Friday, 11 August 2017
I've never been overly comfortable with the implicit intimacy of someone calling me by name when they are just selling me a coffee, but I've learned to live with it since Starbucks made giving your name a mandatory condition of getting a coffee.
But this morning the thing which particularly rankled me was not - as you may be suspecting - the smiley face he drew next to my name, but rather what the guy serving me did with my name after I'd given it to him.
I'm used to being upsold. In WHSmith they seem to have moved half the the stock of the store next to the till to try to sell you for a pound whenever you buy some stationery, and in Starbucks I'm quite used to being asked if I'd like a muffin with my morning coffee. This morning though, the guy used my name in a very friendly tone when trying to sell me a muffin. It felt uncomfortable and jarring, as though I'd given my name for one purpose and he'd used it for another. I'd given it to be used to identify my coffee when it arrived at the other end of the counter but he'd taken this as licence to become "all friendly" with me, and try to cajole me into buying a muffin.
I've always had an uneasy and slightly mutually suspicious relationship with my name. I never really liked the name "Daniel". Not for me, anyway - I don't find it a particularly ugly or unpleasant name on other people, but never felt it quite fitted me. I was "Danny" to some people during my teenage years and early twenties, but gradually became "Dan" to pretty much everyone.
I've always found it quite irritating to have someone else dictate to me what I should be known as. Of course, my parents chose my name when I wasn't able to and at least they chose better than they could've done - I believe that my Mum wanted to call me "Blue" at one point. But since I've been old enough to know what I'd like to be called, I don't think it's unreasonable of people to respect it.
The catalyst for me changing my name legally to just "Dan" was something quite small, and if I tell the story in isolation it sounds like a large step to take in response to a small annoyance, but in reality I'd been frustrated by being known as "Daniel" for a while, given that it wasn't the name I ever used if given a choice.
At work, the IT team insisted that my email address and company directory entry had to be my full name, and so as I started to work with more people outside my immediate team and even outside the company, more people started referring to me as "Daniel" and I didn't really feel that I could say "actually, please call me Dan" to everyone all the time. And so I legally dropped the "-iel" from my name.
It was quite a relief, and now all of my official documentation is "Dan" and I'm only ever "Daniel" when someone makes an assumption about my name. Which people do. I don't really blame them for it.
Generally, if someone (like my new company) makes that assumption, they are quick to correct it, but I did run into some trouble with my GP's surgery. It's now six years since I first told them that my name is "Dan" and not "Daniel" and just two weeks ago I picked up a prescription with the name "Daniel McNeil" written across the top. It doesn't really matter too much, but I asked the receptionist to correct it on their system and in return got something of a lecture on the difference between a legal name and a preferred name, and how my GP had to use my legal name. But then again, the receptionists at GP surgeries are never the most helpful people in my experience. And in any case, I have an NI number which identifies me uniquely, which my name obviously doesn't - as attested by the number of tweets I used to get for this guy on Twitter.
But whatever someone calls me, I have always had a distaste for people using my name to presume an intimacy which isn't there. If I call the electricity board to talk about a meter reading, I don't see why the person I'm speaking to and I must start to call each other by name. It's not that I want to be rude to them, but the whole exchange of names - and even worse then they start to ask "how's your day been so far?" - seems like unnecessary wasting of time. It's no disrespect to either of us if we speak about the meter reading and then hang up.
I think this general distaste for presumed closeness which underpins my dislike of the Starbucks habit of asking for my name and then drawing a smiley face next to it on the cup. On second thoughts, maybe that smiley face did annoy me after all...
Sunday, 23 July 2017
It's harder than you think. I tried nails and screws at first but I actual managed to bend a couple of fairly chunky nails whilst trying to hammer them into the coconut, and trying to get a screw in proved to be futile.
I got the end of the coconut quite easily, although it did involve using a fairly chunky saw. Usually, I'd take the end off completely and then thread some wire into the interior of the coconut through the three black weak spots on the end to hang it, but given I managed to get the end off whilst leaving the flesh intact, I thought it may be interesting to hang it up via something attached to the outside.
In the past, we've had to resort to using power tools to get into a coconut. That depiction of a coconut hitting the ground, gently bouncing and splitting open in two which was in - I think - a Bounty commercial a few years ago is nothing but a lie. Getting into a coconut is tough.
And so as I was hammering away, pointless bending nail after nail whilst trying to get one to stick into the coconut, it got me to wondering why on earth we eat coconuts at all. A long, long time ago someone must've said "I wonder whether the inside of that thing which is really hard to get into is poisonous..?" and hacked their way into a coconut and tried it. As far as I know, there aren't many animals which eat ripe coconuts in the wild (I think it's mostly insects getting into them before they are ripe) and so I doubt a person watched an animal cracking one open to get inspiration.
Truth is, I don't even really like coconut. The flavour is OK, but I find the texture quite unpleasant. There's something a little bit cloying about the flecks of plastic-y flesh you get in coconut which I can't bear to eat. I don't even like Bountys.
Having said that, coconut cream is one of the best ways I've found to avoid using dairy and tomatoes when making a curry; it makes a great base for the sauce. Thankfully it doesn't have that weird textural thing going on and tends to disappear into the spices and other flavours which infuse throughout a good curry.
And so, why was I putting a hook on a coconut? Especially if I wasn't planning to eat the coconut myself.
Well, it's all for the birds, you see. I read last year that wild birds rather like coconut. So we tried cutting the end of a coconut and hanging it up, and it went surprisingly quickly. We tried it several times, having to move from tying them up with string to using metal wire because our plucky squirrels became quite adept at quickly biting through the wire and then eating the coconut on the ground. In fact our last coconut ended up falling to the ground when a squirrel launched itself from a tree onto the coconut, only to find that the coconut's attachment wasn't strong enough to take the weight of the squirrel too. Don't worry, the squirrel was fine. It ate some coconut and then ran off.
Unusually, that coconut was last seen being carried away by a fox in the middle of the night on CCTV. What a fox is planning to do with a coconut we shall never know, but did appear to carry it away quite proudly.
In the end I resorted to using one of the little black spots at the end of the coconut, and getting a small hole in there into which I managed to screw a brass hook. It's not ideal, as the opening of the coconut will point downwards once the birds have pecked through the initial layer of flesh, but realistically the coconut will be on the ground being eaten by squirrels at that point, anyway...
Friday, 7 April 2017
The thing is, I can feel that even reading that there's been a sharp intake of breath amongst some people reading this.
So, on LinkedIn yesterday I recounted something which happened to me a few years ago. It's a true story, and I gave only the highlights in a quick status update. Here it is...
A few years ago, I met a recruiter for coffee. During the conversation over coffee, he made one or two remarks about a woman who walked into the coffee shop which I thought were inappropriate remarks.
I didn't say anything at the time, but never worked with the recruiter to either represent me, or to hire for me in any of the roles I've been in since.
My only regret is that I didn't tell him why. It feels a little bit too late to say something now, but I wish I'd said at the time that I wouldn't be using him, and why.
He still calls every six months or so to see how I'm doing and whether he can help with hiring in my team.
It's a dangerous assumption that just because you're speaking with another man, you'll get away with making "laddish" comments about a woman's appearance.
Those couple of comments have cost that recruiter quite a lot of roles over the years...
It's a brief account of coffee I had with a recruiter a few years ago, back in a previous job. Meeting recruiters for coffee comes as part of the territory when you're a manager with a team. You get to know some recruiters across the years, and will tend to stick with them as they move between companies, but there are always new ones who call out of the blue, buy you coffee and explain why you should start using them to fill your roles. Quite often it comes to nothing, but sometimes you make a new relationship.
And so I was having coffee with a recruiter somewhere, and we were making the normal small-talk at the beginning of the meeting. "What did you do at the weekend?" "Whereabouts do you live?" - all that kind of fluff that British people tend to start business meetings with. In the midst of this initial flurry, a woman walked into the coffee shop and the recruiter stared at her, and then made a couple of comments to me about how she looked, with particular reference to her breasts.
I remember feeling uncomfortable with his remarks at the time, but for various reasons I never spoke up to say anything. I just carried on with the conversation, said goodbye and then never followed up to introduce that recruiter into the process of where I was working at the time. He still calls me every six months or so to see how I'm getting on. I've never signed up to use him for hiring - either to represent me when I was looking for a new role, or when I'm managing a team and looking to hire some people into the team. The truth is, I never will use him. But I've never plucked up the courage to tell him that.
For the moment, though, let's wind back to the initial incident, and then we'll come back to today and the reactions I received to my post.
Whenever I am speaking to someone in a professional capacity, I am representing my company and they are representing theirs. So if someone I'm speaking to professionally says something which I find objectionable, for me to call them out on it is to do so on behalf of the company, not just me. That's something I'd be wary of doing, even if it's something as obviously unacceptable as uninvited sexual comments about a woman. At the time I was a few years earlier on in my career in management, and I don't think I was quite as sure of myself as I am now. And so I smiled politely and moved on with the conversation. I think it's worth making clear that I have absolutely no doubt that the management of the company I worked for at the time would've backed me had I said something; my lack of confidence was in myself rather than in them.
The second reason I didn't say anything was more personal. I identify unashamedly as a feminist these days, but that's not always been the case. That's not to say that I've ever actively engaged in nor supported the subjugation of women, but it was something I hadn't really thought about. Growing up as a white man, the fact that racism and sexism still run through daily life is something which can quite easily pass you by. And it's to my own shame that I thought that as long as I wasn't being sexist or racist myself, that was enough.
My view changed when I asked a few questions of people I know well enough to speak openly with. I read a few things which told me just how prevalent sexism still is, and I realised just how naive I'd been. And so I asked a few women in my life for their own experiences. I can point to those couple of days as precisely the time when I went from ignorance to anger to determination to help change things. As a man you have to look to find sexism; as a woman it finds you every day. It changes the way you walk to the shops to avoid the men on the building site who may whistle at you. It affects how you feel about taking your car in for service because you're sick of being patronised by the mechanics. It affects how confident you may feel in applying for a job because the company website feels "a bit blokey". I can imagine that a woman reading this now will be surprised that this isn't bloody obvious to everyone. But if you're a man reading this and think I'm overstating things, then talk to some women you know and trust, and ask them to tell you honestly what daily life is like for them.
And so back to the recruiter. Of course, he didn't say the things loudly enough for the woman to hear. He had presumed that because he was talking to another man, he could find common ground in ogling women. (Although it's not the point here, I find that quite ironic for another obvious reason, but moving on...)
But I'm sure she noticed him staring at her chest as she walked towards the counter. I'm sure she noticed she was being watched and judged.
After my post on LinkedIn, quite a few people have told me that I should say something to him next time I speak with him. But it's going to take effort, as I know it's not going to be easy. It would've been much easier to say something at or close to the time. But we are where we are, and I can't go back in time. My issue is that to me this was something I recall clearly. To him, it was probably just another meeting which didn't go anywhere and his comments are probably so common-place to him that he won't even recall making them.
The interesting thing isn't what people said in public, though; it's the private reaction I got to my post. It was three-fold.
Firstly, I got a few messages of support. People sharing similar stories and saying I did the right thing. Although a few people also posted those messages in public, and much as they are welcome, they aren't the most interesting response.
Secondly, I got the expected messages telling me that I had over-reacted. I had at least ten messages - some from people I know and some I don't - telling me that I'm being unfair, and that I shouldn't judge someone on the basis of a few comments made as an aside in the middle of a conversation. All of these messages were from men, of course.
Thirdly, and perhaps most interestingly, are the number of people who've got in touch to say "were you talking about me? If so, let me explain... you misunderstood me...". You'd be surprised how many people have got in touch to say this.
I've no intention of naming and shaming. I'm going to park this and move on now. I shall leave you with the door policy of a bar in Iceland. It pretty much applies to who I invite into my life...
Added 10th April 2017:
A little postscript, which I guess I could've seen coming...
After having to spend far-too-much-of-my-time today deleting the more abusive and, shall we say, "unhelpful" comments from the post on LinkedIn, and reading and deleting the similar private messages I've received telling me that, amongst other things "I am only jealous because he saw her first" and "I am only angry because the recruiter fancied her and didn't fancy me" I've deleted the original comment on LinkedIn.
Monday, 20 February 2017
A little while ago, I wrote about how I have difficult pronouncing a particular consonant. Many people reading this have probably never heard me speak and so presumed that I had some hugely-apparent speech defect whereas the reaction from people who know me was generally that they had never even noticed which letter I have the problem with. Fear of feeling self-conscious whenever I speak meant that I never did tell them which letter it was. I still avoid words which start with this particular letter if I have to do public speaking.
Which leads me to wonder if anyone has ever noticed the way I hold a pen. I am generally right-handed (although I can play pool equally well either way around, amongst other things) and so my strange way to hold a pen isn't an adaption to prevent my left hand trailing over the wet ink as I move across the page. Maybe it's something to do with the fact that my thumbs will bend to a right-angle backwards, but won't bend forwards more than a few degrees...
Wednesday, 25 January 2017
Nous avons également trois gerbilles mais celles-ci restent à la campagne même quand nous allons à Londres parce qu’elles peuvent très bien se débrouiller toute seules pendant deux ou trois jours. Elles demeurent dans un vivarium en verre surmonté d’une cage en métal. Les gerbilles a l’état sauvage vivent dans des galeries souterraines ; aussi les nôtres peuvent-elles, a l’intérieur de leur cage, creuser librement des tunnels dans le sable. Elles passent tout leur temps dans ce labyrinthe à l’abri de la lumière et ne se montrent qu’occasionnellement.
Donc, nous n’avions pas de souris ! J’ai découvert un petit trou dans le couvercle de leur cage a travers lequel les deux plus petites gerbilles avaient réussi à s’extirper et s’échapper
Il nous a fallu acheter une cage plus solide pour contenir les gerbilles !
(This post was originally published here in English. This is not a direct translation of the English but a re-write)
Thursday, 5 January 2017
I was walking home from Liverpool Street station the other evening, and literally every crossing I changed to show a green man just as I walked up to it. Every single one. A bit like that annoying advert with James Corden, except I didn't ask anyone to "just call me Mr Green Light".
It wasn't my only stroke of luck during the day. Earlier in the day, I'd been giving a serious announcement to my team in the office. All standing around in a circle in the break-out space in the office, it was after I'd finished speaking the MD was talking that I realised that my phone wasn't on silent, that I was expecting a call and that my ringtone is currently the theme music from Strictly, starting with a bit "Hoooooooo!" noise at the beginning. Even though the MD was talking, my attention was actually on my phone rather than her, willing it not to ring right at that moment. Fortunately, it didn't.
Good luck must run out eventually. Or more precisely, the random order in which good and bad things happen means that every run of good things is only going to be finite in length. Like tossing a coin - every run of heads is going to be broken at some point.
I feel like there should be some metaphor here. There isn't. I was just struck by how many green lights I saw on the walk home the other evening. Nothing more.
Tuesday, 3 January 2017
Some books have to sell themselves to me and some are just obviously one day going to end up sitting on my shelf waiting for me to pick them up and open them for the first time. I walked past this book myriad times in various railway stations before finally buying it and getting around to reading it. It was so obvious to me that I'd end up buying and reading this book that I didn't feel the need to rush into it; one day it would just find its way onto my bookshelf of its own accord. (17)
This book was pretty weighty, but thankfully split into relatively distinct sections so would lend itself quite easily to a chapter or two in bed of a Saturday morning before getting up to face the weekend. I've always have a fascination with railways, as I've written about previously, and I'm often fearful of reading books on subjects I love.
I try to make my life as evidence-based as possible and a necessary part of that is that sometimes my views change when I get new information. But being rational doesn't stop my heart from attaching itself to enjoyable beliefs. I yearn for the days when I believed in Santa. (18)
So it's always risky to open up something you hold dear and allow someone to give you new information. My love of railways felt pretty safe, though. In fact the book was about trains much more than it was about the railways they run on but it's entertaining to imagine yourself rattling along locked in a compartment with strangers who may be about to try to rob you or try to fleece money from you. The Beeching map does get a reprint; and at the time I was yearning for more detail but sometimes the greatest pleasure in life can be achieved by avoiding the temptation of the obvious.
And so there you have it, it seems that I like to read things which avoid the obvious and aren't lurid. Who knew I was so sophisticated in my taste..?
1. Even though my reading time was limited I did read many more than six books. Over sixty in fact.
2. I wrote this as the kind of thing CRH would say as a judge on Strictly but then became concerned it sounded homophobic. Which it's not meant to be. Maybe I should take it out in case people hate me for it?
3. I've read a couple of French novels, a book on advanced number theory and some poetry this year too, you know so it's not all been trashy nonsense. Although there has been quite a lot of trashy nonsense in there, I guess. I'm not ashamed.
4. Best. Title. Ever.
5. I've never understood why it's presumed that those people getting on a train want something light to read, but those people getting on planes want something very thinky and business-oriented given the usual selection at airports. I prefer "light and fluffy" on both.
6. I once started reading a Dan Brown book at an airport and it was _so_ fucking awful that I had to throw it away before getting on the place. Fourteen hours to Tokyo with nothing to do was better than reading that drivel. Sorry about my language by the way, but that's what you get for reading the footnotes.
7. On the BBC obviously. It won't be the same on Channel 4.
8. Anyone who's ready earlier posts will note that my time is now split between London and the countryside so for the pedants (and who else reads footnotes other than pedants?) I actually have two piles of books, one in each place.
9. I am starting to worry that this isn't actually true, but for the purposes of dramatic narrative let's presume it is. It was certainly pretty soon afterwards in any case.
10. I find that shorter books tend to have faster starts - I guess their whole pace tends to be quicker - so they are easier to get into on a train where I need something engaging straight away to take my mind off the journey. It's the same reason I tend to start reading a new book just before a flight, so by the time the flight comes around I'm already invested in the narrative and so can close myself in the book more easily.
11. I am away that - if indeed this story is fiction and not autobiographical - the entire thing is made up for dramatic purposes.
12. I am actually quite glad this question hasn't been answered. There was a great book called "A Million Little Pieces" which was presented as fact, and then exposed as fiction and the whole episode rather ruined the enjoyment of the book for me. A little mystery is not a bad thing.
13. Given how few films I have seen in my life, I realise that it's odd that the Hellraiser films are there on the list. But they are, and I rather enjoyed the first one, although I still preferred the version of the story in print.
14. I'm trying to think of this is actually 100% true. I certainly can't think of a book of his I've been disappointed with at the time of writing. If I do think of one, I'll update this footnote accordingly.
15. I am aware that footsteps made by someone walking forward lead forward rather than backwards, but you know what I mean...
16. I thought it'd be fun to put in a little note at this point about whether Clive Barker is left-handed or right-handed. The internet won't tell me, and although he doesn't appear on the many lists of "famous left-handed people" I read through I don't want to presume that he is therefore right-handed. For some reason, he seems like the kind of person who would be left-handed, doesn't he?
17. I mean here that I would eventually buy the book. This isn't a euphemistic way to say that I stole the book. I most emphatically did not steal it. I bought it from the little shop at Warrington Bank Quay station.
18. A recent conversation with my mother revealed that she doesn't think I ever believed in Santa, and come to think of it I don't remember a time when I believed in Santa either, but maybe I would be too little to remember it. Anyway, my point isn't specifically about Santa so this doesn't really matter. But then again, I guess if it did really matter, I'd have written it up there in the main text and not down here in the footnotes.