Being a creative in Switzerland is like being a clown at a funeral – even with the best intentions you are just bringing the wrong kind of skills to the wrong kind of party. I have picked up little bit of work here and there, but I am hampered by the language on one side and the fact that there is not a great deal of animation done in Switzerland.
So when I saw an advertisement for a part-time art teacher I thought: I can do that. I’ve trained people and taught people other kinds of skills so maybe I can teach kids how to draw and paint…can’t I? So I sent them my resumé and a ‘letter of intent’ (sounds like a bloody ransom note, if you ask me) and crossed my fingers.
So a few weeks flick by in the usual routine…make pancakes…take kids to creche / school…work like a bastard for three hours…pick son up from school…pick daughter up from creche…make lunch…drop son back at school…go to supermarket / play / chores…pick son up from school…go to playground…chores…cook supper…bathe kids…stories…teeth…bedtime…flop on sofa like walrus to not move again save to find new batteries for remote control…like everyone else. Then an email arrived inviting me to an interview, lunch and then I had to teach a class…of 14yr olds….24 of them!
I was spectacularly unbothered by the interview. I have conducted tons of them in my life and being the other side of the table doesn’t bother me in the slightest – I just remember my own advice: be yourself, don’t bullshit and do some research – it obviously worked because they decided to unleash me on the kids.
I obviously had to prepare a lesson ‘plan’ and make sure I delivered everything in the allotted time and I decided to get the kids to draw teeny, tiny items really BIG in really bright colours.
Anyway, I was shitting bricks before they came in. I don’t know why. I’ve trained rooms of people and given presentations at conferences and besides, I’ve got kids of my own, what’s there to be worried about? But it’s, you know, teenagers. I don’t know what I was expecting – attitude, knives and spotty Twilight obsessives spring to mind – but they turned out to be a pretty chilled out bunch.
After the initial nerves (about a minute) I got into showing them the idea of what I wanted them to do and helping them out with composition and choice of colour. There was a little chatting amongst themselves – which I don’t mind – but one of the observers (there were three) said I should nip that in the bud or it’ll turn into a social club. I didn’t care too much – in my mind they were working and that’s what they’re there for. They all finished what I’d asked them to produce, no one died or suffered delimitating disfigurement so I label that: a success.
So, I ummed and ached for a bit wondering if it went okay and the next day they said they’d love me to be a teacher…I just needed to learn some basic teaching skills. Stuff like: I forgot to do a register…I didn’t dismiss them at the end of the class, so they kind of sat there like statues until I said: ‘oh, right – you’re dismissed,’ and I haven’t developed my voice of authority yet. I was holding that back for the big kids who looked like he could take me in a fist-fight…but they were all smaller than me, so I reckon I could’ve taken on three or four. Besides I had access to the art cupboard, you hear me? Knives, scissors and protractors. The feedback I got was that I managed to get them to laugh a bit, they had some genuine rapport with me and they produced some good work.
So, there you go. I’m gonna be a teacher. I am choosing my special mug carefully, elbow patches and a selection of corduroy trousers that add ten years to me. Now, if only I can cultivate that musty smell…
This is another post from my other life at Brodard. This one is about Office Politics.
For most right-minded people the mere mention of office politics sends a chill down their spines, makes them hold their children close, and throw salt over their left shoulder. Navigating the minefield of potential allegiances, conflicts, affiliations, and general no-mucking-about skullduggery can send most people scurrying to HR only to discover they’re as Machiavellian as everyone else. Office politics is like the Matrix; it’s all around us, in every move we make and the only way to beat the system is to take the red pill (the “leave now” pill). Unfortunately there is no blue pill.
I used to have a pretty solid stance on office politics and that was: “I don’t get involved in office politics”. What was ironic is that this is a political position in itself and merely means that you distance yourself from anything you think may harm your career prospects. I was as political as everyone else but I thought that I had risen above it all like some kind of zen master, “ohmm”- ing myself into a corporate meditative state, when in fact I had positioned myself as a diplomatic immovable rock against the unstoppable force of politics.
So, how does one become a Neo of politics, dodging the bullets of back-stabbing, bitching, crowing and brown-nosing? I have a few tips:
- Accept that you have to be political. Office politics is at the core of all organisations so you firstly have to accept that as a given. Once you have stopped rocking in a corner you need to realise that being political is all about raising your profile and making others aware of you and your abilities. You don’t have to be mean, disparage your colleagues’ reputations or sabotage anyone else to achieve this. If you blend into the background you may be missed come promotion time. Or get used as a hat stand.
- Become your own political party, with you as the sole member. You have to sing your own praises sometimes, because sometimes the political terrain doesn’t allow anyone else to do it for you. If other people say how wonderful you are, then great, but that is going to happen about as much as Elvis being hit by lightning in a leap year – so you need to take that responsibility upon yourself. To some, this is called ‘brown nosing’ but when you have been noticed for doing such a great job because you told people who matter about it then you will have the last laugh in your big, swish corner office with your big, swish Audi key-fob cluttering your big, swish desk (the last laugh (if you need help) goes along the lines of: “mwahhh-ha-ha-ha-ha..”.)
- Don’t bitch. Sometimes it might feel like a good way to bond with your fellow workers to say that Arnold in legal is about as clever as play-dough, Donald couldn’t organise a bun fight in a cake factory or Annette is only where she is today because she lied on her CV but disparaging other people is not a pleasant way to conduct yourself in a corporate environment. Walk away, make your excuses or find a more honest way to address what are really your issues. This is a lesson you should bring into ‘real’ life as well. You know, be nice.
- Get to know people above and below you. Don’t create cliques or us-and-them hegemonies; try to get to know everyone around you from the post boy to the head of finance so that you can understand every issue you encounter from multiple perspectives and nurture an eclectic group of allies. Don’t be tempted to kick the rungs out from beneath you as you climb your way to the top either; remember, these guys are going to be working for you so you best be good to them.
- Understand to be understood. It is one of life’s undeniable truths that some people have zero people skills. Some are barely people. They seem to think that getting the job done is the most important thing and people’s feelings and pride are just the eggs that get broken as they make their omelette. Well, they’re wrong. A good political player will seek to understand other people’s issues, take them into account and break the eggs to make the omelette together. You have to get things done, but if you appear to get them done together, then everyone wins. It’s like cooking with three year olds, basically.
Being political is not about being smarmy, devious or conniving. It is about making sure that people know that you are doing a good job, in a good way whilst keeping the majority of the people happy most of the time. Simple, really.
Now, repeat after me: I know kung-fu…
If you’re expecting a post about world domination, polyester trousers and real ale then you have come to the wrong blog. I like a game of Risk as much as the next man, but this is about how much risk we expose our children to.
I was thinking about this because I saw a kid – the same age (around) as my son – and he was like Master Chief out of Halo. I reckon you could have pushed this little guy off a four storey building and he would have been okay. The exoskeleton that his parents had fashioned around him made him impervious to all damage except maybe biological warfare or radiation. Was he skiing? Skateboarding? Base jumping? No. He was using a scooter. A three wheeler at that.
My kids – in the summer – scoot everywhere. When they first started out we were very English about it and gave them helmets, knee and elbow pads – the whole helicopter parent stormtrooper kit. As far as I can tell the elbow and kneepads are as pristine as when they were prised out of the packet and the only marks the helmets have is from when the children drop them on the floor in that off-hand I-don’t-have-any-concept-of-value way that every kid does. The scooters are damaged (one is on it’s last legs) because they have been played with hard – both as a toy and a means of transportation. Because they have been used as transport the need for helmets and pads became an over zealous precaution and a bit of a bore, when all you’re trying to do is get the kids down the playground.
Our son moved on to skateboarding and for that he wears wrist guards and a helmet. It’s hard to fall on you knees on a skateboard…or your elbows. You tend to have the deck (aren’t I down with the kids) slip out from underneath you which results in you falling on your arse and using your hands to break your fall. Hence the wrist guards. Everything else is superfluous in my opinion. We also bought a kids deck (designed specifically for kids under the age, of say, 7) and although it is smaller and the wheels don’t spin as fast as a ‘real’ deck and it tilts easier…which makes it harder to stay on! My son, today, went on a grown up skateboard and he said he found it so much easier because he had to spend less time pushing and it was easier to turn.
When the kids go skiing they wear helmets because it is a dangerous sport. I think everyone should be made to wear helmets when they ski and in Swizzerland it is quite rare to see someone not. The last serious accident I saw involved someone who was not wearing a helmet and that I think was an important factor. If you’re skiing a powder drift at the start of season then you might be able to get away with it. But descending a 45° ice rink with nothing more than a pair of planks on your feet? Helmet.
Risk is a weird one as we have control – up to a point – over what our children undertake. Me and a friend took our son on a black run the other day. It was difficult and there were a couple of sheer drops but he managed it - but there was obviously some risk involved. But I made an evaluation that it wasn’t too busy, the snow was pretty good and DS could probably ski it if he did it at his own pace (very fast, it turned out). Eventually they are going to take risks on their own and I think it’s our job to help them understand them and take them seriously.
If you wrap your kids in cotton wool every day then maybe they expect that every time they fall over they will be protected. Sometimes a bit of a knock here and there is a good thing – in the simplest sense it teaches you to not do something again. I have an aunt who had 10 children (I kid ye not) and I asked her what she did to make sure they didn’t get hurt all the time and she said: nothing. She couldn’t have stair gates, ten pairs of helmets and forty arm and elbow pads to wrestle her kids into – her children had to learn that falling over hurts. You have to be careful on the stairs. If it’s hot, don’t touch it. Her children had to become members of the ‘Don’t-Throw-Bricks-Straight-Up Club’ pretty fast and teach each other about risk. Are her children mad, adrenaline junkies with behavioural problems? Of course not, they’re a lovely bunch. Maybe all the better for it.
(sorry for the lack of posts – I have just been very busy)
A good friend of mine is about to grind, with a shrieking of hinges, into her forties. Her husband, also a good friend (I have to be especially careful to say this as he is in the airforce and I am worried that he may one day ‘accidentally’ ‘forget’ that the big, red button that drops the cluster bombs is armed and may accidentally drop the payload as he is flying over Switzerland on his way to bomb a country back to the stone-age so that they can better understand ‘democracy’ – all because I forgot to send him a thank you card…or something) thought that as she is an avid reader of my blog (without her my blog would sink into obscurity like The Darkness or Keith Chegwin) she might like the surprise of reading a post about life after forty.
The thing is, I reckon it’s different for chicks as pulling off that gnarly, Clint Eastward look as a woman only succeeds in making you look like a crone. I don’t exactly know what a crone is, but just the sound of the word isn’t good. Think Loose Women holding sticks.
So, what has she got to worry about:
- Skincare You think you’re spending a lot on skincare now? Want to keep those youthful looks? Well, there is a whole industry waiting to sell you serums, balms and creams that will make you look ten years younger or your money back. Let’s be honest, though. There comes a point when you could sleep, submerged, in a wheelie bin filled with Ulay with only the rhythmic sound of your respirator to keep you company and it won’t make a huge amount of difference. Accept that you’re, at some stage, going to have skin like the vinyl seats of an old Granada or get ‘some work done.’
- Clothes You will feel the urge to walk into East. It will be like the Death Star tractor beam. You must resist because like the Death Star it is full of people who mean you harm and wear dresses that cover their feet. I don’t know why it is important when you are older to appear to move as if on wheels but it FREAKS ME THE FUCK OUT. Also, remember that vintage clothing from thrift shops looks great on young, cool people on motorbikes but if you are above forty it makes you look like you can’t be arsed anymore…or skint.
- Hair I don’t know about women but my hair used to be lustrous (which kinda sounds like it goes cruising for…wigs, or something) when I was a young man. It was shiny and it was a uniform colour. My hair now has various shades of brown, light brown and grey and resembles more the pelt of a dog than actual human hair. So, I reckon at least a 1/3 of a bottle of conditioner a day should be budgeted for.
- Shoes Your heels will get progressively shorter. Not because your legs are getting worse (women’s pins have longevity, normally) or that you find them uncomfortable but that you worry that you are going to fall over a break a hip.
- Antiques You’re reading this and thinking: antiques? What’s he on about? You hit an age when self-assembling your furniture is just not done any more and you want proper furniture, made by craftsman that won’t fall to bits. So, you buy an old oak kitchen table one day…and a retro lamp the next…and retro medicine cabinet to keep your CDs in (also antiques) and before you know it your house is chock full of things that don’t require an allan key to dis-assemble and are at least 20 years old. You’ll chuck words like retro…and vintage…and re-production but don’t kid yourself: you have started collecting antiques and you didn’t even realise it…fool. I bet you watch Antiques Roadshow as well…with an ironic sneer (obviously).
Don’t worry about being 40, Maria. It happens to everyone (well, except Marc Bolan…Jimi Hendrix) and it’s no different. You realise your joints ache a bit after skiing, you always have wind (belly farts – when the fuck did they start?!?! No one told me about those.) and you actually think about wearing sports sandals (don’t do it!).
Enjoy your day and drink like a 21 year old.
Review of Books continued…
- A Week in December – Sebastian Faulks This is the first time I have read anything by Mr Faulks. AWID is about a bunch of disparate individuals that are slices of modern, London life: a hedge fund trader, a book reviewer, a tube driver (you get the idea) and a snapshot of a week…in December. Faulks weaves their lives together somehow (shit, it sounds like bloody Love Actually…) and it ends in a climatic finish…blah-de-blah. Some of the stories are a bit weak but what staggered me was the sheer amount of research required for this book – each person’s life is presented in exquisite detail and in some ways this book is like a modern day mash-up of McEwan’s Saturday and Amis’ Money. Overall: Beautifully written, compelling and sometimes brilliant 9/10
- Solar – Ian McEwan Ian McEwan must be one of my favouritest writer people. So I was looking forward to Solar because the Mail said that it is: ‘…a novel that is both profoundly serious and hilariously funny.‘ The Independent also said that: ‘...Ian McEwan is not generally known as a write of laugh-out-loud fiction, but Solar – inspired by the uncomic subject of climate change – is just that.’ The Sunday Times said that Solar is: ‘…entertaining – and often very funny.’ So I practically ripped the pages open to read McEwan givin’ it some. Oh. Deary. Me. Solar is a lame, dull book about…ah, I can’t be arsed. Overall: Unfunny, predictable and painful 0/10
- The Passage – Juston Cronin I love a good vampire book and this is a cracker. Set in the future (sometime), it chronicles the lives of a group of survivors of a battle between vampires and humans as they struggle to maintain the life of their batteries and keep the dark at bay. The vampires in The Passage are possibly the scariest vampires in literature and make The Lost Boys look like Boyzone. Overall: Twilight it ain’t. Dark, addictive and brilliant 8/10
- Life – Keith Richards Me too, I thought he was dead as well. Turns out he isn’t and is still cranking out dodgy albums with The Stones. I like the early Stones music but the later stuff I find to be MOR dirge barely worthy of being muzak in Top Man. He has lived an mental life and his utterly brutal honesty is a breath of fresh air when compared to other autobiographies and some of the stuff you cannot believe he has admitted. His failings as a father, his animosity towards Mick Jagger and his spiral into drugs – are all tackled frankly, without ego and with total candour. It is also written beautifully (I think it might be ghost written) and the only thing he doesn’t admit is the musical slide of The Stones…but he very much implies it. Overall: Honest, brutal and sometimes very funny. An excellent musical memoir. 9/10
- Slow Motion – Dani Shapiro This is the tale of how a well-to-do jewish girl in New York has a long affair with her friends’ dad, slides into addiction and then eventually loses everything. I kind of liked this. She comes across as a little bit of a narcissist but she writes so, so well that I was willing to forgive her. Her gradual slide is well described and some of the scenes she recalls are hugely evocative and very moving. Overall: a bit of a slow burner but it has it’s moments 6/10
Desperation – Stephen King I just don’t know why I bother with Stephen King anymore. This is like reading someone trying to write like Stephen King but who has no ideas whatsoever. Overall: Desperate by name, desperate by nature. Didn’t finish it. 0/10
Lee Child – Killing Floor I have seen so many of his books at the airport that I thought: I have to read one of them. Again, lad-lit, but I found it was well paced and easy reading. This is not high-art, the plot is a bit Melrose Place (maybe even sub-Melrose Place) and the lead character is a bit of a lug…but I enjoyed it! Overall: Like M&Ms; not that nutritious but you just can’t stop once you start. 5/10
The Radleys – Matt Haig Another vampire book, this time about vampires trying to live a normal life with the aid of intricate lies and factor 50 sunscreen. It reads a little bit like a channel 4 mini series but has it’s moments. Overall: Easier to read than a comic but with less depth 5/10
Sister – Rosamund Lupton Sister tells a story about how a sister tries to discover the cause of her sisters death. Set in a pretty dourly described London the sister in question (who is about as annoying as a sweaty wedgie) keeps plugging away Sarah Lund style until she uncovers the truth. Overall: tense, dark and quite unpredictable. 6/10
October Skies – Alex Scarrow A time shift novel (again) about a wagon train heading over the rockies in the 19th century that meets disaster. Told through the diaries of a doctor I found myself totally absorbed by this. Overall: creepy, compulsive but a silly ending 7/10
Full Dark No Stars – Stephen King I read this later in the year and it has four short stories that vary in quality. A couple are awesome and really are like vintage King…but then a couple are pants and read like other stories he has written before. Overall: glimpses of greatness, but a little derivative 4/10
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (Millennium Trilogy) – Stieg Larsson Everyone has read this lot. I am on the last one at the moment and the reason why they are so good is that Larsson writes with no real style at all. It’s like a journalistic record of something that happened. Also, in Lisbeth Salander he has created one of the greatest anti-heroes in literature. Overall: The detail and breadth of the writing make it all worth the effort 8/10
Ahhh, it’s that time of year again, I hear you
moan whinge sigh for MrShev’s bumper, party-time, Hogmanay-tastic review of books. Okay, so I am over-egging the pudding a little, but I just cannot review books for a whole post so I am reduced to writing them as little paragraphs. I just don’t know how reviewers prattle on for so long in The Times and The Guardian – just tell us if it’s any bloody good or not, why don’t ya? I want to actually read the book not read about you reading the book you gormless morons. So, I am just going to tell you if they’re shit or not.
- Margrave of the Marshes – John Peel et al John Peel was my musical lighthouse, steering me away from the ship-wreckin’ headland of MOR, Bon Jovi and Bros. He introduced me to grunge, hip-hop and The Fall. But, more than that, he seemed to have a genuine love of the music; you always got the feeling that he enjoyed everything he played. Also, he did a show on Radio 4 called Home Truths that was…funny, irreverent and genuine. I felt that I practically grew up with his family. Anyway – he started his autobiography and died about a 100 pages in which is a shame as those 100 pages are also funny, irreverent and genuine. After that his wife takes over (and a couple of his children pitch in as well) and it turns into a biography-by-numbers and was a bit of a grind to finish (to be perfectly frank) – his family obviously loved him very much but they can’t write for toffee. Overall: Fans only, but a charity shop purchase for everybody else 5/10
- The Hunger Games (Pt 1) – Suzanne Collins YA lit is what this is called. Yeah, I had to look that up as well: Young Adult Literature is the proper name. I bloody hate acronyms used pointlessly. Anyway, The Hunger Games is about a gladiatorial contest – to the death! – that is fought entirely by children…which is a future TV format that Simon Cowell is hoping to exploit after he has wrung-dry the X-Factor. There is a whole backstory behind why it’s called The Hunger Games and why some kids are picked over others but it would be a bit like me explaining the National Lottery Thunderball Game – most of you will glaze over by the second sentence and still not understand it…as if anyone does. Anyway, muchos high-jinks ensues blah-de-blah-de-blah. You can read The Hunger Games whilst watching Friends – it’s that light – and I imagine most ‘Young Adults’ (what the hell is wrong with the word teenager? Eh?) won’t find it that challenging either. Finally my over-arching thought when reading it was: isn’t this Battle Royale re-written for the American market? Overall: Like an Aero – it’s light, quick to consume and makes you want more. Not too bad at all…but Battle Royale it ain’t 6/10
- Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything – Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner I have touched upon this book in another post. But this is a book about statistics. I know that’s not a sentence to give you literary wood, but there you are – this is what this is about. What is great, though, is that it takes a crazy premise like ‘Why do drug dealers always live with their mothers?’ and tries to find the statistical reason behind it. The reason why most drug dealers live with their mothers is that drug dealing (and drug dealing gangs) are organised like any other corporation and the people at the bottom rarely get paid well and are only doing it because of an invented kudos (most dealers on the bottom rung barely make minimum wage.) Yeah, granted, some make big bucks – but isn’t that true of Starbucks or Tesco? So…they live at their Mum’s because they haven’t got the liquidity…dawg. Overall: Interesting, accessible and sometimes genuinely surprising 9/10
- Wolf Hall – Hilary Mantel Wolf Hall is factionalised account of the story of Cromwell – chief advisor to Cardinal Wolsey and then Cardinal himself – under Henry VIII. It won the Booker prize in 2009, so it must be a belter? Right? Errr…no. My problem with it is threefold. Firstly, it does that whole flashing backwards and forwards through time (rather than telling it in a linear fashion) that is just utterly confusing and wholly unnecessary – it’s a history book! History, last time I checked, works in a linear fashion because of that other linear constant…what is it? Oh yeah, time. Secondly, there is a huge cast of characters; some feel important…but turn out not to be…and some just blend together. It’s just too much. Lastly, the Booker Prize. Is it just me or do they give it to a shit book every other year? My feeling with Wolf Hall is that she shouldn’t have won it because the plot, you know, ain’t her creation – you know what I’m saying? So you’d think that the rest should be tip-bloody-top. I think she fucked up big style here, IMHO. Overall: want the lowdown on The Tudors? Watch Blackadder, it’s funnier 1/10
- Weapons of Choice: World War 2.1 – John Birmingham This is Lad-Lit. So, it starts with a simple premise which is: what would happen if a 2025 battle group went back to the middle of World War 2? Obviously, they initially put down some wuppin’ but after a while the contemporary officers have to deal with some other issues such as: How do you deal with racism when a fair proportion of your crew and half your officers are non-white? How do you deal with sexism? How do you control access to modern technology when it is so powerful? Do you share history? How do we change the course of the war? Should we intervene? So, what starts out as a pretty daft What If? novel ends up as a complicated political and strategic dissection of what would happen. Sure there are some right barmy sections and the characters are a bit Trumpton – but it is madly compelling. Overall: Sometimes bonkers, always interesting and could have been really shit…but isn’t 9/10