Thursday, June 24, 2010


Monday to Wednesday, I was in Manchester, on a course that I enjoyed thoroughly - fellow participants exceeding my expectations around humour, deep thinking, and scope for creating intrigue.

Monday morning, during a break, I am walking down a wide looping staircase with a fellow participant, The Dane. She is 30ish, she is tidily casual, and we've already spoken of various cultural interests.

The Dane has mentioned that she 'manages a small design team'. With this, I hear urban. I hear urbane. I hear cutting edge. I hear technology. I hear city centre. I hear cosmpolitan. I hear Frappuccino. Descending the stairs, The Swede makes a remark about being very hard-pressed, financially.

Shane: What did you say you did?

Dane: I manage a small design team.

Shane: But, minimum wage?

Dane: Well, less than, actually.

Shane: How?

Dane: Well, the thing is, we're trying to run it in an ethical manner.

Shane: (Here, there is much to unpack - much that we don't have time to unpack. I sense that The Dane knows that whatever is being referred to as 'ethical manner' is unsustainable.) Mm.

Dane: (sighs) Mm.

Shane: Y' know, maybe what you need to do, is abandon the whole ethical approach - unethical is the new ethical, kind of thing. Then you'll be fine!

Dane: (frowns, looks me over - a bit puzzled)

Shane: Ah! Don't worry. Free consultation. I'm just here to help.

Swede: (briefly puzzles) (smiles)

I move on, confident that I have much to contribute over the next few days.

Saturday, June 19, 2010


I receive a copy of The Yacoubian Building (Alaa Al Aswany), from a most unexpected source.

This pleases me and is a part-fix to yesterday's foul mood.

Today, I will avoid all television, radio and news print. The fall-out from England's 0-0 draw with Algeria - neither the end of the world, nor the end of the World Cup - will be unnecessarily brutal.

Today is also a day for hosting the parents, and for walking by water.

Friday, June 18, 2010


I had a great day, yesterday. It was an early start, that took me to the mac, in Birmingham, then a drive up the M6 to a school, for some head-on talk with a headteacher and two of her colleagues.

Throughout the day, I spoke with several people who I find - found - interesting. These outshone the couple of drones who I had to endure. These earlier folk - their ways of thinking and talking, were the essence of the great day.

During one early conversation, with Kay, a former colleague who'd worked on a difficult project with me, a few years ago, I enquired as to how she and her sidekick, Leon, were.

Kay: Well, you did know that we were partners - we lived together - you knew that?

Shane: (it had never been spoken out loud, but still) Yeah.

Kay: (straight-forwardly) Well we're not together any more.

Shane: Ah. And how are you?

Kay: It's been difficult. He was the love of my life, really.

Shane: (admiring the candour) And do you know how Leon is?

Kay: Oh, Leon will always be Leon. He'll work out who he is, eventually.

Shane: (oh lordy and gulpy gulpersome) What does that mean?

Kay: I think he looked up to me, a bit too much. He looked to me to tell him what to do, how to be. He's attractive, intelligent, he's good at what he does, but I don't think he understands that.

Shane: (some of this pricks me into reflecting) (a quiet sigh) How long had you been together?

Kay: Twelve years.

Shane: That's an amount of time.

Kay: It is.

And we talk on for a short while, easy enough, and move on to covering why we are where we are - the work stuff.

During the drive out of Birmingham, some of Kay's comments echo over the top of Radio 4. I find myself wondering - but not so much wondering as perhaps grimly knowing - how one particular old flame would have spoken of me, to those in her post-Shane life. Mentally, I wince - the past is the past, some things change, some things don't.

Later, as my working day draws to a close, I'm gathering papers and a notebook, at which point I am lauded with a grand, public gesture of thanks - for work that I'd taken for granted as par for the course that I play, and for (in my view) being in no way better than that work that I've done for others recently. The gesture is pleasing, though it raises feelings of bashfulness.

Driving home, I think back to Kay, and to Leon, and to where they've been, and where they are now. With this, I'm thinking about myself, and I'm wondering about where I've been, and where I find myself. And I sleep.

Today, I had another early start. At the point of departing this morning's meeting, a colleague says, 'I want to get you something' - a statement which I query. As I begin to wonder whether there's been something in the air or the water around these parts, she explains - unprompted by any personal knowledge of me - that she feels that I deserve some reward, and bluntly adds, 'Tell me what you want, and I'll get it'. It's an entirely straight-forward point - no subtext, no subconscious anything. I feign dismissiveness, say that I look forward to seeing her and colleagues again, and I move on. There is much that I could have said that I wanted.

Today should have felt better than it does. Today is my birthday. I reckon that in a week or so, I'll work out what I wanted. I'm reminded of Leon and I know that I'm being a self-defeating idiot.

Monday, June 07, 2010


We've been back in blighty for a week, having spent a few days at the festival in Hay-on-Wye. The week of down-time left space for several longish local walks - woodland, meadows, canal - all with Alex several counties away (he returned well, he returned happy, he returned yesterday). The following notes are late reflections on what I - we - sat in on (and missed), whilst in Hay.

Henning Mankell (Saturday 29 May, morning): cancelled. Explained here (Mankell was aboard one of the flotilla boats that sought to break the blockade of Gaza).

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Ruth Rogers, in conversation with Jim Naughtie (Saturday 29 May, early afternoon): The River Cottage and River Cafe chefs and food writers spoke in memory of Rose Gray (co-founder of the River Cafe). Whilst Rogers extolled the virtues of Italy and its sun-drenched produce, Hugh F-W's bent was differently located. Throughout, there was a quiet distinction in that the ethics and politics of food were much more to the fore in F-W's general message. Key word: sustainability. Jim Naughtie left enough space for the foodies to speak for themselves, and was a beacon of how best to facilitate engaging and occasionally challenging discussion.

Small Space (by Jane Nash and Dan Milne) (Saturday 29 May, early evening): We met by the town's clock tower. And were then guided towards this piece of theatre - a one hour two-hander, performed in the kitchen-diner of a nearby cottage, to a sell-out audience of 20. Themes of intimacy and honesty were charted through the fragmented story of a couple's meeting, marriage, and learning to live with one another. It's rare that theatre gets to be so intimate that you really are looking into the whites of the actors' eyes, and they your's, but more importantly - it's rare that theatre is so tightly written and sharply executed. A great production, that made me want to return to New York, stand up from my uncomfortably high stool and applaud loudly, then quickly push on with my own writing pursuits.

Richard Layard, Geoff Mulgan and Anthony Seldon discussing the Movement for Happiness (Sunday 30 May, early evening): We attended this for a mix of professional and personal interest reasons - as if those things could so easily be separated. It was reference to what this movement's aims might yield - in terms of an approach to education - that drew us in. In short, the movement - as it is being referred to - seeks to provoke people into thinking and acting their way into living in both more personally fulfilling, and socially conscientious ways. Discussion of this raised enormous questions regarding the political, economic and psychological affiliates to what initially sound like radical changes to how we live - or rather why we live how we live. Many questions were discussed, rather than answered - and herein lies the central challenge to the happiness movers (and to many other fantastically worthwhile and creative intellectual endeavours). Translating big thinking into coherent, digestible, points for practicable action is not always so straight forward - although Seldon did articulate a 5-point list that I didn't make a note of. We'll be watching and listening and making some contribution to the furtherance of ideas that were presented, as we work on through 2010 and beyond.

One more point on the above session: Rosie Boycott, entirely open in her manner and (stand-in) chairing of this discussion, made interjections which seemed to naively lay bare the kinds of personal dissonance and social discord that will occur when a critical mass of individuals pursue lifestyles that are largely, if not entirely, self-serving. In suggesting that our domestic economy and broad social behaviour would become 'just a little boring' were they to more closely resemble those of, say, Denmark, the example of the individual chasing down 'some hot-shit media job' and all of the prizes that go with that (read personal wealth, reward, and an enhanced sense of self... self self), Boycott provoked a murmur of disapproval and a more glaring sense of cultural disunity within the room. Anthony Seldon seemed to observe that it was exactly such a profoundly self-oriented caricature (as was perhaps chairing the discussion) that was anathema to what the Movement for Happiness sought to inspire. Whilst not righting off personal ambition, the suggestion was that this might be most socially progressive were it wedded to (what I read as) an Adlerian sense of gemeinschaftsgefuhl - simply put, a sense of community, or social interest. That said, perhaps the entirely self-oriented individual will read their own progress as absolutely a matter of broad social interest. And so it goes.

Audrey Niffenegger in conversation with Lisa Allardice (Monday 31 May, morning): The author of The Time Traveller's Wife, and Her Fearful Symmetry, proved to be an elegant, engaging, and wry discussant of her motivations, passions and working practices. This was most in evidence as the hour-long session was opened up to questions from the floor. For the 25 minutes up to this point, I was reminded of how good an interviewer Jim Naughtie had been on Saturday afternoon. Whilst Allardice' editorship of the Guardian Review is no doubt high office, it probably demands a different set of qualities than does the task of being a stimulating literary interrogator. At times, Niffenegger appeared justifiably bored by the fawningly fannish initial questioning.

And that, was that.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010


Jim (cat) has gone missing.

Whilst being a cat of distinction, a man-cat of routine and strict habit, I like to think of Jim as my OneTrueColleague.

This morning, I felt some degree of empathy towards those people who distribute 'lost cat' posters.

Alex is with his Dad, and their extended family. This is his longest break from us, ever (Day 5, of 9 days). Come Sunday, I'd rather he be returning to the household as was, rather than as was minus cat.

We shall see.



Jim-Cat Is Returned!...

Quite unscathed, not saying a word about where he's been, unwilling to meet my eye.

I think he may have found himself a woman*.

* Old, living alone, a generous feeder - my archetypal nemesis figure.