Communing wth locale

The random public sector buzz-word generator has been at work again, this time supporting the conference industry. I am invited to a conference that is entitled \’The Next Steps in Localising Communities: Localising Power, Empowering Citizens and Building Communities\’

This babbling brook of gibberish is actually quite impressive in that it manages to combine New Labour\’s vacuous \’communities\’ rhetoric with the Coalition\’s equally inchoate commitment to \’localism\’. A genuinely historic alignment.

It is also, at heart, almost entirely meaningless: how on earth does one localise a community? The words could be re-arranged at will – like a syntactical anagram – to make no more or less sense. \’Building the Locale: Empowering Communities, Localising Citizens and Localising Power\’, anyone? It makes no more sense and no less.

Hammering the quacks

One of the more depressing things about living and working in London\’s less prosperous neighbourhoods is the sheer number of spiritual entrepreneurs (from every imaginable established religion, and then some) seeking to make a fast buck out of people with genuine hardship in their lives.

Today\’s leaflet, from Pandith Lakkshman Sastri, who operates out of the hallowed portals of Tooting Supermarket (66 Tooting High Street), offers palm- and face-reading to help with everything that life can throw at you, from the commonplace to the incomprehensible: \’Business, Money, Family problems, Children\’s problems Husband and Wife relation, Education, Love, Job, Marriage, Divorce, Sickness, Promotion, choice of stones, abroad etc.\’

At the bottom of the flyer, the small print reads: \’All matters will be kept confidently.\’ Which I will certainly bear in mind, next time stone-choosing becomes an issue.

Poets, politicians, beauty queens and cooks

I don\’t seem to have put much up here recently. Normal service will be resumed presently.

In the meantime, here is one of Nick Asbury\’s \’corpoetics\’ – poetry assembled from the airy and conceited twaddle that infests corporate websites:


I am strong.
I am vibrant.
I am committed to a vision.

I am tremendous.
I am quality.
I will lead people to excellence.

I am delighted.
I am respected.
I am very greatly valued.

What am I?
I am the best.

Reproduced without any permission, but please go and buy the book, and enoy other features on the Asbury blog, such as distinguishing the names of Fall songs from tax avoidance scams. Harder than you think.

Pipeline at the gates of dawn

Apart from some lurking images that would give Freud a field day, this email that I received at work is thoroughly baffling:

\’Over the past week, each Directorate has been requested to send the Corporate PMO updates for the Pipeline Tracker tool. This tool ensures visibility of all projects that are expected to pass through the Gateways at any given time.

\’This is an ongoing process requiring continual maintenance and review to ensure the Tracker is accurate and reliable.

\’The Corporate PMO needs to identify representatives from each Directorate to act as a Pipeline Champion, and this will be initiated next week.

\’Please can you nominate these representatives ASAP.

\’Thank you for your cooperation.\’

I\’d love to help (probably), but I really don\’t have the faintest idea what I am meant to co-operate with.

Living in a box

I watched the ponderously-titled \’Big Chef Takes On Little Chef\’, wherein Heston Blumenthal seeks to revive Little Chef, with a creeping and dismal sense of familiarity.

The show pivots on an initially contrived, but subsequently all-too-real clash between Blumenthal and Little Chef boss Ian Pegler. The problem is something like this: Blumenthal sees his role as recovering the reputation of a British classic and, for all his culinary curiosity, seems to nurse a genuine interest in and affection for the traditions of British cooking.

Pegler, however, seems to view Blumenthal as a performing food monkey, who will bring \’blue skies thinking\’ to bear on Little Chef\’s tired menus (but doesn\’t need to worry his little head with anything like business models).

I don\’t know much about catering, but my experiences on the fringe of architecture suggest that the clients who demand wacky, iconic designs for buildings with a \’wow factor\’ are those least likely to understand the careful, pains-taking accretion of change that the best architects can orchestrate. The neophiles want the glamour and the buzz, but are too superficial to consider the sweat and the craft that underpins it.

They want \’thinking outside of the box\’ (Ian Pegler came up with this with a mere two minutes of TV programme to go). To which my architect friend Mark has the only sensible response: \”Err, I don\’t really think in a box.\”

Civilisation under attack!

Under a great headline (\’Pranks cannot resist the brilliance of Olympic sacred fire\’), the People\’s Daily has this to say about the Olympic torch farrago (my italics):

Many netizens issued a warning. The few Tibet independence elements have a wishful thinking. The Olympic torch does not belong to China alone, but belong all the more to the world. Tibet independence elements now stand in the opposite to the peace-loving people across the world, and their evil deeds are sure to be subjected to denunciations by people worldwide.

The Olympic sacred fire is a vital, important symbol of human values with respect to the modern Olympic Games. Every torch relay represents a spread of human civilization. It is precisely because of this sense that people worldwide have all along regarded the Olympic torch relay as a lofty, sacred ceremony….So any deeds to interfere with and sabotage the Olympic sacred fire constitutes not only a blaspheme of the Olympic spirit but a grave challenge to the human civilization.

And I thought it was just a crappy outsize cigarette lighter, and an excuse for a bit of traditional western argy-bargy….

de Pfwaffl

Boris Johnson was a sad sight on the Newsnight debate last night. Like a whipped cur, he shrank back, avoided saying anything, and cast around for fences to sit on.

Would he get rid of the western extension to the congestion charge? Well, yes. Or maybe no. \”I don\’t think it\’s working, but I\’m in favour of consultation. I will abide by what the people say.\” There are several problems here, apart from sheer issue-ducking. Consultation is not a decision-making deliberative process; it is a way of seeking public views on policies being proposed by politicians. It attracts only interested parties, and cannot confer a mandate. That\’s what elections are for.

It was interesting comparing this triangulated guff with the talk given by Jaime Lerner, former mayor of Curitiba in Brazil, about ten days ago. Asked why he had moved so quickly to pedestrianise Rua de Flores (the project was completed in three days), Lerner replied that, once a decision was taken, it should be implemented fast to avoid self-doubt and bureaucratic obstruction and, most importantly, to prevent the whole discussion from starting again. Mayors rule. Or at least, if they don\’t, they have no place being mayors.

But Alexander Boris de Pfwaffl Johnson was not finished. He had more issues to dodge, and those issues were going to be dodged. How much would scrapping bendy buses cost? Less than replacing them with hybrid buses. Was the Mayor paid enough, too much or too little. Hard to tell.

You could not imagine a greater gift for Livingstone and Paddick. Against this mop-topped embodiment of evasive action, they could hardly look anything less than decisive and statesmanlike.

To see ourselves as others see us…

Following a shaky and inauspicious start, the Olympic Torch is on its way round the world (or \’Journey of Harmony\’, to use official Olyspeak). On 6 April, the Torch will arrive in London. What sort of city will it find? According to the official torch relay website, quite an alarming one.

London, the website tells us, was founded by Roman Celts, but then burnt to the ground by Boudicca in the Seventh Century, the first of a veritable catalogue of calamities. The capital grew to become “an important commercial and social centre” in the Seventeenth Century, “however all was not well”. The Great Plague devastated the population and “London simmered under the smell of death” until cleansed by the Great Fire (which also destroyed four fifths of the city).

Pausing for breath, London had a chance to rebuild itself, but despite the best efforts of John Nash the city quickly became overcrowded by people and sewage. Jospeh Bazalgette’s sewage system rescued London from cholera, only for the city’s skyline to be “re-arranged” by the bombing raids of the Blitz. Post-war re-construction seemed for a moment to put the city back on an even keel, before the London Fog descended to kill thousands, “adequately being nicknamed the ‘Foggy City’.” Welcome to London.

There are a number of ways of reading this narrative, which seems to have been assembled from a combination of visits to the London Dungeon, the grimmer sections of 1066 and All That, and perhaps some briefing from the French tourist authorities. One can simply enjoy someone else’s perspective: the website also gives some culinary information – toad-in-the-hole is “not as strange as it seems”, and afternoon tea has declined “as life has taken on a faster pace”.

More seriously, one might see, within this tale of woe, sewage, pestilence and fog, a veiled rebuke from China: “Do not criticise our degraded environment, our polluted rivers, the smog that hangs heavy over Hong Kong. You too have been here, and not that long ago either.”

Another reading is perhaps more optimistic. The website doesn’t need to talk up London in the way that it does the beauty of Almaty. “Everybody knows” that London is a mess, with a legacy of poxy people, chaotic architecture and noxious air. But it is still London, a serious city. Who\’d visit for their health? In the guise of a warning, this gruesome pen portrait pays London a sly compliment.

Sacred flame of guff

The slightly shaky start to the Beijing 2008 Olympic Torch Relay yesterday also marked the beginning of an important competition: the quest for the most sonorous and meaningless Olympic slogan.

\’Light the passion, share the dream\’ is a worthy first contender. Its words are entirely interchangeable, with each other and with pretty well any other Olympic word: Light the dream, share the gold, Dream the passion, share the light, Dream the gold, share the goal, Share the athlete, dream the goal, etc, etc, etc.

While on the torch-relay, it\’s good to read this breathless account of the feelings of the \’high priestess\’ (an actor called Maria Nafpliotou).

More to follow. Much, much more.