Archive for November, 2010
I was in Johannesburg on business recently and stayed in the Intercontinental Sandton Towers Hotel. This is a modern building with art deco interiors. The staff are very friendly and everything seems fast and efficient from the receptionists to the way the lifts open as soon as they stop. The rooms are spacious and include a bathroom / dressing room with a large shower cubicle and separate bath and toilet. The beds are amazingly comfortable and wireless internet is included.
A “skywalk” connects the Sandton Towers to a shopping mall with numerous shops, a food hall and a number of restaurants. Sandton is an area of Johannesburg which appearers to be composed mostly of an interconnected complex of modern hotels and shopping malls surrounding Mandela Square. Mandela Square is a little like a European Square surrounded by restaurants with a giant statue of Nelson at one end. The Butchers Shop and Grill is the big hit in Mandela Square. Fantastic cuts of meat served beautifully along with some excellent South African red. Not many chips though.
Today I saw in The Daily Telegraph that queues are forming outside stores in readiness for the sales which begin after the Thanks Giving holiday. It seems that, in American, it is considered acceptable to pitch a tent to maintain your place in a queue.
I hate queuing. If I can possibly avoid it I will. I recall returning to England from abroad one time and seeing people desperately queueing in the cold for lottery tickets. After that I never queue for a lottery ticket.
It seems to me that our hyper commercialised society implements queuing deliberately. Think about it: You are designing a call centre. You’ve done some research. You reckon that you get an average of 100 calls per minute at peak time and 20 at low time. How many call centre “operatives” are you going to put on each shift? You could put 100 on the peak shift which would mean that all the calls were answered but this would leave some of your staff doing nothing for part of the time. Doing nothing is something that our society cannot abide and so, rather than putting a broom up their arses, only 25 operatives are employed so that each caller has to wait in a queue. Of course the numbers will be much more finely tuned but the point is that the designers of the system will deliberately build in a given queue depth. This is true at the supermarket, at the railway station and wherever a an individual deals with the corporate machine. I believe that this has been driven by information technology allowing society to fine tune it’s systems. Prior to the information technology revolution it would be possible to find dead zones. You might discover that you did not have to queue in the bank in Bishop’s Stortford on a Thursday afternoon because it was market day and everyone was down the pub. You might be able to travel in space and comfort on the London Underground if you worked unsociable hours. Not any more.
The bean counters and the number crunchers have collated all available information and smoothed all anomalies away. We queue at the super market, at the petrol station, at the cash machine, to get on the bus, to get into the underground, to get through airport security and for just about every interaction with the corporate machine. All trains are equally packed and uncomfortable. All counters have permanent queues. This is more than pursuit of efficiency it underlines the unbalanced power structures in our society. The corporations are important and busy and we must wait patiently for their attention.
In less industrialised countries queuing is merely shoving yourself up against the person in front of you and leaning. I recall at trip to Leh in the Himalayas in 1988. We discovered that the office for bus tickets opened at 9am so we arrived around that time and stood outside the idiotic little window placed at waist height. A bunch of western backpackers attempted to queue while a bunch of locals tried to do what is normal for their culture which was to press in around the ticket window and gradually edge their way closer. The tension between the westerners rigidly trying to maintain the queue while the locals surged in around them was surreal.
Queuing does take place in non western countries. In Nigeria it seems to be a mix of the Himalayan and the western. A serial queue with each person leaning into the person in front of them. In England personal space is more important and gaps are maintained so that people do not touch. In some situations the gaps become overly large and the it becomes unclear whether we are talking about a queue or a bunch of people standing around waiting, an interesting philosophical question in it’s own right. This state of affairs usually continues until some bright spark walks up tot he front and then everyone hurriedly resumes a more formal arrangement.
I believe that the Americans are better at queuing than the English. The English are too reserved. I recall standing in an enormous queue for a “water taxi” in West Cowes on the Isle of White. It was late at night and people were a little merry. Occasionally a group of people would walk bypass everyone and disappear up at the front. Having spent some time in America I now try to simply tell the people that there is a queue. In America this simply results in the person apologising and walking to the back or explaining that he has his own boat or some other reason. In England this results in abuse and your friends considering that you are a trouble maker looking for a fight.
An interesting variant of queuing was employed at a doctors surgery in Dalston. You would be told that your doctor was behind a given door number. You then entered a room where a bunch of people sat and waited. You’d ask if anyone else was waiting on your number and then sit down. On occasion a number would be illuminated for about half a second and that would be the signal for the next person to go in. The tactic was to keep an eye on the guy in front of you; once he moved you knew that you had to keep your eyes fixed on the numeric display in order not to miss your slot. If you started reading a magazine and lost track of what was going on things could get very confusing.
One answer to this is ticketing. Another idea I’ve heard of is registering your presence in a queue and then receiving a text message when it’s our turn. If this latter idea catches on we can expect to see queueing replaced with loitering.
I was up at The Saatchi Gallery today. I don’t know what possessed me to go. I like “modern art” but had got the impression that Saatchi promoted all that was bollocks in British art. I was surprised and inspired.
I arrived around 9am and found it closed. However, just down the road on Sloane Square is an excellent restaurant named The Botanist. £25 for a English Breakfast with a multi-berry juice seems expensive but it was fantastic and hit the spot. Returning to The Saatchi at 10am I think I was the first in. I much prefer wandering around a museum or gallery when the hoi polloi are absent.
There is some very good work there at the moment and I spent around two hours to see everything.
Some black and white star bursts juxtaposed alongside apparently traditional Japanese flowers by Mustafa Hulusi worked very well indeed accentuating the uniqueness of each image. Abstract paintings by Henrijs Preiss were so detailed that they appeared that they should convey some kind of meaning; a military insignia perhaps or an antique board? I found James Howard’s posters fascinating. Highly colourful, and with images that could not fail to have impact, they seemed to be either translated from another language and culture or invented by a random word and picture generator. The architect Richard Wilson has a permanent exhibit on the lower ground floor which is impressive. A room has been half filled with used engine sump oil which reflects absolutely and without a ripple. It is virtually impossible to discern the surface and one’s perception of emptiness is only disturbed by the walkway which stretches out into he oil. In the shop, a digital clock consisting of many separate analogue clocks is worth a look.
Last night I saw Mike Leigh’s new film “Another Year” at Cineworld in Brighton Marina. The cinema is looking a little shabby these days. The heating did not work and there was a strange smell which permeated the whole building.
Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen play Tom and Jerry, a happily married couple in late middle age with a 30 year old son. They lead fulfilled lives in interesting jobs and spend their spare time at the allotment or reading. Their friends are not so lucky. They consist of Lesley Manville playing Mary and Peter Wight playing Ken. Both are entering late middle age, both are unmarried and both drink.
From the beginning we see Mary gulping back wine greedily and later Ken with cans of beer in his pockets for a train journey. Both are outwardly happy but inwardly lonely. I imagine that many of us at this stage of life who are unmarried see something of ourselves in these characters. I certainly did, and Ken’s condemnation of modern pubs being too loud and crowded could have been taken verbatim from my own whinging.
Ken and Mary are portrayed as lucky to have the the married couple as their rock. The centre for them to return to and gain some semblance of family lacking in their own lives. However, the portrayal is far too depressing. Yes, Ken’s fumbling advances to Mary are brushed aside but I doubt Ken gives this much thought. And when Mary’s vulnerability leads her to be, only briefly, rude to the son’s new girlfriend we are led to believe that she is ostracised; later being told that “these are my family” the implication being ”you are not”.
To my mind the acting was occasionally contrived; Ken’s talking with his mouthful was completely over done but then Leigh’s style means that this is always a risk for which he can be forgiven. There were few flashes of Leigh’s gentle wit which I have become used to and the film seemed to drag dreadfully once we hit the funeral. My friend and I sat looking at our watches.
That said Lesley Manville portrayal of Mary grew in strength and the final lingering view of Mary at the dinner table, eager to join in and be happy yet fearful of rejection was very moving. As usual with Leigh the films this one stayed with me and I am still going over it in my mind. Surely that has to be the mark of a good film.
The concept of three dimensional printing has been around for a while now. The idea is that prototypes of three dimensional objects can be “printed” straight from modeling software. Fantastic!
I’m hearing about a new type of dog: A Labradoodle. What an excellent idea. It seems that people are crossing poddles with all sorts of other dogs. Not a breed though and all the vested interests within the dog breeding establishment are up in arms. Professor Sheila Crispin says “People should not breed dogs irresponsibly.”