Thursday, September 30, 2004

After what I wrote last week about the atmosphere in my French office, I thought I'd better update with today's developments.

My boss, another guy and a trainee are leaving the department and so they organised what is called an 'apero', or 'po' for short. A 'po' can be held for many reasons including promotion, departure, the birth of child or a forthcoming marriage. The general format is for the celebrant to bring lots of drinks and nibbles into work, arranged them on a table or desk, and invite everyone to what ends up as an office drinking session.

On this occasion, the first of atleast four corks was pulled around 11am, and it wasn't much more than midday by the time we were all half way through the second bottle of whisky. You can imagine how productive our afternoon was.

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Having drunk a couple of beers, my boss made the obligatory speech. He wasn't exactly gushing sorrow or weeping tears of sadness, thank God, but he certainly showed some emotion about moving on.

I wasn't really surprised because since he moved to his new job a few days ago, he has made a point of popping around to our office, going to lunch, and even initiated a personal email conversation with me like any normal friend who was bored at work, like about girls and stuff ;)

Thomas put up a post about another aspect of French socialising at work. His company sounds a bit more extreme than mine, but it is very true that eating dinner, drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes fulfills an important social function over here. I quite like this. In fact it's one of the most positive aspects of working life.

Where I work, we get subsidised food in the company restaurant to the extent that we pay only 3 euros a day for a full three course French lunch. And after we have satisfied our appetites, we can then saunter through into the cafeteria where we can serve ourselves with as many completely free espressos as we like. This is definately pleasurable social time.

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Tuesday, September 28, 2004

the way we look at others
Growing up in the UK in the 80s and 90s, racism and prejudice were very topical issues. A colourful variety of peoples from all the places us Brits had colonised were invited to come over and take the jobs we didn't want to do ourselves. In process of their integration we picked up on the civil rights ideas coming out of America in the 60s.

I was fortunate and the notion of not being nasty to people with a different skin was practically demonstrated to me by my parents through our close friendship with a family of seven exiled from Ethopia, their father still imprisoned for "crimes against the state", their mother speaking only rudimentary English.

Despite this education though I have still come to find even within myself that there's a particular ignorance that the safety of numbers fosters. It is a perceptual laziness which is induced by our absorption into a cultural commonality, and that prevents us from appreciating the variety of human differences.

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It was in Japan that I first experienced prejudice from the point of view of a minority. I learnt there how helpless you can feel when shouted at and told to go home by drunken yobs. I learnt there how angry it made me feel to be sent out of a bar for not being Japanese. And I remember my utter disbelief at being negatively stereotyped when the governor of Tokyo outrageously said that "Atrocious crimes have been committed again and again by sangokujin and other foreigners. We can expect them to riot in the event of a disastrous earthquake." [also see Joi Ito].

I left Japan after two years, completely void of emotion. I was totally sucked dry of any ounce of human warmth and needed to find a tolerant shelter where I could heal myself from the effects of prolonged exposure to prejudice. Instead, I found a country where our own politicians were playing the same game of manipulating the people's fears and prejudices to serve their ambition for power.

To avoid having to painfully listen to such inhuman and hateful nonsense, I left England and came to France. Of course, France has more than it's own fair share of depressing headline gathering prejudice. But I can insulate myself against it here by not having a TV, and by not suffering majority pressure to unthinkingly hold bigotted opinions.

Nevertheless, in the daily lives of us ex-pats, there continues to be a general background noise of the perceptual laziness I described above, as Thomas mentioned today. It shows itself in the policewoman who insisted I get a French driving licence despite me holding a perfectly valid European Union one, and in the stores that will refuse me credit on my professional salary while giving it to any old French bum.

It is in these daily trivia that prejudice really exists and needs to be tackled - right at the person to person level, at ourselves. Politicians may perpetuate and manipulate our prejudices, but it is we permit this by refusing to admit to ourselves that it is we who are prejudiced.

And before we smugly feel like we have understood the matter as being related to a clash of nationalities and skin colours, let us Brits not continue to deny that we do still judge each other on the basis of class, as Adam Tinworth experienced recently.

People are different and that is a valuable fact, since it is only by understanding our differences that we can truly learn about ourselves. Another fact is that we humans need inclusion as much as we need water.

How can we be surprised to see the people we reject behaving with bombastic animosity towards us when in the coldness of our prejudiced judgement we deny them a dignified humanity?

It's time to sort this out people.

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Monday, September 27, 2004

There are some times when this blog really needs to be more anonymous, and tonight especially is one of them.

Writing a simple post about tonight isn't gonna happen because tonight wasn't so simple. Even writing these two sentences has taken me twenty minutes.

I'm stuck for public words, so here are some simple adjectives. Charming, gorgeous, shy, inquisitive, leaving, attraction, surprise, happy, mobile.

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Sunday, September 26, 2004

Toulouse calling
It has been a photo weekend this weekend. Last night there were loads of cool lasers shining into the sky down at the river for Le Printemps De Septembre, so I suggested to Thomas we take some pictures to decorate our blogs with.

Unfortunately the lasers were off tonight, but there was still a lot of other great stuff. I tell ya, that tripod I bought yesterday is pretty handy for stopping all the shaking coming from my hangover hands ;)

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Thomas has been blogging for quite a while, and works in IT. He is a wealth of useful knowledge about excellent free stuff you can do on the internet.

This weekend he introduced me to Skype, a free downloadable software you can use to call people over the internet. If you fancy a chat, get yourself Skype and just call me up. You can easily find me in the directory - I am the only the only 'glacons' in the world.

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Saturday, September 25, 2004

saturday about Toulouse
You might have gathered that I've been getting a bit pissed off with things around here recently.

So after being admonished by Karine last night, spending an excellent evening down the new Irish pub with her and Thomas. And after having a gentle afternoon today drinking tea and eating cake in Place St Georges with Farina and her gorgeous friend from South Africa, I thought I'd remind myself of some of the reasons why I love living in this city. Here's what I found...

What a beautiful and quirky city Toulouse is. How lucky I am to live here in comfort.

Some of the people are not so great, but that's the same everywhere in the world. I should get used to it. Some of the people are fantastic, and fortunately they're the ones I can call my friends. I should keep my eyes on that fact.

What more is there to say?

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Friday, September 24, 2004


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Thursday, September 23, 2004

the office, french style
You may not be too surprised to hear that working life in France is not the same as working life in England. Not only are the keyboards arranged differently, so that to type a number you have to push the shift key, but people are organised differently too.

Perhaps the most striking contrast is the attitude towards developing a social friendship with your colleagues. Basically, you don't. In the nearly three years I have worked in France I have only been out with the team once, and that was a flop.

This contrasts markedly with the British attitude where the social element of work based relationships is mostly seen as very important, and is encouraged by regular and spontaneous trips down the local pub after work.

I asked one of my French colleagues about the logic behind this cultural phenomenon. I am sure there are many, but basically he said, by French logic, having friendships at work means that you won't devote 100% of your work time to your work. The flip side is that seeing your colleages socially means that work will encroach into your private life and steal time from your family and 'genuine' friendships.

In contrast, English logic considers that the more people get to know one another, the easier it is for them to work together and the more people generally feel motivated to actually bother turning up to work every day to do their stuff.

In England, work is experienced as a tedious annoyance that is made bearable by the fact that you have some friends there. In contrast I often get the impression that in France, work is a duty to be taken seriously.

As an English guy, accustomed to my native cultural norms and expectations, the French type of office culture is disappointing from the social side. I find it particularly strange how life can be so simplistically divided up into different boxes.

A person is a person for me, so the work context of my work based relationships does not figure in my consideration of whether I would like to a colleague socially. I simply experience the relationship in its context, seeing a colleague as just another person who could be either liked or disliked.

If I get on with them then in my world it is normal for the context of the relationship to expand into a social one, assuming their reciprocal expectation. As it happens, since the vibe I get from most of my colleagues is a vibe of polite distance, I don't warm up to them.

To put this whole thing into perspective I really need a much greater understanding of the other aspects of French relationships. If you don't form friendships at work , my French friends, where is it that you form them? Does this mean that working friendships aren't necessary to you? What happens when you actually quite enjoy the company of your colleages?

Answers on a postcard please.

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Wednesday, September 22, 2004

attention seeker
Give someone a inch and they'll take a bloody mile. Atleast that how it seems with my old banger, and I'm not talking in the sense of actual distance travelled.

I've had a suspicion for ages that whenever I take this dusty lump of dented metal down to the garage for some fixing up, it gets all happy with the lavish oil replenishing attention and starts demanding more.

Only last week, after taking the thing down to have it's legally required checkup at the cost of 270 euros, I was telling a friend that I didn't like taking it to have any work done because random unrelated things always go wrong afterwards.

Sure enough, true to form, I started the beginning of this week with the bugger playing dead at the lights. Bastard!, I thought, whilst braving all the glares of honking road-ragers to jump out and ask a gang of drunken strangers to push me to the side of the congested traffic.

Solution? New battery. Another 50 euros thank you very much.

Not having had enough attention, last night I noticed that the temperature guage was going into orbit whilst I was whipping along the circular. Oh, the ignominy of pulling your English plated car over to the side of the road and opening up the bonnet! Bastard!, I thought again.

Luckily this time it was just some water that it wanted, for which I suppose you could accuse me of gross negligence. Except that I filled the fecker up last week. Thirsty, huh?

All seemed well this morning, but God knows what could happen tonight. I'm gonna start calling the thing Herbie.

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Tuesday, September 21, 2004

a day like banoffi
Yesterday a guy at our supplier's company in Paris wrote to me suggesting a conf call on a tedious subject I follow at work. This highly affable bon-vivant is a pretty cool French dood. Glancing across the lines of his email I understood that he wanted this tete-a-tete on Thursday. This was a bit of crap day at our end so I wrote back telling him so, and suggested Thursday.

I got in this morning and opened his reply, "Well the day I suggested was Thuesday, but if you prefer Friday that is ok."

Huh, I thought, and scanned down the email to check his original message. Sure enough, there in black and white, he had indeed suggested "Thuesday".

Maybe he meant tomorrow?

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Monday, September 20, 2004

the drizzle's kiss

I am a bit confused today. Only a few months ago, I was posting about how I couldn't link my identity to the idea of 'England' since it feels so tribal. And yet today I am trying to decide how to describe to you all about my sudden identification with my home culture.

Maybe I am just becoming more tolerant as I get older, more accepting of imperfections. I sit here aware that neither France nor England are perfect. Both countries are riddled with proud absurdities, unpleasant snobberies and classisms, exploitations and manipulations, self-deceits and pervasive psychoses, historical prejudices and cultural blindnesses.

Yet while I am still discovering and resisting the imperfections of the French, the imperfections of Britain and the British are something that I already know intimately. The very things that were once driving me to leave are now drawing me back.

The things that got repetitive and boring I now see in a light of easy simplicity. The illogic of how some things are done is now warmly familiar, our own happy absurdity. English culture is so deeply ingrained into me that being back reminds me that ultimately it is with the English that I share most of my subconcious, for better or for worse.

And then there's the country itself, or rather the countryside.

Driving over the South Downs at the weekend, the sense of belonging was intense. I have travelled far and wide, taking in landscape from Asia to America. And yet there is still no place in the world that even comes close to instilling this sense in me.

Maybe you look at this scene and just see some hills. But these wavy contours and contrasting colours evoke far more in me than a few neural firings.

In that image there are the memories of the wind's tickle and the drizzle's kiss. There are the days when I wandered alone and troubled, far above the lights of the town. And there are the days when we strolled side by side, kicking the flinty chalk, as open to ourselves as the landscape was to our eyes.

There's no doubt that I will be staying in France for some time to come, but I sense that there may one day be an end to this sejour. Luckily I have some more trips to the UK coming up in the next month which may help me balance this post trip perspective ;)

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a weekend in the UK
Sometimes there is nothing better than to be in the place and with the people you know the best. The long weekend I have just spent back in my home town of Eastbourne certainly drove that point home.

My main reason for the visit was that my niece Alexandra was having her 4th birthday. As you can see, they don't come any more girly that Alex. She seems to be moving into purple for the autumn season, but pink is generally her favourite colour. At home I walked into her bedroom and nearly fell over. There was so much pink everywhere you could hardly distinguish the pink bed from the pink walls or the pink carpet... or the pink doll that got between my feet.

Her and her friends love it though, and she certainly seems to have enough of them. The little terrors were hanging off my legs and arms at her birthday party, wanting to be thrown into the air, swung around, tickled and generally kept in a state of additive fuelled amusement for 4 hours.

At the other end of the life spectrum, I made a visit to my ailing grandfather Gordon who has been in hospital in Brighton now for over six weeks. The poor old stick is 89 and his various organs are all complaining, except for his mind that is. He has always been sharp as a samourai sword, and even on the verge of the great unknown he was cutting through our waffle and getting straight to the point. He looks exhausted with his ordeal and generally seems mighty fed up.

You know, this guy is 89 years old and has been on dialysis for over 4 years now. This care, given three times a week, has been completely freely supplied by the National Health Service. The hospital ward I visited him in on Saturday was so clean and smart as to look like it could've been designed by Ikea.

I am sure there is room for improvement, but the NHS is without a doubt one of the best things about the UK. Yet it is always being condemned in the media with bad reports. There must be a thousand good stories for every one where something went wrong, yet we only hear the bad news.

The railway network also comes in for a lot of criticism, but they seem to have got rid of the really old trains now and replaced them with mega smooth and comfortable expresses. I was standing on the platform at Gatwick and one went whilstling by at such a rate I jumped a foot into the air with surprise. I can tell you, those who complain, that that sort of train behaviour compares to the Japanese network.

Things genuinely seem to be improving in the UK.

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Thursday, September 16, 2004

it's not polite to be polite
I say "Bon soir", I say "S'il vous plait". I say "Merci" and I say "Bon soirée". Before I leave a shop I try also to remember to say "Au revoir" with a smile on my face. These are the rules of transaction in Toulouse and they might sound like very pleasant and polite rules. But sometimes it isn't polite to be polite.

According to anthropologists, there are two different forms of politeness - positive politeness and negative politeness. Positive politeness seeks to tend to our need for inclusion and openness, whereas negative politeness is concerned to maintain our desire for privacy and distance.

One of the things I hoped I was going to find in Toulouse was more inclusion and openness than I usually found in the UK. I had been a student here for a year and certainly remembered this city to be a friendly place where people were more free to approach and befriend strangers.

But I have concluded that the Toulousain are a very closed bunch, who interact with you only through the fixed forms of negative politeness. In the shops or with people at parties it is always the same thing. Distance is always maintained by the repetition of a finite list of acceptable questions including, "Where are you from", "Where do you work", "How long have you lived in Toulouse", and depending on the season "Do you ski or snowboard?".

During the tedious pretence of exploring these dull platitudes there is always a little moment of mutual reasssurance about how wonderful we are to have chosen Toulouse to live in, "Well we are so lucky, we have everything here. We have the mountains not far away, and then of course we have both the Mediterranean and the Atlantic coast".

I have heard these exact words repeated so many times that I could easily enjoying shocking people by saying something like, "Yeah that's very true, it's just a shame about all you cold and snobby local people".

Myself and my friends who went away on holiday this summer all experienced this reserve strongly upon our return, and it has caused us a little frustration. Coming up against continual interpersonal barriers when you are are positive politeness person is always going to pique.

Strangely enough, when I popped into London for a couple of days this summer on my way back to France from Sri Lanka, I found the Londoners to be much more open minded, approachable and spontaneous than the Toulousain. This is clearly a reversal of what I thought when I left the UK, and makes the cartoon above need a redraw.

If I ever get a moment I would sketch a smartly chique lady wearing dark Gucci sunglasses and a knee length skirt, walking along the Garonne with her groomed designer dog being carried in her handbag, too busy making sure everyone could see her with her model boyfriend to bother with the drowning foreigner, unless he had the common courtesy to request her assistance in French.

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Wednesday, September 15, 2004

After the crappiest night's sleep ever last night, I managed to resist the temptation to wander off to the underground parking at work to have a little siesta.

Why the feck was there a damn cricket sitting right outside my window, chirping away for the whole night? What exactly is going on with the local schizophrenic having shouting matches with imaginary people outside my building at 4 in the morning? And why does la mairié have send their vans out at 5 in the morning to clean all the dog shit off the pavements? Arg!

The hour's kip I got after work was one of those where my mind felt like it had finally been released from doing the mental equivalent of Atlas, standing under the world holding it up for an enternity.

I still managed to get up for my first art lesson with Dena though. She was pretty good and definately seems to have a program. We did sketches, trying different shades and learning to gets angles and distances. My favourite bit was speed sketching which was much more fluid, and produced the feeling like I had actually managed to draw something.

Anyway, I'm off to bed. Why am I still blogging at twenty past one in the morning?

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Monday, September 13, 2004

who am i?
blah blah blah....i love to blog...

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Sunday, September 12, 2004

sunday lunch
Had a great time last night at Bodega Bodega and Maximos with Jacqui, Olivier, Aymen, Cecile, Sammy, Sara, Oscar and a bunch of other people. Got back at 6.

Today has been another lazy Sunday. I haven't been out of the house at all. I have had Oscar, Sara and Fabien around for a traditional English curry though. Since Oscar and Sara are Spanish, we ate about 5. Atleast that's my excuse, and it has nothing to do with the fact that I didn't get out of bed until 1.

Here's a picture of Sara and Oscar today. These two are great, very human, warm and happy. If you don't have any friends as good as these, I recommend you get some.

Fabien is one of my best French friends. He's very down to earth, and always up for doing something, although always about 15 minutes late ;)

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Saturday, September 11, 2004

les impôts et le contrôl technique
I just wrote out the largest cheque of my life, and it wasn't even for a new car or a round-the-world holiday or anything exciting like that. It was for my boring old French taxes, les impôts.

There's a bit of a weird system over here, where you don't pay as you earn like in England. You have to fill in forms and then pay up whatever they evaluate. To make it even weirder, if it is your first year paying then you have to pay the WHOLE amount in one go. Ouch.

It seems like it has been the week for getting straight with the French administration, because I took my car for its Contrôl Technique on Wednesday, the equivalent of the British MOT. It didn't pass, unsurprisingly. It needs new headlights because apparently I am blinding the drivers on the other side of road with my English lights.

And I thought all those accidents were because of the dodgy Toulouse driving style.

Anyway, to get it through the Contrôl Technique I took it to my friendly English speaking mechanic Graham Jones (tel 0562740582). Although Graham is all the way out in Cornebarrieu which is highly inconvenient for me, the guy runs the best and most trustworthy garage I have ever known.

By contrast, and to give them the bad publicity they deserve, Norauto in Purpan are a bunch of dodgy lying ripoff merchants.

When I took my car to them because there was a severe grinding noise coming from the brakes, I told them to replace the pads. I came back half an hour later and they started giving me some old story.. Ah 'ello Monsieur.. Zere eez a leetle probleme.. Eet iz not ze pads.. Eet iz ze Master Cylinder.. Dooz you like me to order ze Master Cylinder.

Now being an Engineer I know what a Master Cylinder does. It's the bit that makes the brakes work. Since I knew the brakes were working because I could hear them tearing themselves to pieces, I declined Norauto's helpful plan to completely rip me off.

Graham on the other hand, just replaced the pads.

So, if you're listening out there DON'T GO TO NORAUTO, THEY'RE A BUNCH OF THIEVES!!

Hmmm... that feels good.

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Thursday, September 09, 2004

an end or a means?
Do you think it is okay to choose a partner on the basis of the benefits in material or status that will accrue to you by being in the relationship? Or are you the type that chooses to be with someone purely because you like their character and the way you get on together?

Clearly I have given you a polarised choice here. We are looking at opposite ends of a relationship spectrum, when in reality our decisions will normally contain elements of each. But I suppose some people can be closer to one end than another.

I mean, nobody can ever convince me that Anna Nicole-Smith married an 89 year old billionaire for love. On the other hand, this touching tale of continued commitment in the face of all life's difficulties shows clearly that a relationship built on more than selfish material expectation is entirely possible.

Now maybe I was naeive and only saw what I wanted to, or maybe I was misled, or perhaps we were both kidding ourselves. Either way, the experience of discovering my ex was way further over to the materialistic side of the spectrum than I was was not at all a pleasant experience.

This is not to say we are talking just about wealth here when I use the word materialistic. The issue is more subtle, since it is combined with the pursuit of dreams.

It sounds like such an innocent word, dreams. But when your desire to live a dream lifestyle that you cannot achieve for yourself causes you to have interest in someone who can provide it, clearly your motivation cannot be described as purely one of love.

Even if you do actually like the person involved, to some extent they will always be a means to you, and not an end in themselves.

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Wednesday, September 08, 2004

I like it when a plan comes together
So no sooner had I stepped into the office this morning than I was summoned to see my department head. Apparently it didn't take him to the end of the month to decide that he was fine with me moving across to a new team. Great news for me. I went to speak to Chris who will be my new boss, and we had a good yap about the team, the work and the future... and the travel opportunities :)

I genuinely feel quite relieved now this step is in the pipeline. I hate being somewhere that's getting stale. It's part of my fidgety nature.

So following this watershed day at work, I got changed and went off to my first Japanese Language class. I am trying to brush my level up some before popping over to Tokyo at Christmas to see all my friends. After a bit of use today all I can say is that it seriously needs some brushing up.

I am always impressed by the huge variety of different stuff that you can do in Toulouse if you can be bothered to get up off your ass and join a club or a class in something. This September everybody is starting something.

Tanya and Sara are doing Salsa and Belly Dancing, which is great because it's always enjoyable to watch those two practicing ;)

Oscar is doing some brilliant mongrel activity, a cross breed between kick boxing and break dancing. He limped into Tanya's flat last night after his second lesson, obviously in a state of pain.

Then Simone and I are gonna take some art lessons from Dana, an American girl building a life over here for herself, who has got a show on from tomorrow that I'll go and see.

Jacqui and Oscar are putting a band together with Jorge and some others. I managed to call her tonight when she was in the zone during practice, and got a very blunt response.

Finally Sara and I are wanting to take up some Amateur Dramatics, and might actually get around to doing it if we can find the money and time imbetween all the other stuff.

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Tuesday, September 07, 2004

I woke up this morning bleary eyed and ready for another day of the usual grind down at the office, tappity tap tap from 9 til 6. I came home this evening refreshed and invigorated, seeing a world of possibilities.

My department head announced to our group today that our group manager is leaving to work on new things. This is obviously good news for my boss since it means a promotion. But it is good news for me too since it has given the kick up the ass I needed to shakeup my own world a little. Let me explain...

Like a lot of kids, I was trained in my home and in my culture to link my self-worth to my success. This turned me into a desperately square achievement orientated creep, always spoddily seeking to impress teachers and other givers of praise who would gullibly respond and reassure me of my value as a human being: I am clever therefore I am.

To say that this didn't make me the most popular person amongst my peers is a bit of an understatement. And I'm sure it was pretty tough for my ex-girlfriends to have loved me when all I was giving them to love was my achievements, and not my self. So after rather a considerable number of disappointing relationships of all kinds, I slowly figured out that this wasn't an effective strategy for living and gave it all up.

Since that time I've found it very hard to motivate myself to achieve, to climb the career ladder, do something just so that I can say to myself I am a manager, or I live in this part of town. Linking my identity and my self-worth to these sorts of things has become the life-living equivalent of hoping to be able to fly by dressing up like a bird.

As far as I am concerned, I am a mystery, so is every human, so is life. I wake up every day in the full awareness that I have only partial knowledge of who and what I am. So how can I say I am this, I am that? The only certainty is that I am a mystery.

In this situation, I can only seek change at work on the basis of whether I am discovering more of the mystery.

In practical terms, for me this way of moving on in life means listening to my sense of time and place, to my feeling about whether things have got stale. I identified a frustrated itchy feeling a while back and since then I've been listening to life, waiting for a new opportunity.

I knew there were some positions in other groups going but was wondering how to approach the subject of a move, going through all the usual quandries of causing secretive situations, leaving the team etc.

The good news is that with today's announcement about my boss, the opportunity arrived. Not losing any time, I went to see my department head on my way out of the office and told him I'd like a move.

So I've rolled my dice, now it's life's move.

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Monday, September 06, 2004

september's spring

Summer season starts to swing past again, although the leaves still cling to the trees and hold their green. Here, today, the colours of change are found draped over the dusty bricks in shades of violet and red, seen shining from the street lights in blues that melt into the gritty urban black of the night sky.

Before I had a chance to regret the passing of late evening light and warm nights spent laughing with friends at pavement cafés, Toulouse has taken my hand and pulled me forward through the low moods, forced upon me her pleasing conception of seasonal change.

The printemps de septembre is bathing this city in calm lights, arts and creativity, mixing spring's hope into our turn toward winter. My mind is contentedly moving away, shifting towards the adrenaline pleasures that will come in the crisp white heaven of pyrenées dusted with new snows.

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Sunday, September 05, 2004

What a lovely weekend of living it up I have had. I've been indulging in pure luxury all over the place, starting on Friday night with a curry with Sandrine & Thomas at The Taj, the best indian in town down on rue Peyrolierès.

Saturday of course I got up late, and then trotted off into town with Fabien to eat some great veggie food at Le Faim des Haricots. The utter deliciousness of their buffet is beyond description. And only 9 euros for the whole 3 courses. Fantastic.

After that we went off to Fnac where I bought a lovely shiny laptop on which I am now tapping, plugged into my neighbour's wireless network. Merci Caroline ; )

Although it is a bit sad, I have to admit that I stayed in last night and played with my new toy. Today I bascially lounged about in bed until 2pm when I got called by work to go and sort out a couple of airlines.

Having earnt a bit of extra cash, I felt ready to indulge myself some more by going down to Le Bistro de la Daurade with Holger for another 3 course special of salad, steak and Crème Brulée. After taking a two hour nap that is.

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Friday, September 03, 2004

Absolutely nothing worth mentioning has happened to me today. I have just sat in front of the computer tapping out the same old banal and repetitive lines into formal emails, then shipping them out with a single mouse click only to start the next one.

But some SETI scientists seacrhing for extra-terrestrials have been having an exciting day, according to CNN.

Apparently a radio signal coming from a star between the constellations of Aries and Pisces has been picked up three times by a radio telescope in Puerto Rico. They aren't certain yet whether this signal is coming from little green scaly doods broadcasting alien R 'n' B out into the universe. But hey, it sounds exciting.

How cool would that be? Meeting things from another planet. Obviously I am presuming that they would be friendly. And that we would be friendly. For God's sake don't put Bush in charge of the welcome party.

Being an Engineer in the aerospace industry, I have a vested interest in this sort of thing since it means space travel, which means spacecraft, which would be bloody brilliant to work on.

Since the jet engine 'aint gonna cut it in space, any real spacecraft would need a completely revolutionary form of propulsion. So, if I could have one wish in my life I think I might wish for the secret to gravity.

Basically, despite what Newton and Einstein said, nobody really knows how things stay on the ground. Imagine the possibilities if we cracked the gravity code...

If we could figure gravity out, we wouldn't have to potter about in long thin flying tubes. We could, in theory, just turn gravity off when and where we fancied it and float about on magic carpets if we liked.

Cars wouldn't have to stay on the ground either, so all the roads could be got rid of. We'd then be left with peaceful pedestrianised cities where people strolled about on grassy paths.

If house prices get too high we could just buy an anti-gravity bubble and live in the sky. We'd wake every morning to the perfect sunrise, and fly our bubble-house up through any grey clouds to escape gloomy weather. We could migrate with the seasons like birds.

An astronaut I met said that when he went into space and peered through the little windows of the Space Shuttle, he was blown away by the the beauty of the Earth and gained an immense appreciation of the value of life. He saw all the pollution over China and northern Italy and said he was dismayed. With anti-gravity, we could all freely pop into space and gain that perspective.

Now that would really start to change things around here.

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Thursday, September 02, 2004

avoid monday, tuesday & wednesday
Our charming trainee Odile send this French cartoon out yesterday.

Does this really means that I have another 11 years of feeling like shit from Monday to Wednesday? It seems accurate so far this week. On Monday I felt like complete cack, and only started picking up about midnight last night. Today I am definately on the up.

In tune with my mood, I've managed to convince a gang to go out to La Maison by telling them that it's a traditional British custom to go out to have a couple of drinks on Thursday nights.

I told them that the custom was started back in the days of Queen Elizabeth 1, around 1600 or thereabouts, when Sir Walter Raleigh fancied having a few beers before he sailed off on the Friday to conquer the new world.

Obviously they didn't need much persuading.

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Wednesday, September 01, 2004

la rentrée
There's a clear change of pace happening around here these days. The summer slackness has started to dissipate and everything is falling in front of me in greater and greater volumes.

The whole of France has come home in a swarm from their holidays this week for the start of school, and the place is packed.

When I pick my car up from along the leafy river in the morning and drive beside the canal, I no longer have quiet roads and short queues. These have been replaced by a dark cloud of traffic jostling for lanes between all the great big dumper trucks which are stopped at the side of road, carrying stuff for filling in the holes that didn't get fixed before the summer started.

When I get to work all the best parking spaces have already been taken, and when I walk into the canteen the hungry are there in their hoards, forming lines even longer than those I waited in with my car. My inbox has started buzzing again with people demanding information, looking for answers.

The weird thing is that this increase in daytime chaos usually means a decrease in evening and weekend chaos, ie not so much going out or away.

Until the snowboarding starts, that is.

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