Sunday, November 20, 2005

Great Blog!

Can you fucking believe it? 1 comment. So easy to dismiss but, crucially, so impossibly difficult to tear your eyes from. You want to drag it out, and look at it sideways for a bit, but God, how it burns and all you really want is a sniff of approval - or vitriol; it's still attention, because they've still got to look at you in order to throw it in your eyes - because you want to know someone read what you'd posted. I know people who like hot chocolate, so I'm not advocating the complete extermination of all peddlers of recipes for hot chocolate mix, but I still think you're a pack of cruel cunts for exploiting desperation.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

SH20

On the motorway this morning I passed a car that had a very prominent sticker on the rear windscreen. The sticker was one of those large messages in stylised lettering that proclaim affiliation to a particular group or culture, spanning the entire window and intended no doubt as a point of reference and statement of pride.

This one read "100% Maori". It had been stuck on backwards.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Questions, questions

The questions that one is routinely asked on all manner of topics can be divided broadly into only two groups, according to the motivation of the person posing the question. The first, and by far the most commonly asked, is framed as an enquiry but in reality seeks only to confirm the beliefs or opinions held by the person posing the question. Such questions - and by extension, those persons accustomed to framing their conversations in this manner - challenge nothing, explore nothing and seek nothing new. Rather, they require your approbation of their existing understanding.

A second sort of question provides an opportunity, an unconditional offer. Rarely asked, because your answer has potential to challenge, to wound or to provoke, they are indicative of concern and an underlying honesty.

You can tell your friends - even those who you may not perceive as friends - because they ask only the second sort. And then sparingly.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

On being late for lunch

When one rolls up to the work cafe at 1.32pm it is to be expected that the pickings will be slim. But not this slim. The whiteboard menu offered chicken and vegetable casserole (today all correctly spelled; last week the same menu offered "mediterenian" rissotto) as the single hot lunch - normally there would be a choice of two meals, but this is the first Tuesday back after Easter, so...

The warming cabinet contained only one plate of casserole, so I wasn't able to choose the serving with the most favourable ratio of meat to vegetable as I'm accustomed to do, always suspecting the hand of budgeting at work in the business of rationing out the meat. When I returned to my desk and lifted the cling film from the meal, even I was astonished at the scarcity of chicken on the plate.

When a meal is billed as chicken casserole, it is to be expected that the meal will contain somewhat more than the 20 or 30 grams of chicken that I received. Instead, roughly one half of the plate was covered in a light brown sauce, strongly hinting at its onion origins, in which the three or four pieces of chicken had been cooked and then stranded. Closer inspection showed the sauce contained suggestions of broccoli and cauliflower, but in theoretical rather than practical quantities.

The other half of my plate contained a potato-based dish: was it this or the chicken christened as the "casserole" from the menu? Standing about two inches high, this dish proved to be several layers of sliced and partly cooked potato and completely uncooked rings of onion, bound together with an undifferentiated white paste and topped with what I hoped was cheese. I detected the presence of white pepper, but little other flavour.

It was bland, bulky and unchallenging in a way that I hadn't tasted since student union budget meals sustained me, my friends and hundreds of other students swotting late for exams. The highlight of the meal was seeing the empty plate. And at $2.50 I will be going back tomorrow.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Clothes maketh

If there's an award somewhere for these things, then 'Worst Dressed Weather Dude' must go to Russell Dixon, TV3's evening weather man, for his shirts. In an age of iffy shirts his stand out as lamentably bad - and are badly worn. In our house Russell's appearance on-screen is greeted with "hey, it's bad shirt guy" - by our two year-old. A toddler proudly wearing Buzz Lightyear pull-up toilet training pants has pronounced these shirts dire. Russell, you need help.

I ought to say here that I commit shirt crime on a regular basis, and I'll never be a model of sartorial elegance - my tie knots owe more to Grange Hill than YSL - but at the very least I try to observe the forms when I'm at work; tucked in, buttoned up and ironed - or at least worn in a way consistent with the shirt's design. And I can't be said to be slagging Russell himself, because I don't for one second believe that personal choice figures in the dress code for a role as critical as tv presenter. There are some simple cues that indicate how each garment is best presented on the human form, and we ignore them at our peril. And this is national tv, for chrissakes: I know it's TV3, but let's make it look professional. His employer's skill at presenting their staff don't inspire confidence in their weather predictions, no matter how cheerily delivered.

Every night Russell appears with his buttocks roundly framed by the exposed tails of his shirt. I have it on good authority (the staff at Frank Casey suit hire: I'm going to a black tie wedding next week) that wearing out is just acceptable if the shirt has a straight, properly finished edge. If a shirt has long seat-covering tails, it is intended to be worn tucked into the gentleman's trouser. The practice of wearing out in formal situations has become quite rightly acceptable in a climate like ours. You can't walk through the Domain of a sunday in January without encountering at least one wedding party where more shirts are out than in. But generally these are garments that have been designed to hang out, and don't make the wearer look like a surly fourth-former inviting a detention, Mr Dixon, or a fifth-form ball-goer all messy on RTDs.

Jim's Formal Wear (www.jimsfw.com) supplies a wide range of formal dress - albeit to Americans - and offers advice on what to wear and for what occasion. Nowhere does Jim's suggest wearing a formal shirt (ie one with a fussy front intended to be worn beneath one of the types of formal jacket) hanging out, without a tie, and ironed as if it just came out of the wrapping. Who irons Russell's shirts? Why are his cuffs ironed as if they're part of the sleeve? They shouldn't be, and it's glaringly obvious when the cuffs are the troublesome double-thickness sort requiring cufflinks.

So make up your mind, TV3: you can't be all things to all people. If you hope to gently ease people from the respectful formality of the news into the she'll-be-right realm of the weather, dressing your presenter like a man who got into a brawl at a wedding isn't the way to go about it. Either keep up the plummily conservative dignity of John Campbell's news and buy an iron for Wardrobe and some normal shirts for Russell, or give it away: keep the shirts but hire Sophie Dahl to present the weather in the shirts and nothing else. She'd look great.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Hurry! Only eleven months to Christmas!

With less than eleven months to go until the whole misguided thing reconvenes, here’s what you’d hope will be the last posting with ‘revue’ content. At least for this year. So…

Our family just got bigger with the birth of our daughter, and the experience has caused me to recall an observation made late last year. Excepting weddings and the aforementioned births, there's nothing like Christmas for placing us under one of humanity's great social obligations: to kiss and be kissed, and each festive season's round of meetings, greetings and farewells quickly exposes us as kissers or non-kissers. Perhaps this divide was made more conspicuous last year: when tired, overworked people enduring the mockery that was Auckland's early summer are suddenly given midday access to limitless free booze, they also turn into snoggers, shaggers, elbow grabbers, hem-clutchers, bores, piss artists, tossers and worse. But here, I'm thinking only of kissers.

Kissers love Christmas; it's a heaven-sent opportunity to press moistly against those they haven't sampled before, or reaquaint themselves with the taste of their nearest and dearest. But non-kissers are way out of their comfort zones with all this, and instead are forced to endure it - and expected, what's more, to do so with something like good grace. This isn't easy for them, compelled to suffer like a puppy suffers the throttling hold of a clumsily affectionate child, so most avoid it whenever possible. If you pay attention non-kissers can be spotted easily enough; they're the tense wary ones keeping a low profile at the back of your office party, counting their drinks and sneaking off quietly before the drunken, teary farewells. As a colleague remarked on Christmas eve, still burdened with the dubious plasticy bounty of our office secret Santa, "phew, I managed to get through that without having to kiss anyone". Me? I'm a hugger; probably it's some security/protection thing…

In any case, there was a distinctly unaffectionate start to the year in our office. In the finest traditions of public service, many staff were on leave as of the first working week - cunningly using the barest minimum number of leave days from the awesome bulk of leave time amassed through long-service - thereby greatly reducing the pool of potential meeting attendees. There is an ‘understanding’ regarding meetings in the public service: for a minority hardened core they are a means of gauging productivity. Minuted proof that one is at least engaged in something has become confused with achievement, and one is expected to attend no matter how irrelevant or obscure the subject matter, to collectively maintain the illusion that work is being done. A minor crisis averted last year hadn't been completely resolved, so a series of meetings was called at almost commercially-minded short notice. With fewer bods on the floor the list of invitees was a desperate collection, most of whom were only present in body to exploit the slack time following Christmas. Somehow, one of the legal team found herself press-ganged into driving the spreadsheet that we all argued over for three or four hours solid. Straight off I saw that she wasn't happy about doing this. I could have offered to help - she's a mate and I spend all of every day trudging through spreadsheets - but I'm cowardly and selfish, not stupid. I did feel bad, though: her experience could have been straight out of the less savoury classifieds...


BITTER? Are u large 40+ swf with excellent office admin skills, repeatedly passed over 4 promotion? Watch out-of-depth size 8 n-s prof fem stumble blindly around unfamiliar application on datashow in front of threatening all-male management audience. Extras avail. - skirt tucked into knickers; patronising commentary; tailored shirt ruined by coffee. Can supply own networked laptop, cabling. Ph Pamela 021-245-3391.

I’ve just returned from leave, and for several weeks I've been buying my coffees from somewhere other than my work café. The experience has confirmed my belief that coffee practically sells itself - or ought to, all other things being equal. In our work cafeteria, all other things are not equal. Several weeks before Christmas our cafe installed an espresso machine in response to repeated staff demands for a supply of "real coffee". The coffee is of variable quality, and business is bad. Early teething problems have been solved (the machine is now routinely turned on well before a coffee is ordered by the first customer of the day, etc) but still the operation is in the doldrums. Just after christmas I breezed up to the counter and, having ordered, I cast about for some conversational opener while N. fussed over the machine. I asked how business was going. Bad, was the reply. N. looked quite glum when she told me this; odd, as I knew she had disliked the machine from the day it was plumbed in. But something had changed. While she catalogued its costs she rubbed a reddened hand over its fascia, the way a successful man will slap a fat careless hand on to the bonnet of an ostentatious car he claims he can't afford, as a mechanism for telling you how much he paid. On the previous day the cafe had counted themselves lucky to have sold twelve coffees, but daily average sales were about six cups. Someone had been employed full time to serve the coffee, apparently - though I'd never seen anyone unfamiliar wearing an ‘Introducing – Experienced Barista’ sticker - and service was slower than ever, so unless sales picked up the machine would have to go back.

I don't know what the business case for the espresso-machine-and-barista-to-the-stars looked like, but it must have reckoned without the shocking tightfistedness of public servants. Coffee making facilities have always been provided for free, but the instant on offer is some utterly crap no-name discount brand and makes coffee that tastes like brewed pants. The new espresso is competitively priced, but despite this and their repeated calls over many years for real coffee, most of my handsomely-paid colleagues would rather swallow an undrinkable freebie than pay realistic rates for an alternative. It's just this sort of parsimony that'll see the machine unplugged and sent back, and then I'll be back to sweating across miles of hot asphalt several times each day just for a fix.

A footnote to the coffee saga: the café have finally advertised the presence of the espresso machine to the staff. News posted on the organisation’s intranet – presumably via the communications department – advises that the cafeteria “now has a specially trained barister on board to make your coffee for just $2.50”. Hmmm.