Monday, February 11, 2008

Year of the Rat

Welcome, one and all, to the Year of the Rat.

The first animal in the Chinese zodiac system, the Rat is a sign for pioneers, leaders and conquerors.

Rats, we are reliably informed, are charming, practical, charismatic, passionate and hardworking.

They have good leadership skills and make good friends. They are energetic and versatile with a natural charm.

There’s a downside, of course: rats can also be cruel, calculating, vengeful, obstinate control freaks.

Rats have played an important part in popular culture: in the cinema, for example, when Jimmy Cagney delivered that immortal line: “You doidy Rat, you killed my brudder.”

(To which the playground riposte is: “You doidy brudder, you killed my Rat.”)

Their gemstone is garnet, their lucky number is 11 and their favourite foods are pork, peas and cabbage.

Know anyone like that? Were they born in 1960? or 1972? or 1984? Then they’re a card-carrying Rat.

(Sums fans can work out what the other years would be, although there’s a bit of variation because the Chinese New Year moves around relative to the Western calendar. It’s all to do with Shrove Thursday and the Procession of the Equinoxes.)

Cynics might say that a Rat can be almost anything you want it to be, as can a Boar, a Snake, a Virgo or a Sagittarius.

Because if you know someone with those characteristics who was actually born in the Year of the Ocelot or the Muntjak, then the whole thing starts to fall apart.

And as The Boss will say to anyone who’ll listen, you could pick up anyone’s horoscope, read the good bits and decide it’s about you.

It’s a very persuasive argument: how can your character or your future possibly be determined by something as random as the position of the stars or the little furry animals on the day of your birth?

However – and there’s always a however – there may in fact be something in it.
Because as announced in the paper this week, Chronicle Towers is being pioneering (a Rat-like characteristic) and moving premises.

Some people may call this synchronicity. Others might argue that the rat connection is stretching a point. Be that as it may, we shall continue.

Those with long memories will be aware that our new home in James Street West will be the third earthly manifestation of Chronicle Towers.

The Towers Mark I was in Westgate Street, where Boots and Superdrug are now. It was what is euphemistically known as a “traditional newspaper office”.

This means that the basement was subject to floods, the third floor was the second floor except when it was the fourth floor, and search parties often had to be sent out to find junior reporters who had lost their bearings while navigating the rickety stairs between the front office and the newsroom.

It was at Chronicle Towers Mark I that your humble columnist started his Bath career, in a converted garret which housed the delightfully-named Special Publications Unit.

It was perhaps inevitable that he became known as “Hugh from SPU”, a sobriquet that has blighted his promotion prospects ever since.

In 1997 we upped sticks and moved to Chronicle Towers Mark II, our present open-plan bungaloid home.

There are many things we shan’t miss about the current incarnation of The Towers. The heating and ventilating have always been a bit wonky. The view wouldn’t feature on any picture postcard, stretching panoramically as it does from the three gas holders via the water treatment plant to the Waste Transfer Site.

And then there’s that smell...

The Towers II does have its good points. It boasts the best coffee machines in the world, ever. You can quite often get Mini Cheddars from the snack dispenser. There’s an ever-changing parade of wildlife outside the windows, including, yes, the occasional rat.

But what this place doesn’t offer, with the exception of Argos just across the bridge, is retail therapy. And whatever the powers that be may tell you, this is the real reason for relocation.

Because journalists need shops like fish need the sea, and the stars say that this move promises a retail resurgence in the heart of the city. Bring it on...

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