Monthly Archives: October 2009

>Fashion Failings

>I used to check out other girl’s shoes.

I’m not an overly girly type of girl and I never know what to wear. I mostly dress like I’m a six-year-old boy. So I look at what other girls are wearing to see if I might want to adopt any of it. I usually don’t. Fashion gives me hives.

These days I don’t bother checking out what other girls are wearing. So I dress like I’m six. I’m okay with that.  I’m sure everyone else is okay with that. Why would I want to wear a pair of Uggs with leggings and something that could either pass as a shirt or a dress anyway?  Not my lack of style, babies.

My new habit is much more nerdtastic: I now check out other people’s gadgets.

I almost wish that was a euphemism for something more interesting, but it isn’t.  I check out people’s phones and laptops and cameras. I sometimes feel superior. Sometimes I feel envious. In that way, it is a lot like checking out other people’s outfits.

Every month I wonder where my money goes. I certainly shop a lot less than other girls. But I’m beginning to realise that the new external drive and Windows 7 I’m scoping out this week are much more expensive than a couple of shirts at Primark.

Little work joys

>A few of you know that I’m working at a new company.  They are Headshift*, and so far I dig them supreme. It is a new way of working for me (from using a Mac to putting everything on an internal wiki) and everyone here is really cool.

I know. I said that about the last place. And the place before that. The one before that was balls to start and stayed balls to the end… but the two before this one were pretty good (until they weren’t). So I’m wary of the honeymoon stage.  But so far this one is a good ‘un.  I’m allowed to Twitter at work. On all three accounts (my main one, my work one, and Miller‘s). There’s a lot to learn (I’m even learning coding) and a lot to do. So it’s all good.

But here is a small bit of working joy that made me happy.

When I applied for the role I read through their website. In my cover letter to the company I very cheekily pointed out that they had spelled “campaign” incorrectly on one of the pages. I thought this was an extremely clever way of illustrating that I really had checked out the website as well as my amazing attention to details. Turns out my attention to details is made of fail: I forgot to attach my CV to my email. (S’okay, they hired me anyway.)

Now, in most companies (or at least “most companies that I’ve worked for”), it would take forever to get something like that changed on the website. Multiple departments would be consulted. There would probably be a meeting to discuss it. We’d probably have to hire someone to consult… something.

Know how hard it was to get that spelling mistake fixed here?

I logged in and fixed it.

I didn’t have to ask anyone. I didn’t have to dick around in anyway. I just had to log in and correct a spelling mistake. And while I was at it, I fixed a link. If you clicked on my name on the people page, it linked to Jon’s profile. I’m not Jon! So I just changed it and now it links to me. And then I smiled.

Everything at work should be this easy.

*I feel a disclaimer is necessary here. Just because I work for them and I’m linking to their site, Headshift in NO way endorse Captain Turbotastic’s work, opinions or habitual use of the word “fucktard”. Seriously. Would you?

>I don’t want clever conversation…

>Brendan was here last weekend to visit and watch Ricky Gervais with me in Oxford.  Something happened on Sunday that accurately summarises our entire relationship. If you have ever had the dubious pleasure of hanging out with Brendan and I at the same time, you’ll understand this. If you haven’t had the pleasure… well, this is us:

We were walking from The Telegraph to The Green Man (both pubs, for those not in the know). Brendan was sick and sniffling. I was mildly sympathetic. We decided that we’d have just a half pint at The Green Man and then head home to watch a movie or something.

I turned to Brendan at this point and said, “You know, this is what I imagine being married to you would be like.”

He asked what I meant and I said, “Deciding at dinner time to have half a pint of ale at the local and then go home to fall asleep in front of the telly.”

“What would be wrong with that?” he asked and began to sing Billy Joel’s “Just the Way You Are”.

The exchange, taken on it’s own, might seem sort of sweet. But because it is Brendan and I, it dissolved into an argument about who Joel wrote the song for (Brendan thought it was for Christie Brinkley and I said it was for his first wife) and in the end we had to look it up to find out who was right. (It was for his first wife but her name was Elizabeth, not Linda).

Yup. B and I. In a freaking nutshell. From the beer to the thinly veiled insult to the singing to the argument (that I, of course, won). All we needed was Brendan to make a ridiculous pun and for me to tell him off for it.

Don’t imagine you’re too familiar
And I don’t see you anymore
I wouldn’t leave you in times of trouble
We never could have come this far
I took the good times, I’ll take the bad times
I’ll take you just the way you are 

Thanks for coming to London, Brendan. As always, it was the bestest thing ever to see you.

>Commuting

>It’s no news that I hate commuting. I realise now just how lucky I’ve been in the past when it has come to the whole commuting… thing.

In Vancouver, I lived just a seven minute walk to the office (nine on the way back, it was uphill home).  In Korea, the furthest I lived from the school was at most a ten minute walk (and I eventually moved even closer – it took longer to take the elevator up six stories than it did for me to walk to the school).  Even in London, although I have had to go through commuting hell a few times, I’ve also been lucky enough to live within walking distance to work twice now (helps that I’ve moved five times and changed jobs four times).

I’m hard pressed to say what the worst commute was.  From Blackheath (Greenwich) to Fulham was not fun. Hackney to Richmond was not fun. The Late Bus of Evilness was not fun (especially once school was back in session).

My current commute is middling to fair. I can take the dreaded District Line (why does it crawl along like that!) from Southfields to Tower Hill. At least there are no changes. Or I can take the overground from Earlsfield to Waterloo, then the Jubilee Line from Waterloo to London Bridge. That second option is pretty fast and I actually walk more than I train (which is cool).

Usually the train is fine. Today I did see a woman pick something out of her ear and then stick that same finger in her mouth. Which may be one of the more disgusting things I’ve ever seen on the train. And I usually don’t get a seat and the train is really cramped from Earlsfield to Clapham Junction… but the journey is all of five minutes so I don’t mind.

Something happened on the trip today that got me thinking a bit. I mean, other than the disgusting woman.  We were delayed rolling into London Bridge,  due to “a problem at the London Bridge station”.  Usually these sorts of delays get my dander up (especially if I’m running late – and today I was running late) but the calm, smooth voice of the driver actually helped me relax. He sounded vaguely like James Earl Jones and I kept expecting him to add “babies” to the end of his announcements.  So I was fairly relaxed about the situation but usually I would have been in a wee knot about running late. No one likes being trapped in the underground.

You never know what “a problem” at the station could be. I’ve heard announcements about left luggage, idiots effing around with the emergency button, heart attacks, leaves on the tracks, bodies on the tracks, signal failure, etc, etc.  And you know the scary part?  None of those register any differently for me as a commuter. One would think that as a fellow human being I would be more understanding about a heart attack than a signal failure, but as a commuter I can’t believe anyone would be so inconsiderate as to have a heart attack on the train and mess up my journey.

But today I saw “the problem” at London Bridge station.  Someone was down.  Lying on the station floor wrapped in a blanket with medics and staff trying to shield her body from those going by. Someone was shining a light in her eyes, looking for a response.

It wasn’t her response I saw… it was the response of the commuters around her.  Some were openly gawking and others, like me, were having a look but continuing on, trying not to stare. I was concerned for her, but knew I couldn’t help and didn’t want to turn into an accident vulture.  I try to not rubberneck when there’s an accident on the motorway either.

But the majority of people were completely oblivious. They didn’t even look. They just powerwalked their way past the prone woman and the medics surrounding her and pushed their way up the escalators. They never noticed.

Which got me thinking.

It’s hard here, sometimes. In London. You end up lost in a sea of humanity that you rub up against but rarely actually touch. Disconnected, disjointed and often discontent, people have trouble reaching out to others. A side effect of having no personal space when you commute; you push people away as much as you can to find room to breathe.

I hope that woman is alright. I hope that if something like that happens to me, someone will reach out. I hope I don’t forget to reach out to others. To connect. To stay connected. To never forget that behind each person on my commute is a story I can’t even begin to construct. I hope to remain human in a city that erodes humanity.

The Turbotastical Challenge: A Story for Stefan

Fair Acres

Molly Elsenham’s future husband was in pieces, much like her life. He was neatly arranged in a sterile box, also much like her life.

Her life’s box was a standard two bedroom flat somewhere in the middle of a complex of thousands of similar flats collectively known as Fair Acres. All the complexes were similarly named, it was supposed to invoke a sense of a simpler, more wholesome time when people didn’t live all stacked together like this. She would have preferred one closer to the ground, but of course you had no say in the matter. There were rumours that the lottery was fixed, but you didn’t want to be the one caught spreading that particular rumour.

She had moved in three years ago, just after her 24th birthday, as was the standard. At first she’d been excited about the extra room, about the promise of the future family she was looking forward to having. But the months flew by quickly and she had failed to find herself a husband. Not for lack of trying – she went to all the seminars as recommended and used all the right websites. Unfortunately, decent guys were a rare commodity, and under the youthful illusion of there always being more time, Molly figured she could afford to be picky. She was wrong.

About six months ago Molly started to dread this day.  And today her coworkers gave her sympathetic looks instead of warm birthday wishes. They knew, as did she, exactly what she was going home to find.

On the train home, Molly allowed herself a flicker of hope that the box wouldn’t be there before she quashed it. She had read that back in the day oversights like that may have been common, but since the corporations had taken over the government in 2080, they ran everything with unrivaled efficiency.

The box was in her living room when she got home. How thoughtful of them. It must have been heavy.

Molly sighed, turned away from the box and went into the kitchen. She’d been hoarding her wine allotment for the better part of a year, and had managed to save three bottles for this night. She knew she was risking imprisonment for being in possession of so much alcohol, but she couldn’t face the task laid out in the next room without a drink. Or several.  She might even have to get drunk to handle this one, even though the penalties for inebriation were even more severe than being in possession. She was willing to risk it.

As she walked back to the living room, a glass of wine in one hand and the rest of the bottle in the other, she noticed the flashing light on the message centre. Molly chose to ignore it. It would just be her mother. Her poor, disappointed mother, with a lecture Molly didn’t want to hear. It was a little late for lectures.

Her mother’s disappointment stemmed from the fact that she’d married Molly’s father well before the deadline, and that was in the years before the law was introduced. In failing to do the same, Molly lost big marks on the Good Daughter scorecard that her parents seemed to carry around in their heads. Too bad there were no do-overs in this one. No chance to repeat the last grade. No way to improve her score.

Molly quieted the mother-voice in her head to a dull shriek by downing the first glass of wine in one large gulp and then turned to the box containing the rest of her life.

The head turned out to be very easy to assemble.  Really, all you had to do was snap the face onto the back of the head and attach it to the neck. Molly rewarded her success by finishing her second glass of wine.

The legs and arms were likewise easy to put together. She didn’t understand the technology, but once she snapped the pieces together the skin sealed up and there were no seams.

It was getting later; the second wine bottle was getting emptier; and Molly felt she had made good progress so far without having any sort of emotional or mental meltdown. But she couldn’t get the hang of his torso.  To lighten the head and improve the centre of balance, the main circuitry was all contained in the midsection and had to be properly wired to the extremities. It probably wasn’t as hard as it looked, it was just that her heart wasn’t in it and the wine wasn’t helping her mechanical skills.

After the last big war and the corporations centralised the world government, they got to work minimising inequalities between the countries. Once everything was more or less equally distributed and all religions combined into one (Molly heard whispered conspiracies that the Prophet was mostly smoke and mirrors, but of course you didn’t question things like that unless you wanted to face imprisonment or surgery on the frontal lobe, or both), they realised that the root of war actually lay with the anger and envy of the individual. Band together enough angry and envious individuals and you would have an uprising. So they did everything they could to equalise everyone on an individual level as well. Everyone worked for the government in some capacity or another. There was no cash, so there were no salaries like there were the century before. Everyone commuted to and from work by train for an equal amount of time.  And everyone had to be married by a certain age and have a child at a certain age.

In order to make this happen, men and women were paired off. Men had to be married by 30 and women by 27.  Because there were so many more women than men, women who weren’t paired to a biological male would be sent a mechanical one on her 27th birthday. If a woman was sent a mechanical husband, she was expect to adopt a child within two years. In the last 50 years they had perfected a procedure to genetically alter the baby so it would more or less look like its parents. In this way everyone would have the perfect little family.

Except it didn’t feel perfect. Having a mechanical husband was a life sentence. If you had a bio mate, there was always a chance that he would die early if the two of you weren’t as compatible as you’d hoped  – there weren’t as many violent crimes and of course the old diseases weren’t such an issue any more, but accidents still happened. With a bio you could still hope. With a mechanical one, you were stuck with him until you died. They were programmed to be ideal, but ideal sounded dull to Molly. She wanted someone with whom she could argue. Someone who would get passionate about things. Someone who didn’t record every word she said in the CPU tucked in its groin.

After consulting the instructions, Molly worked at getting the wires connected to the main CPU in the torso. No heart to put in the chest, which made her sad enough to take another big drink from her glass; and as she snapped the genital-less groin cover in place she drained it.

That was it. She wiped her finger prints from the wine bottles and got rid of them. Her new husband was not supposed to take video recordings, but if it found the bottles there was a good chance it would turn her in. Its loyalty was unshakable, but it would be loyal to the government first and to Molly second. She couldn’t risk it.

With the bottles gone she returned to the living room and sat on the couch across from where she had sat her husband. If you didn’t know that it was mechanical, you’d be hard pressed to guess. That was the point, she supposed. If everyone could tell that there was no actual blood running through your husband’s veins, that you had been incapable of pairing with a bio, it wouldn’t have the equalising effect that the government was trying to achieve.

Molly sat like that for a long time. Then with a resigned breath, she finally said the activation code.

“I do,” she said, and her husband opened his eyes.

The End