Sunday, 20 November 2011


Sometimes people waiting at stations do odd things that stick in your memory. During one particular wait, standing in a shelter, I became aware of the sound of paper being ripped. Oddly, this was not followed by the obvious next steps of crumpling or binning the paper. And the ripping was being done at a slower, more deliberate pace than I am used to.

I looked up from my newspaper to follow the sound. It came from a magazine being read by a smartly-dressed middle-aged man, who happened to be sitting facing away from me. As I looked, he read one page, then having read it he very deliberately tore it out of the magazine, then into four squares, and then slid the four ragged pieces into the plastic sleeve in which the magazine, obviously some kind of professional publication in the field of his work, had been delivered. The next page received the same treatment. And the next. Most of the pages, as is usual in that type of publication, were liberally illustrated with photographs of smart, smiling people who were obviously "moving on up", and whose tales of success were being used partly by themselves as a networking excercise, but mainly by the industry "pour encourager les autres".

I began to wonder what particular industry was being featured. The cover of the magazine was obviously long gone, and I was too far away to read the articles. What I could tell, though, was that it would have been perfectly possible, and far quicker, to simply turn each page rather than tear it into quarters. The magazine would then have easily fitted back into its plastic sleeve, rather than forming an ungainly lump as it was now beginning to.

The reading and slow tearing went on until the entire magazine had been devoured. The shelter was quite crowded, and I wondered if anyone else had noticed this little tableau, and if so whether they, like me, had begun to find it disturbing. How often does anyone in the normal course of life deliberately rip up an image of somebody's face?

Perhaps I'm just a bit too sensitive. Perhaps dealing with people was not a strong point of this particular individual, or the line of work in which he found himself. Perhaps I'll not look up right now, because I am just too damn curious about what this man does for a living, and want to catch the words on the front of that sleeve in the split second between its being turned over, and being slipped into a briefcase...blink!

Human Resources Magazine

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Angelic umbrellas

Party fundraising season is with us once again. While for some this means plush dinners at £60 a head, for others such as our little party £6 gets you in to a lively gig with local bands happy to play for beliefs rather than hard cash, in the back bar of our local Picturehouse. And an excellent evening it was, too.

At the end of the evening, a group of us decided to walk home: it was a mild, windless night and our definition of "walking distance" is somewhat elastic. But my confidence (backed up by a glance at the forecast earlier that day) that it wouldn't rain, had turned out to be misplaced. Well, that's Climate Change for you.

Bring on the Angelic umbrellas. They were large, white, and standing in a wooden latticework box behind a leather sofa by the door: I hadn't spotted them on my way in. Anyone faced with the prospect of otherwise getting wet could help themselves to one, no matter how long or variagated their journey home. I was amazed: didn't this little enterprise cost the Picturehouse a small fortune in wayward brolly replacement?

Elinor Olstrom won her Nobel Prize for proving scientifically that this needn't be the case. A "common resource" (fisheries, fields, umbrellas) can be managed by its users, without the need for a typical "top-down" commercial or government set-up, as long as there is some other well-defined social structure, made up of its users, which is as large as the resource in question.

And so I wonder, how big is the Picturehouse Social Structure (note no attempts at an acronym!)? And how strong is our sense of belonging? Do we all think of the place as just a commercial enterprise (in which case we'd nick the brollies: "after all, we've paid for them"), or does it count for more than that? After all, people meet in its foyer and bars, and see classic "everyone should see" films (Walkabout, Apocalypse Now, Metropolis), which make it something of a social and cultural space as well as just a business.

And would you nick brollies from your own and your mates' social-and-cultural-space? 'Course not.

Image blagged with thanks, from "Fresh Eyes On London"