Wednesday, 6 August 2008

File Me Away

My job involves a lot of filing. Today as I was slotting Olojharan Obolinko down in his rightful place between the dashing Ojoban Obolinka and the delightful Mohammed Obolezarak, I wondered about the likelihood of any of these people actually meeting one day, and the massive sequence of events that had to occur to result in them sitting flush up against one another in a London filing cabinet. Even if you forget that the Obolinko, Obolinka and Obolezarak parents all had to decide that a little Obolinko, Obolinka or Obolezarak would be a welcome addition to their families (except for Ojaban, who was a mistake), and cast aside the striking similarity of their uncommon (some may even say contrived) surnames, there are quite a few decisions these ‘O’ brothers had to make – and quite a few circumstances beyond their control they had to find themselves in – to see them rubbing their filey shoulders together in this admissions office.

Olojharan decided to take a year off after finishing school in South Africa to backpack through Eastern Europe and sample as much štrukli and viška pogača as possible before returning home to ‘real life’ selling phone credit and crisps to people in his father’s shop. That was the plan. But, after a particularly heavy night on the kruškovac in Croatia, Olojharan met Melania. She had a penchant for designer clothes and gourmet nibbles, and convinced our Olojharan that the only way he could fund his newfound love for Egyptian cotton sheets and Armani suits was to launch a career in high finance. So, upsetting his father (and at the same time impressing him more than he will ever admit), Olojharan applies to an economics degree. His details are sent, his photos attached, his numbers punched in. Into the filing cabinet he goes.

Ojoban was the seventh of eight children (his younger sister was also a mistake). He grew up in a tiny house in Newfoundland and always had to fight for his fair share at dinner time. His older brothers were rolling fat things with bad tempers, and, one night, as he watched Ajalan’s chubby fingers snatch the meatloaf from his plate and shove it between his grinning white teeth, he made the decision that he would show them all. He would eat the finest of foods some day. He would never have to share. And he would never get fat. A chef seemed an obvious choice, but, after a failed venture as a kitchen assistant in town (his boss told him he’d never seen someone so clumsy with a whisk), he realised he only wanted to eat food: not make it. Flipping through the Aubergine Quarterly he saw a job advertisement for a food critic. He applied, but was told he needed to know how to write with great panache and accuracy about the inner workings of soufflés. So, with a new sense of purpose, he applies to a combined Arts/Science degree, majoring in English Literature and Nutrition. His details are sent, his photos attached, his numbers punched in. Into the filing cabinet he goes.

Mohammed was born into a wealthy Nigerian family. He was pampered good and proper his entire childhood, snacking on caviar sandwiches and shark-fin soup with truffle dippers. The only ‘work’ he had ever done consisted of telephoning various international zoos offering 200.6 million nairas and 6.2 concubines in exchange for a bald eagle to add to his personal menagerie. So, when his father was jailed for tax fraud and his mother fled to Bulgaria with her lover, it came as quite a rude shock that everyone in the family turned to him to work back the Obolezarak fortune. After a family meeting, where Mohammed spent the whole time stroking Emerald – his blue-winged raquet-tail – it was decided he should enroll in a business degree. Mohammed has no intention of working or studying (quite frankly, he is incapable of either), but his uncle has already paid five times the tuition fees to secure his place. His details are sent, his photos attached, his numbers punched in. Into the filing cabinet he goes.

The ambitious South African sits next to the hungry Newfoundlandan who is next to the slothful Nigerian. They are connected by similar surnames and coincidentally colliding circumstances.

I close the filing cabinet, thinking about all the things that had to happen to result in my hands being the ones to alphabetise and file these three people I may never meet. Somewhere in Canada, maybe my numbers are being punched in, and I’m being wedged between a philandering German and a philanthropic Pakistani.

It may be a small but incontrovertible truth: we’re all next to somebody we don’t know in a filing cabinet somewhere.

Monday, 4 August 2008

A Red Soufflé in Hyde Park

I have often been criticised for my persistent lack of organisational drive. I thought maybe moving to another country might convince my new friends that I do act and not just talk, but unfortunately lately I’ve been acting with the same joie de vivre as a hibernating animal after a glass of warm milk. My new BFF noticed the snoring emanating from my cave and decided that the only thing for it was to burst inside with ice-blocks and waterskis, singing ‘Good Morning’ à la Gene Kelly and announcing the arrival of summer with timpanis and glockenspiels.

To prove to him that I can organise (and to thank him for reminding me that I am a young person in London and not a Grizzly Bear in the Alaskan wilderness), a plan was hatched. It was an organisational soufflé: for it to rise successfully it required a few days to prepare the key ingredients.

Before I impart my recipe, it may help you to know that this friend is also my French tutor, so there are many French flourishes involved. If you do not enjoy a good French flourish, you may substitute this ingredient with some icing sugar.

Sarah’s London Soufflé


1 x red beret
1 x black and white scarf
1 x quantity red wool (at least 150 metres)
1 x picnic blanket
1 x pack of chalk
1 x quantity home-made food labels in French (eg. ‘a knife’ = ‘un couteau’)
1 x quantity basic picnic food, including a baguette and camembert cheese
2 x functioning mobile phones with sufficient credit
1 x desperate prayer to Vishnu that it doesn’t rain


You will need to select a fitting location to cook in. I selected Hyde Park, but feel free to adapt this to your own city or town.

1. Organise to meet in front of the Serpentine Art Gallery in Hyde Park at 1pm sharp on Saturday.
2. That morning, purchase all of your fresh food, don your red beret and scarf, pack your wool, chalk, picnic blanket and food labels. Before leaving home, drop in your prayer to Vishnu (you may have to do this the night before, also, and sprinkle more in – to taste – across the course of the day).
3. Arrive at the Gallery at midday so you have ample time to prepare. Once there, approach the Gallery staff to ask if they would mind you scrawling a small message in French on the pavement near the entrance outside. Take their advice and write the note on paper instead (even though you spent your lunch-break the day before on a cross-London chalk-hunt).
4. Get out your ball of wool and tie one end to a post near the Gallery entrance. Attach your sign that says ‘Suivre moi’ (‘Follow me’).
5. Unravel your wool, weaving it around trees, over footpaths and down hills until it runs out in a place not many people would choose for a picnic.
6. Set up your picnic blanket at this end of the string and affix your French labels to the food (eg. Le Fromage, Le Noix, L’eau, La Myrtille, Un Bol, Un Plat, etc.).
7. Send your friend a text message that says: ‘Quand vous être à le musée, chercher pour l’instructions’ (‘When you are at the gallery, look for instructions’).
8. Try to look as ‘normal’ as possible when strolling families and curious tourists notice your woollen trail and (a) stare, (b) smile, and/or (c) approach you to ask what on Earth you are doing.
9. Wait.
10. Wait some more.
11. Worry about the other end of the string.
12. Panic when your friend sends you a message, clearly having not seen your note.
13. Reply, telling him to look for a little red clue.
14. Keep an eye on the trees in the distance until you see your perplexed friend collecting the string: weaving around trees, over footpaths and down hills.
15. As he gets closer, try to look as nonchalant as possible. Fail miserably.
16. Eat, drink, and discuss steps 1 through 15.

(Serves 2).

The rest of my plan involved seeing The X-Files movie (which, I hate to admit, disappointed me immensely), having a drink in a pub overlooking the Thames in Bermondsey, then heading to the National Theatre in Waterloo to watch Bafta nominated short films which were shown outside up on the Fly-tower.

The hibernating bear has awoken…