Thursday, March 26, 2009

Random thoughts: Reception

A company’s reception area offers a big clue to its character. I’m sitting in one now. Beautiful minimalist décor and elegantly designed lighting, but receptionists who have spoken to me with a mixture of suspicion and irritation. Steel, grey and white. Modernist leather chairs that feel like Mies Van Der Rohe designed them whilst in a particularly sadistic mood. Counter-intuitive doors on the toilet that open the wrong way so they feel locked until you pull them.

It’s all semiotics. The body language of an entire company.

I’m considering what all this tells me and waiting for someone to collect me. That’s always an awfully apprehensive feeling when you have an interview. The hope of someone grabbing you quickly when you see people approach, then the anticlimax when they walk past, looking at you looking at them and knowing you’re waiting for an interview. One feels exposed and a little foolish.

I’m not here for an interview, however, so at least I can relax, feel my arse go numb in this torturous piece of furniture and look high-powered and dynamic by writing this on my laptop. It seems to me that we spend a great deal of our working life trying to look high-powered and dynamic when, in fact, we’re flawed and a bit foolish.

Or am I simply driven to introspection by this stripped-down corporate purgatory?

Monday, March 16, 2009

In Praise of Ish

I was thinking about what a great thing 'ish' is. In fact, I suppose I should say it's great-ish. Just by adding 3 letters to the end of a word, that word immediately becomes ambiguous and vague. Is it cold outside? No, its cold-ish. Will we meet at six? No, let's hook up around six-ish. Hungry? Well, I am a bit peckish, not to mention puckish in my occasional mischievousness.

I wonder whether this is something that's peculiar to the English language and hence betrays a very English desire to skate over anything that sounds definite? Emily, my French-speaking wife, suggests there isn't a French equivalent.

Do other languages have 'ish'?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

I Might as Well Face It, I'm Addicted to GRRM: A Song of Ice and Fire

I’m a fanboy snob. I was one of the kids who had their minds blown by Star Wars in 1977. My favourite novels as a lad were Michael Moorcock’s Eternal Champion sagas. After such brainwashing, you’d therefore expect me to lap up any old fantasy or sci-fi crap, perhaps even getting the peroxide out and dressing up as Elric of Melniboné at fan conventions.

I am quite picky about what genre shit I consume, however. This is possibly why I managed to miss out on the gargantuan talents of George RR Martin (or GRRM as his fans call him). The name didn’t inspire confidence, I guess. Anyway, after coming across a discussion of his stuff on Amazon, I decided to buy the first of his ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ series, ‘A Game of Thrones’. Now I’m completely addicted – I spent yesterday anxious awaiting the arrival of the third novel in the series like a crack whore awaiting a rock.

The book is primarily set in the fictional realm of the Seven Kingdoms. The world is at a medieval level of development, so no surprises there: you have knights, castles and all the usual feudal gubbins. The plot charts the realm’s rapid descent into a great big civil war that makes the War of the Roses look like an episode of Gladiators. On top of this strife, a decade long winter is descending and sinister forces are gathering in the north...

When I began reading it, I wasn’t very hopeful. I’m not a fan of the cod-mediaeval stuff, so the setting seemed a little tired. However, I liked the multiple viewpoint chapter structure, with the potential for irony as different characters address the same events through their own lens. And, as I read more, the writing seemed richer and standard fantasy trappings became subverted and, frankly, brutalised. It starts as Ivanhoe and ends as 120 Days of Sodom.

Primary protagonists die. Moral lines become blurred. The plot shifts in unexpected ways. The mediaeval setting becomes darker, characterised by violence against the poor by those with power (rape, pillage, massacre, torture, all perpetrated by ‘honourable’ knights). I love that stuff in novels – having my expectations messed with. Even fantasy stories become far more immersive when they reflect the random chaos of the real world.

There are also lovely touches of good descriptive writing – all rooted in earthy nature, as is right from a medieval perspective. The other thing that reflects a mediaeval context is 14-year-old girls being married off and having sex, which has caused a certain amount of censure from concerned citizens on Amazon. I strongly doubt GRRM is a paedophile, but he does seem to be obsessed with children surviving the brutality of the world and becoming adults before their time.

Anyway, I’m now a big geeky GRRM fan and it’s great that he is still alive, churning these epic books out. Long may the addiction continue…