Tag: things i think about

Stair Climber: Update

Two years ago, I wrote about being a stair climber.

I believe I’m still a stair climber of escalators in the Underground. However, I can’t provide the evidence. I now walk to work so there is no Tube behaviour to cite.

I wrote in my last stair climbing post:

‘I’ve finally bitten the bullet and resolved to take the stairs to the fifth floor, where my desk is at work. I did it every day last week. I hope I can keep it up…

‘I’ve avoided taking the stairs because (I know this sounds weird) I felt embarrassed walking past the crowd waiting for the lift. I felt especially embarrassed if someone in that crowd knows I work on the fifth floor because they, too, work on the fifth floor. In that context, being a shown to be a stair climber seems self-righteous and snobbish.’

Since that post, I relapsed and started taking the lift again. I couldn’t get over my embarrassment.

However, there has been a development. For the past 6+ months, I have climbed the stairs to the fifth floor every day. I have discovered a set stairs at the back of the building, hidden away so that I can do my shameful stair climbing in peace.

There are 90 steps all together, enough compensation for a third of a square of dark chocolate.

Fashion by osmosis

I like looking at groups of girls.

Please don’t think the worst (or the best, depending on your point of view). What interests me is the way they dress. Time and time again, I find that girls dress like each other.

It seems to me that the girls don’t realise this. They probably think they’ve made their own fashion decisions. ‘After all, I’m wearing teal with white polka dots, and she’s wearing dark grey.’

‘Ah,’ I think, ‘but you’re both wearing dresses with belted waists and that go just above the knee. Same shoulder pads, same sleeves.’ Those were the two girls I saw today on Camden High Street.

Last weekend on the way to the post office, I walked behind a trio of girls. The two on the left wore light summer (different coloured) shirts over long dark shorts. Although their sandals had different details (flowers on one, gold rings on the other), both were flat heeled and strappy. The two girls even had the same type of over-the-shoulder handbag — puffy black bags with shiny chain straps.

The third girl was interesting. She was different. While the other two had high pony tails, she wore her hair short. Her handbag was big and pink — practical but stylish in its own way. She wore a dress.

She seemed to be her own person. I admired this.

But who knows? Maybe the three of them were on their way to meet a short-haired friend in a dress holding a big practical yet stylish handbag.


A few days ago, I cut my left index finger with the back of a knife. How this happened, I do not know. The back of a knife isn’t meant to be sharp. Two blades for the price of one — bonus!

The finger is healing nicely. It’s at that itchy stage, which signals that the body is knitting itself back together.

I have been wondering if this cut has changed my fingerprints. Where do fingerprints come from? What layer of the skin is responsible for these whorls and loops? How deep do I actually need to be cut before there is slash across my fingerprints?

I have some friends who work at London Olympic Park site. The security is tough. You can only get in if your hand print scan matches a print stored in the database.

My friends were telling me about one woman whose hands expand in hot weather and shrink in cold weather. On a cold day like today, she sighs and factors in the extra time it will take to get on to site. Her cold-shrunken hands always fail to pass the security test.

A a man who works at the site has no fingers. This stumps (ha ha) the hand print scanner, so his security clearance is based on a retina scan.

This seems unnecessary to me. Surely a fingerless hand (a palm?) is a unique identifier? Seems much more secure than scanning a common garden-variety fingered hand.

Battery consultants

When I walk through the office, I look at the rows of people. My colleagues are spaced around long desks about two metres apart. Each one has a computer and a filing cabinet.

Often, I’ll see people chatting and having impromptu meetings around the communal tables. Occasionally, though, there is no chatter. Everyone is quietly tapping at their keyboards.

Even when it’s quiet, there’s still a lot going on. The activity is all mental.

Still, seeing rows of consultants working hard in their virtual cubicles reminds me of battery hens hard at work.

Deluge of autumn leaves

In London, I see autumn leaves on a scale you don’t get in Australia. In some places, I walk shin deep in red, orange and brown leaves.

London’s neighbourhoods are beautiful right now. However, I do feel sorry for the street sweepers. During the rest of the year, they’re clearing up litter, dog poop, pavement pizzas and cigarette butts. Now, on top of their usual duties, they fight an unwinnable battle with leaf litter.

The sweepers fill their rubbish carts with red, orange and brown, and the next day, the trees have re-layered the roads and footpaths.

The sweepers’ only respite is winter, when the branches of deciduous trees are exhausted and bare.

There is one other thing about the leaves that makes me worry.

You see, when leaves fall and naturally decay, the nutrients go back into the earth. At the same time, carbon dioxide is released. This doesn’t contribute to climate change because when leaves grow back in spring, the tree re-absorbs the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

What I worry about is that all those leaves collected by all those street sweepers will go to the rubbish tip. This must happen because the sweepers are still picking up litter. No one is going to separate the leaves from the litter.

In a rubbish tip, the rubbish is stacked in layers and capped every night so that the rats and pigeons don’t make a mess. This means that organic material like leaves have no oxygen. Instead of decaying (aerobically) and releasing carbon dioxide, the leaves will decay (anaerobically) and release methane.

Methane is a more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Over the next two decades, this methane released will trap 72 times more heat than carbon dioxide. Even after a hundred years, methane is still 25 times more potent than the same amount of carbon dioxide.

I wonder if anyone else has been thinking about this.

I dreamt I made it

I had a bad dream last night. I dreamt that I was reading a Wikipedia article about me and it was full of errors.

When you have a Wikipedia entry, you know you’ve made it. Made it to where, well, that’s up to you.

‘We need a witness to our lives. There’s a billion people on the planet… I mean, what does any one life really mean? But in a marriage, you’re promising to care about everything. The good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things… all of it, all of the time, every day. You’re saying ‘Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it. Your life will not go un-witnessed because I will be your witness’.’

(movie quote)

Well, move over, marriage. For the successful and notorious, Wikipedia now offers a viable alternative witness to a life partner.

(This is a strange blog entry. I guess things I think about are like that.)

Click quotient

I had forgotten what it was like to click with someone on the first meeting. I mean really click. Going beyond ‘Oh, she seems really nice. It’d be good to meet again.’ I mean the kind of rapport when you could sit and talk for hours, even if you can’t remember her name because when she first introduced herself, you didn’t pay special attention because you didn’t know you would click.

I haven’t clicked with someone new for maybe a year or two. However, on Friday I met two people that I found so likeable that I had to eventually force myself away to mingle elsewhere in order to stay within the normal bounds of first time friendliness.

I didn’t want to scare them away, although probably they liked me too and were also trying to calculate the right time to move on. I suspect that clicking has to be mutual.

The first person I clicked with on Friday is an older woman who leads the maritime business for a rival consultancy. She was sitting next to me at a gala lunch. We didn’t talk about anything in particular: work, business ethics, accounting systems, our old teachers. It just seemed that we always had something to say. We swapped business cards and I hope I can see her again some time.

The second person I clicked with is a man about my age who used to work at my company, but now works for another rival. I had just arrived at a house warming party and warned him about a giant bug crawling on his shirt. We also got talking about everything and nothing. I don’t think I’ll see him again unless our mutual friends organise another gathering.

It leads me to think about what my click quotient is. I will define this as the proportion of new people I meet with whom I click. I wonder if people have similar click quotients?

Originally, I was thinking that people have different click quotients depending on how open their personalities are. That is, the more easy going, receptive and chatty you are, the more chance you will click with a stranger.

But maybe that’s not the case. Maybe for those people who perceive that they click with many people are in fact just meeting a lot more people because they are:

  • in a new situation, such as a new job, course or city, and there are lots of people to meet; and/or
  • extroverted and comfortable chatting to strangers, and so in any particular room of people, will meet more of them.

So what I mean is maybe the there is a general trend for people to genuinely click with, say, 10% of people they meet. The people we see who seem to have a rapport with many people are simply clicking with 10% of a larger number.

But perhaps the opposite is also true. Maybe when you click with lots of people, you don’t think it’s all that special. Certainly for me, having not clicked with anyone new for so long, it felt a bit wondrous to do so on Friday.

Another factor is probably also the crowd that you’re moving with. If you mingle with people who have the same interests and background as you, then that might increase the click success rate.

I wonder what the smallest length of time is that you need to speak to someone before you click?

I wonder if clicking really must be mutual? (otherwise the result could be stalking or uncomfortable distancing)

I wonder if some people with a lower click quotient experience more profound/deeper clicking when it happens?

I wonder if you don’t click with someone straight away, you can develop the same rapport over time? If this happens, is it something new that has developed or is it the discovery of something that was always there?

Goodbye, cheerio

I have been signing off my emails with ‘cheerio’ since long before I arrived in the UK. According to my email archive, I first used ‘cheerio’ on 18 May 2003. I use it to sign off personal email, and at work with people I’ve met or talked to more than a couple of times.

I can’t remember why I started using it. I like ‘cheerio’ a lot. It sounds friendly — a bit cute, a bit cheerful. I imagine myself doing a little wave, as I hit ‘send’.

Two weekends ago, I read an article that said that the email sign off ‘cheers’ is too casual.

Then ‘cheerio’ must be even more so. I’ve always supposed some people think it’s overly cute but I never worried about it until now. (The article also said that ‘cheers’ is faux British, which is a criticism we here can ignore.)

So I started thinking about other email closing options. While I like the balance of formality and friendliness in ‘best’, I can’t use it because I have a thing about grammar. Closing with an adjective is just a bit strange to me.

I use ‘best regards’ for my professional correspondence. It is too formal to replace ‘cheerio’. By that same token, ‘sincerely’, ‘kind regards’, ‘faithfully’ and ‘cordially’ are similarly discounted.

‘Yours’ and ‘warmly’ is too intimate.

No sign off is sometimes too abrupt.

Perhaps my correspondents haven’t noticed, but I haven’t used ‘cheerio’ since 10 August, except for a single slip up on the 17th.

Instead I’ve been rotating, as appropriate, the following pool of closing salutations:

  • Nothing — good for short emails as part of a longer discussion
  • ‘Thanks’ and ‘thanks again’ — always works for emails in which you ask for a favour
  • ‘Hope that helps’ — responding to other people’s emails that end in ‘thanks’.
  • ‘See you soon’, ‘talk soon’ — especially when you’re arranging a meeting or follow up call
  • ‘Hope the rest of your day is less frantic’ — or some other set of well wishes that reflect a person’s current state
  • ‘Hope you’re well’ — good for people you haven’t been in contact with for a while
  • ‘Bye’ — this is, of course, quirky because it is so classic so I use it only occasionally

So many options, which were once swept up in the single phrase of ‘cheerio’!

What it means is that I have to spend more time thinking now when I close my email.

In the veggie box

I like putting things in boxes and categories. I have mental boxes such as:

  • fruit vs vegetable
  • sweet vs savoury

I feel uncomfortable when things drift between mental boxes. This is why I am considerably concerned about tomato based drinks. To me, drinks are in the ‘sweet’ box, as opposed to soups, which are generally ‘savoury’.

A tomato drink is not hot enough to be a soup and not sweet enough to be a drink, so I find it confusing.

Recently, I had a mental box problem to do with rhubarb. Damjan’s housemate, Niall, went to visit Nick. Nick gave Niall some home-grown rhubarb. Niall re-gifted it to Damjan, as everyone knows that Damjan likes to experiment with cooking the less common veggies.

Damjan and I pored over a number of candidate recipes: rhubarb and orange mousse and rhubarb fool. We finally settled on a monstrous hybrid of both: orange rhubarb fool with ice-cream.

We stewed the rhubarb with brown sugar, adding freshly squeezed orange juice and grated ginger. Then we dollaped it onto vanilla ice cream and served it with fresh ripe and sweet strawberries.

What a dessert! It was very delicious, tart and sweet, soft but textured.

Even as I enjoyed my dessert, I was feeling tense because of a mental box scramble. Rhubarb is a vegetable. I can’t go around eating vegetables for dessert.

The only solution, I have decided, is to reclassify rhubarb into my mental ‘fruit’ box. Such reclassifications are not unprecedented. For my whole life, tomatoes and cucumbers have been happily sitting in the veggie box, despite being fruits.

But this particular mental switch (rhubarb as fruit) has been more difficult than I expected. The problem is that rhubarb looks like celery, and there is nothing more vegetably than celery.

If I keep at it, I am sure I will get around this mental block. I know it is possible because after a short struggle, one of my favourite desserts is now carrot cake. The sheer yumminess of carrot cake has overwhelmed the boundaries of my boxes.