Shut that door!

This door is just opposite the door to my office.


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.





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.


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.



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).


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


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?”.



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.


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!”

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.

Bonding experience

One thing I’m grateful for about my job: there’s no “team-building”. No enforced “fun”. There’s the occasional social event when, for example, someone leaves the unit and they put out quite a decent spread of food and drink to encourage participation, but no one is obliged to come along, there are no targets and no one writes a report about it afterwards.

I was chatting to a friend on the metro to work this morning and he was on his way to an away day with a bunch of people with whom he ostensibly works but about whom in reality he knows little or nothing. The idea is that they’ll wander around the streets of Brussels, shivering and muttering together. The highlight of the day will be a guided tour of the Palais de Justice.

I can only think of two occasions when I’ve been forced to participate in workplace extra-curricular activities. The first was when I had a job in a supermarket as a teenager one summer, and we went out for a day’s paintballing. That was a lot more fun than I anticipated, although the plethora of small circular bruises covering my body the following day made it look like I’d contracted some rare and exciting form of pox. Also, activities involving simulated violence between colleagues (and/or bosses) are asking for trouble, in my opinion.

The second time was also pretty enjoyable, if not perhaps in the way intended by the organisers. The small company (literally a handful of staff) I worked for when I first arrived in Brussels organised annual away days (or “retreats”, as some call them. That seems more appropriate to me; I love the idea of retreating from work), and the first year I was there they proposed a couple of days in Pisa. They later admitted that they’d chosen the city by simply picking something cheap and close from the Ryanair destination network, but still, it was a nice idea. The only problem was that, this being Ryanair, the flight options were either 5am or 6pm. Considering that “Brussels South” is over an hour’s drive south of Brussels itself, the morning flight would have meant getting up before you even went to bed, so most of us chose the evening flight. The directors had chosen to fly over the previous evening (not an option for us, as they only wanted to subsidize one night in the hotel). Dinner was scheduled for 8pm that evening, so we thought we’d just about make it in time for the nosh.

But of course we were delayed. Considerably. And of course we had nothing better to do to kill the time than sit at the airport bar. So eventually we turned up, three sheets to the wind,  just as the directors were sipping their after dinner coffees. They were not amused. We made our excuses and some small talk before they retired to their accommodation and we continued into town to look for another bar. The team meeting the next day was a rather subdued affair due to the directors’ mood and the staff’s collective hangover. Indeed at one point the office manager asked to be excused due to ill health.

Needless to say the company has, to date, never organised another away day.