Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Occult desserts

My buddy Justin's nostalgic blog post about Ice Magic brought back some childhood memories. Specifically, my Dad refusing to buy dessert toppings with the word 'magic' in the title, because of the occult connotations.

I could make stuff up about my childhood but the truth is way more amusing.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

More ugly rabbits, now with added velour

Again, I really do not know who would buy these. Green velour bunnies. Who? Would? Buy? These?

Alternatively, if now you've seen them you want to buy them, then go to Paperchase.

Friday, March 26, 2010

If you want the absolutely definitive definition of the word "fugly"

Then check out this Easter decoration I saw last night in Home Sense in Cardiff.

Yes, that's right a three foot high metallic purple rabbit giving you the evil eyes. Eeeeeeevil!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Summarising my career change of direction in just one picture

I've said before that I've been shredding six years' worth of notes. I've also put out reams of paper for recycling. Ultimately more of what I've done will end up being pulped than read, I'm sure.

Here's the proof:

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A warm welcome to Jon the freelance theologian

A couple of weeks ago I went up to UCB Radio in Stoke to chat live in the studio (to this guy) and record some other stuff. I was very impressed with the set up there as the studios were excellent. I had low expectations as it was a Christian place, so in a good way I was confounded.

One nice touch was the personalised welcoming sign when I arrived. I walked up to the reception desk and said "Hello I'm... oooh, that's me." And then I felt like an idiot.

Here's the sign:

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Ubiquity kills the sense of you, Florence

I just can’t seem to be able to escape from Florence and the Machine these days, espcially since their album won the Brit Award. Last night they sang ‘Dog Days are Over’ on Alan Carr’s Chatty Man. It was nice to actually hear them perform. Because almost every other time I hear them it’s on an ad.

Before I even knew who they were ‘A Kiss with a Fist’ was selling iPods. Then they seemed to take off ad-wise. Over Christmas ‘Dog Days’ was used on Channel 4’s many trails for the premiere of Slumdog Millionaire. ‘You’ve Got the Love’ was used to promote two TV shows, one of them being a dance contest thing on Sky. Now Sky are using the same song to promote, well, just Sky TV full stop. (Other people have noticed this too.) I even heard an instrumental version of YGTL as a backing track on a goals sequence on a football show recently.

Meanwhile the "Brit Awards single" (WHAT?) ‘You’ve Got the Dirtee Love’ by Dizzee Rascal, which mashes up the song with some rapping is never off Radio 1.

So the Machine has gone into overdrive. It’s great that a band with such a unique sound has become so universal. (And yeah I know it's the record company selling the rights, it's not the band engaging in naughty commercialism...) But, I have a big question: when are we going to hear some new songs?

There’s a risk that soon the songs we’ve got will be ‘over-heard’ and we’ll all be bored.

What then?

(Oooh, apparently there's a 'deluxe edition' 2-CD version of Lungs out. Hmmm.)

Friday, March 19, 2010

Breaking out of the Birkman box

I have been sorting out my files at work, shredding confidential stuff like the original interview notes from all the interviews that I’ve done over the years. I have a blue recycling bag with the equivalent of about four to five reams of paper stacked in it. In a way it’s profound – my career reduced to recycling. (I made someone mist up when I said that today. Oops.) 

 However, I also went through my personal file, shredding all my staff reviews and old holiday forms and stuff. It was interesting to rediscover documents relating to the previous massive restructuring, with details of the ‘new structure’. Now it’s all fallen over just two years later, the letter I wrote in protest at the changes seemed almost prescient. But I shredded it, so you’ll have to take my word on that. 

 I also shredded my Birkman profile. Birkman has been the bane of many people’s existence in my workplace. The previous CEO believed in it with the kind of passion people usually reserve for veganism or voodoo. 

Apparently Birkman was the sum of all wisdom and defined you in elemental terms. I always had my doubts about that. True there were some helpful things I learned from it, as I’ve learned from all such pop-psych exercises. 

I learned, for example, that when I’m stressed I will exhibit pessimistic, critical behaviour and will want to ‘break social conventions’ (which I presume in a Christian organisation means calling someone who’s being an f-wit an f-wit instead of smiling and giving them the more Christian benefit of the doubt). 

It also noted that I am ‘selectively sociable’, i.e. I only seek out the opinions of a few people who I respect and whose opinions I value. And that has been pretty true, although since having it pointed out to me I have tried to seek out opinions from a wider circle of people. This helps me to make sure I don’t just go to the people who are going to say what I want to hear. 

But what I really hated about Birkman is the way it became an excuse in our organisation, particularly by colour-coding people according to their preferred working styles. 

I’m not disputing the definitions. My ‘blue’ profile is correct – I like to know why; I like strategising; I enjoy being left to self-prioritise my work; I hate micro-management; I thrive when I can ask questions; I like to be asked my opinion. 

The problem is when other people – particularly those marked ‘red’; the “action” people – use their Birkman profile to justify behaving a certain way. ‘I’m red. I like things done now. I don’t want you to raise questions. I just want you to do it. And do it the way I tell you, not a better way.’ 

What I’ve noticed is that a Birkman ‘blue’, such as myself, will look at their profile and a ‘red’s’ profile and say ‘Oh, they’re red. I’d better modify the way I work to enable us to work better together.’ But generally (and note this is generally) a ‘red’ will look at their profile and say ‘This is how people had better act if they want me to respond’, but then never think to modify their behaviour to benefit their co-workers who have been colour-coded differently. 

Now you can call that whatever you want: leadership, clarity of focus, goal-focussed, or whatever. But ultimately it can become just a way of justifying ignorant bullying. ‘I want it my way and screw you and your needs’ would be another way of describing it. 

And that was the weakness of Birkman, as far as I could see. It didn’t actually deal with defective and unhelpful personality traits. It just quantified them and in the process justified them. So, if you wanted to behave like an utter cock, then you could, because that’s how your Birkman profile said you would behave. And who are you to go against the mighty pseudoscience that is Birkman? 

So, shredding my Birkman profile today was cathartic. Hurrah. The labelling menace that is the coloured boxes will no longer dominate my destiny. 

Mind you, I can be as guilty of mis-using Birkman as anyone. In terms of working preferences I have a very low “outdoor” score. That’s why I don’t bother drawing the curtains if I’m first into the office and have never wanted a seat next to window. I’d be happy in a bunker, or at least happier than most. 

It’s also probably why I hate gardening and camping and can’t really be bothered with long walks in the country. So, if you ever wondered why my garden is over-run with Triffids, now you know. It’s all in my Birkman profile.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Limbo like totally sucks

Last week I spent most of the week working freelance in another office. I was set an interesting challenge: write a newspaper in just three days and if I had any time left over proofread some 'How to' guides that were being put together for the same International Forum that the newspaper is needed for.

This week I'm back in my regular office, where in the past month:
  • 30+ people have been made redundant and told they will be leaving at the end of April (I'm one of them, although I opted for the voluntary redundancy package)
  • It's been revealed that this has been on the cards since July last year
  • Senior managers keep saying things like how they want to remain on good terms with everyone and make sure that events unfold in a spirit of Christian kindness (whatever), but then get arsey when anyone raises questions about their projections
  • The people who are left are slowly beginning to panic about how things are going to work in the new structure
  • Faith and confidence in the people at the top has been eroded to virtually nothing
  • There are rumours that senior people have opted to quit than try to make the new structure work
  • Rumours have just started the organisation is being audited this week ahead of a pending takeover by someone else (with no idea who that would be) [NB - I think this is just people making up rubbish, but who's to say]
Of the two offices guess where I enjoyed working most. Go on, guess!

So, anyways, on Monday we get to find out what the new structure will look like. Basically a zillion managers and no one to do any actual work, judging on who is leaving. There is a big emphasis on out-sourcing, so my entire team has been keelhauled. I give it a month before someone up top thinks 'Oh, shit, I've just realised how much they used to do...'

In one sense this situation works for me, because I wanted to leave. But truthfully I didn't want to go like this. Who would? There is a level of rancour and distrust building up and things are only going to get worse. The 'official' consultation period only starts on Monday. We have another 30 days of putting on brave Christian faces and swallowing cursewords in the presence of people who raise hackles or bile.

Inside, I've disinvested. I spent most of today shredding six years' worth of notes. I'm gone mentally already. I am counting the days until I go physically.

I don't want to get bitter. But already the defensiveness of senior managers and the fact that most of the workforce have been kept so much in the dark for so long about such severe cuts are beginning to get to me. Hence this blog post. I feel I have to say something. And maybe if you read this you'll get how I'm feeling and you won't have to ask me. We can talk about football, or the weather, or Nintendo Wii games, or anything really.

Of course, some people reading this might get mightily stroppy about it. The sage advice from my head of department was "Don't burn any bridges you may want to walk across later." Hmm. Well, I haven't said anything people who know me don't know about. And if you don't know me, I haven't told you where I work.

There have been three occasions when I have very nearly just walked out on this job. Each time I relented and gradually the feelings have ebbed. But this time I have this feeling when I leave it will be with a sense of relief not regret. And I won't look back. My departure will be final.

I never wanted to leave in bad blood but sometimes other people make life bloody.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Cardiff Devils v Nottingham Panthers

I went with Matt (and Matt's kids) to see my fourth Ice Hockey match of the season last night. Weirdly that means I've seen more hockey games this year than live football matches. although as Matt pointed out that's only because I live close to the hockey and not close to my football team.

Anyway, I thought I'd share a couple of pics of the Devils (in white) in the process of beating title pretenders the Panthers (in red/black) 3-0 on the night. The third goal was hilarious, as the Panthers had taken their netminder off in the final minute to gain an attacking advantage with an extra forward player. The puck broke to one of the Devils guys who pinged it the length of the rink, scoring the strangest goal I've yet seen in hockey.

I was thinking of titling this post 'At the lonely end of the rink' as homage to the Tragically Hip, who are probably the only band to consistently reference Ice Hockey in their songs. But then I figured no one would get the reference, so didn't bother.
FTR: This season I've seen a pre-season warm-up game against Coventry which ended in a draw, two games against Belfast Giants, and this comprehensive victory.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Things that make me feel sad / angry (sangry?)

A couple of nights ago I was driving home and as I turned onto the Taff Embankment my car headlights shone very briefly into an alleyway, lighting up the heavily made-up face and bleached blonde hair of a prostitute.

You do occasionally see working girls down my end of town, if you know in which dark corners to look. And when I see them I feel both sad and angry. Sad that there is a trade in sex and people are exploited. Angry that there are some people out there willing to use another human being for their own gratification.

I'm beginning to term the feeling as 'sangry'.

I felt sangry when I found out that Royal Bank of Scotland, who you may remember are one of the bunch of banking bastards who helped precipitate the current financial crisis and are now publicly owned, loaned Kraft 7 billion pounds so Kraft could buy Cadbury's. So, basically British taxpayers own a bank that gave an American firm the money they needed to buy a British firm that will eventually result in job losses among the very tax payers who own the bank.

I feel sad because such roundabout deals seem impossible to stop. I feel angry because there is just something about that that is wrong and part of me feels like it will never end unless we take it to the freakin' streets and start smashing windows in the name of justice.