Pilgrimages

canterbury tales

Whan that Aprill, with his shoures soote

The droghte of March hath perced to the roote

And bathed every veyne in swich licour,

Of which vertu engendred is the flour;

Whan Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth

Inspired hath in every holt and heeth

The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne

Hath in the Ram his halfe cours yronne,

And smale foweles maken melodye,

That slepen al the nyght with open eye-

(So priketh hem Nature in hir corages);

Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages

 

Geoffrey Chaucer, Prologue to the Canterbury Tales

http://www.librarius.com/cantales.htm

The past is another country, and certainly the medieval period is a very foreign one indeed. Not only did they talk funny, a strange mix of Old English and Norman French which eventually became our beloved mother tongue, but they also seem to have had different weather. A droghte of March, I ask thee! It has not been very droghty at all, although it has been quite draughty at times. That naughty Zephirus.

It is true that I woke up this morning to hear the rain pouring steadily outside: it was proper rain, unrelenting, but not associated with Zephyrs of gales or sleet, just plain rain. So naturally my first thought was “oh, April showers” followed somewhat inevitably by “nice day for a poisson d’avril” because I’m sorry but my mind works like that – even at 5.30 in the morning.

Of course, my mind did turn next to pilgrimages. I have to pack this evening to chug away for work across the borders into West Yorkshire. It will be a pigrimage alone, but at least I will have some little chums to eat with during the evening at the The Tabard, or whatever equivalent we can find. I anticipate a jolly evening when we get the real work done, along with some long hard hours in meeting rooms during the day with less productivity. There may even be tales, and some of them may be a bit ripe, although not as ripe as old Geoffrey’s, which were very ripe indeed.

All of this is a long-winded way of saying I am unlikely to be troubling your in-boxes/reader feed over the next few days. My gift to you. Instead I shall be slogging away in project initiation hell, which is a very special kind of hell I can assure you, and trying to keep my calm. In this regard I am thankful for listening to Thich Nhat Hanh yesterday reminding me of the value of mindfulness. I even tried the telephone meditation at work today which meant I was reasonably courteous to the annoying sales rep who was client-bothering. And by “reasonably courteous” I mean I told him to ring someone else and not bother me again, but fairly politely.

If you were a-travelling, my dears, who would you travel with and what tales would you tell?

Meanwhile, may your journeys be sweet.

Namaste

 

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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.

 

Tea for Andrew

Did you do all kinds of different holiday jobs when you were at school? Obviously I am addressing anyone elderly enough to have finished school and launched themselves upon the world. If you are in that happy state of still being at school, merely change the tense of the verbs and make them present.

A recent eruption of commentary about tea reminded me of my time at the local Bingo Hall where I worked one summer on the canteen. Happy days!

Well, I say “happy”…

They had their moments.

The ladies who worked permanently on the canteen were wonderful. They baked the cakes for the counter and any leftovers at the end of the day were shared out to take home. There were usually a couple of slices of something delicious which I took for me and my dad, and he would be waiting for me to get in so we could have a slice with a cuppa and catch up on the latest news and gossip.

Working at a Bingo Hall in the 1970s was almost like providing a social care service, albeit a very bad one. Pension Day was particularly busy because the regulars would pick up their cash and trot straight down to the afternoon session. It was an inexpensive way of spending an afternoon. For the price of a cup of tea, and maybe a shared slice of cake, they could sit in the warm with their friends. Most of them bought bingo cards as well, but it was all fairly inexpensive and probably cheaper than keeping the electric fire on at home.

It wasn’t a major career move for me, but I enjoyed the people (for the most part) and didn’t mind the work (for the most part). What I did dislike was having to bar some of the old dears. We had one or two who were, to put it frankly, doubly incontinent, and if we saw them coming we had to lock the doors so they couldn’t get in. The Bingo Hall was an old cinema that had gone bust. It was where, as I child, I contracted measles, mumps and chicken pox on three consecutive birthday treats. It’s no wonder I prefer the hygiene of Netflix.

cinematreasures.org

cinematreasures.org

The cinema doors extended in a great arc across the front of the building and were glass. When we locked them against one lady in particular she would stand on the steps with her face pressed against the door peering in and crying. It was very distressing for all of us. The manager would go out and try and persuade her to go home, and after a while she would totter away. In the harshness of youth I would feel really guilty but also relieved I wasn’t going to have to clean up after her again.

These tales of yesteryear are in fact tea-related, because while I worked there I discovered the most appalling treatment of the humble beverage that I have ever encountered. That is what I was really going to tell you about until I got distracted by memories of cake and old ladies.

We had a caller, let’s say his name was Andrew. I don’t know what his name was; we didn’t keep in touch and this all happened about 35 years ago. Andrew was a kind of rock god to the pension crowd. They loved his youth and voice and hair and the way he flirted with them. They really got good value for their pensions, let me tell you!

As a result Andrew rather thought he was some kind of rock god. He had a very high opinion of himself and liked to swagger about in front of the humble catering staff. He always had to be at the front of the queue for tea breaks so he could moisten his parched throat and prepare for his next performance. The little old ladies parted for him like the Red Sea, although they struggled to get their tea back to their seats in the 15 minute time limit. Serving tea at the Bingo Hall was like an extreme sport: a hundred or so old dears in 15 minutes with one hot tap. God help you if they wanted frothy coffee. (That’s what cappuccinos were called in the 1970s.)

So there was Andrew, lounging at the till waiting for his tea on my first day. I was allowed to sort him out, probably on the basis that the other staff were ready to throttle him and needed a break; or possibly the entertainment of watching me deal with him.

“Make sure you make it right,” he told me.

I bristled at that. I made a fine pot of tea at home, even as a young Electronic Bag Girl. My tea making skills were not be called into question. Things went downhill from there.

“I like it weak, with lots of milk,” he continued. He scooped the tea bag straight out of the water as I put it in. “That’s long enough!”

Then he poured half of it away so he could top up the milk.

It got worse.

“I take it with sugar,” he said.

“How many?” I muttered. “One or two?”

“Keep adding it until it won’t dissolve any more,” he replied. “Saturate it.”

I have a small scar on my chin where it hit the floor. It’s a memento.

I apologise if you like your tea this way. I also advise you to get help. At once.

The art of tea is a beautiful thing, The English certainly don’t make tea the way the Japanese do, but our own rituals are important to us. Our greatest literary minds have devoted care and attention to it: George Orwell famously produced guidance on making tea just after the Second World War when it was still rationed. It was a matter of national importance.

I would put to you that Andrew was not in fact drinking tea. He was a kind of Nutrimatic vending machine as described by Douglas Adams; the ones that produce a drink almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea. (That’s pretty much all vending machines I think.)

But there was no need to put an innocent tea bag through that humiliation, was there?

What horrors have you encountered in holiday jobs? They seem a rich vein for anecdote.

Cheers, my dears, and as ever, Namaste.

Grateful

Well, this is certainly a departure. I know, I know. EBL is hardly known for her humility or tendency to appreciate the small kindnesses and glimpses of fragile beauty that surround her. However, as usual, it has been a week of events, and for once I am in the mood for some gratitude.

Yesterday and today, that is to say Stormday and Aftermathday, I travelled up and down and round about Yorkshire by rail. At least, I went to Sheffield and Leeds, which is a reasonable approximation. Naturally as my first two days of travelling since my operation it seemed only sensible to do this at the worst possible time when the national rail network was still reeling form the frankly bracing weather which we have been enjoying recently.

All my trains were on time, except one which was almost 10 minutes late. That was the one from Scotland, so perhaps it can be excused. So I couldn’t complain. Literally, I couldn’t. I felt cheated. The breakfast news team, whom I trust with my life, had lead me to expect more trauma and my loins were seriously girt.

Nevertheless, two days in a row of hurtling in slow motion along railway tracks while it variously blew, buffeted, rained, snowed and shone outside left me a little weary. The irony is that York is not currently flooded, although there may be some minor seepage. However the rest of the country appears to be submerging slowly and gracelessly under the ocean. Honestly, all the movies about Atlantis sinking implied it would happen more quickly and with considerably more men in leather kilts and sandals dashing about. Again, cheated.

Of course I am genuinely grateful not to be flooded. We had that here some years back and it was appalling. However, the English can’t face disaster with anything other than a self-deprecating quip, unless it’s with a broken beer bottle and a Spartan “come on if you think you’re hard enough” face. I find the quip less exhausting, but don’t push me.

By the time I was on the final leg of my journey home tonight I needed to relax a little. I was tense from a tiring couple of days and a distressing work issue. In a moment of weakness I opted for some relaxation music which I keep on my phone for just such an occasion. I played the very nice music and took some deep breaths and stared out of the window at the scenery.

The Derwent has burst its banks along much of the way, and was muddy and bubbly with the effect of fast flowing water charging down to join the Ouse, like a toddler on a sugar rush. It’s a perverse river in that it rises in the Moors, flirts with the coast briefly then heads inland in defiance of riverly custom and best practice. During snow melt and heavy rain it gets deep and fast and strong, and very brown from mud and silt and Moors run-off. Today the brown water and the muddy fields and winter-bare trees combined into a pleasing palate of neutrals set against a pinkish evening sky. It has been observed, I believe by Stephen Fry, but am too lazy to check, that nature is incapable of being ugly. Even in this time of horrible flooding the scenery is beautiful – except for the man-made parts. Nature, I concluded, even in times of flood and fear and raw sewage on your carpet, was awe-ful in the original sense of the word: powerful, frightening and still majestically and cosmically gorgeous. If something is going to destroy your words it is only right that it is epic.

The music played through the head-set like a soundtrack to my own personal movie. It set the scene for some inner dialogue and reflection, and I obliged, trained up by years of film watching and exposure to the tropes and truisms of Hollywood (and more lately Studio Ghibli). The music and the landscape made me feel grateful for being able to live in such a marvellous world. I was seduced into gratitude for not being flooded, for living somewhere so clearly superior to the rest of the planet, for having a safe journey to a warm home and loving partner, for just, well, everything.

I even started a list. I know some of you keep gratitude journals and I’m sure it is a worthwhile thing to do. Whenever I try the list is the same day after day: Sigoth, Offspringses, work colleagues, a job I enjoy nine days out of ten (because there are always some occasions when people are simply disappointing). The list may have the odd additional entry, such as Netflix or tea in bed or whatever ephemera have pleased me that day. Yet the core remains the same, my foundation for living, and I don’t need a journal to remind me of it. I know I’m blessed, even if I sometimes forget for an hour or two. Even if sometimes I get impatient with Sigoth or irritated by a colleague, just as allegedly Sigoth is driven to distraction by my quaint and endearing eccentricities (not nearly as infuriating as his faults of course). In my heart of hearts, I know.

At this point I feel it highly appropriate to refer my honourable friends to the beat poem, Storm, by Tim Minchin. I love Tim Minchin (not in a creepy way). He is a Dawkins kind of a chap, and the poem is a paean to rational and scientific wonder. No hocus pocus, just honest glory in the natural world.

Isn’t this enough?
Just this world?
Just this beautiful, complex
Wonderfully unfathomable world?
How does it so fail to hold our attention
That we have to diminish it with the invention
Of cheap, man-made Myths and Monsters?
If you’re so into Shakespeare
Lend me your ear:
“To gild refined gold, to paint the lily,
To throw perfume on the violet… is just fucking silly”
Or something like that.

http://www.releaselyrics.com/1187/tim-minchin-storm/

If the very nice relaxing hippy music doesn’t soothe my troubled mind, then a dose of Minchin does.

Meanwhile I’m off to get into pyjamas and shake off this unfamiliar and bizarre gratitude. What is the world coming to? I’ll be turning into a nice little old lady at this rate and I can’t allow that. (Actually there’s no real danger of that happening. Don’t worry.)

Do you have your core list, your foundations, that keep you going through thick and thin? Hold them fast and share them if you will.

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