Old knickers and new friends

Bus

A bus in summer

At this time of year, waiting for the early morning bus at 0645, every day I notice the changing light.

This morning, for example, I had enough light to make out the dim, grey footpath and so avoid the drifts of last year’s old leaves and follow the dips and falls of the tarmac without stumbling.

Waiting for my bus I listened to a cacophony of birds; mostly their calls are a mystery to me, but I am able to pick out the owl from a nearby farm and the cockerel from another. They hoot and crow in some kind of avian version of duelling banjos, while their cousins of hedge and field whistle and warble freestyle feathery jazz.

On the bus I watch the palette of the sky build from charcoal through pastels to acrylic blues. The pink and lilac and lemon drain away as the day begins, leaving only a passing memory. Most of the other passengers are in thrall to small screens of worldwide information and miss the world unfolding.

The cars parked by the roadside are coated in crispy shells of frost this morning, which looks very pretty until you need to clear the windscreen and persuade the door to open. Early drivers scrape unenthusiastically, vandalising the intricate lace-work as their breath and the car’s exhaust steam in unison.

I wish the driver would turn the heating up, or at least not leave the door open while we wait at the bus station. She is warm in her cabin and forgets we are exposed. My feet are unresponsive blocks of ice, although once in the office I will regret my winter layers.

Off the bus at last, fumbling with ticket and lanyard and lunchbox and phone, walking briskly to thaw my feet and warm my body, thinking ahead to tea and logging in and emails, meetings, databases thinking ahead to people around me and cake shared and stories told.

A P Green Knickers front 300

“I can’t believe I’m almost twenty one!” said in the horrified tone of the young, gazing upon the serried ranks of aged oblivion before her, not saying but thinking “Will I end up like them?”

“Twenty one? I’ve got knickers at home older than that!” exclaims the crone to my right.

We three crones exchange glances of misty-eyed remembrance of being horrified at twenty-one.

All three of us roar and cackle, then I answer the phone on script.

“Crone Team, EBL speaking, How can I help?” while beside me the other two rock in silent appreciation of our wit and wisdom.

Rounds of tea mark out the day, then back on the bus, rewinding the morning journey, light fading backwards and more smudges of coloured sky, richer red and purple and apricot before the light fails altogether. Yet still there is enough light this evening to avoid the drifts of last year’s leaves and follow the dips and falls of the tarmac without stumbling.

At home, kicking off shoes, pulling on pyjamas, catching up on all the adventures of the day. A letter from the tax office claims I owe them money. My payslip includes a tax rebate of money they owe me. The two amounts are similar and will take time to sort out for no gain to either of us, but it could be worse.

I sit with hair washed, snuggled in my dressing gown and am thankful for a day of many small pleasures, of old knickers and new friends.

May your days be full of the small joys that keep us sane.

Namaste.

 

The Computer Whisperer

COMPUTERWHISPERER

My dears, for many years I have laboured under the tyranny of silicon, woman and girl, battling the forces of Intel to bring order to the chaos which is personal computing. I have hewn the mighty forests of Novell and delved the mines of Microsoft. My wandering star has led me through the valley of CPM to the heights of Oracle via Linux lakes and OS/2 shores.

As a humble scout of the Web, a weaver of mysteries of the first and even second circles, I have many a tale to tell that would freeze your blood or perchance light fire in your eyes, and occasionally crinkle your lips with amusement and wry amazement. Truly you would not believe the half of it!

In days of yore when this technology was still fresh and new, it is the unassailable truth that when I asked a colleague to copy a disk they did it on the photocopier.

I once worked in a central London location where the Circle Line ran beneath the building and caused power spikes and cuts at random intervals. On a day of a power cut I raced up and down flights of stairs making sure everyone knew how to recover draft files when the power came back on. A little later, in a corner I found a colleague in tears. She had spent several hours working on a document of infinite complexity and had not been saving as she went along. All was lost!

I droned on about how to get back the draft.

There was none to retrieve.

Was she sure?

Oh yes.

Why was she sure? (You have to check.)

Because it was switched off when the power cut happened.

Ah…. I have good news!

In another job I worked with colleagues in various parts of what we then called “countries of the South” (aka the Developing World). In particular, Sudan. There were the obvious difficulties when my ability to explain the more esoteric concepts of Windows in Sudanese French met a wall of baffled silence, but we coped. Good humour and pictures are wonderful things. The biggest problem though was the locusts laying eggs in the nice warm, dry, sheltered interior of the computer casing. It was an interesting insurance claim.

Later I took a job with a charity that had around 250 PCs in its possession, of which about 8 were Year 2000 compliant as of January 1999. It was an interesting year and somehow I became embroiled in the wider project to ensure our residential clients were safe in the event of Armageddon on 1 January 2000. If nothing else it was a useful exercise in planning for disasters. The security systems were set to open all doors if power failed, for good reasons. We merely had to be ready to prevent clients who were often mentally confused or learning disabled from wandering off and becoming lost or injured as a result.

I have talked people through opening up computer cases to remove CDs inadvertently inserted (with some force nevertheless) through a gap in the casing, or in using the command line to delete a file (like they do in the films as if there are no computer mice in Hollywood – what is all that typing about? They aren’t writing a blog! I’m pretty sure Microsoft / Apple will have thought up Spaceship Destruct Sequence Wizards by now), or through plugging in a keyboard. This last was very traumatic for the poor person involved. She was convinced I was trying to electrocute her.

I’m going to break ranks and let you all into a little secret. The lovely patient people on your favourite helpdesk have an acronym for the more challenged computer users out there. Not the average person like me who forgets their password because they have been on holiday or can’t find the right printer or needs to find a file they saved last week. Those are normal run-of-the-mill things that can happen to anyone. We all have days when the brain cells desert the sinking cranium.

I have had my share of lonely home-based workers who just wanted a chat. I offered that service gladly. I have been called up to find out the date of Easter next year or the translation of Latin phrases or a recipe for vegetarian haggis. It’s all part of the service.

No, this phrase is for the frequent fliers who have been talked through how to switch the computer on seventeen times this week and it’s only Wednesday. Or the ones who can’t put a CD into the “cup holder” the right way up until the 3rd attempt. (What was he doing? Balancing it on its edge? And it happened every time!).

I have sorted out the virus infestation caused by letting a teenager use the computer to download illegal music. I had the Director who filled up the corporate shared drive with Dido CDs because he liked to listen to music while he worked and could never remember where he saved it last time. I had the Professor who kept installing a different word processor to the corporate standard then wondering why it crashed. He did it over and over again, despite the fact that the same thing always happened. I had the person who decided he wanted to try Windows NT because his mate told him it was better than Windows 98 (that much was true), bought a copy at a car boot sale and installed it only to discover it was a French version. Merde, as they say.

We use it for the ones where we suspect it is deliberate attention-seeking behaviour, for people who are just not trying properly.

It’s PEBCAK.

I suppose after that build-up I should probably tell you what it stands for. But the devil is in me today and glinting from behind the screen. “Make ‘em guess!” it cries.

What do you think? Should I?

It could stand for “probably errant behaviour causing anomalous Kafka-ism.”

Or maybe “potentially embarrassing bigwig chasing attentive kindness.”

What about “purely erroneous banter cheapening all knowledge.”

You may suspect it’s “patience ended by considerable altercation. Kill!”

The interpretation my team has actually used in the past is merely “problem exists between chair and keyboard.”

Feel free to join in below with your own ideas. Keep ‘em reasonably clean; IT workers are fragile creatures really.

Namaste.

 

Well Meaning Buffoon Next Door

Gaming diceI seem to have created a nightmare. Not a dripping-fanged, snarly-throated, blazing-eyed, scaly-tailed nightmare, at least not on this occasion. That other time was just a mistake and won’t happen again. Oh no, this is just one of those nightmares that gets into your mind like an ear-worm from the radio playing a catchy jingle that buzzes about for days. You play your loudest music or your saddest songs but as soon as they end, there it is again, gently tum-te-tum-ing in your head.

I suspect this is just what happens when you are a bit of a dreamer like me. I spend half my life living in a fantasy world, like Walter Mitty. I visualise. I imagine. And it’s all so real.

Recently I wrote a post having a dig at people who think they know all about IT. It wasn’t kind but that’s life in EBL Towers. Nature red in tooth and claw, and all that. However I was then prompted to consider how the poor Well Meaning Buffoon from Next Door might feel as they confronted my Nerd Army.

To validate my prejudices I checked with the local WMBFND and this is what she told me.

“Well, EBL, I have to be honest. I was a bit anxious about bringing the draughts board in but it was something I felt quite strongly about. I mean, why do your games have to be so complicated? It all seems so unnecessary.

When I mentioned to my husband that I was coming over he was really cynical. He said people like you think you’re so clever, what with calculating your credit card interest in hexadecimal, whatever that is, and talking in another language to make yourself look smart. I don’t think that’s fair. I mean, I really enjoyed learning Spanish at school.

You see, I just know you are deep down OK, and I thought perhaps we could all play a different game together, one that I understand and could join in. My grandmother taught me to play draughts and we had such lovely times on Sunday afternoons playing. I thought you might like to give it a go.

But then that chap with hairy knuckles and a bandana, Kevin was it? Anyway, he said his old Mum played draughts and he preferred something more challenging. Mind you, the other lad, the one in the torn denim and studs, he said he thought draughts was as complex as you made it so perhaps Kevin was just a bit simple. Well, I didn’t want to start an argument, so I just set the board out on that funny cloth with pentagons on it…sorry, were they hexagons? I don’t know the difference, I’m sure. Does it matter?

So I set the board up and the girl with the piercings asked me to show her how it worked and we soon had a good game going. Although Kevin and the other lad went and sat in the kitchen rather than watching.

I would find that A&D game too complicated, and isn’t it all about worshipping Satan anyway? I’m not sure I want to get into all that. Is it a requirement?

I do realise only two people can play draughts at a time though, I admit I hadn’t thought that through. Perhaps next week I could bring Monopoly instead?”

Honestly, being smartarse about knowing more than your neighbour is like kicking a puppy before you throw it into the well. The deep, dark, cold well.

So thank you to all my Buffoon Neighbours who, as it turns out, are wiser than this foolish EBL.

How do you deal with people wanting to play Monopoly – either literally or metaphorically?

Namaste.

 

Peeve

One of the things I try hard to stop myself doing, and fail miserably to achieve, is getting wound up over silly little things. Life is really to short to worry about the fact that the books in Waterstones are not shelved alphabetically, or that some nincompoop newsreader doesn’t know the difference between a mountain and a molehill, or that the well-meaning buffoon next door (WMBND) has never actually played Dungeons and Dragons but thinks they are an expert on it because their younger cousin’s best friend’s boyfriend once borrowed a copy of the Dungeon Master’s Guide from his next door neighbour.

I have played Dungeons and Dragons.

I’ll have you know my Illusionist was quite exceptional.

And don’t let me get me started on my amazing Ranger.

Although the incident with the wolf cubs eating our Paladin was a little embarrassing….

Anyway, picture the scene. There you are trying to coordinate a day of sparkling entertainment, and you have been asked specifically to set up and run a game of Dungeons and Dragons for old times’ sake. You dust off the DM’s Guide, break out the Monster Manual and unearth the Deities and Demigods. You spend a nostalgic weekend prepping a dungeon, supplying back-stories for all the orcs and goblins, setting intricate traps and hiding treasure. You plan out complex tricks and puzzles to stimulate your players. You order in snacks and drinks. You sharpen pencils, dust the dice and produce copies of character sheets.

The team gathers and cracks their collective knuckles in anticipation of a great session. The air is electric with anticipation.

Then the WMBND arrives with a draughts board and disrupts the party.

How does that make you feel?

That’s how I feel when someone utters the dreaded phrase “Oh, I know how to fix that database error! It’s simple. ”

Just saying.

Namaste.

 

Back to work blues

I haven’t exactly been singing “Hey Ho” as I trundle off to the mines, but today was my first day back to work since I had my operation, It’s been a good three weeks in total and I have still not had time to get bored at home.

Admittedly much time has been spent swinging my arms in circles because that’s what the very nice young man at physio told me. I’m a sucker for those baby blue eyes. We’ll see what new nonsense he comes up with on Thursday when I have my next follow up, but meanwhile my arms are now capable of rotating in three and possibly even four dimensions.

shoulders

I wasn’t keen on going back to work, but I have my duty. There are still mortgage payments to make after all, and if we lost the house it would be embarrassing having to leave the demented mother by the side of the road for the council to collect. Especially now they only come fortnightly.

Still, one of the most fantastic things about my job is that I am primarily home-based. In simple terms it means I can work in my pyjamas. I don’t. But I could.

What I did wear, though, to keep myself cheerful and my toes toasty, were my Christmas present slippers from an Offspring. Every time I felt a bit fed up today I wiggled my toes and when I looked down at my feet the slippers made me smile.

slippers

It wasn’t snowing at all today, but I still hummed a little hum and was glad my toes were warm.

The more it snows (Tiddely-Pom)

The more it goes  (Tiddely-Pom)

The more it goes on snowing  (Tiddely-Pom)

 

And nobody knows  (Tiddely-Pom)

How cold my toes (Tiddely-Pom)

How cold my toes are growing (Tiddely-Pom Tiddely-Pom Tiddely-Pom Tiddely-Pom)

http://pooh.wikia.com/wiki/The_More_It_Snows_(Tiddely-Pom)

I hope you are all warm and toasty – especially those of you caught in the terrible winter weather in various parts of the world. How do you keep warm and cheerful when all about you are conspiring to bring you low?

Namaste

 

A Day with EBL

You know what it’s like – lying in bed at 3am unable to sleep for some reason or other. It wasn’t a Wednesday morning but it certainly has been on other occasions. And all I could think about was the song by Simon and Garfunkel. And that led to an idea for this post. It’s not very original but I am not here to be original, witty or clever, and doubly not so at 3 o’clock in the morning. If you are after that kind of shenanigans, I suggest you go elsewhere. Try Googling it.

I often wake up unfeasibly early and wait for the alarm. In the summer it can be quite pleasant because I can listen to the feathered psychopaths yodelling outside the window. In winter, as now, it is merely dark and cold, and all I can hear is the mouse in the loft. Note to self: check anti-mouse measures. It’s not like we don’t put up warning signs and use a sonic mouse device to send it away. At least it’s only in the loft, and not on the stairs….

As I lie in the dark I am waiting for the alarm to go off at 6 am. Well, that calls for a little daydream believing, I think. I try not to tap my toes in case I disturb slumbering Sigoth. Lucky Sigoth and his slumbering.

So finally it’s six o’clock and I rise, wipe the sleep out of my eyes, and head for the shower. Sigoth makes me a cup of tea, otherwise I won’t get out the door. Bless him. He doesn’t even drink tea; only coffee. It’s his one flaw.

Dressed, showered, tea-ed up and teeth brushed, it’s down stairs for a few minutes of the breakfast news. This helps me to establish whether (a) there has been a national emergency which might allow me to stay home, and (b) keep an eye on the time. Usually there is nothing more interesting than finding holes in Lancashire.

I get to the bus stop at 6.45. This can be quite eventful. Sometimes there is an owl vs cockerel duel going on, trying to see which can shriek the loudest. Once or twice I have been greeted by a peacock and his missus. The other day it was an East European lorry driver who was lost, asked for directions then couldn’t understand the answer. I drew him a map in the light of his headlamps. Truly all life is here, while the rest of the village slumbers.

The bus gets me to the train station by 7.15 and my train comes at 7.23. It’s usually on time these days although it goes through rough patches. They often seem to lose the driver on a Monday morning.

The station is crowded with school children heading into town because they attend one of the independent schools. That’s “private schools” in plain words. Where I live there are quite a few comfortably-off folks, who wouldn’t dream of letting their children attend the local school, even though it is above average. In the case of the Catholics who want a Catholic school, I have a little sympathy. Otherwise, not so much. I should know – I went to such a school.

Usually I can find a seat on the train, although it is always busy. As well as the children, there are lots of people commuting to work in one of the cities along the route. I like earwigging on their conversations, but am less happy when someone falls asleep on my shoulder. Especially if they dribble. I only think of this song here because I seem to recall an advert for British Rail that used it. Anyway, I like it (the song of course, not the rail journey).

After an hour or so we reach the city I am commuting to. I scramble out, pushing past standing commuters, suitcases en route to the airport, and confused travellers who don’t use this train on a regular basis. Then it’s up the stairs or escalator and across the bridge to fight my way through the ticket barriers and out. The office may be almost in sight – what joy!

The office is actually a 10 minute walk away and I will usually pick up lunch and a coffee on the way because I won’t get time to go out at lunchtime. And by now that early cup of tea is wearing off and I need a caffeine injection. One morning the machine was broken and I had to make do with decaffeinated. It tasted fine but lots of my colleagues kept asking me if I was alright as I looked so tired. I had several cups of tea made for me. Bless them all.

Most of the time I am in the office I am in meetings or being chased up and down by people needing me to tell them something, Overall, it’s quite manic, whatever the day of the week.

Regular consumers of this blog may recall that I am an IT project manager (among other things). Much of the time I am required to act as a translator (from geek to human and back), a complaints bureau (have you tried switching it off and on again? Really, it will probably work!), a mind reader and a gazer of crystal balls. I try to hold it all together but sometimes it goes wrong.

(Sorry, I couldn’t resist a second Led Zep. Be grateful I haven’t made the entire post a Led Zep tribute. Now there’s an idea…)

After a frantic day I get to rewind the whole journey in reverse, although without the coffee. Otherwise I wouldn’t sleep. Oh, wait.

Let’s finish the working day as we started with S&G.

At last I’m home with Sigoth and what could better sum that up than Beethoven?

Obviously there is the demented mother to feed and water, but she has her own song, that I have also mentioned before.

It’s funny how these songs are mostly not ones I would ever choose for a Desert Island; a number of them I haven’t actually heard in years and it was entertaining finding them again on YouTube. But they did seem to just pop into my head as I went through the day’s schedule. Looking back at the list, it appears I am working in a parallel universe which is at least 30 years behind us. The tunnel near Garforth must be a wormhole. It explains everything.

Namaste.

One with everything

My dears, last week I acted completely selfishly and took the opportunity of having a training course in London on a Friday to grab a weekend with a friend whom I had not seen for a while. I abandoned you all, but such is life. Now I’m back from melting in her garden over a jug of Pimms and sharing the latest of the highbrow jokes in The Independent.

From British Classic Comedy website

For example: A Buddhist monk approaches a hotdog stand and says: “Make me one with everything”.

Boom, as Basil Brush would say, boom. The old ones are the best.

Possibly the heat melted more of my brain than I realised. It’s hotter than the Med for goodness’ sake. I blame the Government. Seriously, I do. If they had manned up and dealt with climate change we would be enjoying the usual drizzle and English hobby of muttering about the weather. Now we have to go around saying things like “Well, it was never this hot when I was young!” which is completely not how it should be. I’m not confusing weather with climate; don’t get me wrong. But too many weather exceptions have been achieved over the last few years to make me comfortable.

So anyway,  I drank Pimms, came home, and packed immediately to go to work away for the week.

Now I am back home again after a week from hell, where I have had to pass on some brutal truth and try to pick up the pieces of both the thing that was wrong and the impact on the person in question. Which is a convoluted way of saying I got to play Bad Cop because no one else would do it. It’s my speciality. I’m good at the Headteacher Voice: you’ve let the school down, you’ve let your teacher down, but most of all you’ve let yourself down…

Sigh.

I’m not very good at it really, not in a constructive, caring, development opportunity way. I’m just good at the Voice which makes people stop and hear, rather than ignore and carry on doing what they were doing. It’s not pleasant, either as a Voice or as a recognised ability.

More sighs. Not many jokes there, I can tell you.

If we are all one with everything, my Voice, the special capital letter one, is either the equivalent of self-harming, or it’s the immune system fighting off infection. I’m not sure which at the moment but I hate upsetting people. Really I do. I know people may think I don’t because I am always the Bad Cop, but I do.

One with everything, though. It’s come up a few times over the week. Firstly in the jokes in The Independent, most of which I understand but not all. Then thinking about the project which is having problems – well, we need to get it right for the good of the company and the customers. Finally today, a friend was talking about a bereavement. Sharing the memories of a person we have lost and the grief of those left behind is important for everyone. We are all one.

I keep thinking of the point made by Stephen Jay Gould about the miracle of Life. He talks about how Life has been constant on this world for so many billion years from the first bacteria and single-celled organisms up to the complexity of today. There has not been, in all those countless eons, a single break. Not for one fraction of a nanosecond has Life ceased to beat; if it did it would have to start all over again from the beginning.

It’s not like a heartbeat which can stop and then be restarted (Defibrillator, nurse! Clear!) and return the person to their whole, gloriously complicated self. If Life stopped that would be the end of it. To start again it would go back to first principles. It’s more like a soap bubble, expanding and expanding, reflecting the light in rainbows (and possibly unicorns for all I know). Once it bursts you can take the raw material and create a new one but it’s completely new and different in its own complex, wonderful way.

For us to exist, there has been a pre-requisite of soapy water if you will (and I can stretch a metaphor until it screams, people), stars have been born and died. We stretch back to the immeasurable past and into the immeasurable future.

We are one with everything.

Namaste.