Monthly Archives: January 2008

Work, pigs and Brodie

Capitalist PigsSometimes, in the middle of a conversation with a bunch of co-workers, I’ll suddenly become aware that the group of people I’m talking to all have a different accent to me. It’s happening less frequently now, but when it does occur it feels like being forcibly detached from the situation and looking in from the outside. In many ways it’s quite pleasant because it feels like a little achievement that we’re in this position. The other time that it occurs is on entering the office in the morning. Hearing even one voice say “morning Martin!” or “hey Martin!” in an American accent is still an odd, but flattering feeling; how do these people know my name ?
Apart from that, work is bollocks. Not my work especially, just work in general. Being forced to sit in a hot, fluorescent-lit cube for 40 hours a week is a pretty depressing waste of a life. It’s been getting me down quite a lot recently but I have to keep reminding myself that it’s only temporary. So, while I’m feeling good, here is a list of reasons I should stop bloody moaning:

  • Barak Obama is doing quite well, and the Republican candidates are all obviously so mental that it’s unlikely we’ll end up with another George W Gump in the Whitehouse. Hmm, the triumph of optimism over experience perhaps…
  • Last week the banking arm of my company came in, armed with bagels and doughnuts, and tried to persuade us to open bank accounts with them. OK, that sounds pretty bollocks, and for course it is. But they also had a raffle in which I won an iPod shuffle, much to my colleagues annoyance. They also gave me two small, plastic, fat, pig MegaBank keyrings. These are as cheap and crappy as they are appropriate; banks using fat pigs as mascots ?
  • There are some exceptionally cool people at work.
  • We may now own a house.
  • Good food and drink – in large portions.
  • No sirens driving past every two minutes of the day and night.

Those of you that know Brodie will be horrified to know he’s currently in Intensive Care after a serious assault. However, his prognosis is good. Please contact me if you need to contact him or his family.

Why I’ll never be rich

On the front page of MegaCorp’s intranet [now that I’m legally employed there I won’t be dropping their real name too often] is this story:

Capital Levels

MegaCorp will exceed targeted capital levels on a pro forma basis for the 4Q 2007 and has raised or priced nearly $30 billion of capital over the last 2 months.

Now, I haven’t got the faintest arse of an idea what any of that means. I mean what does “priced” mean in that context ? To me, pricing is what they do in a supermarket with sticky labels, is that what they mean ? They just put a sticky label saying “$30 billion” on a big pile of money ? I could do that.

Money works in a different way when you have a lot of it. You can create more just be hyping it. Jobs work differently too. For example if you or I do a bad job, we get fired.
If the CEO of MegaCorp does a such a bad job that the company loses billions and causes a global economic crisis, he too gets fired. But the difference is that he keeps his $1.74 million pension, $94 million stock and $53 million savings.


We are currently under attack from snow. Despite the number of insurance detail exchanges occurring just in the car park of my work, this is quite a mild snowfall for Philadelphia. It’s amusing to think that a couple of feet of snow here is nothing more than a minor inconvenience whereas in London it would be a disaster of apocalyptic proportions. London Transport would close down for a week and car drivers would all be given psychiatric treatment for the trauma. But here, life goes on and people still drive like arseholes.

Birds, The Castle, Kath, Kim, and good things

Traveling 3000 miles changes things in a very peculiar way. Major things like TV, the Internet, and everyday life, don’t change too much, whereas the differences occur in seemingly small ways. Take birds for example. Over here, the birds are all different. The birds we do recognize, like the ubiquitous starlings and house sparrows, are usually here because they were artificially introduced by the eccentric and the reckless. Yesterday morning we managed to escape the bed glue and visit a reasonably nearby nature reserve; they organize regular bird-related events and Michele was very excited by the prospect.

The place was spectacular! It is the equivalent of the wetlands centers in Britain, only much larger and with, seemingly, more volunteers and borderline autistic experts. It was beautiful! We went on a four mile walk around the beautiful lake whilst the experts helped us see things that we would never normally have noticed.
The experts noticed over 35 different species that morning. We didn’t see half of them but we did see the following birds for the first time in our lives:

  • american coot
  • american goldfinch
  • black duck
  • carolina wren
  • downey woodpecker
  • golden crowned kinglet
  • great blue heron
  • greater black backed gull
  • green wing teal
  • mocking bird
  • northern cardinal
  • pintail ducks
  • red tail hawk
  • ruddy duck
  • rusty blackbird
  • sharpshin hawk
  • shoveller ducks
  • song sparrow
  • white throat sparrow

If you want to see (or hear) what any of these lovely characters look (or sound) like, then I advise visiting this superb site.
It was possibly my first proper bird watching event, and it was very reassuring to find the usual raft of autistic blokes on hand to explain the intricacies of the hobby. One guy, Richard, who I really would like to permanently have on hand, could identify any of the birds we encountered by their call alone. The group leaders, obviously jealous at his skills, weren’t too friendly with him…until they needed his analysis of a nearby call. He was brilliant! He was pointing out birds to us all over the place, purely because he heard them, and we could then try to track them with our bins. I liked, and envied, Richard. Weatherwise Saturday was absolutely beautiful too! It was a perfect morning.

There were another couple of life affirming experiences we experienced this weekend. One of which was watching The Castle which, apart from being very funny, addressed one of the most serious issues in my life: the connection and differences between a house and a home. Please, please watch that film! It’s really bloody great, and it’s Aussie! OK, they may be a bunch of common, uncouth criminals, but they don’t half make some decent films, especially comedies. In fact this evening our expensive cable subscription afforded us the opportunity to watch Da Kath and Kim Code which was reassuringly entertaining.

Another good experience was watching the Extras Finale which was, in my simple-minded world, another piece of genius. People like Ricky Gervais and David Renwick have no business making ordinary people laugh and cry at the same time, but they have willfully inflicted their wishes on me so many times. On the other hand I do burst into tears a lot and have done since a very young age. But I didn’t feel the need to cry at ET or Titanic…in fact both films had more of an emetic effect on me…

Chris, Frances, Marshall, and Stella: get hold of “The Castle” and watch it! You’ll love it! Non-family-members in London will like it too!

Right, bed time.

Nebulous balls

We now live in the future; the future as it was in the 80’s, is now here. Me, Michele, and Helen (Michele’s mum) are all sitting here, each with our own laptop, each pissing about on the Internet. I like it.

Work is plain weird. I was hoping that moving to America might help me cut down on my drinking – after all, everyone knows that drinking and work don’t mix in America. Well, it appears I have found the only workplace in the whole of North America where drinking in the workplace is not only acceptable, but financed! The fridge seems to be permanently full of high quality Belgian beer. As soon as the sun is over the yard-arm, we’re lubricated employees. America doesn’t know about sun and yard-arms though – they still use the clock.

So far I’m still quite bored there because the project I’ve been given hasn’t matured into anything practical as yet. As bollocks as it sounds, I much prefer being overworked than underworked. Being underworked causes me a strange, guilty, stress that is far more damaging than
the sort of breathless, busy, stress you get when every waking second is filled. It’s like teaching: when you’ve prepared too little work for the fastest kids, it’s a lot more stressful then when you’ve only prepared enough for the slower kids. My brain feels left out too at the moment.

Anyway – these are early days, as I keep forcing myself to remember, and so it will probably turn out ok. So far everyone I know at the place seems really sound, and that makes the whole thing a lot easier. Of course it’s very unlikely that they are all really sound so until I discover otherwise I’m just going to try and enjoy it. At least I’ve been enjoying the lunches out quite a bit.

UK people reading this, please be aware that we love and miss you.

Illness, North Philly and the Museum

Once a virus has had its way with you, you can’t help but wonder who else you will have infected. As soon as the weekend started, my virus sidestepped and allowed Michele to come down with the Lergi, forcing us to miss the early morning bird counting event that she had been looking forward to for a month. There aren’t many things that can encourage bats out of bed on a Saturday morning but a bird count, in a wildlife center is one of them. This virus is harsh.

So, with her laid up in bed, I decided to go out on my own. The weather was beautiful and, as a newly enrolled wage-slave, I have to plan my free time very carefully. So, I decided to go to the Philadelphia museum of art, because it’s really rather cool. We’ve been there before when our lovely friend Kathleen was a curator but we didn’t really get a chance to check it out and so I thought this would be the perfect opportunity.

The bus down to the museum is the 32. I’d been warned that it goes through North Philly which, to the initiated, means “no mans land”. It transpired that the journey was really enjoyable and included some quite beautiful scenery, until we reached the dreadscape of North Philly. No signposts were required, it was obviously and blatantly a “bad area.” I genuinely found it upsetting to see a part of town that, despite its obviously beautiful architecture, had been let to fall apart by…whoever. The streets were full of trash, and many of the houses were either burned out, falling apart, or just missing. London’s got some shitty areas, but not like this. This had obviously been left to rot, and the way people I’ve met speak about it, it’s apparent that it was willful. And that, in my opinion, is disgraceful. The people who live there would be well justified in losing any sense of value for their area, because it is so obvious that no-one cares about it.

Now, one argument regularly applied to places like this is that the people have let their town go to shit, and they therefore deserve it. But that just doesn’t work for me. If you’re poor, and live in a poor area that no-one seems to care about, what are you going to do about it ? If you put a kid in a pigsty, he’ll grow up like a pig. The city of Philadelphia needs to help this part of town out and I think it’s disgusting that it’s been cynically left to rot for so long. Especially when you consider that Philly has some of the highest wage taxes in the whole of the US. Thankfully Michael Nutter begins his mayorship tomorrow and so perhaps he’ll be less corrupt and put some money where it’s needed. That last sentence was brought to you by “triumph of optimism over experience labs inc.”

Anyway the museum experience was wonderful. The building itself is worth a visit, even if it’s just to see the steps that Rocky ran up, or to see see every generation of tourist try to follow in his footsteps. But once inside it’s a treat! Unlike the spectacular galleries in London, you have to pay for admission (Londoners – go and visit your galleries tomorrow you ungrateful bastards) but if you have the wherewithal it’s well worth it. There was a lot there that interested me but it was the 19th century artists and impressionists that, as usual, I was drawn to. Right. It’s getting late and this blog is getting too big. So I’ll bang on about Monet another night.

Goodnight, and bollocks to Mick Huckabee.

Tick Tock

It still jars when some website or other asks for “your country” and I have to skip over “United Kingdom” for “United States of America.” The same thing applies to selecting “EST (GMT-5)” from the timezone lists, rather than GMT. It just seems wrong. Nonetheless, when the clock hit 2008-01-01:0000 (-0500) , it did feel like the new year had arrived. That’s mainly because we were having a good time.

New year’s day was another much appreciated day off work, and so I developed a really shitty cold so that it could be efficiently wasted. The area around my nose still feels like it’s filled with Napalm. However, now that the tortuous process of selecting healthcrap plans via the borg website is complete, we should both soon be able to go to a doctor without arranging a mortgage beforehand. Again, the next time you get irritated waiting in an NHS hospital A&E room, just read a book and feel smug.

Other than that, and a few other car-related annoyances, living here feels almost exactly the same as it does in the UK. The accents that surround me at work now sound as normal as English accents probably did in the UK: I can’t remember for sure. The human brain is very good at used to that sort of thing.

There’s a lot more I’d like to say, in particular about the encroachment of the borg, but my limiter chip is preventing me.

Be nice.