tetchy tech (or a story of asshole nihilism)


I’ve had quite a few downsides and run-ins with tech over the past few weeks, impacting really negatively on my ability to work on my MA.

I know they tell us we should take ownership of our reactions.  But this is a way of saying what we feel is ours to own, and we have no right to own anything else that happens.  Instead, maybe resigning ourselves to its reality is about as far as we can go.

The whole world an asshole as the man said?  (It was almost certainly a man …)  I don’t know.  What’s clear is that a lack of oversight on processes end-to-end is crapping the life out of us.

One fairly recent example.  The housing trust maisonette where we live is on the first floor.  It shares a fairly new downstairs door (at the foot of equally shared stairs) with our lovely neighbours across the way.  They are, by the way, the best neighbours you could ever hope for.  The best.

The fairly new door was a replacement for the previous fairly shabby door.  However, the functionality of the shabby cousin was far greater than that of its replacement.  Let me explain.  The latter has very nice frosted windows, is made (I think) of white PVC, and has a letterbox.  All to the superficial good.  And therein its true idiocy.

To all intents and purposes the door now looks like it leads to a house, not a shared flight of stairs and on to two dwellings on the first floor.  A cursory examination of postal legislation would have revealed that where there is a letterbox, even if shared (the two flat numbers are clearly present, by the way – something I neglected to mention above), postal services have no obligation to go any further.  No one in the housing trust who sanctioned the now fairly new door ever thought to look at end-to-end process, it is clear.  Over the past two years or so our shared experience (ie that of our lovely neighbours and ourselves) with the wretched “first point of delivery” in question has been dreadful: multiple lost deliveries from couriers various as packages got left in full view of the street; muddy and damp letters and post when they do arrive; untold numbers of re-deliveries required as the delivery people knock at the bottom, get no immediate reply, and scurry off; and multiple unfulfilled assurances from Royal Mail to not do what the next shift of postal officers always ends up doing.

Overall a much worse service – and intractably so! – than when we had the old and shabby original.

And all due to the fact that someone, somewhere, in a procurement department miles away from the issues, thought that a brand new door with letterbox and two numbers would be a vast improvement for the security and safety of everyone and everything concerned.

End-to-end process analysis is rapidly becoming a lost art: lost to the ever-increasing specialisations of our world, where we are strongly, systemically, encouraged to dip our heads into ever-decreasing circles of knowledge, and thus find ourselves failing altogether to see the wider connections.

And that is what brings me back to the world and its asshole.  So maybe such extreme nihilism is unwarranted, and maybe such vigorous resignation is unhelpful, and maybe we do need to take ownership for our own reactions above and beyond what happens to us on a daily basis.  But even so, and even when said, and even when accepted, there remains this reality: good people are doing shit things because shit systems and lines of command and control and overarching strategies and perhaps, simply, a general lack of interest in or understanding of what is going on is more the rule than the exception.

Write the beautiful new door with its shiny letterbox and flat numbers to a broader audience of work, leisure, consumerism, business and political activity and it begins to become so much easier to understand why asshole nihilism is becoming the default position of so many citizens.

‘Question is: how do we work out together a way of shrugging off the vicious circles which are currently embracing us in no congenial way at all?  How do we move on from simply having to own asshole nihilism on this dreadful daily basis – and dealing with our tragic and broader bereavement from intelligent behaviours – to actually making environments and worlds where our first response doesn’t need to be one of wiping up spilt milk but rather, much more handsomely, drinking its sexy and freshly churned warmth with an intellectual joy that befits the 21st century?


p(leisure): the politics and economics of having a good time

Yes.  I’ve spent over seven months now, working when work comes it’s true – mainly proofreading and the occasional language class – but not working my ass off.  Instead, I’ve spent my time learning how to write poetry, learning more about my darker side as well as the kinder, and generally exploring the wilder edges of verbal expression.

I started by deconstructing the language, and then – only then – moved gingerly towards saying more understandable things.

This I think is unusual.  We normally start by following the rules, and then proceed to break them.  But perhaps the decades of writing prior to my stint as a poet were the training-ground in following most of the rules; and the period just before Christmas 2015 to around the beginning of July 2016 an eagerly sought liberation from the creeping bonds and ties of familial permission and expectation.

That’s how I now realise it was before Christmas 2015.  A lot of those terrible bonds and ties have now disappeared.  Not, however, without pain on all sides; and not in a completely successful way.

Also, as those who run away from that which hurts often experience, my desire to be free has led me to say and do and think greater liberties than perhaps anyone should be allowed.

I have kinda done so on these pages today, probably despite my better judgement.  I don’t know if I am entirely responsible for feeling as I do – I still wonder if others aren’t intervening deliberately in some way or other – but as I cannot prove nor even sustain this without people considering me quite mad (and quite rightly, I guess), I have to just learn to deal with an environment that clearly leads me to say and do and think and see certain things which are generally unacceptable.

That, then, is how I come to the politics and economics of p(leisure).  One positive out of the last more-than-seven months is I have learnt how to enjoy myself, even if the enjoyment has necessarily been in a solitary confinement located in public places.

That is to say, I have dined alone, sat alone, spoken with few people, engaged with few organisations: in all this time, I have had absolutely wonderful company on one occasion in Ireland; I have had regular meetings in one of my favourite cities of all time, Liverpool, with the ballsiest woman I have ever known in my life; and above all, the time I have spent with my children – where they were of a mind to talk to me – has been like gold-dust.

However, I realise – now – that so much pleasure and leisure cannot continue indefinitely.  I have been able to get my head round a peculiar free-form poetry; I have become gently proficient with iPhone photo software; and I have acquired a love of simply having a good time which was never mine all my adult life.

Maybe never in my childhood either.

But as one worker said in a food place I went to today, when I thanked him for the experience and the quality of the food: “I’ve been here for too long.”

And so it was then that I realised: “So have I!”  Though I thought it only; didn’t say it out loud.  I said nothing at all in reply, except – of course – a heartfelt noise of commiseration.

People must work their socks off, so other people can smile and tip broadly and sound generous and be happy and fun-loving and terribly terribly eager to pursue the tiny hedonistic impulses that latterday life still affords some citizens.

But for the rest of us, the only real fate seems that of grim grind.

A grim grind dressed up with our mobiles and push-notifications as the resulting glory of collective 21st century intellects.

I am no better, because whilst I explore and learn and expand my knowledge of stuff, and probably contribute to the sum of human experience in a fairly positive sense, I only really postpone the moment of inevitable emotional and intellectual debauchery: the final descent into a compromising of all principles: that minute where I live off another I begin to despise instead of working my own way through life.

And yet the thought does come to mind: if on occasions I have seen further, then I have long ago seen the decay of the relationship between worker and work too.  I saw it when I worked in a bank, where the disintegration of complex roles into itty-bitty nothing jobs was in full flow, and where the consequent job satisfaction also disappeared in tandem.

I saw it when I attempted to set up a language-learning business: online learning was but a step into the very near future, and the role of teachers – already eroded by their transformation into mere hands-off environment-defining enablers – a mere blip towards a horizon of trainee self-aggrandisement.

And now I speak to people who talk quite naturally of robot dentists.  At the very least, very shortly, robot dental-hygienists.

No one is safe from the march of technology.

And yet who will be able to pay for it when the grind either rewards so little or has actually ground itself into a dust no phoenix shall ever arise from?

Please don’t misunderstand me.

I love enjoying myself; would spend all my day taking photos.

But I’d rather work with other people, have sex with other people, invent and design with and enjoy other people.

Wouldn’t you?



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?