Sunday, September 25, 2016

Can You be Useful to Me?


When networking first became a thing lots of people loved it.  (Here's a definition by the way:  Interact with other people to exchange information and develop contacts, especially to further one's career.)    Sure, this type of thing has been going on since the beginning of time.   I visualize an early hominid chatting to a fellow hominid about matters that generally concern  both of them before enquiring whether his new friend had discovered a new way to make fire.   Something that didn't involve waiting for lightning to strike a tree.

Friends have always helped friends and nepotism (the practice among those with power or influence of favouring relatives or friends, especially by giving them jobs.)  has a long history.  These are people with whom you have a known for a long time and they would be your friend (sister-in-law, cousin, co-worker) even if did not have any useful job leads.

But have you ever been introduced to a charming and attractive person at a social gathering and had the suspicious feeling that you were being evaluated, not for your character and sense of humour, but to see if you could be useful to them at some point.     Do you own a truck that could be used to transfer a garden shed?  Do you work for a large corporation that always has job openings in various departments?   Are you a computer nerd who could be called upon for network meltdowns?  Are you a good prospect for their home sales party next month?  Or, is your conversational partner's interest starting to wane as to your future usefulness?   Are their eyes starting to scan the room for more promising prospects?

Consider your escape fortunate.    Network friends may not understand the concept of reciprocity. 

Sunday, September 18, 2016


Perhaps you have visited a small town or country museum at some point in your travels.  They are full of relics from the past, lovingly curated, labelled and displayed.   Old milking cans and school slates, tin washboards and rusting disc plows suitable for the sticky soil of the area share the space with yellowing theatre programs, ornate ladies' hats and sturdy travelling trunks.   All recaptured from someone's attic, scrapbook or shed to show us how people of this area used to live and work.

Rust aside, they would still all work today, should the need somehow arise, but they do require manual labour to perform.   We may congratulate ourselves or feel grateful that those labour-intensive, backbreaking days of our ancestors never applied to us.   Some can still be purchased today;   the washboard above is available through Amazon.

But the list of items that are fading into obscurity and will one day grace museum shelves and walls is not static, rather it is growing.   That we have used some of the items might make us feel like relics ourselves.  True,  all are still in use, more or less, sometimes, when all else fails, but transitions happened gradually in the past, too.  The moral is, if you own one of these items, especially if it is in pristine condition, wrap it up carefully and put it in your attic.   One day a  museum might come calling.

Sunday, September 11, 2016


Think about it for a minute.   Or survey those in your immediate vicinity.    Where are you likely to get the worst customer service?   . . . Right, a Government monopoly.   The Department of Motor Vehicles,  the Passport Office,  the government Medical Services Plan, the tax department.    There are no qualms it seems when the in person waiting time is an hour or more or when you wait on hold for thirty minutes.   No, a disembodied voice on your phone cheerfully advises that wait times are estimated to be 40 minutes.   How can they be so cavalier about this situation and without fear of losing business or declining revenues?   Because you have no choice;   they are the only game in town.   You need them; they don't need you.   You want a:

a)  Passport
b)   Driver's License
c)   Answer to a question about the government medical plan
d)    Information about your income tax deduction that was disallowed

Be prepared to wait! 

Following on the heels of government monopolies must be  organizations and institutions that have your money.    You've paid your University fees for the year, talking to you will not generate them any more revenue.    The bean counters have taken over.  Your local cable company, which has you on a 2 year plan,  has high call volumes and, of course, no plan in place to deal with this.   Why bother?   You're committed to paying them for another twenty months.    Credit card companies can be guilty of this as well, especially annoying after you spend five minutes replying to a circuit of menu options, involving entering your account number and various other options.   It doesn't help when the person who eventually answers doesn't seem to have access to the information that you diligently entered and starts the question process confirming your identity all over again.

But try to remember:  The person you eventually end up speaking to has little or nothing to do with the unacceptable service.   Customer service doesn't generate revenue and is prone to being the victim of budget cuts.  He or she is doing the work that three people previously shared.   Their hours are cut and calls are monitored to ensure 'quality' as in how quickly did they get you off the line. 

If only a small portion of what  is spent on government publicity/photo-op budgets was spent responding to citizens/residents queries, much improvement would occur.   The ads are so clever, the promises so profuse, the self-congratulation is ubiquitous.   The multitude of happy smiling faces must be residing in an alternate universe.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

A Vacation Read

The Case of the Missing Servant by Tarquinn Hall

      I found this book in the library on a recent cruise and enjoyed it very much. Looking at the cover now, it seems very busy to me as if it is trying to incorporate every aspect of the book.   I don't recall any elephants though.

      But, aside from that small quibble (and I have read that traditionally published authors have little control over the covers chosen by the publisher) this was a delightful book.   It distracted me from both the cruise ship buffet and scenic delights of the Inside Passage to Alaska.     I love books that immerse the reader in the sights, sounds, smells, foibles and culture of another country.  The main character, detective Vish Puri, known as Chubby to his friends is delightfully described and developed as smart, quirky, vulnerable and clever.   The details of Indian society reflect the time the author spent in the country.   The book reminded me of the earlier books of the No. 1 Ladies Detective series by Alexander McCall-Smith, set in Botswana.

    The plot moves quickly, the violence is minimal.    The supporting characters, Chubby's undercover operates  with names like Tubelight and Facecream  as well as his mother and wife, add to the drama.   Yet the book at times is light, almost humorous even while not shying from depicting the poverty and misery that is the plight of this very stratified society.

     There were quite a few Indian words and phrases employed with fortunately a glossary in the back to refer to.  I suppose it would be handier to have a footnote on each page but many recur.   I think it added to the authenticity.  

      The corruption of everyday life including the police and judicial system was discouraging but Chubby seemed to know how to work his way around it.  He was firm about not working for peanuts (I think he referred to the Indian equivalent) but from his results, he was worth it.   

     I want to read more of this series and am enjoying the small frisson of excitement of looking forward to reading a book I know I will enjoy.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Too Many Characters?


    I picked up a 'Grab Bag' labelled Historical Mysteries at the small local library in the Island town I now reside in.   I like historical mysteries and   I settled down to read one of the books with quiet anticipation.   Set in the early 1800's England, I was hoping for something along the line of the Brother Cadfael mysteries by Ellis Peters.  I won't name the book in hand but unfortunately consternation soon ensued.

     I've come across, and read, books that have a List of Characters in the first pages (sometimes as many as three or four pages) but at least there is a place to refer to.   As I began to read, I soon became dismayed as one character after another was introduced and then abandoned.   It became apparent that there were also several storylines.   A brief Chapter one of three and a half pages made three characters known  but, making up for lost time, Chapter two, in a different setting in England brought to life seven more characters, with descriptions of their appearance and attire.   My fingers twitched for a pencil and notepad as I admitted to myself that I was losing track.   Which characters were merely passing through the chapter and which persons, their quirks and alliances, should I attempt to imprint on my memory.

    Before I started Chapter three, it was starting to feel like a University exercise and since I have engaged in that activity sufficiently, I closed the book.  It was only Page 9.

     I've heard that people who attempt to read War and Peace,  have similar difficulties.   Wikipedia indicates some three dozen characters with Russian names that may be difficult to assimilate.   I definitely feel wimpy about my fragile effort but console myself that there are so many books and so little time.   

Friday, August 19, 2016


From a Prompt from my writing group:

     There needs to be difficulty so we have something to strive for . . . or against.

     Difficulty can't mean impossibility or we would be too discouraged.   Yet the difficulty must be real or we fool no one, least of all ourselves.

     The depth of the feeling of accomplishment is commensurate with the difficulty we have overcome in attaining our goal.  This cannot be determined objectively;  what is simple for one is challenging for another.  But then there's the risk of running into someone who has appropriated the motto:   You don't have to lift a finger if you can prove you're all thumbs!  

    Overcoming formidable tasks is reserved for one of a kind labours of love, not routine housework or yard word.  No, it must be something for posterity;  something to hang on the wall of a public building, or entered in the record books for all eternity.    But that leads to the query; is it useful, does it help humankind?    With artistic endeavours, who is the judge?   Some inventions, like the ubiquitous combustion engine have been both praised and cursed, perhaps particularly as they have lingered on past the date when some more environmentally friendly substitute should have been found.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

As a or Like a . . .

Many students remember learning about similes and metaphors.   Here's a definition in case you've forgotten:

    A simile, is a comparison using "like" or "as." for example:  My love is like a red, red rose  (Robert Burns)

    A metaphor is a comparison that speaks of one thing as if it were another:   The fluffy clouds were marshmallows wafting across the sky.

    Many similes and metaphors seem banal and over-used.

    I started a recent book, described on the cover as 'One of the great creations of modern thriller writing.'  (Daily Mail)   The author, Philip Kerr, has won prizes and awards and has his own page in Wikipedia.  Unfortunately, his book,  March Violets wasn't for me.   I found all the characters in 1930's Berlin to be some combination of violent, cruel, ignorant or immoral.  

    What came to my notice, and began to pull me out of the story-line on a regular basis, were the metaphors and similes in number and description of a degree I hadn't read before in one book.    Here are some examples:

    "Fatso pulled the huge brown-and-black moustache that clung  to  his curling lip like a bat on a crypt wall."  (Page 66)

    "Me, comfortable?  Like a Bauhaus chair, I am."  (Page 71)

    "It was meant to get me to climb aboard her bones like a creeper onto a trellis."  (Page 73)

    "I drove home feeling like a ventriloquist's mouth ulcer."  (Page 77)

    "Tesmer pointed a face at me in which belligerence was moulded like cornice-work on a Gothic folly."(Page 83)

    You'll notice that the preceding four examples are spread over a little more than a dozen pages.   I suppose the frequency with which they occur was what made me notice.

    And again, over the course of a few pages:

    ". . . but I hoped I had said enough to put a few ripples on his pond."  (Page 87)

    ". . . was possessed of a stomach that stuck out like a cash register."  (Page 90)   "He shook me by the hand . . . It was like holding a cucumber.  (Page 90)  "It was time to stick the nettle down his trousers."  (Page 90)

    "It made me feel about as comfortable as a trout on a marble slab,"  (Page 91)

    ". . . a nine storey building . . . looked like something a long-term prisoner might have made, given an endless supply of  matches . . ."  (Page 91)

    I found these metaphors and similes so fascinating that my writer's mind overcame my reader's and I was lost to the story.   I felt the urge to look up cornice-work on a Gothic folly and try to make the connection to someone's facial expression.   Was it a gargoyle that was being described?    The comparisons were all so fascinating and unique.   Had the writer left a '*' for himself on his working manuscript to come back and insert a simile or metaphor or had each one sprung into his mind in the course of writing?

    * My references are to the book contained in the trilogy Berlin Noir 2012.