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Those words stare out at me like a challenge, needling my sides as I sit down and put my fingers to the keyboard, ready to type but nothing ever seems to happen.  They just hover for a short while before I retract them and think about putting the kettle on for another black coffee to help stimulate the mind.

It’s morning, perhaps it is too early, maybe I should go back to bed and have a nap?  Dreams are a great place for ideas to collide after all.  The afternoon is a much better time to write, perhaps even the early evening?

These thoughts twirl around my head as I set up the rest of my day with the routine tasks of living.  Soon I find I have no time to sit and write, life is falling into place and I do have to work for a living and help with the upkeep of my young family.  The joys of feeding toddlers and playing imaginary games, the book can wait can’t it, if I just take this quick break to think I’m a fish ready to nibble her little feet?  To see that laugh and that smile lights me up like nothing else could or can, even the thought of being a published author is pushed to the back of my mind.

Here then is my kingdom of heaven.  Let me turn off the television and turn down the radio, the news cannot intrude into paradise today.  We are alone in our tight family unit and we are happy here.

The book niggles at me during the night, when I am lying down trying to both sleep and to escape.  Instead the demon rises up in the form of a thousand empty pages, all flickering to the bitter empty end.

My bank account could do with the advance that I’d surely get, my name too could do with the prestige.  I could do with the look of pride and honour that would radiate from the faces of those that I love most.

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Those words haunt me so.

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Clock In, Clock Out

The office I worked in dealt with applications from students and our daily targets were monitored and recorded for prosperity, and to check against what was and what wasn’t correctly documented in our individual tally sheets.  Of course these sheets were digital spreadsheets that were specially formatted for each different piece of work that was allocated to the worker.  The spreadsheets highlighted how much allotted time was given dependent on the category that the piece of work fell into, whether we’d have five minutes to complete it or ten minutes.  Simple pieces of work could be given only a few minutes whilst more complicated pieces, such as responding to emails with extensive trails or queries, were given a timing of a quarter of an hour or more.  We felt that luck was on our side when one such piece of work fell out of the electronic basket and into our caseload, we had time to breath, to relax, to look into the faces of the person sat beside ourselves and to realize that we each went through the same, day in and day out.

Many kept to this electronic tally, toting it up at the end of the night by memory or by scrolling through the master sheet.  I, unlike many of my work colleagues, kept a ink tally in Roman numerals of each type of piece of work that I had completed that day.  Towards the end of the evening, when we each heaved a sigh of relief and gladness that the working day was over, I looked down with fondness upon my scrap of paper to find an ever changing squiggle of lines, crossed and solitary, segmented by type and time.

It was the last action of the working shift that so pleased me, that I could scrupple up the piece of paper with my jottings on, tear it in two if needs be and thrice more into smaller pieces so that no readable piece remained, and declare that I was the master of myself once again.  No greater feeling of satisfaction came with the job then that final action of labour destruction, or rather rapprochement that my work towards the whole could be so simply and so justifiably torn up.  That my value as a worker was counted as so little that I needed to be constantly monitored for each and every movement within the workplace, each piece of work accounted for and judged against the character of my soul.  The residual of feeling of loyalty, that thinning pool of employee liquid that had somehow lingered through the various turbulent governmental changes and process improvements, now felt at a very low ebb indeed.  It could evaporate at any moment.

My action was, in its way, a minor everyday rebellion at the absurdity of employment itself.  That each man and woman shall spend a third of their life strapped to the face of labour so that the other third can be slept through and the final third can be lived in a state of fretful suspense.  It is perhaps not fair to categorize in this way what so many want, what so many need, but for me it is not enough nor is it a rightful use of the labour market.  To rebel, in whatever fashion is feasible or at least in which way is not detrimental to your standards, is to acknowledge that you recognize that this is so.  Such is life.

On Health and Safety: Part 2

Q.2. A fire has broken out in the building that you currently work in, endangering the staff present and the building itself.  What should your first course of action be?

Please select one of the answers below

a. The fire has broken out just at the right time as it is currently your break period.  Cracking open your little used locker you locate the marshmallows that have sat in the locker for the past 8 months and, using a fork no-one has cleaned within the past month, you head over to where the fire is and toast the marshmallows.  You laugh hysterically as your colleagues vacate the building whilst you sate your belly.

b. The fire is close to your desk, however you notice that Gill, on secondment from the Lancaster office, is trying to leave before you do so you accidentally trip her up and run over the top of her to get out of the office.  The cause of the fire, it is later ascertained, was your specially ordered fan from HR, even though you ordered it in November and the office air conditioning was to blame for the high temperature.   

c. Fire excites you!  It strengthens you!  You have become disillusioned with office life and believe that, just like the dragon queen from telly, you too can become tougher and more leader-like if you throw yourself into a fire and survive its red hot embers.  Your remains are later found cramped into a fetal position.  Nobody mentions the embarrassing porn magazine found in your smoldering locker to your mother at the work service. 

d. You locate the nearest fire alarm and push the trigger, indicate the nearest fire escape and help colleagues through before closing each set of doors as you exit the building and wait for the fire brigade to turn up.

Variations on a Thought

I am having trouble conveying the feelings that I am having, the fact that I want to write, to keep writing, but cannot quite formulate exactly what I want to say.  At the moment I am finding a deep release through music, either through live gigs or listening to albums as I drive across the northern landscape of the country I inhabit.  Often, on a morning when I wake, I play the album in the CD player and wash myself in the tones of whoever is playing.  It is a sweet relief.  There is an immediate sense of  feeling, of a placement on a particular chord or orchestral swell, that rush of recognition that can only come with time when reading the words of others.  Yet I feel there is a deep kindred between these two methods of communication, two of the most important for me.  Yes, of course we talk, we can express our desires, worries, love and anger through talking, we gesture too, we can laugh or howl with derision, but there is something in the beauty of the written word, in the musical note, that is lacking from the babble that vocalizes forth from the mouths of both myself and of others.  What does this say about me?  I am not quite sure I want to know, that maybe I value the thoughts and beliefs of others, but worry about giving a voice to my own?  Perhaps.

This isn’t the piece or the time to give voice to such ill thought out ideas or half formed theories.  I want to keep writing, I want you to keep reading, I want us both to keep being creative, to tap into that font of magic that cannot be commercialized, crunched down to size for productivity measures or customer service satisfaction.  I feel in limbo, between the world of what is expected of us all as individuals, in a market where we have to pull our weight to feed our commercial gain, compared to a more utopian paradise where the value of a person is not placed on their output, or their labor.  It is ridiculous to think of such thoughts, ridiculous to think that I am free to think such thoughts, to moan about a life well lived.  But I do, we all do, no matter our position, social standing or inherent bias built into us.  We are all individuals and we are all a collective.  Together we love, destroy and displace.

I am having trouble writing.  I am staring at the computer screen each and every day. It is, I realize with a disgusted shudder, a proxy for human interaction, for skin on skin.  Yet still I come back for more, in the vain and vapid belief that this is a life well lived, that this is life itself.  Humans need the company of the animals and plants, of the soil itself, to know that we do not share this planet alone amongst our kind.  We are but one of many and I feel that this is forgotten more and more.  Ignorance is bliss until the world collapses around ourselves, and we are left choking on the markers of productivity.

Death has become a familiar friend as of late, in this last year of my life.  This may be the last year of my life, I hope it is not but we never quite know what is around the corner.  Surely we should grab it, if we believe it is so?  Yet still, I lie in bed an extra hour, to soak in the sonic variations and textural tones of the current album spinning in my CD player. Content to know that, for the time being, this is where I belong.  My limbs relax, my eyes flutter and close, finally my breathing shallows.  It is a mere shadow of true sexual ecstasy, but it is close.

Home

First step up the ladder,
is the hardest they say, as we sit and sigh
in meeting after meeting where the rooms look good,
photos look even better, another rat hole, small pit,
infested, full of tits, nothing wrong
but the size of the picture.

Review after review after review, each dangling
the same beautiful bait: an affordable home.

Each set their trap in their own way, despondent
resplendent resident, a land owner, herds us round,
but he ain’t nothing but ground down by the strangers feet that,
day after day, trudge through their home, second home,
third best, first worst.

It’s the safest financial asset that you’ll ever make –
banker checks his purse and smiles, pushes across the table
how much we can just afford, give or take a decade or two,
it’s a dice throw, a chance shot in the dark for a stable home,
a sweet Rome, a capital for two.

We’ll get there I know it, though it’s just another view, another chance remark
that’ll throw me off the scent of this time well spent.

The Corridors of Power

Tasks are always taxing,
Unless you’ve got greying hands and an unsteady shuffle
In which case you ignore them and secretly deplore them.
But you carry on regardless, steamrolling
Through the corridors of the company,
Your own private land of claims
Disregarded and abandoned,
Like so many lovers before you.
But now the sun is setting
On a broken dream of what could be.

The tasks are always taxing,
But they always wait their turn.

Sweet Dreams

I mean… it’s not as if he is actually cuddled and surrounded by the music, nor radiating colours that blend into one another as the tempo or key changes, but he may as well be.  He’s sat at the back, alone only because everyone else nearly has finished work for the day.  He cracks on with the work though, piles through his expected target and carries on, pushing for the end that never comes.  Contact is maintained though, he enjoys the friendship of the people here but, at times like this, when there is no-one to talk to nearby, he’ll happily listen to the music and become truly embroiled in it, within it, all around it.  In fact he breathes the music in, fuses it to his very soul.  It clads the scaffolding of his skeletal system like a second layer of muscle, such is the reaction to what he hears.

The pace of his body, its autonomic functions and active movements become, in turn, a reflection of the beat that propels what he is listening to.  That, as a consequence, becomes the beat of his being at that point in time.  It changes only at the whim of the DJ, the flick of a switch, from hardcore to punk to hardcore punk to electric to magic and back again.  The finger taps on the keyboard, the clenching of the muscles continue, and even the closing of his eyelids are all timed with the beat that the heart follows.

CNV00026If this photograph (shot by the author) is reproduced please credit as appropriate.

Dark Room

It was a dark room, a lone table in the middle with two chairs sat idly by on either side.  There was a fizzing dim light bulb above, swaying slightly which helped illuminate the darker corners of the room for a few brief moments.  Sat in one chair was a man in his late 40s, his hair flecked with grey and his hand nursing a small glass which was a quarter full with whiskey.  The room stank of deception, corruptions and lies.  An empire of filth.

A Perfect Mistake

Can it be a mistake if she failed to spot the error that the corrector made by marking her work as an error when it was not an error, or is it a simple rectification that is needed?  What we certainly cannot have is a process by which the error spotter makes errors when there is no actual original error, and so their reaction action becomes an error in itself.  Unless of course their error is spotted not by the person whose work it is they are checking but by another person whose work it is not.

Therefore an original piece of work which was miscategorised as an error remains an error unless the originator spots the error made by the error checker, and not by some itinerant passer-by.  Do you see how clearly the system works?  It obfuscates the real impacts of a malformed and mis-trained workforce by allowing mistakes to go on unimpeded by the right and wrongs of the ‘business laws’ to which the lower workers are subjected to.  Any formal declaration of a contrast of interests, of an appeal, is buried by email after email after email and, with any luck, forgotten about by the original appealer whose work has, supposedly, already been checked and corrected.

It is, I think you will agree, a perfect machine, hiding its imperfections in plain sight but sparing no blushes when it comes to the highlighting of work well done, if it is done at all that is.

So yes, she should have kept quiet about her work that was an error but was not spotted by her alone.  Rather time is well spent going through the errors on her behalf of her own errors, if she deems that she has time to do so.  Work is, after all, a timed affair where targets must be met, money must be spent, satisfaction must be the number one customer benefit even, they say, at the cost of an efficient process.

So surround yourself with cronies during employment and you will never have to work again, but deliver your work out disguised as work that others should do and divide it piecemeal fashion to those that are not within your circle of influence.  Merge those relationships between friend and foe, between boss and employee, and you, my friend, have a recipe for most businesses today.

Of course she will remain disenfranchised, chained to a system that not only pretends to acknowledge her as an active agent within the workforce but progressively attempts to ignore her even during an appeal.  After all the work still has to be done, the targets must be met.

The Partisan

That old troubadour is back, with Leonard Cohen releasing his latest album, Popular Problems, this week.  I haven’t gotten my copy of the CD yet but I am looking forward to listening to Cohen’s album in full, knowing that I, as a listener, am in the safe hands of a man who has remained at his artistic peak for many decades now.  The songs I have heard so far have only intensified this feeling.  His voice is certainly deeper, whispering as Cohen has aged, but he is still intensely recognizable in both delivery and tone.  His voice has always been a distinctive feature as he is not your typical singer, with his rich lyrics delivered via a sometimes monotone voice.  This, however, does not detract from his music and actually highlights the inherent poetry of his lyrics.  Female backing singers have also become more of a permanent feature, sometimes helping to echo his own lines or provide the chorus, but always enriching his songs.

As a poet, novelist and song writer Cohen has remained fairly prolific in his musical and literary output, only coming to a slowdown in his 70’s.  On learning that the vast majority of the money had he saved had been swindled, he once again took himself on the road to earn some money.  We, as the audience, must be thankful for humanity’s greed, as Cohen has since toured fairly extensively and has released two new albums (Popular Problems being the second after 2012’s Old Ideas).  It seems as if he has been re-invigorated and is flourishing once again, no doubt surprising his older fans with new ones who are only just discovering his extensive discography.

As I’ve mentioned on this site before The Partisan has to be one of my favourite songs that is covered by Leonard Cohen , exemplifying as it does the close bond of the partisan and the people who help hide them, of the intense love, hope and brutality of a country at war:

An old woman gave us shelter,
kept us hidden in the garret,
then the soldiers came;
she died without a whisper.

There were three of us this morning,
I’m the only one this evening,
but I must go on;
the frontiers are my prison.

Oh, the wind, the wind is blowing,
through the graves the wind is blowing,
freedom soon will come;
then we’ll come from the shadows.

Dispatches From The Coast: Quick Scribbles

There is nough so fair or ought so glum as word in print, prose or poetry,

Nothing harder won or bitter swon as a pill laced with poison.

The writer knows that his work carries less weight than the ink of his print,

Poison pen be it, subsistence by thought alone a long gone dream.

Oft gang aft aglay, even as we pray, wish and hope.

Wry smiles and token gestures seal naught but the contract,

empty of pennies as thy purse brims with hope.

Be here men and women, the thoughts of the many,

Dashed upon the rock of modern prose poetry.

Sinking further into a cold hearted coffin, nay thought spared for the writer.

Indifference strikes the many as disease did carry,

Those weakest, those first that voiced their opinion, on their shoulders be it.

Even as we swim, current against tide, sway even as we may

Dream –

Hold our heads high –

Even as our murky scribblings and manuscripts –

Sink beneath the wave of indolence, of innocence, of ignorant hearted bliss. (Try not).

I type these words with blood between my fingers,

Flowing over knuckle, bone and skin.

We have denied the value of the writer even as we write ourselves,

We have paid a penny more for our open grave.

Individual we stand,

But communal we fall.

The Review

‘…and you are locked into a debt of which you will never become released of, I am certain of this and it is clear in my thoughts as such.’

‘But sir, don’t you deny the very foundation of being able to see beyond your own situation, of bringing hope into not just your life but also ours?’

‘What a petty imagination you have, for your futures I see nothing but dark horizons and cascading torments.’

‘Well be done with your thoughts and imaginations then as it is clearly visible to us that you have no such qualms in harming us with your words and misdeeds’.

‘Petty fool, please! Calm your house and make it in order, even though I fear it will never become so!’

‘Twice now you have called myself and others before you ‘petty’, but grant that I will not!  We are not petty sir, nor miserable or locked into innumerable heartache, no sir, we are just, kind and civil.  Our steady boat has become only rocked once by this heavy handed court and I, for one, will not have my name besmirched for any longer.  It is a duty of the law, yes, the law, to guide in it’s civil advocacy the way in which we point our democracy (in this I agree wholeheartedly), but this expenditure in this adventure is surely just a mess, an exploitation that matters not a jot to the jailor or to the lawyer.  Think twice before you call us petty sir, for we may yet bite the ass of the man before us!’

‘Order! Order in the court of law! Hark hear how thy sing such praises of only of yourselves, you disreputable rogues.  It gladdens so to sit here and judge, preside over your fate and decree it so: 7 years hard labour for your financial irregularities, not a day more but not a day less.’

It was at this pronouncement that the witnesses in the stand burst into a flood of tears, wetting their lapels and dousing their frocks in so much salted water that the barristers and lawyers feared for their lives.  The judge, jowls and all, had become, by this point in the proceedings, annoyed by this ragtag band of misfits before him.  The sentence was harsh, he knew that, but it was just, it was acceptable and it was do’able.  It was at this thought that his rage subsided and he became more relaxed in posture and tone.