Words Without Meaning

In which The Author calls ‘bullshit’

This morning I needed to go to the Royal Mail sorting office at Aberaman Industrial Estate. While I was at my breakfast meeting with Chris and Alwyn yesterday, the postman had tried to deliver something, and (obviously) failed. When I got home last night the familiar red card was waiting inside the front door.
My first thought was it was my next assignment from Orion Books: my second piece of work for them, but my first real copy-editing project. I was rather disappointed that I might have missed out on a whole day’s (and night’s) work. I went to bed, read for a while, and eventually drifted off.
Anyway, I went down to the sorting office early. My undeliverable item turned out to be the second volume of a trilogy, and not the typescript I was expecting. (I’ll be working on the final instalment.) I’ve emailed my contact at Orion this morning. I’ve asked him to give me a heads-up when the script’s on its way, so I can wait in the house until the postman comes.
I was on the way out of Aberaman Industrial Estate when I spotted a small cluster of advertising boards near the entrance. Among the other businesses operating on the estate there’s a chap that repairs and restores clocks; there’s a guy who fixes computers; there’s a pet food supplier; there’s a garage; there’s a very worthwhile social enterprise which recycles old furniture and household items.
And there’s a company with a three-letter name, and the tagline ‘Complete Solutions.’
I have no idea what this business does. The board gave no further information – just that it offers ‘complete solutions.’
I had to ask myself, ‘Complete solutions to what, exactly?’ Last Sunday’s unstartable crossword? Einstein’s field equations? The Middle East crisis? Our increasing demand for clean, cheap energy?
Could it be a British equivalent of the Institute for Advanced Studies. I can envision the world’s finest minds brainstorming these and a hundred other questions, in the relative seclusion and scenic location of the South Wales Valleys. After all, if it’s good enough the Royal Opera House, it’s good enough for the likes of Prof. Stephen Hawking!
Then again, instead of a service, they could be dealing in products. Maybe it’s a chemicals manufacturer, selling test tubes full of every soluble compound known to science.
Of all these possibilities, I think the truth is probably more prosaic. The owners have read a little book on marketing, and thrown a couple of buzzwords into the mix for good effect.
I’ve seen another specimen recently, too. It’s some sort of electrical service company. Their vans are painted with a slogan that goes something like ‘Global Service Delivery’, or some such cobblers.
Global? Really? If someone in Mombasa or Pyongyang or Tierra del Fuego called them up to say their lights had gone out, would this little business from Aberaman be able to respond? You can work that out for yourselves.
I hate this sort of management guru bollocks, because it’s purely empty jargon for the sake of it. Our briefings from Waterstones head office became increasingly prone to this sort of shite before I finished working there.
I see it every day, in the newspapers and on websites. I hear it every day on the radio, in political speeches, market analyses, and Radio 4’s large number of pointless programmes about business and the meejah.
In fact, it’s almost a flashback to what I wrote about in ‘Bullshit Detector‘, back when I was a student. Hardly anybody bothers to use language with precision any more. They’re too busy padding out their vacuous verbiage with pretentious piffle, designed to convince fools (i.e. us, the reading and listening people) that what they’re saying has validity and meaning.
That’s why it was interesting to hear a piece on Radio 4 a couple of weeks ago. They were discussing scientific papers, and their comprehensibility (or not). But the whole point of a scientific paper is to present data in an unambiguous, precise and clearly defined way. When one scientist uses the word ‘proton’, every other scientist knows what he (or she) is talking about.
If the general public don’t understand what they’re talking about, that’s a failure of the education system, not a failure on the scientist’s part. Specialised language exists to facilitate clear communication between specialists.
When you go to the doctor and say, ‘My stomach’s been a bit troublesome lately,’ he or she doesn’t expect you to know the anatomical names of the body parts, or the complex physiology of the human digestive system. The doctor knows these things, however. He or she can communicate with others within the medical profession because of it.
But that degree of precision isn’t demanded of us, the patients. We’d be staggered if a doctor did ask to rattle off the names of enzymes and processes. We’d call ‘bullshit’ a few seconds into the consultation.
On the other hand we quite happily swallow the bullshit emanating from the Westminster Bubble, The Apprentice wannabes, advertising executives, management textbooks, self-help manuals, badly-sourced websites, unattributed quotations in newspapers, and so-called ‘lifestyle’ journalism. Personally, I think we need to start calling ‘bullshit’ a lot more often.
After all, I’ve never yet met a doctor who claimed to offer ‘complete solutions.’
Have you?

Network Management

In which The Author loves it when a plan comes together

I really don’t know why I bother going to bed these days. About a fortnight ago I was talking to my GP about the insomnia which has plagued me for pretty much my whole adult life.
‘Have you seen the trailer for this week’s Doctor Who?’ I asked her. ‘One of the character says, “Now you can stay awake for a whole month!”‘
Dr Davies laughed, but I shook my head.
I said, ‘I’m completely serious. I thought, “Only a whole month? Bloody amateurs!”‘
Anyway, the rain finally stopped on Thursday morning. I went into Aberdare to pick up a few things, and decided to call into the Lighthouse for just the one. I eventually got home at about half past midnight last night. You know you’ve had a good weekend when that happens.
In the meantime I met up with a number of friends who are all creative and imaginative types. I pulled out my virtual contacts book and put the magical networking ability of the Cosmic Tigger Social Hub to work.
The first conversation was with Alwyn. He’s an extremely talented artist, whose work I first mentioned in ‘Frustrations of a Solitary Walker‘ a few years ago. We first teamed up about ten years ago, when he was looking to sell his paintings and prints online. Even through we made a decent start on discussing a website, the time wasn’t right. Social networking was in its infancy (unless you count MySpace, of course). People just weren’t connected.
A decade on, everyone’s connected.
We chatted over a few pints on Friday, and bounced some ideas around for a website. Then I messaged my mate Chris D. He’s just set up a web design and hosting company called T12 Designs. He knows far more about the nuts and bolts of website building than I do – and I know considerably more than Alwyn does. (By the way, I have yet to apply my tender ministrations to Chris’s site. All typos are entirely beyond my control at the time of writing.) It seemed like an obvious solution to bring these two guys together. We arranged a meeting, and Alwyn and I carried on chatting.
Mark P., the guv’nor of the pub, came in later on. Alwyn told him about the website idea we’d been discussing in the afternoon. It’ll involve showcasing his work, with an e-commerce option, and a rolling blog which Alwyn wants me to manage.
‘After all,’ he said, ‘you know a bit about blogging, don’t you?’
Just a tad.
On Saturday afternoon Mark took me to one side. He wants a website for the pub. Alwyn had suggested he ask me about it. I’ve arranged for us both to sit down with Chris on Friday morning. Again, Chris will sort out the design and the hosting, but I’ll be responsible for maintaining it.
Two down, two to go …
Yesterday I called into Thereisnospoon for a glass of Pepsi and to try and use the wifi. While I was waiting for the Cloud to gather, I got talking to another old friend. He’s trying to develop his music production hobby into a business. I suggested a couple of avenues he could explore.
Then I had a play around on Twitter. I decided to check out the author of the book I’ll be copy-editing any time soon. Sure enough, he’s got a web presence, so I sent him a message to introduce myself. We ended up chatting for a little while. And then there were three.
This morning Chris, Alwyn and I had a breakfast meeting in Servini’s Restaurant in Aberdare. It’s an established business, now run by the grandson of the Italian founder. I’ve been going in for years. I’d rather support them than Subway or the snack bar in Tesco, in fairness. I was expecting a brief discussion about the possible alternatives to Alwyn. Instead, we came away with a concrete plan, and some good ideas of how to develop it later on. We should be ready to launch it in about a fortnight. That’s pretty decent progress!
The fourth connection has yet to fall into place. Susanne, the landlady of the other pub I go into regularly (it’s Aberdare, you know – we’re not exactly spoilt for choice these days) hates doing the book-keeping with a passion. I’ve got a friend who’s a qualified accountant. She already does some book-keeping for local businesses as well as her day job. I’ve arranged to bring the two together on Wednesday evening.
I told Alwyn and Chris over breakfast this morning about the word synergy. It was coined by the visionary engineer, architect, philosopher and social scientist Richard Buckminster Fuller. In short, it refers to a physical system where the total output is greater than the sum of its constituent elements.
Or, in our case, a set of individual people whose combined skill sets mesh perfectly to produce something extraordinary.
I’m going to try and get Clint on board, too. We really need a decent and innovative photographer to make the whole thing hum smoothly. Clint needs some creative and varied shots for his university portfolio. Everyone’s a winner.
To put the icing on the cake, National Express have just emailed me a reminder of this year’s final trip to London, a week today. I’m going to check out the exhibition about the Celts at the British Museum. (At least I know it’s actually opened now. That’s a marked improvement on my first attempt to see it.)
Now, consider that only about six months ago I was a whisker away from throwing in the towel. The last four months have been the most remarkable period in my life since I legged it from Waterstones and checked in at the University of Glamorgan instead.
I’m incredibly grateful to everyone who’s supported me, encouraged me, had faith in me, and persuaded me that swilling back a hundred prescription-strength co-codamols with a bottle of vodka really wasn’t a viable course of action. You know who you are, folks. I won’t embarrass you by naming you here.
My subsidiary blog project 100 Songs in 100 Days has already featured one of the quintessential 1980s floor fillers. You can check it out on the posting from Day 12. Yazz and the Plastic Population, it seems you were right after all: the only way is up!

Being a Non-Linear Account of the Life and Opinions of The Author, Cross-referenced and Illustrated, with Occasional Hesitations, Repetitions and Deviations.

100 Songs in 100 Days

A Personal Selection of Great 1980s Music

Theo. Photography


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