Apr 2009

Meandering nonsense

There’s plenty of catching up to do. Plenty of “Previous posts” links to be clicking. Though browsing through my blogroll, I find that it’s been quieter than usual all round. It’s not just been me.

Larry‘s only had four posts since Chrimbo for instance. Mind you, one of those was a video of a man playing Angels We Have Heard On High on a piece of broccoli. I’ll take quality over quantity every time, and it doesn’t get much better than a man playing Angels We Have Heard On High on a piece of broccoli.

An anecdote about my life as an engineer

John B’s been over in Haiti. I came within a mildly amusing anecdote of spending a few months in Haiti in 1996 but it involves a corporate blunder that’s almost certainly still covered by confidentiality clauses, so I’ll have to be vague.

At the time I was working for an engineering consultancy that specialised in managing medium-sized projects for US corporations (food and beverage mostly, but there was bits and pieces of other stuff). The company had built its reputation on handling projects in what were euphemistically known as “hardship locations”… Nigeria, Angola, Ghana, Tanzania, the Middle East, the Philippines. Though by the time I joined they’d shifted both into working in ‘first world’ countries and also to the “new hardship locations” of the former Soviet Republics of Central Asia.

In early 1996 a multinational corporation contacted us. An almighty cock-up had been made in Haiti and our company was one of a small group who had the expertise to put it right. Because there was a certain level of political sensitivity involved, there was a kind of “name your price” air to the whole thing. I put together our quote for the job and was encouraged to “be generous” with the budget by my boss; the company owner. I’m talking about the high side of reasonable here, you understand, not silly. The project had a healthy profit margin, but still we looked certain to win the contract.

I’d begun preparing to head out there. Seven of us would go out. Myself, a director of the company, and five engineers. After a couple of weeks, the director would head home and I’d run the thing for the next twelve weeks or so. It was to be the third project I’d managed, but the first in a hardship location… and what a location! Admittedly, our project would entail spending most of our time in a secure compound well away from population centres. So it’s not as if we were going to be hanging out in downtown Port-au-Prince every evening. All the same, it was a pretty daunting prospect and I had more than a few sleepless nights freaking out about it.

The day before I was due to fly out for a preliminary visit we got word that the project was put on hold. I don’t recall ever being so relieved. A part of me was excited by the prospect of visiting the place, but it was a small part. Overshadowed significantly, I might add, by a far larger anxiety about running a site office and managing a bunch of men, many of whom were twice my age, for three months. In Haiti. In fairness to my boss, and contrary to how I may come across here, I was actually quite good at that kind of thing at the time. It’s not like he was sending some blithering academic off to fix stuff in Haiti. Even so, I was mightily relieved when I informed the office secretary to cancel my travel plans.

The company was expanding at the time. We were being asked to quote on far more work than we could possibly do and despite moving to larger premises and taking on more staff, we were actually turning down as many projects as we were taking on. So losing Haiti wasn’t all that big a deal. Within a week I was looking at the schematics for a plant in Baku.

For the next couple of months the Haiti project was on-again / off-again. It was getting on my nerves, and it was pissing off my boss. Over a liquid lunch one afternoon, he brought up the subject and vented his exasperation at trying to get anything organised in Haiti. The place was, he assured me, impossible to deal with. This from a guy who’d built factories in Angola and Northern Nigeria.

“Yeah, and that’s without the voodoo! Just wait ’til one of the lads pisses off a local voodoo priest. It’ll be The Serpent and The Rainbow all over again”. I was laughing, but my boss’s interest had been piqued. What was The Serpent and The Rainbow, he wanted to know? I told him it was a book and then a movie about Haitian voodoo and was supposedly based upon a true story. We chatted about voodoo for a while and I told him to rent the movie from the video shop if he got the chance.

He did. And clearly a bit squiffy from a few ales, he sat down to watch it that evening.

Now, I don’t know about you, but there are one or two horror movies that — for me — stand far above the rest… films that got to me. Got to me at a level that most horror films, even the very good ones, never get to. Films that crept inside me and did nasty things to my mind when I lay down in my bed at night. And it’s not about the quality of the film; it’s about the time and place you see it. Set and setting. How you’re feeling, what’s been on your mind, what you’ve eaten, drank or smoked. For me, An American Werewolf in London was one of those films.

For my boss, it turns out, The Serpent and The Rainbow was one of those films.

We’d had that drink on Friday afternoon. By Monday morning he’d read most of the book and was in something of a state. That afternoon he made a call to New York and withdrew our involvement in the Haiti project.

Now, I’m not saying that we’d still have pulled out if economic conditions had been different and there hadn’t been other work to do. And the way we’d been jerked around for so long certainly hadn’t helped. But The Serpent and The Rainbow was very much the straw that broke the camel’s back. The fact that my boss rented that movie on that particular night and it scared ten shades of shit out of him is almost certainly the reason I didn’t go to Haiti in the mid 90s.

So yeah.

There you have it. Well, I did say it was a mildly amusing anecdote. Though I must admit, it certainly went on for longer than I’d anticipated.

But look, it is almost 4am. I’m very close to nodding off. And I wanted to get something up here tonight but the thing I’m writing about nuclear power isn’t quite right yet, and the thing about police brutality and civil protest just isn’t hanging together either. At least this meandering nonsense is labelled as such.

Mr. Byrne’s Big Suit Built
Gail Blacker

Is that one of the best film credits ever?

And is this one of the best opening paragraphs to a blog post ever…?

The approval ratings of Austrian rapist Josef Fritzl have fallen below Gordon Brown’s according to a Daily Mirror YouGov poll published today which suggests that Brown would win a 20-seat majority at the next election if the Conservative Party were led by Fritzl.

Certainly when you add it to the closing paragraph of Harry’s prior post, it’s clear that despite the lack of quantity, Chase Me Ladies, I’m In The Cavalry… is also still providing high quality:

I honestly believe him to be insane. And the fact that this very dangerous lunatic is still poking his nose into the Middle East shows that Blair remains one of the most serious threats to our national security, and that his arrest and execution should be matters of the highest priority.

Harry Hutton, Blair Must Hang

There have been plenty more pearls amongst the online swine during my absence. I’ll get to them in due course. I’m travelling a lot over the next couple of weeks. London. Then Serbia. But I’ll try to post as often as possible, even if only briefly. For now, I’ll leave you with Politicari + Virusi (Politicians and Viruses) from Serbian band, Disciplin A Kitschme.

Vocals, drums, bass and effects pedals. Who needs a lead guitar?

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