Shut that door!

This door is just opposite the door to my office.

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As I’m located at the end of a corridor I see a lot of people coming and going during the day, and most of them pass through this door to head out into the atrium and take the stairs or the elevator or exit the building. And about 70% of the people who pass through this door leave it open once they’ve gone through. This not only lets in cold air from the atrium, but also distracting noise of one kind or another from outside.

See, I’ve had to interrupt drafting this post three times already to get up and close the door again.

But I can understand people’s confusion in this situation. If only there were some kind of large, simple, visible reminder of the necessity to keep the door closed, then everyone would know what to do and we’d all be happy.

Cycling to work

Update: now with video!

I cycled to work for the first time today.

When I was a child I probably cycled more than I walked or ran. Cycling was both practical and an enjoyable activity in and of itself, and I was quite the accomplished BMX trickmaster. I guess I stopped using bikes with any regularity when I left the country. The last time I remember using it was to cycle across London whenever I wanted to get from my flat in the far East End to the centre to see a film. Certainly I didn’t use it in Italy. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone cycling in Genoa.

When we came to Brussels we bought new bikes, ostensibly to use with the kids, but in reality we go out once in a blue moon, and we tend to walk/jog alongside them as there’s always one who’s small enough to require regular help of some form or another. I guess this will change over time and when they’re all big and independent enough we can go out en famille.

But today we moved office to another part of town, so instead of taking the metro I cycled. I managed it in 20 minutes, although I was puffing and slowing down considerably by the end. I’m lucky enough that my house and the new office are linked by a straight, flat section of Brussels’ “promenade verte“, a network of cycle/walking paths around Brussels, so I didn’t have to worry about traffic and could cycle in silence through forests and past lakes. This does mean that I lose about 30 minutes of reading time per day, but the physical and mental health benefits more than compensate.

Most of the ride looks like this:

Just don’t expect me to start covering myself head to toe in flourescent lycra.

Art of work

I’m starting a new job in September, in a new unit in a new department in a new building. The building I currently work in is the headquarters; the flagship building, and this is reflected in the amount, variety and style of art on the walls in the corridors and open spaces. I’m looking forward to the move, but I might miss seeing some of these on a daily basis.

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Then again, some of it I won’t miss at all.

Hoodies from Hades

Meme time

Kathleen tagged me for a meme, asking me to write about five topics of her choosing. I can give you five words if you ask in the comments.

Italy

First visited in January 1999. Lived in Genoa for nine months in 2000-2001. Got married there. Go back at least once a year. Have been to Liguria, Piedmont, Tuscany, Umbria, Lazio, Veneto and Sardinia. Need to get round to visiting the deep south some time soon. Speak the language, like the food, hate the politics. Favourite memory: sitting on the back of my wife’s Vespa, driving along the coast somewhere near Quarto, at sunset.

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Children

Never wanted any. Now have three. Funny how things turn out, isn’t it? They’re amusing, and have taught me some things about myself (the limits of my patience, for example).


Career

No plan. Have drifted around from one thing to another. Current employment is safe for as long as I want it (assuming the entire EU doesn’t implode). CV? Freelance camera assistant on various film & TV productions, communications consultancy researcher, manager of digital department in a camera shop, teacher of English as a foreign language, EU affairs consultant, EU civil servant. They give me money, plenty of perks and time off, and unlimited high speed internet access, and regular opportunites to change job and move around, so I can’t complain.

Where I sit for seven hours a day

Shoes

I wear slippers indoors. I never wear flip-flops. I can’t wear any shoe that doesn’t have a back to it: they just fall off. I have three or four pairs of nice shoes for work and formal occasions, a similar number of casual, a couple of pairs of sandals and hiking boots. When I went into a shop in Genoa to buy a pair of Fratelli Rossetti for my wedding the shop assistant took one look at me and said “Getting married, are we?”.

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Contentment

What makes me content? The usual, simple things. Relaxing with friends and a drink. Book browsing. Watching the kids play, when they manage to do so without arguing. Toast.

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Machine mugging

I put my sixty cents in the machine and request a Snickers.

(tangential rant: When I was a child this bar used to be called Marathon; a name which conjures up sport and stamina and maybe ancient Greece and war too. Then they changed the name to Snickers; which for me sound likes “sniggers”, or maybe like something you’d use to trim your garden hedge (snick! snick!). And the irony? Snickers have subsequently launched an energy bar called…Marathon!)

The chocolate bar edges slowly forwards, stopping just short of the ledge like a suddenly rebellious lemming, and stands there, immobile. Knowing well the caprices (and weaknesses) of this particular dumb waiter, I start shoving it, rocking it back and forth and giving it sharp slaps. The internal light flickers, the chocolate vacillates, and following one last thwack it finally falls.

As I retrieve it, a metallic clinking is heard. I reach over and retrieve my sixty cents from the change slot. It’s as if the machine is saying “Here! take your chocolate! And take the money back too! Whatever you want, just…stop hitting me!”

[insert name]

On two separate occasions in two different jobs (one fairly recent, i.e. about 20 minutes ago) I have had to deal with someone who thinks that all human communication should be standardized, codified and made as free of variation and spontaneity as possible. For these people, each email sent should adhere strictly to a set format containing pre-defined language, no matter how simple or unambiguous the message. One boss even asked me once, with a straight face, to show him the “script” I used when calling customers, and seemed stunned when I told him that I didn’t have one. That I just, you know, talked to people.

I have two problems with this approach. One, the boss is assuming that I have no communication skills and can only speak/write to other human beings if I can read from a script. What would Turing make of it all?

Two, it fails to recognise that most people would rather have what at least seems like a genuine interaction rather than receive something which is very obviously written by committee. How many times have you zoned out or lost the thread while listening to an automated response or recorded message? Or, more likely, grown frustrated with impenetrable, inflexible, impersonal officialese?

And yet, for some people, this kind of thing represents the height of efficiency.

Susannah York

As you may or may not be aware, Susannah York died over the weekend. Did I ever tell you about the time she held my face in her hands and gazed into my eyes? No?

Late summer 1996. I left university with a respectable humanities degree and no job prosepcts, so I ran away to join the circus film industry. My first job found via a friend led to my first professional contacts and a second job followed almost immediately: lighting assistant on a low-budget British film (is there any other kind?) shooting in London and Norfolk (from which I had only just escaped, having attended the University of East Anglia). The cast included the then-unknown Andy “Gollum” Serkis and one Susannah York in a small role as the protagonist’s mother. Although I was aware of her work in a vague sort of way, for me should would always be Superman’s mum. York’s son Orlando Wells was also working on set as a runner.The title of the film ended up being Loop, although the working title during the shoot was “You Can Keep the Animals”.

The London portion of the shoot went well enough, if you don’t count the complaints, threats, and police intervention during a night-shoot in a residential area for which we didn’t have a permit and which necessitated the use of an insomnia-inducingly loud lighting generator. We ran lots of long cables and hid the generator around the corner so as to reduce the noise interfering with recording of the dialogue. Local kids figured out what we were up to and would occasionally switch the generator off, meaning that all the lights would go out mid-shot, so we had to post one of the runners as a guard.

In Norfolk things were more pleasant. The gaffer (head electrician) left part way through the shoot for another job which held more appeal for him (something about “actually getting paid”, I think), leaving me to take his place, which was pretty laughable. I mean, I got quite good at the spark’s job of setting up the actual lights, but I don’t know my AC from my DC, so making me responsible for the power supply was asking for trouble. Miraculously the only problem I had was one evening when I got something in my eye. I don’t even remember what it was, but it was quite painful and wouldn’t go away, despite repeated attempts at washing or rubbing it away. At one point the lovely Ms York insisted that she take a look, so I knelt down in front of her chair as she held my face and investigated. Unfortunately she was no more successful than anyone else and in the end, as my eye was quite inflamed by that point, an assistant director drove me to the local doctor to have it cleaned out. During my absence the generator broke down. Not normally a problem, apart from the interruption to filming, but for the shot in progress an actor was laid on the floor with the camera on a tripod directly over him. As the whole scene was plunged into darkness various crew members turned on their torches to make sure that no one accidentally knocked the camera over onto the actor’s head, or indeed kicked the actor as they walked past. Needless to say my return was greeted with much relief and enthusiasm.

Still, it was a lovely few weeks’ shoot. The weather was glorious, and the tiny village in which we were staying was very welcoming; the one and only pub was happy to stay open as long as we liked, as they’d never had so much business. Susannah York hung out with us and was happy to share movie anecdotes (her favourite director to work with was Robert Aldrich, she said).

Loop was shown once at a tiny film festival in London some years after it was finished, and then showed up one wet Wednesday afternoon on BBC2 when no one was watching. I have a copy on DVD.

R.I.P, Ms York.