You don’t know what you’ll do ’till you’re put under pressure

Last week began quietly. I have been receiving emails from the German office. My boss speaks very good English but uses German idioms. He insists we should be “marching in step”. Our Emails are in English of course but the Germans prefer to end their sentences with an exclamation mark rather than a full stop. A caricature perhaps but it seems to be true!

I don my earphones and resort to an MP3 player. I select Across 110 Street by Bobby Womack.

I was the third brother of five,
Doing whatever I had to do to survive.
I’m not saying what I did was alright,
Trying to break out of the ghetto was a day to day fight.

As the strings swoop and Bobby sings the chorus I get goose bumps. God knows why! It’s not like I live across 110 Street and I don’t suppose Mr. Womack was thinking of quarterly reporting when he sung “You don’t know what you’ll do until you’re put under pressure”. My mind wanders sideways and I consider my colleagues and I, a group of mainly white forty something males sitting at desks in Surrey pushing buttons while showing not a glimmer of emotion as our souls soar and we dream of being black teenagers in  Harlem.

Due to the Credit Crunch (CC) our work load is reducing and this has given everyone more free time. General Managers use this time to scrutinise cross charging and we are now under pressure to justify everything we do.
With little work and unemployment never far from our minds, we spend more and more time on elaborate spreadsheets detailing exactly what we are doing. The more time we spend on the spreadsheets the more tortured the figures become. So Mr. Womack, we now know what we’ll do if we’re put under pressure: we will develop spreadsheets. It’s just as well we have this distraction as HR have just issued a Communications Policy restricting us to 15 minutes of personal web browsing a day. Without the web we need something to keep our brains ticking over as we stare vacantly at our screens.

I have been investigating loft insulation and making calls to companies to get quotes. Of course I never get to speak to anyone who actually knows anything about insulation. I usually get a temp with 2 days training on a list of questions that they’re supposed to answer. As all companies appear to have outsourced their call centres I am probably speaking to the same person each time. When I try to end a call I am asked “Is there anything else I can help you with?” – No, no there isn’t. No, that’s why I said goodbye. Uh, I’m going to hang up now.

The ducks returned a few weeks ago and last week there were ducklings. For many of us the spring batch of ducklings is the high point of the year. Sadly the crows got them all again within about a week. By now my MP3 player is onto Cortez The Killer by Neil Young. My goose bumps rise again and I ruminate on the feeling of irretrievable loss that this song summons up. All rubbish of course. According to Bernal Diaz del Castillo a soldier serving under Cortez Montezuma’s Aztecs were a blood thirsty bunch.

The Daily Telegraph had a picture of the new Jaguar XJ Saloon. Not a very revealing picture but it neatly demonstrates my argument that car design is being led by the mobile phone industry. I’d wager that the chief designer of the XJ saloon sported a Nokia 6310.

Jaguar XL Saloon
Jaguar XL Saloon
Nokia 6310
Nokia 6310

Driving to work one morning the local radio station tells me of a scheme named Community Payback in which young offenders are forced to remove graffiti or clean street while wearing high-visibility orange bibs embalzoned with the words COMMUNITY PAYBACK. The scheme is run by The Department of Justice and I am invited to nominate some work for the offenders. We British may not have achieved a totalitarian state by 1984 but New Labour still have it fixed firmly in their sites and we stagger onward toward it.

On Thursday evening I attended a chapter meeting of the IT governance organisation ISACA in The City. IT Governance has never had and will never have a glamorous image and ordinarily the attendees are a motley bunch. However, there we all were on Thursday night. The room overflowing with the sharp suited and the eager. I guess the recession is starting to bite. The declining standard of the nibbles at the networking session is further evidence of a tightening of belts.

On the train home a man about one row in front and to my left was assaulted in a very British way. My head in a novel, I overheard a vague expression of mild indignation from someone in front of me. I ignored this but further mutterings followed and I noticed that the man to my left was standing and leaning over the seat in front. The gentlemen in front of him then rose and walked away toward the front of the train. It was then that I notice that the man next to him had a bleeding nose.

In the developing world public confrontations result in intervention by everyone within a hundred yards radius. You can’t just assault someone and walk away. The assault on the train was amazing for it’s British reserve: “Yes, I’ve just had my face punched in but I don’t like to make a fuss and disturb anyone.” Even the assailant had had the good manners to perpetrate his crime quietly and then depart.

After vague and half hearted consolations from his fellow passengers the red nosed man retrieved his cell phone and called the police to arrange for them to wait at East Croydon station to detain his assailant.

I thought that was Americans that said “Don’t get mad, get even.”


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