Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Unwellspring

The maintenance man was supposed to come today to fix something in the apartment. We’re on first name terms now, although he insists that I call him ‘Noddy’, which disturbs me no end. I always feel like I’m insulting him, yet ‘Norman’ seems too formal a name for someone who insists on wearing shorts so small that nothing (nothing…) is left to the imagination. On an unfit man of 40-something, this is not an altogether enticing proposition.

Anyhow, he didn’t turn up. No phone call, no notice, no Noddy. And, surprisingly, I wasn’t jumping out of my skin, pummeling pillows, practicing using the kind of language that may actually kill a senior citizen if uttered within hearing proximity (10cm).

I expected it. Somehow, eerily, I KNEW the lazy bastard wouldn’t turn up, despite his phone call yesterday and an SMS to confirm. I felt like I had entered a Zen-like state of calmness, what I had foretold had come true. Black was white, dark was light, the man was an eediot. All was normal, in other words.

I think I’ve actually gotten the hang of this ‘surviving in England without going completely crazy’ gig. It centers around not actually expecting anything to happen when people promise it will happen. The fine line I walk is between where I am right now (knowing this is going to happen but still railing against it at every opportunity) and where I could quite easily be (not just knowing about it, but accepting it as what is right). I know most other people don’t give a damn, but organizational systems are my passion – as is business. If I become blunt here I’ll be completely useless. I just don’t want to have the fight knocked out of me.

So this weighs heavily on my mind, it influences decisions I make, it slithers its way into plans and it knocks sideways ideas for otherwise solid systems. You see, we’re all quite dependant on each other in these big cities. Of course, we don’t actually have to be dependant on anyone to survive; humans are quite ingenious that way. It requires some idea of what to do out there in nature, but it’s still a possibility.

When we move to cities, however, and insist on things like plumbing and supermarkets, buses and postal services. These things rely on the reliability of others. This is where it can all go pear shaped if said ‘others’ don’t give a rat’s ass about performing the task they’ve set out to perform.

We’re so very reliant on others that even someone who genuinely wants to and intends to deliver on their promises becomes mere chaff floating on the wind of other’s whims. What use is it having an efficient manufacturing plant if your orders are always late because your courier is lacking? What good is a fantastic manufacturing process if you can’t rely on the quality of your material components? What use is outsourcing something if the company you outsource to promises the sky and delivers a steaming pile of nothing?

I firmly believe that I could trace the majority of sales of Zantac to managers in any British manufacturing concern that has implemented the heavily-reliant-on-others system of Just-In-Time.

It couldn’t have always been this way. This is the nation that conquered the seas, seeded colonies and refined the art of drinking tea with milk and sugar. All this ineptness must have therefore started somewhere at some time. Someone just didn’t follow through on a promise and it had an impact on someone else’s promise – and so on and so forth until we have the situation at hand today.

I imagine a knotty and twisted thread of happenstance invisibly winding its way around the country, inevitably landing on my doorstep in the person of the mailman that keeps delivering mail that is actually for the people next door.

So I ask myself the question: Would it be possible to follow that thread along its bumpy road back to the source, the wellspring of all this misery? If I found this person and fixed their problem, would everything else untangle?

I keep imagining what it would be like to finally find this person. Kitted out in the management consultant version of SWAT gear (Navy suit, navy heels, white blouse, hair in French twist, glasses perched librarian-high, briefcase held in a firm yet flexible grip.) I would be alerted in the radar van to the location of The One. My crack team of accountants and I would swoop into the basement room to be confronted with….with?

I think it would be someone in his 40’s, living with his nagging mother. I would find him behind a massive table which would be covered in an elaborate and detailed train kit. He would look up at me myopically through glasses large enough to magnify every pore of his cheeks and forehead. Startled, he would drop the small paintbrush in his left hand, whilst slowly crushing the dining car of the Orient Express with the right. There would be a light from somewhere (possibly an accountant’s pen torch) illuminating this whole scene.

He would be The One because for the last 20 years, he’s been promising BT to let a technician come by and check his line. Thing is, between one thing and another, he’s just never actually gotten around to it.

As soon as I work my organizational magic, however, that technician will come by and the line would be checked. The technician could then make the midday call he promised to make three weeks ago. The person who took an extended lunch to be at home for the technician would be back in the office by mid-afternoon as promised, just in time to answer an urgent email that noisily pinged its way into his box just as he was logging on. The answer to that email would cause great rejoicing in a footwear manufacturing plant in Krakow, sorting out a problem that could have meant a delay in their delivery schedules. The trucks ordered to take the shoes to London would therefore be leaving on time. A severe pothole which would most certainly have capsized the trucks would be reported by a woman next door to The One who suddenly found that her telephone worked after 20-odd years. The pothole would be fixed just in time for the trucks to rumble on by without any delays at all. The soft soled shoes my mailman ordered would therefore be on his feet at the time that he delivered my mail, allowing him to concentrate on the great task of matching the little numbers on the envelope with the big numbers on the doors.

Slowly, the order I created will unfurl the great knot this nation has got itself into. People would return phone calls, deliveries would come on time, trains would run (even when it rains), shop assistants would actually learn to comprehend the meaning of the word ‘service’ and plumbers would not only keep appointments but wouldn’t trudge someone else’s effluent all over one’s carpet. In other words – utopia.

This is my plan. Does anyone have a van equipped with lots of flashing, beeping boxes, a small geek and a spare driver I could use? I think I’d like to save the world.

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