Monday, October 08, 2007

written in a different building

This is not a long term assignment. I've been very good and not played on the internet at all while I've been here. But before I go, I'm going to register the space, which is a large open-plan office in a large local government HQ. I'm in a hot-desk area. There's no-one opposite me. A UTP cable pokes out of the modesty-hole. As with most old cables (and old bodies) the internal structure has gradually come to the surface as an external kink or twist like on the bole of a sweet- chestnut tree. The retaining clip has broken off the RJ45 plug. The colour of the plastic sheath is somewhere between window-putty and the cream-coloured garment dye that is not a dye and so is called natural (e.g. the Bomull* range if you are an IKEA addict.)There is a large simple knot of the pretzel or half-a-granny type half-way along the cable. This is to stop it slipping back down the modesty-hole. The lettering along the sheath says:


This script is repeated every meter. Disappointingly, there's no incrementing meter number. (This was once a handy trick for calculating the length of a cable without measuring it.)

As usual, arrival at the building in the morning catches us unprepared. Three of us shelter from the steady rain while groping in our bags for the photocards that can be pointed at the plaque beside the door to open it. The card is worn round the neck on a ribbon. Putting this pendant over my head as I climb the stairs is how I formally renounce the distracting personal thoughts that I brought with me from the car-park.

The stairs however are lovely and wide. They are highly polished terrazzo. In this theatre where my personal life does not exist, there remains a ghostly residue of unattached passion, which can be fanned, for example, by later following down these steps, though at such a careful distance that for the most part it is only my ears that are intrigued, a tall woman in highclicking heels.

In the cafeteria the men are having fun. In a loud sotto voce, they say

"while we've been waiting here over an hour to be served!"

"She ought to get a faster machine."

"She's pretending she's not listening."

Finally it's their turn.

"What can I do for you boys something nice?"

"Or naughty, if you've got it."

"A Jordan baguette!"

"Got any Jordan baguettes?"

"I'm saying nothing!"

"A Jordan bap, more like."

"Two, if you've got 'em."

Up here, there's talk of a movable feast. This doesn't mean Easter or a mobile sandwich service. What it means is a task in a plan or calendar that never happens. Such tasks accumulate and in the weekly planning meeting they all get pushed back another week. As the task comes up for discussion and then someone says "Oh, that's a movable feast", a perceptible shadow of depression passes across us, so that the word "feast" becomes bleakly ironic. These non-events call into mocking question the whole basis of our project management (and, even more, programme management), our insanely negative methodology of trying to anticipate and face the stress of everything long before it happens or, just as often, never does happen.

"Movable feast" is a Christian term. Easter, whose mobility is the root cause of all the other movable feasts, is the only one that still has a flicker of meaning for most people, because it supplies us with the Easter week-end. At school I remember that several attempts were made to inform us about Whitsun, but these evidently failed since I have no idea why Whitsun was singled out for this emphasis. I understood that it was an oddly slangy, Cockneyish and unchurchly way of saying "Whit Sunday", and that this was when the Holy Ghost set soft flames above people's heads, very like the gentle teardrop flames along the rear of an oven or in the little niche at the foot of a calor-gas heater. This was the source of my lack of interest. It was not that I disbelieved in the Holy Ghost, not at all, but my materialist imagination was completely unstirred by the spiritual sphere in which he appeared exclusively to operate. He seemed never to interfere with grass-blades, cherry-stones, racing-cars, spiced cakes, teeming rain or marble basins. It would be a very long time before I experienced the attraction of the immaterial and even so, it was a sensual attraction, as in Byzantium:

          flames begotten of flame,
     Where blood-begotten spirits come
     And all complexities of fury leave,
     Dying into a dance,
     An agony of trance,
     An agony of flame that cannot singe a sleeve.

* In Swedish, literally "beam-wool" (presumably because of association with mechanized fabric manufacture?), the word means both "cotton" and "cotton wool", i.e. plants and plant-products of the genus Gossypium.


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