Monday, 29 April 2013

A New Home in the Sky - 21st-Century Nightmare

The other day, what with lunchtime growing smaller in the rearview mirror and home time depressingly  invisible beyond the ten-mile tailback of the dead afternoon, a colleague of ours recounted a recent dream he'd had.

'It was a real nightmare,' he said, 'Just awful! I was dreaming about my job at this place.'

Now, this man is employed to negotiate commercial contracts for Klueless Corp.

This is a job requiring the holder to be able to assimilate, internalise and generate contracts of labyrinthine and inprenetrable complexity. Contracts which clients will happily sign, believing they have just won the Lottery when, in fact, according to the acres of small print, they've just signed over all rights to the internal organs of themselves, their families and their pets, in perpetuity, to Klueless.

This is a job requiring an extensive knowledge of the kind of cut-throat and underhand commercial practices undertaken by Klueless and others of its ruthless kidney in the Business Process Outsourcing sector.

This is a job which, while it requires the incumbent to take on the aspect of a member of the genus Mustela*, is not really a job, one would have thought, to epitomise the very essence of terror. Stress, maybe, but not terror.

Anyway, in the dream, my colleague was having to draft an important and urgently-needed document in MS Word, and every time he got to the end of the document....

'A slavering monster appeared, bent on ripping out your gizzards**!' we cried, not being ones to allow a story to unfold without interruption.

'Nope,' he replied, 'It was more subtle than that.'

'All your clothes disappeared and you found yourself in a public place!'

'Nope. I was properly attired the whole time, and anyway, that's not a nightmare***.'

'You had to play a Chopin nocturne in A minor to a really big audience and you'd only learned it in F sharp minor!' I cried.

The others looked at me in stony silence.

'Just me then,' I mumbled, 'pray continue.'

'Every time I got to the end of the document,' he explained, 'all the formatting disappeared!"

So there you have it: disappearing bullet points, random font changes, erroneous tables of contents and hanging indents that just don't hang.

Truly, the very stuff of nightmares.

Twenty-first century nightmares.

* Behave like a weasel.
** The word 'gizzards' is not used nearly enough in general conversation, don’t you think?
*** Go figure

Sunday, 21 April 2013

You Know It When You See It

Today, I went to visit a nephew of mine in hospital who, along with his Easter eggs this year, was handed a diagnosis of Acute Myeloid Leukaemia. 

This is not a post about cancer, though, and it’s not really about my nephew as such either.  He was just the reason I happened to be in a certain place at a certain time, in position to witness something very delightful.

As we were leaving my nephew's ward, my mother decided to visit the bathroom, so in she went while I waited outside in the corridor. 

Now, the teenage cancer unit my nephew is on is part of a larger children’s oncology department catering for kids of all ages from tiny tots up to eighteen-year-olds and, as it's a regional unit, is pretty busy even on a Sunday.  

So, anyhow, there I am waiting for mother dear, idly indulging it a spot of people-watching, when I suddenly become aware of some kind of ruckus coming down the corridor towards me. 

Curious, I turn to see what’s occurring and am greeted by the sight of this little bald-headed kid of no more than four or five at a guess, excitedly tearing down the corridor, with mother and drip stand in happy (but ever-so-slightly anxious) pursuit.  Along with these, he is hauling along a set of three cardboard boxes of various sizes all connected together by string, so as to form a little train of sorts.  Each box contains a few random toys, and the little chap is knocking on and pushing open various doors along the way, singing out at the top of his voice “Special delivery!”

As he passes by them, each and every one of the various staff members, patients and visitors dotted about (including yours truly), breaks into a smile or a chuckle.

So far as this little boy is concerned, today he does not have cancer.  Today, he is not in hospital.   Today, he does not face a future filled with chemo and blood tests. 

Today, he is a postman and he’s having the time of his life.

Even the very best of hospitals can be dark, sad places at times but, now and then, a ray of sunshine comes bursting through, radiant and unexpected.

Now, I don’t suppose I shall ever cross paths with that little fellow again.  I don’t know his name, I don’t know his background.  I don't know what will become of him. 

But I do know unalloyed joy when I see it, and how it shines!

Monday, 1 April 2013

An Easter helping of Harold

At the risk of sounding like a stereotypical medieval Arab trader, a thousand apologies for the delay in bringing you this.  No excuses, just lame-osity.

The huge steel door closed with a dull boom behind Harold and India and they found themselves in a large, well-lit area.  Workbenches and complicated-looking equipment practically filled the place and navigation was only possible through a maze of aisles marked off with red and yellow floor tape.  Down the sides and at the far end of the room, they could see doors leading off to other spaces, offices, storerooms and so on.  The place seemed to be deserted.  Under the shriek of the fire alarms, the air was filled with the hum of equipments fans.

“We haven’t got much time,” said India.  “You take the left side and I’ll take the right,”

“Alright,” replied Harold.  He reached up under his chin and partly unzipped the front of his ‘invisibility’ suit. 

“What on earth are you doing?” demanded India, “You’ll set off their sensors.  Are you mad?”

“If two can cover more ground than one, then three can cover more than two,” Harold replied.  As he pulled the zipper down, a small grey head appeared and Teatime quickly squirmed his way out onto Harold’s shoulder before jumping down onto a nearby bench.  Harold quickly zipped up again.

“About time, old biscuit!” grumbled the small simian, “Another few minutes in there and I should have suffocated.”  He glanced around, frowning, “Ah, of course!  You’re invisible.  Right, let’s get to it, then.  I’ll get up there and do a spot of aerial reconnaissance, meet back by the door here!”  With that, he scampered up a nearby shelf unit and began making his way down the room by dint of a series of bounds from one tall unit to the next.

Harold and India, constrained by having to follow the marked-out aisles at ground level split up and began to make their own slower way into the room.


A guard stuck his head round the door to Moon’s office. “We have to leave, sir,” he said loudly over the din of the fire alarm.

“Be right there,” Moon replied in kind.  The guard’s head disappeared and Moon stood up.  He was about to walk out when something on his computer screen flickered briefly.  He leant over to take a closer look.  The screen was showing the feed from the c-sensors inside the building, but there was nothing there now.  He flicked over to a visual feed but the cameras revealed nothing.  Moon pursed his lips, maybe it had just been a blip, a bit of electronic noise.  Yeah, he said to himself and that fire alarm is just a coincidence, yeah right!

Moon slid open his desk drawer, withdrew his gun and, after a moment’s consideration, his taser.  He stuffed them into his pocket, walked over to the door and pulled it open a crack.  He waited until he was sure the corridor outside was empty of people and then strode purposefully towards the nearest stairs leading down.

Harold, India and Teatime arrived at the far end of the large room, having found nothing to point to the whereabouts of Agents Mercury, Othello and Prada.  Ahead of them was one final set of doors, large double ones, not dissimilar to the ones by which they had entered the room.  They were closed, but not – as Harold discovered by giving them a hefty shove – locked.

They swung open to reveal another large space.  Two rows of what looked like large chemical storage tanks marched away towards the far end of the chamber.  A tangle of pipes crawled over each tank like some shiny metal parasite and on the front of each was a monitor screen, presumably showing the status of the tank’s contents.

The fire alarm ceased all of a sudden.

“We better hurry, they’ll be coming back in soon,” said India.

“I can’t imagine that the other agents will be anywhere in here,” said Harold, doubtfully.

“I say, come and look at this!” cried Teatime, who’d climbed up the pipework on the nearest tank to peer at the adjacent monitor screen.

India and Harold crowded up to the screen.  It was displaying a few graphs and several sets of numbers which changed every so often.

“Top left corner,” prompted Teatime.

“Susan,” breathed India in wonder.  Harold ran to the next monitor.
“This one says ‘Crippled Tom!’” he cried.

“And this one is ‘Territhiel’” said Teatime, who’d hopped over to another tank.

“Looks like we’ve found our missing angels and Fallen,” said India.