parallel process(es)

Morningtime ... croissant?!I was making breakfast in a quiet household this morning.  It’s my wife’s birthday, so I let her sleep as she likes to be let.

The three children – no longer children at all – were also in the Land of Nod.

They like to sleep too.

On holiday, anyway.

And as I washed-up, made the coffee, filled the plastic bottles with mineral water from the five-litre containers and generally tidied up, I realised I am a man of parallel process(es).

My wife is not; and therein our occasional arguments.  In fact, I think the battles I’ve had as I’ve been trying to enthuse and engage people enough to participate in hyperlocal in the city where I live seem, to me anyhow, to indicate she is not alone in this world.

I am a man, and men do not multi-task as a general rule.  So they say; and if they say, they must be right.

Breakfast table ...To be honest, when you say the word “multi-task” what comes to my mind is a kind of multiple-limbed creature at the centre of a benevolent web of activity: almost an octopus in human form.  What I am, however, or what comes to mind when you ask me how I work, is rather different: my life operates more like a railway – a Christmas-excited kid’s train-set perhaps – where my tasks and responsibilities regularly criss-cross various lines: back and forth, occasionally (or maybe that’s often?!) halting at “stations” of significant interest … through beauty, through utility, through other more difficult-to-define reasons.

So what are the consequences of being a parallel processor instead of a multi-tasker?


Mainly, that multi-taskers think you’re wasting time never getting something finished.

They see the washing-up still soaking twenty minutes later, and don’t realise it’s the third set of dishes, left to soak so the detergent has time to do the work I’ve paid it to do – rather than me having to scrub furiously away at the hardened debris!

PersianasMeantime, they don’t appreciate I’ve been making coffee, filling water bottles, wandering round the house changing light-bulbs; admiring the scenery from the first floor; or just thinking – invisibly I grant you – about this or that.

My wife is a multi-tasker, yes – and a very good one at that.  I suspect many people – if not most – have lately learned to be.  They’ve had little alternative, to be honest: the strategic dumbing-down of most roles these days – as companies look to protect themselves against high staff-turnover, due to low wages and collapsing job-satisfaction – is almost certainly teaching even men to work at several discrete processes and their corresponding procedures during the course of a single day (without, that is, tragically messing things up … the real achievement of corporate multi-tasking everywhere – if not its everyday equivalent).

The downside, however, of all the above is that people who think end-to-end, or would like to be given the opportunity, are less common, less valued and – ultimately – less needed.

Until the whole house of cards tumbles down, of course … and by then, it’ll be far too late for anyone to recover the knowhow and nous.

My mistake, I think, in hindsight anyway, was not to realise that in hyperlocal it’s more important to gain people’s acceptance at a face-to-face level than achieve it via intellectual and process-driven means.

Salamanca's Town HallThis is why, even as I find myself currently on extended leave and would love to stay where I find myself, I also know for various reasons it is entirely impractical.

This is why, in the autumn, I shall return to jousting windmills as I have all my life.  My latest forays into hyperlocal and Chester are just one set of examples amongst a whole history of examples.  But really, if they are ever to become anything more substantial than windmills castles in the air, I will need to discover how to ensure the people I want to work with understand the important differences between multi-taskers like my wife (the grandiose majority – and I mean “grandiose” most sincerely) and parallel processors like myself (the sad – but also useful – minority).

There’s always a way for everyone to get on – as the Spanish say: “Hablando se entiende la gente …” (“Through speaking we understand each other …”) – so I’m not down in the mouth by any means as a result of this situation.

Again in hindsight, I’ve always been a fairly optimistic soul.

The only slight problem being we cannot live entirely on optimism.

But that’s where natural multi-taskers are always right – where parallel processors get lost in the maze of trains of thought.

Reflecting then?Reflecting then?  Well yes, that’s where I’m at right now.  But isn’t that where I’ve always been?


inside, i feel black; outside, i’m clearly white

I’d love to be involved in niche projects on the web.  My life experiences – from mental ill-health to living between multiple cultures, and never belonging entirely to one or the other – lead me to sympathise, even (dare I suggest) empathise, with those whose place in society is assigned, defined, marked and limited by both unkind as well as unfamiliar hegemony.

I’d assume, then, if I’m not speaking out of a privilege which blinds me to another set of realities, that if you saw my inside, you’d assume I was a minority.

Yet people who see my polite, deferential, sometimes excessively servile exterior – who are only capable of seeing upper-middle-aged privileged white male – conclude that’s all I am.

The servile comes more out of uncertainty than cowardice, I have to say.

Yesterday, I attended the second part of a three-part interview process.  It’s for the job of proofreader at a newspaper.  The Internet connection didn’t work; Adobe Reader wasn’t installed; an email profile wasn’t set up on my workstation; and, in any case, the paper didn’t appear to have its own intranet.*  So I had to leave my work on the desktop in a folder I created with the shortened version of my name.

There’s a story and a half in that, too.  All my life I’ve been explaining the strangeness of my name.  In the end, ethnocentric abilities weigh down on one: I revert to telling people to call me “Mil”.  And even then, they often get it wrong: they say “Mel” or “Bill” or “Neil”!

It’s very tiring, wearisome to a huge degree, to have to repeat over and over again the prime marker of one’s identity.

Having to shorten it is – in a sense – having to shorten one’s identity.

So you see: on the outside, very white; on the inside, unhappily black.

Anyhow.  I went into the second stage very positively: I love proofreading almost as much as I love writing.  I think, however, my writing is quite second-rate.  Given the right environment, my proofreading is better than my writing by far.

When you proofread, the topics are chosen for you.

When you write, you run the risk of making the mistake of writing about the wrong things.

I’m not sure that yesterday the environment was right.  There were a lot of people talking in a small space; another person doing a test too.  A lot of chatter which a proofreader doesn’t need.  But maybe that’s the curse of open-plan offices.  Maybe that’s the same for any professional who needs peace and quiet.  If you want a job, if you want to work, if you need the money, you just learn to deal with it.

I need the money and want the job.

I want to learn how to work in a newspaper; I want to be able to contribute to making a newspaper better; I want to be surrounded by people who are better than me so I can become better myself …

Is that too much to ask?  Probably not.

But the web is a niche environment.

And I am only black inside.

A clear case of #firstworldproblems?


* A couple of other things surprised me, whilst we’re on the subject: the paper copy of the newspaper doesn’t appear to include the address of its physical location (though there is plenty of information which pushes us to social networks where the address does appear).  Also, a massive disclaimer absolves the paper for all responsibility for opinions, and even facts, which may be published.  I wondered last night if this is actually a legal position to hold.  They must know what they’re doing, surely.  And yet … I still do wonder.

from toddlers to foreigners – a very british policy of cleansing ethnicity?

This looks planned, very deliberate, long-term and unkind.

First, in December, we had the announcement that foreign university students wouldn’t be allowed to stay in the UK to find work, once their courses were over.  This, of course, removes the benefits of continued cultural rub; of exchange; of future potential research; of human development more generally (the bold is mine):

While the NHS fee may not appear huge, it’s symbolically pandering to an anti-immigrant rhetoric. It’s one of many measures that negatively affect international students – including attendance monitoring, proposed landlord checks for migrants and credibility interviews.

Almost all of these have come along in the last few years. Is this coincidental? Or is it a systematic attempt to reduce the number of non-EU students, because of the rise of an anti-immigrant sentiment in the UK?

Systematic attempt, eh?  Well.  The proposals and objectives were limited, in this case, to non-EU foreign students.

So maybe we could be charitable and assume the government only had such students as the goal of its plans.

Without wider ramifications.

Some might have wildly argued it was edged with a desire for proactively cleansing future ethnic change.  But we’d probably have accused such accusers of being wild conspiracy theorists.

Today, in the meantime, I read this astonishing piece from the Telegraph:

Nursery school staff and registered childminders must report toddlers at risk of becoming terrorists, under counter-terrorism measures proposed by the Government.

Talk about the nanny state.  Goodness me, but Blair’s New Labour had absolutely nothing on this lot.

Anyhow.  Couple the above with the news on foreign uni students, and the accusations of proactively cleansing possible ethnic change in the future begin to seem less of the tinfoil-hat brigade.

The Home Office appears clear about where it wants to go: killing two birds with one stone, it positions the terrorism frontline in the field of education at the same time as it aims to remove as many “foreign” ways of thinking from the country.

This is surely a long-term strategy, make no mistake about it.  They’ve learned from Blair in another matter too: “Education!  Education!  Education!”  Only, this time we have a rather twisted reinterpretation.  Don’t educate to make society better.  Educate to find out what people are thinking – in the case of toddlers, before they themselves even know what that means!

In bad faith I might observe (as some on Twitter already have) the opportunities that spying on toddlers would present for a paedophile-plagued establishment.

But apart from cheap shots like that, once – at toddler level – a duty of care of such characteristics were imposed, it’d be so easy to move into judging families on the basis of what children exploringly were heard to chatter; to read into so much stuff so much other stuff; to misunderstand from ethnocentric positions the attitudes, meanings and behaviours of those from other cultures; to observe in order to prove preconceptions.

Or simply to turn angry words into fully-fledged positions – and daily conversation into a permanently self-censored balancing-act of citizens, unable, any more, to express their honest dissatisfaction about anything without fearing the serious consequences of doing so.

Spying on people doesn’t make them more likely to engage with you.

Spying on toddlers gives them every reason to distrust.

And distrustful children who grow up unclear of the reasons for being distrusted – because, for Chrissakes, they’re only toddlers! – will never, but never, grow up into trusting, responsible, friendly and confident adults.

All of which a terrorism-free society needs in bucketfuls right now.

So what’s the point?  What’s the plan?  Why is our government attacking so fiercely the very early and very late edges of our children’s development and exposure to the outside world?

What are they looking to achieve with such incompetent and counter-productive strategies?