Monday, October 30, 2006

A good weekend

In may ways it shouldn’t have been a very good weekend, yet it was. The house was full of ill things. LL, Ali Babi and my Princess all where full of cold, coughing and spluttering their way through the day. Somehow I had manage to pull something in my neck late Friday night on the last bit of drive home, and have been walking around with agony radiating through my shoulder. The weather was pretty awful, and we where having to clean up the after affects of the latest flood.

For all that, it was a good weekend. We were together, the kids where generally happy, which always makes being a parent a happy thing. We ate well, did some stuff together, played some games, had some friends over for lunch, just generally had a good time.

The visit was welcome. When LL was pregnant with Pirate Pete we did the pre-natal class thing. It was a funny group, half of us in our mid thirties, the other half in their twenties. The older group made up of established middle class professionals, the younger half, uhmm, a bit more working class (it’s the easiest way to describe it to an English audience, and essentially factual).

Eight years later and we all still see each other. There’s a couple of parties a year, the girls do night’s out together, the kids see each other a couple times a month on Friday afternoons, and there’s various invitings for lunches and dinners. Sunday we had over for lunch one of the families we get on well with.

LL and I like to put out the boat when we have people over. So it was a pork tenderloin stew with white wine and cream, asparagus, marrow and apple (if you haven’t tried sautéing marrow with apple, do, they’re great together), and a pile of honied carrots for the kids. Then one of LL’s party pieces with a pear frangipani for pud. A couple of bottles of good white wine, and we’re set.

It was a particularly enjoyable lunch as there was plenty to gossip about. Now, most people use the word gossip in the negative, that it’s a bad thing, salacious. I believe the opposite, that in general, gossip is the grease that keeps relationships smooth. Yes, it can go to far and be damaging, especially if the gossip is a lie, but in general, it is a good thing.

This was rather sad gossip, which in a way makes it better. After eight years all eight couples where still together. Something we’d all remarked upon and been rather proud of. As of last week, that record is broken. Our first breakup in the group. The girls had been out to a pub for one of their regular nights, and all the beans had been spilled. It’s a most odd break up because there’s no adultery or hidden skeletons. As best as can be figured they’ve just got bored with each other. Well, that and the husband is of the 1960’s variety who thinks child care is women’s work.

So it was a good gossipy lunch, we could feel buckets of sympathy for the other couple and their kids, then look to our own partners and still feel good we’re on a safe track. Then look at the five kids happily playing and know life can be good. Plus, they leave and because you’ve done a top to bottom deep clean of the house, you can kick back and relax (once the dishes are done, of course). All in all, a good weekend.

My shoulder is still aching though. Anyone know a good osteopath in central London?

Friday, October 27, 2006

The Grim Reaper is Me

In management parlance, I am what’s known as a change agent. I go into organisations that are perhaps a little (sometimes a lot) broken. I mend, cajole, encourage, mould and bend the people and processes into something different. I’ve done it quite a bit now over the years, it’s a market niche I fill. Thankfully, by objective measures, I succeed. Unprofitable divisions become profitable, complaining clients become uncomplaining (I’ve never met a happy client).

Its never easy, and never fast. I’m often dealing with emotion as much as I’m dealing with logic. What I do means change, and change is not always comfortable. Change is also that. Some, actually most, people embrace it or at least don’t fight it. Some do.

Usually about half of the management teams I inherit come with me through to the other side. The other half don’t. They either leave of their own volition, or sometimes they don’t. Its perhaps the most uncomfortable part of my job, this removal of people from their employment. Yet its necessary. A job is not a right. You either perform within the limits set you, or you don’t. If you don’t, your job can not be secure. Even if you do, your job can not be secure. Capitalism means competition. In competition there are winners and losers. Its rough, but it is a mirror of life.

Yesterday I had to do one of those uncomfortable acts. You’d think frequency of experience would make an act easier to do. In this case, it doesn’t. You’re having to land a very hard message. Often you’re having to say clearly that this is my choice, my belief. That the other person has no say in what happens from here. It is an act of power, and it is my personal belief that power should not be comfortable.

I found this one particularly hard. There’s no question the man in question deserved a change. He was obstructive, needlessly protective, and I’d found in many cases had deliberately not done as asked, or had acted against vital directives.

Yet it was still hard. He is 62, and arguably if he had been better managed in the past (pre me I might add), he may have changed his behaviour. With time he still could have, but the thing about change is time is something you don’t have. Leaving an obstructive person in situ sends its own messages.

So I acted, and now a man is without his job. He’ll be well compensated (amazingly well compensated), but I know he will still find it hard. There are times when I’ve done this when I’ve been certain the person would go out and succeed elsewhere. In this case I’m not so sure. Not so much because of his age, though that won’t help, but because of his attitude. That is sad, and makes me feel guilty, but it was still the right thing to do.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Half glass full

So yesterday, correctly, an angry man asked if I was having a half glass empty day. It made me pause, but the answer was yes. Normally I’m a half glass full type of guy. I tend towards the brighter side of life. Though not without my grumpy moments I see opportunity and pleasure in life. Its an inherited personality trait from my ever joyous mother.

Right now though? I need a break.

Work is relentless. I’m at the stage where I’m letting a few people who aren’t with the programme go. No matter how many times I do it, its never easy. Then there is the never ending task list, the constant probing on status of the many projects on the go, the queue of people who come to check if what they think is right really is (and 99% of the time it is (I’ve got a long way to go in building the confidence game up)).

I’m not unhappy. This job is personally fulfilling. Home life with LL and the kids is good, very good even. I’m just tired, and when tired I occasionally flip into seeing the glass being half empty. So, if I wander your way and mutter blacker than usual things, just pat me on the back and suggest a holiday…

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Water water everywere

Our house is cursed. No really, it is. It has a water curse. We can’t go more than about three or four months without something happening that involves water. We’ve had leaks in the roof (many many leaks in the roof), burst pipes, faulty tiling in showers that caused leaks, leaky chimneys, blocked drains of every sort from clogs of fat to tree roots, failed drainage sumps, overrunning gutters, pipes punctured by builders. You name it, its happened in our house in the last ten years and for most of that list, more than once.

Want to know our biggest issue? We don’t have a mains cut off valve. Seriously. We’ve had the water board out on four occasions. The latest in technology has been used to try to trace our mains water pipe to find the cut off valve, and its failed. We actually had one water board technician scratch his head and ask if we had a private water supply because he didn’t think we were connected (I asked for a refund of our water payments, but the lady on the other end of the phone laughed).

Want to know our second biggest issue? The water board kindly renewed the mains water on our drive. Water pressure went from a weak piddle to a torrent. For those in the know we had over 10 Bar of pressure. The average house is lucky to have 2 or 3 Bar. Most have less than 1. Three of our neighbours have had burst pipes and floods. Wimps. We’ve had every leak and flood imaginable. A couple months ago, after our last flood, and after much sucking of teeth and no more than three plumbers who turned down the job, we acted.

We actually had to get the water board to turn off the water supply to the whole drive. Cutting out the back of a set of cabnets in the kitchen we had a faulty turn off valve replaced and an outrageously expensive water pressure reducer valve installed. We thought we’d reached nirvana. Now we could actually turn off the mains water AND reduced the pressure. Three leaky taps stopped leaking, groaning pipes stopped groaning. Heaven.

Except on Monday LL, being LL she gets worried and checks these things, opened the back of the cupboard where all the work had been done and found it completely flooded. One of the joints, on the reduced pressure side of the system I might add, was spurting water.

I think we might have to move.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Its my party and I'll ignore it if I want to...

So, the little hand on the clock of my life ticked over to finish another year yesterday. I’m not big on birthdays. I had a little party with the kids at the weekend. Handmade cards, some flowers picked from the gardens, a box of my favourite chockies and a birthday cake made by all (chocolate with brandy butter filling and a dark chocolate icing, yum).

I can’t say I like this aging lark much. I don’t mind the extra experiences, and the memories are something I wouldn’t do without. It’s the body failing thing. When I hit 35 my formerly flat stomach suddenly bugled an inch. It wasn’t (isn’t, honest) fat, its just you get to the bottom of my ribs and the skin bulges out an extra inch. There’s also this annoying way the skin under my chin hangs a bit rather than having a youthful tight curve.

I have a bad back, I had surgery on it 10 years ago. The result of height and too much exercise as a youth. So long as I do my sit ups and stretches every night, I’m fine. Get lazy for a week and it starts twinging. If I don’t watch out, it will go out, and I’m flat on my back for a day recovering.

I still, thankfully, have my hair, but its just starting to go grey. That’s allowed for a man, adds a bit of dignity, but I’d still rather it just stayed like it was. Then there are the aches and pains. Twinges of what will some day likely be arthritis. The short term memory isn’t what it was. I was never good at remembering people’s names, but now I’m ruddy awful. The eye sight, never grand, is slowly starting to degrade after being stable for a very long time.

Its very bad design. Why can’t we just stay as we were in our prime, until one day the alarm goes off and everything stops? There is everything dignified in experience and knowledge, there is nothing dignified in getting older. The body need not age, it’s the programming that does it, not the mechanics. I think I should write a letter to the times.

Bah humbug and balderdash.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Communing with the Sheep

So last week was a “leadership” training programme for a group of our senior management. We all absconded to a hill side as remote as remote can be in Britain. I couldn’t even get mobile reception unless I walked 50 yards away from the house and stood on a wall facing just so.

I’ve been on a few of these boondoggles over the years, but I have to say, this one was rather good. Though with the usual elements of a boys week out: canoeing, rock climbing, abseiling in pitch dark, a rousing talk by a chap who’d walked to the North Pole unaided, it also had some very practical elements.

Often these things are very HR wanky (as our HR Director sardonically calls it), and we certainly had some of those bits, but mostly it was very practical. The team organising had done a really effective job at putting together a string of exercises that built of a very action oriented view on our jobs.

Some of the exercises, like getting in actors to work on influencing and feedback styles, I’d done before. They can be good fun, though one of my colleagues got so upset that he walked (no, stormed) out of the room. I just enjoy it for what it is, a chance to done your acting robes and have a little fun. There were also the requisite “honest” feedback sessions on each other. Very Mao.

Yet what I particularly liked was a day by day build up, just asking quite practical questions about what goals we have to achieve, do we know the right steps to achieve them, who do we have to influence, and right back to do we really understand our goals. I considered it an absolute luxury to have a week out to just think about what I’m doing and how to get there.

For the most part I flatter myself that I’m on the right track, but the exercises were excellent in making me challenge my thinking and notice some gaps. Perhaps more importantly it helped me notice some blinkers I had in regards to others in our team, and how I needed to change my style to keep them working with me.

Management and politics are funny things. In a purely logical world they would be unnecessary, but ours is an emotional world. I find it marvellous that we have to change our words and actions to communicate. English is not English. The same word can have hugely different meaning to two people. I love that, as frustrating as it is at times. So it was a good week.

A few rather good bottles of wine, and some late nights playing poker or challenging each other on recognizing tunes from the first couple bars didn’t hurt in making it a good week too.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Gone again

Work once again pulls me to far off lands. I may be able to post, I may not. Talk amongst yourself in the mean time.

Fuddle duddle

Ordinary Girl asked:

“As posed by 6yr old X whilst I'm trying to navigate traffic! ‘Why do we have fingernails?’.”


“What do you think a duddle might entail...? Full descriptions please :-)”

Fingernails, just the sort of question a child would ask. The answer is fairly straightforward, but not necessarily easy. If you look across the animal domain all animals have nails of some sort or shape. Lizards have hard caps around their digits, bird have talons, cats have claws, cows have hooves. All are essentially made of the same material, a protein based fibre our bodies weave to protect the ends of our limbs.

Evolutionary speaking it was an early development. Nails form the part of the overall part list that all animals have. Unlike the heart, for example, they have diverged in far more ways. The toe cap on an alligator is vastly different from an ungulates hoof. Those are both very different from the human nail. Yet they all derive from the same basic evolutionary function of protecting the end of our limbs.

Now, why do human’s have nails in particular. There is controversy over this, and no real way of proving the right answer. Nails are common in our genus, and our closest relatives also have them. They appear to be very useful for climbing and gripping. However, homo sapiens have not been tree based for a very long time. More likely is their general use as an in built tool. Nails are good for dealing with different types of food, useful given our omnivorous nature.

On to the word “Duddle”. I’m Canadian, so duddle holds a meaning close to our hearts, but only in relation to the dearly departed ex-prime minister Pierre Trudeau. In the annals of Canadian history (yes, there is some) the right honourable Mr Trudeau was thought to have said “Fuck Off” in a quiet aside during a parliamentary debate regarding one of his right honourable colleagues. This debate was televised and the words, though inaudible, where accompanied by a rude gesture.

As many of you are, I’m sure, aware, such swear words are absolutely verboten within the scared halls of parliament. The words were not picked up by the television camera. Yet the Hansard recorder who was transcribing the debate did hear something. He typed into the report that Mr Trudeau said “Fuddle Duddle”.

Are those the words spoken? Only the Handard recorder and Mr Trudeau really know and both of them are now dead. Mr Trudeau, with his usual grace and style (he actually was an amazing prime minister) did not exactly claim not to have said “Fuck Off”, but he did not exactly claim he said “Fuddle Duddle”. With a politicions oil, and his own rhetorical bent he publicly replied to a reporter thus: “What is the nature of your thoughts, gentlemen, when you say ‘fuddle duddle’ or something like that? God, you guys…!”

So the word is dear to my heart, just not on its own and I’ve long used it when the company around you don’t quite allow the use of “Fuck Off”, but you still want to say it. Thankfully I’ve yet to meet a brit who knew what I was doing…

Wednesday, October 11, 2006


Ellie asked:

“Do you have pets?”


“Do you have pet peeves?”

I grew up with a dog, various cats, gerbils and fish. I can’t say I was the most caring boy in the world. Others in the family did most of the work, I just played. LL was a bit more diligent and had cats, guinea pigs and rabbits. However, she’s quite seriously allergic to most small animals (the dandruff gets right up her nose, to coin a phrase). So, though we live in the country, we chose not to have pets.

Children change all things, so we did recently add a guinea pig to the family. Pirate Pete grumbles about having to clean and feed him, but at the same time really enjoys getting him out to play. It works. We may graduate to something larger soon, but this is an easy starter. The trick is finding something that doesn’t make LL sneeze.

As to pet peeves, where oh where to start. There are so many! I am a man who has huge tolerance for his fellow man, just no tolerance for his fellow man’s failings… My grief with my brothers and sisters probably falls neatly into two main categories.

Firstly, parenting. I feel quite strongly that a lot of the failing in our current society lays at the feet of laissez faire parenting. In general, children are born neither good, nor bad. They have innate personalities, but I think there is a pretty equal balancing between nature and nurture. Right now, people seem to love their children, but seem to think discipline is an evil word.

I don’t mean spare the rod and spoil the child type things. Discipline just means setting boundaries and sticking to them. Punishment can mean as little as a harsh look, or removal of privilege like the telly. It also doesn’t mean draconian parenting. Children need to play, need to feel the wind in their faces and dirt under their toes. They need their parents to be around, to play and interact with them. They need encouragement to good behaviour, praise when they get things right, and laughter when they do something funny.

This all seems to be a little bit lost. I don’t mean universally. In general I think most parents are mostly good. Its impossible to be a perfect parent. However, you just see behaviour that leaves you shaking your head. A father pushing his eight year old in a push chair, a child left running around a store while the mother looks passively on, a father who laughs and pats their child on the head when he’s just whacked another child on the face. They don’t know what the limits are, they need to be told.

This is made worse by our current interfering government who’s liberal agenda is changing the face of parenting. We seem to be removing the responsibility of parents, forcing schools and social care to shoulder burdens that should be in the home. We actively encourage single parenting. I am not against single parents, many are there not of their own choosing, and I personally know a few who do exemplary jobs. Yet kids need role models and protectors of both sexes. That doesn’t necessarily mean a traditional nuclear family, but it does mean at least one man and one women putting significant time into raising children.

I’m rambling, suffice to say I believe a large part of the current failings in our society can be laid at the feet of poor parenting.

My second major peeve is rudeness, or perhaps a lack of kindness. Good manors are the grease that keeps society oiled, keeps us from running amuck and killing each other. It costs so little, yet increasingly seems to be a coin few people want to spend. I don’t just mean please and thank you’s, I mean an honest care and attention to other people.

My mother once said that if every person did one random act of kindness a day, the world would be changed. Its true. Little things like looking a clerk in the super market in the eye when you say “thank you” often brings surprised and pleased grins in response. You make one person’s life a little lighter, and they in turn tend to pass it on.

I know I sound very Polianish, but its quite true. And in the opposite, when people are rude, I can get really riled. I hate seeing someone not say “thank you”, or push in front of a queue, or don’t acknowledge something that’s been done for them. More kindness and politeness would transform the world.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Far off lands

So, a wee business break. I have two projects at the moment that we’re partially building in India. I’ve been putting off going, mostly due to sheer workload. Last week, however, I finally got myself over there to audit the jobs.

I’ve done a lot of travelling over the years, and have seen a lot of the developing world. One place I have never been, up until now, is India. Also, I’d never been to such a country on business. I was really looking forward to it.

The trip did not disappoint. Of course, being on business, you are somewhat sheltered from the reality around you. Its only a short time, and you live in hotel, taxi and office. Yet the contrasts still reach out to grab hold.

On the business side I was impressed and pleased. The teams we have working for us are skilled, competent and dedicated. I wish some of my staff here would work as hard as what I saw. It was good too, to see business helping a country up, not by exploitation, but by honest sale of skilled, trained, dedicated people. Though not paid much by UK standards, in India they relative disparities in cost of living meant they had a very good life there. The facilities too, couldn’t be faulted. It was a modern, up to date environment. Perversely, that office could have been anywhere in the world.

Still, life has a way of making itself known. Walking from one office block to another you had to cross the street. There the third world sat up and made itself known. The pavement was in good condition, the road was in good condition, between the pavement and road was a broken down, rubbish filled ditch. Within the office environment the people I worked with were well dressed (not always to Western fashion, but well dressed), healthy and educated. Between the office blocks poverty couldn’t be missed.

It’s a sight I’ve seen before, but when travelling with a back pack and no money poverty is closer, doesn’t seem as stark. When you’ve walked out of a modern environment and you see a women with an emaciated child begging, poverty hits you in the face.

Still, it was a good trip, and I will go back shortly. The work was good, the people hospitable and warm, the environment exotic and the food excellent.

I just have to recover from having to go to the loo every five minutes…

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The Boy n'est pas ici

I'm off in far off climes this week, so blogging will be irregular.