same side as you. So I explained patiently why these people had something to contribute to the meeting that she hadn't organised very well.
- Where's Ken? Is he dialling in? Do I have to get a conference call organised?
She already organised the conference call. It was on the notification of the meeting. Which she hadn't read. I pretended that I didn't know this and we checked it together. At this point I started leaning forward.
- Why aren't Leonard and Evan coming?
They're not coming because we've got no idea what the meeting is specifically about so we're damned if we're going to waste the time of all four of us and get us all annoyed. I find a marginally more subtle way of saying this, while at the same time suggesting that maybe she shouldn't bring all her team.
In the end, she doesn't bring all her team, I bring half of mine, and I look like I've compromised, when really I've brought in yet another person to be on my side. I've lived through the stress of the pre-meeting mindgames, and the meeting itself is...
Weirdly, it's okay.
Later, the office bitch leaves on her broomstick.
Zhang Xiaogang is getting big in the world of Chinese art. His originals are trading hands for pretty much a million of your earth pounds, his prints are going for thousands, and his new stuff is looking particularly interesting.
I like his painting style, which is very simple and derives from old photographs, as far as I can ascertain. The series pictured here is one of several that address - in a very simple and effective way - the idea of what it means to be Chinese. There's a uniformity in the pictures, a smooth simplicity to the style, the palette, the use of surfaces. En masse, they can be quite unnerving, and seem almost interchangeable. But there are differences between them, as there are differences between any two families. So on the one hand you've got the idea of drawing attention to the subtle differences but making that important. That's one layer.
The next idea is a thin red line that runs through the paintings - erratic and random, subtle but always present, the meaning of the line is betrayed in the title "Bloodlines" - it's the idea that the people in them are all bound together, all share a single bloodline, and they're all part of a Big Family.
Incidentally, I can't actually work out if the title for the series of the paintings is "Bloodlines" or "Big Family". Both are appropriate, although the original Chinese name probably means something else entirely.
The blood line is important. Most of the paintings show families with children. The bloodline joins them together, and blood flows. It's a commentary on the one-child policy, as far as I'm aware. Parents pour their blood, their life in to their single child. Babies suck the life out of their parents, becoming bursting scarlet monsters. In one, a young boy is siphoning the blood from his older sister. I think. All this is simply conveyed through the joining line and the use of colour. The parents are pale, exhausted. The children are the future, but perhaps they are destroying the past.
Brilliant, simple, and finally getting the international recognition they deserve.
I listened to her patiently. She'd called up, looking for Mr Twinky, I'd offered to take a message in case she was someone important, but no. She was from the local mumbler's society. At least, I think that's what she said. She then launched straight in to her pitch, to get money from me.
The idea was that I'd buy raffle tickets, to sell to my friends and family (ie people I like) and the money would go to help deaf people. I know this, because I listened. It's one of my super powers, up there with looking out of the window to work out what the weather is.
And then I started on my carefully prepared speech. The one that starts with "I'm sorry, but as a matter of principle, I don't..." I didn't get much further than that before she tried to interrupt me. I kept going. She tried to interrupt again. I didn't let her. She obviously wasn't learning anything from me so I sped past most of my argument and straight on to "Thanks for calling, bye."
Society is riddled with unlisteners. You've probably come across them. They're trained not to listen. They nod, and say "yes," and "uh huh" at inappropriate times. They have a dead look in their eyes, mainly because their mind and brain have disconnected and while they are automatically performing "sound like you are listening" they are trying to decide which shade of puce to paint their garage. It's endemic in business, where 90% of communication has no point at all.
I wish I'd interrupted her interruption with "Excuse me - I'm talking. What's wrong with you, are you deaf?"
Thank goodness I'm not that evil.
I'm thoroughly enjoying one of the most entertaining pieces of television I've seen in ages. The 2007 "Brit" awards, live from Earl's Court. Oh yes, I could talk about the music, the glitter, the sparkle, the choreography, or the fact that the honoured guests get to sit at nice round tables. But I won't. Unless you count that bit.
The key word in the above, you see, is "live". The last time the awards were shown live it was a real embarrassment - the presenters were inexperienced, the autocue was a bit rubbish, and there were lots of pauses. Not so tonight. No. Russell Brand has been cheerfully spouting forth his usual stream of dysfunctional consciousness and it's been uniformly hilarious and utterly filthy and inappropriate. I would imagine that the first complaint arrived at ITV about five minutes after the opening credits (if you ignore all the complaints that would have come in beforehand), and that the people who like to complain about that sort of thing are now frothing at the mouth and conducting seances to resurrect Mary Whitehouse as some sort of gargantuan monstrous avenging angel, wielding her sword of truth and justice to strike down anyone who suggests that maybe it's wrong to look at intimate pictures of the Queen.
Fortunately, by ten past nine, we are now being given warnings that the content may become very adult. I guess that means more jokes about sex and more bands coming on stage drunk, stoned &/or incoherent. And that's what I'm enjoying so much. Knowing that while the show is perfectly targetted at the audience, it's going to attract a gazillion complaints a minute.
The best bit's still Tom Baker announcing the band names.
I read something interesting this evening. It was in some blurb I got from Microsoft pushing Vista.
On my Windows Sidebar, I have a notepad to make notes to myself, a small calendar so I can see the date, local weather so I know whether or not to bring the dog in from the cold, a clock to tell me when it's time to stop working, and a newsfeed so I can stay in the loop with the outside world. Having exactly the information that I want and need at a glance saves me a lot of time. I don't have to search in multiple areas to find it, because it's already there.
The author needs Vista so that she knows whether or not to bring the dog in from the cold. It's hardly a selling feature, really, is it?
Now, don't get me wrong, much as I may claim to hate computers, I'm sitting here typing on one now, I use them all the time, and I've been through a pretty impressive range of music players, personal organisers and mobile phones in my time. And I believe that the various technologies are evolving, and will continue to evolve and converge over the next few years. But honestly... there's evolution and there is taking the piss.
I remember a few years ago, Windows me was launched. At the time it was launched with the phrase "The Me Generation: Get upgraded to first class with Microsoft Windows Millennium Edition. Available on September 14, it's all you need to bring your PC into the digital age." At the time I found this amusing because I'd been using a digital PC for years by then.
And now, Vista can tell you when it's a bit cold for your dog to stay outside. There's already an analog device that does that perfectly well. It can also tell you all sorts of information, like when it's getting dark and whether or not it's raining. You probably already have several. And of course, it's simply called a window.
One of the things that struck me about London last weekend was the smell of the place. Egads boys, it's a real pea souper. Indoors, at least.
Back in the day, I never used to be too bothered about people smoking in pubs and bars. It was a fact of life. Part of going to a bar was the large ashtray in the middle of the table, overflowing with ash and butts. Occasionally it would get cleaned up, and if you were really lucky ending up with ash spilled over you. The air had a curious smell to it, more complex than just cigarettes. Windows were for letting in the light rather than letting people see inside. Children were not encouraged, and food was usually limited to crisps.
The biggest change in British pub life isn't the gastropub, isn't the all-pervasive-all-barone, isn't the web of pubs that used to be banking halls. It's the gradual piecemeal introduction of smoking bans. They've had a rather odd effect.
To start with, smokers block the doorways. Theoretically, they're supposedly not allowed to, but that's completely unenforceable. So to get in anywhere, you're pushing past someone and getting a good lungful of the olden days. And then, once you're inside, half your friends keep nipping out. If there's only one of you smoking, then they might drag you out to keep them company while they're taking a drag. And that's when you discover the truth. The smoking ban creates a secret club for smokers. A secret club where you get to sit outside under a malfunctioning brazier, huddled up in your winter woolies, true, but a special secret society nonetheless. Hardy men and women, spurned by society because of their lifestyle choice.
I don't know what the statistics tell us about the economics of all this. Certainly, bars are nicer places. They've lost the cigarette stench, worked out what the strange smell behind it was, and cleaned up that nasty mess in the basement at last. I'd probably be happier to spend more time in bars these days, and I wouldn't need to get my clothes dry cleaned afterwards. Indeed, it's probably the dry cleaning industry that's losing out most in this whole shift in attitudes.
Which brings me to London. The packed basement bar, and the party of women next to us who turned up and lit up. We've not had a smoking ban for long, but it's really taken psychologically. There was just something that felt so wrong about smoking in a bar - even though they were doing something perfectly legitimate. I actually had to stop myself from staring at them, at the same time pleased and bemused by how easily the smoking ban had become ingrained in me.
And the next day, our clothes smelled of pub.
I'm not a big fan of negative advertising.
One of the many careers that I juggle on a daily basis involves reviewing and signing off marketing. You can seriously cock up marketing. You can misrepresent your product, for instance. Bilious Fong, for instance may well get out 99% of stains, but you can't really claim that it raises the dead unless it's quite, quite clear that you're either taking the piss, or you've got some evidence that backs it up. And I don't mean a survey of 14 people, in which 90% thought that it might be responsible for Zombie outbreaks in Abergavenny.
Now, these Apple ads that have hit the UK, that are pretty similar to the American ones. They're actually slammed full of unsubstantiable claims, or things that are just plain wrong. You'd be forgiven for thinking that if you run a Mac rather than a PC you'd be safe from viruses. You'd be wrong. There are no known viruses for the Mac OS X. That means that it's not going to get infected, right?
There are two possible reasons why there are no viruses for the Mac. Either it's impossible to infect a Mac with a virus, or it's just that nobody's bothered to write one yet.
It's possible to infect a Mac with a virus. It can't be 100% secure. It's a physical impossibility. It's got an operating system, systems are written by people, people make mistakes. All the time. It runs software, software is written by people, same story.
So, it's a fairly safe assumption that nobody's written a virus for the Mac. Here we go with three theories of why.
If I can take the virus analogy a little too far, living in Swindon doesn't mean you won't get Malaria, it just makes it very unlikely. Just because you are not exposed to a disease, it doesn't make you immune to it. Quite the reverse, in fact. You need to take careful precautions, and not cheerily head off to rural India on holiday in your comedy poncho. With your MacBook.
My point - and yes, I do have one - is that the claims in the adverts aren't necessarily true, even if they're not far from the truth, and arguably close enough at the moment.
Apple's biggest barrier to market share in the home is market share in the office. People who work in an office want to be comfortable using their computer at home. They reckon that learning how to work two systems is hard. It's not, though. It's incredibly easy.
It's easy to mock PCs. Mine is still in bits, for instance, and I know I wouldn't have had that problem with a Mac. But apart from that, I'm hugely familiar with PCs and I don't have a good reason to change. And these adverts just tell me that Apple owners are a bit smug. They're selling me lifestyle and design and magic beans. Smoke and mirrors and sky castles. They're telling me that I need to be defined by my computer, and not the other way around.
And mainly, they're bloody everywhere I look, and they're getting on my tits.
"I always think that English men are more secure in their sexuality," says my companion. He comes from a small town in Ireland, and we're walking through London. His eyes are practically on stalks as we snake from Brewer Street, through the path of a cyclist and on to Old Compton Street. He reckoned that he could have pulled at least a dozen times walking along that stretch. I pointed out that really, that wasn't saying much.
I first visited London in the 1970s. Back then, it was hip, it was hippy, it was happening. There were lifts in all of the tube stations - none of this nonsense escalator stuff. It was all dirty, and nasty and exciting and full of delight. The stations were even more labyrinthine than they are now, and smelled of gunpowder and illicit corners. Tube tickets were little orange or yellow strips of card with 60p or 90p printed on them in giant Johnson Sans
Since then, London's had a good wash. It no longer feels like a smoky smoggy city trying to escape from the spirit of the blitz, and now it feels more like a bright beacon of culture and hope, setting itself up for the next one.
I last visited London, well, yesterday. The sky was clear , it was dry and crisp and fresh, and it looked fantastic. Off-season, it was still full of tourists, but there's enough to see and enough space to see it in, that apart from a few clusters of chaos, it's possible to walk through huge areas and never see a soul.
Cities are schizophrenic things, humanity's dysfunction writ large. There are places that you don't go to, where you won't feel comfortable, and the people who call it home will feel the same about somewhere else. You'll walk the same streets, drink coffee from the same pot with strangers who view the city entirely differently from you. Your idea of the centre of the city, of up and of down, will differ from anything official, and from anybody else's ideas. Sometimes I hate London, and sometimes it fills me with excitement.
On Sunday, as I walked through Spitalfields Market, looking up at Hawksmoor's Christ Church in the cold February light, I felt excited and chilled, and thrilled and alive.
So, Windows Vista finally launched. So what?
It's hard to miss it if you're anywhere near a technology web site, and I had it installed on my PC back in the golden days before it died. Admittedly it was a test version and not the real thing, but frankly, I thought it was okay.
Neither good, nor bad, but somewhere in between.
On the one hand, yes it looks nice, and I dare say that all of the changes under the hood make it much more secure. But it doesn't really have anything compelling for the user. It does the same stuff as xp. In pretty similar ways. It does them about as quickly, probably faster. But at the moment that's about it. There's no compelling reason to move.
And, at 150 of your Earth pounds for something that does the same thing only prettier, there are some pretty compelling reasons not to bother.