Wednesday 28 February 2018

#458 The Hitchiker's Guide to Clapham - Part II

Orange juice and lemonade was the healthiest pub drink I felt comfortable ordering. A pint of tomato juice might've beaten it but I couldn't bring myself to order, or to drink, a pint of tomato juice.

Hetal sat opposite with her usual Peroni. It wasn't that I was going off lager or even trying to be healthy. Delicious as I found the amber nectar, it invariably sapped all my energy, which was exactly what would happen when I switched to it later in the evening.

Across the room, a gaggle of socialites descended upon the bar. One of them was waving a balloon bearing the number 30. A peculiar fact about adult birthday celebrations up to and including the thirtieth is that the number of years being celebrated is a remarkably unreliable indicator of individual behaviour.

A 29 year old birthday girl is only marginally less capable of falling over, losing items of clothing, getting asked to leave the premises, singing incoherently, spilling food on her clothes and waking up in Morden as a 21 year old. Fortunately the group that had entered the bar hadn't ticked any of those boxes yet although they were becoming frightfully loud and so was the music. It was time to move on.

For ten minutes we walked down the High Street. Then along a pedestrianised area. Then down another High Street. With virtually no hope of finding the Beehive and fingers that would soon be too cold to clasp glasses, we took refuge in All Bar One and found a surprisingly quiet sofa towards the rear. The new location proved an ideal place to discuss such a question as the meaning of life. I lost no time in raising it, to which my accomplice responded with a gentle reminder that I had already covered my thoughts at length in an email earlier in the week, which I had forgotten about.

With there being no other business, our meeting was concluded. I ordered a pint of Peroni, drank it and instantly became tired and useless for the remainder of the evening. Being neither below thirty nor celebrating a birthday, exploring any more of Clapham would have to wait. I followed up the Peroni with enough Diet Coke to snap myself out of the lager lull and Hetal kindly gave me a lift to the station. It was time to go home to bed.

Tuesday 27 February 2018

#457 The Hitchiker's Guide to Clapham - Part I

Clapham is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mindbogglingly big it is. I mean you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to Clapham.

Big places were fine in my book. The bigger the better. That was, until I had to try and navigate one on a Saturday night, or any other time of week for that matter.

Hetal and I had convened a meeting to discuss some important topics like the meaning of life and why I still hadn't replaced that awful frayed woollen thing I called a coat yet. I didn't know the area well so Hetal Googled "Old Man Pubs" and found two, the Falcon and the Beehive.

The English language permits a vast and wonderous array of potential pub names, almost all of which are unavailable to the English pub landlord. After grafting and sweating for years behind a set of pumps, getting barked, sworn and vomited at and working nearly every weekend for the majority of his or her short life, the landlord's one consolation, is the eventual receipt of a set of keys to a pub they can call their own. They are then strongly instructed not to do so and it gets named after some wildlife or a deceased monarch instead.

Having navigated our way to The Falcon, it became apparent that it was not the tranquil garden of Eden that its Google description had led us to envision. Filled to the rafters with burly rugby fans, all chanting and sloshing about rather chaotically, the pub had become everything we were looking to avoid and so despite the arctic weather and my sense of direction, we avoided it.

The other option, The Beehive, might have served its purpose adequately had it not been so phenomenally cold outside. To reduce our walking time, we crossed at the nearest set of lights and hurried inside the bar on the other side, Revolution.

... to be continued.

Monday 26 February 2018

#456 Jazz's Barbers

I'd been going to Jazz's ever since I first moved to East Dulwich. Between the polished chrome base of each chair and the numerous ceiling spotlights, stood a well-pressed, immaculately groomed gent, adept at shearing locks with due care and in due time.

There were other places a man could go if he saw fit to splurge on the top of his head. They were called hairdressers. If I ever longed to sacrifice an hour of my life to come out smelling of lavender, with magazine-informed knowledge of ten ways to knit my own handbag, I'd go try one.

Then there were the ultra male shops. The kind that went way over the top and thrust a Budweiser into your hand while you were in the chair, which always seemed Bizarre. Did I want to drink a beer with myself in the mirror? No, not really.

Give me ten minutes and a grade three. I never cared for conversation anyway. A good barber can tell that in two questions. A bad one will leave you delayed, man-handled and looking like a fourteen year old mowed your head for pocket money.

I'd sometimes see Jazz's guys talking to the other shop workers on Lordship. That sense of community, that buzz, was part of what brought me back to Dulwich last year. Jazz's was at home on the High Street so I felt at home there too.

Sunday 25 February 2018

#455 World Something Pointless Day

This week I'd been keeping an eye on recent Twitter trends. Following the relative success of the Heroism and Laziness post, which got retweeted twice and received over a hundred views if you believed Blogger's stats, which I didn't but still found them useful as an indicator, the little blue bird was in my good books.

On Thursday, towards the top of the list was the tag "#WorldThinkingDay". "Yesss!" I thought to myself. Finally an entire day devoted to the joys of revving one's mental engine. Vroom, vroom! I Google'd the term enthusiastically. Which just meant that I mis-spelled it and had to backtrack. Never type when you're happy.

Dammit. Apparently the day was largely celebrated by boy scouts and girl guides. I'd been a beaver at one point but had long since wiggled out of my woggle. Which was a shame because if there was a World Thinking Day then it stood to reason there must also be a thinking badge of some kind. I could have kept it and sewed it onto my jeans.

That'd settle things real quickly in office discussions and pub debates. Look! I've got my thinking badge, mate so you'd better damn well listen to me or else I'll report you to the cub scout leader, Akela. What do you mean you've never heard of her? She was the Indian Wolf character from the Jungle Book. You know, the one who watched over Mowgli but not enough to stop him running off, getting hypnotised, getting kidnapped, stealing, starting a forest fire and getting attacked by a tiger.

Maybe that's why I hadn't heard of the day before. Scout leaders named after irresponsible Disney characters didn't seem like the best role models when it came to intellectual rigour. I closed Twitter, disappointed at having discovered another "World Something Pointless Day" and resolved not to give it any more thought.

Saturday 24 February 2018

#454 The recovery of Stephen Fry

Thank heavens for Stephen Fry. Though the eccentric old comic had made clear his own thoughts on the existence, or rather non-existence, of an almighty God above, I felt relieved to see the national treasure (Fry, not God) recovering and now talking about his recent ordeal.

I knew the survival rates for prostate cancer were generally very good if it was detected quickly but it still would have terrified the hell out of the guy and his experiences wouldn't have exactly been pleasant. Fry was upbeat in his comments, reporting “as far as we know, it’s all been got.” Accordingly it seemed a nod to the divine and no less to his doctors was now in order.

I used to love watching the the smooth-talking gent in his roles in Blackadder and Jeeves and Wooster. Since then, Fry had consistently renewed his own indispensability on screen, exploring his bipolar disorder, black cabbing it across America and hosting the award-winning quiz show QI among many other achievements. I think my favourite was the America series. Fry's personality and mannerisms were so quintessentially British that it seemed hard to find another celebrity more worthy of the assignment.

With trademark humour and colourful explanations, he gave a beautiful description of the events surrounding his diagnosis and surgery on his personal blog on Friday, which I watched, enjoying it as well as feeling that familiar awkwardness one gets when someone else talks about their experience with a horrific disease. The celebrity, told viewers that the experience was "not one that he would wish on his worst enemy".

His account, an educational and sage journey through the process of identifying the cancer and subsequent treatment, would highlight to millions the importance of getting checked early, a key determinant of survival rates. For me, it was pleasing seeing Fry on screen, even if it was to recap such a dreadful ordeal. I felt sure that following his recovery, he'd be off on another adventure soon enough. Hopefully his next one would be much more pleasant.

Friday 23 February 2018

#453 Process One

The interview loomed. I'd read the articles on the company website. I'd taken the mission statement and chewed on it. The parts that tasted good were the fact that they were a techy bunch, which made them somewhat cool and interesting. They believed in humanising companies, which made them somewhat pleasant to work for. In theory. I believed them. Nobody launches a startup without believing in what they're doing.

The part I most enjoyed was defining some of the terms I encountered. The business was a Digital Transformation Consultancy. I often found that businesses didn't describe what they did as prominently and succinctly as possible but this one was ok. It became apparent relatively quickly.

What was Digital Transformation? I scooted over to Wikipedia, which defined it as the third phase of an unnamed process. "You're kidding me" I thought to myself. An unnamed process? Every process had a name. What kind of process didn't have a name? How would anyone even know what it was? At least call it "Process One" or something. I decided to call it that.

Anyway the first phase was Digitisation. That was the conversion of data from analogue to digital. Fine. The next phase was Digitalisation. Was the author winding people up? Apparently not. That was the adaption of industrial processes to the digitisation of their data. Ok, dandy. DT was the third phase. The impact on society.

The definition made me wonder whether the business might better be described as a Digitalisation Consultancy but since nobody knew how to say that, you could understand the label's redundancy. As for what they actually did, I'd find out tomorrow.

Thursday 22 February 2018

#452 Back to school

Why didn't lecture halls double up as cinemas? Few people watched films during the day, or had classes in the evening. There might need to be one or two screens reserved for those who did but generally speaking, the peak times of films and lectures were different while the rooms required were the same. I could attest to that. I'd been browsing student timetables for the note-taking role and was about to attend my first session.

I shuffled into the theatre. It had that musty smell of old wood and half-cleaned carpets. The scent that signifies a building has given worthwhile service to its occupants. And isn't just the latest product of ambition and funding, which alone serve no-one and smell of nothing.

The orator, an aged gent, bespectaled, bearded and complete with cardigan, walked up to his desk and started shuffling his slides. Over the next two hours, I would be doing what I had always done in lectures. Writing my fastest, while trying to keep it legible and capturing as much as possible. I wished myself luck.

From the slides being shuffled it was clear I'd encounter terms I didn't know, symbols I couldn't translate and topics I'd never heard of but that was half the fun. I'd have to figure out the relevant points and get them down. It wasn't my class, nor my subject but it was my pen and boy was it about to get a workout.

Wednesday 21 February 2018

#451 Heroism and laziness

"Link! Link! Wake up! Can Hyrule's destiny really depend on such a lazy boy?"

I was on the tube. Pondering the opening line of one of the 90s' greatest videogames, The Ocarina of Time. Can Hyrule's destiny depend on such a lazy boy? Can it indeed...

We quickly learn at the game's start, that Link isn't like other children. He was born without a fairy. What does that mean? It means he has no guardian. His house is sparse. He either lost, or never had, a set of parents. It's a common aspect of a hero. James Bond (also a killer 90s game). Harry Potter. Luke Skywalker. Why is this significant? It's because an orphan is unmolded. Vulnerable in some sense.

Ripping an ordinary child away from a familiar structure has consequences. The family might protest. The child might return to its family. Only a child who has no family, or has been neglected by their family, will depart on the hero's journey. Chaos is easier to face if you're already from a chaotic environment and lacking a guide as a kid is plenty chaotic.

Without a proper mentor, Link is left with his undeveloped forms of reasoning and discipline. It's no wonder he stays in bed. Nobody tells him to get up. Nobody needs him. He's a surplus being. More able to entertain approaches from outsiders. Fortunately Link is summoned by the Deku Tree, a wise and responsible senior figure. It could so easily have gone another way.

And so Link gets up. He's given a conscience of sorts in the form of Navi, the guardian's servant. Navi isn't as wise as the Deku tree. She's more of a messenger. Like some of the players who'll turn on the game, she doesn't fully understand the complexity of the events she's being asked to carry out and arguably, she doesn't need to. Her question goes unanswered for the time being as it's more entertaining but the answer, as we find out, is "Of course it can" and with good reason too.

Tuesday 20 February 2018

#450 Another attempt

Anyone following me lately would've had it up to here ~does hand gesture~ with the "beliefs" conversation. I hadn't so much over-cooked it as burnt it to charcoal. Grey charcoal dust, not those pristine premium bricks used for barbecues.

It would've definitely been time to clean out the remains and wash down the coal tray, not that I'd ever met anyone who bothered doing that, except the evening wasn't over yet. As every seasoned grill jockey knows, charcoal stays hot for hours after the flames have left the party. I'd even staggered up to bonfires the morning after and managed to get them going again by stoking them with a branch.

Why would I do such a thing? Because I hadn't actually said anything yet. I wanted to make another attempt so I wrote out some thoughts as follows:

Like the answer to any other question, Google knows best. When I Google'd "Most commonly held beliefs", the first result I received was titled "List of common misconceptions". I couldn't agree more.

To state a belief as though it applies to any situation, without then acknowledging the limitations of that belief is to hold a misconception. There may be a minority of exceptions to this.

To state a belief without appreciation of its source is equally irresponsible. I am not saying that we should stop in our tracks. It's impossible to walk through life without stepping on some insects but the more responsible a person becomes, the more they will understand their beliefs in a practical sense. The historical and psychological circumstances under which the belief and the person met, so to speak.

The atheists have the right idea. I am not an atheist but I admire their tactics. They say, "We don't want schools to stop teaching religion. Not at all. That would only make things worse. We want schools to teach every religion. Because then, once the students see that their family's beliefs are not the only beliefs in the world, they will be more tolerant. More open-minded. Less dogmatic.

Like a football commentator, who is able to think beyond his/her fanatical alliance to one team and comment objectively on the quality of the football being played and how each team and player came to be in their respective positions, the responsible believer is more inclined to see perspectives for what they are, than to get wrapped up in one.

Monday 19 February 2018

#449 Threshold thoughts

The temp job still hadn't started yet. As it turned out, the flexible hours of a university support worker were flexible both ways. The first lecture on Monday had been cancelled which now meant that it would be Monday afternoon before I got my first taste of support worker life.

The return to work would in some sense be a small step into the unknown. Beyond the boundaries of East Dulwich and the familiar commute that I kept making to city hubs to use their WiFi, was a whole world of traps, opportunities, characters and questions that hadn't even been asked yet. In theory the temp work could be a doddle. It was at the simplest end of all available forms of labour. Then again, I'd never done this particular temp work before.

During the week I'd been talking to a startup whose mission was to bring more humanity to corporate structures. The team's expertise in this area was in variants of traditional hierarchies and working methods. They were looking for staff and interns to spread awareness.

From a biological perspective, humans had been organising themselves into social hierarchies for millions of years, as had the animals that preceeded them. Even organisational hierarchies were thousands of years old and deeply embedded into our culture. From what I'd heard, neurologists had identified a serotonin-based mechanism that regulated each person's position within social hierarchies.

Maybe organisational hierarchies were different though. Perhaps they relied more on culture rather than chemistry. If that was true, then given the relative dynamism and impulsiveness of which some cultural changes were capable, there seemed some scope to play with the status quo. It seemed like a bold ambition.

I wondered what personal motivations the founders had for pursuing such a mission. If beginning a temp job was a step into unfamiliar territory, then launching a startup was a step hundreds of times greater. No doubt their reasons were strongly felt. A person needs vast quantities of reason to take one last look at normality and then put their foot to the floor, speeding their way on past the threshold.

Sunday 18 February 2018

#448 Seeking soul

My previous failure to find individuals like myself who blogged about themselves was inexcusable. I knew that now.

It wasn't that I hadn't found any. I'd just been less than impressed with what I found but the reason, which I'd kind of known all along, was that I hadn't looked hard enough.

The first time I read a blog it was by an American woman. She'd started writing when a perfect storm of circumstances had thrown her off her perch. Health. Work. Relationship. There's nothing like a few disasters to get someone creative.

I couldn't remember the name of the woman or her site but it was clear she had a following and an income. How many bloggers could say the same? A growing number but I guessed it was still one in a thousand or less.

I wanted to find more blogs like that first one I read. Blogs with a soul. Popular or hardly read. Paid or amateur. I wanted to look through someone's eyes for while and feel some wonder at what they saw. My search for blogs had resumed.

Saturday 17 February 2018

#447 Appraisal season

Reviews. I'd been thinking about this for a while. Months in fact. Nobody was going to spontaneously find my blog and start following it. Not that it was impossible. Just unlikely. I needed a reason for people to find me. What did every blogger want? Readers. How could I attract bloggers to my site? By giving them something that could help them get more readers. What could I give them? Feedback.

Last year I made a couple of exploratory journies through the blogosphere and was appalled by what I encountered. Excessive images. Poor grammar. Abandoned blogs laying strewn about cyberspace never to be read again. The world needed to do better. A set of standards was called for.

I came up with four criteria. Could they write? Was the layout clean? Were the updates regular? If images were used, were they decent? Then I made the reviews page. I decided to start small, linking three blogs that I already read and making some brief comments. It wasn't the greatest of efforts but enough to begin with.

Growing the list could take a while as I wasn't swimming in time but I'd get there. Bloggers tended to be a vain bunch and I suspected that if I reached out on Twitter, they'd be eager to share their links with me. There'd be no shortage of blogs to review.

Friday 16 February 2018

#446 An analysis of Pinocchio

In the evenings lately I'd been watching a psychological dissection of the Disney film Pinocchio, delivered as part of Jordan Peterson's Maps of Meaning module. The dissection, which was six hours long, formed three parts of a twelve part lecture series from the University of Toronto, which had been uploaded to YouTube.

The talks started by highlighting the extent to which children and adults alike had been drawn to the film over the years even though its storyline was more than far-fetched and took the characters through situations the meaning of which wasn't straight-forward to understand.

Also highlighted was the level of detail built into small sections of the film, which like all Disney movies of its time, had been finely hand-drawn scene by scene.

Second only to the story of how a young boy overcame his naivety, was the character development of his conscience, which fans might remember took the form of a small green insect. At the start of the film, Jiminy Cricket was a proud yet dogmatic and unsophisticated source of advice. However, in the course of Pinocchio's adventures, the conscience grows into a wiser, more palatable companion.

I hadn't seen a Disney film in a few years. While a part of me was tempted to look one up online, the talks had been so detailed that I felt like I'd already watched it. Plus I still had the rest of the module to watch.

The lecturer might not have been drawn by hand but his gestures were definitely animated and with the intriguing relateability of concepts that were covered, I'd found the Pinocchio lectures as entertaining as the film itself.

Thursday 15 February 2018

#445 Thoughts on Valentine's Day

I'd never had a problem with the commercial cheesiness of 14th February. Admittedly that was because I'd almost always been on my lonesome at the time but that gave me a certain perspective.

Amidst the obligations, anticipations and cynicism surrounding the world's most or least romantic occasion, depending on how it was viewed, Valentines Day also had a number of seemingly noteworthy implications.

As a singleton free from preoccupation with the day's more predictable considerations, I saw myself as ideally positioned to comment on two more unusual aspects:

1. Increased pregnancies

This year, The Independent along with several other sources had latched on to some NHS data that pointed towards a 5% increase in conceptions on 14th February. I had no idea what the ordinary variation in conception rates were from day to day throughout the year or how the NHS accurately measured it but someone seemed to think they had.

More to the point, was a 5% increase remotely interesting? Had it been 50% or 30% you could imagine the entire traditions and image of the day taking on a very different meaning but 5%? A mere ripple in an already rippled pond of reproduction. The statistic had no implications for anything or anyone.

2. Gifts for pets

This one made me laugh. Apparently 3% of animal owners gave gifts to their pets on Valentine's Day. That's so cute. And tragically sad but then it probably did people good to enhance their bonds with their bulldogs.

Yes 3% was an even lower percentage than the pregnancy statistic but the whole Valentine's Day pet gifts idea was in whole different category of novelty so it was allowed to be more bonkers and less impactful than the bonkers.

So there you go. If you haven't got anyone to reproduce with, go buy your cat a chew toy.

Happy Valentine's Day for yesterday.

Wednesday 14 February 2018

#444 Beyond belief

A recent conversation had got me thinking about what my beliefs were, if I had any. I'd tried once already to write them out with limited success.

The reason I had trouble determining what beliefs I held was that whenever I thought about one of them, the thought turned into an essay. Then I had to stop and think even harder.

Every single thought had an opposing viewpoint and none of them belonged to me. Or, if they felt like they did, they immediately seemed like a gross over-simplification of whatever they represented. Was there another way of identifying beliefs?

It could be claimed that beliefs were underpinned by behaviour but this prompts the question of whether the behaviour is consistent across situations and timeframes, which could be difficult. Unless it was claimed that beliefs were fluid but such fluid beliefs might better be described as whims, reactions or impulses.

When asked about beliefs, one of the most common responses among people would be a reference to God. Yet if each person were to try and describe what they meant by that, there'd be differences in their responses. This can be seen in two ways. Either they're describing a complicated thing from different perspectives or they're not describing the same thing at all.

Like Obi-Wan tells Luke in Return Of The Jedi, "Your're going to find many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view".

In my experience, Obi-Wan is right. When we account for our own interpretations and generalisations, it becomes harder to put a finger on what we believe.

If indeed, we believe anything at all.

Tuesday 13 February 2018

#443 Where are all the bloggers?

Six applications. It wasn't bad for a Sunday. I'd just spent the entire weekend researching and browsing jobs. Some interesting. Some not.

Since meeting with Sarah, my discipline had improved. I was still writing down any ideas I had that might be useful in some way. The thoughts fell into three categories: work, life in general and blogging. There were several things I wanted to do with Something More Weekly. Use more links. Tweet more posts. Take a better image for the title.

The camera on my phone simply wasn't up to the task. I was due an upgrade but Samsung would never let me keep my data allowance, so I would never let them replace the phone. I had an old digital camera that was marginally better than the phone cam. The only trouble was it drank battery fluid like a sponge. Two double A's lasted about three minutes.

Another idea I had was to look for other personal blogs. When I browsed through the blogosphere, all I seemed to find was food and fashion. Plus the odd really geeky niche interest blog. Where were all the regular people just going about their boring lives and writing about it every day for no obvious reason? Had they all come up with something better to do?

Monday 12 February 2018

#442 The Grand Mac

There it stood before me. The Grand Big Mac. I needed this. For the past couple of Thursdays, I'd planned on picking up lunch on the way to volunteering but had left late and not had time. It was 4:30pm so I sought out the fastest food possible.

For some reason, no-one had told me Macs were getting bigger. If I'd been an evil dictator, heads would've rolled for that one. Even Facebook hadn't bothered to tell me. What kinds of adverts could've possibly been more important?

I took the burger out of the box and had to grapple with it some. McDonald's clearly hadn't seen the new Matt Damon movie because they would've learned that while resizing solves one problem, it creates another. The structural integrity of the nation's favourite burger had been compromised. Fortunately, the regular version was still available.

Despite its clumsiness, I felt grateful for the gargantuan size of my sandwich. I estimated its weight to be in the region of a third of a pound. Maybe creeping up towards a half. We weren't anywhere near eating challenge territory but the need for ordering an extra item on top of the meal had partly diminished.

My main gripe with the fast food giant was that they'd decided to create a new Mac at all, rather than bringing back the legendary Mega Mac. For a start, the word "mega" was just cool in general. The name also served a secondary purpose of containing two letters "M"s, a subconscious nod to the brand. In some ways though, I understood why they'd elected to keep the Mega Mac in mothballs. It was a wild card. A novelty. Genius unappreciated in its own time. I might have remembered it fondly but the world probably wasn't ready for the return of the Mega Mac.

We'd have to make do with the Grand Big Mac. A burger identical to the Big Mac but a bit bigger. It was ok. And now that I'd eaten it, I was too.

Sunday 11 February 2018

#441 More thoughts on the label of laziness

I was thinking about my friend Rob's tendency to call himself lazy. I had another friend with similar tendencies, who, when he was in a bad mood, called himself useless.

Both labels seemed associated with a perceived inability to take on responsibility. What was the best way to go about addressing that? I'd come across people in the past who placed emphasis on changing the language. "You shouldn't call yourself names". That always seemed too reactive. Like reducing the heat of a curry by adding yoghurt.

A better approach would be to find what was causing the problem in the first place and address it. Granted that might be very difficult and take longer. Self-confidence wasn't exactly an easy problem to correct.

If that was too much hassle, I'd suggest a more reasoned approach. Explain why a person shouldn't call themselves names. If they were open to talking about it and if you could think of a decent enough reason. Then be prepared for a discussion. Egos don't like to be disturbed. Even by those trying to help.

The only other thought I had was that maybe responsibility could be learned like the grains of rice on a chessboard analogy. In the first week, a person might do nothing more than lift a finger. Literally. Then the next week, they might lift two fingers. Then eventually they'd be lifting the world. I had feeling it wasn't quite that easy or that certain but when feeling daunted by responsibility, I sometimes found it helpful to start with baby steps.

Saturday 10 February 2018

#440 Attributing rights

I'd spent the morning completing a bunch of training exercises for a note-taking assignment. I didn't know for sure if I'd been booked onto the assignment yet but the exercises were like a precursor to it. The current module was on disabilities.

The module began by explaining that under the Equal Rights Act (2010) disability was defined as "a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities". 

I thought about laziness and whether that could be considered a mental impairment. Then I remembered that the word laziness wasn't even recognised in the field of psychology. At best it could be seen as a symptom of an underlying condition but I didn't think any mental health professional would use the term "lazy". It was too ambiguous and had negative connotations.

What about forgetfulness? Again, it was more of an observed phenomenon than an identifiable impairment. One might forget something because they had made several conscious choices to avoid the matter at earlier points in time. Society believed in choice. It needed to because it hadn't yet worked out how to function without that belief, if that was even possible. There was also an element of luck involved. People didn't always mean to forget things but sometimes it happened. It wouldn't be practical to legislate for it.

Satisfied that laziness and forgetfulness weren't classed as disabilities under the act, I read through the rest of the module, passed the assessment and moved onto the next topic.

Friday 9 February 2018

#439 Drinks underground

The basement of St Christopher's Inn was silent. I never knew it had a basement and apparently, neither did anyone else. I couldn't even hear the crowds at the bar upstairs as I waited for our table-ordered lagers to arrive, which was good because Rob and I had some talking to do.

Like one or two others of my friends, Rob had recently come to the realisation that he hated his job and couldn't face doing it indefinitely. A bright, sensible guy from one of the country's finest grammar schools, there seemed no doubting that Rob would land on his feet, if only he had the willingness to make any kind of a jump.

To be fair to the poor guy, his current situation seemed like a massive drag. Having essentially been neglected by the only senior person in his office, with no colleagues, no imminent promotional prospects and certainly no excitement or even any real day-to-day pressure, Rob hadn't had a real reason to care about work for a while. That was my impression, anyway.

Rob wasn't sitting on his hands though, he'd made some applications since the last time we met, which I thought was pretty good progress considering he probably hadn't had to look for a job in years. We talked about the kinds of things he'd applied for and looked at his CV briefly. The plan was to stick out the current job for a while and make some more applications. It sounded sensible enough. He wasn't in any hurry.

My sense was that Rob would probably get one of the jobs he was applying for, if he made some calls, expanded his search and kept at it long enough. He'd find some colleagues who actually talked to him, a workload that actually needed real focus and the potential for some actual advancement. Probably. 

I'd keep in touch with Rob. For one thing, he was a friend anyway and for another, our small exchanges might prove useful to our searches in small or even larger ways. He'd already told me about the Birkbeck course. Maybe one of us would come up with something even more pivotal. An opportunity or a perspective that changed things dramatically. Like discovering St Christopher's Inn had a basement.

Wednesday 7 February 2018

#438 A piece of cake

There sat atop a china plate
of spotless white and bathed in light
behind the glass and to my right
as I walked down the street one night
a single piece of chocolate cake

It stood alone as did I too
The sliced confection in my view
was teasing me as cakes will do
Without a doubt, I swear it knew
My every thought, make no mistake

So helpless I could hardly move
I took a step as if to prove
the way ahead was mine to take
then took one back, for goodness sake!
It had me held, that devilishly
naughty little piece of cake

And there I stood till darker still
the night became. Against my will
my hands remained glued to the sill
It grew much colder. I felt ill
My frozen limbs began to shake

The hypothermia set in
My blood was slowing deep within
The days had passed and I was thin
I knew my fate and couldn't win
Paralysed from toe to chin
I fell and slept and did not wake

Amused, a step o'er me did take
a braver soul, who sought to make
a purchase of the piece of cake
and promptly did and ate it too
though how I haven't got a clue
Remember this, I ask of you

Throughout this world are people who
can't seem to try, or act or do
and even while it seems seems to you
their obstacles are none or few,
the things of which short work you make,
to someone else, they might not be
a piece of cake

#437 Levels of truth

Having covered the meaning of happiness in a blog post earlier this week, I recently came across the suggestion that happiness was a choice so I wanted to make some comments on that.

One interpretation could be that if any situation were given enough thought, it would be possible find a positive perspective or at least some sense in which things could be worse.

Another could be that happiness was inside a person rather than out in the real world and if a person realised that and believed it, they could discount their traditional reactions in favour of a sunnier disposition.

My own personal experience was of limited control over my emotions. At times I fancied that I had a shade of influence over other people's. I'd certainly made some fellow humans happy, sad or angry. For brief moments at least.

In a deeper sense, I didn't think that choice necessarily existed. I'd never seen any evidence of it. Or rather, there was a sense in which it did exist but it wasn't the sense in which it seemed to. If people could choose to be happy then everyone would all the time and the world would stop functioning because nobody would have any reason to do anything and nothing would matter.

That wasn't to say that I thought happiness couldn't be learned or conjured up. it probably could be. Just not by everyone. My impression was that like most other commodities in the world, happiness was unevenly distributed. Throughout lives and between them.

Tuesday 6 February 2018

#436 Unexploited space

The waiting room on platform three at Peckham Rye Station was, without a doubt, a collosal waste of space. I'd been examining the children's drawings from a nearby primary school that hung on the wall because the rail company couldn't afford proper artwork. They were ok. They couldn't rescue the room though. The room was pointless. That much was clear.

I went over my argument. All around the country, there were hundreds and hundreds of stations that simply didn't have a waiting room so it was obviously possible to run a station without one. It wasn't as though fewer people would use a station if there was no waiting room. They'd simply wait outside. They wouldn't perish. They'd be wearing clothes. That's what clothes were for.

It might make sense if there were no other use for the room but it was easily large enough to rent as an office. The only way to access it was via the ticket barriers. This meant that the station master would have to print off a season ticket to the nearest station and give it to the office user but that hardly seemed like an impossibility.

Still three minutes to go until my train arrived. I turned back to the drawings. Mia, 8, had "designed" a chair with a special helmet that could give you any hairstyle. Joe, also 8, had drawn a machine that could make you any drink. I realised I must have forgotten how astonishingly limiting it must have felt to be a child.

Any adult would appreciate the pointlessness of investing heavily in technology just to replicate the function of a hairdresser or bartender. Yet the rail operators failed to appreciate the pointlessness of their waiting rooms. In this at least, they were hardly any smarter than the young children whose work adorned their walls.

Monday 5 February 2018

#435 Mangled meanings

When I told Hetal that Friday's appointment had gone well, she said that made her happy. Happy. It seemed really bizarre to me. Happiness, according to my personal definition of the word, was something I felt roughly once or twice a quarter, for fleeting moments. It might have been slightly more than that lately but the idea that it could happen just by hearing someone say something was almost unthinkable.

It wasn't that I didn't believer her. Was it possible that I was unusually precious with the word "happy"? Yes, maybe. For some clarity on the matter, I consulted my soulmate, who reminded me that happiness was an ambiguous concept. Used to describe a multitude of feelings and observations. The same person might overuse and under use the word, even a minute of conversation.

She continued, "There are no limits for intangible concepts, so nobody can measure where happiness starts or ends and who would dare to establish such limits?" I realised how foolish I'd been. I often took very specific experiences and tried to compare them to other very different experiences simply because the same word was used to describe them. 

I ran into this problem fairly frequently. My landlord would often ask if I was up to anything exciting at the weekend for instance. It would befuddle me a bit. I couldn't recall having been up to anything exciting in months. Come to think of it, that probably due to my lack of social life rather differences of interpretation. Then there was the matter of people having different moods, which exacerbated the matter.

I decided to watch my language even more carefully in future. I didn't want to express feelings unless I actually felt them. Saying I was pleased to meet people or glad when good things happen to them. Instead, I would search my soul and if I couldn't come up with any real feelings, I'd make a more general observation instead such as "that seems like a good thing". 

One day there would be an app to translate from English to English, detecting and explaining the subtleties of word usage between people. Until then, I'd just have to muddle through and watch people really carefully whenever they said anything, then pause for several seconds before replying. So no change from usual then.

Sunday 4 February 2018

#434 Time bandits

For about a week I'd been pushed for time in the evenings. It was daft. I tended to think of myself as the Guinness World Record holder for the person with the most free time on the planet, yet here I was, struggling to get everything done. What on earth was happening?

I wasn't sure. I'd get home. Eat. Watch something. Check emails. Write a blog post and then all of a sudden it was after eleven. It was as though tiny pixies were sneaking into the clocks and mischievously tinkering with all the... things inside the different devices that determined what time they showed although I'd have noticed the pixies unscrewing the back of the laptop and was it even possible to alter a system clock with nothing but a pixie wand?

I had no idea what to do about it either. Not a damn clue. I had to check emails. I had to blog. I wasn't willing to sacrifice watching something because I was in the middle of a free psychology lecture series and was really enjoying it. I definitely wasn't going to stop eating.

I'd been working so hard on my sleep patterns this year and was doing really well at it too. The regularity with which I'd been reading and sleeping and waking had been running like a well-oiled Toyota but this mysterious overcrowding of my evening schedule was threatening to tear down all of it. I needed something. A new rule. A solid golden rule that I'd recognise and stick to.

I decided to try front-loading the blogging and emailing. Those were the critical tasks. After that, if I only had a short time for entertainment, that would have to be the thing that got cut. It would be annoying because after eating all I usually wanted to do was lounge about but I was already annoyed. It didn't feel like a golden rule but maybe it just needed some practice. Either way, it was the only solution I could think of.

Saturday 3 February 2018

#433 An unexpected phonecall

When I received a call from St. Bart's hospital on Tuesday morning, my first thought was that someone I knew had suffered an accident. Before I could start hoping it was anyone in particular, the doctor started talking about my mitral valve, which was strange because I'd had it checked last year.

I mean I hadn't actually bothered to call back and get the results because y'know, your heart's one of those things where it's either more or less fine or you're going to be more or less devastated and I'm not sure I'd ever want to know if it was the latter. That said, if someone really does have a serious problem they'll find a way to get to you. It's not like skipping a phone call would make a difference, those guys'll get to your office or your house and wait for you and since they hadn't, that seemed like a good enough sign that I was more or less fine. Which of course, I was.

The reason for the phone call was that they were running a study on people with leaky valves and would I like to participate? I wanted to know more about it so they sent through an information pack, which I read and which scared me a little bit because thinking about anything vaguely medical always sets me on edge. Anyway so the tests were all non-invasive so I agreed to the study and went along to the hospital this afternoon.

I'd had echocardiograms before. They're fairly boring since it just involves lying still for half an hour although if you've never seen your heart on a monitor before it's kind of cool because it's very animated. They can perform all sorts of analysis on the images too. Here's a video showing what it looks like. The audio sounds like someone playing a wobble board in a hurricane.

After the doctor had finished up, she thanked me for participating in the study. She'd confirmed that my leak was still really minor and that I didn't need to get it checked for another five years unless symptoms appeared. It was good to hear.

I wondered if the thirty-eight year old me would be any braver. I doubted it. It would probably be fine then too anyway, these things usually deteriorated at a glacial pace and some never did but it was always there in the back of my mind. Don't give me those results unless they're good news, I don't want to know. I'd rather ignore the whole thing until I keel over completely by surprise. That seems way preferable to knowing about it beforehand.

Friday 2 February 2018

#432 A scheduled departure

I met Sarah four months ago on a dark Friday night in Clapham. Her warmth, positivity and competence gave me faith in her ability to get the best out of the people she worked with. I decided to entrust her with the task of mentoring me in my search for a new direction.

Participating in the initial exploratory exercises that Sarah proposed was both fun and frustrating. Fun because I was dedicating time to figuring out the sorts of things I liked. Frustrating because I already had some idea what those things were and at this stage, I wasn't yet getting any closer to figuring out their commercial utility.

During the course of my sessions with Sarah, life in the outside world moved on like it always does. My housemates at the time had been becoming more noisy for a while and it had reached a point where my lack of sleep was compromising my ability to complete the exercises or do much else for that matter.

I spent November in an exhausted, irritable state and almost every day of that month was dedicated to looking for flat shares, arranging viewings and meeting occupants. In early December, I found a small room in East Dulwich. To make the move fast and simple, I spent a week selling many of my possessions and giving away others.

At the time of the house hunt, I had been getting more concerned about my finances, which were plentiful but diminishing. I therefore decided that once I'd moved, I would pick up some temp work. I'd been volunteering in a marketing team at a small charity for about a month by that point and it occurred to me that it might be possible to do something like that on a paid basis.

Over Christmas, I brought my focus back to the second phase of exercises that Sarah had set. I took some tests and built up a detailed picture of the sixty qualities that I'd personally like to find in my ideal occupation. I represented the qualities in the form of images, each with a narrative, collectively organised into a diagram. I think it might have been sixty-one qualities, actually.

In January, I set out to assess the likelihood of being able to use an agency to find work similar to what I was doing for the charity. I carried out thorough research on the recruitment landscape across the thirty-seven agencies that I'd identified as ones that potentially dealt with the type of job I had in mind, out of a starting list of approximately eighty. I met with some and it became clear that the type of job I wanted did indeed exist but that it was fairly rare and might still take months to secure.

In mid-January, I turned my attention towards other roles, browsing the pages of agencies who already had my CV. I found a job taking university lecture notes for disabled students, which seemed fun. At the end of January, my application for the note-taker job was pretty much there, they were just checking my references. I'd progressed through the first two of Sarah's five phases of exercises and was just starting out on the third.

A part of me would have liked to continue with the exercises, however my intention had been to see Sarah for no longer than three months. It had become four because I'd spent November moving. I felt good about starting the note-taking job and was looking forward to restoring my cash flow while I continued to research other areas of interest.

During our last meeting, I agreed to send Sarah a plan, together with some thoughts on what I could do if I ever felt directionless again. I asked if I could resume the sessions at a later date if I wanted to. She said that would be OK. I wasn't sure what the demand was like for services like hers. From my own search, it seemed like a competitive field.

Then again I'd spoken to two friends who were considering career shifts in the last week alone. There was no shortage of people who were thinking of changing jobs but weren't exactly sure what to do next. I'd enjoyed discovering what areas interested me most and getting used to thinking more systematically about how to get into them. If my friends needed assistance, I'd know where to send them.

Thursday 1 February 2018

#431 Changing routines

Writing in the morning was harder. Not because my days were filled with monsterous excitement but just because I hadn't fully experienced them yet. The thoughts hadn't had time to swirl around the head and become potential candidates for blog posts. My brain hadn't woken up yet.

There I sat though. Tapping away at my phone on the train. I was trying to free up more time in the evening for other things. My routine of cooking, blogging, watching Star Trek Enterprise, emailing Hetal and reading was ideal except it left no time for anything work-related.

The call to productivity wasn't deafening but it would be once I started working again. I'd have to find time during evenings and weekends to supplement my toil with knowledge, networking and strategy.

A tad ambitious perhaps. Perhaps. I'd never before been eager to sacrifice leisure time for, well, anything. I also had no idea how I'd feel once I actually started working. Drained, probably. I figured I might as well put the routines in place though. If nothing else, at least I'd have more time in the evenings for Star Trek.