Note: I am trying to forge ahead with my novel at the moment so even though I will still attempt to post a blog at least weekly, today's entry is a slight rewrite of something I first wrote in the early 2000s; hopefully still relevant today.
Everybody complains about their job. It's part of the human condition. We all wish that there was some miraculous magic answer whereby we could be given all the resources we need to live full, happy and comfortable lives and not have to lift a finger. Unfortunately we can't all work in senior management, and there will always be far more boring admin that needs doing than there are people willing to do it, and whilst there are better ways to spend your days than deciphering some self-important kingpin's scrawl and transcribing it into electronic form, there are worse ways too.
However, this aside, some people do seem to end up in jobs that are quite specialised in their way, and yet eminently unsuitable for them. Furthermore, some (again relatively specialised) professions seem to attract those people who most dislike the job.

I'm talking about removal men here. And I'm not being sexist - they do seem to be predominantly male, hence the more recent spawning of the Man With A Van subset of this profession.

Firstly, almost every single removal man I've ever encountered seems to completely and utterly, absolutely above all else, loathe carrying things. Er... perhaps I missed something but I think you're in the wrong profession? Didn't the job description give you a clue? You could argue that years of constant lifting and carrying of heavy objects causes resentment to fester, but surely if you find yourself in a job where certain central aspects (say the pay, the hours or the boss's breath) are intolerable, the best thing to do is leave and pronto.

So - they hate lifting and carrying. These activities aren't actually difficult if (unlike me) you're fit and healthy, but on the whole most Men with Ven aren't either.  More gut than the deck of a North Sea trawler, they appear subsist on beer, fags and fried breakfasts.

Breakfast brings us neatly to the second and perhaps most inexplicable behavioural peculiarity possessed by removal men. They are obsessed, and I mean seriously obsessed, with cups of tea. We all like a nice cuppa, but sometimes it's impossible. Like, for instance, when someone is moving house and all of their worldly goods are packed away including the kettle!

Moving house is one of the most stressful and traumatic experiences ever known, and when you're going through it, the last thing you need is some sweaty lout dropping heavy handed hints about being thirsty, sulking when these are ignored and then breaking your furniture in a fit of pique. For God's sake man, if tea means that much to you, why not bring a thermos of the stuff into work?

All in all, your average removal man is about as suited to his job as Howard Hughes would have been to the job of dustman. But I have a plan. I think the employees of Humpitt, Shatter & Cuss Removals would be much happier elsewhere. So where can we find them a job where there's absolutely no heavy lifting, fitness is not required and you can drink as much tea as you like? Why, admin of course!

I think it could all work rather well.

Do you ever get the feeling you're being watched?

It's a very real sensation, far from mere paranoia (although it may be a contributory factor to that misunderstood delusion).

Picture the scenario. It's 5am, it's Sunday morning, it's summer and you're walking back home through deserted streets after a club night. It's already daylight and you've got the beginnings of monstrous hangover. Nevertheless, there's something to be said for the silence and solitude. Then you stop. You've got the feeling.

Someone's watching. You look around. No sign of anyone. In the distance you can hear the engine of a lone vehicle, but that's all. Even the birds are silent. Some thing is watching. You can feel it. Outwardly nothing has changed; the streets are just as deserted as they were two minutes ago but viewed through the filter of potential observation, everything is suddenly sharper and more sinister.

Then you see it. Five floors up and looking directly at you from behind the glass of a Victorian sash window. A black cat.

Sometimes it's different. You're in a crowded urban place, a shopping centre or a station, and as in the custom, no-one is looking at anyone else. You're probably in a hurry. Then you stop. You've got the feeling. Surveying the swiftly moving crowds around you seems hopeless, but you know you're being watched. Then you see her. Over fifty metres away a woman has stopped and is staring at you. Like a black cat. As soon as she sees you see her the spell is broken, she disappears into the crowd and is gone.

You'd think this would be an almost universal feeling and that it would, at least in part, be understood. But that doesn't seem to be the case. The vast majority of opinions expressed with respect to this subject seem to be of the firm belief that it is in fact all just part of being paranoid. I'm not so sure. Whilst paranoia may include delusions of being watched, these are just false instances of a real sensation. Hallucinating the sound of a scream doesn't mean that screams don't exist.

There has been material written on this subject, in particular Rupert Sheldrake's The Sense of Being Stared At which I have yet to read, but which at first glance appears to do exactly what it says on the jacket. However, investigation around the subject reveals that Sheldrake is currently vilified by the scientific community for dabbling in what they call pseudoscience.

I am a rationalist myself, but am increasingly dismayed by the growing inflexibility being displayed by the public face of science and its vociferous fans.  As I have mentioned before, the received wisdom in this day and age seems to be that "almost everything is already known" and that it's only the solutions to high-brow ultrascientific concepts that still elude science.
"It's true we don't know everything. Proof of the existence of Higgs-Boson continues to slip through our cerebral fingers and the Theory of Everything is turning out to be a particularly knotty problem. But we still know more than you lot."
The fallibility of science is accepted but only in those fields that are so far removed from everyday life as to make little sense to the general public. What technarchists really seem to dislike is the idea that some things remain unexplained that the populace at large are fairly confident exist.

Bunkum. Mumbo-jumbo. Clap-trap. Pseudoscience!

Personally I think it's perfectly reasonable to believe that some things exist that are not yet known, without having to resort to the paranormal to explain them. The feeling of being stared at included.

A fact commonly bandied about is that when you're talking to someone, a large percentage of the communication passing between you is non-verbal. This is why speaking to someone on the phone is such an appalling experience. It has neither the full range of sensation you expect from spoken communication or the internalization you get from the written word. Some people claim to enjoy it of course; we're all aware of the cliche of the telephonic gossip. I think what they enjoy though is the chance to perform a monologue to a captive audience - these long haul telecons are invariably one-way.

But what about the rest? The visual, gestural, subconscious communications? We pick them up without realising it, our senses working perfectly in union as a result of millennia of evolution.  These finely tuned perceptions are old, very probably predating communication. A subconscious awareness of the world around us is very useful from an evolutionary point-of-view, it helped our ancestors survive and may indeed have contributed to the emergence of consciousness itself.  Its more recent application to communication is a happy accident.

In the distant past, being watched was a dangerous state of affairs, especially if the eyes doing the watching belonged to a cat.  A big cat. The earlier you detected this attention the more likely you were to survive and pass on the genes for detecting unwanted scrutiny.

This detection doesn't have to be supernatural. It could just be a clever subconscious application of the senses we already have (including those we may not be aware of); information constantly being gathered and processed below the threshold of awareness and only being escalated to conscious red alertness if watching eyes are detected.

Even if they're no longer the eyes of lions.

If enough people agree on something it starts to exist.

This is rather worrying. Suppose everyone starts believing in something that's wrong? An agreed consensus of reality can result in everyone being dead wrong about certain facts.

Look at those societies where they believed that the Earth was flat and at the centre of the universe. The fools. But at the time it made perfect sense and if everyone agreed that it was the case then it was so. Not so much a lie as a case of mistaken identity, but even so - the beliefs of the many outweigh the beliefs of the few. Effectively the Earth was flat in those days to all intents and purposes.

However, even though we know better now, on some levels we still think of the Earth as flat. This is because maps are flat and if they want us to continue believing that the Earth is made in their image, they actually do have to start lying to us, or if not lying then at least distorting the truth.

I'm sure we all have memories of a map of the world hanging in a classroom somewhere in our childhood. It was all we had to look at when the maths teacher started droning on about isosceles triangles. Remember that huge yellow thunderhead hanging threateningly over Europe? The vast uninhabited continent of Greenland. As big as Africa, but with no distinguishing features. A great unknown with an uncharted interior. To the west a huge archipelago of equally unexplored islands north of Canada covering an area far larger than Europe. The map itself proudly claimed to be a Mercator Projection, a name that resonated with appropriate sounding assonant associations - Merchant, Navigator...

In fact Gerardus Mercator was a sixteenth century cartographer from Flanders, and it's his fault that maps started to lie. The central conceit of this way of mapping the world is that the meridians are parallel, which made navigation using these maps far easier than ever before. Whilst the meridians are theoretically parallel, in truth they're curves that meet at the poles. The closer one gets to the poles, the more the Mercator Projection distorts reality. In reality Greenland is 14 times smaller than Africa and not nearly so wide at its northern edge. And the further north, the greater the distortion.

When I discovered this I felt betrayed by Gerardus Mercator. Stupid Flanders. These exciting arctic continents didn't exist... It also used to bug me that these world maps didn't go all the way. I knew that the poles were at 90° latitudes - why did the maps all stop at 75°? The answer, as all interesting answers do, involves infinity.

It's all to do with how Mercator performed his projection. Imagine a globe of the world (the only truthful map) wrapped in a cylinder of paper. At the centre is a light bulb - this projects the shapes of the continents onto the paper giving us parallel meridians and increasing distortion the further poleward we go. As we can see the light from the bulb passing through the poles would shine straight upwards and never reach the paper. A Mercator projection map is infinite, and a large enough one would show a hubcap near the north pole as a vast elongated ellipse far bigger than Australia.

Some have put forward theories that Mercator Projection is a tool of the Capitalist West given that on it Europe and North America appear far larger and more significant than Africa and other third world areas they exploited. Whilst it's true that these maps might have subliminally shaped the childhood attitudes of imperialists along these lines in the classroom, I don't think Gerardus himself had such a sinister agenda. He was just trying to make it easier to sail a ship in a straight line without getting lost.

Others have tried to come up with fairer projections than Mercator's, but whilst some manage to maintain the correct areas of landmasses in comparison to each other, the continental shapes themselves end up warped as if the polar regions are being viewed out of the corner of your eye through the distorting lenses of a pair of bottle-bottom spectacles. More cartographic lies in other words.

An America professor called Johnny P Goode (no really) tried to come up with an alternative in the 1920s, the snappily titled Goode's Homolosine Equal Area Projection, but in that the Earth ends up peeled like an orange and you get the uncanny feeling that there are vast wedge shaped voids in the middle of the oceans into which an unwary ship might fall.

Despite our pretensions to three dimensionality, when it comes to finding our way about we no more make use of the third than the inhabitants of Flatland by schoolmaster Edwin Abbott Abbott (such a good teacher they named him twice). Gravity pulls our minds down into two dimensions like ants crawling about on the surface of a balloon. If we properly make it out into space properly, how are we going to chart the heavens in a way we can understand it? No doubt the star maps of the 22nd Century will have to find new and interesting ways to lie to us.

But so far the lies maps have been telling us have been lies to help us understand, the kind of lies a parent might tell a child. Santa. The Tooth Fairy. Harry Beck's famous London Underground map is a prime example of this - it's far easier to get from High Barnet to Baker Street by reference to a brightly coloured wiring diagram than it would be if you had to use a geographically accurate representation of the tube.

However, some maps are far more dishonest and perpetrate far more heinous deceptions. Cartographical entrapment. I am talking about Trap Streets (and I hope that anyone who may have come across my Tumblr mini-blog can forgive me this repetition).

A Trap Street is a child of the copyright age, born of intellectual property paranoia. Despite the fact that you can't copyright reality, mapmakers are protective of all the work they might have put into charting the metropolises and even though they won't admit it, add deliberate inaccuracies to catch out any potential counterfeiters. Extra roads known as Trap Streets.

There's no official list of these as that would negate their usefulness, but a little bit has been written about the location of some of them. With reference to this page on the Open Streetmap Wiki I had a look at the interestingly named Oxygen Street in Edinburgh. The existence of Google Maps Aerial View reveals this cul-de-sac for the lie it is. Until they start photoshopping the satellite photos, Google Maps Aerial and Street Views will be a polygraph machine for those dishonest diagrams.

A short while later I wanted to find Oxygen Street again so searched for it directly. I was surprised to find a whole fleet of Oxygen Streets around the country. Closer investigation revealed them all to be cul-de-sacs, all the same length and - oddest of all - all non-existent.

Oxygen Street appears to be the John Doe of cartography. There are no real Oxygen Streets in the UK. But there did used to be just one in the 19th and 20th centuries before it was wiped out by modern development. It was in the same location and was the same length as the current fictitious version in Birmingham. Wiped from reality, the thoroughfare refused to die and instead sprung up in the unreality of lies all over the country.

Not so much a trap street as a ghost street.