The Loop: A lot of hot air

Balloons over Bristol

Welcome to The Loop, the Magazine's letters column, including the best of your thoughts on Twitter and Facebook.

This week the Magazine has seen the conclusion of Lucy Kellaway's magnificent history of the office. In the past few days she has demystified management, computers, sexism and the increasing tendency to treat the office like home.

But it's the history of the open plan office which sets Keira Vallejo on a stream of consciousness post on our Facebook page - it might give Lucy some ideas fodder if she fancies doing a second series.

"Can hear everybody talking loudly on their phones, hard to concentrate, you have to enjoy the level of dazzling light allowed in through the windows as nobody will let you close the blinds even though the resulting screen glare gives you eye strain every single day, the air con is always too cold according to the delicate females who refuse to put a bloody jumper on, all 36 fluorescent lights MUST be turned on as there is only one switch for the entire room and we are not allowed to turn them off to see our screens better, some people remove their shoes under their desks and their feet SMELL, someone always announces loudly, "Oh, you're on Facebook" when you opened it for a mere second to message your sick mother in another country, people eat at their desks bringing disgusting fish/curry smells into the office, all the windows have to remain shut because fresh air bothers some people, things go missing from your desk even though they belong to you."

And breathe.

Lucy's thoughts on the five million-strong ranks of managers in the UK inspires Duncan Anderson to offer a parable - a hardy perennial on the internet, but fun nevertheless. It involves a man (or woman) in a hot air balloon getting lost, so reducing altitude and asking a woman (or man) below where they were, since he (or she) had promised to meet a friend.

The person on the ground replies: "You're in a hot air balloon hovering approximately 30 feet above the ground. You're between 40 and 41 degrees north latitude and between 59 and 60 degrees west longitude."

The balloonist replies: "You must be an engineer."

"I am - how did you know?"

"Well," says the balloonist, "everything you told me is technically correct, but I've no idea what to make of your information, and the fact is I'm still lost. Frankly, you've not been much help at all. If anything, you've delayed my trip."

The engineer replies that the balloonist must be in management.

"I am," says the balloonist, "but how did you know?"

"Well," says the engineer, "you don't know where you are or where you're going. You have risen to where you are due to a large quantity of hot air. You made a promise, which you've no idea how to keep, and you expect people beneath you to solve your problems. The fact is you are in exactly the same position you were in before we met, but now, somehow, it's my fault."

So could the world exist without managers? Brian Groom in the Financial Times responds: "Probably not. It is too glib to say this would lead to more efficiency, with fewer meetings and memos. But there is something liberating in the fact that the title has become so ubiquitous as to be meaningless."

Incidentally, while we write of the FT, C R Egerton Chesney of Alton is not alone in asking why we include links to publications like the FT or the Times - or, from this week, the Sun - which charge for access. "Couldn't that be described as advertising? Certainly it is irritating and pointless," he or she says.

Our policy, as we've noted here before, is that we link to sites purely on editorial merit. That seems to us to be the most sensible way of doing things - the alternatives would be surely be less satisfactory?


As the management classes have grown, so apparently have the jellyfish classes. But, the Monitor asked, is the whole sting/urination thing true?

No, tweets TV doctor Keir Shiels. "Does no harm, but help & technically illegal."

"Illegal?" ask many, including ourselves and Margo.

"Jellyfish stings happen most often in public. Urinating in public is illegal," tweets Keir.

"Ah, that makes sense," says Margo. "I thought peeing on someone else was illegal."

Keir: "Without their consent it is."

So, in an unrelated matter, what do you think when you see someone wearing red trousers? Lots of people think not too much, apparently. But Leonie Smith of Ely, Cambs, emails to say: "I wouldn't say I don't like to see men wearing red trousers. On the contrary! I play Red Trousers Bingo. I score extra points for the wearer being male, over 50 and carrying a copy of The Guardian." Katie Smith of Cambridge says her husband wore red trousers to their wedding. "I still married him."

Peter from Dorchester has a simple solution to anyone who objects. "Are these people against freedom of choice regarding trouser colour? Perhaps they prefer state control in these matters. Perhaps we should all wear black? Go and live in North Korea."

The 20-year anniversary of what some say was a moral panic over the sale of alcopops, which we covered on Wednesday, inspires John to email: "When I worked erratic shifts, between two night shifts I would sometimes help myself relax into sleep by drinking an alcopop. I was very disappointed when shops stopped selling them. I *never* saw the local youths buying, trying to buy or drinking them. It is far too late to correct the bizarre notion that children would spend well over a pound for what amounted to one small glass of vodka when the same funds could buy them *lots* of cheap wine or cider. Politicians may be pretentious enough to buy expensive drinks, but our children were never that dumb."


And now a final selection of emails quoted in full without a hint of snarky paraphrasing.

Andrew Sloss writes from Leeds:

"Not one single article in the Magazine that asks a question in the head or subhead answers the question. Has it become BBC policy to mislead? Is there any reason to believe any of the headlines on the News site? It would appear that the answers are 'Yes' and 'No'."

The answers are, in fact, "no" and "can you believe a question?"

One question we did ask was "Is the phrase 'playing like a girl' offensive?"

Rose from North Yorkshire replies: "Whether or not it is offensive, it is definitely sexist. Some are offended by sexism, others are not. I've always tried to throw overarm ever since Brother Cadfael spots a girl in disguise by the way she throws. Possibly I'm over influenced by what I read."

Robert Nelson from London asks: "Is it offensive to say 'you play like a social inclusion officer'?"

Last week The Loop pondered what the correct response would be when asked, in a job interview, what you would do if you were a pencil stuck in a blender.

Image caption Here's one we tried earlier

Megan, from Cheshire, doesn't get the job.

"If I were a pencil stuck in a blender I would bounce up and down on my eraser until I bounced clean out, of course."

But Charlie Levine from Glasgow might.

"Clearly, if I was a pencil stuck in a blender I'd form a splinter group."

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