Dislocated day in Canary Wharf

cw20160128Today, I roused myself in the pre-dawn dark, drove to Geneva Airport, flew to London City and then took a cab to my office in Canary Wharf.

My company operates out of the 13th and 14th floors of one of those glass and towers, with floor to ceiling windows, that rise above the once-busy waters of London’s docklands like crystals seeded by some giant alien race. In its way, this part of London is beautiful, complex and clever. It combines old waterways with ego-driven, mine’s-bigger-than-yours office towers, skylight-lit underground shopping malls, three floors deep, concealed beneath ground-level rooftop gardens that make the tube stations into temples.

Thousands of people work here, most of them well educated and well paid. The aspiring middle class, grafting for success in these hives of commerce.

Arriving here as a welcome guest, with a day of meetings and discussions with our best and brightest ahead of me, should fill me with a sense of pride or, at least, purpose. Instead I fluctuate between feeling like an imposter, heading for public embarrassment or a convicted man doing community service.

I keep telling myself that I don’t belong here, in this swarm. That the hive does not call to me. That soon everyone will realise I’ve taken a wrong turn and I’ll be asked to leave.

Yet it doesn’t happen. Even though I am older and less well groomed and much less driven than those around me, I fit right in.

Closer examination tells me that this is because I project an air of entitlement, edged with authority. I have power and status here, even if I choose not to use them and, almost childishly, decline to dress the part. It’s in my eyes, my tone of voice, the set of my shoulders. This place is mine and I am its, no matter how much I would like to pretend otherwise.

With the hours time difference in my favour, I arrive at the nest well before 09.00. Instead of doing the virtuous thing and heading up fourteen floors to meet and greet and push energy through the social circuits that power my organization, I steal some time for myself and ride the escalator down to the shops and cafés, seeking a breakfast I don’t need.

On my way, I see this sign in a shop window.


It makes me smile.

The trap is not in growing up. The trap is in refusing to accept what you’ve grown up to become.

At fifty-nine, I’ve become someone my nineteen year-old self would never have anticipated and yet might still have recognised, the way one instantly notices something familiar but out of place.

The day passed in discussions of pace-layered application landscapes, post-modern ERP, digital disruption and optimally immersive user experiences. It would be ridiculous if its impact on how we live and work were not so real.

Afterwards, I pushed out into the darkness, glad to be alone, grabbed something to eat and then headed towards my monk’s cell of a hotel room.

This is the part of the day I’ve been looking forward to. I’m staying at The Royal Foundation of St. Katherine, an old building in the East End, that offers the tranquility of rooms with wifi but no television and a public areas with art and gardens but no bar. I feel, curiously, at peace here. Nothing is demanded of me except to take some time to be still and listen to myself.

What I hear is dissatisfaction with a life that no longer feels mine and a hunger for something both simpler and more meaningful.

What I don’t hear is what to do about it.

I think again of the sign in the shop window. For me, growing up is a trap I’ve already sprung. My next trick will be to grow old. I’d like perform it free of the shackles of routine and the drive of ambition.

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