Summer in the Office Part 2: All You Need Is Cash!

The weekend just gone was, without fear of contradiction, scorching. My sister-in-law invited us all round for a barbecue, and it was lovely being able to sit outside in the fresh air, drinking a cold beer straight from the fridge (although in the heat, the cold beer turned into what the Czechs call a tepid goat in no time at all). I’d love to be able to do the same in my own back garden, but it’s an overgrown mess. Tidying it up has been on my to-do list for ages, but getting around to it is not as easy as it sounds, in light of other priorities. Still, we all had fun in someone else’s garden, the kids pelting us (well, me) with water balloons!

I’m back in the office now, and today is even hotter than yesterday. Once again my mind turns to how uncomfortable it is. The ladies in the office have re-arranged their wardrobes and brought out all their lighter and brighter stuff to the front, and there aren’t many in the office without sandals on their feet. They look smart, but also seasonal. The rest of us have just ditched the long shirt sleeves – it’s fine if we stay in the air-conditioned office, but some of us don’t like being cooped up for hours on end.

I had a look online to see if there were any alternatives that kept within the ‘smart’ ethos but without re-using the same garb we’re in throughout the autumn and winter. The response I got was, in summary: you can’t change what you wear, but you can change what it’s made of. Instead of cotton and polyester, go for cotton-linen blends, natural fibres etc. and have everything tailored to fit perfectly. One site advised to wear an “undershirt” to absorb any sweat – how exactly will adding layers help?

I got the impression that, for men, office wear is about affluence. If what you wear looks expensive, you convey the impression that you are well-paid, ergo you must be successful, competent, professional and many more adjectives. Hence the emphasis on tailored clothing. Meeting a customer wearing genuine “George at Asda”, the sweat seeping through the cotton fibres of your shirt, conveys the complete opposite.

One source said it’s also about the effort you put in: the knots you have to tie, the buttons you have to fasten, the colours you must coordinate and so on. By taking time to “look the part”, you convey much respect to the other party as you deem them worthy of your time and effort.

On the contrary, one page, written by someone who has managed several successful on-line businesses, opined that the impression they get from your appearance lasts only until you open your mouth. I’d also argue that for a woman to express the same attitudes and achieve the same impression takes significantly less expense or effort: a smart and well-fitting dress, off the rack of a high-street retailer, won’t set them back several hundreds of pounds, doesn’t involve tying knots, and as it’s all in one piece, comes already colour-coordinated.

I guess that, when it comes to the modern workplace, the attitudes towards women’s dress codes are still comparatively young; men’s office wear, along with its attributions, has been seemingly set in stone since the French Revolution. Attitudes are changing, albeit very slowly (ties are no longer obligatory in my office), but I do believe there needs to be major reform in this area to redefine what is “acceptable”.

It’s not the 19th century any more!

The Dark Side of the Vinyl Revival

As well as being a bit of a music junkie, I’m something of a vinyl junkie too – have been since my mid-teens. I find myself enjoying the music more if I invest time and care into it; digital downloads and streaming feels cheap to me, and even the mighty CD can sometimes feel a bit too convenient. Vinyl, to me, represents a more authentic way of approaching music, and its limitations make the music sound softer on the ear compared to the full-on assault you find with some CDs. I’m not going to get into a whole “Vinyl vs. Digital” debate – I just experience more emotional connections to vinyl records than I do to other formats.

Sales of vinyl records have been on the up in the past decade, and it’s great that more people – particularly young people – are seeing its qualities for themselves. There is, unfortunately, a dark side to this revival.

On Friday, my wife received an e-mail promoting HMV’s “vinyl week”, stating that they’d be selling some exclusive, limited edition records in-store the following day. They wouldn’t be made available on-line, they were strictly one per customer, and you couldn’t phone and make reservations – it was strictly first-come-first-served. Two of them were by Steven Wilson‘s former band: Porcupine Tree. I’ve been listening to them a lot recently whilst waiting patiently for Wilson’s forthcoming fifth solo album. Their first and second albums were being re-issued on blue and purple vinyl respectively, with no more than 1,000 copies pressed of each. On Saturday morning, I ventured to my local HMV store, half an hour before opening time, and waited outside. Fortunately, none of the people in the queue in-front of me were avid Steve Wilson/Porcupine Tree fans so, with a little push-and-shove, I was able to grab the two LPs, pay and leave within 3 minutes. I was back home by 10am.

Out of curiosity, I had a look for the two LPs on eBay when I got home. Within an hour of HMV stores opening, copies of each album were put on sale at double or triple the retail price. Some that emerged later were business sellers who had scored two or three copies of them – no doubt accompanied by a friend in order to get around the one-per-customer restriction. This practice is perfectly legal – once you’ve purchased something, you are legally entitled to resell it – but what annoys me about it is how it exploits the fans who wanted the albums but weren’t so lucky. I especially feel sorry for those who, like me, were waiting in the queue outside their local HMV, only to leave disappointed; pipped-to-the-post by someone with no other interest than a quick profit.

The same is true for Record Store Day – I love the spirit of the event and how the exclusive releases draw people towards their local record stores, but the exploitation and profiteering from certain individuals ruins it. If anything, this practice is even more abhorrent on Record Store Day, given that the queues form a lot earlier and grow to some considerable length. I’ve only ever bought one Record Store Day exclusive, a recording of three Steve Reich pieces performed by the LSO Percussion Ensemble, but that wouldn’t have been as high on a tout’s hit-list as, say, something by David Bowie or Prince.

My two LPs have both been opened, cleaned, played and enjoyed. I know that I’ve knocked a fair bit off their future value by removing the shrink-wrap, but I don’t see them as an investment: the music contained within them is worth far more to me.