Sunday 29 December 2013

#52 A couple of towers

By text: Merry Christmas. Hey, how're you? What're you up to? Sounds good. Nice to hear from you. Take care... ... do you want to meet up again? Yeah ok. This weekend? Sure.

Three days later.

It was 5pm on Saturday and I had just left the house. The phone buzzed. 'Hey it's me. Really sorry to cancel tonight but I don't feel great. Think it was some pizza I had earlier'. 'That's fine really, it happens, just get some rest'. I kept walking.

Nothing to lose.

The two hour journey to Windsor & Eton passed pretty quickly. I'm quite a peaceful traveller, having associated the bus or train with plenty of happy memories as a kid. It was pleasant walking around the town and the old high streets, even at refrigerator temperature. I grabbed some food and then sat on the second floor of a pub overlooking the castle.


'So I decided to make the trip anyway, had a wander round... nice place'. 'Oh. Wow'. 'How're you feeling?' 'Better... will you stay there much longer?'. I checked the trains. 'Could do'. 'Ok, I'll come and meet you but need to wash my hair first. If you get bored, you could catch the train to Slough and then to Maidenhead'. 'Ok will do'.

At 10:30pm, I jumped off of the evening's fifth train and sent a text. 'Hey, I'm here, how're you doing?'. Half an hour passed. I paced around the near empty station, several times, charged the phone for ten minutes from a socket just below the payphone and memorised part of the 1967 Civic Amenities Act from a sign about fly tipping. 'Will be there shortly, just de-icing'.

At 11:30pm the car pulled up at the station layby and I hopped into the passenger seat.

Sunday 22 December 2013

#51 The differential of Mr. G

So I know a guy who, a couple of months ago, goes to the doctor with a recurring stomach ache. They diagnose IBS and send him on his way, even though he has practically none of the usual symptoms. A few weeks later, the ache is still there, intensified and accompanied by nausea. The doctors run more tests and suggest appendicitis, followed by kidney stones. Not on most people's Christmas lists but these predictions were still relatively common and treatable. They were also dead wrong. 

In a deteriorating condition, the guy is kept in hospital and learns that he has a congenital birth defect, which affects a tiny percentage of the population and is further corrected after birth or during infancy in a very high percentage of those cases. He is rushed to surgery, where his appendix and four inches of his bowel are removed. He spends the following twelve hours in intense pain. It then transpires that the surgery went wrong and he suffers massive internal bleeding, requiring six units of blood and a couple more of plasma. 

Hospitalised for thirteen days, my buddy can't eat, drink or breathe by conventional means. He's hooked up to regular catheter and an epidural one, as well as a breathing machine. After a hazy week of morphine and recovery, during which he lost a stone in weight, he is released. He reports urinating blood and is told this is normal. I think even after the past couple of weeks, it probably doesn't seem normal to him. 

I sat uneasily in my seat, wondering if the table next to us were enjoying their main course, as my friend reeled off what he'd been through recently in his usual cheeky, casual style, as though he was talking about the weather, which remains remarkably mild for the time of year.

Sunday 15 December 2013

#50 Sunday 15 December

The country seems to have a greater affinity for Christmas jumpers than in previous years. The stores are packed full of them. The best I've seen is a fairly well drawn version of Rudolph, with a squeaky read nose and bells around his neck that jingle when the wearer walks.

Does anyone actually have fish for Christmas dinner? It crops up on restaurant menus as an alternative to turkey, served with the usual collection of vegetables.

Worlingham Road is having another New Year's Eve party this year. Guests are told to expect games, karaoke and Keira. The invite reads "Bye 2013", which I couldn't help feel was a little negative but I guess it describes the occasion pretty well.

Sunday 8 December 2013

#49 Sunday 8th Dec

It was Sunday morning and I'd been lying in bed for a while, thinking about getting up. It was cold in the house as always and grey outside. As the clock 'struck' half past ten, Ludovico Einaudi's I Giorni was slowly released from a corner of the room.

I wandered down to the dining room, where Rich and Lisha were having bacon baguettes. "How's Lela?" asked Lisha. We talked for a while. My housemate's fiance was in the third year of a psychology degree and her sister had recently married an American gent, having met him online and then a handful of times in person. Not that this was on the cards but I felt as though Lisha was qualified to understand some of the dynamics of my friendship with Lela. 

For those that are curious, here's a crash course on male/female friendships. If you make it to the bottom of the essay without falling asleep, you'll be pleased to know that Aristotle didn't write a great deal about online friendships.

My trip to Greenwich this afternoon was something of a first in that I was actually taking the time to visit a part of London that I didn't normally go to. On top of that, I'd Googled somewhere to eat as opposed to just wandering around like I normally do in these situations. Wandering has a time and a place and I'd decided that it wasn't when or where I was hungry.

When I got back to the house, I felt a bit miserable. i meditated for about twenty minutes, which helped.

Sunday 24 November 2013

#48 On the road

The train heading north out of the city was absolutely packed. I've no idea why. Fifteen minutes into the journey, the elderly gent stood next to me said to the driver "I hope I'm mistaken but there seems to be only one toilet on board and it's out of order". "That's right" replied the guard. "I've needed a piss for the last half hour" said the man, which I found semi amusing but I guess some people board the train early while it's still sitting on the platform, for whatever reason. Eventually the guard spoke to the driver and...

I spent a lot of time this week thinking about and chatting to Lela, who lives thousands of miles away. It's easier right now as the time difference between here and Flores Da Cunha is only two hours. I guess she's part of the family, having Skyped in for a couple of quick chats following my Dad's last month and now my sister's birthday meals. I took great pleasure in telling this to one of my other friends as I know how unusual she finds it that I'm great friends with someone I met on a dating site earlier this year, who now lives overseas. What can I say? I like her. Lots.

On the journey home, I walked by the latest Jack Daniel's billboard, which managed to make a massive and lucrative fuss about Christmas without actually mentioning the word. Further down the line, I sauntered casually past what I'm pretty sure was a drug deal, closely followed by an Indian bride, standing on the side of the street, alone, in full wedding garments with a bouquet of flowers and a baby in a carrier next to her. When a man pulled up to her in a car, she asked what his name was and then got in.

Sunday 17 November 2013

#47 Christmas shopping

I've decided to be a good house mate this morning by eating some biscuits. You see, the plastic lid of the McVitie's tub fits well over open tins of catfood, which we'd otherwise have to cover with clingfilm or foil. Plus it's washable. 

I recently started watching 24 again. I don't think you could call my recent viewing activity a binge but I've seen about five episodes this weekend. I'll concede if put under duress that the life of the fictional character Jack Bauer might be more interesting than this blog. 

I must have done my Christmas shopping, or at least part of it, on Oxford St for about the last five years. It's pretty busy now, even on 17 November but maybe it's just always busy. I think that's probably true. Unfortunately this year, the Michael Jackson impersonator wasn't out but I did get a look at that giant bubble thing over at Piccadilly. At the time, it looked pretty stupid because the bubble was massive but the amount of snow inside was so tiny that you could hardly see it. They were just setting it up though.

Saturday 9 November 2013

#46 Sarah

On Wednesday night, my cousin was in the city so we went out for some food. The cousins on my mother's side used to live in Bristol until they were about ten years old. My uncle Pete, a hard-working Liverpudlian, made his way up the ranks of the supermarket Gateway (which then became Somerfield before merging into Co-op) and accepted a job offer at Rebel Sport in New Zealand, at which point the family moved half way around the globe. They visit regularly enough to still be the cousins that I see the most.

Last year, Sarah had been having a really bad time with some of the people with whom she was living and decided she needed to get away. She left the house, worked out her notice at work, stayed in a hotel for a short period of time and made a plan for her next move. She had a friend that had worked on large ships in the Middle East and decided to follow suit by heading out to the Persian Gulf and working on a super yacht for a royal family. 

Despite the long hours and periods spent at sea, Sarah got to meet some F1 drivers and eat lavish food. During one spell of shore leave, she found a kitten in a dumpster and befriended it. Near the end of her travels, rather than put her friend back in the bin, she mailed it to New Zealand at a cost of several thousand dollars and it's now kept as a pet by one of her friends at home.

We met a a Vietnamese place called Tay Do, north of Shoreditch High St. Chilled out, bring your own drinks, with huge portions, which none of the six of us came close to finishing. The others at the table were a collection of people that she'd met at various points in her life, who happened to be in London at the time. After hearing most of the stories and finishing most of the food, we stumbled out, said goodnight and I made my way back south of the river.

Saturday 2 November 2013

#45 Columns

"Ask him why he wants to remove those two columns from the table, they were there last month". It was a simple request, until I thought about it. He was a director. Back in the 80s he'd graduated in applied mathematics from Cambridge and had been working his way up the ranks of the firm for the last 25 years. Two years ago he ran the London marathon in 2 hours 35. He was 49 when he did that. This guy had gotten himself to a level that most people never reach in their careers and I had to interrupt his day to ask him about two insignificant columns in an internal weekly update table. 

I pondered the situation for a minute, drew a breath. Was the requester simply frustrated at another change in format and using me to vent this frustration? Was it worth asking because, if right, the new format could be applied across other jobs, simplifying the weekly reporting process, albeit negligibly? In the end, I went with the "unit, corps, God, country" rule from Three Kings and asked the question. The request had come from my unit, the director was part of the corps. I had the courage to ask a pointless question of an important person and it wasn't really my question, so I went ahead and asked it.

In the moments that followed, I almost instantly regretted asking. The director had given the response I'd expected, the response I should have myself given to the requester earlier in the day when said requester was around. I decided that what I should have done was nothing and then explained the next day that asking just didn't feel right. 

Is that what I should have done? What was more important? The chain of command or my own view of the situation? Obviously the former, unless I knew that I was right or had unique knowledge that changed the situation. Given the non-urgency and low importance of the request, I should have left it. I didn't want to seem awkward though by not doing something so simple. Plus this was really good practice for when a similar dilemma of greater importance arose. I figure if it did, I would just have to make a judgement about the importance of the hierarchy versus the importance of the matter at hand and ask other people for advice if necessary.

Sunday 27 October 2013

#44 The fellowship of the blue ring.

It's not often that I have a house guest. Suspended above the electric heater was a clean towel, rapidly drying from the warmth of the air below and the cool breeze flowing in through the open window. Keira was playing nice, as is her usual character although she has in the past shown signs of jealousy when there's another girl around.

It had to be here somewhere. She searched around the room, the table and through her bag. There was only one thing for it, we'd have to head back to the bar. I paused the movie and started to pull on my shoes. It was about a five minute walk back. We walked fast. "Excuse me, has anyone handed in a ring?" The waitress shook her head. I waited whilst she checked the toilets. The guys that were there earlier had finished up playing scrabble but the place was still reasonably busy.

Nothing. Naturally we also asked the person behind the bar. "Hold on, is this it?" she asked, brandishing the heirloom that made Kate Middleton's sapphire look like something that fell out of a cracker. Relieved, we thanked her and headed back out. The residents of East Dulwich are, I feel, a trustworthy bunch. The burglars that ransacked our house a few weeks after I moved in were obviously not from around here.

Sunday 20 October 2013

#43 EQ & G

"This is Dan" said Alison to the group of women at the table. I'd cautiously wandered up and placed myself next to my colleague, whose routine introduction was met with the kind of brush-off acknowledgement that you often get in these networking situations. I'd seen the invite to the EQ seminar a couple of weeks back and figured it wasn't a bad way to spend a Tuesday lunchtime. So what if the audience was 96% female? I wanted to hear how the speaker, a small Jamaican woman, had made it on to the NHS board and what she had to say about getting along with the people you work with. 

The talk was pretty good, some simple concepts and some common sense tips. The importance of getting to know someone better if your relationship with them isn't good. The importance of, if a person is uncomfortable with the way that a meeting is being handled, having the courage to say so. Yes, you'd have to make a judgement about whether and when it was appropriate to speak up but the lesson hopefully inspired the right audience members to realise that perhaps they could be a bit more ballsy at times, despite their gender.

Later this week, I found myself in a town called Grantham. It's about half way up the country, not far from Nottingham and apparently a town called Boston (I didn't know we had a Boston). Anyway, so there's this curry place, that makes a curry so hot that the people that eat it frequently end up in hospital. Apparently it'll give its consumers red sores on the outside of their stomachs as well as a load of other symptoms like extreme pain. After doing some research I found that this occasionally happens at chilli contests and one or two other curry houses around the country, where the punters are asked to sign legal disclaimers before dining. This somehow doesn't put them off.


Saturday 12 October 2013

#42 Some new things

It was her idea. A way of kindling our friendship perhaps, or the inevitable product of an adventurous mind. For the past few weeks, Lela and I had been trying a new thing each week. So far, she'd ridden as a passenger on a motorbike (for a change, as opposed to riding it herself), been to a Megadeth & Sabbath concert on her birthday and next she was thinking about purchasing and I'm told, wearing, a dress.

I'd managed to get off fairly lightly so far. Things like making a video of myself singing Hey Jude, joining a library, reading an Agatha Christie novel and talking to a stranger. I noticed that these little exercises hadn't hurt my spirit of inquisitiveness either. I now appear to have a smartphone and have tried a couple of new things in the kitchen lately too. Lela doesn't get all of the credit for this but she gets some.

The whole 'try new things and get out of your comfort zone' thing didn't really feel like me yet but my plan was to take ownership of the new things that I wanted to do over the next two or three weeks in particular and pick challenges that I could really identify with. After that, Lela could have some fun with the suggestions again and perhaps the process would have fused better with my identity. Maybe over time, it would help me to adopt a broader outlook. What an amazing gift.

As someone that shunned self help books exclusively, I think my Brazilian friend naturally exhibited a few of the traits that those kinds of authors incessantly plugged. Maybe she never needed the books. I'd tried some of that stuff in the past and I think it helped with my running and my work last year. Then again, I was probably just running because Mark and Tim started doing it. I guess if you've got the right books and the right friends, you're in a pretty good situation.

Saturday 5 October 2013

#41 Just some stuff that rhymes

If we could only find out how to shake
We'd move so very freely when we wake
Then automatically find the way
Adventurously through life every day

The catalyst to kick-start all this jazz
Lies deep within, we've for a long time had
I'd take you every place this city has
The good places, the medium and bad

Together lay contently in the sun
Our bodies simply soaking up the fun
and later cosy contemplate the peace
in ourselves having found perfect release

Nirvana spotlight music darkened gaze
So happy now and music in the haze
You purr so soft as I play with your hair
Without a problem, both without a care

To find refreshment energy and light
To move so swift and effortlessly fight
For dreams and soul and everything besides
Such fortune floating 'tward us on the tides

Sunday 29 September 2013

#40 Lordship Lane

Staying in, waiting for Naino's new phone to arrive didn't really sound more fun than Salsa dancing with Barbra, even factoring in the risk of being stuck dancing with some weirdo, which in Brixton, I'd imagine to be something of a coin toss. Still, we decided to do the whole friend thing and hang out with Nains for the night.

In unconventional fashion, I started the evening with a kebab. Do not judge me. Eventually the phone came and we headed out for some cocktails at House of Tiplar, which like some but definitely not all of Dulwich's Dulwichy places, just about gets away with being Dulwichy because the cocktails are actually quite good. I reserve the right to change my mind about this. 

To liven up the evening, Naino told us some stories, carrying the tone below appropriate dining room discussion level and probably below bar level, unless you like to hang out in... wait no, any bar. It kinda worked but instead of blowing our week's wages on more cocktails, we decided to move on to Adventure Bar for some beers. 

Now I don't necessarily approve of Adventure Bar in general, mainly because I'm not a nineteen year old girl. I'm pretty sure that even the one I dated back in January would think it was lame but it's local and to be fair it has a really nice vibe. Also, it currently has a table tennis table.

So Barbs and I started hitting the ball around, which was fun because she's competitive enough to try and win every shot, even in a warm-up and as a result the ball kept flying off and rolling under countless tables of other drinkers, who never seemed to mind us groping around for it.

It wasn't long before an off-the-wall guy with a south London accent joined in, accompanied by his large, dark mate, whose arms were large enough for him to have started going to the gym before it was cool to go to the gym. In fact Naino reckoned he was even too stacked for her. I made a bet with him that Barbs would beat his dodgy mate, which she just about did.

The evening wore on and we kept the table. After some time, two chaps with a hint of private school about them, who had been drinking since 11am, gallantly took on the challenges of playing table tennis and chatting up my two house mates, neither of which they properly nailed but I'll take my hat off to the fact that they jolly well had a good go at both. This didn't go unnoticed.

On his way out, muscles grabbed the chin of chap number two and made a comment about him needing to smile more. The chap followed him out of the bar. "That guy must be out of his mind" I said to Barbra, who explained that he was a cage-fighter and showed me a clip of him wrestling on Youtube. Earlier in the evening, Naino had noticed a large tattoo, which ran all the way around his neck and was just about visible above the line of his jumper. When asking him what it was, he told her solemnly that it was a reminder not to do bad things. "What kind of bad things?" She asked. He just shook his head. 

After standing around outside for a bit, cagey comes back in and we decide to call it a night. I found muscles elsewhere in the bar on our way out and said goodnight.

Sunday 22 September 2013

#39 Branching out

My new friend had been trying to make sense of the fact that I don't use my phone all that often. We met up for a drink and smoothed things over a bit, after which I crashed on her sofa. She'd been teaching me a few things about life and relationships. After saying goodbye, I switched my phone on and took it off silent. Perhaps I should do this more often.

I must admit that the curious sense of well-being with which I woke up this morning might have something to do with the amount of time I'd been spending with friends this weekend. On Saturday morning, I trudged home, napped for four hours and took the train down to Kent for drinks, followed by a night on yet another friend's sofa. 

Perhaps hanging out with people wasn't always quite as draining as I'd imagined it to be. It was still difficult to work out whether all the socialising had really made me that much happier but perhaps it's a longer term game.

Lela and I agreed a couple of weeks ago to do one new thing each week. As with the above stuff, I'm signing up to it in the hope that it'll improve me a bit as a person. Maybe these things don't need to be motivated by raw desire. Perhaps curiosity is all that is needed. When a person has a lack of direction, they might as well follow someone else. Something's bound to click sooner or later.

Sunday 15 September 2013

#38 Monotony

Chopping boards, checkered shirts
Caps and beards and some desserts
Have you both tried the cider here? It's from Biddenden
From Biddenden to Totteridge
Woodside Park to Putney Bridge
The salsa and the triple chips
McDonald's 2.0

Oh Monotony. Oh Monotony
Bacon in, or without
If you need anything just shout
The bar stools have a vintage look
Although they are new.

Thursday 12 September 2013

#37 Oh look

I was out for a walk today and the Lord came down and said to me, "you know what? You've been doing some good work recently. I tell you what...". He said, "you can do whatever you want tomorrow. I'll let you choose". I said "really?". "Sure" he replied. "Why not?". "In fact", said he, "I'll let you choose everything". "What do you mean?" I asked. "Well..." he replied. "You can wear what you want, eat what you want and do what you want. I will give you free roam of the city and beyond so that you may go wherever you want. You may drink what you want, you can choose any available mode of transport to get around and you can either rush or take your time."

"You see all those cars moving about on the road?" He said. "They all contain people. There are many of my people in the city, millions. Many many more than you could count in a day if all you did was count all day as fast as you could". "Wow", I thought "and I can talk to any one of them?" "Of course" he said. "You're still not getting this are you? Before you lies tonnes and tonnes of food, every single sport that you can think of, every single movie. You can dance, sing, pick up an instrument, any book, any puzzle or gadget, any toy. Dan there are many fine museums and galleries here containing artifacts and some of the finest works of art from all over the world. I'll let you play any tune, loudly or quietly, many times if you like. If you're tired, you can take a nap, if you're happy, you can skip or whistle, if you're joyous, you can laugh, loud. I will let you do things that you haven't even though of yet".

The Lord continued, "Dan as you go through life, you may do whatever you wish. Meet whoever you like, you can choose your occupation, the dreams you pursue, you can pick any toothpaste, they come in several different flavours. You can have favourite drinks, you can define yourself by what you wear, or not at all, I'll let you earn money so that you can buy things and I'll let you run and give you different types of weather so that you have something to talk about even when you can't think of anything inspirational to say! You can even choose lots of the thoughts that enter your head, you can do things to influence your mood, you can set yourself standards and rules and goals and values, you can write. 

You can draw. You can make lists and spreadsheets and... you can make a mess if you like, you can just throw everything around and dance in the mess, if you really want to. You can pour syrup on your head and set fire to something, make up words, video yourself walking down supermarket isles backwards, make snow angels in the winter, swim in the sea in the summer, punch the wall, water the plants, pet animals, watch TV, read about geology or genealogy or geography. You can see peacocks, or dive from cliffs or save sick children or visit the rainforest, fly a plane, tie a letter to a balloon and see if anyone picks it up, spin around until you're dizzy, eat chocolate until you're sick, you can choose where you live, who you meet, how you treat them and what it all means to you".

"Cheers" I said, walking off down the road. I had no idea what I wanted to do.

#36 Many meetings

I met someone new at one of London's central stations on Monday. As usual, I'd remembered parts of the directions but forgotten others. Careless. I hadn't even met her yet and she was already angry with me. That's what carelessness does. We had a chat, some back story, some context and then headed to her flat. 

The place was a bit of a mess. I started by assembling one of the cleaning devices and got to work on the windows. It seemed to take an hour or so. I felt a bit like Daniel Larusso. I can't remember the order of the other tasks. Fitting lampshades, changing light bulbs, hanging curtains, setting up the radio, the DVD player, the fitness watch, the vacuum cleaner, the blender, replacing batteries, cleaning and tidying in general, rearranging the wardrobe and fetching meals. It was kinda good to do something useful for a change. A good way of earning some respect too. 

She warmed to me, once she saw beyond the quiet, unenthusiastic person that she first met. Indeed one of work's greatest powers is to engage a person, so that they can then remain engaged outside of work too. She taught me some philosophy, gave me some perspective and pointed me towards more. I had only really been looking for company at the time. When you look hard for something, you often find more things along the way. I stayed until Wednesday and came home much happier in myself.

This blog is still at least weekly but I'm off work at the moment so I'm writing more.

Monday 9 September 2013

#35 A couple of minor changes

Sometimes at weekends I'll head over to NY Financial Press TV and listen to the market updates. This is largely because I love the flow and fluctuations in the way that Remy Blaire and James Sweeney read the reports. They seem to have started taking clips from the financial news network featuring someone called Donna Sawyer recently but her tone of voice is much more boring.

TGI Friday's is currently undergoing a major rebrand. After successfully removing the apostrophe from its logo in the US, we can only hope that the UK follows suit. Or can we? My personal view on this is that the restaurant should be called 'TGI Friday', or even just 'TGI' because all we're doing then is naming a restaurant after a well known phrase. To pleuralise the phrase doesn't make any sense so far as I can see and to switch it to possessive would highlight the fact that the restaurants or menu items belong to a company named after a phrase, which seems unnecessarily complicated.

Espero que possamos falar novamente no tempo.

Monday 2 September 2013

#34 Healing up

"How much is it?" I asked. "You want to go now?". "Sure". Ahmed asked me some questions. I told him I was twenty nine, traveling alone and what I did for work. He asked if I was scared. "No", I replied, calmly. He sized me up, puzzled. "You're scared of something" he said. "You're uncertain". "We all have a duty, a reason to be here and you need to figure out what yours is". I knew one thing and that was that I wasn't about to start becoming a Muslim. Ahmed was right though, in fact I was scared of practically everything. Losing my job, being in the wrong job, heart palpitations, getting sick, never finding someone, finding someone but it being the wrong person, not being good enough and that even if I stopped thinking about all these things and really enjoyed life, it might go so fast that at the end, I'd just look back and wonder where the time went. 

I started to feel better after the conversation though and noted with satisfaction that I'd actually met someone on holiday, which was cool. The fear and the guilt vanished for a bit. In fact, it had turned into a puppy. It's strange because I'm really more of a cat person. This takes some explaining. I'd been carrying this guilt around with me for a few days now, thinking it might be useful. All emotions do serve a purpose. I took it on holiday, expecting to feel bad for like a week or two. It seemed like reasonable behavior. I hadn't exactly been the most caring person in the world lately. By the end of the first night, I'd given it a name and an imaginary persona. It was this big grey rock, about eight feet tall that I dragged around on a chain. It wasn't aloud to talk, but it growled and roared. It did this a lot. When I went to the supermarket, it followed, lumbering along and snarling, dragging its feet. It was a bit of a pain in the ass.

I found Ahmed back at the paragliding shack, talking to a family with young kids, who were eating at a next door restaurant. He played with the kids, asked the family questions about them and just made general chit chat. As we waited for the minibus to arrive, I told him what had been bothering me lately. He told me that I should stop thinking about it. I  told him "look, I'm always thinking about something". He said "you should be thinking about yourself, here, now, not about someone else and not about the past, because you can only help someone else if you help yourself". "You're losing yourself and your liver isn't working". "Excuse me?". "That's why you feel so numb. You need to eat three times at the same time every day, eat lots. Eat lots of protein, go to sleep at the same time every day and sleep well." 

This guy had good advice. Ahmed wasn't right about everything. I had no intention of seeking out the bearded guru from the pictures on his camera phone, nor were the couple sitting opposite us father and daughter as he had guessed. Still I took a few pieces of wisdom from him and thanked him. As I ran off the cliff at 2000m with a scruffy, student instructor strapped to my back, I did manage to feel something approaching nervousness. Good, I thought. Focussing on something more fundamental for a change, like how far away the ground was. "You need to move" he said. I shuffled around a bit. "Move" he yelled. I squirmed a bit more. "Is this ok?". "No" he replied. I wondered what the hell he meant by that and if he had any idea where we were. I tried leaning backwards, then forwards and pushing myself up a bit in the harness and finally found a position he was happy with. Phew. We'd be in the air for another 25 minutes. The instructor managed to startle me by doing some G-turns and eventually we landed. I walked back to the shack and thanked Ahmed. Maybe she'll speak to me again one day, maybe she won't. "What's meant to happen will happen" he said. 

I walked back to the hotel, paused and looked around. I think I'm in Turkey.

Wednesday 28 August 2013

#33 Ligação 

Have you ever met somebody that really understood you and accepted you in a way that nobody else could? There are levels to a person's character. Many of the people that we meet throughout our lives bounce happily across the surface like a stone skimming on a lake. Others stick around for a bit and get to know most of who we are as a person. Still, some people penetrate the outer layer of our personality and sink deep into the mechanics of who we are. They understand us. They might even tinker with us. I say "some people". I think what I mean is "few people" and by that, what I mean is "very few people indeed".

It was like being on another planet. After one particular conversation, I pretty much just wandered around in trance-like state of happiness for a day. It was a little bit weird really, perhaps because I was also feeling tired, hungover and obsessive at the time. My head feels clearer now.

I suspect that not everybody has this situation. Some people might be quite simple to understand. Others less so but equally less willing to open up to anyone, others still complicated but incredibly vocal and expressive of all of their component parts by default. 

At some point in recent time, there were two people that needed to find and speak to each other and they did.

(This post covers that which would have been written during the weekend of 31 August... It's early).

Sunday 25 August 2013

#32 Bank holiday weekend

The August bank holiday weekend in the UK originally occurred under the 1871 Bank Holiday Act, which was later superseded by the Banking and Financial Dealings Act 1971. To celebrate the extra day off, some colleagues and I headed out for a drink.

Project Black Box was a covert, unauthorised work social planned several years ago by a member of staff that has since left the firm. The code-name Black Box, like many of the confidential projects on which we work contained a loose hint about a key aspect of the job. In this case, nothing other than the fact that we really didn't want anyone who saw it in the calendar at 1pm on a Friday to know what it entailed. In the end, despite positive feedback, the project was abandoned due to low uptake. We're quite a busy team and it turned out that most people didn't actually have the time to hit the pub at midday and not come back.

The legitimate and above-board use of project names for nights out after work was later developed during the early part of the twenty first century by a man named Ashish Patel, who adapted the concept by using the names of professional footballers such as Pascal Chimbonda and Sulley Muntari. In doing so, Ash created a series of legendary and memorable nights, attended by representatives of several teams within the company and extended to friends and family. Due to the most special and express request made by Mr. Patel that he be featured in this blog, the names of no other attendees have been disclosed.

The trouble with describing the proper history of events is that sometimes one loses the space and time to write up the experience of the event itself. I wonder. In August, the weather was just about good enough to stand outside the Fine Line, gazing up at the Monument for the first pint or two. After turning up late and smacking the palm off Mr. P (actually it wasn't one of our best high-fives but at least it happened) we settled in to the surroundings and mooched north. Tucked away beneath Minster Court is a place called Agenda, by day a very unremarkable faceless bar. By night, the Ibiza of Fenchurch St. So we danced (yeah I did for a bit) and had tequila and the beats were awesome and the people were pretty. At one point, G was queuing at the bar and since he happened to be sporting a grey jacket embroidered with blue anchors, two blonde girls managed to sneak up behind him while one took a photo of the other licking one of the anchors on his back, without him noticing. Maybe I should get a phone that has a camera on it. Apparently they do them now.

Sunday 18 August 2013

#31 Light technical session

A commutation is a deal where the holder of one or more insurance policies agrees to sell those policies to another company. The price is, or should be, broadly speaking, based on the value of all actual and potential losses that have been and might be claimed against those policies, multiplied by the chance of such claims being made.

When you take out an insurance policy to protect yourself from a risk, the insurance company often insures itself against the risk of you making a claim by taking out a reinsurance policy with a reinsurer, who may in turn insure itself through retrocession, which is essentially a further level of reinsurance.

There are three parts to a commutation of reinsurance. Imagine two insurance managers having lunch and discussing the value of each one of these parts during each of the three courses and you've caught a reasonable glimpse of one of the few parts of the financial sector that still occasionally gets business done in that way. Why haven't those claims been paid? Because they haven't been notified to the reinsurer. Who's job is that? The broker's. Why haven't they done it yet? It's not at the top of their priority list. What's the next step? We're taking the broker out for a massive curry.

The first part consists of "unpaid paids" i.e. claims paid by the insurer but not yet paid in turn by the associated reinsurer. The second part consists of "outstandings", i.e. claims notified to the insurer but not yet paid by anyone and the third part consists of "IBNR" i.e. claims that have been incurred (I use this word loosely, in an indirect sense and in association with the philosophical concept of causality) but not yet reported to either the insurer or the reinsurer, let alone paid by either one of them. Valuing this third part of the deal inevitably involves some guesswork.

Thursday 8 August 2013

#30 Azeroth

I'm not sure that I could go back there even if I wanted to. The pull from the real world is much greater these days. I suppose it has to do with growing up, something I can be good at avoiding, in some ways. Still, they were all adults in the guild, each with some kind of life to attend to. I remember when Mayflower asked me to be the Nightwalkers' raid leader, after I led a fairly large party through a dungeon during a number of hours. Even raising a sufficient part-guild, part-general public group to embark on the missions required skill and persistence in those days, together with a certain amount of charm. I declined on account of occasionally having to work late and occasionally having to have a life, which involved little more than wandering up to the Oak Tree with Jim and Kev for a few pints.

One of the criteria for addiction is that it interferes with other areas of your life. I tend to disagree with this. Many people successfully balance their habits with their working, social and married lives for years, which is not to say that they should. It was so very carefree, running around Elwynn Forest at night, maybe with a companion or two, especially when much of the old world remained unexplored. A typical day might involve getting up, getting dressed, riding the horse up to the city, learning some magic, making some crazy purchases in the auction house, catching a gryphon flight, underground railway or a boat off to a distant land, battling dragons or forming a delicately balanced group of people with the right skills and abilities to tackle a particularly complex quest, maybe mining some precious minerals. It could all be traded, gambled, stored or passed on to another person. When you reached a new level, you shouted 'ding' in the chat channel and a dozen people would respond 'gz', which is short for 'gratz', which is obviously short for 'congratulations'.

I suppose you could call it a hobby.

Friday 2 August 2013

#29 The wheat and the chaff

So apparently chaff is like the outer casing of a seed of grain and people can't eat it but animals can. I bet someone ate some chaff once though. They probably said to themselves "actually, this chaff isn't really that bad". 

My Dad's thirty years older than me but he listens to some of the kinds of tunes that you might have heard on the radio during the last decade so when I meet up with him and he recognises one of them, I have to point out that there's a good dubstep version of it and that he doesn't know what dubstep is.

My house mate completed GTA about three months ago. He then collected everything and completed all the secret missions. Tonight, he and his fiance are in cooperative mode practicing reverse parking.

UK residents performed fairly badly in a recent survey of how they managed their finances. About half were struggling and 16% of the people asked were unable to identify the balance on a bank statement, which goes to show that most people with an ounce of sense stopped participating in voluntary surveys quite a while ago.

One or more people in most of the groups with whom I interact regularly have been cancelling on me lately. It's a coincidence. I try to brush it off at first and then feed back calmly to them at a later date that I wasn't entirely happy about it. I think this is the right approach. Plus it's not like I've never let anyone down before.

Have a good weekend.

Tuesday 30 July 2013

#28 Some wisdom

I forgot to update the blog this weekend.

Space can be filled if you rise like my lumber.

Never let anyone tell you how much to care about something.

You don't have to be perfect to be perfect for somebody.

Pride is an abomination of the soul.

Free will does not exist.

Revenge, punishment and retaliation alone are evil concepts.

Love those who do you harm.

What proportion of your income do you give to charity?

You can eat and walk at the same time. It saves time.

The meaning of life is to reproduce.

If a million people flipped a coin for a pound and continued flipping it for double or nothing, the handful that became millionaires would write books explaining their strategy for wealth.

Reasons why Africa is so poor include concepts celebrated by many people such as diversity of language and religion.