the corner office

a blog, by Colin Pretorius

Budapest

I went to Budapest this past weekend. It's a beautiful city.

That is only sort of tangentially what this post is about.

Architecturally, Budapest is not London, but shopping-wise, it boasts many of the same retailers. And so you get that strange experience of the familiar with the unfamiliar.

The thing that tickled me the most, though, was that the hotel restaurant had Rama margarine, same logo and everything. What had hitherto felt like a quintessentially South African thing actually turns out to have been just another Unilever brand, kicking around in Germany for nearly a century, and available in over 96 countries.

At least we have Ouma.

{2017.09.15 22:16} : Comments (0)

John Wick: A review in one line

They killed his dog and stole his car, so he shot them all in the face. Entertaining.

{2017.08.26 22:03} : Comments (0)

QOTD

Trump is something the nation did not know it needed:

Fastidious people who worry that the president's West Virginia and Ohio performances - the alpha male as crybaby - diminished the presidency are missing the point, which is: For now, worse is better. Diminution drains this office of the sacerdotal pomposities that have encrusted it. There will be 42 more months of this president's increasingly hilarious-beyond-satire apotheosis of himself, leavened by his incessant whining about his tribulations...

People forget that all the power they want their team to have to get things done, doesn't stay with their team forever.

{2017.07.29 22:49} : Comments (0)

Fly Tipping

This was all over the papers today: Travellers leave bath tubs, fridges and mattresses behind among 250 tonnes of waste after being evicted from field .

We've been following the story for the past few weeks. The field is just down the road from where we used to live, and my cycle route to and from work still takes me past it. With the recent heat, the area is starting to smell decidedly fruity, and I can't imagine the people in the expensive houses across the road are enjoying life very much at the moment.

A few years ago (when we still lived close by), plans were put forward to build flats on this field, and we got letters in our post boxes and petitions trying to prevent the development. Density and traffic and character of the neighbourhood etc etc. NIMBYism must've won, because nothing happened with the field. So when we first saw mention of the rubbish, I had chuckled and thought the owners would probably be saying "serves you right, enjoy the stench".

Reading this article though, the field is apparently co-owned by a group of local owners. Perhaps they bought up the land after the last episode? Were these the owners who were trying to develop the land?

Imaginations in the M-P household are running riot. Is there more to this than meets the eye? 250 tonnes of waste in 2 weeks, including bath tubs and fridges? That's industrial scale "doing stuff", but what? Nefrarious plots and schemes to reduce the value of the land before some developer swoops in to buy it and sling up flats, with local residents saying "fine, anything but more Travellers"? I wonder.

{2017.07.24 21:38} : Comments (0)

Somerdale to Skarbimierz

A long but interesting article in the London Review of Books: Somerdale to Skarbimierz: James Meek follows Cadbury to Poland (via).

It covers the moving of one of Cadbury's factories from the UK to Poland, Cadbury's takeover by Kraft, how Poland has grown post-communism, helped by EU funding, the general migration of jobs to Eastern Europe, but without the kind of economic security which wealthy Western countries had previously enjoyed. All that, tied into Brexit and the effect on UK communities as well as Poland's current right-wing, increasingly authoritarian political landscape.

Overall I disagree with Meek's conclusions about the economics of it all, but there's enough reality in the article to challenge whichever political viewpoint one might hold. One can't ignore the social cost and injustices highlighted in the article, yet neither can one ignore the extent to which regulation and lots of state money results in perverse incentives and corporate capture.

My favourite line of the article is this:

These countries, until recently, were totally indifferent; they didn't pay attention to even more painful processes going on in Eastern Europe. The only advice they had for us back then was for us to work harder. We took it as good advice.

{2017.07.05 23:15} : Comments (0)

That Turned Out Well

UK elections are over. Can the divisions now heal, the nation asks? I think not, if my Facebook feed is anything to go by. Everybody still hates everybody else.

Thoughts:

  • Theresa May: hubris, meet nemesis.

  • Jeremy Corbyn: meet the opposition benches. Again.

  • Everybody else: soz.

{2017.06.13 22:09} : Comments (0)

Being offline

Technology is great but I don't like the idea of voice-activated personal assistance devices, thank you, especially ones with an internet connection and which connect to the mothership.

At the same time, it's a given I think that they're going to become ubiquitous.

This xkcd hits the nail on the head. How will society deal with this 'intrusion' into our privacy? Do we get to the point where you go to visit someone and have to politely ask them what devices they have, and to unplug them from the wall? What about smart mobile phones?

{2017.04.17 22:59} : Comments (0)

The Original Alternative Facts

Steven Landsburg:

To what extent have the churches, by training people to accept obvious nonsense without blinking, created the conditions in which Trumpism can flourish?

I was having a grumble about this just the other day. Fake news is suddenly a big issue, but human beings have been doing fake news and alternative facts for, like, ever.

(and to be fair, religious types are not the only ones guilty of it).

{2017.02.23 21:24} : Comments (0)

The Phlebotomy Visit

I needed to visit the local hospital for a blood test. I arrived early but a few dozen people had arrived even earlier than me and the place was already packed. All the seats were taken up and we were queuing up down the corridor, all holding our little pieces of paper with numbers on them from the number dispenser.

I ended up getting into a conversation with 3 other gents who were standing around me. There was plenty of can-you-believe-its and moaning and grumbling about the state of the world and the hospital in particular. I enjoy these impromptu exchanges because you often get to see the world through lenses rather different to those you're used to.

And so the anecdotes about what somebody's mate the copper goes through, or the state of the NHS and the daft things the government has done, or the crazy 'elf and safety that firemen have to deal with, or some or other crowd of workers are getting shafted with their pensions, or how hospitals are too noisy these days and nurses keep switching on the lights at crazy hours "cause they say they got to see what they're doin' ain't they" and so and and so on.

Amidst the grumbles and the banter, one fellow ends a soliloquay with something along the lines of "and you know, it's our fault really, because all this 'appens but we let it 'appen, and none of us ever says nuthin' about it".

True, true, they nod, and then one dude says "I'll tell you one thing about us English though. Nobody else would be standing here crackin' jokes about it like this" and some chuckles and "yeah", and then the dude remembers that although I'm not enough of an outsider to not fit into the conversation, my contributions have not been in an accent which could remotely be described as 'English'.

"Sorry mate", says he awkwardly, "I didn't mean to cause offense by saying that, I, uh"...

"Not at all", says I, "us South Africans are the same, if anything I think we're a bit worse"

"How so?"

"Well, our humour's probably a bit darker than yours"

"Really, why, what would you be joking about here?"

"Well, we'd be joking about the same sorts of things, but we'd also start cracking jokes about people dying in their seats while waiting..."

"Oh." ... the dreaded "oh" - the one you get when you realise that the locals have a line, and what you've just said has put you firmly on the wrong side of it.

Slightly awkward silence before the conversation moved on. I decided not to continue with my planned riff about the lady in the corner probably having pegged it 3 days ago and nobody noticing until the smell got iffy, but we should check what her number is in case it's earlier than ours and we can toss a coin to see who gets it.

So anyway. Things I have learned today: it costs a doctor 70 quid to get the hospital property management company to get a picture hung in their office, firemen have to take a fire engine out of service and call in contractors if a light bulb blows, policemen have to buy their own batteries for their walky talkies, and get into trouble and have to fill out half a day's paperwork if they take out their truncheons, you never want to go to the hospital across the river from Big Ben because that bell is bloody loud when it rings at night, and there's no damned point breaking your neck to get to the hospital early for a blood test because there's only one person on the early shift and the pace won't pick up until the rest of the staff have arrived, anyway.

Oh, and in the UK: people dying in queues is not funny.

{2017.02.13 22:15} : Comments (0)

Current Affairs

If I went back through my blog I'd probably find I say this every year, or couple of years: if there were a resolution worth making for 2017 it would be to simply stop reading the news.

The news is depressing, or makes me angry. The people who make the news make me angry, or depress me. Then there's getting irked by people having loud opinions about the news, or loud opinions about the people in the news, and the fact that I'm always getting irked by people is even more depressing.

Knowing what's happening the world is one thing. But really, apart from a quick bullet list of this-and-that happened and nope we haven't been invaded by anyone today, what benefit does the rest bring to my life, apart from being a diversion?

I'd be lying if I said that I was going to actually resolve to not read the news. But I probably should.

{2017.01.13 17:11} : Comments (0)

2017

2017 is upon us. Floss more, take the stairs more often, &c &c &c.

{2017.01.08 22:01} : Comments (0)

Moved

We've moved house, and joined that politically-favoured group of people known as "home-owners." Here's hoping it stays that way (the politically-favoured bit, I mean. The rest is a given).

It's been a chaotic month. Our offer was accepted at the start of an extended visit by my in-laws, and after what I gather was a ridiculously quick completion, we got the keys to our new house the day after they left. The speedy sale was helped by the fact that the sale was almost done with someone else, who got spooked by Brexit and pulled out at the last minute. Pretty much all the lawyers needed to do was change the names in the documents and invoices, I guess. So for us, Brexit has had its upsides.

Somebody had koff been a bit slow in organising the switch-over of our broadband, so we went for a couple of weeks without it. Now we're online again, and the already-slow unpacking process will probably grind to a halt.

I joke, slightly. The kitchen is mostly done. And the other half of the kitchen boxes, not yet unpacked and stacked menacingly on the kitchen floor, would probably would have been unpacked if we had any idea where to squeeze stuff in. And tonight, I made a start on the books. I got the first of our bookshelves properly in place, and started unpacking the first of the 65 boxes of books we carted over.

I got through 4 of them. Gotta start somewhere.

{2016.10.14 21:55} : Comments (0)

The Quietway

I recently discovered London's first Quietway. Some dude I was cycling behind suddenly turned left into Deptford, and being curious about whether he was taking a shortcut I didn't know about, I figured I'd follow him (for a block or two, if he kept heading in the right direction; it's not like I'm a stalker or anything).

There was soon a big "Quietway 1" sign, and then another, and another, and I ended up following him the whole way into London. At a non-threatening distance, of course.

I'd heard nothing about the Quietways, and it turns it they're rather new. QW1 - the one I followed - is the only one, with more (apparently) to follow. The idea is that the routes follow backstreets, parks, dedicated lanes and the like. QW1 works its way through some council estates in Deptford, before going through a park, then following an elevated path past the Millwall FC stadium, then more council estates and finally back roads towards Waterloo.

My verdict: cool, but with its own dangers. There's plenty of "wheeee" factor given the paths, sharp turns and bends, but some of those would be far less appealing in the rain, or icy mid-winter.

Also, while it's a great way to get into or out of London without battling with traffic, and is just the thing for a leisurely ride, the route ends up being a little more perilous at commuter speeds. Because the route is so quiet, and goes down residential back roads, with more than a few blind turns, not only are cyclists likely to become complacent as they whizz along, but pedestrians and children are more likely to step out in front of you. I've had a couple of near misses already.

That, and once closer to London, the route crosses main roads, which means a lot of long waits at traffic lights.

Having said that, I've found myself taking the route a good few times now, for the novelty if nothing else. Now, if only there were a Quietway that allowed me to bypass Bromley Hill.

{2016.08.30 23:06} : Comments (0)

Reading

I've not read any fiction for some time. But at the beginning of the month I went on a work jolly, and on the plane I needed something to read, and one of the only books available on Google Play on my tablet was The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas.

And so I read it, for the first time in nearly 30 years. And I really enjoyed it. It's a thoroughly immoral book, which would be better termed The Three Gigolos, given that everything pretty much boils down to the musketeers selling their favours to rich old ladies for money. But it's a great read.

That got me hitched on Alexandre Dumas. The Count of Monte Cristo followed. Great book. Best revenge tale ever. What a bad-ass.

I decided that I'd keep reading Alexandre Dumas books. The sequel to the Three Musketeers is Twenty Years After. Google has not yet run their OCR magic on their version of the book, so their copy is just the original pages; not so easy on my ageing eyes. I went looking for alternatives.

This has added a whole new dilemma to my life. To wit, the fact that these books were translated, and the translation can make a difference to the book. For example, this is one of the first paragraphs from the Project Gutenberg version, which appears to be from a 1910 translation, and is also the version you find for free on the Kindle:

It was, alas! the ghost of former greatness. France enfeebled, the authority of her sovereign contemned, her nobles returning to their former turbulence and insolence, her enemies within her frontiers--all proved the great Richelieu no longer in existence.

This is from an 1846 translation from a bloke named William Barrow

And, truly, it was in effect only the shade of that great man. France enfeebled, the enemy within the frontiers--everything, in short, declared that Richelieu himself was no longer there.

And yet another version, translated by some equally forgotten fellow named William Robson in 1856, which is one of the freebies from Google books:

Alas! It was but too truly only the shade of the great man. France sunk to a state of weakness, the authority of the King unrecognized, the nobles again powerful and turbulent, the enemy once more within the frontiers,--everything denoted that Richelieu was no more.

The final version reads best to me, and that's the version I'm going with. But I could do without these sorts of problems. What if I'd not discovered this version, and settled for one of the others? What if my versions of The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo aren't the best, and I could've enjoyed my past month's reading even more?

{2016.07.31 22:16} : Comments (0)

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