On my Way Back From Way Back When

17.12.14 (Day 360)

18.42

I’ve clambered out of The Way Back When Machine after a five year journey through the past which started 15 years ago.

Of course it’s impossible to travel back in time, or rather if anyone had done so, no-one would know. It’s a paradox. It’s theoretically possible to travel forward in time if one is able to exceed the speed of light. It’s certainly possible to freeze time in – or at least slow it down – by reaching or approaching the speed of light. I literally don’t have time to explain it now (maybe in the future) but you can read about it here.

Looking at myself 15 years ago, indeed reading my own writing from back then, is quite striking. I was 29 years old and blogging was in its infancy. A lot has changed since then, including me. A lot hasn’t. Time is the fourth dimension and reading that old blog was like travelling back in time. If this blog which I now write are the first, second and third dimensions – because it does exist, as I and we do, on the X, Y and Z axes – by placing the old blog within this one, I have – in a literal sense – made this blog four dimensional: same person; same place; different time.

Interestingly, the old blog ended in 2003 and this one began in 2013. That decade-long hiatus coincides with the time I was married: a blank space. Which is interesting in itself as much went on before I was married and lots more since but not much during, if you believe what you read; or rather what you can’t because it’s not there.

The five years documented in the old blog are indelible; recorded and never to be erased. Even when I’m gone, from the physical form which I currently occupy, my imprint will remain. Exposed for all to see. The analogy presents itself again: that of the TV set which sits like an empty shell, brought to life by a signal broadcast through it, or rather which it receives. The human body is the TV set and the soul the signal. I shall live on in my cyberspace suit and all but the few with the means to do so are powerless to stop that. I’m a traveller, in time. My whole life is documented – with gaps – on this blog, on Facebook and elsewhere. And it’s all drawn together on my personal website. There’s no escape for me nor anyone else. Ever. Until humanity itself ceases to exist. This is like a 21st century cave painting. Even post-humanity; after the event of mass extinction, this blog – along with the internet in its entirety as captured by the Internet Archive; The Way Back Machine – could be transmitted across the cosmos for beings unknown to us to receive millennia from now; once we’re gone. But we’re still here in our imprint. 

I’m working on a third story in the Paradox series: The Paradox of the Fourth Dimension. If you’ve already read it when you read this, lend it to me so that I can copy it out. Or maybe you already did.

Greetings from the past and the future.

Way Back When it Was 1999

Lifted straight from The Internet Archive, some pictures are missing, links defunct and text out of context. This though is where it all began, in 1999:
 

Maybe, just maybe…

 

Sunday, 20th June: Alas last night I missed out on scooping the national lottery jackpot. I got one number right and a mere five eluded me. Just another five days of work then and it’ll be my turn next Saturday to win the jackpot. I don’t mind sharing it, as I’m generous at heart, just so long as it’s with no more than two or three people. Every week I tell myself that having not won for yet another week only increases my chances of doing so the next, a thought that gets me through the drudgery of work each week. Every Saturday night I also religiously avoid finding out what the winning numbers are, even if it means camping out at the bottom of the garden to avoid hearing downstairs’ or next door’s TV announcing the results. In doing so I spend one night per week as a potential millionaire, only to have my dreams scrambled, along with my eggs when I open the Sunday newspaper and see the winning numbers.

When I do win next Saturday, I shall be deliberately late for work on Monday. There’s an art to being late and that is to be so late that rather than being greeted by moans and grumbles, your expectant audience have given up all hope of seeing you. Upon your eventual arrival, they emit surprised sounds instead, thereby leading you to believe that they’re pleased to see you and of course relieved that you’re okay as they were so worried about your well being. On that Monday I shall be so obscenely late that hugs and gifts greet me. This, of course is self-delusion and I shall instead be dragged over hot coals for my slovenliness. I shall enjoy this as I will know that this will be the last time that my bosses will be able to admonish me. I will then turn the tables on them by announcing that I am in fact now their boss. Also, that I have spent the morning buying the company and they should consider themselves jolly lucky that I am allowing them to keep the office-junior jobs that I have newly created for them, together with their revised salaries and despite their outrageous behaviour towards the new company owner.

When that day comes I shall find myself in a position, currently occupied by others, where I am able to accept no blame for things that I have done wrongly. I shall have scapegoats a plenty and revel in the glory of congratulations received for things that I have not done correctly but for which I have stolen someone else’s thunder. Gone will be the days of spending my time at work being blamed for other people’s mistakes and seeing others take credit for what I have done well. Until then, the daily grind lays ahead and with that thought being firmly banished from my mind I shall close on a lighter note:

I am now off to practice some alchemy by turning cider into cider as I pour it from bottle to glass and then into bullshit as its effects filter via my bloodstream, before emerging through my finger tips and hitting this keyboard elsewhere.

 

 

Lunch, telephones and a spider.

 

Sunday, 27 June. The weekend has been long as I inadvertently took Friday off of work. The prospect of tomorrow is therefore a worse one than a normal Monday, as I know that I’ll have a backlog of work to greet me when I arrive. I swear that those individual pieces of paper, although quiet and inanimate when on their own, get a certain feeling of safety in numbers. I say this because when faced with such a pile in my in-tray, I’m made to feel paranoid, as if they’re staring at me and taunting me, raising a pair of paper fingers at me as soon as my back is turned. It’s probably just in my mind but that air of smugness from my in-tray when it’s full is undeniable.

Last week saw many visits from the local fauna of Southeast London to our office. There are no chemical or nuclear processing plants in the area to my knowledge, but each visiting thing seemed to be larger than in the textbooks, although smaller than on the TV. Most notable was the spider that I discovered in my drawer the other day: I’ve seen some big spiders in my time but this one took the biscuit. In fact, given the chance he probably would have carried a biscuit away with very little effort but for the fact that I had no biscuits for him to take. So, I opened my drawer to retrieve my book to read, as this was lunchtime. I should point out here that normally during the lunch hour it would appear to my colleagues that there is something not quite right about my desk, almost as though there is something missing. They grow concerned about this thing that they can’t quite put their finger on before finally relaxing when they realise that it is actually me that is missing. The reason that I normally am not at my desk is because of my compulsion to answer the telephone. Our office does not have a receptionist as such and it is therefore all of our responsibilities to answer the phone, and the phone rings quite a lot. Some of my colleagues have an in-built ability to simply ignore the incessant ringing. I, like many of the others, do not. It is therefore not uncommon for me to spend an entire lunch hour reading the same two or three paragraphs of my book or newspaper over and over again as I am constantly interrupted by my inability to ignore the phones and my compulsion to answer them. So, I normally go to the pub or on a nice day, to a bench somewhere if one can be found that isn’t doubling as a bed for a tramp or a public convenience for the local Pigeons. This in itself can present problems as, given my phone compulsion, I have to be restrained from answering the pub’s telephone and make sure that any bench I find is well away from any public telephone boxes. If someone sits next to me and their mobile phone rings, well that’s another story.

So, back to the drawer: There, bold as brass, was this spider, sitting or whatever it is spiders do when not chasing people, quite comfortable, relaxed and reading my book. As the light from outside his drawer pouring in disturbed him, the spider looked up at me and gave me a “can I help you?” look. This spider had a clearly discernible face – not the best looking one to me perhaps, but to other spiders I dare say he was quite handsome. He had fashioned a moustache and side-burns from his facial hair and was wearing four pairs of reading glasses. Before I’d had a chance to introduce myself he jumped, clearing the side of my drawer, and as he scurried across the floor the sound of his eight training shoes could be heard disappearing into the distance. Looking at my now uninhabited drawer, and my book lying open where he’d left it, I realised that this spider would perhaps now be feeling all alone with nowhere to go and that I might have scared him.

I’ve not seen him since, but if he’s reading this I’d just like to say that we got off on the wrong foot, or feet in your case, you’re welcome to come back to my drawer any time and I’ve even kept your page in my book marked. If you’re worried about the magazines that I found that you were keeping in there, be assured that they’re safe and I haven’t said a word to anyone.

 

 

Must try harder.

 

Sunday, 04 July. Yesterday saw England knocked out of the World Tennis Championships at Wimbledon. Our only remaining hope Tim, as in Tim Henman, but just plain Tim to those of us that have never met him, was knocked out by Sampras (the opposition is always referred to on second name only terms) in the semi-final. The English, it has to be said are very good at coming second, or for that matter third, fourth and not at all. We are not very good at actually winning things though, which is a shame because we try so hard. The English do have a certain determination in everything they do, it just never seems to be enough. If the world were a classroom, and the countries pupils, at the end of term England’s school report would probably be of the “must try harder” kind. Much like my own at school in fact, where I was more content to allow my mind to wander, ponder and daydream than actually listen to anything that the teacher was trying to teach. I did quite well at school and had what would have been a very good education if I’d paid more attention in class. By my own admission I could have done better, and that will no doubt be the story of my life with those four words one day making a final farewell appearance as my epitaph.

All of which is irrelevant of course as the world will end today, as predicted by that most reliable of prophets, Nostradamus. Even now I am compiling a list of people to phone and reveal my true feelings to. I predict that this will result in two discoveries: The first will be that the intended recipients of my messages are out, which is very inconsiderate of them seeing as I’ve gone to so much trouble rehearsing my lines. The second will be that the feeling has been very much mutual all along. In the case of those (very few) that I declare my undying hate to, this will be fine. On the other hand I will be very disappointed at not having turned my thoughts into actions in the case of those that I declare undying love to.

Of course, the world will not end today and I can say this with a degree of confidence in not looking a complete arse, because I know that if I turn out to be wrong, you will not be reading this now. The fact that you are means that I was right and also that I didn’t make those phone calls, which is a shame as now I will never know the true feelings of those that I have feelings for. If only I had some form of guarantee that the world really would end. Then I’d be able to say these things in my head and in my heart to these people and know that I wouldn’t suffer any embarrassment in the future, as there would be no future to be embarrassed in. The absence of such a guarantee means that some feelings will be forever locked in my head and my heart, unless I can find confidence enough to bring myself to say them. Maybe I should try harder. Maybe I could do better.

 

 

Mad Englishmen and dogs.

 

Sunday, 11 July. It’s hot. The weather that is, and when I say that, I’m using the English definition of “hot” which means that it’s mildly warm to residents of countries where nice weather is normal. England is not one of those countries and, as is the case every year, this mini heat wave has caught us unprepared and made us do the usual silly things, more of which in a moment. The temperature outside is in the low 80s, which is obviously of the Fahrenheit scale as 80 degrees on either the Celsius or Kelvin ones would most likely render me not here. It is interesting that I should choose to quote the temperature in degrees Fahrenheit, as, just like the vast majority of the general public in this country, my temperature scales are seasonal. We all like to exaggerate a little when we can get away with it, and we like to sensationalise things too. By varying our quoted temperature scales seasonally, we even manage to sensationalise the weather to a degree. After all, if I were to say that the temperature outside was in the high 20s using the Celsius scale, this would sound nowhere near as impressive, nor give me the self-contentment of making the weather sound as hot as possible, as to use the Fahrenheit scale does. Similarly, in winter we will use the Celsius scale as, for instance “minus ten” sounds much colder than “twenty-five”.

Although many countries have weather that is consistently warmer than our warmest, and colder than our coldest, the English weather just seems to vary that much more, sometimes from one extreme to another, and often from day to day. It has been known in the past for us to have snow in June and be lying on beaches in November – months when those types of weather would not normally be expected. No wonder then that we talk about the weather so much. This is not an unusual time of year for hot weather, but the fact that only two weeks or so ago it was cold and raining, is why it caught us by surprise. Now that we have had our annual dose of heat and are suffering, we long for the return of that cold, wet weather. This year again, at the first glimmer of sunshine, deck chairs and sun loungers were dragged, kicking and screaming from garden sheds all across the country, and people stripped off to burn themselves. People went to the pub to sit in the garden, unable to do so at home as that is where they leave their dogs to bark and annoy the neighbours. Having the cat and no dog, I was able to sit in my garden and listen to the neighbours’ dogs. Because sunshine is a relative rarity, we do not tend to keep supplies of suntan lotion and sun block. And because we know that the heat will probably be short-lived anyway, we do away with such time-consuming methods of gaining a tan, opting instead for the “get burned quick” method and totally forgetting that we did exactly the same last year and suffered for weeks afterwards. Currently then the streets of my home town at least, are populated by people sporting skin colours representing a good cross-section of the crustacean population of the oceans, from delicate prawn pinks to painful-looking lobster reds.

Another example of being unprepared is my office which, were there an award for most unprepared place for the arrival of hot weather, and therefore most uncomfortable place to work when the hot weather does arrive, would certainly be among the nominees, if not the overall winner. We face west, where the Sun is for most of the day, and for added effect we have full-length windows. We currently have a construction site opposite and so these windows are rendered permanently closed by the noise and flying debris. We have blinds in the windows but these are broken, mainly in the open position. We have the usual array of office electronic equipment that adds its contribution to the heat, and we have no air conditioning. We have fans, as in things that spin, rather than people who like us, but these only serve to circulate the hot air around the office.

Despite all of this, we are all confident in the knowledge that, this being England, in a week or two it will be cold or raining, or both, and we’ll have something different to talk and complain about. Then we’ll grow weary once more of wrapping up warm to go out, and of carrying umbrellas around. We’ll long for the return of that nice warm weather that we enjoyed so much while it lasted.

 

 

Disorderly sleep.

 

Monday, 12 July. This morning I failed to rise. Not in the sense of being sexually inadequate, but in the sense of not actually getting out of bed on a day that I am supposed to. The events that led to my not setting the alarm before retiring are not necessarily relevant here, suffice to say that I have done it before. Normally this phenomenon occurs in another way, where the alarm has been set the night before and duly greets the dawning of a new day with a merry chirp that I’m sure members of the electronic clock population of the world find pleasant. Personally, I find this sound to be as welcome as I’m sure a married Hen does when she is awakened by her Cock rising to greet the same event. In the past, I have quite literally hit the alarm clock and in doing so, missed the “snooze” button and pressed the “off” button instead. The former allows me eight minutes of extra snooze whereas the latter allows me unlimited snooze or sleep time, invariably making me late for work. This was the case today, although only the late for work part is true, as the alarm clock had been rendered a mute casual observer by me not setting it.

The opposite scenario, where I have arisen on a day when I am not supposed to, has proved even more embarrassing as there I have an audience whereas in the privacy of my own room I do not. An example would be the morning in the not too distant past when I awoke at about half past five in the morning: Unable to get back to sleep, I switched off the alarm, aware that thirty minutes later I would need to be awake anyway. If I had only realised at the time that the alarm clock was not actually on in the first place, this embarrassing event need never had happened.

I dutifully arose, as I do on any weekday, and an hour later was standing on the platform of my local train station – looking quite fetching in my suit with my briefcase at my side – awaiting a train. At twelve minutes past seven my train had not arrived, nor was it advertised on the indicator boards. I decided to wait, but after a further ten minutes grew tired of the lack of information and train. I then sought platform staff and found them lacking also. At the same time I also noticed an absence of fellow commuters and that the newspaper stand and buffet were closed. At this point it dawned on me that this was actually a Sunday and that I was very misplaced. Trying to look as though I knew where I was and that I was supposed to be there, I sidled off of the platform in a manner resembling a Hermit Crab looking for a new shell to hide in and went back home to bed.

If only my alarm clock could be relied upon to work correctly, these problems need never arise. Similarly, if I could be relied upon to set my alarm correctly, the same would be true. On the mornings that the alarm goes off when it’s supposed to, I make full use of the “snooze” button (if I hit it), to gain those extra eight minutes of rest. The last minute of the eight is the one that I hold dearest to my heart, as I know that soon, my bed and I will be parted. Perhaps in that last minute I should wonder less about the alarm and I working, and more about what day it is.

 

 

Sleep depraved.

 

Sunday, 18 July. Tired. Very tired. So tired in fact that I’ll excuse myself now if this turns out to read as though I’m typing with my knees or talking out of my backside. I’d prefer to think though that I manage to make sense even when my brain is begging for mercy, so in my delusional state I’ll assume that to be the case.

My acute tiredness is due to a number of factors, partly work-related, but compounded by social excess. Without entering into too much detail, and thereby retaining some myth and legend for myself, suffice it to say that this was a very busy week in the office. The working week was busy enough as to encroach on my weekday evenings, which I begrudged it. To gain some form of personal revenge I therefore spent a very long Friday night in London, consuming quantities of alcohol that probably wouldn’t be prescribed by a doctor. As a result, I spent the whole of yesterday feeling a little frayed around the edges, much like any other day. By the time yesterday evening arrived, I decided that my working week hadn’t really been taught a proper lesson yet for denying me my weekday evening enjoyment, and that I would continue to make my point. This I did for a full twelve hours at a house party, until today was well and truly with us at six O’clock this morning. Having had a full two hours of sleep, I now feel that my working week has been well and truly made to feel bad about what it did to me last week, although I’m sure I probably feel worse than it does.

Another working week begins tomorrow, and I will no doubt perform some of those tasks that only the terminally tired are able to perform. Although I learn new stupid things to do when tired all the time, I can almost guarantee that I will demonstrate the classics. In the past, I have become frustrated when I have not been able to contact someone as my telephone has apparently developed a fault, only to discover that I am trying to make the call on my calculator. Conversely, I have added up an entire spreadsheet using the buttons on my telephone and wondered why it was not displaying a solution to my problem. The sheer extent of my tiredness in these two examples is appreciable by the fact that the numeric keypads of telephones and calculators run in opposite orders and I still continued.

Further examples of stupidity induced by lack of sleep have occurred at home: There was the evening when, upon arriving home and wanting to make a cup of tea, I was unable to as I could not locate the kettle. After much searching, I discovered it, in the fridge, where I had placed it that same morning. Similarly, I wondered one morning why my tea was so weak and cold – I had filled the teapot with milk instead of boiling water. I have covered my face in hair mousse and put shaving foam in my hair. I once threw my dirty laundry into the toilet, which sits next to the laundry basket. Fortunately, this is not an event that occurred the other way around.

 

 

Vetting the Cat.

 

Monday, 26 July. This is the third day of a four-day holiday, wrapped around Saturday and Sunday to make a six-day weekend. The last four days were mainly spent being drunk, recovering from being drunk, and then being drunk again. Last night I got drunk, for a change. Today and tomorrow will be spent cramming into two days that which I intended to spread over six.

Harley (the Cat) went to the vet on Friday for his annual booster injections against such nasty infections as Cat Flu and Feline Enteritis. As a result, I paid my annual visit to the Doctor’s surgery for my annual Tetanus injection. Cats are delicate creatures, prone to many afflictions, Insomnia not normally being one. At six O’clock in the evening on a Friday, Harley can normally be found not suffering from Insomnia, on my bed, sleeping off his weekly Friday night meal of a Cod steak (he’s a religious Cat). He has a secret calendar though, that he alone knows the whereabouts of, where he ticks off the days leading up to his annual visit to the Vet. Realising that this was the allotted day, he had developed his annual bout of Insomnia and had been restless all afternoon. As the time for the visit to the Vet approached, he was nowhere to be seen.

After much shaking of a box of “Kit n’ Kaboodle” in the garden and repeatedly calling his name at a volume audible to the whole street (thank God I gave him a relatively sensible name), there was a rustling of the hedge at the end of the garden. A Cat, doing a very good impression of a Sheep emerged. While Harley was busy feeding his face, I performed a quick sweep of the house and secured any potential exit points. Having played for time by eating every individual biscuit in his bowl, Harley was now finished, as far as his food was concerned. Now, I thought he would want to retire to sleep somewhere, at which point I would simply scoop him into his travel basket. He was wise to the ritual however, and this was not to be the case.

Retrieving Harley from behind the sofa, I attempted to open the travel basket with one hand while holding him still with the other. Cat 2; Me nil, and already sporting claw and teeth marks.

Standing on a chair, I prized Harley from the top of the curtains. I’d had the forethought to stand the basket on its end with the door open, on the floor beside the chair, so that it would be a simple matter of dropping Harley into it. This I did, but he was out again and up the stairs before I could close the door of the basket.

After changing my T-shirt, as the first was now somewhat torn and bloodstained, and having donned a pair of gardening gloves from the shed to protect my already shredded hands, I closed the door of the bedroom behind me. This time there would be no escape. Flipping down the visor of my motorcycle crash helmet, I peered beneath the bed to be greeted by a cat twice the size he was when I’d seen him last, fur standing on end, teeth bared and hissing violently. Ignoring his growls and hisses and oblivious to his sharp edges due to my canny protective clothing, cat and basket were finally introduced. The back of the basket was against the wall, as I’d positioned it and the door was open, thus enabling me the use of both hands on Harley. He now extended all four limbs to become a giant Feline capital “X”, stiff as though beset with rigor mortis to prevent his insertion into the basket. With one final, determined shove, he was in and I quickly closed the door, securing it with a padlock that I’d found to be sure that he stayed that way.

Much wailing, scratching and hissing could be heard from the basket as it jumped across the back seat of the car on the way to the Veterinary surgery. On arrival, we were granted immediate access to the consulting room, the nurses no doubt alarmed by the contents of my basket, or perhaps by the fact that I was still wearing my gardening gloves and crash helmet. The Vet opened the basket and after a psychedelic pattern of black and white (cat and Vet’s gown respectively) had danced around the consulting room, the injections were duly administered. Two humans versus one cat meant that re-introduction to the basket took a mere ten minutes, and we were soon on our way home again.

The last memory of Harley that I have is a black flash emerging as if propelled by rocket fuel, from the basket and through the one window in the living room that I’d forgotten to close earlier. That was three days ago and if previous experience can be relied upon, a cat / sheep creature should return here soon. This morning I had my Tetanus jab and replaced some clothes and furniture that were lost in Friday’s battle. I have fresh Salmon awaiting my boy’s return and now have a whole year in which to gain his forgiveness and regain his trust, before repeating the whole process again.

 

 

A fishy tale of revenge.

 

Sunday, 01 August. I am in pain. It was my own stupid fault, so I should expect no sympathy even if any were to be offered, which it is not. Perhaps I should not be so hard on myself as it was only the first event that occurred due to my stupidity. It was this first event that gave rise to the subsequent ones though, so perhaps this desire that I have to punish myself is justified. I am not normally clumsy, nor unthinking, except when drunk which is only in the evenings. Therefore I only become clumsy and unthinking for four hours or so each day. Four hours being less than half of a day does not constitute “normally” in my mind. When I do perform stupid acts though, they are usually so stupid as to induce anger in my sensible self that wants to punish my idiotic self. I digress.

The event that led to the others, and therefore my current discomfort would seem to an outside observer to be a relatively harmless one. To a drunken fool though, the act of preparing dinner is fraught with danger. This being me, and me being drunk at the time, it was not hot surfaces or sharp edges that caused my injuries, it was the ingredients. I could leave it there and allow you images of me sustaining life-threatening injuries after struggling with a Great white shark whose fins I had designs on for a soup. I feel that I should elaborate though, as I am an animal lover and would never partake in such activities, as I’d be too scared. No, this perpetrator of my injuries was a particularly vicious, dangerous, evil, violent (I can’t maintain this pretence any longer), Chilli.

I was preparing supper on Friday night, on the wrong side of a drinking session. Dinner was to be a simple affair of Pan-fried Lemon Sole with new potatoes and Asparagus spears. I’d become quite attached to the fish as he’d been in my fridge for over a week and was approaching his sell-by date. Now it was time for us to part company. I decided to add some heat to the meal. I’d had some fresh Bird’s Eye (particularly hot and nasty) Chillies for a while and decided that this would be a good opportunity to use them and give my fish some bite. I figured he was dead, and that me just throwing him into a pan was a bit of a one-sided battle, so this was giving him a fighting chance. Having finished my rather pleasant supper, and after a few night-caps, I was feeling rather tired. I rubbed my eyes and became aware of a sensation in addition to the tired one that they were already exhibiting. My eyes began to itch, which I put down to tiredness and so I rubbed them to relieve the sensation. Then they began to sting and tears began to form. I knew that I didn’t feel so bad about my fish friend to induce such a reaction, so I figured something must be wrong. After more rubbing, my eyes felt as though they were burning, and were streaming to an extent that made the trip to the bathroom a perilous one.

One cut eyebrow courtesy of a light switch, a bumped head from a door post and five stubbed toes thanks to the bathroom scales later and I was in front of the mirror. My first thought was to wash my eyes out with cold water. This I did after sustaining another bump to the head from the sink. Finally catching a glimpse of myself, I looked as though I’d been deprived of sleep for many days. My eyeballs were bloodshot and my bottom eyelids were curling in an attempt to escape. It was only at this point that two and two, when added together became four. Having chopped the Chilli and mixed it using my fingers with some Garlic and Olive oil, and having rubbed this mixture, with my fingers, onto the fish, I had not washed my hands.

Now, my eyes still sting, my toes are bruised and my face is cut. I feel as though my fish found a use for the “teeth” that I gave him after all, and that although I felt satisfied at winning our battle having eaten him, he is now exacting revenge upon me from beyond the grave. So, in the end, he won the battle after all and is now punishing me. For that, he has my respect and is saving me a job, so he remains my friend.

 

 

Going indirectly home

 

Sunday, 08 August. I am feeling somewhat delicate today, having rather over-indulged myself last night. Although I indulge myself with alcohol most nights, over-indulgence can creep in to varying degrees dependant upon my surroundings and mood. When at home, mood is obviously the determining factor, unless of course I’ve been moving the furniture around or knocking down walls. Here I drink out of habit more than anything else. I consulted my local off-license manager once on the merits of giving up drinking. He was not perhaps the best choice for advice of this nature, but the advice he gave was very sensible. I told him that I didn’t drink out of boredom as I had plenty to occupy my mind. Surely then, giving up the drink should be easy when I can indulge myself in television, the computer, outdoor activities etc? “Ah” came the reply. “But what are you going to do while you are doing all of these things? A man such as you needs more than one thing to occupy his mind, and what better thing than a drink in your hand?” Very good reasoning I thought.

Mood plays a part when I am drinking out, although only to the extent that it dictates how much alcohol I can drink before losing control of my faculties. If I am in a particularly good mood, it is almost as though I can drink an establishment dry before having to seek alternative sources of drink. In reality I am drunk to the same extent as usual, but when in a very good mood my drunkenness manifests itself in my making a complete fool of myself, as opposed to feeling nauseous in a corner somewhere. Surrounding play a larger part though and generally the size of an establishment will have a direct relation to my drunkenness. In a small, intimate bar where the surroundings are cosy and quiet, I will sip my drinks intimately and approach the bar less often and more slowly. The bar that we patronised last night was at the complete opposite end of the size spectrum and positively cavernous in its dimensions, holding perhaps a thousand people with space for the same amount in the huge garden at the rear. As a result, drinks were poured down throats with gusto and visits to the bar were at a sprint every few minutes.

When closing time came, the large group that I was with dispersed much like a river with all of us walking together for a while, then splitting into gradually smaller groups as we headed off in different directions. Eventually I was alone, like the final little trickle of a stream before it reaches its end. The river analogy is a good one as, between us we were probably carrying enough alcoholic liquid to form a river and me being a trickle at the end was further demonstrated by the trickles that I produced behind various trees and down dark alleys.

We had elected to walk as it was a pleasant evening and we had all spent rather copious amounts of money and were therefore keen to avoid the expense of using taxis. Normally the walk to my house from the town centre is one of no more than thirty minutes, even taking trickle stops into account. From the point that I became the sole walker on my route, about forty minutes after leaving the bar, I should have been no more than fifteen minutes from home. What followed was an epic journey that, had I been sober, would have allowed me to map a substantial proportion of the roads in the town. This was as a result of spotting what I thought was a short cut, via an alley that would also allow another trickle. The alley emerged however into territory completely alien to me.

I wandered for quite some time in far from straight lines, from street to street and didn’t recognise any of them by name or appearance. Finally, after about an hour, I stumbled out of an alley and into a road that I recognised. I then realised that it was the same road I had been in earlier that was then alien. I set off in the complete opposite direction to the one that I had earlier, thinking that this may serve a purpose. This it did in rendering me even more hopelessly lost than I had been previously. I continued to wander until I chanced upon a telephone box, where I called for a cab.

The cab arrived and I told the driver my intended destination. I thought I detected a sigh, but thought no more of it and proceeded to put on my seatbelt. No sooner than I had it fastened and we were outside my house. I paid the fare, with a generous tip and vowed that I would improve my knowledge of the geography of my immediate surroundings.

 

 

Good to be back.

 

Saturday, 04 September. I’m back. This follows a period of being away. I find that it helps to be away if one intends to arrive back somewhere. To my regular readers, I would like to say two things: Firstly, hello to you both. Secondly, an explanation of my recent absence: For the past three weeks or so, I have been involved in a few time-consuming projects. None of them are worthy of anything more than a brief mention, so a brief mention is all that I shall grant them.

I have finally managed to finish a publishable short story. This is the opinion of others that I have confided in, and not just my own, before I sound conceited. When it goes to print, I shall make it available here. Until then, wooden things have taken on an undeniable attraction, as I touch them daily in the hope that all works out. My fingers hurt too, from being crossed so much.

Speaking of crossed things, and unable to think of a better link, my first individually commissioned crossword puzzle is due to be printed in the coming week. Again, after it is printed I’ll post it here.

The main thing though is that I recently resigned from my day job. (Although most people would perhaps have advised against this, given what they read here). After much wrangling and almost three days of continuous meetings in the office, I have decided to continue working for the company. This in itself would appear to be a waste of three good days, however I am only staying to take on another role. That is one of a sales person.

Although much opinion has been put forward on the virtues and usefulness (or lack of) of such titled individuals, I now take it all back as I am shortly to become one myself. My new job, which I commence on 1st October, will not disadvantage me of salary. It will also grant me certain extra job perks: I will have a company mobile phone, thereby allowing me to ditch the one that I currently pay a monthly line rental on to receive approximately two calls per month. I also receive a laptop computer. Of course, I have my desktop machine where I create all of these ramblings, but my only current company-issued item of electronic gadgetry is a pocket calculator. The calculator has been useful, but there comes a point where calculating the number of pockets that one has becomes boring. Also, it is an unbeatable machine, as I discovered the day that I donned my entire wardrobe in an attempt to fool it. It was still able to calculate that I had sixteen pockets. Most importantly, I get my own set of wheels. I currently own a set, but the ones that the company is offering me have a car on top.

So, here I am. Back and feeling much better for being away. That being away is what I needed to make me feel so good about being back.

 

 

Unanswered questions.

 

Sunday, 12 September. Sunday night, and the wrong end of a five day weekend. The wrong end because it is the last before the return to work tomorrow. Familiar ground, so I shall not dwell on my feelings.

A lot has been achieved over the last five days, including the completion of another short story, which I hope someone will consider publishable. As ever I await news, firstly from my proof-reader. A few drafts will then follow before I play the next waiting game with, probably a magazine. As with my first, this latest one will appear here when it’s published somewhere. Until then, this place remains spookily devoid of published works, apart from the Space Invader Crossword. This was published last week and is therefore my first child as far as writing is concerned. I now await further offspring.

Which leads me to a point: I obviously know where offspring come from (Something to do with a Stork in a Cabbage-patch, so I was told), but the average child may not. Children have a habit of asking questions other than “where do babies come from” (see above), like “why is the sky blue?” (Because it is, and anyway, at night it’s black – I prefer not to offer the light-refraction answer, and let them figure it out by themselves). After childhood though, most of us seem to lose our curiosity about everyday occurrences. I think this is a shame, as it is a sure sign that we are allowing our brains to relax. To address this issue, I would like to pose some unanswered questions of my own:

These questions mainly concern nature, a subject that I didn’t pay as much attention to as perhaps I should have at school. I heeded all of the Human stuff, but when it came to things with more than the prerequisite two legs, my interest faltered.

Why do spiders not appreciate it when you run a bath for them? They sit in the empty tub all day, waiting. Then when you finally run the water for them, they perform a simultaneous breast stoke, front crawl and backstroke, as if showing off, before diving down the plughole.

If moths are nocturnal, why do they like lighting so much? Is the switching on of a light like a major night-club opening for them? They fly about quite happily in their night-time world outside, but as soon as a light goes on anywhere indoors, they’re head-banging the window to get in.

Finally in the nature series: Do wasps serve any useful purpose? Bees have a form of sex with flowers, albeit homosexual, and pollinate other flowers. Wasps do not to my knowledge. Nor do they lose their sting after stuffing it into Human flesh, so we don’t even have the safe knowledge that they will die after performing such a violent act. Bees sting for a reason, and if left alone will not do so in the first place. Wasps though just like inflicting pain it seems, while flying around in their rather garish stripy jumpers and generally acting hard.

Nothing to do with nature, but it’s playing on my mind: Why is a TV set so-called? I have a TV, but feel that I might be missing something not having the extra bits that make it a set.

These are probably questions that will accompany me to my early grave, unless my offspring can one day answer them for me.

 

 

The things people say.

 

Sunday, 19 September. Or rather, the downright stupid things that people say never cease to amaze me, and this week it has been as though I’ve been stalked by people who are determined to say something ridiculously stupid to me.

These people are perhaps normally sane and in full control of all their faculties. I just seem to encounter them when they’re having an off moment. Now we’re all guilty of saying silly things without thinking, normally in an attempt to break the ice or elicit a conversation. The propensity of silly things said to me this week though has led me to give the phenomenon some thought.

The beginning of the week was hot, weather-wise, and maybe that serves as some sort of excuse for the gentleman in question’s inability to ask sensible questions. This is a question that I’ve been asked before, and I cringe every time I’m asked it. The question in question as it were was “hot enough for you?” as I was standing on the platform of my local station, waiting for a train. This was a day when the temperature was touching the 90s Fahrenheit, and he saw fit to ask me that. I wonder what sort of answer these people expect: “Well, no actually, now you come to mention it. I’d be most grateful if perhaps you’d be so kind as to crank up the thermostat a little.” Perhaps that’s the reason for asking the question that this man was some kind of superhuman who could control the climate and he was only asking out of kindness. If that were the case, then I apologise to him now. I doubt it though. I think it more likely that he’s the kind of person who will sidle up to you under his umbrella in a torrential downpour and announce “I see it’s raining again.” Well, thanks for pointing that out to me, because I hadn’t actually noticed myself. Maybe that’s why I’m standing here soaked to the skin. Perhaps I’ll put up my umbrella. Thanks very much as, without you pointing out the fact that it’s raining, I’d have not thought to do so.

Of course I’m exaggerating on the second part, but people do genuinely seem to find it in themselves to state the obvious in this way. Another common one is the phenomenon that usually occurs on a Friday, when someone will stand next to me and proclaim “Well, Friday again”. And again, thanks to the person who pointed that out to me as, without that little nugget of knowledge I’d have happily gone into work yesterday.

This next one didn’t occur last week, but it’s worthy of mention as if there were a “hit parade” of the amount of times stupid things are said, this one would be vying for the top slot. It comes when one is sobbing uncontrollably at the loss of a loved one, or a spilled pint. Some helpful soul will approach and enquire “Are you okay?” Yes, fine thanks. Couldn’t be better actually, but thanks for asking.

And how about “Enjoy your meal”? This is a favourite of McDonald’s and I usually reply to it in one of three ways. The first is to state that I will, but not because I’m being told to do so. The second is to reply in a sarcastic tone that actually that wasn’t what I came here to do. I planned instead to hate my meal, and to sit and curse it aloud as I looked at it and ate it. My favourite (a bit childish perhaps) is to say that actually I won’t enjoy my meal as burgers don’t agree with me. Then opening the box, removing my burger and lifting and lowering the top half of the bun like a mouth, while saying in a comic voice “Oh yes we do.”

By the same token, I recently arrived at a restaurant with a friend. That’s me and one friend, neither of us being of a size that could be construed in any way other than the way that we arrived, as two people together. The first waiter to approach us uttered the immortal line: “Table for two?” I looked behind me for any signs of scamps that had followed us in, hoping to share our meal but could see none. For a wheeze though, I said that actually we required a table for six. This of course caused further amusement when people approached later in the evening and asked, “Is this seat taken?”

On Friday night, I went out in my local town and had booked a taxi to take me there. On setting off, the driver looked in the rear-view mirror and asked, with apparent genuine interest “Live local?” Yes actually. You just picked me up from my house.

Further examples of attempts to start a conversation before employing anything resembling thought occurred yesterday afternoon, when I decided to have a barbecue. I phoned various friends and stated that I was having a barbecue. The results of the survey that I conducted at the garden gate when my friends arrived were alarming and added further weight to the argument that people really do say the most stupid things. On arriving in my garden, a full fifty per cent of guests, on seeing the barbecue smoking away enquired “Ooh, are you having a barbecue?”

The barbecue went off well. When I say “went off”, I mean that it exploded when it didn’t seem to be burning too well and I threw petrol on it. A further example of stupid questions followed when I phoned the fire brigade and the operator asked, “What kind of fire is it?” Well hold on. Let me see. Well, it’s a hot one. After a telling off from the operator, the provision of a fire engine or two was procured (who said I don’t throw an entertaining barbecue?) The problem is that my house can be difficult to find, so the operator suggested that I wait at the bus stop at the end of the road and direct the fire crew from there.

Standing at the bus stop, a gentleman approached me and enquired “Are you waiting for a bus?” to which I was compelled to reply “No, actually I’m waiting for a fire engine.”

 

 

Getting high.

 

Sunday, 26 September. At the moment I am puffing on a reefer. I have given up drinking for tonight by way of a change, and as a result of an incident that occurred last night.

I was in town having a drink, for research purposes, when a fight broke out before me. I could see no reason for the fight to have erupted, and certainly there was no build up. I had heard nobody insult anybody else’s mother, or call anybody’s parentage into question for that matter. Here though, were two grown men trying to rearrange one another’s features. Soon, others joined in and the pub that was hosting this event eventually resembled a Wild West film set. In the end, the fight was broken up, police and ambulances arrived, and later glaziers and carpenters were repairing broken windows and furniture.

It occurred to me then that a whole industry has sprung up around the consumption of alcohol. I shan’t get into the politics of the issue, but will simply point out that alcohol is a legal intoxicating substance. It carries tax and duty, which is obviously income for the government in itself, but the profits from spin-offs must eclipse the amount of money that these are responsible for. Employment too, is helped by these alcohol-associated industries. Just take the above incident and consider that it required the services of policemen, paramedics, carpenters and glaziers. Then multiply that across the country and you have a hell of a lot of money that alcohol generates.

Drugs are a different matter. I don’t condone the taking of any drugs, and am totally against so-called “Class A” drugs, which do screw people up. Smoking Cannabis though is an activity generally tolerated by society, so long as it is done in private, or among like-minded people. The substance remains illegal though. Obviously there are health concerns, but it is not an enlightened society that allows the consumption of alcohol, whose main side effects are vomiting and violence, but bans the smoking of weed, whose main side effect is making one say “man” a lot.

Sportsmen have been suspended and banned from participating in their chosen sports because they have taken Cannabis. The basis for this is that Cannabis is a performance enhancing drug! Anyone who enjoys a smoke of the stuff will know that it is anything but performance-enhancing. A footballer for instance, under the influence of Cannabis, is hardly likely to be running about the pitch in a performance-enhanced way. He will more likely be lying on the turf, saying something like “I don’t know how they keep it looking so nice man. I wish I could get my lawn looking like this. It’s so green. Here, have a bang on that man.”

Alcohol is of course responsible for many atrocities, and the dangers of driving whilst under the influence don’t even need repeating. Being under the influence of drugs though carries the same penalties. However, here is another difference: A person smoking a joint in a car will not be driving it in the first place. He will more likely be parked up on the side of the road, trying to get the airbag out to see what colour it is.

The legalisation of Cannabis then, although it might increase sales of comfy sofas and warm slippers, has no benefit for the government and is therefore destined to remain technically illegal. As I am typing this, every key on the keyboard has taken on the feel of a miniature soft pillow as my fingers hit them. I feel strange. I think I’ll have a drink.

 

 

Descriptions and instructions.

 

Sunday, 17 October 1999. It’s been a while since I was last here, so my apologies to my reader, in other words myself. Some wag once told me that talking to yourself is nothing to worry about. Only when you start arguing with yourself should you worry. Personally I’d beg to differ with this advice, which I once told myself, and there I go again. To stop these arguments between me and myself, I find it easier sometimes to write things down, or type them as I am doing here. That way, the personal arguments are out of the way and only what we agree on ends up here. Actually I disagree with that last statement, but that’s for the two of me to sort out amongst myself.

A few postings back I commented on the TV set phenomena. We argued between us, me and I, but could not work out which part of the TV was missing. We have a lovely black box, with a screen that displays moving pictures, and a remote control that changes them. We don’t believe that this constitutes a “set” though, nor could we decide on what it is that might be missing. We contacted a number of local electrical stores, pointing out this apparent paradox and all of them had to agree with us that indeed something must be missing as one large and one small box do not a set make.

While the electrical stores conducted research on our behalf, I decided to do some shopping and uncovered other retail “rip-offs”. My local Optometrist escaped criticism as he had an offer on at the time. A pair of spectacles was indeed a pair, as if one bought one pair, one got a second pair, thereby making one pair, but at the same time two. Confused, I retired for lunch in a pub, where I ordered and received one sandwich and one pint of beer. Trying to convince the landlord to change his terminology and offer a pair of sandwiches and pints proved fruitless, so I continued my shopping trip.

Most of my local shops did not sell things that warranted any confusion or argument. However, the men’s clothing store and I are into an ongoing debating situation. They sold me some trousers, underpants and socks, and I am still trying to ascertain where the other garments that make the “pair” may be.

I am currently struggling with the bottle of after-shave that I bought from the same shop. The instructions say, and I quote “Shake, remove top and press nozzle”. I have shaken and removed my shirt in a number of ways, but cannot fathom these instructions. I have a head, but to my knowledge no nozzle that I can possibly press. The bottle of after-shave therefore sits in front of me, unused.

 

 

Temporary temper.

 

Sunday, 31 October 1999. Again I return here from a period of absence. Sometimes this can be a nice place to have to return from, on this occasion though I have spent the last week having the “hump”.

The new job was going well, it still is in fact. Last week however, just two weeks in, I took two sales rep terms rather too literally. These terms were “in the field”, usually used to describe a day out of the office, and “taking the car for a spin”, usually meaning driving the car. In this instance though, I literally spun the car, rather spectacularly if I may say so, and ended up in a field of the grassy variety. The car is quite likely to be an insurance write-off as the only undamaged panel is the roof. I now have every sympathy for whips, as I know what it feels like to be “lashed” in a whip sense as opposed to my usual “lashed” state, most evenings in the grip of an alcoholic stupor.

This was to be the beginning of a period of annoying incidents, ones that I would normally take in my stride or turn away from. Unable to walk properly and forced to face forward by my stiff neck, neither option has been open to me and I have had to face these little annoyances and deal with them.

My bad temper then is as a direct result of my discomfort and has manifested itself where it wouldn’t normally. Immediately following the accident came the inevitable form filling for insurance purposes. The forms that I had to complete, to me at least in my state of mind seemed to ask the most stupid questions. For example: “Was there anyone in the vehicle at the time of the accident?” Well yes actually, me, as I was driving it. I was able to skip the question, “Were there any passengers in the vehicle?” as I was alone. I wondered though, how many possible answers there were to the question that followed it: “Describe their positions”. Political or physical? Is anyone likely to answer other than “facing forwards”? Having ploughed through pages and pages of questions, I was forced to give a multiple-choice answer of my own making. The question was: “Who’s fault was the accident?” to which I answered, “The cat that ran in front of me / nobody’s / seeing as I was the only one there, I suppose you’ll think it was my fault. Delete as applicable.”

Tonight is Halloween. For weeks now the more entrepreneurial of my neighbours’ children have been knocking on the door pronouncing “trick or treat”. If they had bothered to wear costumes, or better still turn up on the correct night, I would have given them treats. Assuming that they were not Halloween visitors though, as it was not Halloween, I assumed they were offering services. On asking for a “trick”, expecting some conjuring act, I was disappointed in having to perform their acts for them when they produced dog poo on the doorstep but were unable to make it disappear again, preferring to give up on their act and walk away.

Bonfire night is at the end of this week, although many of my neighbours seem as confused as their children as to dates. Every night over the last week has seen some attempt at a pyrotechnic display over my back garden. As it turns out, most of them have been so poor as to elicit no more than a yawn from me. Last night’s display though would have been quite impressive, had it been held on the correct date, or at least the weekend surrounding the correct date. As it happened, it only served to annoy me, as I had to steal the cat away from his various exploits outside and keep him in for fear of him becoming rocket propelled at the hands of the same children whom I mentioned earlier.

Tonight though I have a plan. I have purchased a number of calendars for this year and next. The ones for this year are tatty and boring, the ones for next endorsed by various teeny pop groups. I am expecting visits from suitably attired “trick or treatees”, to whom I will give the latter. The former I will give to the chancers, who I invited to return on the correct night, and ask them to take them home and show their parents that Guy Fawkes Night is actually next week.

Realising now that I still have the hump, I think I will return to that place I call period of absence and wait for Christmas.

 

 

Slyming rhang.

 

Sunday, 14 November 1999.

I am pleased to report that I am alive and that my new car is in the same condition now as it was just over two weeks ago, when my company gave it to me. In fact it is in better condition, as since smashing up my humble Ford Mondeo I have been afraid to drive my new Peugeot 406, and have taken to polishing it quite a bit.

I did have reason to travel out of town last week however, and expect any day soon to see myself on one of our many motoring documentary TV programmes devoted to strange driving habits. I’ll be the in the Peugeot 406 that can be seen crawling nervously at a few miles per hour along the hard shoulder, stopping at every road-side telephone to inform the emergency services that I have passed another milestone in my quest to overcome my fear of driving again.

During this visit to the north (the north to those of us that live and work in London being anywhere beyond Watford), my London accent was called into question. Being surrounded by fellow southerners every day, I do not consider myself to have an accent. In Birmingham then, it was not I that had the accent, but the six people around me.

All the same, they were fascinated by the way in which I spoke. Mine is not a true Cockney London accent, but simply one of southern origin. This being the north though, my hosts insisted that I teach them rhyming slang. This was brought about by my getting annoyed with one of them for his persistence and telling him not to get his “Alans” in a twist. I am no expert on the subject, and its origins can be researched elsewhere on the Internet through sources far more educated than myself. I do use the native dialect sometimes though, usually with colleagues during a moment of banter and was now obliged to teach my hosts a few slang phrases. It was a surreal experience, hearing that which is normally spoken with a Cockney accent spoken with a Birmingham one.

For the record, rhyming slang was invented by Londoners to permit them to hold conversations in the presence of outsiders, without the outsiders realising what the Londoners were talking about. The best explanation is by way of an example: One of the more commonly known phrases is “Apples and Pairs”, which means “stairs”. A Londoner would say something along the lines of “I’m just going up the apples”, leaving the second part (“Pears”) off of the statement. Anyone in the know would know what he meant, but an outsider would be left confused as to the meaning of the statement. Similarly, “I’m going home to the trouble”: “Trouble” translates as “Trouble and strife”, which means “Wife”.

There is a rhyming slang equivalent to just about any word or phrase that exists, and therefore a proficient user of the language can become completely incomprehensible to an uneducated listener. New words are given rhyming slang equivalents all the time and some fun can be had making them up too. The most fun though is to be had holding a conversation in front of, or with someone not “in the know”.

By way of an introduction to the subject (which, like I said can be referenced elsewhere), some modern rhyming slangs are listed below. The quoted word is given first, followed by the full version and then the translation:

Gregories – Gregory Pecks – Specs (Spectacles, or glasses).

Peckham – Peckham Rye – Tie.

Hampsteads – Hampstead Heath – Teeth.

Randolph – Randolph Scott – Spot.

Clares – Clare Rayners – Trainers.

Alans – Alan Wickers – Knickers.

Threepennies – Threepenny bits – Tits.

Raspberries – Raspberry ripples – Nipples.

Confused? Well, I was asked. On the same subject, I mentioned another way of making one’s conversations private from prying ears, and that is to use “Spoonerisms” where the first letter(s) of words are swapped. This can be particularly amusing when applied to people’s names. My own becomes “Leven Staker”, but some are a real hoot. For instance Shirley Bassey becomes “Birley Shassey (Burly Chassis)”. Betty Swollocks is but a fictional character.

It’s a complicated subject, and it was then just as it is now difficult to explain. You either get it and pick up on it, or you don’t. Right now, I’m bucking fored of it all. I need to clean me Hampsteads and choose some Clares to wear tonight before I meet me Chinas. I’ve got some Randolphs on me boat that need seeing to before I go out, and I need to polish the Jam jar before tomorrow. Things can sometimes be so cucking fomplicated, it really gets on me threepennies.

 

 

Accidentally superstitious.

 

Sunday, 21 November 1999. This has been another week of accident-free motoring. In fact it has been a motoring-free week, due to my nearly severing a finger earlier in the week at work.

This being my second major mishap in as many months, people are starting to avoid me as my reputation as an accident looking for somewhere to happen precedes me. It as said that these things happen in threes, so I have requested that my colleagues arrange a small, injury-free accident for me at work, just to get the inevitable third one out of the way.

Talk of things happening in threes may lead some to view me as superstitious. I would like to make it clear that I am not now, have never been, nor ever will be. Proof of this is my cat, who is black. It is considered lucky by the superstitious community if a black cat runs in front of you. The number of times that Harley has done this and I have fallen over him is testament to the fact that I am not superstitious. At the last count, he had done this seven times. Seven is generally considered to be a lucky number. Not by me it isn’t.

I shan’t dwell too much on my latest accident for fear that I might tempt fate. Briefly then, I was demonstrating to a new employee how to correctly and safely handle a particularly large, heavy and sharp guillotine blade when I dropped it on my finger. It went straight through to the bone and severed a minor artery. I have been pressing my bosses to redecorate the factory for some time, and now I have saved them the bother with my introduction of a red streaked pattern on the walls.

I was soon at St. Thomas’ Hospital and I owe great gratitude to my nurse, Sarah. Having her stitch my wound was quite an intimate experience, but one that I hope not to repeat, preferring to find less painful ways of meeting pretty young nurses in the future. Anyway, I sent her some flowers the next day, not realising that she suffered from Hay fever.

Now I have seven stitches in my finger and can confirm again that this is not a lucky number for me. On leaving the hospital I was nearly run down by an ambulance as I stepped into the road to avoid walking under a ladder.

 

 

Upturned noses.

 

Sunday, 12 December 1999. As the more observant among visitors here may have noticed, I have not posted anything new now for three weeks. This has been for a number of reasons, none of which are worthy of mention here. So, having received letters by the sackload, I have returned, if only to let Mr and Mrs Sackload know that I am alive and well.

The best word to describe the last three weeks would be “fuzzy”. I have been suffering from a rather heavy head cold for much of the time, thereby rendering myself a little fuzzy around the edges in the way I feel. Work has dictated some fuzzy hours lately too, and having had to fit all of my Christmas shopping in during the week as well as at the weekend as a result, I’ve developed a fuzziness about what day of the week it is. All of which has been compounded by my old friend the bottle of cider / gin / vodka / whatever’s handy.

Returning to the subject of Christmas shopping, this year I done most online, and a very successful exercise it was too. The only problem was again a “fuzzy” one, in that spending money by not actually handing over one’s credit card to an assistant somehow makes the whole transaction feel detached and surreal. As a result I spend around three times as much as I’d planned to, but will do very well myself as about a third of the spend was on me.

There are many benefits to shopping online, among which are not having to fight crowds of eager shoppers, not having to travel, and most importantly to me, not having to enter shops that make you feel self-conscious. I refer to the kind of shops where the assistants look upon you as though you were something they found on their shoe on the way to work. There are many shops like this and they are divided into two categories: those where the assistants are very knowledgeable of their products (as they should be – That is their job) and make you feel a total imbecile for not knowing exactly what it is that you require. Then there are those where you are looked at in a way that questions your financial standing, as in “can you really afford to shop here?”

Last week I encountered both forms of retail snobbery while shopping in London. Firstly I wanted to procure some surround sound speakers for my stereo, a simple request I thought, until I looked for said speakers in Tottenham Court Road, London’s electronic Mecca, as it were. In three shops the same scenario occurred. On enquiring of the availability of said speakers, I was asked such questions as “Is it for a DX450 ABC XYZ turbo nutter bastard bleeding ears, and do you require the leads to be made from Afghan goats hair and coated in monkey spunk?” or something. On replying that I just wanted to buy some speakers to plug into my humble stereo system and position behind the sofa for that “surround” effect, I was greeted by guffaws and it was suggested that I shop somewhere less specialised where the assistants would be more likely to help me and converse on my level.

My response to this was that I would do exactly that, excuse me for having thought that these people are paid to know about things that I don’t and therefore should be helpful towards me, and procured my speakers from a normal high street shop. I then took great pride in parading my newly acquired speakers around the former shop and informing the assistants that they cost me considerably more that anything they had been able to offer. I felt like Julia Roberts in “Pretty Woman”, except for the prostitute bit.

The second encounter with a snob occurred in a well-known department store when I asked where the Khazi was. On being asked what a “khazi” was by the toffee-nosed git on the shop floor, I replied that it was a toilet. He informed me that “We have a bathroom sir”, to which I replied that if I wanted a bath I could have one at home but on this occasion I actually needed a shit. He had no reply to this, so I held myself until I got home and done the rest of my shopping online.

 

 

Don’t know about the Millennium.

 

Sunday, 19 December 1999. I’ve just finished reading the Sunday newspapers and was intrigued by a survey that has recently been conducted concerning the whole Millennium thing. What struck me was just how many people seem to fall into the “don’t know” category about themselves, let alone what they’re doing on the big night.

To illustrate the point, an example question was “Do you think the Millennium celebrations hold any religious significance?” Around 60 per cent of respondents answered “Yes”, with a further 35 per cent replying in the negative. It doesn’t take a great deal of mathematical genius to work out that these two figures do not add up to 100 per cent of those polled. Further examination revealed that the remaining 5 per cent answered “don’t know”. In this instance the 5 per cent could be excused for not having an opinion. Another question though was “Do you believe in God”. A similar split of “Yes” and “No” replies was revealed, leaving another 5 per cent who didn’t know. Surely this is a question with only two possible answers, or maybe I’m being pedantic? Yes or no? I don’t know. The most striking thing to me though, was the fact that this survey had been conducted by phone. Not with researchers phoning members of the public, but with members (and perhaps that’s an uncannily accurate Freudian slip) invited to telephone their opinions in response to questions printed in a newspaper. Consider the scenario: A member consciously picks up the telephone and dials a number, only to say “I don’t know”.

The poll also solicited people’s opinions on the Millennium dome. Most were indifferent to it, as am I, which I suppose makes me a member too. One Millennium structure that has captured the public’s imagination over her though, and mine, is the Millennium wheel, or “London Eye.” I have actually booked tickets, although am not due to travel on it till 13th February next year, which I fear may be too late to fulfil an ambition that I have.

For anyone who might have been living in a cave for the last year in this country, the London Eye is a 450ft wheel on the South bank of the Thames. It is fitted with 32 capsules, each carrying 20 passengers and offers a half-hour ride around its revolution allowing stunning views over London. Knowing my luck the weather will be against me on the day as far as viewing is concerned, but that needn’t get in the way of my ambition. Someone is bound to do it, and will probably have done so before 13th February, but if not I’d like to have sex in the capsule. No doubt my travelling companions might have an opinion on this, but I hope to convince them that it’ll be worth it as they’ll be interviewed by the media and get themselves into the newspapers and onto TV as being in the first capsule to be utilised in such a way.

I can imagine the scene already. Onlookers on the ground will become aware of one of the capsules rocking back and forth, before seeing a naked backside pressed against the glass. The newspapers will be clamouring for pictures and the operators of the wheel will be powerless to stop the show. It would be my 15 minutes (or maybe seconds) of fame. Any potential sponsors should contact me, as I’m sure my chosen partner would be only too willing to have a corporate logo painted on her buttocks.

But that’s not till February. Before then I have to decide what to do on Millennium eve. I’ve ruled out pubs and clubs, as have most people, the prices they’re charging being unreasonable to say the least. Which leaves me with two choices. One is to brave the crowds in London and view the festivities planned along the Thames, which should be quite spectacular. With the weather being cold, problems getting home and the fact that the police will probably confiscate alcohol though, the other alternative is to stay at home and watch it all unfold on TV.

In case this is my last broadcast before Christmas, I wish my reader a very merry one. As for Christmas eve, I will be joining my friends who now live in London as they return to spend the festive period with their families. On the subject of Millennium eve though I really can’t decide, so at the moment, when anyone asks me what I’m doing on Millennium eve, I am forced to answer “I don’t know”. Unless I can become a member of any of the exclusive clubs with plans before the event, I will have to remain just a member of the other kind.

 

 

The morning after Christmas.

 

Sunday, 26 December 1999. Boxing day. Appropriately named as I feel that I’ve been involved in a few boxing matches on account of my pounding head and aching stomach. The latter is as a result of over indulgence of proportions of food normally saved for this time of year. Alcohol, of course, I often over indulge in.

My reason for being here today is boredom. Now that the main Christmas celebrations have died down, I’m waiting for the over-hyped celebrations of next week to begin (I still don’t know what I’m doing). This then is by way of killing some time and putting pen to paper, in the electronic sense, in a rare moment of sobriety.

There is much speak of the stupid things people say when they’re drunk, but much less thought is given to the totally inept crap that people write. Maybe this is because relatively few people write as opposed to talking, or maybe because those that write are ashamed to reveal their howlers. I am not one of these people. That is, I am not ashamed to admit my cock-ups, as opposed to I am not someone who writes.

I may not be the best writer in the world, which might explain why I’ve not been published yet, but I and others consider me to be at least competent. I refer not to the occasional ramblings that I post here, as these are merely an outreaching of my thoughts. I refer instead to my short fiction work, or perhaps “hobby” would be a more appropriate word. I have written a number of short stories and have shared them with a few trusted friends who have given me positive feedback. Thinking they were just being polite, I posted a couple of my stories to writing newsgroups and received similar views. Having said that, I’m very shy about my writing, perhaps insecure and afraid of rejection, which is me personified. All of which is why they have not appeared here. Maybe one day when I’m ready to meet my public, that situation will change.

Until that day, I am not so shy that I can’t share my howlers and allow others to laugh at me alongside myself. A recent example brought on by the excesses of Christmas is a classic. I am currently writing, among others, a short story the details of which I need not go into. Like most of my stories, the plot will probably change when I discover some glaring detail that I’ve overlooked. Suffice to say that there is one scene where the hero of the story visits the girl that he is in love with. She is upset and he comforts her. I went back to this story on Christmas Eve morning, following a very heavy drinking session the previous evening. My mind was not functioning at full capacity, and the reasons for the golden rule of writing, as in not to do it when drunk were demonstrated when I wrote the following line: “He could tell she was upset because she was crying”. A classic piece of literature I think you’ll agree. If ever there were a letters page in a newspaper for animals, I’d be the one who wrote “I had to laugh at the zoo the other day, as I’m a Hyena”.

That was the latest in a long line of classics committed while under the influence of intoxicating substances. Three drunken nights on the trot find me feeling very uneasy today, and I wonder what classics I’ve inadvertently included in the above. Not wanting to deny anyone a good laugh at my expense, I shall not check it, but post it for all to see as it stands.

 

 

Way Back When it Was 2000

Lifted straight from The Internet Archive, some pictures are missing, links defunct and text out of context. This though was 2000: 

Millennium Eve, London.

 

Sunday, 02 January 2000. Reflections of yesterday. Grab a drink, as this is quite a long one…

Happy new year, decade, century and millennium. After saying recently that I had no plans for the big night, to say I’m glad I went to London would be the understatement of, well the millennium. I’ve spent a whole day thinking how I can possibly do the night justice and I can’t, but here goes anyway…

Any pictures that you may see in the newspapers or on TV cannot possibly do justice to the spectacle that was London a couple of days ago. Neither are words likely to be able to adequately describe the scenes, the emotions and the general atmosphere, but with a lot of imagination on the reader’s part, I hope my words here can do it some justice at least.

The doom mongers would have had us all believe that there would be trouble on the night. There would be fights among the crowds, with the police powerless to control so many people. The emergency services would be stretched beyond their limits and the hospitals resembling war zones. More on that later.

My evening started at just before 6pm when I boarded a train bound for London at Tonbridge. The platform was only half full, but this was quite early. The people on that platform were to be a fair representation of people attending the celebrations in London. There were groups of young people, as you would expect, and they were all carrying bags full of cans and bottles of alcoholic drinks. There were also families, also carrying bags (the adults, not the children). And there were older people, and when I say older it leads me to demonstrate a point: The youngest revellers on the platform were toddlers, and the oldest probably well into their 80s. They too were carrying bags, no doubt containing booze. There was an atmosphere of togetherness on that platform, one that I will never forget, and I’m glad of that, as it will be one that I will probably never experience again.

On the point of alcohol, I had checked how the ground lay in advance. Traditionally, revellers congregate in Trafalgar Square and alcohol is banned. If anyone is found to be carrying alcohol, it is confiscated. A simple phone call to a very helpful phone line that had been set up for the event put me at ease though. A very nice lady told me that although alcohol was not allowed in Trafalgar Square, there was nothing going on there anyway. Alcohol would not be sold on the streets, but people were positively encouraged to bring their own, although plastic glasses were advised. This was a party after all, and we want people to enjoy themselves, said the friendly lady. I must admit that I was surprised at this relaxed attitude by the organisers. Other countries, particularly America were imposing alcohol bans on their celebrations. This country has until very recently had very antiquated laws regarding when and where people can drink and normally on new year’s eve, it is not allowed in London. This was no ordinary new year’s eve, but for the organisers, the government and the police to give a free rein to what was expected to be over 3 million party-goers did surprise me in a pleasant way. We were being trusted to have a good time and to behave ourselves. Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised, but this country can be a “Nanny state” at times and so I was.

The train was full by the time it arrived in London. As we got nearer, the conversations between complete groups of strangers grew more and more excited, with children asking with increased frequency, “Are we there yet Mum?” Eventually we were there.

What we were headed into was the biggest party this country has ever witnessed. It is impossible to describe everything in detail here, but I will try to give an overall feel for the occasion. A four-mile stretch of the river Thames was to be the main stage for the event, with all roads within and into central London closed to traffic and given over to pedestrian revellers. Bridges spanning the river were stages for beacons, singers, bands, dancers, street performers and the like. There was a nightclub underneath Waterloo Bridge, two fairgrounds at either end of the four-mile stretch of river and much, much more. And it was all free. A giant party for 3 million people to enjoy free of charge, well the stage was set for quite a night.

Crossing Hungerford Bridge on the train into Charing Cross station, we caught our first glance of the millennium wheel lit up by lasers and spotlights. Because of a safety issue, it was not to carry its first passengers that night, as was the plan. Lit up in red, white and blue though, it looked truly spectacular and grew gasps of awe from my carriage. People were hanging out of the windows by now, pointing at the lasers criss-crossing the sky over London and dying to get off of the train to party. As we entered the station, we caught a glimpse of the crowds on the Embankment, on the North side of the river and the size of what to come became apparent for the first time. I have seen some large crowds of people in my time, but nothing like this, and it was not even 7 O’clock.

I should perhaps point out that I had travelled alone to London. Or rather, I had boarded the train alone and emerged at the other end as one member of a group of about twenty partygoers. The feeling of togetherness that I had experienced earlier was growing stronger and it was obvious that everyone was in this together. I had to bid my new found friends farewell though, as there were others that I was due to meet at Charing Cross.

By 7.30 all were present and correct, and here would be a good opportunity to mention and greet the friends that I made that night: As well as myself, there was Mark, who’s knowledge of the London streets was greater than my own and who I am indebted to for getting us around for much of the evening. Then there is Grace, and of course her 11 friends that she brought with her on the night. A special “hello” goes to Jewel – Sorry we lost you, I know you wanted to stay with us for the night. And a bow goes to Hitoshi, who found the fact that I observed a Japanese custom highly amusing. Last and certainly not least are Toby and Derrick, the two Germans who I met at Charing Cross and who ended up joining our group – You were both a good laugh and excellent company to be in on the night. We were a multinational group as it turned out, comprising two Brits, two Italians, two Germans and various Orientals. Thanks go to them all for observing the “When in Rome…” thing and speaking English, which saved a lot of confusion amongst us.

So, with a rough itinerary in our minds, we set out across Trafalgar Square and headed for Pall Mall, site of the larger of the two fairgrounds. It was nice of the Queen to allow such a thing outside Buckingham Palace. The rides were a mixture of the more traditional Ferris wheel and carousel, and more “white knuckle” type attractions. Queues for the rides were too long to spend time in when there was so much else to see and do. We chose instead to watch others looking ill on the likes of the “ejector seat”, a kind of reverse bungee arrangement where a steel ball containing two seats was fired about 300 feet into the air. The throng of people on the Mall and the lights and sound systems of the fairground all served to heighten the party atmosphere, which was further heightened by a sudden explosion of fireworks behind us.

We had lost track of time and turned to see the official opening of the Millennium Wheel, minus passengers on the South bank of the river behind us. Lasers and fireworks filled the sky with colour, before Concorde made a fly past at 3000 feet above the wheel. It was very loud, but typically of British weather, there was low cloud on the night and Concorde remained a phantom. At this point we lost most of our Oriental contingent and the two Italians. I hope you all had a good night and gained a good vantage point at midnight. Now we were five.

At 9.30 we decided to forego the rest of the attractions, the crowds preventing travel over any considerable distance. Staying local we made our way along The Strand to Waterloo Bridge where we would take up our positions for the main event on the river. This was to be the “River of fire”, beginning with a a 200 foot high wall of flame travelling along the river at 750mph in time with the advance of time, as it were, and covering the four miles in just over 10 seconds. This was to start a firework display, the size of which had never been seen before. 40 tons of fireworks, 29’000 of them in fact, to be let off from 16 barges, moored on the river. A display lasting 17 minutes after Big Ben struck midnight. I worked that out to be just over 1700 fireworks every minute. In being two and a half hours previous to the event, we thought that we had allowed good time to get a position on the bridge. How wrong we were, and this was to be the only unpleasant part of the evening.

We started making our way onto the bridge, and were about a quarter of the way across when there was a sudden surge of people from the other direction. For five minutes we were carried by the irresistible push back the way we came. There was mild panic for a moment, but thankfully no one was hurt, the police doing a very good crowd control job. Unfortunately at this point we lost Mark, so now we were four.

We decided to head away from the West End and toward the City, where we thought that Southwark, London and Tower Bridges would offer a better opportunity to get onto them. Again, we had underestimated the sheer number of people and all the bridges were as packed out as Waterloo Bridge had been earlier. The side roads too were 50 – 100 people deep and we needed a plan B if we were to see anything of the fireworks to come. By now it was 10.30. Not wanting to get caught in a crush, we decided to step back from the central proceedings and view things from a safer distance.

We stood on Lower Thames Street, about 300 yards back from Southwark Bridge to assess our situation. The crowds were growing thick and for as far as we could see behind us, the situation was similar. With a 300 or so feet wide “window” between the buildings in front of us and across the bridge, we decided that we were best off cutting our losses and remaining where we were. We momentarily grew a little dejected, having not seen half of the things we came to see. The wheel was not fully open and Concorde had been obscured by cloud. Superstition says that these things happen in threes, so we were beginning to worry that we may not see much of the fireworks.

This was the first opportunity that we’d had to stand still and now we really started drinking, as did the thousands that had gathered around us. The picture was the same as it had been on that train platform almost five hours previously with varying sized groups comprising people of all ages. The atmosphere was still there and we all perked up and started talking and laughing with the complete strangers around us. I looked around and saw Union flags flying. I saw people who had scaled buildings and traffic signals, and they were all having a good time. People were singing and dancing in the street. It was 11.30 and the anticipation could be felt in the air. One of my German friends commented along the lines that the British sure know how to throw a party. Yes, this was England, and the party hadn’t even started. Looking around me, I felt proud.

As the moment approached, the crowds grew more and more excited and as we couldn’t see Big Ben, people were calling the speaking clock on mobile phones. Then the countdown begun and as the crowd shouted “two, one” in unison, I realised that this was the end, but the beginning that was about to come was what we were here for.

An almighty “whoosh” sound passed from left to right. It was the wall of fire, and we figured that we didn’t see it as it was travelling so fast. We found out afterwards that it hadn’t actually worked, so that was the third mishap out of the way. Then the fireworks started. I’ve tried to think of a way to describe this as I’ve been writing everything you’ve read so far. We could only see the display let off by two of the sixteen barges, but words truly fail me. To say that it was amazing, spectacular, awesome, would not describe what we saw and heard. The crowd fell silent as they looked skyward in awe. The only sounds other than the explosions were gasps and screams of amazement as the sky changed from red, to blue, to green and to almost daylight for a full 17 minutes. In every direction, including upwards, there were thousands of people. I was one of a crowd and yet strangely alone as I witnessed that display. Even the more rowdy groups among the crowd were in awe of what was going on, and it lost no magic during its long duration. But then it was over.

That was when the party really began, there on the streets. Complete strangers of all ages were brought together for a few moments as we all realised the significance of what was happening. People approached me with arms outstretched and we hugged. These were people that I’d never met, and will probably never see again, but on that night, we were all friends together to witness an event. Men shook hands and hugged each other, in a show of affection that they would probably not consider appropriate in the normal run of life. Partners of all ages embraced and everyone shared a feeling of togetherness for a few minutes after the big event. Each passing stranger offered a hand to shake, a hug or a kiss. Those passing strangers ranged from small children and their parents, through large groups of drunks, to elderly men and women. Groups joined to form circles and sing “Auld Lang Sine”, but the feeling cannot be described, nor will it be repeated. There were people who had gone alone, but who were far from alone on the night, and that’s probably the one most poignant sentence to sum up this feeling that can’t be described in words.

At about 1am, we moved away from Southwark Bridge and made our way back to Charing Cross Station. The party on the bridge and in the streets was still in full swing and the spirits were high. Although alcohol was involved, the general atmosphere of that night was one generated by the night itself and not by drink or drugs. As we walked through the City and into the West End again, we met literally countless people who we stopped to party with. I can’t remember exactly how many people were friends for a few magical moments.

We finally arrived back at the station and the party was still going at 3am. I really didn’t want to go home, but with all of the walking I’d grown weary. There were still four of us and we bid each other some quite emotional farewells before I boarded the 3.30 train home. It had not been perfect, with things going wrong and the weather being against us, but we made sure we’d had a good time as had everyone. My German friend said again that it had been “Quite a party”, an understatement if ever there was one. He was glad to be in England, he said, and once again I was proud.

I could hardly sleep that night and awoke on new year’s day feeling unlike I thought I would. I was still in awe and on a high from the party that I’d attended the night before on the streets of London. I’ve spoken of high spirits here, but I can say from my heart that the spirit that made the whole thing so special was the Human one.

To all those that I met on the night, I salute you. If total strangers of all ages and from all walks of life could be as one as they were on that one night, this world would be the better for it. I fear that may not be the case and that everyone will return to their normal way of being. I hope though that those who were there share my memories and will try to love everyone else each day as they did then. These words may seem heavy, but they still don’t even begin to describe the feeling that I and others experienced that night.

Credit is due to many people for the party that everyone will remember for the rest of their lives. To the organisers who put on the party of a lifetime, the police who were reassuringly present but not intimidating and having a party themselves, London Transport who provided free travel after midnight, and to the train operators for laying on the special home-bound services. The journey home was truly one of reflection. Most of all though, credit is due to the 3 million or so people who attended the celebrations on the streets.

I mentioned the doom mongers earlier, who said that the whole thing would be a disaster. To them I’ll point out the facts that have emerged after the event: The police reported no serious incidents, none whatsoever. The hospitals and emergency services reported a “quiet night”, quieter even than a “normal” new year’s eve.

And that’s all testament to letting 3 million people onto the streets of London to enjoy themselves, throwing a party to remember and trusting in Human spirit to prevail. Prevail it did, and like never before I for one am full of Human spirit and glad of it. I hope I feel this way again and I hope that others will too. May that spirit take us forward.

 

 

Thank-you, boys and girls in blue.

 

Tuesday, 04 January 2000. Today saw the first day back at work after what was almost a two week holiday. I’m tired and shall not therefore write much, but I felt compelled to share something that brightened up the dreary journey home.

In tonight’s London Evening Standard was a full-page advertisement taken out by the Metropolitan Police:

 

You don’t need to read the small-print – It’s a recruitment exercise and an advertisement. They’re also giving themselves a pat on the collective back, and rightly so for the job they did on the night. So with one advertisement they’ve achieved three aims, which is an efficient use of public funds.

There seems to be a fourth aim though, and it’s this bit:

 

 

A thank-you to the general public that attended the event. The Met were appreciated on the night and they are appreciated more-so for that gesture. I felt this the most appropriate place to return that sentiment, and I’m sure I’m not alone when I say to our boys and girls in blue that we salute you.

_____

05.01.00: Update – A friend just emailed me and told me that although 3 million was the estimated turnout for the night, the final count was nearer 6 million. No wonder I couldn’t get into the loo!

 

 

Belly buttons.

 

Sunday, 16 January 2000. I’ve just finished talking to a friend on my belly button and am about to send a text message to another friend on it. When I refer to my belly button, I am speaking of my mobile phone. I’ve come to call mobiles “belly buttons”, as nowadays everyone seems to have one. They are also a source of some very peculiar behaviour in some people, which I will come to later.

To some people their belly button is their lifeline. To others theirs is merely a source of amusement. I have had a belly button now for about five years, or more accurately, various belly buttons, as I am now on my fourth. My first was approximately the size and weight of a house brick, prone to losing its signal at crucial moments in conversation, had a battery life of about five minutes and was very expensive to maintain. Five years ago it could not have been called a belly button as only a small proportion of the population had one.

Nowadays we wonder how we ever managed without our belly buttons. My current one was given to me by my company as I need it for business. Obviously there’s no point in having two belly buttons for business and personal use, so I use my one and only belly button for personal calls as well. I would seem to be in a minority in that I’m not keen to take out my belly button in public and conduct loud conversations into it, which brings me to the first point on peculiar behaviour.

Despite the advances in technology, people generally still seem to believe that belly buttons need to be shouted into. I most commonly observe this behaviour on the train to and from London, with my fellow passengers bellowing such gems as “Now remember, this is between you and I. Walls have ears you know, so keep it quiet” into their belly buttons. I must confess that these people annoy me at times, as do the constant ringing of belly buttons interrupting my journey. Personally I used to tend to switch my belly button off during train journeys out of consideration for my fellow travelling public. If I had to make a call, I would do so in the privacy of the carriage corridor. I would normally find however that my seat had been taken upon my return. No one else seemed as considerate as me and so eventually I decided to follow the “If you can’t beat them…” adage. In doing so, I invented a couple of amusing pastimes.

With almost everyone now apparently having a belly button, the manufacturers of these devices have had to invent ever more diversified and annoying ringing tones. Unfortunately, gone are the days when all belly buttons sounded the same and on hearing one ringing on a train carriage, everyone would simultaneously reach into their pockets, like gangsters going for their guns. I still manage to gain some amusement sometimes though: I will wait for someone’s belly button in my vicinity to ring, and then select that same ringing tone on my own belly button. After they have finished their call, I will then conceal my belly button and select the “Test ring” function, thereby fooling my neighbour into thinking that their belly button is ringing. This is especially amusing when they have put their belly button back in their bag and placed the bag on the overhead luggage rack, allowing me to take control of a human Jack-in-the-box.

The other example of peculiar behaviour exhibited by the owners of belly buttons is the curious conversations that they seem to have. This is besides those that seem to still find their belly button a novelty and insist on phoning home every five minutes to give a report to their spouses. A recent example was on the train home from London only last week, when a fellow passenger also took on that other trait of a belly button user, that of the military type. His calls went something like this: “Hello, yes I’m on the train” (people do state the obvious sometimes), “It’s the 18.10 from Charing Cross, so ETA 18.47.” Five minutes later: “Still on the train” (no!), “See you later.” Five minutes further on: “Still on the train. Still an arsehole”. Actually I made that last bit up.

Anyway, that particular breed aside, when I talk of curious conversations I refer to the bare faced lies that some people tell. When a belly button rings, I have surmised from the response to the first question asked of the call recipient that there are two predominant questions that callers ask: “Where are you?” and “What are you doing?” Invariably the call recipient will say something like “Yes, still in London. I’ll be working for another couple of hours then I think I’ll head home.” Even greater than the amusement I get from my Jack-in-the-box wheeze is phoning an imaginary friend while such a conversation is taking place near me and proclaiming the truth at full volume: “We’re just pulling into Tonbridge now. Well, I thought I’d finish early”.

Yes, my research has revealed that calling mobile phones “belly buttons” is not only accurate because everyone seems to have one, but also because different types of people use their belly buttons in the same way that you would expect them to use their, well, belly buttons. Shy people like me keep them to themselves, flash people flash them about, and people with warped senses of humour abuse them. Perhaps a more apt name for them then would be something else that everyone has: Genitals.

 

 

3 heads, 14 legs and 12 eyes.

 

Sunday, 12 March 2000. I have not been conducting unnecessary experiments on Harley, despite the title. My humble abode now boasts the above attributes of its three occupants. On the assumption that neither Harley nor I are physically deformed, with more appendages than we should have, our new flat-mate can be assumed to have the eight legs and eyes that are left after Harley and I are removed from the equation. Yes, it is a spider.

I recently took delivery of a young Mexican Red Knee Tarantula. In response to the inevitable gasps of horror that are bound to emanate from less well-educated and squeamish quarters, this would seem an ideal opportunity to dispel a few myths and maybe even generate some interest in this most misunderstood species.

I have always had a fascination with animals that are generally maligned, and over time have educated myself about them. I have also had the pleasure of passing this self-education to others and allowed them to re-assess their attitudes. At London zoo, I invariably spend the majority of my visit in the reptile and invertebrate houses studying the various weird and wonderful life forms that these places play host to. In the past I have kept a few animals myself. I do not like the term “pet”, preferring to look upon my charges as objects of interest and study. Until now I have been mainly interested in Herpetology, which despite appearances is not a study of sexually transmitted diseases. It is the study of reptiles and amphibians, and I have kept numerous Garter snakes and most recently a beautiful Brazilian rainbow Boa. The latter I had to donate to a private collection when I found myself with work pressures which allowed me neither sufficient time nor resources to care for the snake. I am a responsible owner and do not purchase my animals from the usual pet shop outlets as, with a few exceptions, most of these establishments are simply after a quick profit and have no knowledge of what they are selling. They then pass this lack of knowledge onto their customers and as a result too many exotic animals perish in captivity as a direct result of their owners’ ignorance. By keeping such animals, as well as further educating myself, I hope to be able to educate others. This is not just in the fascinating facts surrounding the creatures, but also in doing a little bit to draw people away from the pet trade and allowing them a little education before perhaps acquiring such a “pet” for themselves. In the case of the Mexican Red Knee, the trade was responsible for endangering the species, to the extent that live specimens are now banned for export. The only way to acquire one is through a reputable captive breeder. This is what I have done. It is sad that the ignorance of people in general brought about such a situation, but encouraging that there are amateur Entomologists who are playing a valuable role in increasing the incidence of these spiders.

My job still dictates that I am unable to afford the time and dedication necessary for my main love, which is still snakes. Entomology, or more specifically Arachnology (the studies of invertebrates and arachnids respectively) has always been a harboured interest and I am currently studying the subject further. I have sufficient knowledge to qualify me ethically to keep an arachnid, and my recent acquisition will facilitate this study further. Spiders, as well as being misunderstood, are not well understood, even by scientists. Regular discoveries are still made by amateurs such as myself.

The main and obvious question that people have and will ask about my spider is the one concerning its bite. When asked “Is it poisonous”, my first reaction is to correct the questioner and inform them that no it is not poisonous, but it is venomous. Poison is a passive defence mechanism, venom is an aggressive attack one. It may sound pedantic, but I like to present the facts. And the fact is that all spiders, without exception, are venomous. The venom of most is only sufficient to harm or kill its usual prey, which in the majority of cases will be small insects. Therefore humans need have no fear. With the exception of the infamous widow and recluse spiders, allergies aside, no spider can be considered dangerous to man. The tarantula’s fearsome reputation is based purely on myth and hearsay. Taking the Mexican Red Knee as the case in point, these spiders very rarely bite. When they do it is only because they are agitated or feel threatened and will give ample warning before doing so. Even on the rare occasion that a bite does occur, it is invariably a dry bite. That is, the fangs go in, but no venom is injected. On the even rarer occasions that venom does come into play, the effects on humans is negligible, if noticeable at all. The comparison of a tarantula bite to a bee sting is again myth. I was fortunate enough to be bitten by a Chile Rose tarantula once, and can report no discomfort, despite knowing that I was injected with venom. I say “fortunate” as it allows me first-hand to report as an amateur what the experts have always held to be true.

Once upon a time, anything with four times the number of legs as me did concern me. But I was uneducated. Having studied and kept spiders, and having been bitten by one, I no longer have such a phobia. I wondered once that if a tarantula’s bite could kill a rodent, like a mouse, then surely it would have a noticeable effect on a human? Again my research and study proved me wrong. A tarantula’s venom is particularly effective on rodents, chemically specific even, as they represent the greatest threat to it in its natural habitat.

I don’t wish to preach, merely pass on valuable information that I have learned in the hope of eventually playing a part in improving the public image of these creatures. The world is full of the most strange and diverse animals. I now have one living with me and look forward to many years of studying it and educating myself further.

My little companion is only a year old and about two inches in leg span, so it won’t be applying for a part in any Indiana Jones movies yet. It will grow to perhaps six inches. I have a valuable opportunity to rear it and study it and play a very small part in adding to general knowledge regarding it and its cousins. It is called “it”, as at this early stage it is impossible to determine its sex. If it turns out to be male, it could live to perhaps 10 years. Females though can live to 40 or more. If it turns out to be a girl then I’ve achieved a long-term aim in saddling myself with a woman for the rest of my life, besides raising a new baby. I’ll keep you posted.

My only remaining problem is one of name. What do you call the animal that is indeterminate of sex, is beautiful and fascinating to behold, and is so maligned and misunderstood? Any suggestions are welcome.

 

 

First Impressions.

 

Wednesday 16 February, 2000. I shan’t go on about this in any length, but merely let the message that I received today speak for itself. I’ve copied the message that I received by email, along with my reply. The former is quite poignant. Perhaps the latter says a little more about me than is available elsewhere on this site.

 

_____

 

It will be short letter, for the simple reason, I’ m almost speechless,
after being at your web site. The way you put your heart and soul
there makes me trembling. Every word written is a puzzle that
suits me. And i face the fact that I’m not able to live without one of
it. You seem to know my every thought, my every dream. Embrace
love. The most beautiful compound of two words I’ve ever heard.
Steve, you’ve no idea how familiar you seem to be. I never hide my
feelings, almost never lie, I open my heart before everyone that is
believed to deserves it. I often got hurt, but I never give up.
I’m sorry I have to finish There is A queue to those computers.
Pity, I wanted to tell you so much. Next time.
Ania

_____

 

First impressions last, and it sounds like I’ve made a lasting impression on you. If I do that for one person each day, my life and my writing serves a purpose far greater than any financial reward could ever do. Receiving a message like yours and knowing that I’ve touched someone in some way makes me feel good, and happy with life.

I just wanted to thank you then for your positive comments on my web site. “Embrace love”: Yes, it’s a pretty powerful statement, but it’s one that I fully believe in. Too many people hide their true feelings behind a facade, perhaps afraid that they may get hurt if they let their heart rule their mind. In doing so, those same people deny themselves the wonderful feeling that is love. True, there is hurt in this world, but isn’t a little pain worth the pleasure that precedes it in love? As you’ll now know from what you’ve read, I’m an advocate of free expression and it’s nice to meet people who feel the same. If only we weren’t such a minority the world would be a much warmer place.

You say that you feel like you know me well after reading what I’ve written. If that means that you feel you’ve gained a friend today then I’m glad. As a friend I’ll always be here for you whether that be to share good times or bad. By knowing me and reading what I write, I hope that you’ll never feel alone. And if you’re ever hurt, as is inevitable, you have a friend to share that pain with.

I don’t claim to preach any gospel. By my own nature I keep myself to myself. My web site is there for all to see, as I like to share my thoughts, but I don’t advertise the fact. In the same way that I advocate free speech, I leave people to make up their own minds. If they visit my little area of the web and are affected by it to the extent that they see fit to write to me as you did, I know I must be doing something right.

Steve.

 

 

Going slightly mad.

 

Sunday, 27 February 2000. Yet again I find myself starting with one of those irritating little things that has stuck in my mind all weekend. On Friday, someone said to me “gosh, is that the time?” All manner of sarcastic answers sprang to mind in reply to this stupid question: “No, actually that’s the time in Bavaria”, and “No, I watched as you were abducted by aliens and have been sitting here for six hours awaiting your return” being just two of the repeatable ones. I was forced to admit though, that yes, that was the time, to which the enquirer promptly made his excuses and left. The reason that it has stuck in my mind is that this was in a pub and it was 9.30. For the rest of the weekend I have felt slightly paranoid.

My imaginary psychiatrist and confidant, assures me that my paranoia is all in my mind. This, while I was lying on his consulting couch in my bedroom, seemed to somewhat be stating the obvious, and I told Mr Freud this in no uncertain terms. He has now told me to try to relax more and stop being so obsessive about things like picking people up on the things they say and altering signs with misplaced apostrophes with a magic marker pen. He said I shouldn’t think as much as I do either. I think obsessive might be a little strong, preferring to think of myself as perhaps a little quirkily eccentric sometimes, an admission that I have only recently been able to make following many sessions on the consulting couch.

When I think about it, maybe I am just a little eccentric. At the weekend, I get very angry if I am awoken while the hour is still a single digit, having retired the night before after the double digits had expired. I got quite annoyed this morning when I was awoken, as yesterday, by the sound of sawing and hammering from next door. Much as I crane my neck over the garden fence, or keep throwing things into next door’s front garden, in order to have to retrieve them and catch a glimpse through the living room window, I cannot work out what is going on. The hammering and sawing have been incessant all weekend and I can only guess that they are not merely putting together self-assembly kitchen units. No, this is something much larger, possibly a bomb shelter or an ark in readiness for the apocalypse. Right now I can hear the telltale sound of metal on metal, a sure sign that they are constructing the ark’s launch ramp. They being a couple will render me without a place on their ark when the rains come, so maybe I should construct my own boat. The old car-tyre inner tube at the end of the garden should suffice.

Tomorrow I am working from home, as I can get much more done here. I must admit though that I do find it difficult getting into work mode and motivating myself to begin work. I have recently come up with a solution for this though: In the morning I shall arise, have breakfast, wash and so on, then I shall don my suit. I will then go out of the house and walk around the block clockwise, arriving back at my house five minutes later. This will be sufficient time for me to get into work mode and enter, not my house, but my office. At the end of the day I will walk around the block in the opposite direction, and when I arrive back home I will shower and change into my casual clothes, thereby differentiating between my work and leisure house-bound existence.

The more I think about it, the more examples of eccentricity in my life occur to me. Perhaps Freud was right, perhaps I should stop thinking too much. I fear that if I don’t I might become obsessive. Maybe I’m just being paranoid.

 

 

Wheel meet again.

 

Sunday, 05 March 2000. Today I finally realised an ambition and took a trip on the British Airways London Eye, or The Millennium Wheel as some prefer to call it. In London, it’s known simply as “The Wheel”. And “The” is the only word to go any way to describe the event that I was privileged to this afternoon. I honestly can’t think of a superlative that can do the thing justice: Amazing, awesome, fantastic. No, none of them are sufficient.

 

 

I apologise now for any familiarity that I portray of London landmarks to those that have never been there. Having said that, the wheel is a reason to visit our capital in itself. To put anyone who doesn’t already know in the picture, the wheel appeared on the London skyline towards the end of last year. It was due to open on New Year’s Eve, but a minor safety issue denied it its grand entrance. It finally opened to the general public as recently as last Wednesday, although it had already been transporting specially invited people and members of the press since the beginning of last month. There was initial opposition to this new feature on the skyline, but having now been up for only a few months, those that are familiar with it are convinced that it has always been there. It currently has planning permission to stand for only five years.

The wheel is 450 feet high, is supported on only one side and carries 32 pods, each carrying 25 people around the outside of its circumference at a speed of 0.6mph, meaning that one revolution takes half an hour to complete. I originally booked my tickets at the beginning of the year, and this afternoon meant the end of a long wait.

Our tickets were for a 1.30pm boarding and we arrived in good time at 1.15 to join a queue that took just over an hour to get to the front of. All good things to those that wait though, and this was a good thing that we were about to experience. Given that the wheel is currently the fourth highest building in London, we were anticipating some good views over the capital. The tallest buildings are the Canary wharf tower at 800 feet, the old NatWest tower at 600 and the BT tower at 550. None are open to the public though, so we were about to view the city from the greatest height accessible to the general public.

The organisation at the site on the south bank is to military precision. At every stage BA staff directed us, right up to boarding at our designated boarding gate. The mechanics of the wheel have been calculated to such an accurate degree that the size of it, its speed of rotation, and the size of the pods are at an optimum. The wheel rotates constantly and allows just enough time at ground level for each pod to release its 25 passengers and let the next 25 on in one smooth pass. The staff ensured that this happened without a glitch as we waited five each at five entry gates for our pod to pass. One by one the barriers on our gates dropped and we all ran like excited school children into the welcoming pod that was passing the boarding platform.

The size of the pod is not appreciable until you are inside. Despite the fact that there were 23 others in ours, together with a BA guide, we were still able to wander around freely inside and look out of every side. Such a bringing together of strangers for an event also introduces the inevitable idle banter, and there was plenty of chat among our newly-formed group of friends.

I must confess to a very real fear of heights, and I admit that I was a little apprehensive about the wheel, as was one of my fellow passengers. Darren, as he turned out to be called, sidled up to me and struck up a conversation, perhaps out of nervousness, or perhaps out of the shared awe that we were now beginning to feel. Ten minutes later and we were half way up our ascent, 200 feet above the river Thames and any thoughts of hitting the panic button had subsided. The pods on the wheel are transparent apart form the floor, and we were able to look up at the summit of the structure, as well as take in the views that were beginning to reveal themselves. This thing is big viewed from any angle, but only being on it allows an appreciation of its actual size. At just over 200 feet up, a few of us decided to sit on the bench very helpfully provided in the centre of the pod.

At this height, the trains arriving at and departing from Charing Cross station below were of Hornby dimensions and the view outwards became more awe inspiring as we ascended. We became one collective group of school children, although we were all complete strangers ten minutes before, pointing out landmarks and appreciating the size of the wheel now that we were part of it. A silence descended in our pod as we all looked out over London from this privileged position which we realised we would only have for the half hour it took us to revolve.

We were looking at the pods below and above us all the way up. Then before we realised it, we were on top. Now we were 450 feet up and could see for 20 plus miles in any direction, and this is where words fail me. The design and structure of the wheel that had carried us to this height, and the view that it allowed us rendered us completely awe struck. In the distance, we could see clearly the big sister of the wheel in the shape of the Millennium Dome, 10 miles away in Greenwich. It was a poetic moment. Those in the pods leading and following us were now waving, and the wheel somehow took on a feeling of togetherness.

Looking down, as my overcoming of my fear now allowed me to do, let me see the queue that we had been in an hour before. The people were like ants, and the vehicles crossing the bridges were like Dinky toys. A feeling something like literally being on top of the world gripped me. Everything was so small, and yet I was so big. The river Thames, that brown and sinister lifeline of London, snaked off into the distance like some huge meandering Anaconda. Waterloo station below took on the appearance of a giant caterpillar, releasing occasional babies in the shape of trains, now so tiny. Huge areas of the city that are inspiring in themselves at ground level took on the appearance of model villages, and imposing buildings were now like dolls houses. The royal parks, those oases of peace amongst the bustle of London, fitted like little green pieces into the giant jigsaw of London at this height. For a few minutes, our pod was an oasis of quiet too, and then we began the downward journey.

On the downward side of the wheel, we looked and envied those 450 feet away who were about to experience what we just had on the other side. They waved with some sort of anticipation, and we waved back with a sense of consolidation. We had just done what they were about to do, and we wished that we were them and able to do it all again.

Eventually, we glided back down to Earth and reluctantly got out of our pod as the doors opened. We all bid our friends for half an hour farewell, and most ran to book tickets for another time. The glum faces of those that had queued for an hour on the boarding side were greeted by the smiling faces of those of us that had just done it. We had seen this when we got on, and only now did we realise what those smiles were all about. We had experienced something together, and will do so again, but with different people. If this is what brings people together then let it stay. It was worth the wait.

A recent letter in the London Evening Standard proclaimed the wheel as a great monument, and a source of entertainment that should be preserved for the public’s enjoyment. It said that the current five year planning permission should be extended indefinitely. The letter was from someone who had travelled on the wheel and enjoyed it, as everyone who has done so has. The author of the letter was the Chairman of the planning committee of Lambeth Council, the man who’s signature will guarantee the future of the wheel.

The wheel is beautiful in its construction, and a wonder to look at. That beauty, and the beauty of the capital, cannot be appreciated fully unless you take the ride. “The” becomes the only defining word again when I say “The” city, “The” view, “The” ride, and “The” wheel. Let’s hope we can keep them all.

Wonderful.

 

 

Shared wondering.

 

Sunday, 26 March 2000. This afternoon I was unable to concentrate or focus on anything and grew restless as a result. I decided to go for a walk and ended up spending the afternoon on Tonbridge castle lawn.

I never considered my home town to be an inspirational place, and it wasn’t. The setting did however provide me with an hour or so of contemplation and reflection. I was alone, but felt strangely not so, as though I was sharing my thoughts, as I have chosen to do here by recreating what I wrote up there.

The castle grounds are deserted apart from me. All around the perimeter of the lawn are benches identical to the one on which I now sit, but devoid of occupants. If inanimate objects were to possess emotions, I wonder if all those other benches long for someone to sit on them so that they may feed from that person’s thoughts. Or perhaps this bench is willing me to get up and relieve it of my weight.

Coming here has allowed me quiet and peaceful contemplation of my life and thoughts. Perhaps it will give will me inspiration by etching an event, a scene, an image, a thought or an idea into my mind.

This is not an idyllic place. Despite being Sunday, the hustle of commerce that has encroached on this once quiet day continues relentlessly around me. Here though, at least I am sufficiently distanced to allow me to step back and observe in relative peace. Behind me stands the castle itself, still majestic despite its partial ruin, up here on the hill that is now my vantage point over the town below. The castle exudes a certain romance and mystery, witness as it no doubt was to so many changes and historic events in the town that grew up in its shadow. I wish there were some way to unlock those secrets.

My bench sits atop the wall that would once have been the castle’s first line of defence. It’s more a haven than a fortress now though, probably because in its modern surroundings I find it difficult to imagine the advance of marauding accountants and bankers from neighbouring towns. Below me, the sunlight picks out the grey green ripples of the river Medway as it slowly ambles past on its way to somewhere it doesn’t yet know, nor care about, that being the mood it projects on this Sunday afternoon. The peacefully advancing ripples are obliged to part and allow a swan through as it uses the river as a runway, finally taking to the air a few hundred yards downstream like a flying boat that has been dipped in tar and coated in feathers.

There are two crows on the lawn now. I wonder if any others will join them, and how many are required to constitute a group, so that I may return home in a while and truthfully state that today I witnessed a murder.

On the opposite bank of the river below, some of the benches have now become occupied. On one sits a young girl, writing. Homework perhaps, or maybe a story? I wonder how her viewpoint would compare to my own, and whether she’s noticed me? On another bench sits a young mother. I am able to deduce that she is a mother as she has a young child with her. Then again, maybe it’s not hers. Perhaps she’s stolen it. From this privileged position, sights that would normally pass me by, or I them, can become the beginnings of stories, the characters below totally unaware of what I might plan for them later. Perhaps I too have gained a part in someone else’s story as they sit and observe me. I could even now be doing things that perhaps might not do normally, nor perhaps should, in another existence that someone else has invented.

To my left, the high street carries a steady flow of traffic of both the wheeled and legged variety. I wonder where they have all come from, and where they are headed, assuming they have somewhere to go. I look at the many lone walkers and wish I could read their minds. None acknowledges any of the others, all caught up in their own private worlds. They have only themselves for company and conversation, and I wonder how many of them are accompanied by an imaginary friend. The more self-confident ones may even be walking with an imaginary group of followers.

The sound of a distant train is carried here by the gentle breeze that has been developing. It tears me from my inner thoughts, as it will be my primary mode of transport back into work in the morning. Looking down, the young mother has gone. So too has the writing girl. Perhaps we’ll meet somewhere else one day, but that’s another story.

Back to reality, I pause to reflect on what was a pleasant diversion and head home.

 

 

The wonderer returns.

 

Sunday, 16 April 2000. The wonderer returns: not a spelling mistake, but a deliberate pun. I’ve not been around these parts lately as I’ve been doing a lot of wondering, and wandering in fact.

As the more observant will know, I work for a stationery company, and until quite recently my prospects looked, well, stationary really. The last few weeks have been spent embroiled in talks and meetings all over the country, which have led to the sales team of which I’m a member being restructured. I shan’t go into boring explanations of the details, but my future is looking quite rosy. I have an opportunity to be very successful as a result of the recent events, I have been given control of some very prestigious accounts and am currently looking for a new car.

The weather outside is sunny, tomorrow’s Monday and I couldn’t give a shit. Life, in fact is pretty much okay by me at the moment. I have that pleasant feeling of wellbeing that is so often lacking in my life, and feel confident that I can fend off just about anything that fate sees fit to throw at me. Normally my superstitious side warns me not to say things like that, for fear of tempting fate. To fate I say give it your best shot and come and have a go if you think you’re sufficiently endowed in the hardness department.

The last few weeks haven’t been all work either. There were even some opportunities to have some fun and a couple of weekends ago I found the time and inclination to attend a writers’ study day. When I arrived in the morning, I must admit that I was tempted to turn around and go home again, but I’m glad I stayed. I had built up a mental image of the kind of people that would be there, and for the most part I was right. The room in which we were to be based for the day contained at least six Miss Marples and four Barbara Cartlands. There were a couple of Jeffrey Archers, so it was a pleasant surprise to see other males in attendance, but I felt strangely out of place. If these peoples’ appearances resembled their writing styles then I was a sort of cross between Roald Dahl and Bret Easton Ellis, but younger, and definitely didn’t belong here. When the time came to stand up one by one and introduce ourselves, it was as much as I could do to stop myself saying “Hi, my name’s Steve, I’m an alcoholic and I’m in the wrong room.”

The late arrival of a Quentin Tarantino put me at ease and he and I came to become quite good friends that day. The day was entitled “How to write commercial fiction” and turned out to be a lesson in how to write for the biggest market for commercial fiction, the women’s magazines. Quentin and I were definitely in the wrong place. This became more apparent as the tutor explained the taboo subjects of the market. We had all been asked to bring our own manuscripts with us and my friend and I both had about six, sitting in readiness on our laps at the beginning. As the taboo subjects were listed as death, murder, disease, violence and so on, our manuscripts were deposited one by one back into our bags.

The time to read excerpts from our stories came and my tension eased a little on realising that we numbered a Douglas Adams and a Nick Hornby amongst us. I read a section from my short story “Friends Elsewhere”, and it was well received even though I’d seen fit to dispatch my two main characters at the end, a no-no in these circles. Cutting a short story shorter, as I did then, I gained some useful advice that day and met some very interesting people. Sometimes this hobby of mine can be a lonely one, and that was a feeling shared by my fellow students. It was nice then to come away realising that none of us are alone in what we do, so long as we let others know what that is.

Amusement in excess of the recommended daily amount was gained when our sales director treated us reps to a day of go-carting. This was by way of a “thank you” for all our hard work in achieving last financial year’s sales targets, which was no mean feat.

It was a wet and cold morning when we arrived, and a straw poll that I conducted in the car park revealed that six out of eight of us would actually rather not be here. The cafe up the road and bed were cited as better places to be, although half of the respondents were quick to point out that the latter scenario excluded present company.

Before letting us loose on their go-carts, the officials at the racetrack gave us a crash course in go-cart management. “Crash” was to be an appropriate and operative word. Before long we were kitted out in overalls, waterproofs, gloves and helmets. I thanked my lucky stars that our boss had forgotten his camera, and persuaded him that although he only lived ten minutes away down the road, it was not a good idea to return for it. How I did this escapes me, but he must have trained me well in my powers of persuasion.

So, there we were, eight padded blue crosses between a tellytubby and a spaceman. The race, using the term in its broadest possible sense, that followed was not exactly incident free. One of our number managed to drive round the track the wrong way, and one took a wrong turn and ended up scattering the standers-by in the pit lane as he passed through at close to 60MPH. All of us spun out of control and crashed into each other on numerous occasions, and a couple of us took liberties with the circuit by inventing our own routes across the grass. Two go-carts broke while under our charge, but we somehow managed to get back our deposit. Maybe we’re excellent sales people, or maybe the officials were just glad to be rid of us. I think the latter is more likely.

I spent the evening in the bath, removing oil stains from parts of me that I didn’t realise I had. My boss phoned me and asked if I’d had a good time. I said that I had, but I wished I’d been able to control the go-cart better. He said that the others had also expressed this concern and then proceeded to inform me that although it had been pissing down with rain all day, he’d asked the officials to leave the dry tyres on the carts. And this is the sales team that would be pretty near the top of any league for crashing real cars.

In a nutshell then, that’s it. This being the first quiet Sunday afternoon for a while, I must admit that after this I’m at a bit of a loss for what to do now. Perhaps I’ll go for a wander and wonder about it.

 

 

Older and wiser.

 

Sunday, 04 June 2000. Following a prolonged period of neglect of this site, I’m back. I’ve not actually been away anywhere, which I find helps in rendering the “I’m back” statement true, but here I am anyway.

The last six weeks or so have been pretty hectic, with upheavals at work, and the final arrival of my new car. The first is not terribly exciting, so I shall overlook it. The second is a ray of sunshine in a relatively gloomy period of time.

Two weeks ago now, my permanent car arrived, six months after I started my role in sales. The first three months were a probationary period, during which I had a temporary car (Ford Mondeo), which I duly wrote off after two weeks. This was replaced by a Peoguet 406, which I couldn’t drive for a couple of weeks after having nearly severed my finger at work. On the first day that I was able to drive again, someone kindly drove into the back of the car. Until a month ago, it was being repaired following wrangles with the insurance company, and when it was finally returned, I was loathe to drive it knowing that the slightest prang would jeopardise my future and that of any new car.

Now though, my brand new VW Golf sits outside, proudly resplendent in its black metallic paint, just begging to be driven. Being the caring owner, I have obliged this call of the wild and have covered just over 1000 miles in less than two weeks. It took a while to arrive from the dealer as I’d specified a couple of extras in the form of an electric sunroof and a CD multichanger 8 speaker sound system. Well, I figure if I’m going to be driving a lot, I might as well enjoy myself to the full. It also has a state-of-the-art alarm system for piece of mind. The only way to alarm my previous cars was to sneek up behind them and shout “Boo!”

It was my birthday last week. They’re just not the same nowadays, each year giving me a longer period to reflect upon. Looking back though, I had a good time on nights out in London with friends and colleagues. I must admit that the Friday evening preceding my big day is a little blurred in the memory, so I assume we had a good time. All I remember is about 20 of us starting the evening, with the usual suspects forming the hardcore five at the end of the night. I do know that it had all the ingredients of a good night, as I remember us nearly getting into a fight, nearly being arrested and nearly missing our last trains home. The fact that these were all “nearly” occurrences makes it a good night out. If those things had actually happened, it wouldn’t have been so good.

Another great night out was just this last Friday, when my life-long friend Julia married her footballer boyfriend. I attended the evening event and unlike so many of these things it was a great night. There was no stuffiness, no aloof relatives, no sit-down meal listening to boring speeches, in fact no negative elements at all. Congratulations were due then to the couple for not just getting married, but for putting on a really good do.

I went with three friends. Between us we had forked out a small fortune in taxi fares getting to the (distant, but nice) venue and back. It was at a golf club, so we expected the bar bill to be quite painful, but among other considerations, the couple had provided a free bar. With 300 confirmed alcoholics in attendance, this was a brave thing to do. All credit to us guests though, as we didn’t take advantage of the situation, much. The disco was good, which is the exception to the rule as far as these events are normally concerned, and I met old friends, some of whom I’d not seen for 10 years or more. And they are all now in their 20s and 30s, like me. Seeing them all looking so well, and being told that I did (presumably for my age), cheered me up.

Julia and I have known each other for almost all our lives, and this was a sad occasion as well as a happy one. We both acknowledged that to some extent this was “farewell” to the life we’ve known and onto pastures new. No longer would she be my little girl (she always has been, despite the fact that she’s only six months younger than me. I’ll never forget when I was the last to know that she’d taken up smoking, as she was afraid to tell me). The emotional situation was acknowledged by Neil (her now husband) when he said to me at the end, “I’ll take care of her now mate”.

 

 

Long live the trees.

 

Sunday, 11 June 2000. Despite the obvious benefit of trees remaining alive, like the fact that they inhale Carbon Dioxide and exhale Oxygen, and us Humans doing the opposite (A handy equilibrium, I think – Whoever invented that should be congratulated), I have another reason to thank the trees today: Books, but also newspapers and magazines. All were borne of trees, and for that I’m grateful.

I don’t believe in a “God” as such, preferring instead to stick with Big Bang and Darwinian theories on the whole creation thing. Either that or I’m a product of the alien creation theory so prevalent on cheap TV. In fact, despite the fact that I’m not fat and yellow, I could even be compared to Homer Simpson on my whole outlook on life, apart from the parts that require deeper thought.

Until a few months ago, like most of the population of England, I was TV viewing impaired, able to watch just the standard four channels generally available without the aid of additional equipment. Most evenings would be spent reading the various books that I’d purchased via the internet – At the moment I have about 20 books mid-read. Then my TV died, God rest its soul.

On buying a new TV I thought I might as well stay abreast of emerging technology and get a wide-screen one, which I did. One thing led to another and I also purchased a digital TV receiver, thereby increasing my viewing opportunities to 30 channels. Something, anything can usually be found among those channels to keep me occupied, even if it’s in a “wallpaper” sense, while I get on with something else. Gone were the evenings of dusting off old books to read or buying new ones in anticipation of having nothing better to do of an evening. Or so I thought.

Despite the multitude of tele-visual entertainment available to me tonight, there is nothing, zilch, sweet Fanny Adams worth watching tonight, unless I want to watch alien abduction documentaries.

And so I find myself here. The trouble is, having been watching TV all week and doing a passable impression of aforementioned Mr Simpson, I realise that this past week has rendered nothing worthy of mention, unless we talk about what we watched on TV this week. It’s a paradoxical situation. So that was the week that was, or wasn’t as the case turns out to be.

And for the rest of tonight? I think I’ll read a book. Perhaps a book on alien abduction. Maybe that’s where this last week went?

 

 

England 1 : Germany 0.

 

Sunday, 18 June 2000. A headline which this underdog nation has yearned to see for many years. This morning it seemed as though last night might have all been some elaborate dream, but a quick check of the Sunday newspapers confirmed it to be true.

You find me feeling happy with the result of last night’s football match, but also a little delicate due to the amount of alcohol I consumed. As you may be aware, England and Germany are huge rivals anyway, but to an unrivalled degree in football. We have not beaten them in a major international tournament since the World Cup final of 1966, a competition which England hosted which made the victory that much more magical. Ever since that day, unfortunately before my time, although we’ve beaten Germany in “friendly” matches, they’ve always managed victory in major events.

Predictions were rife for last night’s result, and even a little superstition crept in when someone over here noticed that the time of the kick-off was 7.45PM. On the 24 hour clock this of course is 1945, the year England and their allies beat Hitler to win the second world war. The lengths some people will go to to convince themselves of something being fate are questionable at least.

So there we were, myself and about 20 friends, assembled in front of one of the big screen TVs in the bar of the George and Dragon, an appropriately patriotically-named local pub, a full two hours before kick-off. The drinks were flowing from the bar and then down our throats, and by the time 1945 came along, the pub was packed and we were pissed. The rest is quite literally history.

After the celebrating had died down, or rather been forced out of the pub, we made our meandering way home to our beds and woke up this morning feeling happy and sore-headed. I am also sporting that great souvenir of the night before, an inexplicable bruise on my left buttock and a graze on my right arm. I cannot recall the excitement reaching such a level as to be responsible for these blemishes so I can only assume that in the middle of the night I was visited by those cousins of the tooth fairy, the bruise and graze fairies.

Summer has finally arrived over here, and the temperature outside is currently 86 degrees F. At this time of year we are obliged to use the Fahrenheit scale as it affords us some drama when describing the weather, a favourite pass time of ours. Barbecues are being dusted off and people are generally looking silly walking around in ridiculous shorts, mostly with sandals and socks, and exhibiting varying skin colours from anaemic to painful-looking red. It seems we’ll never learn. I am resplendent sitting here as I am in just my black shorts and nothing else.

In other news, I should discover this week if my little eight-legged friend is a little boy or girl. The only reliable way to determine the sex of most Tarantulas is under a microscope, so I’ve commandeered a friend who works at the local public school to twist one or two arms in his science department. Once the little critter’s sex is determined, I can finally turn my thoughts to the important task of naming “it”. “It” moulted this week, emerging from its discarded exoskeleton considerably larger and wearing rather fetching red knee bands and shoes. At this very moment it is sitting in the corner of it’s tank on the other side of the room, displaying it’s new vibrant outfit and no doubt pointing and laughing, as spiders are well known for doing, at me in my unflattering shade of white / pink.

 

 

Culture clubbing.

 

Sunday, 25 June 2000. The first four days of this working week were as uninspiring as usual. I was generally feeling down following England’s short-lived success in the European Football championship and work was, well, work. And then Friday came along offering the chance of a day off. With nothing better to do, I accepted the invitation and my friend / colleague, Pete and I decided to spend a day in London. This was not to be the usual and unimaginative trawl around pubs and clubs all day and night though. No, instead we had decided to inject some culture into our lives.

And so it was that on Friday morning we met in a pub to discuss the itinerary for the day. After a couple of Gin and Tonics, we decided that the newly opened Tate Modern would be a good place to start. The old Bankside Power Station on the South bank of the Thames has been turned into a home for works of modern art from the last century and houses works by such notable artists as Dali, Warhol, Picasso, Bacon, Monet and Matisse to name but a few. It has only been open for a couple of months and, like it’s sexy neighbour the London Eye (Millennium Wheel), has been making the headlines throughout that period. Like its neighbour, it has captured the hearts and imaginations of the public with its beauty and concept and is attracting visitors in unexpected numbers. And the best thing of all is that it’s free to get in.

So there we were, slightly relaxed after our intake of Gin and ready to be cultured. Both Pete and I share a belief that certain things constitute art, while others definitely do not. We would not be two old farts who stood pondering a pile of rubbish, or similar “works”, fingers pressed against chins as we discussed its various “messages” and virtues as “art”. We would not try to see inside the artist’s mind as he or she had created the thing. No, we would remain true to our values, not be swayed by the surroundings and give credit only where it was due, to works deserving of admiration for their artistic beauty.

We sought out the main exhibits before touring the rest of the gallery and stood in turn in front of works by the better known artists. It was quite an awesome and humbling feeling to stand in front of “The Kiss”, “Reclining Figure”, Picasso’s “The Face” and various oils by Dali. These were originals, worth perhaps millions of pounds, and had once been touched by the great artists themselves. Tempting though it was to do so, we observed the gallery’s instructions not to touch the displays for fear of damaging them. In fact, after a while we were both gripped by an insatiable urge to place our arms behind our backs as we strolled around the building, taking on the appearance of real art critics. Top marks to the Tate for not encasing such sculptures as “The Kiss” and “Reclining Figure” in glass. Top marks also for asking the owners of mobile phones to switch them off and for providing designated smoking areas, albeit outside.

No other exhibits were worthy of individual merit after the better-known ones, and although a lot of them were crap, most were inspirational to some degree. We spent a good half-hour pondering a cube of coastline debris, fingers pressed against chins and wondering what the artist must have been thinking as he created his piece. We had obviously been affected.

Four hours passed without us noticing and it was only the rumbling of hungry bellies reverberating around the cavernous Tate that made us leave and seek lunch. We crossed the river via Hungerford Bridge, as alas Sir Norman Foster’s Millennium Footbridge, despite being so pretty, still has a disconcerting sway that is being investigated. We took lunch at a Tandoori on the Embankment (Thieving bastards – You know who you are), and then had more Gin. Suitably lubricated, we headed for the Dali exhibition at County Hall, in the shadow of the wheel.

Although the great man’s main works, his oils, were not on display, being resident at various other galleries and exhibitions, this one did include over 600 exhibits. It was interesting if for nothing other than discovering his many other talents. Watercolours, pastels, charcoals and sketches were in abundance, and there was a good spread of his sculptures too. Again we found ourselves with hands placed behind backs as we strolled, and with fingers on chins as we contemplated.

At 5pm, we both decided that the rigours of the day had rendered us in need of a drink. With hands clasped behind backs as we strolled along the South Bank, we decided that a pub would not be to our taste at this time and that we would instead patronise Waterstones in Piccadilly. A bookstore may not be the obvious place to procure an alcoholic drink, but this Waterstones is the largest bookstore in Europe, and boasts bars among its many assets. The store is spread over seven large floors, and has a policy of positively encouraging customers to pick up books and browse them. Toward this end they have thoughtfully provided sumptuous, comfortable leather chairs and sofas throughout the store. There are also bars of the coffee variety as well as the alcoholic. In the bar where we plonked ourselves with our various tomes on art, we were even permitted to smoke.

And so ended a day of culture, relaxed with our high-brow books on the fifth floor of Waterstones, overlooking London and with the wheel in the background of the panorama as the sun set. In hindsight, we were both struck by the number of single girls at all of the locations we had visited. We were too focused on culture though to think about such things.

And last night we went clubbing and got pissed.

 

 

Goodbye, dear friend.

 

Sunday, 02 July 2000. Alas this week saw the passing of a dear old friend, when my sister made the painful decision to have her dog put to sleep. “Lucky” was neither an original nor an appropriate name for the old boy, given his past, but my sister had cared for him well in his final years and he left for dog heaven a happier mutt than he might otherwise have done were it not for her.

Lucky was a rescue dog, who my sister took in when he was estimated to be around five years old. Back then he was starving, covered in fleas and ticks, full of minor ailments through malnutrition and neglect, and generally in a bad way. A miserable excuse for a dog, his claws were so long through not being exercised that he found it difficult to walk. He had been tied up outside his previous owner’s house for most of his life and beaten regularly. When my sister came upon him he was scared of Humans especially, but just about everything else as well. To many people he would have been a lost cause.

But she nursed him back to health in the critical first months and then loved him for what were to be the remaining nine years of his life. He became a big, soft and loving dog. A cross between a Border Collie, a Springer Spaniel and God knows what else, he was a scraggly, slobbery, spoiled, overweight softy. But my sister loved him, which made last week’s decision so difficult.

Lucky’s hind legs had become little more than useless through Arthritis and obesity. The latter aggravated the former, but my sister always wanted to make sure that during what short life he had towards the end, he’d want for nothing. In her view, he did not understand the virtues of a healthy diet and was only happy at the end when either in the company of Humans, or eating. Far better then to give him what he wanted, knowing it would shorten his life, but for him to depart happy than to deny him the comforts he craved and for him to become an elderly super model of the canine kind. He never went short on food, and neither did he go short on love. I’ve often thought how great it would be if we Humans had tails so that we could tell at a glance what a prospective friend thought of us without having to go through all of the guessing that we do. A simple wag of the tale would let us know that we were friends. If only we Humans possessed the forgiving nature of such a dog as this too, perhaps our race would get on better.

So here was an animal, maltreated initially, then loved by Humans, unaware of the fact, but about to be killed by those same loving Humans. And still loving us all right up to his final breath.

The day came for Lucky’s farewell on Monday. I went to my sister’s house with my mum to bid the old boy a fond farewell. He lay on the bed, unable to get up and greet me, wagging his tail and panting in anticipation of my approach. I rubbed his head, as I usually did and he licked my hand and looked at me with his loving eyes. We sat, my mum and I consoling my sister, while we waited for the vet to arrive. My sister felt that there ought to be another option. There was, in the form of two new back hip joints, but the operation to fit these would probably kill the dog. Far better for him to go without unnecessary distress, and she should take comfort in the fact that the years he had spent with her would be the ones he would remember when he was gone.

The vet and his nurse arrived and could not have been more supportive. They had visited the house to spare Lucky the trauma of a trip to the veterinary surgery. He was sedated and then the final needle saw him of peacefully. He was merely aware in his last moments of two more Humans in the room for him to love, and was wagging his tail even as his eyes closed.

Today’s entry then is dedicated to Lucky. Sorry to have to do that to you boy, but I hope you’ll still love us when you realise that we done it out of love for you. Now you can eat all you like without fear for your health, and chase rabbits with the new hind legs you’ve no doubt got in doggy heaven.

Goodbye, dear friend.

 

 

Selling pastures new.

 

Sunday, 9 July 2000. I feel like a cross between a Tower of London Raven and a fighter plane shot down in a dogfight. I feel at the moment as though I’ve been grounded, unable to take to the air as a result of having my wings clipped.

The reason for this somewhat subdued me are events which took place at work during this past week. To cut a very long story short, screw it up and push it into a nutshell, I have been asked to help out in the office, following the departure on Friday of one of the office staff. I could be flattered, as this departing individual was one of considerable seniority and therefore my employers needed someone of similar calibre to fill the shoes he left behind. But, me being me, I take the more cynical view. Being in field sales can be difficult, but it has its advantages, like the convenient appointment halfway between home and the office at either end of the day necessitating a late arrival or early departure into or from work respectively. Alas, those halcyon days have drawn to a close as now I will have my backside firmly planted in the office and will have to observe the working hours of an office worker, as opposed to those of a field sales person. The appointment is allegedly a temporary one, and during it I will still be expected to generate new business through sales, but suffice to say my working life just got harder.

During the conversation with the Directors of my company that led to this latest appointment, it was mentioned that despite the changes to my job description, my job title would not change. My official title is “Business Development Manager” which is a dressed-up name for a sales rep. My department is still referred to though as “field sales”, a term I’ve never really liked as it doesn’t correctly describe what we actually do, being the misunderstood people that we are. I do not after all sell fields any more than I sell print solutions from a field.

So that was the week that was, and this being Sunday, Monday will inevitably follow, as sure as yesterday was Saturday and the week that will be will have commenced. I am determined to make a go of any opportunity that arises from this new job description though, so I am trying to remain positive right now as I contemplate the week ahead.

Contemplation is something that I’ve been a lot of time on today. The spider is now about 18 months old and growing fast. It is still of indeterminate sex though and is likely to remain so for many months to come. In the interim, I am beginning to tire of referring to it as “It” and “Little legs”, and so am trying to think of a suitably androgynous name to bestow upon my fuzzy little friend so that it doesn’t feel unloved.

I’m also wondering what to do with a chicken that’s currently sitting in my kitchen. Perhaps I should elaborate on that statement, and quash any thoughts of my recent sexual deprivation leading to deviant activity with animals, and dead ones at that, that may occur to the less healthy minds among my readership. This chicken was given to me by a neighbour, who had planned to have it for his lunch today, but has been invited out instead. I don’t want to rely on the traditional roast chicken with accompanying vegetables and gravy, so I’m trying to think of a more imaginative use for it. Again, that preceding sentence opens up the floodgates of the imagination and pours forth incorrect images. Or perhaps it’s just my deviant mind. I have reached the point where everything I write seems to have some sort of double entendre sexual connotation. This often happens, and I am reduced to a schoolboy level of humour where everything has a double meaning and elicits a childish chuckle.

I’m drawn towards pasta (there I go again!), chicken tossed in (oh God!), perhaps with a hot cheesy sauce (please stop!) I cannot now get these double meanings out of my head. They ought to keep my mind off of work tomorrow though, so long as they go away between now and then. Mind you, if they don’t, perhaps I’ll be kicked out into the field again, and told to sell it.

 

 

Outside in.

 

Sunday, 16 July 2000. I have a rather nasty cold at the moment, and am therefore am not in the best of moods. Also, my hands itch like hell, but despite the superstitious legend, it is not an indication of impending wealth.

This past week was the first full one spent under my new work regime. This is the regime that dictates my presence in the office, as opposed to being out on the road, fulfilling my former role. I am reliably informed that the position I am currently filling will be filled within a month, at which point I will be released from the shackles that currently bind me. I have managed to continue an element of my sales role while being grounded, and as a result the future looks bright. I do not relish the prospect of the impending month though.

I am not a sickly person by any defining of the definition. I know for a fact though that I can lay the blame for my cold firmly at the door of my office. I have not suffered a single ailment in the last six months that I have been outside and exposed to the elements. One week spend in my office, among the breeding ground of all others’ germs though has reduced me to this current shadow of my former self.

Having said all of which, I really do long for life back on the outside, even if it’s only to escape the ailments of others.

My itchy hands are as a result of cleaning out the spider for the first time. Please don’t think me an uncaring owner of the nameless Mexican red kneed Tarantula, but they genuinely do only need cleaning out once every six months, which any expert on the subject will confirm. They do not move around much, preferring to occupy a chosen area of their environment, and they excrete a dry, odourless stool. Also, they can be quite prone to excitement when disturbed, being otherwise docile.

This was a first for my little red-kneed friend and I, and I discovered today exactly how excitable “it” could get. Although unlikely to bite, I realised that the little one might “throw hairs”. This involves kicking the hairs on the abdomen with the back pair of legs. These hairs can apparently be very irritating if they come into contact with one’s skin. I can now confirm this, having received a handful of kicked hairs on disturbing the spider for the purposes of cleaning its home. As I write this, it’s now romping about its home and putting things back the way they were, while I nurse the rashes on my hands.

So, it’s happy being back in its tank, while I sit outside, unhappy at the prospect of returning to mine in the morning.

 

 

Hello Spaceboy.

 

Sunday, 13 August 2000. Following another period of absence, I have again returned. I am feeling somewhat surreal, a situation brought about by the hi-fi’s apparent ability to “mix it” by choosing tenuously linked songs at the moment. Just now I put “The Boy With the X-Ray Eyes” by Babylon Zoo, and “Earthling” and “Aladdin Sane” by David Bowie into the CD multi-changer and set it to the “random” setting. It is now playing “Spaceman” from the first of these CDs, having just played “Hello Spaceboy” and the title track from the second and third CDs respectively.

All of which kind of sums up the way my life has been over the past few weeks since I was last here. I’ve been a bit spaced out, lacking direction and not knowing what to do or what others have planned for me. This has been especially true of work, with me being in the unenviable position of being unique in my ability to do the jobs of most of my colleagues at least competently. This being the summer holiday season, I have found myself in various roles whilst covering the jobs of those that have been on holiday. All of which has meant of course that I’ve not been able to take any holidays myself. My mind is in a state of confusion, suffering some form of multiple personality disorder as a result of having to be so many people in such a short space of time. Even this entry has no direction, serving instead as an opportunity for me to spill forth all of my inner thoughts, or at least some of them.

One benefit of the holiday season has been that the drive to work and home has averaged just under an hour each way, instead of the usual hour and a half. That extra hour of personal time is always appreciated, and the lack of traffic on the roads has made the drive more of a pleasure than a chore. I am not an impatient driver, nor a particularly aggressive one, although driving in London does require a certain amount of aggression if you actually want to make any progress in your journey at all. No, I’m quite happy to sit in queues of traffic, sunroof open, windows down, stereo playing my favourite CDs. I use the word “happy” in it’s broadest possible sense, as sitting in traffic is not some kind of perverted pastime of mine. Instead, I realise that it is pointless getting impatient and frustrated as to do so serves no purpose in easing the situation. Nor do I get annoyed at drivers who jump queues or pull out in front of me, as to do so would destroy my driving karma. Perhaps quietly contented would be a better adjective than “happy”.

On Fridays I’ve taken to treating myself to travelling to and from work by train. “Treat” is perhaps stretching things somewhat, but it is nice to let someone else take the strain for one day a week. This also allows me to consume alcohol if the possibility of doing so arises, and my colleagues and I are adept at making sure that possibilities do in fact arise. This past Friday was no exception, finding seven of us as it did in “Cheers” in London’s Regent Street. I have sung the many virtues of London nightlife many times before, but make no apologies for doing so again here.

How spooky is that? I was sitting here just now and felt like a cup of coffee. I looked in the mirror to make sure that this feeling was just a need for a cup of coffee, rather than me resembling one, I departed to the kitchen type room and made said beverage. Upon returning to this room, my intuitive hi-fi is now playing “Caffeine” by Babylon Zoo.

When I refer to my “colleagues”, as I did earlier, I should really say “friends”. After all, these are the people whom I spend the majority of my waking hours with, and we do all genuinely get on. If we didn’t we wouldn’t work together, let alone socialise. Given that I rarely go out in my home town socially, and have therefore lost a lot of day to day contact with my local friends, those that I work with really are my inner circle.

Returning to Friday night, and how I wish I could, Cheers, the bar in London, is supposed to be a copy of Cheers, the bar in the American sitcom. It may have been, but we couldn’t see for the sheer number of people who were crowded inside. The great thing about London, and I’m sure this is true of all big cities, but I’m attempting to differentiate London from my home town and the thousands of others like it, is that there are no “regulars” in bars and pubs. By “regulars” i mean people, mainly men, who get all territorial about their drinking establishments. These are supposed to be “public” houses, where anyone can drink, but in certain establishments in this town and many others I’ve visited, there is always the territorial pack of regulars in residence. They’ll look at you as if you are something they’ve just scraped off of the bottom of their shoe, and generally make you feel uncomfortable. So territorial do these people seem that it wouldn’t surprise me one day to see one of them cock a leg and urinate up the front of the bar. Someone should tell them to get out more.

No, in London there are no such animals. In central London at least, everyone is equal. No-one has a bar stool or table reserved, no-one “owns” the bars and pubs, so everyone’s together – One big party with thousands of invited guests, all having a good time and the majority of them getting drunk into the bargain. Of course, the best night in London will always be last New Year’s Eve, when 3 million plus people attended the biggest party the capital had ever thrown. But every Friday and Saturday night it’s the same to a lesser extent, and to walk through Leicester square at midnight, among the thronging crowds, is an experience to, well experience. REM once sung of shiny happy people. Those people are to be found in London at the weekend, because London makes people shiny and happy.

Arriving back in Tonbridge, courtesy of the last train from London, in the wee small hours, I caught a cab home. Engaging the driver in drunken banter, I learned that the town’s first night-club had finally opened. This has been a venue that we’ve waited years for, as us party folk have had nothing to do after the pubs close at 11pm, other than peeing in people’s gardens and other such wheezes. Alas, I fear the club will be short-lived. In fact I hope that it is. This is for the simple reason that the proprietors have seen fit to regress ten years into the past and introduce certain stupid habits only adopted by out of touch night-clubs from the beginning of the last decade. I refer to a dress code that will not allow patrons entry unless they are wearing the correct attire. This is fine in itself, as I understand that certain standards have to be maintained. But to insist that an otherwise smart shirt is not acceptable because it does not have buttons all the way down the front is petty in the extreme. The bar prices are artificially high, with a bottle of beer costing three pounds. Okay, so if you want to drink beyond 11pm and there is nowhere else to do so, they have a certain license (forgive the pun) to charge a premium for the pleasure, but to take the piss is another matter entirely. On top of which there is an entry charge at the door. A ten-pound entry charge, if you don’t mind. Well, quite frankly I do mind. This is exactly the kind of suburban establishment that my friends and I used to boycott in our teens and twenties. Then and now it is cheaper to go to London for the evening, the cost of a rail ticket being less than the entry fee to such a pretentious establishment. And of course, a much better time is to be had in London, not just in the bars and clubs, but on the streets and the train home as well, London being the one big party venue that it is.

Well, my cab driver told me that when he’d picked up a fare from the club earlier, there had been a grand total of four people in there. I hope that the proprietors open their eyes soon and realise that they’re doing something wrong with their greed. Otherwise they deserve to fail. I’ll not miss Tonbridge’s only night-club as I’ve never been there, and never intend to while the management continues as it is. No, I’ll stick with London. Perhaps they should try going out in the capital, and maybe they’d learn a thing.

I had that wonderful sensation this morning of waking up believing it to be Monday, only to realise a few seconds later that it was in fact Sunday. Oh bliss! No doubt I’ll experience the opposite tomorrow, having forgotten to set the alarm as I often do on a Sunday night, wake up thinking it’s Sunday, then realise with horror that it is in fact Monday. With that thought in my head, I will retire now and set the alarm. At least then I have that other little pleasure to look forward to in the morning: The snooze button. Mmmmmm snooze button…

 

 

Run fast, little friend.

 

Sunday, 20 August 2000. I am so angry. I sat tonight and typed for 45 minutes about a subject dear to my heart, and this piece of shit computer crashed before I had a chance to save what I’d written. Fuck this fucking computer! If I had any way of disowning myself from it, I would. However, I have things I need to write, so this partnership born in hell will have to continue for at least the time that it takes to write this.

Previously, I’d written about what I’ve been up to this week (the usual shit), but the most important event was my sister’s visit of tonight. I will try to recreate now what I said before. Alas, I fear much of the impact will be lost because of this lump of fucking plastic and metal that sits beneath my desk.

Lisa, my sister, lost her dog a few weeks back. Lucky, the inappropriately named dog that she’d loved for nine years, had to be put to sleep. Following his departure, George, her cat, pined for his old friend. George was 18 months old when Lisa took him in, and she gave him a good life for the two years that she had him. Having come to terms with the loss of Lucky, Lisa realised that she ought to get a companion for the pining George. This she did today.

Now, George was a retiring little character. Being half-Siamese, he didn’t venture out much, nor was he too keen on Humans. He’d always greet me though, perhaps knowing that I was a “Cat person”.

My sister came round today, and announced that after much deliberation and interviews, Battersea Dogs’ home had allowed her to take away one of their stray cats, “Tiny”, a two year old tabby female. In two weeks’ time Tiny would have a new friend in George, and vice versa.

Although not a social cat, George had ventured out during Lisa’s absence, something he’s been doing lately, perhaps to look for his old friend Lucky. Although Lisa was only out for an hour, George went to look for Lucky today. Unused to the roads, he got run over.

He wasn’t killed out right, but the car that hit him scalped him, rendering him incapable of sight or sound. When Lisa went to see him at the vet’s, where her neighbour had taken him, he was incoherent and banging his head against the wall. And so he would have stayed, as vets need the permission of the owner to put a cat to sleep.

They’ve now done exactly that, and George is now with Lucky, I hope. This piece of shit computer denied me my proper goodbye. To little George I say: Run quickly little friend. Catch Lucky up and be with him.

Thank fuck I remembered that much of what I’d written. To this PC of mine I say: Screw you for making me write it again. I shan’t run it through a spell check, as I can’t read again what I’ve had to write again. You make me sad. It’s a shame I need you, and yet I can let a little cat go, relying on you to record my thoughts, only for you to fail me.

Fuck technology. Love nature.

 

 

Driving me bad.

 

Sunday, 27 August 2000. Much like the Gin and Tonic I’m currently supping, I’m not bitter – With reflection, I’m quite sweet. Much like said Gin and Tonic in fact…

This is a bank holiday weekend, so joy of joys, no work to look forward to tomorrow. Last week my journey was blighted by roadworks on my normal route into the office and home, thereby necessitating an extra hour of driving time each way. Having grown tired and bored of this arrangement by Tuesday, I sought an alternative route.

My methodology was hardly scientific, following as I did a van driver who looked like he knew where he was going. “White van man” may be the bane of many a road-user’s life, but my particular white van man was a godsend. It was almost as though he’d been placed on the road with the sole merciful mission of guiding me home. I hadn’t a clue as to where he was eventually headed, but had at least a rough idea of the direction that I needed to head in to avoid the roadworks and emerge on the far side of them, smug in the knowledge that I was ahead of my fellow and former “traffic jamees” to the tune of two miles and 20 minutes. Emerge I did, and smug I was as I recognised my surroundings as a route home when I emerged from my magical mystery tour. With a quick friendly toot of the horn to my guiding light white van man, I proceeded home in record time. Although the route was a convoluted one, I somehow remembered it on Wednesday and again beat any competitors in the race home that is the journey from London. My evangelical white van man must have been looking down on me and smiling. I shall keep this route to myself, so as not to invite others onto it.

Alas, Thursday brought further unforeseen roadworks and rendered me late for work. The fact that this wasn’t my fault didn’t wash with certain powers that be at my company, and so to avoid a repeat of the episode I travelled to work by train on Friday. I normally do this anyway as it gives me a break from the daily grind of driving once a week. I often wonder if train drivers might like to adopt a similar strategy. Then again, if I were to drive them to work it would somewhat defeat the object.

So, on Friday I was permitted a lunch in a pub with friends and colleagues. Not an activity denied by driving to work in itself, but one that with the car at home permits the consumption of alcohol. And so it was on Friday that I did exactly that: Not get completely trousered, but enjoy some gin, with which I required a meal – a proper meal in the comfort of a pub, rather than the usual cardboard cheese sandwich eaten out of a plastic box on the road.

It was a pleasant meal, comprising a steak with chips and mushrooms, and enjoyed in good company. It was a pleasant diversion from the usual pre-packed lunch purchased from a garage, and eaten in nice surroundings. I was even able to order “off menu” with my request for peas in place of the obligatory salad. I cannot stand Rabbit food any more than I can pretentious food. I like food, and I eat nothing else, but my tolerance threshold of pretension is low. I will immediately leave an establishment that offers Orange Juice as a starter, and take great joy in abusing the proprietors of pretentious restaurants by ordering “off” of their menu. This is a simple matter of asking for Marmite on toast as a starter, followed by Fish Fingers, Mashed Potatoes and Baked Beans for a main course, then Banana Custard for dessert.

Thinking ahead to Tuesday and my return to work, perhaps I should ingratiate myself to the bosses and buy them a meal at a nice restaurant of my choosing – on expenses, of course. I’ll voice my concerns, order “off menu”, and drop them back at the office afterwards. They’ll think it a nice gesture on my part as I speed home on my secret route while leaving them to get stuffed in the traffic.

 

 

Enlightened, not conceited.

 

Sunday, 03 September 2000. A busy week at work, covering for various absent colleagues in my capacity as resident know-it-all. Without wishing to sound conceited, It’s a situation that I find frustrating and thankless, but one that makes me somewhat indispensable. It’s just a shame that certain powers that be don’t realise it. They will soon enough if I were ever to leave, or commit some sackable offence, but by then the realisation will have come too late.

My secret route home through the back streets of South London is currently cutting my journey time by between ten and fifteen minutes, now that I’ve mastered the racing lines of the roads I have to traverse. It is a well-known fact that traffic and driving is notably different in London than anywhere else in this country. There are two speeds: 100mph and stop, cars will try to jump in front of you if you leave so much as an inch gap between yourself and the car in front, and driving practices generally considered to be technically illegal elsewhere are generally overlooked. Speeding, lane-changing, shortcuts, using bus lanes: some would say that such practices are all that prevent London’s traffic becoming gridlocked. I realise that some of the above practices may border on the dangerous, and would never condone dangerous driving. Indeed, most drives to and from work do call for the cursing of at least one stupid individual, but with safety in mind, a little bending of the rules does pay dividends. I’m no expert, and don’t intend to enter into a debate on the subject. Rather, I’ll continue to drive as I do and get home, usually hitting a traffic jam on my doorstep as the drivers in my home town have not adopted the enlightened highway code of the London driver.

Friday was my weekly “treat”, for want of a better word, when I allowed someone else to drive me to work. A train driver in fact. In the evening, some friends and I went for the obligatory one drink after work, and an Antipodean friend and I managed to stay out, and on our feet till last orders. Last orders seem such an antiquated practice in a city such as London, but they allowed me to catch the final train home, rolling in as I did at 1am. Before then we’d visited a seafood fair and sampled various finned and tentacled delights, then moved onto four bars, including an Australian one and a South African one. Various cocktails from those countries, combined with the seafood and plentiful cider dictated a day of recovery yesterday.

Last night was hair of the dog, more fish (with chips this time), and “The Quick and the Dead” on FilmFour. Today has been housework, and tomorrow I have the prospect of covering for two people in the same department, a situation that will last all week. Such is the holiday planning at my company that I can’t have any at the moment and am running a department on my own. I feel more hair of the dog is required tonight to numb the thought.

In other news, I have completed my fifth short story. It’s called “The Dentist’s Needle”, and is available for reading in the “Pen and Ink” section of this site. Although it’s only the first draft, I’m actually quite pleased with it. I’ve tried to adopt a somewhat ambiguous style of writing in places, thereby allowing the reader to arrive at their own conclusions, and to make about four conclusions more or less equally obvious. Recently I’ve been reading published collections of work by new and young short story authors, as is preached to us by our tutors and mentors, in order to get a feel for styles. Although generally good, much of what I’ve been reading has been quite frankly crap. And yet this stuff is published. I’ve not sought publication of my work, and am waiting until I’ve got a collection of stories sufficient for an anthology as my stuff is not suitable for women’s magazines, the main short fiction market, but I’m hopeful of success, given what I’ve read. We all write for an equal or lower intelligence level than our own, simply because it is impossible to write for a more intelligent one. Maybe I’m just thick then, but I’m tempted to think that these writers to whom I refer really don’t seem to come up to my standard. But then I wouldn’t want to sound conceited.

 

 

Sneeky geek.

 

Sunday, 10 September 2000. “Onka’s Big Moka” – What exactly is that all about then? It’s the title of the latest addition to my CD collection by Toploader. A very good album, but with a completely unfathomable title. Right now I’m in Bowie mode with “Cat People” filling the room, and with thirty minutes to write this before “Star Trek Voyager” is on Sky One. Am I becoming a geek or what? It’s only when I stop to think about some of the things that make up my occasionally sad little life that I realise that perhaps I am. I don’t wear an anorak, nor spot trains. I am obsessive about some things though, and often wonder if that qualifies me as a geek, or merely an eccentric. I prefer the latter as it’s a more admirable label of one’s personality than the former. Then again, so is suffering Gout when compared to many other inflections. No, I don’t by the way.

This week was spent exclusively in the office, covering for two holidaying colleagues. As a result, the telephone played a leading role in the pantomime that was work. On more occasions than I care to recall the words “bastard”, “arsehole”, and worse were uttered from these normally calm lips, directed at the caller I had just been speaking to, and my absent colleagues with equal frequency.

I’m not a conspiracy theorist, nor an intellectual snob, but it did seem that every dysfunctional employee of the printing industry had got together and conspired to phone me on a regular basis throughout the week. I had the dubious pleasure of speaking to rude, incompetent, and just downright thick people dozens of times during my week of doing the jobs of three people. I shan’t go to the trouble of transcribing individual conversations here, but I truly believe now that certain people shouldn’t be allowed to bear offspring. In some cases, nor should their parents.

The week’s only pleasure was my journey to and from the office in the car. Even though all the little darling kiddies returned to school this week, my secret route remained a fruitful one, allowing me a door to door journey of about an hour in either direction. The fact that I can derive pleasure from such a thing makes me fear even more for my normality. Maybe my childhood theory was right: Maybe people do become more and more “sad” after turning thirty. Back then I thought they didn’t realise, but I can tell the youth of today that we do. I can also tell them the best way to get home from London in the evening rush hour if they’ll just listen.

I managed to get hold of a longstanding absentee from my video collection this week in “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”. And the digitally enhanced, uncut, widescreen version at that. After adding it to my database of 789 films, It’ll enjoy pride of place alongside such other delights as “Driller Killer”, “Last House on the Left” and “I Spit on Your Grave”. The CD that I mentioned at the top will join its 178 friends in my music database before being placed in a logical, chronological position in the CD rack.

Well, “Star Trek” is on in a minute or two, so I’ll be off for now, not that I’m a geek or anything…

Thought for the week: If moths are nocturnal, why do they congregate around lights? Never take a moth for a candle-lit dinner, is this week’s handy life-tip.

 

 

Musical murder and a pram race.

 

Sunday, 08 October 2000. Right, straight into a whinge this week: I can’t believe the front of some recording artists when they choose to slaughter perfectly good songs. I was just listening to the UK singles chart and Mariah Carey is at number two with her (inferior) version of “Against all odds”. How dare she try to copy such a classic. As well as that, another group called Aurora have covered Duran Duran’s “Ordinary World”, and a “boy band” called A1 (as in A1 tossers), have done A-Ha’s “Take on me”. I hate these manufactured bands that can’t even write their own stuff! I vow right here and now that if anyone ever dares to cover Joe Jackson’s “Stepping Out”, I will personally hunt them down and murder them as they will have done to the song. The same goes for Bowie songs as well. Recording artists, you have been warned…

I spoke up there of Mariah Carey. What annoys me about her and her ilk, i.e. Whitney Houston, Janet Jackson and the worst of all in my opinion, Celine Dion, is how they try to elevate themselves above all other singers. They seem to do this verbal gymnastics thing where they make it look like the songs are so difficult to sing. Their mouth movements are verging on yodelling. I expect “The sound of music 2”, if it’s ever made, to feature these so called “Divas” doing a soul version of “Far away in a lonely goat herd”, or whatever it’s called.

We have a TV show over here called “Stars in their eyes”, which features members of the public impersonating their favourite recording artists. I was pleased last Saturday when the Meatloaf impersonator won, as I thought he did a good take on the big man, but the programme normally annoys me. Not the show itself, but the audience, or rather their voting habits. I can guarantee that every week, what I call the “housewives vote” will prevail, normally unfairly. What I mean by the “housewives vote”, and I apologise to the many upstanding housewives out there who do a very good job of being wives in houses, are women. And they’re normally women, which is why they’re wives I suppose, who go out and buy records by the likes of Houston, Carey et al. I also apologise to my mum, who’s a very good housewife, but who buys these singers’ records. Their standard comment will be something like, “But she’s got a good voice. It’s clever how she does that with her mouth to get those sounds out.” No it isn’t! I too can look like a Goldfish if I want to! These women, when placed strategically in the audience of “Stars…” will vote for the artist they like best. Not the impersonator of that artist, but the artist themselves, based on the fact that they like the song. I swear that if I were to go on “Stars…” and do my best Whitney impression, they’d vote for me. They’d say, “Well okay, he’s a man and he’s white, but I do like Whitney…” Grrr!

Last night was a classic example, where there was a rather mediocre Celine bloody Dion up against a passable Dionne Warwick, a good Jerry Rafferty, and an excellent Carly Simon singing “You’re so Vain.” The latter was appropriate in the presence of a Celine Dion impersonator, and true to my theory the bitch won. It was so unfair, but it happens time and time again. The biggest travesty was two or three years ago, when a first class Fats Domino lost to an inferior Marty Pellow. It was those fucking housewives again! Sorry mum.

On a lighter note, today was a great laugh in my local town, where we held our annual pram race in aid of charity. There was a good turnout of about 30 or so prams, and the weather was nice. Men dressed as women with unfeasibly large breasts, women dressed as men with unfeasibly hairy chests and larger than life beer bellies, and men and women dressed as babies were out in force. The police and fire brigade were there in their official capacity, as well as taking part. There were nurses, Tellytubbies, pirates, a cow and a group of Roman soldiers with a pram done up as a chariot. Noah was there with his ark and a couple of sheep, at least two prams had water cannons and the messy missiles were there in abundance. Even before the race started, the car park of the George and Dragon pub, the starting point, resembled a cross between an explosion in a food factory and an orgy. There was flour, eggs, baked beans, tomatoes and water-filled condoms flying through the air for a full ten minutes before the horn signalling the start of the race sounded. At 11am the police sealed off the high street and the various costumed people, pushing their prams containing obligatory nappy-clad full-grown man or woman raced toward the first of the nine pubs on the route. The food and liquids continued to be thrown in a running battle along the course, requiring the fire brigade to hose down the high street before it was reopened. There were spillages of babies from prams, prams abandoned with the babies having to run with the rest of the team, crashes of prams with prams, prams with walls and prams with spectators. Everyone was good spirited as usual, and by the ninth pub, all the participants were as pissed as arseholes. A lot of money was raised for charity and everyone went home smiling and in need of a bath.

 

 

Floody hell.

 

Friday, 13th October 2000. What an appropriate date, and I couldn’t resist a tabloid newspaper pun for a headline, as for once my home town has something genuinely newsworthy to report – a flood.

It’d been raining here, on and off, for the best part of a week. Nothing to write home about, just relentless drizzle. Overnight on Thursday we had a particularly heavy downpour, and by Friday morning Tonbridge was flooded. The first I knew of this was when I walked down the high street to the station, as I always do on a Friday. I get the train to work instead of driving, as there’s always the chance of liquid refreshment after work. Liquids were in abundance on Friday, but not of the drinking variety. The high street itself was okay, but all of the roads leading off of it were swamped. Walking over the big bridge (as opposed to the other bridge, imaginatively named the “Little Bridge”), in the centre of town, the river Medway was so high that there was only about a foot gap between the water and the underside of the bridge. The river had actually breached its banks a little way downstream and the footpath in front of the castle was under water. There were fire engines in the high street and all of the shops had sandbags in front of them. And all of this had happened overnight.

I got to the station and was told that there were no direct trains to London. The Rail Company was actually advising people not to travel, as
were the local police, who were also in attendance. This was reassuring as far as the Rail Company was concerned, as for once they had a priority other than selling tickets. Since privatisation they’ve taken to referring to us plebs who use them as “customers”, whereas we used to be “passengers”. This, I assume, is due to the fact that in order to run a decent train service you just need passengers. To just sell tickets and blow the rest of the less important stuff like running a service, you just need to sell tickets. I phoned my boss, a particularly disbelieving soul, who demanded that I get into work somehow. I told him this was impossible, and handed the phone to a policeman, so that my boss had the facts from someone in authority. That seemed to do the trick.

After milling around for a while, they actually closed the station and advised us all to go home as the town was being evacuated. Suddenly it was getting exciting. Judd school, which is on higher ground, had been designated an evacuation centre, and the army were in attendance. Anyone living away from the town centre was advised to go home immediately, and those living near to the town centre, and therefore the river, was told to go to the school. Apparently the surrounding villages were threatened by so much water that the decision had been taken to open a certain floodgate which would submerge the high street in order to relieve the pressure on those surrounding areas. Now it really was getting good, and although there was a general air of slight panic, everyone was a little excited at the whole prospect of a natural disaster hitting this humble little town.

I started walking home just as the high street was being closed. I went into my sister’s shop in the high street where they were clearing the ground floor of stock. They had been given 30 minutes to clear up and get out by the police. My sister was in a hurry to get home as her house is near the river and therefore one of those that would be evacuated. As I got back to the big bridge, local TV companies as well as the BBC and ITN had taken up positions near the river. As had the local radio station who thought it a real wheeze to play songs like “Blame it on the weatherman”, “It’s raining men”, “Singing in the rain” and so on. There were hundreds of people on the bridge, just watching the water flow literally just under their feet. Every other person milling about was carrying a camera and recording the event for posterity. There was an air of voyeurism as everyone refused to budge, wanting to see what would happen. A party atmosphere was in evidence, proving what sad cut-off lives we all lead. The voyeurs in all of us were disappointed though, as an hour later the high street was re-opened. Apparently a particular floodgate had been opened and the river was managing to contain the extra water. The immediate danger was over, but now everyone was waiting for high tide in the afternoon, when there was a very real chance that the river would burst its banks.

I made a quick trip home to get my camera, before returning to the town. It was a community thing now. One of those situations where strangers are brought together by a shared impending fate. As well as wanting souvenir photos, I wanted evidence for the benefit of my doubting boss. From the top of the castle mound, the highest point in the town, the sports fields resembled an ocean. It was only the protruding tops of football and rugby goal posts that gave any clue as to what was supposed to be there. The most endearing images of the afternoon were a family of ducks swimming across what could just be made out as a tennis court, and a couple of rowing boats making their way across what should have been a children’s playground. You could just make out the top of a slide and some swings, and right in the middle was this rowing boat, a surreal sight indeed.

Although we’re still on major flood alert, the water levels have dropped now, so there’s no immediate danger, mores the pity. With a stroke of irony, yesterday the local Water Authority announced that we now have a water shortage. Although we’re surrounded by the wet stuff, apparently the treatment plant was flooded and therefore the treated drinking water has become contaminated. So maybe us voyeurs and doom mongers may yet see the population hit by some water-borne disease.

And here are the pictures that prove it really happened, boss…

 

 

My 15 minutes.

 

Sunday, 24th December 2000. Christmas Eve. It’s that time of year again for all things in excess, and I have been indulging in many things to a degree of excess. Last night I was out locally with friends returned from various locations to their home roosts for the festivities. On Friday I was out with ex work colleagues. I say “ex” as I no longer work for the company that I have been with for the last four years. More on that in a moment. On both occasions, I drunk far more than can possibly be of any benefit to my health, and so tonight I’m taking it easy and feeling a little fuzzy around the edges.

Talking of excessive things, I have been away from here for an excessive amount of time. This is in part due to my parting company with my employer and concentrating on other things. And so it was that on 30th October I resigned from my job. I was not happy in my work and was lacking direction generally. The split was completely amicable, and I am still being paid till the end of January. So the last couple of months have given me space and time to reflect and be productive. I have a couple of job offers awaiting me in the new year, and have finally achieved a degree of success with my writing. That, and updating this site to better reflect my writing interests have also been taking up a lot of my (thankfully plentiful) time. And so to my 15 minutes of fame:

I have had a story accepted for publication in an online “zine”, called “Deviant Minds”*, and interest shown in it from a printed magazine called “Roadworks”. This is not one of the stories that has sat dormant on this site for months, but a new one that I wrote, encouraged by what I saw at an online writing group that I joined. I’m really not proud of the stories I used to do now, and was never really sure about them anyway. Friends and family used to say that they were good, but I always feared they were just being polite. Although I’ve posted them to online self-publishing sites and received generally good reviews, I never really felt that I was fulfilling any potential talent that I might have and that I’d not found my niche. But I am proud of “Comfort Blanket”*, the story in question. The writing group that I joined, “The Underside” have been a great help, very encouraging and supportive. I’ve never been a prolific author, having penned only seven stories before this one. Of those, two were consigned to the bin, leaving me with five that I was comfortable with. Looking at the kind of stories at The Underside though, I realised that my stuff was somehow trying to be too “realistic”. Only through The Underside did I really grasp the concept of true fiction. This despite reading untold short fiction collections. It was as though something suddenly clicked into place. “Comfort Blanket” was born, and hopefully the rest will be history, as the saying goes. Not wanting to blow my own trumpet, but it could be argued that my very first serious piece of fiction was the one that was accepted. “Comfort Blanket” was, after all, the first story I wrote with a market in mind.

So, I appear to have found my niche in dark fiction. Right now I’m toying with so many ideas. Something really has clicked into place now, as I’m moving away from stories about real life and thinking of things like an ATM that prints spooky messages on the receipts, a VCR that records scenes from another plane of existence when set to timer mode, and so on. Surreal stuff, and the stuff, I’ve realised that is my niche in true dark fiction. I suppose it helps to have a warped mind in this game. Before The Underside, I used to wrack my brain for weeks, trying to think of an idea for a story that involved “real” people and situations. What The Underside has taught me is that true fiction stretches the imagination and I’ve found that I’m able to do exactly that with ideas like those above. Only last night, I slept with a note pad next to the bed. By this morning I’d jotted down a dozen or so ideas. Thanks to The Underside I’m now in a position to write a whole load more and even become quite prolific.

I guess I’m just excited. Not only because I’ve had a story accepted, but because I’ve “cracked it” in my own mind. I now know what story-telling is all about. It’s like I’ve had a divine inspiration! It looks like ideas can now come to me just by applying my mind. It’s weird, but something’s really happening here! Spooky!

So, that was the first in the true dark fiction vein. I then wrote another entitled “Fur”*, which has received mixed reviews and is now residing in the “editing” pile. And then came a third product from this twisted mind. “Bus Stop”* was just an attempt to write a story with the same title as this site. I submitted it to the critics, and one of my peers at The Underside has recommended that I seek publication for it. I’ll not be able to retire on the proceeds of these acceptances, but I’ll be starting to build a writing CV. These are small, web-based or subscription-only publications, but held in high esteem in dark fiction circles. And with these credits in place I’ll eventually be able to move onto bigger markets.

I should go now as I have stories to write. Rather than prop up a bar tonight and kill further brain cells, I shall conserve my grey matter and hunch myself over this keyboard. I shall substitute coffee for cider and exercise my brain rather than kill it. The spirit of Christmas will be a product of my mind rather than that consumed from a bottle. So all that remains is for me to wish one and all a very merry Christmas and a prosperous new year, should I not return here before then.

 

* Links to “Deviant Minds”, “Comfort Blanket”, “Fur” and “Bus Stop” can be found in the Writing section of this site.

 

 

Way Back When it Was 2001

Lifted straight from The Internet Archive, some pictures are missing, links defunct and text out of context. This though was 2001:

Coffee-shop

Where I make occasional comments on life, what I’ve been up to lately and other such meaningless meandering. Us writers (lovey, darling) are supposed to set a definite period aside each week in which we write. Whenever I can’t think of anything more productive to write, I write these little snippets, just to keep myself in practice. Hopefully a reader or two will find them entertaining, and it keeps my far-flung friends informed as well as allowing me to make commentaries on life and other such trivial things.

The Anti-Midas touch.

Current mood:

In the glass to my left: Ribena. (Me being healthy for once? No, it’s just that I haven’t been to the off-license yet). In the CD player: “Smells Like Children” by Marilyn Manson. Not his best album but I’m giving it a chance to grow on me.

Sunday 30 December 2001. How does the saying go that you don’t really appreciate something until you’re denied it? This was brought home to me earlier when, having decided to “spring clean” my desk yesterday, throwing away numerous pieces of paper that had been cluttering it up for weeks, I needed one of said pieces of paper for financial purposes. This is merely the latest symptom of a disease that I appear to have contracted, whereby anything that I’m likely to need in the near future, breaks or gets thrown away when I touch it. I refuse to believe that anyone can be as unlucky as I have recently, or be such an idiot as to turn everything he touches to shit, so therefore I must have a disease.

A list of things that are currently about as much use as a chocolate teapot are my computer network at the office (currently a net that doesn’t actually work), my mobile phone (at the great repair shop in the sky), my Mum’s PC (recently deceased but given the kiss-of-life) and various pieces of software on mine (doing whatever seems to take their fancy and not what they’re asked to do), the volume knob on my hi-fi (stuck on “Hi”), my coffee percolator (unable to percolate), my lava lamp (the lava has somehow solidified into a grotesque stalagmite) and the first molar on the left-hand side of my lower jaw (broken in half, rendering me unable to eat anything other than soft foods). It would appear that my disease is contagious to inanimate objects. These inanimate objects, upon contracting my condition, then develop lives and personalities of their own for a while before becoming suicidal and topping themselves, or just going completely hat-stand.

I shall not give individual accounts of how the above list of things came to be in their present state as I am fearful that the longer I’m on this PC, the greater are it’s chances of going “tits up”. So far I have managed to do without the things that my disease has broken, or make do with them in their present imperfect state. I cannot do without this computer though, which presents me with a paradox: The more I rely upon it, the more I need to use it on a regular basis, thereby increasing its chances of contracting my disease. I really cannot imagine how much I’ll miss this PC if its current mental instability develops into suicidal tendencies.

Among all of life’s uncertainties, thank fuck for its constants. The stable things that you can rely upon. The dependable, reliable, reassuring things that are life’s positives and that far outweigh its negatives. I speak of “love” dear friends and will now go off on my normal delirious ramble about the love of my life. For anyone who hasn’t been paying attention at the back of the class for the past four an a half months, her name is Helen and she is the one thing in my life that I can truly say, unreservedly, that I definitely wouldn’t be able to live without, she is such a big part of my life now, and therefore of me.

I’m not normally a great lover of Christmas. Call me a Scrooge but the whole swapping of unwanted gifts, family fall-outs brought about by the pressure upon everyone to make it “perfect” is just something I could live without. This year I had two Christmas days.

The first was the traditional family affair with my mad Auntie (like so many families, mine has one) and her equally mad dog in attendance. Gifts were exchanged, too much food eaten and too much alcohol drunk, drunk being the operative word come the end of the day. Much hilarity at one point when the dog spent ten minutes running around like a running-around-scared-witless-dog-that’s-just-encountered-Harley-at-the-top-of-the-stairs kind of way. My cat is hard as nails but fairly friendly, unless you’re a dog. Harley has somehow turned the whole “cats and dogs” thing on its head to the extent that dogs (small to medium-sized ones at least) are actually scared of him because rather than run away from them, he’ll face them off. Anyway, I digress.

With the traditional stuff out of the way, I had my second Christmas day with Helen to look forward to. We spent Thursday together and exchanged gifts, among other things (that’s as well as doing other things, as opposed to exchanging other things). Helen’s presents were the best of all those I’d received simply because they were from her and therefore priceless. The best gift though was being with her and knowing that we were together, that day and for as long as she’ll put up with me. Her card bore a simple message: “Dearest Steve. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. First of many spent together! All my love. Helen x.” It’s an honour for me to be considered deserving of all her love and to be her “dearest”. It’s also great to know that my hope of a very long-term relationship is reciprocated. This was the best Christmas ever and, being the first of many spent together, Christmases can only get better.

New Years Eve tomorrow promises to be equally great as this year I have a real loved one to be with and see in the new year. There’s no-one I’d rather be with on such a special day of the year: a day which welcomes the new. Helen and I are relatively “new”, four and a half months being a relatively short time compared to the time that we plan to be together. I have but one resolution for the new year and that is to do the best by my love that I can in my own little way. As I said earlier, she is the one thing that I don’t need to be without to know how much I appreciate her. I know that I can’t be without her, unlike all the disease-ridden inanimate objects in my life that I can get by without.

I should go now as I need to do a couple of things before the dreaded return to work on Wednesday. The files I need to work on were on my office computer network but I had the forethought to download them onto floppy disks before the Christmas break.

I have just tried loading from said floppy disks and the files appear to be corrupt, although repairable. This could take a while and could be quite stressy. What I could do with right now is some nice quiet, relaxing music in the background, a nice cup of coffee and some comfort snack food, like the pork scratchings I have in the kitchen.

Oh well, Happy New Year everyone.

 

Friends re-acquainted.

Current mood:

In the glass to my left: Ice-cold cider. In the CD-player: “Mechanical Animals” by Marilyn Manson. The man is truly a demi-god in my opinion now.

Sunday 09 December 2001. The reason I’m sad is that I’ve just spent an amazing weekend with my honey (Helen, for those who don’t pay attention) and I’ve just seen her off at the station. As soon as her train pulled away, I felt alone, as though a big part of me had just been taken away. And it had. Bloody train! Why couldn’t you be cancelled like so many of your mates always seem to be, especially when I’m on them?

In nine days’ time, Helen and I will have been together for four months and it’s been a real roller coaster ride in the sense that it’s been fun. Just recently we seem to have gone the next step and fallen deeper into what was already a wonderful and loving relationship. As I’ve said here before, with Helen I let down a lot of barriers put up to ward off the opposite sex following past failed relationships. Those barriers came down almost immediately after meeting her and now I’m almost erecting ramps that are taking me to heights of happiness I’ve never experienced before. I truly am in love with my sweetheart, more than I’ve ever been in love with anyone before and never intend to love anyone else. This does feel like the special one to me. When we’re apart I can hardly bear it, and when we’re together I can’t get enough of her.

So, I’m sad because the biggest part of my life is now elsewhere, but always in my thoughts and my heart. At least I’m confident and happy that we’re together in the bigger scheme of things, hence the mixed “Current mood” emoticons.

I make no apologies for the state of the buckets that some of you may have vomited into while I’ve been pouring forth my feelings of infatuation with a girl who is, quite frankly, my obsession. The truth is I’m in love again. More so than ever before. I want the world to know and this is my mouthpiece to the world. Helen, I love you. Truly, madly, deeply.

Well, it’s been yet another month since I was last here updating my diary, as it were. My diary has actually been quite full of late and has included a trip to London the day before yesterday and a primary school reunion three weeks ago today. More on the latter in a moment but I feel compelled to comment on the former as my trip to London was almost like being re-acquainted with an old friend.

I’ve only been to London a couple of times since having given up working there after 14 years six months ago. I’ve not been there also since returning from Chicago, now almost two months ago. And so it was on Friday that I embarked on a Christmas shopping trip that, quite frankly I was dreading, as I dislike shopping generally. It was to be a fun experience though and a reminder of what a great capital city we have here in England.

My train into Charing Cross afforded me a fashionably late appearance at this reunion with my old friend as it was, well, late. Some things never change it seems. In the space of an afternoon I managed to cover Covent Garden, Leicester square, various parts of Soho, Carnaby Street and Oxford Street. Covent Garden remains as cool as ever, Leicester square was playing it’s annual host to the Christmas fairground, Soho was as seedy as ever, Carnaby Street is a sad relic of it’s former self though. Where once there stood many and diversified independent shops selling all kinds of cool stuff for punks, as I once was, now there are trendy designer stores, which I eschewed in favour of one of the few remaining traditional and original shops where I was able to barter the price of a Ben Sherman jacket down to thirty quid. Try doing that in a poncy designer shop. Oxford Street too is not the Mecca that it once was but I got some rather nice ready meals for the week’s dinners. At five O’clock I was growing weary and having spent far too much money decided to head home. Those last two sentences are further proof, if any were needed, that I’m getting older.

I’ve harked on elsewhere about London’s various virtues, so will not do so again here. What I will say though is that my old friend is still as chaotic, friendly, sprawling, welcoming, seedy and dirty in equal measure as ever she was. No other city is deserving of so many and varied superlatives. London truly is the greatest city in the world and remains my spiritual home.

A further re-acquaintance with old friends was my recent primary school reunion, arranged through Friends Reuinited. Reunions of secondary school friends are commonplace since the appearance of this great web resource. Primary school ones are somewhat rarer. Furthermore, the former tend to be reunions of school years, as opposed to entire schools. Our reunion then was quite an event, even attracting the attention of the local press.

It was around four months ago now that an old friend contacted me through the Friends Reunited web site asking whether I recalled her. I did, and she and I decided to undertake the task of contacting friends, some 20 years since dispersed, to gauge interest in a potential reunion of our old school. We anticipated apathy among our former peers and perhaps an optimistic turnout of perhaps 10 people. From a school that played host to only 80 pupils spread over four year groups and given that many of us had lost contact 20 years ago, we thought this a realistic number. Almost three months of quite hard work culminated on Sunday 18th November with a lunchtime meeting in a pub in Ightham, the village where we all went to school.

Myself and my sister (who also attended the school) were among the first to arrive. Three people were already there, so we were almost half way to our predicted number of attendees. As the lunchtime session progressed though, 15 further people who resembled adult versions of children we remembered from school, came into the pub. The amazing thing was that we all recognised each other straight away, despite 20 years apart. Some arrivals were totally unexpected and it turned out that this was where the local press thing came in, those not having been in our email “circle” having read about the thing and having travelled from as far afield as Essex, Hertfordshire and even one each from Germany and Australia.

Conversation was along the predictable lines at first, with everyone feeling obliged to give a brief account of what they’d been up to since having left school. It was almost officious at first. Pretty soon though personalities emerged, as they had no doubt in individuals over the last 20 years since we were all kids and have now become adults. Where once personal differences may have existed within 10 year-olds, these were long forgotten between the 30 year-olds that we all are now. We’d grown up. Conversations developed, friends were made among old enemies and old friends became new friends. Some were reunited, others re-acquainted.

The new group of friends that emerged from the pub that Sunday lunchtime decided collectively to make our meetings a regular occurrence, the first pencilled in for early in the new year. Given that the majority of them now live and work in London, it was decided that somewhere in the capital might be a good venue. All old friends together.

 

Quest for the unholy grail.

Current mood:

In the glass to my left: Ice-cold cider. In the CD-player: Nothing. For some reason I’m listening to the singles chart on Radio One. Don’t ask, it’s just on.

Sunday 04 November 2001. I have actually achieved two grails this week. One is a holy and expected one, the other an unholy and unexpected one, but the culmination of an almost life-long search.

The former is not such a recent thing as I’ve known for a while that Helen is the girl for me. In her I’ve found my holy grail though: A girl whom I feel truly safe and happy with. She really is so wonderful and I really am head-over-heels in love with her. As I’ve said here previously, I’ve never felt like this about anyone and nor did I ever think I would. She really is special to me and a very, very big part of my life now. The latter grail is a film which actually scared me.

For years now I’ve searched everywhere for a film that would genuinely frighten me. I’m a pretty hardened film buff and no amount of sudden jumps or gore were ever going to scare me. I’ve seen most of the video nasties banned under the Video Recordings Act of 1984, including the infamous “Cannibal Holocaust” by Italian Director Ruggero Deodato (now re-released in an edited form, by the way). Without exception, they’re nothing but gore fests and it takes more than blood and guts to genuinely scare me. I’ll admit that I jumped a lot when watching “The Sixth Sense” and did find it creepy in places but it elicited no more than the occasional tingle down the back of my neck. I was slightly disturbed by the ending of “The Blair Witch Project” when I first saw it but quickly got over this momentary lapse of hardness. “Jacob’s Ladder” served to get to me psychologically but it and all of the others failed in any way to really scare me.

I had it on good authority from a number of reliable sources (the Internet among them) that there were two films out there which were generally considered to be the scariest around, in much the same way that the aforementioned “Cannibal Holocaust” was generally held to be the goriest.

The films in question are “The Woman in Black” and “The Changeling”. I was aware of the latter but had never heard of the former. A little research revealed it to be a TV movie made in 1989. “Surely that couldn’t be my holy grail?”, I thought. Any doubts I may have had were dispelled last night when I finally got to watch it. More on that in a moment.

The reason the whole thing had been a quest was the difficulty I had getting hold of the two titles after the initial quest of finding out about them in the first place. Neither film is available in this country. This was quite surprising in the case of “The Woman in Black” as it is an English TV movie. I finally tracked them down in America, via Amazon.com and had them shipped at quite considerable expense (including import duty: Damn you, UK customs!), only to discover that my VCR did not support the American NTSC recording format. A stroke of luck at my local video store provided the means to finally scare myself when the owner had a second-hand dual-format VCR for sale. A snip at 50 quid, and stereo too. It didn’t have a box and I was questioned on the way home as to why I was carrying a VCR under my arm. Eventually I got it home though and set it up. My quest was finally to be over later on last night.

Following an evening with my first and main obsession (Helen), I arrived home, bunged “The Woman in Black” in my new dual-format VCR and fed my other obsession (films, or the one that would actually scare me, to be more precise). After years of searching and watching countless films that failed to deliver, I had achieved my goal: It scared me. It’s difficult to describe how one can be genuinely frightened by what is, after all, just a film but this hardened film buff was terrified at times.

“The Woman in Black” is an old-fashioned English Victorian ghost story. Slow at first, it leads the viewer skilfully by the hand, deep into a genuinely creepy tale. It is disturbing in its very essence but most importantly, there are a couple of moments where even I was gripped by a most satisfying feeling of dread. The best way to describe what I felt is the tingle you get on the back of your neck when scared, throughout my whole body. I am not exaggerating. “The Woman in Black” really is the film that finally scared me. No special effects, no gore, just a thoroughly creepy tale with a disturbing ending and some real shudder-inducing moments. Even thinking back now, my neck is tingling.

Tonight I have the other scary one, “The Changeling” to watch, but right now I have to phone my other little woman in black, my main obsession and my other holy grail.

 

Procrastinate now.

Current mood:

In the cup to my left: Strong coffee. In the CD player at the moment: “Mechanical Animals” by Marilyn Manson (more on that it a moment).

Sunday 28 October 2001. Yet again I’m guilty of neglecting this place. I really have had so many better places to be, people to see and things to do (with Helen, Helen and with Helen respectively). I have decided to procrastinate no longer, pull my finger out and update this site as well as so many other things that I’ve been putting off.

It’s fair to say that I really haven’t much to report on since the last time I was here, apart from the one subject that has now become rather large – a part of my life in fact – my obsession, Helen. Yesterday saw us having been together for ten weeks. It seems so much longer, in a nice way. We’re so close.

I vowed after coming out of my last long-term relationship that I’d never get deeply involved with a girl again. I claim exceptional circumstances as my excuse for breaking that vow. Exceptional circumstances being an exceptional person who has come into my life, become a big part of it and hopefully is here to stay. Almost from the start I felt comfortable and relaxed enough with Helen to let my guard against the female of the species down. Pretty quickly all of the barriers have fallen and now a very special person has my heart and I’m glad. I’m proud to be hers and to be able to look upon her as mine. As I’ve said here before, at the outset of our relationship in fact, she’s beautiful, sexy, funny and just an all round sweetheart. I’m pleased to report that I’m truly in love and I just wanted anyone who’s prepared to listen to know.

Helen has had a profound effect on me in many ways. Something that no other girl has achieved in the past. She’s even expanded my already eclectic tastes in music, which brings me nicely back to Marilyn Manson. Citing my God, David Bowie, as one of his musical influences (very apparent in his music), he has gained a great deal of respect from me, thanks to the introduction by my girl. I can now also list among my musical preferences Staind, Linkin Park and Crazy Town. My younger colleagues at work find it highly amusing that such a relatively old person such as myself should like music which they consider appealing only to a younger audience. As I’ve said to them though, music spans generations.

That said however, I would refine the statement to read “Good music spans generations”. By “good” music, I mean groups who play instruments and are fronted by a vocalist. Eminem got it right when he said “Boy / girl groups make me sick”. That is not music. Boy / girl bands are manufactured and false, just groups of “pretty” people miming other people’s songs and performing ridiculous dance routines while trying to make the whole thing appear difficult. Unfortunately the majority of the blinkered, go-with-the-flow, British record-buying public are drawn in by the whole con and are making these people successful at the expense of the great masses of undiscovered talent out there. That’s my soap-box bit over for this week.

Returning to Helen for a moment (as if I ever got off of the subject), our closeness is manifesting itself in some spooky coincidences. In particular, we appear to have developed a sixth sense in so far as we both seem to know when the other is going to call or text. The spookiest thing of all though is that which ties my favourite person somehow up with one of my favourite films: In “Wargames”, Matthew Broderick, having reserved seats on PanAm, having hacked into their computer, turns to Ally Sheady and says, “Okay Miss Mack. You’re confirmed on PanAm’s flight (whatever), departing Chicago’s O’Hare airport at (sometime) on 18 August”. O’Hare obviously has played a role in our relationship and 18th August is the date we met. Spooky! Some sign of fate? I certainly like to think so as, assuming she’ll put up with me, I intend to be with my very special girl for a very long time.

I’m showing all the classic signs of being in love. I’m feeling emotions that I never thought I’d be able to feel again. I miss my love whenever we’re apart, can’t get enough of her when we’re together and just think about her all the time. She is truly always on my mind.

As I said at the top, as well as writing this I have a shit load of other stuff to do. All that can wait till another time though as I have a very important young lady whom I miss and must therefore phone.

 

There’s no place like it.

Current mood:

In the glass to my left: Ice-cold Scrumpy Jack cider. In the CD player at the moment: “Urban Hymns” by The Verve.

Sunday 23 September 2001. Well, it’s been a while again. I do have an excuse to beat most excuses though: I got stuck in America when all the shit was kicking off. Where do I start? At the beginning I suppose…

As I mentioned here before, I was very much looking forward to my all-expenses-paid trip to America which started just over two weeks ago now. We flew to Chicago as planned on Friday 7th September and were due to return the Tuesday before last. As it turned out, I got back exactly a week ago, five days late and I’ve never been so glad to be anywhere as I am to be sitting here writing this.

There really is so much to tell that to do so would mean me sitting here all night. I’ve had too many sleepless nights recently though, so will try to condense all of the events of the last couple of weeks into an abridged form.

Having never flown long-haul, nor visited America before, the trip to Chicago was to be a bit of an adventure for me. That was what I was saying to people before I left. Little did I know what a true statement it would turn out to be.

All went well and to plan for the first four days, the days that we were meant to be out there. We flew business class by Air India and the whole experience was a good one. Leaving England, flying over the southern tip of Ireland, then the Atlantic, Canada, and finally the north east of the USA before finally circling over Lake Michigan and landing at O’hare airport were all events that added up to the beginning of an exciting experience. I was like a child with a new plaything. Myself and Mark (a colleague and now a very good friend) were even allowed to view the cockpit of the plane.

Emerging from O’hare, I became aware of the pleasant heat that abounded at 3pm local time. The temperature was in the low 80s F for our whole stay. Unlike a similar temperature in England, the heat was pleasant. The cab that took us from the airport to our hotel was, like our hotel and all bars and restaurants that we visited, air conditioned – Something that England could learn from the Americans.

I phoned Helen (my better half, for those that can’t remember) as soon as we arrived and pronounced the coolness of America and Chicago and probably sounded like the proverbial excited child that I mentioned above. I’d missed her after eight hours of “radio silence” and was destined to miss her a whole lot more as the whole episode unfolded.

Travelling along the expressway toward the imposing skyline of Chicago, I became more excited still. Despite a six-hour time difference in Chicago’s favour, I was not in the slightest bit tired and was ready to sample what the city had to offer in the way of nightlife.

Having checked into a very nice hotel downtown, showered and changed, the three of us on the trip emerged at 8pm on the streets of Chicago. Our friends back home would have been drinking in the usual local bars and, having weighed everything up, we decided that we were in the better place. During our stay, we spent three days at the exhibition that was the whole point of the trip. In the evenings though we had a ball. The Americans certainly know how to do food: We ate out every night and every night the food was nice, big and cheap. We ate the usual American fare, like burgers and pizza, sampling also authentic Mexican and Italian food.

Another thing that America could teach England is the whole ethos of service. In every establishment that we patronised the service was friendly, efficient and cheerful. The waiting staff actually enjoyed their work. One thing that the Americans haven’t quite got the hang of though is the whole drinking culture. For starters the variety of draught beers on offer is limited at best. Secondly, they don’t know how to pour a beer, so we survived on pints of half weak beer / half froth. We did find a few liquor stores where the beer was reasonably priced (helpful when staying in a hotel where, as in England, the mini bar prices are extortionate). And thirdly, there is no “mingling” to be done in American bars. You either sit at the bar and get served by bar staff (good), or find a table and be waited upon (good, but not so good as everyone becomes someone “incubated” at their table).

Monday night was to be our last so we had a little more to drink and eat than on the previous three nights and retired to bed happy that we’d achieved our business aims, seen a little of Chicago and were flying home the following day. Then it happened.

I was woken at 9am on the Tuesday by Mark, who told me what had happened at the World Trade Centre. For a moment the whole thing seemed unreal. I switched on the TV and saw for myself. On a personal note, I would just like to say that my sympathies lie with America and the grieving relatives of all the victims of the atrocity that I then witnessed. Gradually everything sunk in: The images playing in front of me as the two towers collapsed and the realisation that we may not get home. At that particular time, all air traffic in America was grounded.

In the minutes that followed that horrible event, a news report on CNN said that a further hijacked plane was still airborne and headed for the Sears Tower, a few blocks up from us in Chicago. I was scared. The three of us gathered in one room and prepared ourselves for what might happen next. Given that Chicago has so many potential terrorist targets, we were advised to stay put. This we did and for a few hours, we genuinely thought our time may be up. We contacted our loved ones and told them not to panic, not letting on that we were doing exactly that.

What followed was five days of uncertainty. On an hour-to-hour basis we thought we’d get home in days, then were told we could be stuck for months.

I owe a deep gratitude to Helen who kept me going throughout the whole ordeal. She was in constant contact with me and telling me to make the most of the situation. I tried to do exactly that but with most places closed was unable to do anything much at all. She was a real tonic though and my main reason for being so determined to get home.

After two days of frantically phoning various airlines to get a flight home, we finally got seats with American Airlines last Saturday. There was no way we were going to wait for Air India to take us home, cockpit visit firmly in our minds. Following a 48 hour period of sleeplessness, we boarded a plane at 9am Chicago time and spent eight hours shitting a brick in the air.

My final memory of the whole adventure was applauding with the rest of the cabin when we touched down at Heathrow and shaking the pilot’s hand, in thanks for getting us home. Stepping onto English soil and emerging from the airport into drizzling rain was wonderful, as was arriving home. The best thing was seeing my beloved, who’d been there for me throughout, the following night.

On Friday just gone, I was back in the local bars with local people, something I’d eschewed two weeks before. I asked myself where I’d rather be and the answer was definitely “home”.

I really can’t convey here the enormity of the events, nor the emotions we went through. There were nights when I literally “lost it”. I’ve got two people whom I bonded with now though and who will share the memory. Before they were colleagues and friends to an extent. Now, Mark especially is a real good friend. We’ll both remember the whole thing and being there for one another.

To appreciate the whole situation, you really had to be there. I’m glad I’m not anymore.

There’s no place like home.

 

Reasons to be cheerful

Current mood:

In the glass to my left: Ice-cold Scrumpy Jack cider. In the CD player at the moment: “Parachutes” by Coldplay.

Sunday 26 August 2001. It’s been a while since I wrote anything here as, to be honest, I’ve been up to my neck in it, concerning work and otherwise engaged socially.

I’m on a bit of a roll at the moment, and for once have many reasons to be happy. Firstly it’s bank holiday weekend, so I can get completely trousered tonight and not have to worry about work in the morning. I don’t worry about work itself but like to be in a reasonably fit state when I arrive. Seeing as I don’t have to arrive for work tomorrow, I figure I don’t need to be in a fit state in the morning.

Typical of a bank holiday weekend, today’s weather has been quite frankly pants here. Yesterday was glorious and – I just read – was a record-breaker at 90F. I spent yesterday in a country park, but more of that later. This morning was witness to one humdinger of a thunderstorm and the rain has pretty much hung around all day. I’m holding out hope that tomorrow proves better.

Tomorrow night I don’t have to worry too much about the state I awake in on Tuesday as I have that day off of work. I’m travelling to Petty France in London, to the passport office, to collect my new passport. The reason for this is the second of my reasons to be cheerful: On Friday week, two colleagues and myself are travelling to Chicago for the best part of a week. It’s a business trip first and foremost, with a visit to a world print exhibition planned. We are also going to discuss various “way forward” type things for our very up-and-coming young company. There’ll be free time though, and that’s time that we all plan to make the most of.

For my part, having never visited America, nor flown long-haul for that matter, the whole thing is rather exciting. The best direct-flight deal that we managed to get Business and First class tickets for was with Air India. The package offers unlimited drinks on the plane as well as the in-flight meal being prepared onboard. A curry house at 30’000 feet! Although we don’t intend to do so, we could recreate the whole post-pub Indian restaurant scenario by abusing the staff without fear of being evicted from the establishment. The prospect of arrest upon landing prevents us from doing so though.

I have also made a personal promise to myself and that is that I intend to give up smoking. Watch this space on that one. I figure that I’ll not be able to smoke during the flight, which is 8 hours, nor at American immigration, which could be a further few hours. To get through this, I’ll be applying Nicotine patches to strategic parts of my anatomy and chewing Nicotine gum. Like most smokers I often have a cigarette not out of necessity but out of habit. Given that my mind will be pretty well occupied throughout the trip, I also surmise that this needn’t be a problem. So, I foresee a scenario where the Nicotine substitutes see me through and I can then gradually wean myself off of them. As I said, watch this space on that one.

The only aspect of the trip that I’m not looking forward to is being away from my new other half, and my third reason to be cheerful. My main reason to be cheerful in fact.

I met Helen only a week ago, have seen her just three times but to say that we have “clicked” would be to understate the enormity of my emotions toward her at the moment.

I’ve spent the last couple of years tarring the entire female population with the same brush that I’ve held ever since coming out of a long-term relationship with my most recent ex. In Helen though, I’ve found someone whom I can let my guard down with and am truly happy, even though it’s been such a short time.

From the moment we met, last Saturday, we just got on so well. The time felt right by the end of that evening to trust the female of the species again. So right in fact that I asked her out, and thankfully she said “yes”. I’ve seen her twice since and we’ve got on famously and had a couple of fantastic days together. Everything about her is just so cool: She’s young, attractive, sexy, intelligent and has a wicked sense of humour like my own.

Yesterday, she and I spent the entire day in a park, just sitting on the grass and talking. In the evening, we bought some wine and then sat on some different grass, talking for the most part, yet again. We had no need to be in a pub or a cinema, or whatever. We had each other and that was enough.

I’m not normally one to go headfirst into a new relationship, especially since the messy break-up with the ex, but this just feels so right. So, I’m casting caution to the wind and going for it. She is too, by the way. I could go on but the thoughts circulating in my head at the moment would take the rest of the weekend to get down here. The bottom line is that I’m falling in love again after a long time and very, very happy to have such a cool girlfriend. The whole thing is just so “Rock ‘n roll” and totally not me normally. I like feeling like not-the-normal me. It feels good.

As you’ll no doubt understand, I have better things to do than sit here writing this. As I said, I’m happy and I want to tell the world. Given that I have the means to do so, having this web site, I figured I’d do just that.

I just did.

 

Getting out (of my head)

Current mood:

Sunday 24 June 2001: In the glass to my left: An ice-cold pint of English cider. In the CD player at the moment: “Café Del Mar volume 4”. CDs bought this week: Café Del Mar volumes 4,5,6 and 7. The “Café Del Mar” series are kind of “chilled Ibiza”, in that they are chilled club music, ideally listened to very loud on hot, balmy evenings such as this. Not currently being in Ibiza, this is the nearest I can get.

It is very warm here at the moment and I’ve had a very chilled-out day. Having eaten a lunch of barbecue chicken, potato wedges and corn on the cob, al fresco and with a group of uninvited wasps, I’ve spent the majority of the afternoon on the lawn reading the weekend papers. Now I have retired indoors and am somewhat sore and resembling a cooked lobster. Typical of the majority of us English, at the first sight of sun this morning, I rushed outside with the sole aim of getting burned. I may as well have coated myself in butter and cooking oil, I’m that well done.

As well as being sore from the sunburn, I am nursing the inexplicable cuts and bruises that inevitably spring up overnight following a good night out. The night in question was Friday, when a group of us were in town and got a little carried away.

The majority of the people I work with are in their early to mid-twenties. Myself and a minority of the others are 30-somethings. Personally, I am enjoying re-finding my youth on these nights out with the “youngsters”. We began at 6pm and myself and one of the other 30-somethings knocked off at 2am – A session to be proud of if only either of us could remember the evening.

I can honestly say that I’ve not been as drunk as I was on Friday night since those very same youthful days when I’d vow every Saturday morning never to drink that much again, only to repeat the exercise the following week.

There were about a dozen of us at the outset, but as the men proved themselves to the boys, eventually there were only us two. I remember up to about 9pm quite clearly, at which point everything becomes a little blurred and surreal.

A phone call to my fellow senior colleague yesterday morning allowed us both to refresh one another’s minds to a certain extent. A fairly lengthy conversation pieced together snippets of the previous evening.

Speaking from his sleeping bag at the bottom of the stairs where his wife had thrown it before he’d arrived home, my friend reminded me of how I’d sustained the biggest bruise, that being the one covering my left buttock. Apparently I was standing at the bar in Tonbridge’s new and only nightclub, attempting to make conversation with a young lady who was politely declining my offer to buy her and her 14 friends a drink. I was leaning on the bar with my elbow and quaffing a cocktail when I apparently missed my mouth totally. The motion of my arm flung my drink over my back and the rest of my body somehow followed the same arc, thereby depositing me in a heap on the floor by means of an involuntary half backward summersault with full twist. The alarming thing is not my (unsurprising) failure to pull the young lady in question but that I have no recollection of performing such an impressive acrobatic act.

Earlier in the evening, we’d apparently both been asked to leave the dance floor on more than one occasion as our flailing arms and legs were causing the management concern for the wellbeing of our fellow dancers. Consigned to the sidelines that are the chrome tables and chairs dotted around the perimeter of the club, we’d hooked up with a hen party and again totally failed to pull, simply because we were two sweaty, leering, drunken older men. Women can be so fussy can’t they?

The conversation went on for about half an hour and at the end of it we’d pretty much pieced the evening together. It was only at this point that I realised I was in bed fully-clothed, including shoes, and the wrong way round, with my head at the end of the bed where my feet would normally be. I vowed then never to get that drunk again.

We enjoyed ourselves on Friday, even if we were just a source of amusement for those around us. For us it was a night out, for our families a night off. Perhaps we’ll do it again next week.

Thought for the week: If one synchronised swimmer drowns, do the rest of them have to drown as well?

 

Ch-ch-ch-changes

Current mood:

Sunday, 10 June 2001: In the mug to my left: Coffee, lots of cream, lots of sugar. In the CD player: “The Boy With the X-ray Eyes”, by Babylon Zoo. CDs bought over the last couple of weeks: “Appetite for Destruction”, by Guns n’ Roses and “The Best of The Mamas and Papas”. The former is the latest in my ongoing quest to replace all of my old vinyl and the latter because I love “California Dreamin'” and couldn’t get it as a single. Film watched over the last couple of weeks: “Book of Shadows – Blair Witch 2” – In a word, crap.

The more observant of you will have noticed that I’ve not been around here for a couple of weeks. This was due in part to the week before last playing host to my birthday and therefore being a bit of a blur. Other than that I’ve been busy on the work front, continuing to implement changes and bring my company into the 21st century.

As I’ve said previously, my company had no working practices or structure as such until I came along. Everyone just muddled along, doing a little bit of everything and it worked, to an extent. Given that they wanted to embark on an expansion drive, as far as sales were concerned, they decided they needed someone to organise the whole company and take it forward. That’s where I came in. I’ve made certain changes and made people accountable in different areas, as well as starting to bring in new business. Things are looking good, with positive comments being received from staff and directors alike. This week I was given a sales target for my team to achieve over the next six months. It’ll be hard work but the promised reward is rather large. So, that’s why I’ve been busy, putting things into place in order to hit this target. As time goes on, so I’ll get busier still and am already working some evenings and weekends at home as well as in the office. The boundaries between work and personal time are becoming very blurred. I’m enjoying it though as I will be one of the main benefactors when we succeed. The expansion in sales will require additional staff and this week I am interviewing for the first of what will be a few new positions. The future’s bright.

Amusement this week when showing a customer around our not unimpressive plant: This was the Managing Director of a prospective new customer and I was demonstrating the wonders of modern technology by showing him our Management Information System. As well as providing us with the means to generate various useful management reports, the system is also linked to the factory, where various machine operators electronically “swipe” into a job. This means that we can tell who is doing what at the touch of a button, as well as being able to report the progress of a job to a customer whilst they are on the phone by pulling the job up on screen and not having to walk to the factory and hunt around for it. Seeing that the customer was clearly impressed, I thought it a good idea to take him into the factory to show him how the system worked there.

I was aware of a raised voice as we approached the factory and thought that perhaps we should hold back, for fear of walking in on some dispute. I should have gone with my instincts as, rather than finding an argument in progress, the source of the raised voice was the Production Director asking a machine operator how much longer the job he was printing would be, with the aid of a megaphone.

I have always been good at keeping business and pleasure separate. Something that has struck me recently though is how this may be difficult now that I work in my home town. By this I don’t just mean drunken Friday nights in the high street with colleagues / friends, rather that the people I see in the evenings are suppliers and customers as well. This makes for occasional interesting phone calls on a Monday morning. It also means having to be a little wary sometimes when out.

As recently as Friday night I was talking to a very attractive young lady in the pub and the conversation turned to our jobs. It turned out that she worked for a very large customer of ours. Now I have a predicament in that to take it forward could possibly lead to all kinds of complications as far as the working relationship between our companies is concerned.

Then again, with the boundaries between work and personal time becoming blurred as they are, perhaps a little mixing of business and pleasure will become inevitable.

Yup, that’s justification enough for me.

 

Order! Order!

Current mood:

Monday 28 May, 2001. In the tall glass to my left: Lime and soda over crushed ice. In the CD player: “Velveteen” by Transvision Vamp – I’m in an 80s nostalgia mood. CDs bought this week: “Carpenters Gold”, “The No.1 Motown Album”, “Metallica” by Metallica (funnily enough) and “Use you Illusion I and II” by Guns n’ Roses.

As with so many words in the English language, “Ordering” can have many different meanings, for example: “Ordering” as in to procure goods, “Ordering” as in arranging things in order and “Ordering” as in instructing someone to do something. I have been busy in all three definitions of the word this week.

I am normally a very ordered person, occasionally bordering on the obsessive, though I prefer the term “eccentric”. Perhaps some aspects of my life need getting into order, like my spending habits perhaps, but I earn to spend and live, at least that’s my justification. As far as everything around me goes though, I’m pretty adept at keeping things ordered.

Everything has its right and logical place. My 850-odd videos are arranged in an order that I understand and that seems logical to me. All films are in order of director or stars and to a degree genre-categorised. It may look eclectic on the shelves, but it makes sense to me and allows me to demonstrate a kind of “knowledge” when I say something like “Yes, “City of Angels” is next to “Wings of Desire”, the film it’s a re-make of”, rather than “Under “C”, between “B” and “D””. People have often asked why I don’t store my videos by certificate, or simply in alphabetical order. Well, that would be the easy way wouldn’t it? I like to be a little different and my method allows me a certain amount of smugness in my superior knowledge of films.

The recent CD purchases are the latest in my ongoing project of replacing my old cassettes and vinyl records. With no decent new CDs released over the last few weeks, I decided to revisit this not inconsiderable task and placed a rather large order with Amazon. These recent acquisitions made up the first of around five deliveries that I’m expecting.

I was drunk when I placed the order, so it wasn’t a painful transaction. I normally save such purchases for when I’m drunk for a number of reasons. We’re talking here about purchases of things that I want, need even, but which a sober, sensible mind would refrain from making. The bonus us that I often forget that I’ve placed these orders, so when the goods arrive in the post they’re like unexpected gifts. Unfortunately this pleasure was denied me this time by the credit card company, who phoned in the week to check that the recent purchase on my card wasn’t a fraudulent one and one that I had in fact made. Were it not for those killjoys, I would have had no recollection of the order until the CDs arrived unexpectedly in the post. It’s a dangerous habit, I know, but anything to make life more exciting, that’s my motto. I’ll learn my lesson one day when something like a speedboat or the deeds for a Scottish castle arrive at my door.

The eclectic list of CDs above is a measure of my eclectic musical tastes and with this in mind, I set about on Saturday to arrange my music collection into some semblance of order. Until now, my 200 plus CDs have been arranged in something loosely resembling a genre categorisation, much like my videos. I’m not such a music buff though as I am a film buff, so this method occasionally had its failings. I thought I knew where all my CDs were but on a couple of occasions lately, whilst replacing old tapes and records, I’ve bought duplicates, thereby proving that I don’t.

I considered many methods of categorising my music, other than the obvious alphabetical one. You see it’s that “knowledge” thing again. With all of my CDs strewn across the floor, I set about ordering them generically, before reverting to genre categorisation, then by studio, and finally back to genre. After four hours, I decided that I should get out more and arranged them alphabetically before going out.

Saturday afternoon found me in the high street for a bit of retail therapy. This local “real” shopping is a more modest affair than my “virtual” shopping as I’m sober when undertaking it and therefore aware that I’m spending money. It allowed me to show off my latest online purchase though. The younger assistants were amused and interested, while the older ones not so as I took money out of my “Bad Mother Fucker” wallet, as seen in “Pulp Fiction”. Now the proud new owner of a newspaper, some mints and a bar of chocolate, my shopping was complete and I headed for my office to get a few things in order before tomorrow.

As was the case last week, on leaving the office on Friday for the pub, the in-tray could almost be heard to groan. So yesterday, hero that I am, I went in and made sure that all was clear for the morning. It was actually quite pleasant as my office is air-conditioned, which provided relief from the mini heat wave which we’re currently experiencing.

I’m not trying to be any kind of martyr with all this weekend working. It’s a minor inconvenience for me on a Saturday but one which pays dividends at the beginning of the following week, when we can all go in to a relatively easy start to the week. As I’m in charge of the office, and therefore the processing of all estimates and orders, as well as bringing in new sales and developing customer relations, I feel a certain responsibility to the company and my staff to keep things up-to-date. With seniority comes responsibility.

My staff are getting used to me now and accepting me, which helps if we’re all to work together successfully. They’re a nice bunch, all in their 20s, and have all been working for the company for a number of years. To see me come along and start changing things around must have been a bit of a shock for them. Speaking to a couple of them last week though, they both said that although this was the case, they can now see what I’m there to do and why, which is to get the company’s working practices in order and take the company forward. They said they liked my style of management too, which is not to bark orders but to lead by example. I must be doing something right.

So this week we’ve been talking all about orders. As 7 O’clock approaches I’m off out for the night till orders of the “last” variety are called.

 

Finding my feet

Current mood:

Sunday May 20, 2001. In the glass to my left: A pint of cider. Films watched this week: “Flash Gordon”, the 1980 remake. Sci-fi camp personified with Max von Sydow and Brian Blessed making the most of it. Unfortunately Sam J. Jones in the lead role took the whole thing too seriously. Also, “Gattaca”, an intelligent Sci-fi for a change, concerning the implications that might be brought about by a genetically engineered “super race”. Quite spooky actually. In the CD player: “Heroes”, by my mate Dave: No comment necessary.

The title refers to me becoming settled in my new job, as opposed to having physically lost my feet.

I received an email this week entitled “New words for 2001” from a friend of mine, and although amusing generally, “OHNOSECOND” struck a chord with me. An “Ohnosecond” is defined as that minuscule period of time during which you realise you’ve fucked up big time, something I can relate to: Your heart jumps and you wonder whether to tell anyone, keep quiet and hope it goes away, or get your coat and leave the company.

Fortunately I’ve not had any “Ohnoseconds” at the new firm, yet. It’s going really well and I’m beginning to get used to working on my doorstep. I’ve been thrown in headfirst, with a mere one day of training. I’m familiar with the computer system they use and as the running of the company is ultimately down to me, they decided to just let me find my own feet. It’s refreshing not having to constantly ask, “how do you do this?” If I were to do so, I’d get a reply along the lines of “That’s up to you mate”. Cool!

There’s a lot of work to do as I’m basically charged with turning a purely trade print company into a customer-facing one. One of the many reasons they took me on was because of my past internal and external sales experience, which they needed input on. Being trade-based, there’s no such thing as customer service, with suppliers and customers alike being known simply as “That cunt” when referred to, or “You cunt” when spoken to directly. It’s lots of little things that need to be done to make us approachable from a customer point of view and it’s a challenge, but one that I’m enjoying.

I called a meeting last week to make a few suggestions about working practices (which are almost non-existent at the moment), having had a couple of weeks to view things. One of my suggestions was to answer the phone with our names, i.e. “Good morning, Steve speaking.” To me, it’s a small detail that makes us personally accountable and introduces a Human element into dealing with us as a company. Well, from the looks I got when I suggested this I might as well have just suggested digging up Princess Diana and Mother Theresa’s corpses and arranging them in a lesbian porn embrace outside the Vatican. I just thought that picking up the phone and saying “What?” wasn’t the most customer-friendly way of doing things. Needless to say, it took a while for my people to get into the habit, but they got there in the end and it’s already paying dividends with positive feedback.

We’re busy too. I actually went in yesterday and spent two hours banging out just over 20 quotes. That’s basically a day’s work. It’s amazing how much you can get done without the constant interruptions of the phone. We don’t have a receptionist (something I’m working on: It’s got to be a 16-year-old nubile school leaver though. I’ve said so).

So, my staff are in for a nice surprise tomorrow when they arrive at work. Whereas on Friday we were looking at returning to a mountain of quotes, their lovely boss has gone in at the weekend and done them all. Tomorrow morning I’ll have my feet up on the desk and be snoring away having told my estimators to do all the quotes that come in while I have a kip. That’s the great thing about working locally. Two hours yesterday was a mere minor inconvenience for me but at the same time it’s something I feel I have to do so I can lead by example while at the same time sucking up to the MD.

Friday nights are cool too: The town centre is a mere five minute walk from the office and Tonbridge actually has quite a buzz on a Friday evening. Lots of young fit totty too. As we wear casual clothes to work, we just go straight into town from the office. Even if I was planning an evening in, I can fit in a couple of jars and knock off at about 8 O’clock, knowing I still have an evening left as I live five minutes away. I’m getting used to this.

Yes, my feet are now firmly under the desk. I don’t remember leaving them there but I’m glad I’ve found them.

 

(The rest of my) life, the universe and everything

Current mood:

Sunday 13 May, 2001: In the glass to my left: Fresh orange juice. In the CD player: David Bowie’s “Tonight”. I don’t quite know why (and neither will anyone who’s not heard the album), but this is one best listened to in hot weather. Just as Pink Floyd’s “Division Bell” lends itself to listening to full tilt through headphones with the lights out, so Bowie’s “Tonight” lends itself to hot weather. It’s some kind of intangible “feel” of an album or song I suppose that associates it with a situation or mood. Anyway, more of “Life: The soundtrack to the motion picture” another time.

Firstly, an honourary mention in response to a special request: Paul Thorpe, a former colleague of mine and someone whom I also consider a friend: Thanks for your advice in the past. I shall never forget your rather unique sense of humour. You wondered if you’d ever get mentioned here, well “hello” to you if you’re watching. I hope you’re well mate.

So, it’s hot here at the moment. Not unbearably so, and when the summer hits us proper, if indeed it does this year, today’s weather will seem cool and pleasant with hindsight, being as it is in the high 70s Fahrenheit. What we’re experiencing at the moment is the first mini heat wave of spring. It just seems hot compared to the wet, cold and generally depressing weather we’ve become used to. Without too much exaggeration, it is true to say that it has been raining here until recently since last September. There have been occasional dry days but they can be counted on ones fingers and toes. As I write this I sit resplendent in my white polo shorts and cotton shirt, cooled by the breeze from a desk fan which I’ve placed a bowl of ice cubes in front of to create a makeshift air-conditioner. It actually works as the fan blows cool water particles across the room as the ice cubes evaporate and the vapour rises. I’m quite pleased with my invention actually and considered patenting it for a minute before realising that ice cubes and fans have already been invented, as have air-conditioners.

I’m looking forward to going back to work tomorrow as the heat is forecast to continue and I now work in an air-conditioned office. Just one week into my new job and already my feet are firmly under the desk. I’m settled, comfortable and looking forward to the months and years to come. It is often said that the concept of a job for life is an outdated one. During my thirteen years in London I have worked for no less than six companies, each move being one onwards to further my career and gain experience in various areas of my industry. The ultimate aim has always been to gain enough experience and respect to be considered worthy of a senior position where I can directly contribute to the growth of a company and grow with it. In other words, to be in a position where my job is for the rest of my life. The patter of furry paws approaches so I fear I shall have to break from here for a few minutes.

Now that I have untangled the cat from around my legs I can continue. Harley has an uncanny ability of knowing the day and the time. I swear he has a wristwatch concealed somewhere about his furry person. Twice a week he has a treat of a cod or coley steak for his tea. This is on Fridays (he’s a religious cat: Like all other cats, he is a god) and Sundays (his Sunday roast if you will). On Fridays he has his fish at 7pm, when I get in from work and on Sundays at 3.30pm. This practice harks back to the days when I was sharing a house with friends, which is when we first got Harley. Back then we would all get up at somewhere around midday on a Sunday, so Sunday lunch tended to be late in the day. If my memory serves me correctly, we started giving Harley fish to distract him from sitting on our laps or on the dining table, waiting for scraps of chicken. And so it was just now, at 3.30pm precisely, that typing became impossible due to a rather insistent cat sitting on my keyboard wanting his fish.

A fresh brew of Earl Grey now sits to my left (a most refreshing drink), and “Tonight” has faded out and been replaced by the aforementioned Pink Floyd album.

As I was saying then, I’m looking forward to work tomorrow and not just because of the air-conditioning either. Perverse though it may sound, I’m actually enjoying myself in the new job. My position as Commercial Manager is a relatively senior and responsible one, so the job is varied and interesting. I’m there to provide input and lead a path to new things, all of which I shall not bore you with. Suffice to say that the company has reached a point where changes are necessary for it to evolve into a bigger and better firm and I’ve been brought in to bring about that evolution. It is both challenging and exciting and I shall no doubt be keeping you up to date through this column.

Despite the fact that I am only 30 years old, I am one of the oldest at the company. The Managing Director is my age and most of the other staff are in their 20s. Unless we are visiting or entertaining customers, we are enlightened enough to realise that formal suits and ties are a relic of the stuffy civil service offices of old and wear casual clothes to work. This makes for a more relaxed and comfortable working environment. There were times last week when I had to almost convince myself that I was at work. Sitting in an office in my home town, a mere mile, or five minutes from home, wearing clothes that I’d normally wear at the weekend was a little surreal.

The last thirteen years in London have institutionalised me I think. It’ll take a while to get used to the idea that I don’t have to spend three hours a day travelling to and from work. That’s something that I’m looking forward to getting used to.

As I sit in my office now, the view from the window is one of green fields and golf courses, as opposed to grimy city streets. When I go out to lunch, I return feeling refreshed rather than dirty. Now I go out for some fresh air as opposed to just air. None of the offices I worked in in London were air-conditioned. Ah, it’s that air-conditioning again. I’m getting up a full hour later than I ever have and arriving home an hour earlier too. After just one week I feel better in myself: More relaxed and energetic, less stressed and tired. Sure, the responsibilities that are all part of a senior position can be a little stressful. It was never the stress of work itself though that got to me, able as I am to forget work as soon as I leave the office. It was the stress of commuting that wore me down and stuck with me into the evenings. Now, I leave work and have a choice of a five minute taxi ride, a five minute walk to the high street then a five minute bus ride, or a 20 minute walk to get home, none of which is stressful in the slightest. Even if the bus or taxi were to break down, I know I can walk the rest of the way home, not something that can be done from London. Not by the likes of me anyway.

No, sorry London. Much as I love you as a capital city for all your sights, sounds and atmosphere, for working in you can stick it. I’ll stay here, working in my humble little provincial town. And I hope I do stay here for a very long time. I hope this is my job for the rest of my life.

So, that’s the job sorted out. Now I just need to figure out the rest of my life. I know what I want. It’s getting there that I need to work out.

Despite being only 30 years old, I am beginning to experience a few aspects of growing old. Not wrinkly skin and greying hair but situations that I’d not previously given much thought to. For instance, when I was younger, knights of the realm were all old men whose names meant nothing to me. Now, familiar figures are knights: Sir Elton John, Sir Bob Geldof, Sir Paul McCartney, Sir Richard Branson et al.

Also, childhood heroes die, and yesterday saw the passing of one of my greatest heroes, Douglas Adams. At just 49, the great man was taken suddenly by a heart attack. Tonight I shall toast the life and great work of this genius with a few Pan-galactic Gargle Blasters, whilst pondering the great question that is life, the universe and everything, the answer to which of course is 42.

The problem was always in the question.

 

Electric Dreams come true

Current mood:

Sunday 29 April, 2001: In the cup to my left: Earl Grey tea. In the CD player: Moby, “Play”. Film watched this week: “Gregory’s Two Girls” – In a word, crap. This is a classic case of a sequel that should never have been made and ranks alongside “Grease 2” in that respect.

Talking of films, a long quest came to a satisfying conclusion this week when I finally managed to get hold of an original copy of “Electric Dreams”. It has been a quest of epic proportions and effectively began 17 years ago when I originally saw the film.

“Electric Dreams” was the first film that I ever rented when my family got its first VCR. This machine was a huge beast. It was top-loading and I still reckon to this day that if I’d sat on top of it and asked a friend to press the “Eject” button, it could have propelled me across the living room. With hindsight, “Eject” was a far more appropriate word than “open”, describing as it did the VCR’s alternative use as an ejector seat. Now, those buttons: they weren’t buttons so much as foot pedals, which was handy as they were far easier to press down with a foot than a finger.

Films had to be watched at a sufficiently high volume so as to drown out the whirring and clunking noises from the machine as it played tapes. This could be torture for the ears but wasn’t a problem with “Electric dreams” as it has a fantastic soundtrack including the likes of Culture Club, Jeff Lynne and Heaven 17.

I’d rented the film on a Friday evening and returned it on the Sunday having watched it 16 times. I then hired it again the next weekend and viewed it a further dozen times. Home video was a new thing back then and this was my first film, to be remembered with the same affection as my first date and losing my virginity. Having been reminded by less fortunate friends who’d come round to watch a film on our new VCR that there were films other than “Electric Dreams” for hire, I promptly forgot about it. No doubt had I seen it with my first date and lost my virginity after watching it this wouldn’t have been the case. For the record, I had to wait another year for my first proper date and it was a full five years before the sticky fumble that was to be me losing my cherry.

It wasn’t until my mid-twenties that my interest in the film was rekindled when I went through a period of nostalgia for the 1980s and my teenage years. My love of David Bowie was re-discovered too and having sold all of my vinyl LPs when I’d moved on from that teenage phase, I decided to buy all of his albums on CD. Unfortunately they had all been deleted, as had my first and favourite film. A couple of years ago, the Bowie back catalogue was re-released and I now have all 23 of his studio albums. “Electric Dreams” though was not so forthcoming.

I had a home recording of the film but it was made in the days before stereo TVs and VCRs, so wasn’t much cop when played through my home cinema set up. Numerous enquiries revealed a royalties wrangle concerning the artists featured on the soundtrack, effectively consigning “Electric Dreams” to history with no hope of a re-release. The only way to get hold of it would be to find an original copy. Bearing in mind that this film is now 17 years old, the chances of finding a copy in anything approaching good condition were slim.

I enlisted the services of a film search company recommended to me by the manager of my local video rental store. This company takes in old stock from rental stores, cleans the tapes and sells them on. On registering my interest in “Electric Dreams”, I was told that I was 216th on the waiting list. Two years later my turn came. The tape arrived, in good condition, and I nervously fumbled it into the VCR. Alas, the soundtrack was not in stereo, despite the original film being so, and was beginning to break up in places. My fears that 17 years of use would have taken their toll were confirmed. Disappointed, I returned the tape and resigned myself to the fact that my first love of the film world was gone forever.

This is not a classic film by any stretching of the imagination. The fact that it was my first though and good none the less, with a great 1980s soundtrack, means that it holds a special nostalgic place in my heart.

Shortly after signing up with the film search company, I was in Covent Garden in London and decided to pay a visit to The Cinema Store. This is a shop for anoraks. The films available are mostly foreign language and “alternative” or “independent” and are ordered alphabetically by director as opposed to title. The people who shop here know their films and probably consider “Electric Dreams” laughable, I thought.

Approaching the counter, I was nervous and was expecting one of those “I’ll get me coat” moments when I enquired of “Electric Dreams”. I was surprised then when the bearded, bespectacled film buff behind the counter said, “Classic film mate. Brilliant soundtrack, and Virginia Madsen to boot.” I’d found a fellow appreciator of this relatively small, obscure film. They didn’t have it but took my phone number and said they’d contact me if ever they got hold of a copy.

Just as I’d given up all hope of ever finding my beloved film, on Tuesday, two years after the initial enquiries, the phone call came. The Cinema Store had an ex-rental copy of “Electric Dreams” and would I like it? Straight after work, I went over to Covent Garden, not wanting to entrust such a precious thing to the postal system. Given that this was an original 17 year-old copy, I didn’t hold up too much hope of its quality, so wanted to view it first. To my amazement it was almost as good as new. A few scratches at the beginning of the tape but other than that, perfect, including an intact stereo soundtrack.

It now has pride of place on my shelves. Unfortunately, for the moment at least, that is where it will remain, in it’s case. I’m afraid to play it for fear of my VCR chewing it up and so here begins the next two-year search for a back-up copy…

Oh, in other news, one more week to go in my current job before leaving to start the new one.

 

The Silence of the Lambs

Current mood:

Sunday, 22 April 2001. In the glass to my left: Cranberry juice. In the CD player: The Beegees (yes, The Beegees). CDs bought this week: “Trigger Happy TV 2” – Not as good as the first one, “Galore” by Kirsty MacColl – God rest her soul, “This is where I came in” by The Beegees (yes, The Beegees). I’ve never been a fan of the latter, except when exceptionally drunk at a party and trying to do impressions of John Travolta in “Saturday Night Fever”. I’ve always admired their song-writing though and with this latest album they’ve dropped most of the falsetto stuff and produced what can only be described as a rock album. It’s actually very good. Films watched this week: “What Lies Beneath” – Trying too hard to be “The Sixth Sense” and rather disappointing as a result.

Moving on to the point of the title, I’m not someone who gets passionately involved in politics. I do care about my country though and feel compelled to write a few words when this great nation is shamed by its government. I use the word “government” in its broadest possible sense as I hardly feel that it is applicable in its verb form to Tony Blair and his cronies. At the moment I don’t consider him or them fit or able to govern anything, least of all a once great and proud nation such as this.

Aside from all of the sleaze, infighting, double-standards and so on, one only has to look at recent history to see what a piss-poor job they’ve done: The fuel crisis of last year, the crumbling health service and rail network, the teacher shortage. All are down to mismanagement or under-funding. And of course the latest crisis to hit us: Foot and Mouth.

Living in Kent, I have not (yet) been directly affected by Foot and Mouth. Unlike the government though, I have sympathy with the farmers who have lost their livestock and in many cases their livelihoods. And it has been one government blunder after another that has brought us to the situation in which we find ourselves today.

Afraid that Britain’s meat exports would be unwanted abroad if our animals were vaccinated against Foot and Mouth, supposedly because to be seen to be vaccinating would be to be seen to admit to a Foot and Mouth problem, the official line was one of culling. First, all infected animals were culled, then their herds. Herds of cattle and sheep numbering hundreds were systematically slaughtered. Next, all livestock within a 5KM radius of any outbreak, regardless of whether they were infected or not, were slaughtered. Public footpaths in rural areas, indeed entire rural areas, are effectively closed. The cost to the tourist industry alone will run into millions of pounds.

The slaughtered livestock are either burned on pyres, or buried in mass graves. Such is the rate of the slaughter though that there are stockpiles of dead animals waiting to be burned or buried. Some statistics from yesterday’s Daily Telegraph:

Animals slaughtered to April 19: 1’294’000

Animals awaiting slaughter: 512’000

Carcasses awaiting disposal: 264’000

It’s depressing reading, and it gets worse. There are fears that the smoke from the pyres poses a health risk, as well as the obvious one posed by the piles of rotting carcasses. But the worst news is that the cull may now be extended to wild roaming animals that carry the disease. Just outside the neighbouring town of Sevenoaks is Knowle Park, a beautiful piece of countryside with rolling hills and dense woodland. To go there is to escape from the stresses of life for the day and lose oneself in the serenity of the place. It is so big that even with a good number of visitors, it is still easy to be by oneself. Roaming the park are herds of Fallow deer, beautiful, graceful creatures, now facing the prospect of the slaughterer’s gun.

Now the whole thing begins to hit closer to home. It makes me sad and angry to think that we will be denied these lovely innocent creatures as a result of the government’s incompetence. If they do go ahead with this latest proposed cull, I think, I know, I hope, that they will lose whatever public support they still have.

There was another piece in yesterday’s Telegraph which I sincerely hope Tony Blair read. Throughout this crisis he has been distant, dismissive and contemptuous of the people that it has most directly affected. Now it is affecting us all, as a country, through the knock-on effects that it will have on so many of our industries.

Two of the net results of this whole debacle are a 40% drop in foreign visitors and a three-year ban on the export of meat. And what was it that you said you were trying to prevent by not introducing vaccinations Blair? Prime Minister? Let’s hope not for much longer as the general election looms.

Now, that piece in yesterday’s paper: I couldn’t do it justice by trying to summarise it, so I’ve reproduced it below. It is so poignant and heartfelt, from someone whose life has been changed for the worse by the crisis. There will be no closing comment from me. No further words are needed, and these words will stick with you for a while…

 

 

Carried away

Current mood:

Monday, 16 April 2001. Easter bank holiday, and the last day in what for me has been a six-day break. Only sitting here now do I realise with hindsight that over the last six days I have achieved not much more than fuck all. I’ve done lots of little things that I’ve been meaning to do for a while, but nothing really significant. I hadn’t planned to solve the third world debt problem or anything but I’d rather hoped to have got a bit more done, given the time that was available to me. I have only myself to blame as I do have a tendency to get stuck into things and sometimes overdo them, turning the most trivial of tasks into exercises of military precision. If I’m honest, I get carried away and sometimes my best intentions can waste valuable personal time.

Tonight’s supper is a case in point. On Saturday I bought a piece of chicken from the local butcher. ‘Ah, chicken’, I thought. ‘I’ll just roast that and have it with some roast potatoes and so on.’ Three trips to the shops and two days later and a rather splendid-looking honey and orange chicken quarter is about to emerge from the oven and be served up with sweet potato rosti and wilted spinach. And this is me cooking for just me. No wonder I don’t host dinner parties. Were I to entertain, a meal for two would probably take on medieval proportions with a partridge served inside a chicken, inside a goose, inside an ostrich, inside a cow, with jesters, eunuchs and musicians invited round to provide the entertainment. Well, it’s a free-range chicken. It was obviously treated well in life, so I figured it deserved to be treated well in cooking. I only have the one quarter of it, so I can only hope that the other three consumers are as considerate as me. On checking it just now it looked most agreeable. It’ll probably taste like vomit but I can live in hope for a few more minutes before finding out. Then I’ll pop back down the shops, buy a bog-standard chicken and just roast the bastard in the conventional manner.

Returning to the six-day break, the reason for it was twofold. Primarily the opportunity to stay for a couple of days with a friend in a hotel necessitated a couple of days’ holiday, then follows the four-day Easter weekend. Secondly, the fact that I am soon to leave my current job means that I have a few days’ holiday in hand. By the time of my leaving, on a pro-rata basis, I ought to have taken six days’ holiday. So far I’ve taken just the two days last week. Days that I don’t take will be paid in my final salary, in the same way that I would owe the company money had I exceeded my pro-rata allowance. It is my aim to have a “zero balance” in the holiday stakes when I leave so as not to cost the company any more money than is necessary. My whole leaving thing has been treated amicably and professionally on both sides and the holiday thing is a continuance of this. The fact that I cannot be arsed anymore has nothing to do with it.

I will truly be sorry to leave my current job and the people, as it is a nice company to work for and they’re nice people to work with. I am at the stage though where the new job looms invitingly on the horizon and I just want to get the next few weeks out of the way. That’s not to say that I’m being lazy, just that my heart’s not in it any longer.

Speaking of work, I had an amusing encounter last week when I had cause to drop into my old company. I was seated in reception awaiting attention when the chairman, a very important individual and one who commands the highest respect, passed through. On greeting me he mentioned that he’d been looking at my web site. After praising the layout and professionalism of it, he commented that he didn’t perhaps agree with all of the content. I didn’t want to push him on this but suddenly remembered that last week in this column I’d said something about my previous employer being tight-arsed. It was one of those “I’ll get me coat” moments. I have no worry of solicitor’s letters however, as aware that my big mouth could potentially get me into trouble, I follow a simple rule of naming neither individuals nor companies here when I’m slagging them off.

So, following the couple of days away, which were most agreeable it has to be said, I returned home via London on Thursday evening. The trouble with travelling from Surrey to Kent by train, as I did, is that London is in the way. What this meant was that I had to travel into central London and back out again, as opposed to being able to travel across south London. What it also meant was that I was able to join some friends who were having a bit of a jolly after work. As is usual with such events, Steve overdid it and spent most of Friday nursing a hangover. Six days then became three and it is in the last three days that I have been attending to those little tasks that I mentioned.

One thing that I needed to do, and which turned into the mother of all overdone things, was to clean out the spider. Tarantulas only need cleaning out every six months or so (It’s true. You can look it up. I’m not a lazy bastard), so I thought I’d make the most of this very occasional project. These animals need very little by way of furnishings, a simple flowerpot for shelter and a dish for drinking water being sufficient. Some owners like to decorate their Tarantula’s terrarium (a fish tank with a spider in it) for aesthetic reasons though.

My particular spider is considerably larger than it (she, I’m now almost sure) was when last cleaned out and her hairs were a bit of a problem as a result. The Mexican Red Knee Tarantula has ultricating hairs on it’s abdomen and legs. What this means is that contact with them causes irritation, so it’s a good idea to wear gloves or wash one’s hands after contact with the little beast. Anyway, I digress. A task that should have taken about ten minutes was complete two hours later and the spider looks positively resplendent in her new surroundings. She has a nice peat floor covering (the spider equivalent of a deep-pile carpet), a brand new flowerpot and a couple of plants, as well as a background rainforest scene grabbed from the Internet. I was thinking of getting her a nice little TV and armchair when I realised I was going too far. Also, my hands were itching like hell and still are, as a result of not wearing gloves or washing my hands soon enough.

The snake’s vivarium (fish tank containing snake) got the once over as well and she now has a rather fetching three-piece suite of cork bark. Very minimalist.

Speaking of snakes, that mad Australian bastard Steve Irwin is on TV in a minute. Like him, I am fascinated by these maligned creatures and admire them for their beauty and grace. Unlike him, I don’t go around picking up deadly snakes and holding conversations with them. A typical exchange will see Steve saying “Hello miyte,” to a pissed-off looking rattler, at which point it will strike at his face. “Whoa, you’re a foisty little fella ain’tcha miyte?” It’s amusing to watch, so I’m off to do exactly that. Tonight he’s chasing around after spitting cobras, which should be entertaining. My chicken’s ready now. I only hope I don’t end up doing an impression of one of those cobras when I taste it.

 

Drive me to the Moon

Sunday, 08 April 2001. This week has been most agreeable, among other things, seeing me get yet another new job. I know I’ve harked on in recent columns about how happy I am in my current new (ish) job, and this remains the case. I would have been a fool though to turn down this latest offer, given that it is practically on my doorstep and pays the same salary as my current one in London.

Only two months ago I was cock-a-hoop at having realised a 33% increase in my salary by securing my current job. This was down to the simple fact that my current company pays good money to good people and that my old firm were just tight-arsed gits. Until now, if I’d wanted to work in my home town I’d have had to do so for perhaps two thirds of any salary that I could make in London. This was hardly compensation for the £2500 a year cost of commuting. Clerical and junior management jobs just do not pay good money around here, which is why I’ve spent the last 13 years working in the capital. I seem to have reached a point though, where my age and experience in my industry now allow me to occupy a senior management position, the kind of position that pays a respectable salary even for around here. Sure, I could earn far more in this new-found seniority if I were to remain in London, but 13 years have taken their toll and I am weary of the daily commute. Besides which, the length of the working day that these senior positions sometimes require would not be something that most salaries could compensate for in London, given the three hours spent travelling every day.

So, one month hence I will become Commercial Manager for a company a mere five minutes from my house. Even if the average day were to be a 12-hour one, I would still be spending the same amount of time away from home on a daily basis. At the moment, if I’m stuck at my desk at say seven in the evening, I know that I then face a 90 minute journey home. With this new job the journey is five minutes. I’m on the same salary as at present but am saving the £2500 a year in travelling. The position is just short of a directorial one, so pay increases and package reviews are pencilled in for future dates. I am in charge of four departments and looking forward to taking up the reins.

I did some calculations on a napkin over brunch this morning (a rather nice bacon, tomato and cheese omelette) and concluded the following as far as my history of commuting is concerned:

On the assumption that I have worked an average of 230 days in each of the last 13 years, taking account of weekends, public and personal holidays, I have commuted to and from London on a total of 2990 days. That statistic alone is pretty humbling. My journey by train (and this doesn’t include the distance from my house to the station, or the walk from London Bridge station to my office in Bermondsey) is 35 miles each way. That’s 70 miles by train x 2990 days = 209’300 miles. If the journey goes according to the published train timetable (which it doesn’t, but for the sake of science we’ll assume it always has), the one-way trip is 36 minutes. Twice a day for 2990 days, that’s 3588 hours or 149 1/2 days of my life spent on a bloody train. The Moon is a mere 16’000 miles further on than the distance covered by my cumulative train journey, which would have taken me around the Earth at the equator just over eight times. I’ve gone round the world eight times and all I’ve seen is west Kent and Southeast London.

I got a bit carried away at this point and turned over the napkin to make further calculations over a cup of coffee. Besides my train journey, I also have the trip from my house to the station and from my London terminal to my office. Now, my places of work and abode have been many over the last 13 years, as well as driven to and fro for a couple of years. Discounting that fact and employing certain averages though, it works out at three miles each way by bus or taxi between my house and Tonbridge station, and one mile between London Bridge or Cannon Street stations and my various places of work. The three mile journey, twice a day over those 2990 days totals a further 17’940 miles. And this is the good bit: I’ve walked 5980 miles!

In summarising then, I’ve done the equivalent of travelling to the Moon by train, bus and taxi, (as you do), have walked nine tenths of its circumference (as you do), and am on my way back. Adding the time factor of the home to station and station to work elements, I have spent almost 374 days, just over a year, doing this. Perhaps I should get out more.

The only downside of working for my new company is that they are not on the Internet and therefore we have no email. It is a case of having no need to be on the Internet that has dictated this situation but as Commercial Manager I can think of many reasons why they (we) should get connected. At the top of this list of reasons is my own wish to be able to send and receive emails whilst at work. Among the dross that falls into my “In tray” every day were a couple of gems this week. The first was to do with the forthcoming UK census, the last of which was probably twenty years ago, if my memory serves me correctly. If this email is to be believed, if a certain number of people (10’000, it claims) specify a hitherto unrecognised religion in the “other” box, beneath “C of E”, “Roman Catholic” etc, by law that religion becomes recognised. The suggestion then is that those of us with no strong religious leanings enter “Jedi” as our chosen faith. Obviously at the time of the last census, email hadn’t even been thought of outside a few universities and government departments, so this is an unprecedented opportunity. Being a fan of “Star Wars”, I think it a real wheeze to use the power of the Internet to become officially recognised as a Jedi Knight. I can see the Queen, even now, at the end of her Christmas speech saying, “May the force be with you”. Jedi Knights in the streets greet one another they will. Say, “Feel the force” they will.

The other email that found its way to me was typical of the kind of un-researched marketing, or lack of, that obviously goes on before these “spams” are sent. Among the “get rich quick” (Yeah, right), “Dear fellow business owner” (I don’t own a business) and “Dear US Homeowner” (I am neither a US resident, nor a homeowner in any country), was one entitled “Enlarge your dick” (I don’t have a small dick for the record). That in itself wasn’t so out of the ordinary. What was though was the size of the bloke’s dick in the accompanying “literature”. We’re talking baby’s-arm-holding-a-Jaffa-orange proportions here. He had it in a girl’s mouth and underneath were the words, “make her scream”. Believe me, she couldn’t possibly scream with that thing in her mouth. No, this picture had been electronically enhanced. Either that or he had been enhanced surgically. I suppose there are those who fall for all this shit, otherwise there wouldn’t be a market for the mass emails I often get. That one made me chuckle though. It’s the kind of picture that us blokes at work gather around, pointing and chortling. I can imagine the conversation tomorrow morning: “So what’s so unusual about that Steve. What, you mean yours doesn’t look like that?” I’ll get me coat…

I just wanted to mention a film that I watched post-pub last night. I’ve been putting off watching it for ages but last night took the plunge. I say that because it’s a foreign-language film and almost three hours long. Based on a book by the Polish author, Stanislaw Lem that I once read, “Solaris” is a low-budget Russian Sci-Fi made in 1972. Much of the film reel had been damaged and as a result some 27 minutes of the soundtrack is missing from the latest print recently shown by Film Four. The budget was so low that parts of it had to be shot on black and white tape. Coupled with the fact that it is Russian-language with English subtitles and 159 minutes long, I thought it would be hard work watching it. It wasn’t. What it was was a very relaxing and mesmerising 159 minutes, a fantastic story and something to really exercise the grey matter. It’s the kind of film that no-one I bump into in everyday life is likely to have seen or heard of, so I just thought I’d mention it here, because I can. Proof then that there is life in movies outside the Hollywood sausage machine and films for a more intelligent and demanding audience than the masses, not that I’m a snob mind.

In other news, “Comfort Blanket” is now online at Deviant Minds, the web-zine. I am also the featured author and the site provides a voting forum for the stories in the current issue. If anyone happens to be passing, I’d be most grateful of a tick in my box. Thanking you.

And finally, I am pleased to report that my sister’s recent run of bad luck took a turn for the better last night. Having recently lost two beloved pets and having been a bit down for a while, last night she had five numbers on the National Lottery. Just the five numbers, the sixth and bonus balls eluding her, she’s now a couple of grand better off. I won a tenner with three numbers. She’s planning a short holiday abroad I think. I might get a taxi down the town tonight. Not that I’m jealous you understand. After all, I’ve been to the Moon.

 

Can’t be arsed

Sunday, 01 April 2001. You find me, dear reader, in a positively relaxed mood today, to the extent in fact that I really cannot be arsed to write this, but I need the practice, so here goes anyway.

Financial burdens in the form of unexpectedly high phone bills had been languishing in my in-tray for the past couple of weeks pending my first full month’s pay cheque. The latter arrived on Thursday and was duly deposited with great glee at my bank, just in time to prevent my account gasping a final breath before relapsing into overdraft. Ever since the red reminder phone bill arrived on Monday, it has sat smugly in my in-tray, taunting me and my inability to pay it. And so it was yesterday that I hit the “pay” button at my online banking site and raised two fingers to the red letter now cowering in a corner of my waste paper basket. That showed it. Having now been paid for my first full month of work my finances are looking a little more healthy than they have done recently and my overdraft facility can remain Norman no mates, unwanted and unneeded as it is.

Friday evening was the precursor to this relaxed mood of mine. Following a couple of post-work drinks, I arrived mid-evening back at Tonbridge. I decided to go straight home so procured a cab and was pleasantly surprised to have found a relatively cultured taxi driver, listening as he was to “Classic FM”. “Turn it up good man”, I said from my reclined, semi-drunk position on the back seat. This he did to a haemorrhage-inducing level and the journey through Tonbridge high street took on a surreal quality. The scenes of fighting on the pavements and couples having sex in dimly lit alleyways became somehow artistic when watched to the accompaniment of classical music. It was almost like being in Kubrick’s “Clockwork Orange”.

Yesterday saw me take care of the outstanding bills and having attended to all of the domestic chores, today has been spent listening to classical music on the radio and reading the weekend papers. I rose late today, knowing that I had nothing important left to do and that the day was mine. At 1pm I prepared a delicious bacon, tomato and mushroom omelette for breakfast. The plate is sitting unwashed beside me as I sit here, unwashed, in my dressing gown, sipping coffee and smoking cigarettes. I probably look somewhere between a computer geek and a stressed writer, which is not a million miles away from what I actually am. My writing has had to take a back seat lately, due to lack of spare time, but today I’m beginning to catch up on back burner projects. Hopefully I’ll manage to commit some of the short stories in my head to the hard drive in due course, as well as complete the course assignments that I’m partway through. In the meantime this occasional “column” provides me with a good means of keeping my hand in and hopefully preventing me from becoming rusty.

Talking of the writing thing, I’m looking forward to the day, sometime this month that issue 3 of Deviant Minds goes online. As I’ve said elsewhere, this is my publishing debut and although an “e-zine” as opposed to a printed magazine, the publication is well-respected in the writing community and will afford me some exposure. Being chosen as the featured author may help to get me noticed by any print title editors that may be passing and looking for raw new talent. Well, I can live in hope. In the meantime I shan’t be giving up the day job.

Returning to this weekend, today of course is April Fool’s Day and it just occurred to me what a great pity it is that today wasn’t yesterday, if you see what I mean, given a potentially amusing encounter that occurred whilst I was indulging myself in some retail therapy. My sense of humour can be quite dark, often unappreciated by the recipient of my remarks and I fear this would have been the case yesterday. Although not an April fools as such, this would have been a great wheeze in my opinion. Alas it didn’t occur to me at the time, rather it just has.

In a happy mood, having unburdened myself of household bills, I’d gone into town with no particular shopping list in mind but determined to buy something with my hard-earned cash. I was waiting for a bus home, struggling with my new computer keyboard, clock radio and telescope, when it began to rain. Not wanting to be tempted into further purchases by the welcoming dry, warm shop interiors all around me, I sought sanctuary in a church. I had obviously stumbled in pre-funeral service, as the church was full of black-clad miserable-looking individuals. Feeling a little out of place with my shopping in tow and with my contented consumer appearance, I smiled politely and exited. Outside, the hearse had just pulled up and six burly pallbearers were unloading the passenger from the back. I hurried off through the graveyard and passed an elderly lady, dressed in black and looking very upset. “What’s the matter?” I should have asked, and she would have replied “I’ve lost my husband”, allowing me to retort, “Have you looked in that coffin over there?” Like I said, she probably wouldn’t have found it as amusing as I, so perhaps it’s for the best that it didn’t occur to me at the time.

Something that has just dawned on me is that it is now 5pm and I’m still unwashed and in my dressing gown. I wonder if it’s actually worth getting dressed, given that I will be getting undressed again in a mere few hours. Then again I do have to go down the shops and probably wouldn’t be able to pass off my dressing gown as daywear, even when coupled with a pair of sensible shoes in place of my slippers. My neighbours tolerate my eccentricities up to a point but I don’t think those behind the twitching curtains could handle the sight of me, semi-naked, doing my shopping. And so, I should go now, even though I can’t be arsed to think of a witty sign-off.

 

Making a meal of things

Sunday, 11th March 2001. This week saw one anniversary and one moniversary. The former was last Monday when, one year previously I had taken my unforgettable trip on the British Airways London Eye. One of the few advantages of my old job was that I was out on the road for the most part and therefore largely free to roam where I pleased between, or in the absence of, appointments. Many was the lunchtime spent seated on a bench on the South bank of the Thames in the shadow of this marvellous piece of design and engineering. Life back in an office denies me this pleasure but the pros of the new job far outweigh the cons.

Last Monday also marked one month in my new employment. Just as the (few) small pleasures are the ones that I miss about the old job, it is the (many) small pleasures that I relish in the new. Having tea and toast brought to one’s desk in the morning may seem a trivial thing to get excited about but I find that it is the small things in everyday life that bring the greatest pleasure. Having access to a microwave oven, enabling me to zap a tin of HP All day breakfast is a godsend when I think of the numerous service station lunches that I survived on whilst travelling around the country as a salesman. Most of the latter were reminiscent of a piece of cardboard served between two other pieces of cardboard. So used to this diet did I become that I found my taste buds grew used to a bland diet. So much so in fact that on ordering a jacket potato in a restaurant for example, I’d plump for the most uninteresting filling: mashed potato. In a pizza establishment I’d go for the “Margarita”, the name that all pizza establishments use for the basic cheese and tomato, but hold the cheese, and the tomato. I was in danger of becoming a mere shadow of my former self, losing weight as my taste buds became intolerant of any kind of flavour.

Fortunately I am fully recovered from my dally into super model dietary habits and am right now feeling quite self-satisfied, having procured a beautiful, fresh joint of beef from my local butcher. The current foot and mouth disease crisis has dictated that much of the population have bought supplies of red meat in bulk, having panicked that there may be a shortage brought about by said disease. Despite repeated reassurances from the local butcher that he would be able to acquire fresh stock despite the crisis, my neighbours none the less panic bought.

And so it was yesterday that I sauntered down the road in a covert fashion to procure my red meat, having last week placed a special advance order with the butcher to avoid disappointment. Not wanting to attract the attention of my neighbours, now barricaded into their houses, guarding their freezers stocked full of frozen meat; I donned a long black coat and raised the collar. I put on my darkest sunglasses and ventured out of the house. Entering the butcher’s shop, I turned to look behind me and make sure that no one had seen me enter, fearful that I might be mugged for my fresh meat upon exiting. Safe in the knowledge that I was alone, I turned once again to the butcher and said, in a hushed tone, “Pssst, got any red meat?” “Yes sir”, came the reply. Lifting my shades I noticed that the shop was fully stocked but the butcher produced my special order from beneath the counter. It was a most pleasing transaction as I paid for what I tried to convince myself were still illicit goods.

Arriving home, I pulled my beef joint from under my long coat and admired it for a while before placing it lovingly in the fridge. With a loving pat and a wink, I left it there on its plate and closed the door. Harley was placed on sentry duty last night on the promise of a piece of fresh fish for breakfast this morning. He did a good job, as the beef was still there when I awoke. He’d even gone to the trouble of inviting a couple of his mates round from across the road to share the guard, presumably so that he could have the odd pee, cat-nap or door post scratching break. Three feline mouths to feed this morning was a small price to pay for feeding my chops with a nice piece of rare red meat in a minute.

I must go in a minute as I like my beef fairly red and it is therefore almost ready. Before I do though, on placing my peas on the boil a minute ago, I was reminded of the super model diet that I almost succumbed to way back when. I have therefore devised a Sunday roast recipe for super models, comprising all of the ingredients that make up the meal I am about to enjoy but tailored to a super model palette. So, we have roast beef, roast potatoes, Yorkshire puddings and peas but hold the beef, potatoes, Yorkshires and peas. To prepare the meal, place some water in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Mmmm, delicious.

 

My 15 minutes

Sunday, 4th March 2001. For once, this weekend has seen me being all domesticated and getting things done. Menial things like personal finances, back-burner writing projects and so on have been building up as the pressures of work render me “cannot be arsed” to do them at the weekend. This weekend though has been quite productive and I’ve managed to get a lot done, leaving me with about 15 minutes to write a quick update on me for this site. I’ve no point or comment to make this week then, just a diary entry.

I’m now at the arse end of my first month in my new job and I’m pleased to report that it is still going well. I’m pretty sure then that that will continue to be the case. I feel settled now, having climbed a rather steep learning curve and am getting to know all of my colleagues as friends. They’ve accepted me as one of the family now and this was evidenced on Friday night, when we were all taken out for dinner by a supplier. We had a very nice Italian meal in Blackheath, which is an exceptionally nice place in the summer, when one can make full use of the heath itself, but pleasant enough at any time of year. Those not intimate with the area will know it as the green part of London where the marathon starts.

We got drunk and the opinions that my colleagues had formulated about me over the last month came forth thanks to their inebriated conditions. The opinions of me were universally good, which is good as these are the people that I am now spending the majority of my waking hours with.

Good news arrived in the form of an email this morning from “Deviant Minds”, the webzine that is to publish my story “Comfort Blanket” in its next issue. Not only am I to be published but I have been chosen as the issue’s featured writer. My 15 minutes of fame has arrived, so if you’ll excuse me, my public awaits.

 

Unpleasantly surprised

Sunday, 18th February 2001. Sunday evening, work in the morning and nothing better to do than broadcast my opinions here. This week’s diary entry is much more along the lines of opining than the usual update and comment on occasional occurrences. It is a comment though and concerns the issue of censorship, brought about by a film I saw just last night.

I have made my views on censorship known elsewhere but will sum them up briefly here by way of a prelude to what I am about to write. Briefly then, I am against censorship in general. The job of telling the responsible adult population what they may and may not see or hear is in my opinion a redundant one. Freedom of expression is a basic Human right that we should not be denied. We should be free to agree or disagree with whatever we choose but should be in a position to do so by having access to the material which we may wish to agree or disagree with. As responsible people we should be able to choose the material that we wish to comment upon and not be denied it. I’m not advocating a society where anything goes and completely agree that images of say, child abuse, should not be permitted in the first place but that’s another matter entirely. What I disagree with is the “Nanny state” attitude, where so-called guardians of morality decide what we may or may not have access to in the first place. Certain institutions exist merely to prevent not only freedom of expression but freedom of interpretation. I have in mind the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC), which since its inception seemed to have gradually lost touch with the film-viewing public’s views and desires.

I write in the past tense as it was just last night that I had my “unpleasant surprise”, to the extent that I have chosen to put fingers to keyboard and express my relief that the BBFC seem to have woken up to the real world. I only hope that my faith isn’t proven to be subsequently unfounded.

Again, I have written previously of my almost life-long quest to find a film that genuinely scared me. To date that personal Holy Grail has evaded me. As far back as my teenage years when this quest began, I was told that “The Evil Dead” was the one to do the job. After much enquiring, I secured a pirate copy of said film, it being banned under the Video Recordings Act of 1984 (VRA) and was made to jump a lot but not really scared or disturbed.

To some my quest may seem a little perverse but I believe that a film should do what it promises to do. If it’s a horror film then it should disturb the viewer if not necessarily scare one out of one’s wits. The latter would perhaps be somewhat of a false economy on the part of the director as far as future releases are concerned. But a film released in the horror genre should serve a purpose which, after all, is what us horror film aficionados seek and scare or affect us in some way. We choose to watch these films and expect them to do their job. We don’t want people like the BBFC cutting bits out so that they don’t.

Prior to the VRA, the ownership of a home VCR was relatively rare and so more or less anything went as far as straight-to-video film releases were concerned in Britain. Although a film required a certificate dictating which age group could view it at the cinema, no such restrictions existed for the then juvenile video market. As VCR ownership grew the available film titles became better known and the tabloid press decided to blame all of the world’s ills on the more colourful offerings of the straight-to-video industry. All of a sudden the “Video nasty” was coined as an all-encapsulating term for any film that showed anything seen by the tabloid press as being capable of inciting unsociable behaviour. “The Exorcist” was labelled as “perverted”, as were its viewers. That film was blamed by the knee-jerk tabloid press for all devil worship. In their view the logical conclusion of the sensible man in the street would be that if he were to see, say, “Wargames”, they might be inclined to attempt at a hack into the US security network. Then again, this is the tabloid press, which is not read by the sensible man in the street rather than the gullible man. That debate can rage on elsewhere, so I’ll return to the point.

I have seen and heard of some ridiculous extents to which the censorship and fear-of-blame culture runs. To name but two examples, there is the report I received of the film generally considered to be the “ultimate Video Nasty”, “Cannibal Holocaust” being granted a re-release under video certificate in various countries. The original reel runs to something like 97 minutes and it has been granted certificates in edited form at varying length. In many countries, only one or two scenes were removed but I heard tale of a re-release being granted for a 16 minute version, surely rendering Ruggero Deodato’s debatable masterpiece unintelligible. The other example was when I stumbled upon (by accident, whilst channel-hopping) a WWF broadcast today: The WWF is a so-called “Sports Entertainment” broadcast, or in other words, bullshit, organisation. This particular match that I caught was broadcast when children (surely the target audience, alongside all gullible people) would be watching. I was amazed though when every time a wrestler hit another wrestler, the camera panned away to the audience to spare us the spectacle, only to return to the ring and show us the bloodied wrestler on the floor. I mean, what’s the point?

Furthermore, there was the “Childline” advert that was banned in this country. It featured a young lad trying to contact said charity, only to be greeted by the engaged tone on the other end of the phone. The camera panned in on him and occasionally jolted. Every time it did, the boy’s face exhibited a new bruise. Eventually the engaged tone of the phone transposed into the sound of a flat-line of a cardiograph. It was a shocking and effective advert, or would have been were it not banned. You catch my drift?

To return to the point, as I promised to a paragraph ago, my quest for a film that really disturbed fell by the wayside following the VRA of 1984 and as a result of the kid gloves adorned by the BBFC subsequently. Recently though, they announced a relaxation in their guidelines, especially concerning pornography and introduced a new “R18” certificate, above the current “18” one. Because of lack of research, I am unsure as to whether this relaxation applies to films outside of the pornography genre but am led to believe that it does. This is in fact evidenced by the re-release of some of the old “Video Nasties”.

I sought out these re-releases as soon as they became available but my thirst for fear was still not assuaged. I searched further, more enlightened outlets and got my grubby mitts on titles still banned under the act. I now have all of the infamous ones, including “Last House on the Left”, “I Spit on Your Grave”, and the previously mentioned “Cannibal Holocaust”. Sure, there are some disturbing images, especially in the latter by Ruggero Deodato, the master of Italian gore, but still no real fear. The aim seemed to be to provide gore, which with today’s filmmaking technology as a benchmark is rendered unbelievable. Therefore, the old “shockers” will never shock, so the question of why they were banned in the first place raises itself.

This question is especially poignant when the recent films I’ve seen far out-do the “Nasties” in their portrayal of horror. Modern filmmaking techniques and computer technology help in providing the graphic depictions of horrific acts that I’ve seen recently and make the whole film-viewing thing more “realistic”. That said, I’m perfectly capable of differentiating between fiction and reality, as are the majority of the public who aren’t drawn in by tabloid headlines. I always have been, which is why I see the BBFC’s new code as a breath of fresh air and which leads me to my point concerning more recent video releases.

I found “The Blair Witch Project” profoundly disturbing. I watched it after the hype and after the “truth” was revealed. Unlike so many others, I didn’t expect huge Hollywood special effects and was therefore not disappointed. In fact the ending dictated that I had to turn over in bed to face the room whenever I woke up in the night, for fear that something was out to take me from behind, for a few days after seeing the film. “The Sixth Sense” was also intelligent and disturbing.

Last night I saw “Final Destination”. It had an intelligent plot, unlike the recent Hollywood attempts to scare us with the off-camera, leave-it-to-the-viewer’s-imagination attempts at horror as demonstrated by “Scream” and its slasher genre relatives. No, this was full-on shock video and most gratefully received by a fan of the genre it was. If no-one has seen it, look out for the bit with the bus which, even though I’ve just mentioned it, will still take you by surprise.

It struck me that this film was graphic in it’s portrayal of horror and a good thing too. It was more graphic than many of the “Video Nasties”, again begging the question, “Why were they banned in the first place?” It disturbed me, as did “Blair Witch…” and “Sixth sense”, but had gore too. Also, all of the aforementioned films have been released with a “15” certificate. I look forward to seeing what is now allowed under an “18” certificate given the BBFC’s more relaxed attitude toward what we are allowed to see. Hollywood seems to now be offering what us punters want and the BBFC are finally seeing the light too. Long may it continue.

I dread the next national outrage that the tabloid press, with their un-researched data, supported by their uneducated readers, see fit to pin the blame upon us film-viewers for. The Video Recordings Act 1984, among other unnecessary acts of Parliament, was the product of the uneducated. Hopefully the year 2001 will not see a duplication of that act and I will be able to continue viewing the old “Video Nasties” as well as the further really “scary” movies that Hollywood and the BBFC will hopefully make and approve respectively in the comfort of my own home. One day my Holy Grail may yet be achieved and I might yet be scared for real.

 

(Matinee showings of “Cannibal Holocaust” and “Zombie Creeping Flesh” are still available to visitors to my viewing suite, if you fancy popping round for an afternoon.)

 

 

Back inside

Sunday, 11th February 2001. This weekend is precious as it is the two-day break between two five-day periods of work. Whereas over the last three months I was able to please myself about what I did and when, that period being a seven-day weekend between two seven-day weekends, now I am having to be very regimental when organising my spare time. It’s been a busy weekend but I’ve been unable to achieve all that I wanted to so further regimentation is in order. I am considering employing an imaginary drill sergeant to work alongside my imaginary psychiatrist, Freud.

Last night was spent consuming beer in the company of a friend who spent the evening crying into his. I’d not seen this friend for nine years, he having thrown himself head first into a relationship of the loving kind and turned his back on all his friends. He was never able to balance things and always did things at one or other extreme of the measure used to guage how one does things. During his periods of being single, us friends couldn’t shake him loose. Not that we’d have wanted to as he was a nice bloke. But he never seemed to know where to draw the line or be able to read a situation and would therefore tag along on occasions when he was quite frankly not entirely welcome. One such occasion was when I and my girlfriend at the time went to the cinema and my friend tagged along, even going to the extent of sitting between us in the theatre. He’d often stay at my house and I had to fumble around in bed on waking, feeling for female appendages for fear that my girlfriend and I may have been joined by my friend in the night. He never did join us but it wouldn’t have surprised me if one morning I’d rolled on top of the person next to me and found the required orifices absent, hence the pre-rumpy fumble. So, nine years ago he met this latest girl and off to the other extreme he went, the rest of us not having seen him since. Until last night that was.

He’d phoned me yesterday morning. After nine years I felt obliged to ask “How are you?” I knew that a phone call after so long meant something must be wrong and that “Who are you?” might have been a more appropriate question to ask. I was tempted but it was the former question which uttered forth from my lips and boy did I curse my lips afterwards. I think we’ve all had occasions when we’ve regretted enquiring of someone’s well-being but I reckon my regret ranks right up there alongside that of the man who, in front of a firing squad was asked by the head guard, “Can I ask you something?” and replied, “Sure. Fire away”. A 30-minute account followed of my friend’s woes. An account during which I was unable to sneek a single word or sympathetic “Mmm” in, to the extent that I was able to place the receiver of the phone quietly down, make a cup of tea and return to the outpouring of emotion undetected. What I did catch was that after nine years of marriage my friend is filing for a divorce on the grounds of adultery, his wife is likely to gain custody of their three children, his father is in hospital and unlikely to emerge outside of a wooden overcoat and his mother has been confined to a wheelchair. When I finally managed to get a word in towards the end of the conversation, I asked if he was okay other than all that and apparently he was. That phone call was to be the trailer for the main feature that made up last night in the pub.

All of which leaves me with just today to cram things into. As I said last week, it was with mixed emotions that I made my final return to work. I am pleased to report however that the only real down side to having done so is this reduction of my personal time. Apart from that, everything has proved to be quite agreeable, apart from the travelling. To the French companies who run the train and bus operators that “serve” my route to and from work, I say this: I sincerely hope that when you leave this world the transport that takes you to the other side is cancelled, delayed, short of carriages if it’s a train, dirty and overcrowded with a broken heating system stuck on full and that the driver, conductor or whatever treat you rudely and with contempt. I further hope that said transport goes downhill as opposed to up, if you know what I mean. I have suffered all of this in a five-day period. May you and all of your kind suffer similarly for eternity. There, that should do it.

So, apart the French, my week was generally good. I know I blame the French for a lot of things, some better founded than others (The beef and fuel crises, the EU, Britain’s fishing and farming industries’ problems, the milk that had gone off in my fridge this morning are all the fault of France), my hatred of them was justified last week. It is a fact that I and the majority of my countrymen hate the French and the feeling is mutual accross the English channel (English channel, see frogs?) They are also very handy for blaming all of life’s ills on. Having now incited racial hatred of the French (a good thing), I’ll get on with telling you about my week at work, assuming you’re still here.

It won’t take long as I shan’t bore you with the day-to-day drudgery. What did strike me though was the difference between my new place of work and the shit hole that used to occupy that part of my life. As a smoker, I am sympathetic of my non-smoking colleagues and understand that offices in which one may smoke are long gone. If I fancy a quick drag, I simply retire to the factory, which is warm and dry. There I talk to the machine minders, look at the various jobs in production and therefore remain semi-productive whilst smoking my cigarette. At the old place I’d have to electronically “clock out”, leave the building and stand in the street, exposed to whichever of nature’s elements were exposing themselves. Any time spent smoking then had to be made up at the end of the day before going home. I’m not saying that’s unfair, just that the new company have a more relaxed and grown up attitude to things and don’t penalise me for my habit.

At the old company the directors were ever present and their sole purpose in life seemed to be to find fault and generally create an atmosphere of paranoia. In this new job the directors are where they ought to be: locked up in their own offices. One director in particular at the old firm spent the majority of his working day inventing new rules in order to make his employees’ lives more and more difficult. He’d then call a meeting to dictate his newly created piece of red tape to his staff. And boy did he like a meeting. This was a man who would call a meeting to inform us of when he would be calling a meeting, the purpose of which was to tell us the date of our next daily, weekly or monthly meeting. Given his love of red tape, I often summised that he might be more gainfully employed among the other waste-of-space beaurocrats within the European Commission. He could even be a closet Frenchman, which would explain my dislike of him. Just as an aside, he supports Manchester United on the basis of the fact that “They’re the best”. He has no connection to the team or their home city to qualify his status as a “supporter” and, like 98% of all fans of the team, has never been to their home ground. With Manchester United and the French as his contemporaries, I reckon that puts him in pretty good company and they’re welcome to him.

People genrally at the old place had paranoia bred into them and this in turn led to a “blame culture”. A few people in particular took great pleasure in broadcasting the shortcomings of others from the rooftops. This of course was counter-productive as if ever one of us made a mistake, we were afraid to admit it. Similarly, if we had a question we often daren’t ask for fear of being paraded in public as the office fool. At the new firm there’s camaraderie, tomfoolery, inappropriate humour and team spirit. Even the little things are sources of great joy to me as they were found wanting at the old dump. We have a kettle! And a microwave, a fridge and a little old lady who makes nice tea, toast and sandwiches. Sad, I know, to be getting excited about such incidental things, but thinking back three months or so, I really think I’d become institutionalised at the old firm. The old firm was an institution, of the custodial kind. Many of the people there belong in institutions of the psychiatric kind.

Yes, I’m actually quite looking forward to going into work tomorrow. Perhaps I should be institutionalised after all. I’m off now to towel myself down and dry off all of the hate that I’ve been spitting forth here.

 

Time’s up

Sunday, 4th February 2001. My last day of freedom. Tomorrow sees my eventual return to work following my three-month paid but unworked notice period with mixed emotions. My last supper of roast salmon with all the trimmings is in the oven. From tomorrow the evenings will not allow me sufficient time to prepare such delights and I shall have to return to cooking things from the packet or box during the week. Tonight’s dubious offering has been a couple of hours in preparation and cooking. Tomorrow will probably be a more humble affair, like sausage and mash.

Still, I’ve achieved a few personal aims over the last three months. I’m now soon to be published as a short fiction author, albeit small-scale, and am part way through the correspondence writing course which I have enrolled in and am learning aspects of writing other than short fiction. The time has been used wisely as opposed to squandered.

Gone now are the days when I could rise in the afternoon and retire in the morning. Back come the days of rising in the early morning and retiring in the late evening. Evenings will return to being of a finite length of around three or four hours as opposed to the infinate affairs that they have been recently. Going to bed and getting up will now be determined by personal responsibility and the alarm clock respectively, as opposed to being dictated by my own whim.

Still, the daily commute aside, the new job promises to be interesting and varied so I’m looking forward to it. It is also very well-paid, so I’ll be able to realise a few more personal aims given time. The new firm is just up the road from the old one, so I’m still a “Bermondsey Boy” and all my old mates will become neighbours. We’ve all stayed in touch since I left the old job, so there’ll be many more Fridays like the one just passed.

There were only about six of us nearest and dearest, but that was nice in itself. We stayed local, i.e. Bermondsey, swapped gossip, had a laugh and got very drunk. It proves that the people I worked with at the old firm were and still are real friends as well as colleagues, as there wasn’t a single moment that I felt distant from them. We didn’t talk “shop” for a minute.

I had an argument with the taxi driver at Tonbridge station, which marred the evening a little but I exacted my revenge. Arriving back at midnight I was starving, so I said “Take me to some food”. He moaned about having to wait while I queued and got my food. I said “Keep the meter running and I’ll pay you for waiting time or whatever.” Still he moaned, but I kept on so eventually he set off and we stopped at a kebab shop half way between the station and my house. He was still whinging, so I formulated a plan. I told him I was going to use the loo in the shop so that he wouldn’t wonder why I’d disappeared out back. I went in, got my kebab, asked the owner if I could go out of the back door, bunged him a couple of quid and told him about the cabby, and exited through said rear entrance raising two imaginary fingers to the taxi driver.

I can now also finally raise two fingers to my former employers. As I’ve said, they paid me three months’ notice. This was paid monthly and apart from being generous on the one hand was “hush money” on the other. Having been a “customer-facing” employee, to use one of those annoying management phrases, the company knew that I could contact those customers and bad-mouth my ex-employers, were I that way inclined. I pride myself in not feeling a need to stoop to the levels that they might expect in their disrespectful and untrusting view of ex-employees. Had I chosen to do so however, it would have been a simple matter for them to cease salary payments to me on the basis of breach of severence agreement on my part. Well, now I have the final salary installment and can now say to my former colleagus the following: Many of them know of this site and most are my friends, so they will know that this is not aimed at them. To the remainder, and you know who you are, Fuck you and eat my poo! There, I said it.

 

Way back when

Thursday, 1st February 2001. I’m bored and reminiscing. Being 30 years old, I tend to reminisce occasionally. Given the burdens of adulthood, being a child again holds so much appeal in its innocence. If you are of a certain age (mine), you’ll remember the days before the Internet or the PC. Before semi-automatics and crack. Before SEGA and Super Nintendo. If only it could be like that again…

Way back when “Hide-and-seek” and riding bikes at dusk were slightly rebellious activities. A million gnat bites. The sweet shop and penny chews. Hopscotch; candy floss, Kick abouts, “Stuck-in-the-mud” and bundles in the playground. “Mum, may I leave the table?” “Curly Wurlys” “Space dust” and “Pacers”.

Running through the sprinkler; the smell of the sun and licking salty lips; milkshake lips and moustaches. Sticky fingers. An ice cream cone on a warm summer night: chocolate, vanilla or strawberry.

Watching “Swap Shop” or “Tiswas” on Saturday morning. Short commercials. “Magic Roundabout”, “Bagpuss”, “The Clangers” and “Pipkins”. RoadRunner and Bugs. Staying up on a Friday for “Pot Black” or “Tales of the Unexpected”.

When around the corner seemed far away and going into town seemed like going somewhere far away for the day. When it was magic when dad would “remove” his thumb. Going to lunch with mum as a reward for enduring the Saturday shopping: Lunch at Lipton’s with a milkshake (Chocolate, vanilla or strawberry).

Walking to school, no matter what the weather was. “Trainers” were just “Plimmies”, worn for PE. It wasn’t odd to have two or three “best” friends, who gave you crisps and let you have a go on their hand-held electronic games (remember “Simon”?). Cops and robbers, cowboys and Indians. Running till you were out of breath. Laughing so hard that your stomach hurt. Being tired from playing. Being picked last for a team.

Decisions were made by “Eeny-meeny-miney-mo”. Scrapes and bruises were kissed and made better. Ice cream and milkshake were considered basic food groups. Waking up to snow and listening to the local radio station to find that your school was closed was a dream come true. Older siblings were the worst tormentors, but also the fiercest protectors.

When girls and boys either fought as enemies in the playground or played “Kiss chase”. When all of your male teachers wore neckties and female teachers had their hair done. When any parent could discipline any child, or feed him and nobody, even the child, thought anything of it. When being sent to the Headmaster’s office was nothing compared to what awaited a misbehaving student when arriving home.

War was a card game. Water balloons were the ultimate weapons. Football cards in the spokes transformed any bike into a motorcycle. “Race issue” meant arguing about who ran or rode the fastest. Money issues were handled by whoever was the banker in “Monopoly.” Climbing trees and digging holes to nowhere. Building igloos out of snow. Jumping on the bed. Pillow fights. Spinning around, getting dizzy and falling over.

When pocket money given in paper form as opposed to coins made you feel rich. When postage stamps went up a penny and everyone talked about it for weeks. Before loyalty cards and when visits to the Green Shield stamp shop was an annual event.

When breakfast cereal had free toys hidden inside the box. When nearly everyone’s mum was at home when us kids got there. When TV closed down for the night and then became a white dot.

If you can remember most or all of these things, then you have lived.

You’re “it” now, so pass it on.

 

Changing My Days

Tuesday 30th January 2001. My three-month period of “resting between jobs” is alas now in its twilight phase. It is almost impossible to realise that it is now three months to the day since I got all devil-may-care and gave up my old job. Thankfully the company have kept paying me to do nothing until now, but now that my unworked notice period is up the money is about to expire. So, next monday sees the start of a new job and a return to the daily commuting routine. I’m quite looking forward to it in a perverse kind of way, as although I’ve achieved a lot of what I wanted to, I’m running out of things to achieve. It will be difficult to adapt to a 9-5 schedule again because of the schedule I’ve been living by for the last three months. A typical day will be much like today and will go thus:

06.30: Get woken by body’s insistent internal alarm clock. I keep looking down at my body and repeating to it mantra-like that it doesn’t work any more (or rather doesn’t have to go to work), but it insists on waking me none the less.

06.35: Smile smugly to self at getting such a good severence deal from the old company that I can live the life of leisure for three months.

06.40: Go smugly back to sleep, wiggling toes contentedly out from the end of the duvet.

06.41: Have toes skinned by cat.

06.50: Return to bed wearing thickest socks yealded by sock drawer.

06.51: Be joined in bed by furry, black, purring, apologetic pillow.

07.00: Drift back off to sleep, smugger than ever that it is very, very cold outside and very, very snug where I am. Pity the masses struggling to work.

11.00: With the hour firmly in double figures, roll out of bed. Make tea, return to bed with tea and smoke cigarette whilst watching TV at end of bed.

12.00: Watch “Midday Money” on “This Morning” with Richard and Judy and marvel at the stupidity of the at-home-during-the-day general public giving cretinous answers to mind-numbingly simple questions. Sample question and answer: Richard: “How many wheels does a unicycle have?” Dumb arse contestant: “Er, three?” Richard (in sympathetic tone): “No, sorry, it’s one.” (It’s true, I saw it). Shake head in disbelief when contestant is awarded £1000 for every correct answer they give. Today’s won 12 grand! Curse self for not phoning in and winning some easy cash.

12.30: Get out of bed.

13.00: Have lunch.

14.00: Have bath and get dressed.

Then there’s an interlude, otherwise known as the afternoon, during which I will read, write and loaf about in equal measures whilst listening to Radio Two. The evening dawns:

18.00: Following a long and stressful day, pour first pint of cider. Watch TV and / or videos whilst supping. Scribble the occasional idea or observation in note book. Inspired right now, but doubtless laughable when read in the soberness of morning.

22.00: Supper, then onto Gin and Tonics. Continue to watch TV and / or videos. Continue quaffing alcohol. Make even more ridiculous notes.

02.00: Retire. Thought to self while drifting off: “What a life”.

Next Monday: Get a life.

 

Culture Vultures

Tuesday, 30th January 2001. It just occured to me that it is almost the second month of the year and I have not written anything for this site. In an attempt to rectify this situation, today I am submitting two. Lucky you! Far from lacking opinions or experiences to rant about, the reason for this recent lack of activity has been activity elsewhere. I have enrolled on a writing course (“Hoorah!” I hear a heckler call from the back), and that has been occupying a lot of my time. Until now I’ve only ever written short fiction and this occasional babble. The course is intended to allow me to diversify and gain experience in other areas of writing like scripts, radio plays, features and articles.

All of which is a digression from my chosen subject, which I was reminded of during the phone conversation I just had with a friend and ex-colleague. A couple of weeks ago he and I decided to have a day in London, pretending to be tourists. Both of us have worked, played and almost lived in London for the last 14 years or so, yet neither of us have taken in many of the great sights that the capital has to offer. As a child I did the Science and Natural History museums, but that’s about it. Now we didn’t want to do all of the things and go to all of the places that the cave-dwellers do and go to. No we wanted a bit of culture.

Perhaps I should explain my definition of a cave-dweller, and I make no apology if I end up sounding a bit of a snob: A cave-dweller is the kind of person who goes in for floral tributes to dead princesses, appears on “Jim Davidson’s Generation Game”, reads “The Sun” and therefore thinks that a paediatrician is a paedophile. In other words, dumb people. In yet other words, a significant proportion of the English population. These are the kind of people who on arriving for work and being asked by me “Did you see that documentary last night on Channel Four about Stephen Hawking?”, will reply “Who’s he?” Then they’ll say something like “I can’t believe that bloke who blah blah blah, Chris Tarrant blah blah “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” blah blah…” You can tell I wan’t listening right? These are the people responsible for getting the likes of Celine Dion and Whitney bloody Houston to number one in the record charts because, “Well, she’s got a good voice”. Fuck off! She sings very simply-constructed songs whilst performing some kind of vocal gymnastics with her mouth in an attempt to convince us that what she is doing is soooo difficult. My friend didn’t realise I was so passionate in my hatred of these people. In closing the subject (for now), I was called “posh” the other day in a chat room, by a teenager, because I told him he couldn’t spell. So by his reckoning, because I can spell I am posh. Well mate, I think you mean intelligent, but then you probably couldn’t spell that could you?

And so it was with the safety of the general public in mind that the two of us headed for the National Gallery. In all my years in London I had never been there, which is made all the more unbelievable given the fact that it’s free to get in. Now my friend and I are not “posh”, and we’re not snobs either. We’re certainly not cultured in the traditional sense of the word. We merely consider ourselves to be of average intellect and appreciate many things that a large percentage of the population are too ignorant to appreciate. And there’s the defining word: Ignorance. These are the people who will happily slag off galleries and call them “boring”, having never been to the places. There I go again.

It was a pleasant morning, wandering around the gallery’s vast interior. It is sobering indeed to stand in front of a Picasso, DaVinci or Van Gogh. Awe-inspiring in fact to think that the painting in front of you is hundreds of years old, remarkably and lovingly maintained, that the great artist’s hands were once a mere two feet from where you stand. Incredible too to realise that these works are worth millions of pounds. The temptation to whip one off of the wall and do a runner was almost undeniable. The vibrancy and detail of the paintings cannot be described effectively here. They literally have to be seen to be believed. Something the cave-dwellers will never know through their ignorance. I do wish I could shut up about the plebs.

As I said, neither of us is particularly cultured or well-educated in the arts. We do appreciate the arts, but find it difficult to leave our slightly warped senses of humour at the door in even the most sombre of establishments. Said senses of humour were not appreciated by one particularly serious-looking curator. On spotting a painting that he liked, my friend wished to note the name of the painter so that he could research his work further. Neither of us had a pen and so we asked a burly curator if we might borrow his. I thought it rather a weeze to point to a particular portrait and opine that I thought the subject would look better with a Hitler-style tash and comic spectacles, and therefore might we borrow his pen to draw them on? Well, if looks could have killed the ground would have opened up right then. How touchy! Anyway, after much reassurance he did lend us the pen and we noted the artist’s name, made our excuses and left.

We then had a splendid lunch at “Cafe Fish” in Soho. On entering the restaurant we were greeted by the usual question of “Table for two?”. I of course was forced to enter into the usual comedic routine whereby I turn to my companion and point, saying “Well, let me see, one”, point to myself and say “two”, before turning to the waiter and saying “Yes please”. I think he must have heard that one before. That being the case, why do he and all his kind persist in asking such stupid questions? Actually it just occured to me that perhaps we could have been an advance party, to be joined by guests later. I’ll shut up and apologise to that waiter here and now. So, waiter-type-person: If you’re reading this I’m sorry okay? You didn’t spit in my mushy peas did you? My friend and I demonstrated our eccentricity over lunch. Some would call it uncoothness, but I prefer eccentricity. Admiring the beautiful plate of cod and crevette in beer batter with fries and mushy peas, I requested a bottle of tomato ketchup. My companion, admiring his squid tagliatelli, requested a bowl of chips to accompany it.

In the afternoon we shopped in Carnaby street, played “Pooh sticks” on Waterloo Bridge (always fun in rush hour), and rounded off the day by sampling various beers from around the world. Or in other words, getting pissed.

 

 

Way Back When it Was 2002

Lifted straight from The Internet Archive, some pictures are missing, links defunct and text out of context. This though was 2002:
Hash Bar

 

Where I make occasional comments on life, what I’ve been up to lately and other such meaningless meandering, as well as conveying my general mood to the world.

This is my online diary.
 

I’m giving up, I swear.

Tuesday 31 December, 2002. In the mug to my right: tea.

Another month has passed since I was last here, so some catching up is in order once more: In a nutshell, I’ve been busy writing and at work, and I am attempting to give up smoking, more of all of which later.

It’s New Year’s Eve and so time for New Year’s resolutions again. Besides the annual attempt at giving up smoking, I have made four resolutions. The first two are to be more tolerant and to not allow myself to get so wound up about trivial things. Perhaps the two are the same.

In the case of the former, this will involve being more laid back in the face of trivial stupidity. I’m not a genius and there are countless subjects that I have little or no knowledge of and within those subjects there are individuals far superior to me. I am always willing to learn new things though and base my opinions on knowledge. Others are not and do not and it is they that I will try to be more tolerant of. In the latter instance, I have vowed to calm my temper when it comes to such people and to situations that would be avoidable were it not for various individuals’ incompetence. Adhesion to these two resolutions will make the third a lot easier, I believe: I intend to not swear and curse so much. It is anger and frustration that often drive me to smoking, so maybe giving that up in turn will be a logical progression.

Finally, I will try not to procrastinate so much and do things at the earliest possible juncture, even if they’re things that I don’t enjoy. With this final resolution in mind, I have decided to commit myself to all of them today, a day early.

To stop digressing is not one of my resolutions. I have digressed though, so I shall get back to the point.

The writing course that I am studying continues to go well and besides completing my latest assignment, I have also penned a couple more short stories, which I’ve posted on my writing site. The course covers all areas of writing and, as I’ve said before, is merely a complimentary measure as far as the fiction area is concerned. It is not my intention to sound snobbish but I am quite proud of the fact that I do have the natural ability to tell a good story.

People often say to me, “Hey you! What are you doing in my garden?” They also ask why I write this occasional snippet, to which I reply, “why not?” These questioners are invariably people without a place like this where they can opine themselves. Indeed, they are people who have no opinion and who read red-top tabloid newspapers and therefore have their opinions formed for them. Sad people.

I read a newspaper, the Telegraph in fact. I am of sufficient intellect though to be able to read between the lines, see through any political leaning, realise that a story is only newsworthy when it’s dressed up and maintain my own views.

This is not a political or opinion site though. This is a personal online journal and diary, first and foremost, where far-flung friends and acquaintances can look in and see what I’m up to without the bother of actually having to phone me to ask. It is also a kind of notepad, where I can write about anything that happens to be on my mind, relevant or not. When I’m not writing stories, this is a good place for me to get in some writing practice.

So, what have I been up to over the last month, you may ask? You might not ask but I’ll tell you anyway, because I can. What have you been up to? Sorry, I can’t hear you. You see?

Work continues to be agreeable and I am actually at my desk in London as I write this. It’s my turn in the barrel today as two of my colleagues and I decided to share the burden of the working days over the Christmas period between us. Many companies close down for the entire period but alas the Corporate Finance markets do not. That said, it’s just a matter of covering the phones and there’s very little happening here which is how comes I’m able to write this.

The journey in this morning was pleasant for the fact that there was virtually no one else on the train. This though was perhaps due to the fact that the trains are running to a “special” timetable over the holiday. Not a Saturday or Sunday timetable but a “special” one. The train that I and about four other commuters joined this morning was one that wouldn’t normally exist on any timetable so nobody actually knew about it.

I was reading a newspaper report at the weekend of the Government’s contingency plans should a biological attack be launched in the capital. Besides the obvious health service considerations (the hospitals have admitted that they would be unable to cope), the plans centre on keeping an infected population quarantined. This would involve placing a cordon around London and preventing people from leaving. The report said that the police and armed forces would be rehearsing for such an event during the holidays. Spookily enough, when I walked from the station to the office this morning, there were about thirty police in riot gear milling around in a side street that I passed. I can only assume that they were there for a rehearsal. I certainly hope so.

Once I’m done here, Helen’s meeting me at home and we’re spending New Year’s Eve together, staying in and having a romantic candle-lit dinner. We plan to be having sex at the stroke of midnight so that we can both truthfully state that we started a sex session one year and didn’t finish till the next. This is all assuming that I don’t get cordoned in.

When I was reading the aforementioned newspaper report, I romanticised to Helen that neither hill nor high water would prevent me from getting to my love should I get caught in London, post-biological attack. My bonfire was quickly pissed upon when she said in her best put down tone, “You can fucking stay up there. I don’t want your fucking diseases.” A romantic meal and a night of passion at home could yet become a Pot Noodle and a wank in the office.

The reason that we’re spending the evening in is not just for the sake of romance and being together, although we both believe that the latter is what New Year’s Eve is all about. The fact is there’s bugger all else to do or places to go. We object to paying to get into a pub, or to shelling out for an over-priced, mediocre, set menu meal in a restaurant.

I still remember with a passion, Millennium eve and the fantastic night that I, and six million (give or take) others, enjoyed in London. If only the capital could pull it off again but alas, too many authorities are involved and the arse doesn’t know what the elbow is doing.

As I said above, this is not a political site and although I have political opinions, I have never voiced them here. I do despair sometimes though of what this once great country has become: we have health, transport, justice and education systems that are crumbling; this year we let in half as many asylum seekers again as the United States, a country hundreds of times larger than Britain. The National Health Service has 199’000-odd beds and 211’000-odd administrators. There certainly isn’t anything like one nurse per bed. What do these so-called administrators actually administrate? Themselves, I believe. Like so many other areas of the public sector, these are self-invented jobs to sustain bureaucracy.

This is a society where asylum seekers are given housing and medical treatment before the rest of us. And myself and every other decent, hard-working national insurance and taxpayer indirectly finance all that those less deserving soles get, while we ourselves are denied a proper health service and will probably have to whistle for our pensions, which those payments are meant to guarantee us.

Despite what I said about not airing politics here, I realise that I just have. Sometimes, having a potential world stage to vent one’s anger from can be a great way to let off steam, provided one’s arguments are presented intelligently enough to be taken seriously and that one doesn’t resort to bad language.

I shall keep my thoughts on Tony Blair and his cabinet being a bunch of cunts to myself.

Now, fuck this. I’m going downstairs for a fag.

I’ll resolve to start my resolutions tomorrow.

Wednesday 01 January, 2003. 00:15 – Current mood:  Happy new year!

Moving on up

Current mood:  In the saucer to my left: Milk.

Thursday 05 December. Once again readers, it’s been a while since I was last here. Apologies to you both. A lot has been going on since my last entry so I shall attempt an abridged update.

This week didn’t start too well when Helen and I had the mother of all bust-ups. It was one of those stupid arguments that started with a careless remark and escalated into a full-blown battlefield. Without going into detail, I shall merely say that Helen is a worthy opponent when it comes to battles. Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein with their regimes of terror and dictatorship respectively are nothing compared to Helen scorned.

An argument with Helen is like an argument with a woman in the full throes of PMT: Everything is taken the wrong way and seen as an accusation or a slight of character. I’m not saying that Helen was suffering from PMT, rather that the argument with her was as impossible to win as it would have been if she did suffer from said affliction. As I said, I will not wash our dirty laundry in public but to draw a parallel, my frustration and anger was heightened at every turn as it might have been by the following exchange with a PMT sufferer:

I: “Would you like a drink dear?”

She: “Are you saying I’m fat?”

Like I say, impossible.

Helen admitted in retrospect that she might have taken things a little too far. I in turn admitted that I was wrong in certain respects. She was right and she’d got the better of me. Bitchiness is not in either of our natures where one that we love is concerned. Anyway, we agreed to bury the hatchet. We moved on and so now shall I.

The reasons that I’ve not written here for a while are numerous but boil down to three things. Firstly, the new job that I am now two months into is going extremely well. I’ve made comparisons between this job and my old imprisonment before and apologise if I slip from time to time here and continue to do so. I’ll try not to but sometimes when you finally make good I guess it’s difficult not to see the comparisons once they’re made so stark. I’ll try to keep my bitchiness at bay.

To speak in metaphors, if my previous job was a sentence in a story, my current one is a very interesting chapter in a book that I intend to finish. Actually, fuck the metaphors: now I have a career where previously I was serving a sentence (sorry, couldn’t help it). Now I work for an institution run by adults, who treat their staff as equals in that respect, whereas previously it was as though I was in a young offenders’ institution, or that was how it felt.

How nice it is then to be free. Free to be trusted to come and go as one pleases and to further be trusted to be doing one’s job whilst doing so; one’s job being to win new business and to come and go as one sees fit in order to achieve that end. In short, I’m doing well working for a professional directorship as opposed to being frustrated by the restrictions of a misguided and untrusting unprofessional megalomaniacal dictatorship. (Meow).

Over the past two months I’ve even been allowed a couple of days off (sorry! Sarcasm is the sister of bitchiness). During one of these, Helen and I visited “Body Worlds”: Professor Gunther von Hagen’s travelling “freak show”, as some would have it known. More on that in a moment.

The second reason for my abstinence here is that I have renewed my studies on the writing correspondence course that I enrolled on just over a year ago. I think it not unfair or conceited to say that I have a degree of writing ability and have indeed achieved minor success with the publication of one of my short stories in an e-zine. I do aspire to greater things however and like many others, feel that I have a novel within me. The writing business is an extremely difficult one to make anything from financially, and so competitive that sometimes a helping hand is required. Personal study and membership of online writers’ groups can only help the aspiring author so far, so I decided to seek professional help, with the writing that is.

The course started out fine as the first few modules were grounding exercises and I excelled in my first assignment. I felt like Stephen Hawking might if he were asked to recite the two-times-table. When I submitted that assignment my tutor’s comments were those of a teacher who’d been given an apple tree, complete with surrounding orchard and planning permission to build on the land, rather than one that had been given a mere apple. Then, however the course moved onto non-fiction and rather than a fish out of water I felt like a pilchard on a climbing frame might.

To cut a long story short, I requested that my course be rearranged so that I might study fiction further before embarking on non-fiction. This has now been done and my short story writing ability accepted to be of sufficient merit to warrant an attempt at a novel, to make a short story long perhaps.

Writing a novel is the biggest project that a writer will ever undertake, obviously. Now that I am properly schooled in the methods of doing so the prospect is a daunting but exciting one. I shall provide updates of my progress here as the project unfolds. At the moment I’m at the early stages, deciding on plots, characters and settings. Next will come the synopsis and eventually, chapter by chapter, the novel. It’s as though I’ve assumed the role of god: I have a little world that I’m creating, populating it with people I’m indulging myself in making and controlling their destinies. I’m doing this in my spare time of course and am sufficiently of sound mind to differentiate between real life and fantasy (stop it!)

The third, final, not least and most important reason for my silence is my wife-to-be-one-day. We’ve enjoyed many happy times together recently as I’ve not been stressed about work, and days and nights out together have been just that, as opposed to the day release from the institution that they were previously (there it goes again, sorry).

As I said earlier, we visited “Body Worlds” a couple of weeks ago. All that I’ll offer by way of review is, judge not those that go, nor their motives. Go for yourself and formulate your own opinions rather than adopt those dictated to you by the red top British tabloid press.

Besides “Body Worlds”, Helen and I have visited Tate Modern again, to view Anish Kapoor’s current installation, and Tate Britain to view the Turner Prize exhibits. We found all three of our excursions educational and fascinating in turn.

I have neither time nor inclination to opine and dictate, so again, just go. The latter two are free.

Continuing the mutual appreciation theme that is Helen and I, and our appreciation of things aesthetic, as recently as yesterday evening we were enjoying a drink in one of our usual haunts and discussing architecture. The conversation centred at one point on Sir Norman Foster’s soon to be completed “Gherkin” tower in the City of London. Old romantic that I am, I told my love that if I were an architect, I would name my greatest, indulgent, megalamaniacal building after her.

“Are you saying I’m fat?” she asked.

I must stop. I’m going on.

 

“Eeenin Stanard”

Current mood:  /

Sunday 20 October 2002. In the mug to my left: Filter coffee. In the CD player at the moment: “Untouchables” by Korn. Never let it be said that I’m a musical snob. My musical tastes are eclectic, as borne out by my CD collection. Added to it this week are the aforementioned Korn album, along with “18” by Moby, “The beginning Stages of…” by The Polyphonic Spree, “Intergalactic Sonic 7″s” by Ash and “Finisterre” by Saint Etienne. The CDs were five of many purchases made yesterday when I treated myself to a little retail therapy, a pleasure denied me recently by my financial circumstances.

This week’s entry doesn’t have a specific subject. Instead, it’s by way of an update for those outside of my inner circle who may have found the last couple of entries here a little cryptic. This is a brief update on what’s been happening with your correspondent.

Three weeks ago I resigned from the job that I had here locally in Tonbridge. It was not a pleasant experience, more of which later. The job was given to me as an obligation on the part of my boss to offer me alternative employment within the company, following my redundancy from another post as a result of downsizing within the organisation. In taking the new post, I took a quite considerable reduction in salary. Cutting a long story short, I could not live on that salary and so was obliged to accept an offer made to me by another company.

I’ve been in my new job for almost three weeks now and having found my feet, am in a position to make a few comparisons. For a start, the salary is considerably more than my previous one and on a level to which I am accustomed. The new job is in London and although I’ve bemoaned commuting before, my working day now is no longer than it was working locally. The reason for this is the simple fact that if we’ve done all that we have to do at 5 O’clock, we can go home. We don’t have to stay politically late, nor do we have to ask if we can leave. We don’t have to ask to go to the toilet either, nor switch off our mobile phones as the management realise that they are integral to our jobs. We are free to come and go as we please as we are trusted to be doing our jobs and not suspected of taking the piss whilst we’re out.

My previous company had an annual turnover of around £2.5 million. My current company turns over £160 million. Previously, I was selling at the arse end of the industry, to the trade. Now I’m working in Corporate Finance and selling to the Financial Directors of PLCs. The main comparison that I can make though is that I’m truly happy in my new job. As a result of being trusted and allowed to do my job, last week I closed my first deal and won the contract to produce the Annual Report and Accounts for a PLC. Most importantly, this is a new career. My last job was just that, a job.

As I said above, my resignation was not a pleasant experience. In short, I was not given the opportunity to speak and instead was subjected to a torrent of verbal personal abuse. Rather than stoop to the level of my aggressor, I merely listened and left quietly. Had I been given the chance to speak, I might have been able to explain how my joining a new company could be beneficial to the company that I was leaving. For every event in life, there’s an equal and opposite one. I’m happy now and am going to do very well in my new job.

Despite my general feeling of wellbeing, the equal and opposite aspect is that this has been the first weekend for as long as I care to remember that I’ve been without the love of my life. Helen is in Warwick on a field trip. She’s been there since Friday morning and returns tonight, although alas I’m not seeing her. I saw her last on Wednesday and am due to again this Wednesday. It’s only a week but when you’re as in love as I am, a week can seem like an eternity. Last Wednesday, as the time approached for us to part company, I began to miss her. On Thursday I missed her intensely, as I always do when we’re apart. Every day since then the emptiness that I feel whenever I’m without my spiritual other half grows greater. Come next Wednesday I’ll be a desperate man but both of us will relish relieving our desperation for one another on all levels. Only she and I know how that feels as only we know the depths of our true love.

Having had the weekend to myself, I’ve achieved a lot. As well as my spell of retail therapy, I’ve spent a great deal of time on some DIY (I spent most of this morning putting up one hi-fi speaker bracket), as well as completing many other domestic chores. I feel pleased with myself having got so much done but would far rather have spent the weekend in the way to which I’ve become accustomed: spending Saturday night with Helen, lazing in bed on a Sunday morning, reading the weekend papers and interspersing things with some fantastic sex.

Talking of Helen, we have decided to marry. Some may think this a little hasty but we do not. We’re talking longer-term as opposed to immediately but both agree that we want to spend the rest of our lives together. A very close friend was a little surprised when I told her recently of our plans but conceded that having seen us together and having read my heartfelt feelings for Helen here, we are clearly in love in the truest sense. I’ve said it before and I make no apologies for saying it again. Helen truly is “the one” for me.

I feel I’ve achieved a great deal lately. Professionally, I have a job that I enjoy for life. I made a break and gained a break. More importantly, I have mutual true love with a special girl whom I’ll see the rest of my days out with.

I can think of no better note than that ultimately positive one to end this little meander with.

 

Part Deux

Current mood:

Sunday 06 October 2002. In the glass to my left: Ice-cold cider. In the CD player at the moment: “Let’s Dance” by David Bowie, my personal God.

Following last week’s diary entry, I received an interesting and strongly-worded email from someone who believed that I was referring to someone they knew when I was describing the kind of people whom I often cast as antagonists in my stories. Two things struck me. Firstly, that no human being could be as evil as the type of fictional character that I described, and secondly that the sender of the email must be pretty unfortunate if they know someone like that. Perhaps they do though, given that my description elicited such a passionate response. Perhaps life really does imitate art, as the oft-quoted dictum would have us believe. Or perhaps it takes one to know one. Mine is not to speculate.

It is not in my nature to set out to deliberately offend anyone, any more than it is to libel. By not naming anyone specifically, I’m safe there even if anyone ever does see fit to read something into my writing which is simply not there. I do know that certain individuals have been slandering me lately but that is a separate matter as I never mix business with pleasure, in the same way that my writing never intentionally reflects real life.

As a result of the correspondence that I received, I decided to change the story that I was writing the draft for from a thriller to a science-fiction tale. In doing so, I figure that no-one can possibly form parallels between my story and real life. To further ensure this I even swapped my human characters for beings from another planet, in sticking with the sci-fi vein. What follows is that story…

Are we sitting comfortably? I can see a few people who might not be. I’ll begin anyway.

_____________

Once upon a time in a fictional galaxy, far, far away (you can’t get any more distant from reality than that), there lived young man called Bolb. Bolb had worked hard all of his life to buy himself a ship that he sailed across the oceans of his home planet, Egdirbnot, picking up waifs and strays and persuading many people that they were his friends along the way.

Egdirbnot was a mining planet first and foremost and the majority of the population were of the Eniuqe race, largely dependant on the self-proclaimed superior Icmian race but physically well-evolved for mining, with four legs for digging, large teeth for sifting the mined material and a mane and long tail for brushing away debris. Bolb was of the Icm race, a species highly-evolved in persuasive mental ability but gelatinous physically. There was a third species indigenous to the planet, the Tar. They resembled the rodents we have here on Earth, were generally considered scum by the two superior races and for the most part went unnoticed and unappreciated.

One day, Bolb chanced upon a female Eniuqe, mining for gold on an island he was visiting. They fell in love, married and went in search of a future together. Unbeknown to them at the time, three Tars had boarded the ship. The Tars were unnoticed for the most part, until Bolb discovered that the combined waste produced by him and his partner was food to the Tars. In turn, the Tars fed on their hosts’ waste and were able to power the ship. With this alliance forged, the Tars saw that they could travel to places they’d never dreamed of, as promised by Bolb.

The five sailed happily together for a while, even taking on a fourth Tar to power the ship to still further places. The fourth Tar was slightly unbalanced mentally, and dressed and spoke poetically at every opportunity. On being offered free food in return for the increased power he’d be able to provide the ship, he recited:

“If I had a cap sir, to you I’d doff it,

as being on your ship means I can make an extra penny in profit.”

He became known on board as the mad poet.

Time passed and unrest set in among the original three Tars as they realised that the places that they’d dreamed of visiting were eluding them. They spent many nights below deck in their quarters speculating as to why this might be. The mad poet didn’t share their quarters as he was allowed to live in Bolb’s pocket, often reciting a poem to him at the end of the day:

“Oh great Bolb, you’ve given me my comeuppance.

Today I made a profit of tuppence.”

One day, the three Tars discovered that the waste that they’d been fed all of the time that they were on the ship was poisoning their minds. They only discovered this by comparing notes and talking it over between themselves. In an effort to get off of the ship they started gnawing at the floor, a little every night.

Eventually, two of them made good their escape but poor Little Legs, the third Tar, was too plump to fit through the hole made by the other two. So, he continued to eat the food given to him and used his energy to gnaw the hole bigger. On the upper decks his plight was unnoticed by the three remaining crew.

Finally, the following week, Little Legs made the hole big enough to escape through. A passing spaceship no less, bound for a better planet, picked him up and as he was pulled on board and looked back over his shoulder at the ship he’d escaped from, it looked a little unstable, like it might sink because of the hole he’d made. It seemed to be going backwards. Life can be like that.

He just wanted to be noticed.

_____________

No-one of sound mind could ever associate this story with real life in my humble view. My view is humble though and often overlooked, so in the style of a Hollywood film disclaimer, I’ll just say that any similarities to any corporations or persons alive or dead is purely coincidental.

There, I said it.

 

To be continued…

Current mood:

Sunday 29 September 2002. In the mug to my left: Filter coffee. In the CD player at the moment: “This is Where I Came in” by The Beegees. Titter Ye not. Us Radio 2 listeners are above snobbery toward any musical genre. Except for my part perhaps the more conceptual forms of Jazz. And dance, innit?

It is often said that life imitates art and as many of my readers know, I write the occasional piece of short fiction. Often my stories are inspired by real life events or people I’ve met and sometimes I am similarly inspired to do something as a result of what I’ve written or read.

I’ve met many people who have inspired, encouraged or influenced me to write or to do something. When you meet lots of people and study them, you find that you are able to analyse them. The majority of the people that I’ve met have been pleasant, some even being the basis for the protagonists in my stories. The antagonist characters are always more interesting though and I derive a great deal of satisfaction in gaining victory for my little guy heroes and having them overcome and defeat their antagonists.

There are many kinds of people that I cannot abide, have met and who have become antagonists in my stories. Among them, the majority of my ire is reserved for the kind of people that talk about others detrimentally behind their backs, lacking the courage to be confrontational. At the same time these people will be as nice as pie to the face of the person whom they would otherwise be discrediting were that person not present. The worst of these hypocrites will even attempt to ruin friendships by discrediting one individual to his friend or colleague and then do likewise in reverse. These same people tend to display the other traits that I find objectionable, those of lying and cheating for self-gain with no consideration of others. They are inhuman, unable to form friendships as they are so mistrusting of everyone around them. Mistrusting because they think that everyone around them is getting away with what they would be getting away with were they in those individual’s positions. They see themselves as some kind of superior species but always think that the underlings are trying to get one over on them.

These people are often to be found in charge of failing companies, blaming all the incompetents below them for the company’s problems. The lower life forms that the self-proclaimed superiors elevate themselves above in the professional environment are usually far more intelligent than they are given credit for. They are able to forge friendships among their peers. They talk, and as true friends they tell each other if someone has been discrediting them behind their back. They see through the lies fed to them by their so-called superiors and they rise up and rebel. Once all of the low-lives have fled the sinking ship, only the super humans are left and they have only themselves to look at when assessing what went wrong.

So goes the plot for a story that I’m writing and that I hope to finish sometime this week…

 

Honey makes the world go round

Current mood:

Sunday 18 August 2002. In the glass to my left: Ice cold blackcurrant squash. I do limit my alcoholism to the evenings and it’s bloody hot here at the moment so an ice cold squash is just what the doctor ordered. In the CD player at the moment: Nothing. Musical entertainment is being provided by MTV2 via satellite TV.

I’ve been busy over the past month since I last wrote here, trying to improve my financial situation. I’m still in my “replacement” job following my redundancy and therefore remain on a reduced salary. Following many discussions with various companies, the improvement shouldn’t be too long in coming. That last statement is deliberately cryptic for the benefit of those who’ll know who they are when they’re next here as unwelcome guests.

This is the last day of what has been a five day weekend for me. It is the first day of the five that I’ve been alone, the previous four having been spent with the love of my life, Helen.

We had originally planned to spend a week together, during which we were going to spend a few days in London, sightseeing and doing tourist-type things. The recent events at work however meant that I didn’t have as much money as I’d originally budgeted to have in order for us to do everything I’d planned. Money is of no consequence to Helen though and we still had a great time during the two days that we spent in the capital, doing the things that can be done for free there.

Our little break started on Wednesday, when Helen came down for the evening, we watched “Ghost”, drank cider and I cooked dinner – A rather nice toad-in-the-hole, even if I do say so myself. Unfortunately, the pint or so of gin that I downed as a night cap (“What the hell”, I thought. I didn’t have to work the next day. Not that that normally stops me anyway) rendered me incapable… You know what I mean babe and I’m sorry. The rest of you shouldn’t find it too hard (as Helen didn’t) to guess.

Thursday was a glorious day weather-wise, and our first day in London. I should point out here that Helen knows very little of the capital, and it was my job as guide to show her all the best bits. So we started in Bermondsey. Not the most romantic or picturesque area I realise, but having spent so long working and drinking around there, I wanted to show Helen my old haunts. We had a very nice brunch in the Marigold pub and Helen met Charlie, one of my fellow Bermondsey drunks. He was quite taken by her, as are most men, and I gave him my “Yes, I am and don’t you wish you could?” look when he smiled at me approvingly.

From there we went to Tate Modern for a little culture. Having abstained the previous night, I was feeling rather randy and couldn’t help thinking that maybe we could get it on in the Tate and pass ourselves off as exhibits.

Like myself, Helen isn’t someone who tries to interpret modern art with a load of rhetorical bollocks. Rather, we both appreciate agreeable aesthetics and can differentiate between such and a random pile of shit passed off as art to a gullible public. We were enlightened, fascinated, intrigued and amused in equal measure by many exhibits and saw work by Damien Hirst and the Chapman brothers among others. Time at Tate Modern is always time well spent (and entry is free) and so it was doubly so on this occasion as it was Helen’s first visit. She enjoyed it very much and we were both glad I’d taken her there, even though I didn’t in every sense, in case you’re wondering about the outcome of my musing in the previous paragraph.

We walked across the Millennium Bridge (Helen taking in the views on either side, I walking in the centre and staring straight ahead as I’m shit scared of heights – such are the sacrifices I make to show a girl a good time) to St. Paul’s. From there it was a short walk to Cannon Street station where we caught a train home and reflected on a day well spent.

Pretty soon after getting home, we made up for lost opportunities the previous evening and were both satisfied and fulfilled as a result. The burgers that we ate hadn’t been defrosted on Wednesday evening so we had them on Thursday is what I mean, of course. Cleanse your filthy minds!

Friday was another glorious day weather-wise, and we decided to spend the day outside, just looking around and doing the odd bit of shopping. We started in Covent Garden, which is always a great place to be in nice weather, with it’s street entertainers and general ambience. While there, Helen treated me to lunch at TGI Friday’s. It really was a treat and such a sweet thing for her to do, she not having a lot of cash herself. She’d saved for this though and I can honestly say that was the best lunch I’ve ever had, simply because it was such a sweet thing for my sweetheart to have done.

In the afternoon we went to Leicester Square, Piccadilly Circus, Soho and Carnaby street, stopping off for a little retail therapy now and again on our travels. Towards the end of the day we rested for a while on the grass back in Leicester square and people-watched: an activity far more rewarding when done in London as opposed to anywhere else, London having it’s higher than national average of nutcases and eccentrics. A quick revisit of Covent Garden on the way to Charing Cross for our train home rounded off the day.

Friday became Saturday far too quickly and alas it was yesterday that I had to say farewell to Helen till the next time I see her, next Wednesday. Seeing her off is always difficult but yesterday was worse than usual as we’d had the previous three days together and now it was all coming to an end. My bed felt so empty and lonely this morning when I woke up as I’d grown used to having Helen beside me. I always miss her when we’re apart but today the pain is so much greater as it’s our first anniversary and I wish we were together. We’d agreed before our little break that we wouldn’t see each other today as we thought that having been together for the last four days, we might be growing a little tired of one another. Nothing could be further from the truth as it turns out.

Every day I’m with Helen, I want to be with her more. I know that doesn’t make sense but it serves to sum up my frustration as I simply can’t express in words the extent of my love for her. What I’m certain of is that, having spent 365 days with her, I want to be with her forever. The last year has truly been the best of my life so far. With so much shit going on, Helen’s my sanctuary. She’s the best thing to have happened to me. She’s beautiful, physically and personally, she cares about me. She loves me and that’s the best feeling in the world: to know that the one that you care about so much feels exactly the same about you. Helen’s changed my life for ever. I’m the happiest, luckiest guy I know. Happy first anniversary honey. I know it’ll be the first of many. I fucking love you!

Although I’d planned to do a lot more in London with Helen, had we had more time and money, I really enjoyed the two days that we had. London is the city I love and is my spiritual home. To be there with the one I love, showing Helen all the places I know and sharing them with her, made it ten times better. Train fares and food aside, we’d had two days in the capital for free. We don’t need money. As long as we’ve got each other, we’re happy. It’s not money but my honey that makes my world go round.

I feel for those less fortunate than us: for the shallow, transparent people whose main love in life is money, or their partner’s money. They lack depth, imagination and true love; things that money can’t buy.

 

Found and lost

Current mood:

Sunday 13 July 2002. In the glass to my left: Cider. Gaymer’s Olde English to be precise, as opposed to my favoured tipple of Scrumpy Jack. The reason for this is that the former is the current cider on special offer at my local off-license. I am having to rely on special offers to procure cheap booze as money is a little tight at the moment. Perhaps I should give up the booze entirely and save myself the expense but quite frankly I’m dependent on its numbing effects to blot out what is currently a pretty shitty life. More on that later.

In the CD player at the moment: “Ziggy Stardust” by David Bowie. Next up is “Aladdin Sane”. I’m having a Bowie moment, finding comfort in the music that I grew up on and perhaps hoping that it’ll digress me to a former age and allow me to forget the crap that’s going on in my life at the moment Well, I can hope.

The main reason for my slightly downbeat frame of mind is the fact that this week I was made redundant from my job. I got another job almost immediately – albeit at a lesser salary – along the lines of the one that I lost, and have the opportunity to do well, and for that I’m grateful to certain unnamed individuals. What really sticks in my throat though is the fact that I lost my job partly through the engineering of other unnamed individuals and that there are now yet other unnamed and undeserving individuals reaping the benefits of things that I did whilst still employed and am unaccredited for.

The individuals concerned will know who they are when they stumble as unwelcome guests upon this site again, as they have done in the past. In the same way that I’m intelligent enough to be able to put this web site up, unlike those same unwelcome guests, I’m intelligent enough to be able to see people’s real agendas in the workplace, beyond the bullshit that is office politics.

Most of the week following my redundancy has been taken up with recalculating my finances with a view to maintaining a life of lesser excess, involving less or cheaper alcohol, and contacting my creditors to let them know that I would no longer be able to afford to repay my previous excesses run up on credit at my current rate. Almost all of them requested that I fill in a “necessary expenditure” form, none of which had an “alcohol” provision, hence my ongoing quest for a cheaper source of booze.

There’s a word for an individual that screws up other people’s lives deliberately but until such time as I’m sufficiently inebriated on cheap booze, it eludes me. I seem to remember that it has something to do with an English town which certain parental control programs on the Internet will not allow you to look up. It’s somewhere I want to go, I know. I’m sure I’ll remember later.

With apologies to the majority of my readership for that spitting of venom aimed at a group of individuals other than yourselves, I’ll move onto other news, concerning venom, appropriately enough: The escaped spider turned up this week.

I’d just finished some creditor correspondence on this computer and was very pleased with myself for having found an online supplier of bottle Metholated spirits whilst online when I nonchalantly wheeled my chair back and there she was, sitting by my feet as though she’d never left in the first place, home again.

A struggle ensued and now I have sixteen legs’ worth of Mexican Red Kneed Tarantula co-habituating with me but that’s besides the point. I considered this a successful experiment in animal loyalty, the fact that she came back.

I was reminded of the time that I felt sorry for a goldfish that I once kept, in a rather small aquarium, and decided that it could perhaps do with a little outside exercise. Harley (the cat), was in the garden and I decided that the two of them might like to play together. I scooped the goldfish out of its tank and threw it onto the lawn where it promptly got into the spirit of things by performing some sit-ups. I left them together, returning to the garden twenty minutes later to find Harley still there but no sign of the goldfish. Proof that a cat is more loyal than a fish.

Speaking of loyalty, Helen and I are approaching eleven months together and I owe her thanks for sticking by me through everything, including my latest trauma. True love is made of more than casual acquaintances, such as those made at work.

I’m just pouring over the “necessary expenditure” forms from my creditors that I mentioned earlier. They have a column marked “Car maintenance”. I figure that this refers to petrol. Whilst filling them out I’ve employed a certain element of creative accounting and used this area to allow me to procure petrol, solving my other problem of how to procure drink. Not having a car to put the petrol in, I’m drinking it and feel somehow enlightened.

It’s as though I can go anywhere I want, like a car must feel when it’s full of fuel.

And I’ve remembered that place: Scunthorpe.

 

Lost and around

Current mood:

Sunday 07 July 2002. In the cup to my left: Earl Grey tea. In the CD player: Nothing. VH1 via satellite is this week providing the musical entertainment. It’s “80s weekend” and they’re playing “80 songs from the 80s”. How long did it take them to think that one up I wonder? So far the offerings have ranged from the toe-tapping “Ghost Town” by The Specials to the toe-curling “Lady in Red” by the ever so up himself Chris De Burgh. Strong words perhaps, but Chris De Burgh doesn’t scare me and if he wants to come round here and have a go, he can if he thinks he’s hard enough. That said, I would point out that I’m not afraid to speak my mind and certainly never attribute my views to an imaginary friend (“my mate says…”) when the repercussions from them may be disagreeable.

So, England’s allergy to major sporting finals continues to afflict it with Tim Henman dropping out of Wimbledon and leaving us to hope, yet again, that next time will be ours. Something that occurred to me whilst watching this year’s Wimbledon was that a significant proportion of the Henman / Rusedski supporters seemed to think that they were still watching the football World Cup. I refer to the painted-faced element of the crowd that were wearing / waving St. George Cross flags. Being a proud supporter of any representative of my country taking part in a sporting event, I understand such patriotism. What I did find slightly uncomfortable however was the vocalism of these people, not in their support of our players but in their cheers whenever an opponent made a fault. It’s almost tantamount to the repulsive habit of our football supporters booing the national anthem of an opposing team at the beginning of an international football match. My mate says that it would seem the thick heads who cannot differentiate between patriotism and racist nationalism around the football pitch are now in residence around the tennis court.

My friend also says that these people are perhaps confused, their lack of intelligence and consumption of alcohol during the World Cup leading them to believe that perhaps they are still watching the football. He would like to point out that although they may think they can see 22 players out there through the bottom of their pint glasses, there are in fact only two. Furthermore, the ball is smaller and there is only one net, in the middle of the court (it’s not a pitch). Okay, so it’s rectangular and green but there the similarities end. He hopes that clears it up.

Anyone, drunk or not, could have been forgiven for thinking that yesterday’s ladies’ final was in fact the men’s. I have always preferred ladies’ tennis from the spectator point of view. Not for the obvious short skirt reason but because the ladies are smaller and weaker by nature (my mate says). Therefore there aren’t the constant 150mph ace serves as in the men’s game. Instead there are more sustained rallies making for a more interesting game. Watching the Williams sisters yesterday was not the enjoyable spectacle that a ladies’ game normally is in either a sustained rallies or a short skirt way.

Talking of ladies that can easily be mistaken for men leads me nicely onto my next subject: my spider (the Mexican Red Knee Tarantula) escaped this week. This was a particularly riling event as I’d just bought her, at considerable expense, a new home, complete with a rather fetching faux tree branch three-piece suite. This new spider house (a “Tarantularium” in Arachnid Estate Agent speak) features floor-to-ceiling windows on all four sides in real glass and an integral light in the lid. It was this lid that was to blame for the escape as, unlike the previous housing, it didn’t fasten closed. I had raised the spider over two years from a spiderling a mere half inch across to an impressive beast measuring six inches in diameter. I’ve searched the house for her to no avail and have therefore had to conclude that she’s out there in the big wide world (I have reassured my neighbours that she is not dangerous and that her sheer size is of benefit to anyone who may fear spiders as you can actually hear her footsteps as she approaches). I never though for a moment though that she would be big or strong enough to lift the lid of her tank. Nature can be full of surprises.

Having an affinity with inanimate objects, probably because I spend much of my time as one when I’m drunk, I took pity on the lonely-looking empty tank and set out yesterday for a new tenant for it to play host to. As luck would have it, I found a two year-old female Mexican Red Knee Tarantula offered by a local breeder. She’s more attractive than the last one in that she’s slightly larger and has more prominent coloration. She’s now sitting in the tank, looking very pretty indeed and isn’t going anywhere due to the loft extension I’ve built for her home (a heavy weight on the lid). If any neighbour unaware of the escapee were to find it and point accusingly at me for being irresponsible and letting a venomous animal loose, I can now point responsibly in an it’s-been-there-all-along way at the tank.

I’m not sure if Helen was too keen at first on another spider as a replacement for the last one as in some ways she can’t quite understand my fascination with a spider’s beauty and the way that I coo over a Tarantularium in much the same way that a more balanced person might do a bird cage. Helen admitted though that the new one is very pretty. A lesser girlfriend might have been jealous as some are sometimes of their boyfriends’ hobbies, thinking the hobbies mean more to their men than they do.

Talking of Helen, it’s my beloved’s birthday today. I wish I could be with you on your special day babe but I’m loving you from afar as I always do. You’re one pretty little lady I’ll never lose.

And please, no-one think that I’m making comparisons between Helen and the spider in any way other than metaphorically. The spider may be pretty but Helen’s far prettier. And the spider may have more legs than Helen but Helen’s legs are nicer.

 

Oh dear…

Current mood:

Sunday 23 June 2002. In the glass to my left: Cider. In the CD player: Nothing. MTV2 is again providing my musical entertainment as I continue to allow the joys of digital satellite TV to seduce me. CDs bought recently: “Heathen” by David Bowie. This was his 25th studio album and although perhaps not of the ground-breaking level expected of such a landmark recording, it is still very good. Also, “The Raven” by The Stranglers, a late-finisher in the race that is my attempt to replace all of my old vinyl records with their metal brothers before they are deleted from the studios’ catalogues. The track “Don’t Bring Harry” on the latter has actually inspired me to write a short story – something I’ve not done for a while – so watch this space.

So, we’re out. England, that is, out of the World Cup. Oh dear…

I must admit to being just as upset as anyone else who was as upset as me on Friday when Brazil beat England and sent us packing. Over the last couple of weeks, I’d been drawn into the great national hope that perhaps this year was “ours”. This tournament has been so full of surprises that one more in our favour would have been the proverbial icing on the cake. Alas, it wasn’t to be. But of one thing we can be proud: the behaviour of the England supporters in Japan was exemplary and a credit to the vast majority of this nation that see football as a game and not a battlefield. Perhaps it was the hospitality of the host nation, perhaps the fact that those able to afford the trip to Japan were a better class of supporter. Whatever the case, we can remain proud of our country, whatever our feelings toward our national team.

Which brings me to another point: around here and everywhere that I’ve been in the last couple of days, the flag of St. George still flies from flagpoles, house windows and cars, despite the fact that England are out of the competition. I shouldn’t be surprised as this is how it should be. Historically though, every time that England have been doing well in a competition – specifically football – St. George flags have fluttered proudly in the wind, only to be brought down in shame as soon as we are knocked out of said competition.

This year though things are different somehow. We are still proud, perhaps not of our sporting finesse, but as a nation. The football is perhaps to thank as a unifying influence but there is something far deeper ingrained in the national psyche that has somehow allowed us to cast off what has in the past been a feeling of shame in flying something that was branded racist by left-wing politics and be proud of our national flag and what it represents: history, heritage and unity. I have always been proud of what I am and am glad that right now we are all proud as a nation to be “us”. Sometimes associations with an image or a word, say, run far deeper than the immediate association. My St. George cross still hangs, as it always has, in the corner of this room and I’m proud of it.

I make no secret of the fact that this diary entry is written with one person in mind: that person is my Helen and the reason for the dedication is that we had a little misunderstanding earlier. Oh dear…

…and far more important this one: whilst talking to my babe on the phone, a friend of mine called on my mobile. I took the call and called my friend “babe”. This is a term of endearment that my friend and I both use and have done for many years, in the same way that I generalise among my friends with the term “mate” and among other female friends with “dear”. There is a difference though between the recipients of the generalised use of the words and the one true deserving individual to whom I say the word with heart-felt love: I call all of my friends “mate” but my true best mate is the person for whom I reserve the feeling of the word when I utter it.

“My” is the operative word here. The word “dear” is applied in my language to many people, “dear” only really taking on its true meaning in the context of “my dear Mum”, for instance. By the same token, “babe” is only truly heartfelt in the context of what I said above when I referred to “My babe”, that being “My” Helen. So to her I say: babe, I hope this makes sense and I hope that you realise that the true meaning of that word is reserved for you and you alone.

Far be it from me to desecrate the flag of the country that I’m so proud of but if there were some way to proclaim my love for you in the form of a national flag, I’d paint an “I” in the top left white corner of the England flag, a heart in the top right and your initials in the bottom two corners. Then I’d fly it for the world to see because I’m that proud of you and of “us”.

And this diary entry is going out there with all the others, for the whole world to see how proud I am that you’re my one and only babe.

 

Miss understanding

Current mood:

Before I go on, I have to warn you that I need to be a little careful about what I write here from now on as this site has had some unwanted attention recently. Certain visitors have seen fit to spread completely unfounded rumours about your dear correspondent without being big enough to check the validity of their “facts” with me before spreading them. Okay, so it’s a web site and it’s on the Internet for all to see. I would point out though that I am a writer of fiction with a sometimes warped, self-deprecating (look in the dictionary) sense of humour, both of which are virtues that I realise are wasted on those too shallow to appreciate them. I realise that what I write here is on public view and therefore if I accidentally let something private slip, I only have myself to blame for any repercussions. Apologies then if this diary entry is somewhat boring but like I said, I need to be careful. If I do accidentally let something slip, I’d be grateful if you’d keep it to yourselves. Thanks.

Sunday 02 June 2002. In the ashtray to my left: Crack cocaine. In the CD player: Nothing. My musical entertainment is currently emanating from the TV, courtesy of MTV2. ITV digital having gone tits up, I’ve had digital satellite installed: 350 channels of mind-numbing, time-wasting, vegetative state-inducing heaven.

This weekend is a very patriotic one, being that of the Queen’s golden jubilee and seeing England’s first game in the world cup. I’m proud to be both English and British, a fact borne out by my membership of the National Front, so this is a special weekend for me in that respect and in that it is a weekend with a “Helen element”.

I didn’t see the match this morning as although the Christian churches rescheduled their services, the high priest of my Satanic worship group is not a football fan and therefore refused to budge on the issue. I gather I didn’t miss much as the England team seem to have taken to Japan with them that great British adage that it’s not the winning but the taking part that counts.

Because of the jubilee celebrations, us Brits have two bank holidays tagged onto the end of the weekend making it one long, four day piss-up. For me the weekend started last Thursday, that being my birthday (thank you). Oh to live in a parallel reverse universe where every weekend is five days long and the working week two.

On Thursday, after reporting to the police station to let them know where I’d be, which is part of my parole conditions, I met Helen in Tonbridge and we went to the Hog’s Head pub where we supped alcohol while overlooking the River Medway. A most agreeable set of circumstances. More agreeable still was the meal that followed at Alishan’s, a splendid Indian restaurant in Tonbridge High Street. This is not your run-of-the-mill curry house, full of tanked-up wankers, but a proper Indian joint full of nice people, and me, tanked-up.

I was going to make the evening a bigger affair and invite loads of people along but Helen’s the only one I really wanted to spend my time with so I had all the company I needed. She and I get on so well, never arguing, never bitching or back-stabbing and that’s the kind of company I wanted. It was one of those “perfect” days and the many presents she gave me were the icing on the cake, each small but perfect, a lot of thought having obviously gone into the decision to buy each one. “Perfect” being the operative word here, it’s also the only word that comes close to describing Helen and how she makes me feel. She’s the redeemer of my life. A life which can sometimes be full of some real shit that few besides Helen know about. No-one could ever drive a wedge between us. We’re too close. More importantly, we’re too strong.

Our weekend continues tomorrow, when Helen’s down again for the night. Until then I’ve been using the traditional two days of the weekend to get all of the mundane stuff out of the way. I was quite pleased with myself yesterday when I applied a little lateral thinking to come up with a novel way of sorting out my finances once and for all and I robbed a bank. Today I’ve just been pottering around, tidying up, disposing of body parts and used syringes and snorting the occasional line of Coke to keep myself going.

Next week may be a short working one but I have a lot to do in the evenings which is another reason for getting all of my odd jobs done this weekend. On Wednesday I’m speaking at an international political dinner (hosted by the Nazis). On Thursday I’m going out for a drive with my friend Big Verne (something about a Securicor van, he said), and on Friday I’m at the dogs (pit-fighting).

Tonight I plan to spend a cosy night in front of the TV, watching the snuff movies that I managed to get unnoticed through Customs from Holland. I think I’ve got one of the girl next door’s kidneys left in the freezer, so that’s supper sorted as well.

I might even be a bit naughty and have a glass or two of wine but don’t tell anyone.

 

Anal-ysis

Current mood:

In the glass to my left: My old friend cider. In the CD player: “Free All Angels” by Ash. CDs bought recently: “Great Expectations” by Tasmin Archer. I’ve never been a fan but have always wanted to own her song “Sleeping Satellite” to be included on my “Life Soundtrack” if ever I get around to recording it. You know, that personal compilation CD of all one’s favourite songs? Films watched recently: “Curdled”. Having a Tarantino connection, in that he Executive produced it, I thought it would be good. Alas it was merely mediocre, using his name on the cover to inflate its worth. Still, I’ve seen it now. I often wonder how many films I’ve actually watched…

Sunday 28 April, 2002. This entry will be quite fragmented as (once again) it is the first I’ve written for a while and I have many things that I wish to update here. The same is true of my life as a whole but there are neither sufficient hours in the day, nor days in the week to address everything that needs to be addressed. Suffice it to say that the main areas to address are work and money, the former being in direct relation to the latter. I am of a certain age where I feel I really need to take stock of certain things. Plans are afoot so watch this space.

Being of a certain age means that I sometimes tend to be analytical about certain things. Helen would say that I’m being anal but I prefer to think of it as analytical.

One area of my life that continues to need no addressing is the very big one of the aforementioned Helen (metaphorically, not physically). Now into our ninth month together, things are just fine and dandy and we go from strength to strength. She’s always there when I need her and we grow closer with every day that passes. Although we have the occasional stupid disagreement, just like any other couple, we put such things behind us as our time together is too precious to dwell on such things. We both wish that we could spend more time together but we make the most of the time that we have.

This weekend has been one spent with my Helen. I took her home three hours ago and this place feels lonely now that she’s gone. I try to tell myself that I couldn’t miss her had I not been with her and that I’d rather miss her having seen her than not seen her and such philosophical shit but it doesn’t work. Last night we just did “us” things as only we can do, watched films and just generally loafed around, before going to bed and doing some of the many things that she and I do best. That said, we didn’t wait till we were in bed earlier in the evening. She really is the best in every way and I know that she won’t mind me speaking so frankly here. I really am the luckiest guy I know, to have a girl who is the perfect girlfriend in every department. Read into that last statement what you will but if you’re a bloke, you really should be jealous.

Before taking Helen home, I prepared a most splendid roast lunch, even if I do say so myself. We had a prime beef joint from my local Butcher with all the trimmings, followed by Profiteroles with chocolate sauce. It was most satisfying and much needed, just like other elements of the weekend.

One of the reasons that I’m able to spend time here writing this tonight is that there’s fuck all on TV, with the exception of the Embassy World Snooker Championship, which doesn’t require concentrated viewing and can be left on as “wallpaper TV” in the background. I am a subscriber to ITV Digital (titter Ye not) and despite having access to over 30 channels there is nothing on any of them that warrants me turning them on as they are all shit. Hence my decision this week (coupled with the fact that ITV Digital are looking likely to go tits up) to switch to Sky Digital. Much as I hate the idea of lining Rupert Murdoch’s pockets, Sky really is the only option around here if one wishes to view more than the four analogue channels available and not get tied into a rip-off phone line deal. My mini dish and digibox arrive two weeks yesterday and if I currently have insufficient hours in the day to get all that I want to get done, done, I will have less so then. Anorak that I am, I’m particularly excited about having the sci-fi channel and Bravo among my viewing possibilities. The film buff in me is equally excited about FilmFour Extreme.

Talking of films and referring back to my thought earlier, I’ve just done a very rough cast-off and have worked out approximately how many films I’ve actually watched in my lifetime. It’s not actually a particularly alarming or sad figure as I, or maybe you, would have imagined, based on my calculations as follows:

I’ve been interested in films since my family acquired their first VCR when I was 14 years old and have rented, probably, on average, one film per fortnight. That equates to 390 or so fortnights to date and therefore the same number of film rentals. I (again, roughly) estimate that I watch perhaps one new film per week, whether that be on TV or pre-recorded. That’s another 780 films on top of the 390, making 1170 films in total. Given that I have around 1000 films in my personal collection, this would seem to be about right.

1170 is not such a huge number of films to have watched although, considering that two hours is the average length of a film, 2340 hours, or put another way, 97 1/2 days, or just over 3 months is perhaps quite a long time to have spent cumulatively on one’s hobby. Some would even say I’m anal.

Tomorrow, being Monday, sees a return to work and I have to admit that I look forward to tomorrow even less than I do to Mondays normally. The reason for this is a factory visit which my Managing Director has kindly volunteered me to host. I am not normally in any way averse to public speaking and hospitality. Tomorrow’s visiting dignitaries however are a group of eighteen fifteen year-old schoolgirls. I have an itinerary of military precision planned but am aware of the potential for disruption from such an audience. Maybe I’m being paranoid or maybe I really am anal.

Maybe it’s being of a certain age that’s to blame but for whatever reason, I’m absolutely shitting myself. Helen, where are you when I need you?

 

Memories.

Current mood:

In the can to my left: Coke. In the CD player: “The Best Ska Album in the World, Ever!”. Sad, I know, that I should buy a “Best…” album but this one doesn’t have just the populist tracks on it like most of the others. It actually delves quite deeply into the genre.

Sunday 10 March, 2002. A lonely but productive day. Lonely because it’s been a “Helenless” day. Productive because I’ve had to occupy myself by other means and have got quite a lot done as a result.

This has been one of those rare weekends when I haven’t spent any time in the evening with Helen. I guess she sees a different side of me on these weekends as during the day I’m sober. I only saw her yesterday for part of the morning and most of the afternoon. As with any time spent with Helen it wasn’t enough but we made the most of the time that we had.

Making the most of my time is something I advocate on two levels, those being the good times and the time I have in the greater scheme of things, there but for the grace of God go I and all that. By making the most of my time with those that I care about, I figure I’ll be remembered and something that I believe is that a person is only truly gone when they are forgotten. But enough of my philosophising.

The day started well with me rising at 8 am, a ridiculously early hour for me on a Saturday, looking out of the window and finding it to be a lovely, clear and sunny day. I took a cab to the train station and engaged in the usual banter concerning the weather with the driver. He observed that although in nice weather he doesn’t get as many “fares” as people prefer to walk, the “fares” that he does get tend to be better ones as the pleasant weather somehow affects their generosity. If this was some kind of attempt at subliminal suggestion I was not going to be had, I decided. The weather does not affect my mood or generosity.

It really was a pleasant morning and I resolved myself then to rise early more often at the weekend in order to appreciate pleasant weekend mornings more. Arriving at the station I was very much looking forward to the day ahead and told the driver to keep the change from a five pound note for my three pounds fare.

The nice weather does indeed seem to bring out the better in people, even the usually miserable ticket staff at Tonbridge station. The one who sold me my ticket even managed a smile and a “Thank you” as he gave me my ticket, or perhaps this was just cynicism. He was polite enough though when he told me that he wasn’t allowed to “keep the change” from my ten pound note, although he’d have loved to have taken me up on my offer to “buy yourself a pint on me”. Emerging onto the platform, I bathed in the warmth from the sun and surmised that it couldn’t possibly be raining in Reigate today, although it always seems to be whenever I’m there.

Arriving at Reigate, the sky was full of dark rain clouds.

A rather touching scene had presented itself on the train from Redhill, where I have to change trains. The train to Reigate ultimately ends up in Reading and I guess Reading were playing football yesterday as the train was chock full of football supporters. Redhill is quite a busy interchange station and as well as myself, many other people boarded the train, including a group of elderly ladies. I found the atmosphere on the train quite intimidating, full as it was with big, hairy, tattooed football supporters shouting, swearing and drinking lager. As soon as the old ladies boarded the train though, they all lowered the tone and between them gave up enough seats to allow the ladies to sit down. Very sweet I thought, but thought it wise not to actually tell them this.

Not long after arriving in Reigate and meeting Helen, it started raining. Unlike Tonbridge, Reigate has no cafes to shelter from the bad weather with a cup of tea. Unlike Tonbridge though, Reigate has some very nice independent shops and it was in one of these that we took refuge.

Among other things, this particular shop is a second-hand book shop. On entering, one simultaneously steps back in time and into a veritable Aladdin’s cave. The shop is spread over two floors and books are stacked everywhere. As well as the floor-to-ceiling bookcases, there are books on the floor and all the way up the small staircase. Everything is packed in so tightly that anyone much larger than myself would have difficulty navigating the small maze created by the seemingly randomly-placed bookcases. The smell of old books fills the place and what a wonderful smell that is: It’s like the smell of knowledge and history emanating from all around. Here are all these wonderful old books, all have been read and served to educate many readers over their long lives and now they sit, waiting to bestow knowledge on whomever reads them next. Their aroma is like a calling to read and be educated.

As well as the books, in the back room there is a kind of gallery, filled with old paintings, prints and sketches, all arranged in some semblance of order in old filing cabinets. I found many interesting things there, including a woodcut of Toad Rock in Tunbridge Wells from 1855 which I bought for my Mum by way of a slightly original Mothers’ Day present. I also found a copy of Carl Sagan’s “Contact”, which the film of the same name starring Jodie Foster is loosely based upon, as well as a collection of short stories by Arthur C Clarke which I am currently reading. We could have spent a week in that shop and still not uncovered all of it’s treasures. A couple of hours with a break for lunch though and the rain had subsided so we decided to go off exploring, me feeling like a character from “The Secret Seven”, so many books of which were in the shop, having served their purpose of entertaining a previous generation of children with their tales of adventure, as they had me. I hadn’t been in a second-hand bookshop since my childhood and this was bringing back memories of that time. Helen had promised to take me to an abandoned house that she’d told me of and that was where we were headed now. I was having an adventure.

Clambering in through a broken window, the former use of the house was immediately apparent: With every other room being a bathroom, a stair-lift and a couple of abandoned commodes, this was clearly an old people’s home. It had an air of being abandoned suddenly and there was evidence of a fire. Vandals had taken care of just about everything that was once fitted to the walls and all that was once breakable was now broken. The one curtain that remained hanging was the cheap, thin, peach-coloured type normally found in hospitals. One room was quite disturbing in that a commode was facing the wall in the corner, as if in disgrace and there was apparent evidence of a struggle, with blood on the walls. Perhaps though this was a result of a visitor to the house after the old people had moved out. Perhaps a drugs dispute or a drunken brawl. It was clear that the place had been trespassed upon many times. Also quite intriguing was the old man’s vest strewn on the floor. It could have been left behind in a wardrobe when it’s previous owner left and subsequently thrown around by a trespasser. The other possible reasons for it being there, the signs of a struggle and the apparent sudden abandonment of the place are many and perhaps not so innocent. The writer in me was generating many ideas for dark fiction.

In the kitchen we found something quite moving: A record of the treatment and eventual death of one of the residents. Edna Gibbs, it seems left no-one, her next-of-kin being given as her neighbour. How sad that the last legacy of her should be a death record that no-one saw fit to file anywhere, as if assuming that having left no friends or relatives, no-one would care. Her funeral was probably a DSS affair with no-one present other than an anonymous Civil Servant. Rather than leave the final legacy of Edna to the mercy of some teenage vandal, we took it with us. Helen and I, although we never knew Edna, feel that we know a little of her now, having read her file. We’ll keep it safe and at least now she has someone to remember her.

Gone but not forgotten.

 

The long and short of it.

Current mood:

In the mug to my left: Coffee. I have a new coffee percolator, the previous one having been consigned to that great Bistro in the sky. The one where the coffee percolator doesn’t work. In the CD player: Nothing. I’m having a quiet moment of contemplation.

Sunday 03 March, 2002. I’m contemplating many things at the moment, short and long-term. In the short-term I’m wondering what I’m going to do in a couple of hours when Helen goes. She’s here at the moment, in the bathroom. Even though she’s not right here with me, it’s reassuring to hear the splashing noises from the bathroom and know that she’s only next door. I miss her. Not because she’s in the next room and not in this one but because in two hours she’ll be gone again. I start to miss her before she’s gone in the same way that I grow excited with anticipation before I see her. We’ve enjoyed a weekend together but alas, now that weekend is drawing to a close. Tonight I shall be lonely and tomorrow more so. The day after is always difficult, especially when it’s the first day back at work. Work is the other area that has seen much contemplation but more on that later. Helen will be gone shortly and it seems like a very long time before I’ll see her again.

____

Three hours have now passed since writing that last paragraph as Helen returned to the room and quite frankly, there were many things better to do than sitting here and writing this, like spending a few valuable, precious minutes with my girl. This I can write any time. My girl’s gone now, till the next time I see her on Wednesday. Three hours ago seems so far in the past as I sit here, alone again, surrounded by reminders of the fact that earlier we were still together. Wednesday seems like an eternity to have to wait. Grr!

Returning to my other area of contemplation and as I said earlier, this has concerned work, or rather whether I want to. Quickly arriving at the conclusion that I need to, in the absence of a multi-million pound publishing deal or business plan, I decided that I wasn’t happy in my job and that there needed to be changes for the benefit of both myself and the company.

As many who know me will already know, I am happiest and at my best when out and about, meeting people. Mine is the only firm among much competition that doesn’t employ an outside Sales force. Given the fact that as a company we were experiencing trying times, I thought it about time that we rectify the situation. That was two months ago. Much arguing with and pressuring of board Directors later, I was invited to submit a Sales proposal to the board which was finally accepted last week. After nine months I had grown tired once more of office life and felt frustrated at trying to conduct a Sales operation from inside. I needed to flap my wings and much flapping generally has resulted in my now being the outside Sales force for my company.

Some of my time on the road will be spent in London, the city I love and know so well. In much the same way as I’d grown tired of being inside, I had also grown weary of being away from London, the city that I couldn’t wait to be away from nine months ago. Like so many things, I found that I didn’t realise how much I loved London until I was away from it. On recent nights out there, I was receiving my calling, it would seem. As the old saying goes, and one that I’ve used many times in the past, when a man is tired of London, he’s tired of life.

I have the best of both worlds now, in that I will be starting and ending my working day in Tonbridge still, with the London part being an excursion in the middle. Working in London but without the hassle of commuting, with the masses at least. What an ideal existence. Until such time as I do get my multi-million pound publishing deal or business plan, or until I win the lottery, this’ll do me.

So the long and short of it is, after much contemplation I have decided that work is okay, at least in the short-term and long-term I am happy as I have Helen and ours is truly a long-term and special thing.

 

A vanished friend.

Current mood:

In the mug to my left: Tea. In the CD player: “The Smell of Rain” by Mortiis.

Monday 04 February, 2002. As the more observant may realise, this is my first entry here this year. I have no excuse other than procrastination and apathy, as has been the case in many other areas of my life. Recently though, I’ve been setting those other neglected things right and now is the time to provide an update here.

A lot has happened since I last wrote on New Year’s Eve, including the evening of New Year’s Eve itself. The less said about that the better perhaps. It will certainly go down as one of the more memorable ones, for me at least. You know who you are and you know what I mean.

Helen is the one area of my life that has not suffered from my apathy and procrastination. She and I have spent many happy and fun times together and on 18th January celebrated being together for five months. It doesn’t take a mathematician to work out then that this month will see us celebrate our semi-anniversary. This will be five days after our Valentine’s day. Again it doesn’t take a mathematician to work out that Helen and I will be celebrating “our” Valentine’s day next Wednesday, the 13th. The main reason for this is that although we are very much in love and display public acts of affection sometimes bordering on the pornographic, we cannot tolerate “lovey-dovey” couples with all their cooing and such like. We figure that on Valentine’s day itself, any restaurant that we choose to patronise will be full of said couples being nauseous and quite frankly, if we go out to eat, we do so with the intention of keeping our food down. Most restaurants, as well as being full of these nauseating people will be serving overpriced set-menu “lovers’ dinners” on the actual night, so we figure we’ll do our own, slightly “alternative” thing. Triskadecamaniacs, both of us.

The reason that I’m writing this on a Monday, as opposed to the more traditional Sunday, is that I’m off sick from work. This is the first sick day that I’ve taken in over a year. The shit that I throw at my body daily in the form of cigarettes and alcohol dictates that my immune system is pretty accustomed to fighting off unsavoury things. On the rare occasions that I have a cold or similar ailment, I’m one of those who soldiers on, dosed up on “Day Nurse”. This weekend I seem to have overdone it though and my normally Asbestos-lined stomach is exacting its revenge on me. Since the early hours of this morning, the toilet and my arse have become very good friends. I’m blaming the curry that I had half of on Saturday night and the fermented second half of last night. I’m also figuring the Chinese I had on Friday night into the equation.

Friday night’s Chinese was at the end of a day out with my old friend Pete, whom I’d not seen for almost a year. Our Chinatown culinary delight followed a night of alcohol which itself followed a day of the same. The two of us, along with a few other old friends were reunited on Friday to bid farewell to a mutual old friend of us all.

The world lost one of it’s great characters a couple of weeks ago when our very dear friend Keith was taken from us suddenly when his body literally gave up on him. He was 52.

Keith was a true character. He had a wicked sense of humour and a heart of gold. He helped a lot of people in his time, including myself, taking me under his wing when I was having a hard time at work. To us “young ‘uns” who used to work with him, he was “Uncle Keith”. He loved animals, taking in many waifs and strays in his time. There was the time when a cat that had been knocked down by a car and left to die outside his house, crawled up Keith’s garden path and scratched on the door, as if it knew that the man who lived there would look after it. His love of animals was so great that he was unable to watch wildlife documentaries on TV, as the more graphic scenes of nature at work were too much for him to bear. He was a kind and caring man and one who will be sorely missed. Words cannot do him justice for those that didn’t know him. The world is truly an emptier place without him. His popularity was apparent at his funeral as he had no family, so the half-full chapel’s congregation was made up entirely of friends.

The service was fitting of Keith, taking a humorous form rather than a religious one and tears of grief were diluted by tears of laughter as we were reminded of some of his escapades, too numerous to recount here. I, like the others in attendance have my own fond and amusing memories and will always cherish them.

I had not seen Keith, nor any of the others there for over a year before the time came to say farewell. This was true of many of the others also, so before going our separate ways we vowed to stay in touch.

Too often we lose touch with those close to us, vowing to contact them “soon”. Unfortunately, “soon” is sometimes too late. I was reminded on Friday of a poem I once read: 

 

Around the corner I have a friend

In this great city that has no end,

Yet the days go by and weeks rush on,

And before I know it, a year is gone

 

And I never see my old friend’s face,

For life is a swift and terrible race,

He knows I like him just as well,

As in the days when I rang his bell,

And he rang mine.

 

If, we were younger then,

And now we are busy, tired men.

Tired of playing a foolish game,

Tired of trying to make a name.

 

“Tomorrow” I say “I will call on Jim”

“Just to show that I’m thinking of him.”

But tomorrow comes and tomorrow goes, And

distance between us grows and grows.

 

Around the corner!- yet miles away,

“Here’s a telegram sir-”

“Jim died today.”

And that’s what we get and deserve in the end.

Around the corner, a vanished friend.

 

 

Way Back When it Was 2003

This was the old blog – and me – back in 2003.

It’s a straight lift from The Internet Archive and as such, many images are missing, external links defunct and some text is out of context. This then, was then:

______________________

I’ve made a log: This is my online journal, where I make occasional comments on life, what I’ve been up to lately, things I’ve made and what I’ve found on the Interweb.

It occurred to me with the sudden vogue for “blogs” that I’ve been writing mine for five years now. For five years, I’ve been bringing you the best of the best of the web, interspersed among the other shit about me. I think it’s about time the more appreciative started donating to the good cause, so I’ve gone and got a donation icon:

Good innit? If you press it, you can donate dough to me and help me keep this site going as to do so costs money. Thanks (:

Outside the box

Sunday 28 September 2003. Current mood:

© Please contact me, B3tans, if this is yours

I am fucked off with electrical appliances and feel like drowning a toaster as a warning to all things that plug into the mains. I seem to have relapsed into the anti-Midas touch syndrome that afflicted me a couple of years ago, where everything electrical that I touched turned to shit. This bout of the condition has thus far only affected the hi-fi, which seems to have developed a hangover, in that above a certain volume level, it simply switches itself off. Anyway, touch wood (wooden things don’t turn to shit when I touch them), this time the anti-Midas touch seems isolated to the hi-fi. That said, I shall make this entry brief so as not to tempt fate. After all, we need the computer for our business.

Business continues to move in the right direction: a direction that promises to see us busy in the run-up to Christmas and beyond. Continuing our business ethos of blagging free advertising and doing pro-bono work in return for mutual favours, we have a number of things in place in the physical world as well as online. We now have thirteen local taxis carrying their web address, which in turn carries our logo and a link to us, as we designed the website. The same taxi firm have our posters in their office and shop window on Tonbridge High Street. Our Introducing Baby venture is being supported both by the local hospital mentioned before and a local business, Little Impressions, the owner of which was taken by what we were doing. I continue to source display sites for our posters and cards, while Jill works ceaselessly on the design and online side of things. We can also now accept payments by credit card via PayPal, making our products more accessible. It’s the tangible products which we’ve developed, which include Propose Online and websites as gifts via Webbyfeet, as well as Introducing Baby, which will be keeping us busy over the coming months. The core web design business is bubbling under too. We’ve worked bloody hard over the last couple of months and it’d be a cruel world indeed that didn’t see us succeed. Unfortunately, gaining a business bank account has continued to elude us.

I hereby retract the kudos bestowed upon Alliance and Leicester previously and place them now in the “cunts” file in the Webbyfeet filing cabinet, it having taken them three weeks to process our application for a business bank account, only to decline us. It was Alliance and Leicester who promised us that as we would be setting up a bank account that required no credit facility, there would be no personal credit checks run against either Jill or myself. They would (understandably) check our names against the national fraud and bankruptcy registers and check that we were registered as company directors with Companies House. In the first and second instances, we are not listed and in the third we are, thereby fulfilling all of the requirements to be accepted for a business bank account, with no credit facility and simply to deposit funds in, as advised by Dalliers and Liars (sorry: Freudian slip). Aware of how my personal credit rating is not ideal and, although irrelevant to an application for a business banking facility with no credit facility, could do without a search “footprint” against it, I had asked Dalliers and Liars on no fewer than five occasions – twice in the presence of Jill as witness – of their reassurance that they wouldn’t undertake a personal credit check. On all five occasions they assured me that no personal credit check would be undertaken as personal credit was irrelevant to an application for a non-credit business banking account. On friday, we received a letter from Dalliers and Liars declining our application on the grounds of my personal credit borrowing. Obviously, I rang them to register my dismay that they had effectively lied to us and also damaged my credit rating, making it difficult for us to now obtain a business banking facility. In typical large corporation fashion, they were dismissive but after legal consultation, I have now invoked an official complaint. Dalliers and Liars record phone calls “for training purposes” and I have the dates and times of the calls during which I was informed that no personal credit check would take place. I have been advised to ask them to review the recordings of my calls, thereby proving that a representative of theirs was misleading and acted unprofessionally. I have a witness and if this line of complaint isn’t successful, I have been advised to report the matter to the Banking Ombudsman. I don’t expect Dalliers and Liars to relent and give us a banking facility. I don’t fucking want anything of theirs and besides, we have other means of banking business funds legitimately. What I do want is for them to admit they’ve lied to us and repair the damage which they’ve caused. My sleeves are rolled up and I’m ready for a David Vs. Goliath battle. Meanwhile, it is not a legal requirement for a UK limited liability company like ours to have an account in its name, so we will take payments via PayPal and personal cheques. We just have to keep records of those that are received on behalf of the business and pass these on to our accountant.

Dalliers and Liars aside then, business is good and Jill and I are the perfect partnership in business as well as generally. In Jill, I have my first true live-in partner and domesticity is truly bliss. I love her on a level I’ve never know before and would not have thought possible, were I not experiencing it now. On Friday, we had a night out typical of us: cheap, yet enjoyable and romantic for the simple fact that it was she and I together.

As I’ve written here before, I have on occasion visited the site where David Blaine is hanging out, simply out of interest and because I admire his street magic, if not quite comprehending his current stunt. I respect him though, as do the majority of the occasional, frequent and one-off visitors to the site. During my visits, I have befriended a young street magician, Richard Bellars, who is himself a big fan of Mr. Blaine and who is camping out on site for the duration of David’s stay, by way of a supportive tribute. On Thursday night, Jill and I made the impromptu decision to meet up in London and visit the Blaine site as Jill had yet to go there. We met on Friday when I finished work, bought a few cans of cider and walked along the South Bank from Waterloo to Tower Bridge, where David’s box is hanging. Once there, I sought out Richard, who demonstrated a trick he’d shown me earlier and which I couldn’t fathom, to Jill. Jill is at the head of the queue when it comes to scepticism but she was left speechless by Richard’s ability, which I cannot possibly do justice with words alone. All I can say is from whence David Blaine and Derren Brown emerged, Richard Bellars will too. Jill and I sat by Tower Bridge, beneath David Blaine for a couple of hours, just chatting and drinking. Tower Bridge rose twice while we were there and when we left, night had fallen and the bridge was beautifully floodlit and Bankside’s resident rat population was scuttling about the pavement. I don’t mean that the scum element had arrived to abuse David Blaine, rather that rats of the brown rodent variety were in abundance: far cuter than London’s real vermin, the pigeons, and not actually vermin, despite the stereotype. It’s black rats, as wiped out by the great fire of London that carry diseases, not their brown cousins. Returning home, we procured a sodding great bag of chips from the local chip shop and indulged ourselves on the sofa with a meal of said chips, a jar of mayonnaise and some extra thick-sliced white bread. We then retired to bed. Living with someone is so much better than the proverbial Pot Noodle and a wank.

I’m off now before this computer succumbs to the same disease as the hi-fi and because my sister has arrived with my niece, which gives me a good excuse to post a picture of she and I on the garden swing a month ago:

Aw, bless (:

Whilst avoiding contact with all things electronic for fear of fucking them up, I’ve been doing more creative things with my hands, including making a Bonsai Jurassic Park:

Pretty, isn’t it? ©Dog

Before I go, this week’s finds (It’s the amount of time I spend on the Net finding good stuff among the chaff and testing it out that makes donating so worthwhile):

Domo-Kun’s Angry Smash Fest: Control Domo and hit the Powerpuff Girls. Kind of like the fairground game where you hit marmots with a mallet, except you don’t have to go to a fairground.

 

Living in a box

Sunday 14 September 2003. Current mood:

(C)Tedmus

It’s just after 4.30 in the afternoon and Jill and I have just got out of bed. We had a late night last night, having spent the evening in a local pub watching my friend Léanie perform. Léanie is a singer and last night she played a set of covers as well as her own compositions, including the very well-observed and amusing “Silicone Valerie.” Jill and I had far too much to drink and stumbled into bed at 1 O’clock this morning. We awoke at around noon and have spent the afternoon thus far in the box that serves as our bedroom reading the Sunday newspapers and eating sausage baguettes. Jill is now in the bathroom while I’m in the larger box that is our living room, writing this.

Living here, I can sympathise with David Blaine, although our boxes are larger and more numerous than his and we have home comforts. Neither do we have people throwing eggs at our windows as he does.

When on my travels about London, I have on occasion taken the opportunity to visit David Blaine in his Perspex box by Tower Bridge. Whilst there I have become acquainted with the two gentlemen featured in the news who are camping out for the duration of Mr Blaine’s suspension. They have provided me with occasional updates on what’s been going on at the site, including the yobs who saw fit to question the integrity of David’s late father. Egg throwing is one thing and something typical of English humour. Unfortunately, discrediting someone’s deceased relative is also representative of the levels to which the scum element of this country will stoop, especially when he whom they torment is powerless to retaliate. I have been the innocent victim of some illiterate tormentor lately too. What differentiates me from Mr Blaine though is that through the employment of friends more computer literate than I, I have identified my tormentor. He will be receiving a gift from someone at a yet to be determined future date.

In talking to the gentleman camping out for the duration of David Blaine’s stay, who’s a magician himself, I have gained a customer for Webbyfeet, the venture that Jill and I set up a couple of months ago. Business is starting to go well now that we’ve done all of the groundwork and we’ve just completed our first commercial commission. We’ve also set up two sister sites, Introducing Baby and Propose Online. They both do more or less exactly what they say on the boxes and in the case of the former, we’re talking to a national charity about a link-up and a local hospital has agreed to allow us some advertising in their maternity unit. Our groundwork has mainly been blagging free advertising and other such non-monetary lateral-thinking business activity, as well as a little help from our friends, too numerous to mention.

One small hurdle that we have encountered has been the setting up of a business banking facility, thanks in no small part to the greed of the majority of the banks. Kudos though to Alliance & Leicester, who do not require us to deposit five grand to open an account and who do not want to lend us start-up capital so that they can impose swindling interest charges on us. In much the same way that Jill and I have done everything ourselves, using a little of our own cash, which in turn is little, neither did we want to borrow unnecessarily. Most business bank accounts require the directors to do so and given that neither Jill nor I have particularly good credit histories, on account of personal borrowing, the accounts offered by these banks would have been denied us were we to apply for them.

Now that our modest business looks likely to generate some decent cash in the longer term, we’re looking forward to looking back, proud that we did it all ourselves. We also look forward to the time that our success allows us less humble lodgings and when the majority of banks will be falling over themselves to bank our company cash. We especially look forward to reminding them of how they were unwilling to help us in the first place and raising two corporate fingers to them.

Until the time when our business is affording us a more luxurious lifestyle, we’re happy with one another, in our humble abode and doing things for ourselves. Going out last night was an occasional treat for us, as we’re normally happy just loafing about in our little boxes, content in one another’s company.

Among the covers Léanie played last night was “The Power of Love” which I requested she dedicate to my love. Far more romantic than any monetary gift.

_____

I forgot to mention when Jill and I were out walking in the country a few weeks ago, what we saw on the lake. I think it’s a “Sweep.” We took a photo:

(C)Dog / mother inferior

Also, found this week:

How rich are you? Simple and effective. Sobering, even.

 

Grrr!!!

Wednesday 27th August, 2003. Current mood:

(C)Brainstuff

I’m annoyed. Very fucking annoyed. Fucking, bollocking, wanking bastarding annoyed with the so-called law enforcement officers of this country.

Having slagged off my next door neighbours yesterday, we, they and a number of other households in this ghetto – as this road that I live in seems to be becoming – were last night united against a common foe. Two foes in fact: the arsehole who put his fist through one of my neighbours’ car windscreen but mostly our ire was reserved for the police.

As Jill and I were having supper, we heard the sound of breaking glass from outside. Running downstairs, we saw three oiks casually walking down the road, obviously drunk as skunks and high as kites. One of them had a bloody right hand and the windscreen of my neighbours’ car had been smashed. I put two and two together. Something that the police are apparently unable to do but more on that in a moment.

Most of the neighbourhood had emerged from their houses and were standing around talking among themselves. Knowing whose car had been vandalised, I took it upon myself to do what no-one else seemed to have thought to do and inform the family concerned. They were understandably upset and came outside to inspect the damage. The man of this house recognised one of the tossers still sauntering down the street and started after him. Spotting the potential danger of the situation, I grabbed a neighbour’s phone and dialled 999 while my friend’s wife ran after him and pleaded with him to leave it as I was calling the police. He protested that they wouldn’t do anything and that he’d be more satisfied dealing with the situation himself. Something that I now sympathise with him on.

On being transferred to what was obviously a police call centre, I explained the incident and the apparent danger of the unfolding situation: one of the youths, we’d noticed, had his hand in his pocket, for all we knew ready to brandish a knife. The police officer (or whatever he was supposed to be), on the phone then spent ten minutes asking me to describe the suspects, why I suspected them (one had blood on his hand and at least three people had seen him smash the car window) and why I considered the situation to be dangerous. Why don’t you come out and see for yourselves, I thought. I explained that my neighbour was understandably upset and that one of the youths apparently had a knife. In response to the former, the “officer’s” reaction was to threaten my neighbour with arrest. Get out here and stop it happening then, the voice of reason in my head said. The operator then had me not only giving our location but also directions and asking me to spell road names. Like BT and others, I suspect that the police have their call centre in India. After the ten minutes had elapsed, I was informed that a patrol was on its way. Fortunately the three yobs were still in the street, obviously rendered even more stupid than usual by whatever they’d been taking. To ensure they stayed put, my vigilante neighbour, myself and one other, walked to the end of the road to confront them.

During the altercation that took place, a police car casually turned into our road. From it emerged one male and one female officer. The latter was all of five feet tall and weighed probably no more than eight stones. Please don’t think me chauvinistic (bigoted, fascist, maybe but not chauvinistic) but such a petite officer is not likely to be able to take on three very drunk, stoned, and it has to be said, scary-looking, large blokes. I had described the youths, their condition and size to the “officer” on the phone.

The male officer made straight for my neighbour and threatened him with arrest if he didn’t calm down. Understandably, this annoyed my neighbour somewhat, especially as the three youths were now acting as though they were innocent of any crime and were being victimised. At this point, one of them disappeared around a corner and, as witnessed by a bystander, deposited a knife. This was pointed out to the officers. Their response? They didn’t see the knife being deposited so had insufficient proof. Witnesses count for nothing, obviously and, as I’ve often read in the press, the “law” sides with the offender. Like everything I read, I took this to have been written with journalistic license but I was now witnessing police ineptitude for myself. And still the police were more concerned with arresting my neighbour for confronting these youths as they in turn protested their innocence. Well they would of course (the police, that is): in much the same way that it’s easier to maintain crime detection figures by relentlessly pursuing motorists who exceed the speed limit by a couple of miles per hour and are caught on the omnipresent speed cameras in this country, my neighbour would be an easier arrest. And of course, an arrest that would pose less danger to the arresting officers. Excuse me but isn’t it understood when they take on the job that police officers will face danger in the course of their work? Isn’t that why I, and all other law-abiding citizens pay taxes? More controversially perhaps, is it any wonder that the public feel they have to take the law into their own hands when we have such a cowardly, inefficient police force? I don’t blame the individual officers necessarily but I do blame the system, the bureaucracy and ultimately the Blair government. But of course, safe in their protected ivory towers, inventing red tape and human rights bullshit every day, the real world is but a mystery to them, out of touch as they are.

After sending my neighbour and us other two away, the police officers said that they would talk to us after they’d questioned the three youths. All of two minutes later they had completed what was obviously a very in-depth questioning and allowed the three to walk free, past the rest of us, now gathered at the other end of the street by my neighbour’s damaged car. Any of us could have been forgiven for taking a swing at the smug bastards as they walked nonchalently by but of course were we to do so, we’d have been an easy arrest. Then the police officers finally got to the scene of the crime. I’m not one to tell others how to do their jobs but this struck me as being a little arse about face.

The female officer then noted that the windscreen of the car was broken and that it had blood on it: no shit Sherlock! Ten out of ten for crime detection! It’s a shame you’d already let the youth with the bloody hand walk away, having obviously listened sympathetically to whatever bullshit explanation he’d come out with. The gathered public were then told by the police officers that a report would be filed before they drove off. Well that’s that crime solved and the purpetrators brought to justice then. Unfortunately, in England today that really is the extent of “law enforcement,” it would seem.

If I ever have reason to call the so-called police again – and I’m not sure I couldn’t do the job better myself – I shall be sure to spell out difficult to understand words to the operator in India next time. Perhaps I’ll spell tricky words phonetically: “could you send some C-U-N-T-S-tables?”

Epilogue

I found this out today when I spoke to my neighbour whose car got smashed up: that car was the family one. They also have a cab, which the husband drives. Later this morning, someone smashed the windscreen of that as well. Now I wonder who that could have been? My neighbour told the police but they said they couldn’t do anything without witnesses. Er, excuse me? Can’t you just put two and two together? Obviously too much paperwork for them or they’re just shit scared of confronting anyone other than decent citizens. And what good were witnesses the night before when about half a dozen of us saw the wankers vandalise my neighbour’s car and the police let them go? The police also said they’d found the knife that we all saw the yob drop by the side of the shops. Apparently, without witnesses they couldn’t do anything about that either. They had fucking witnesses! And what about finger prints? I guess they failed to think of that the same way they did forensic testing of the blood on the car the night before.

I read today in the Evening Standard that a US toy company is marketing a George W. Bush action figure. I think I’ll make an “Inaction PC:” It will wear a yellow uniform, be blind as well as deaf and have a chord, which when pulled will emit pre-programmed phrases: “No witnesses,” “Too dangerous,” “I want my mummy” and so on. It will of course have no testicles and will be a floppy toy as it will have no spine.

 

Feed animals near the zoo

Tuesday 26th August, 2003. Current mood:

(C)Tedmus

I am writing this in my lunch break at work, having had a busy but nice weekend, which made my feet ache: plenty to write about but not enough time to do so. Films watched recently: Scooby Doo, which was actually very funny. Jill and I did watch it semi-drunk though, so it might have seemed funnier at the time than it actually is. 3/5.

Since last writing here, nothing much has changed drastically. Webbyfeet has got busier, although I’m still having to do the same day job and Jill and I go from strength to strength. Our next door neighbours, whom I’ve mentioned here before, continue to annoy, recently having acquired a second barky dog to compliment their existing one. These people sum up everything that makes me angry about the lowest common denomination of the British public: they’re selfish, inconsiderate, ignorant oafs. Unfortunately, like the stereotype that they typify, were one to confront them, they’d take great glee in antagonising us and others further, such is the extent of their ignorance. Further adding to the stereotype, they read “The Sun,” watch “Pop Idol” and its ilk at full volume with their windows open, and listen to Celine fucking Dion. They have not an ounce of culture between them, nor probably the intelligence to formulate opinions, other than those dictated by the red-top tabloids which they read. In short, scum. But I digress.

When Jill and I founded Webbyfeet, it wasn’t much more than me setting up a company for Jill to do something that she enjoys and is good at, with the chance that it might bring in a little pocket money. Whilst money-making isn’t our prime concern, our business ethic is to help people out where we can, if they’re a deserving cause, often waiving our fees and coming to a mutually beneficial, non-monetary agreement.

Recently we’ve done a couple of home pages for individuals in return for a prominent logo link on their sites. It’s still early days and we need as much free advertising as we can get. The best adverts though are word-of-mouth recommendations and the individuals for whom we’ve produced sites have been more than pleased with the results. We’re also working on a site for a junior football league, comprising 14 teams and in return for our generosity in giving them affordable rates, we get a printed advert in their match programs and our logo on one of the team’s shirts. We’re sponsors of a football team no less, although Premiership sponsors have no need to fear us for a while yet. We have also been approached by a small company whose business is safe surfing (of the web variety) for children. We gather they came to us as they saw us as an ethical business and one with no pretentions: i.e. we’re affordable. The one small thorn in our side is the local taxi firm for whom we’ve produced a free site and who we are awaiting site approval and a return favour from in the form of our logo in their office window on Tonbridge High Street They’re a big firm though and they’ve entrusted their online presence to us, so I guess that patience is the virtue. Being a responsible citizen, now that I’m a company director, prevents me from shoving things up their taxis’ exhausts if they don’t pull their corporate finger out.

One of the personal sites that we put together was a “blog:” a web log just like this, where individuals record their thoughts and lives for reasons best known to themselves. My reasons for having this blog are explained elsewhere but now that the blog thing is becoming quite a phenomenon on the Internet, I can almost claim to be a founder of the movement. It is only in the last year or so that personal blogs have become prevalent on the web but mine is now into its fifth year. Just like my fellow B3tans, I’m ahead of the game for the most part. It should be noted here that B3ta is partly to thank for the level of interest being shown to Webbyfeet and we’re grateful to the collective: Freemasonry without the silly handshakes.

When I refer to “we”, I do so from the company point of view. “We” have not done all of the work that I mentioned above, Jill has. It is Jill who has the creative talent and fortunately the time to do all that Webbyfeet demands. I merely set up the company and do the sales side and general day-to-day running of things. “We” then, is Jill and I as a team. And what a team we are.

I proclaimed my love for Jill here the last time I wrote and stand by all that I said about never having been in love before in the way I am with her. I am now in love in a way that I wasn’t even then. It’s hard to explain but just recently our love seems to have elevated to a new level. Maybe it’s living together and becoming soul mates, sharing everything: belongings, money, worries, small talk, love and life. Whatever the reason, this is all new to me and perhaps the reason I can’t find words to express my joy is that there aren’t any.

The weekend just gone was a three day one and one that Jill and I spent doing things that only a couple in love with very little money can do: going to places and doing things that don’t cost much, holding hands and creating a whole atmosphere of romance.

Once all of the business and household stuff was out of the way on saturday, we started the weekend in a relaxed fashion by spending saturday night in and indulging in our one treat of the weekend: fish and chips for supper. On sunday we walked the Eden Valley Walk, which runs from Tonbridge, via some beautiful Kent villages before ending up, thirteen miles away at the arse end of Kent, in Edenbridge. We trecked for five miles, spotting various wildlife that’s on our doorstep, yet which we are rarely privileged to see. Along the way we saw dragonflies, damselflies and various butterflies, including small blue ones, which are apparently quite rare. We rested awhile by a lake and spotted various birds, the most magnificent of which was a Mute Swan cob, which came within three feet of us to tell us to stop looking at his bird and ask if we spilled his pint, or something. He was big and mean-looking but beautiful and it was a rare treat to see such an animal so close.

We emerged after just over two hours into Leigh, one of said Kent villages, where a game of cricket was being played on the village green. We were planning to catch a train back to Tonbridge and when we arrived, the next one was departing twenty minutes later. So taken were we by the quintessential Englishness of our picturesque surroundings though that we decided to rest at a pub, where we supped a pint of real ale. Following this most agreeable respite, we boarded the next train, an hour later and were whisked (a word rarely associated with Britain’s railways) back whence we came in a mere four minutes. During that journey, scenery that we’d admired on the way out sped past us in a blur that rendered it unappreciable. Sometimes it’s just nice to slow down and take things in, far from the madding crowd.

Yesterday we went to Regent’s Park in London to see the M.I.L.K. photographic exhibition. This is a criminally under-publicised event and one which the likes of my neighbours would do well to visit, to appreciate Humankind and all that family, love and friendship represents. I defy anyone, including next door, not to be moved by the photograph of an 88 year-old Vietnamese woman saying goodbye to her dying 92 year old best friend.

We took the train to Charing Cross then walked the three miles or so to Regent’s Park, in order to take in London’s scenery on the way, rather than “speed” straight there on the tube. The exhibition was an open-air one and good for it, but for the fact that by being outside, it attracted the general public, as typified by my description of my neighbours at the top. Whereas these blinkered idiots would not normally venture into a gallery, fearing it “too posh” they were at the M.I.L.K exhibition in abundance. In a gallery there is an unwritten code of conduct whereby everyone is afforded their own moment of personal reflection. If one wishes to view a painting or work of art up close and there is someone already doing so, the polite and considerate among us allow the latter to have their moment and take their place when they move on, relinquishing ours to the next viewer in good time. The abundance of people who are obviously acquainted with my neighbours present, pushing in front, walking through one’s view and generally conducting themselves in a selfish manner, meant that the day was not as enjoyable as it might have been. Things would probably have been different were the exhibition to have been staged indoors, where the plebs fear to tread. And that just might explain why my next door neighbours have their windows open all the time.

After viewing the many beautiful and poignant images that made up the M.I.L.K collection, Jill and I continued to wander around this, my favourite of the Royal Parks and ended up at the lake that is home to the Royal Waterfowl Collection. There we saw many rare birds and the highlight of our day was feeding a group of Canada Geese by hand: small things… some would say but to me it’s the small things that are the most memorable when done in the company of the one you love. Such a perfect day.

I shall be returning to her shortly and hope to find sufficient things to keep me busy this afternoon to expedite my return home. Speaking of wasting time:

Shop game: Pretend you work in a shop. Give customers the correct change and watch out for thieves. Very addictive.

Mong Hangman: Traditional Hangman too hard for you? Give the mong version a try. It’s a one-joke thing but quite good to send to your mates as a challenge.

Butch Mushroom game: Remember “Butch” from a while back? (down there somewhere——-v) He’s back, as a mushroom. No rules. Hit the cursor keys and catch everything.

 

Home comforts

Monday 18 August, 2003: In the glass to my left: cider; On the radio: “Just a Minute” on Radio 4. I’m quite an avid listener to said radio station’s comedy offerings, as introduced to me by Jill.

Not much has happened since I last wrote here on account of me having settled somewhat into domesticity. Jill has been here exactly a month today and it’s as though she’s always been here. I really don’t know what I did before she came along and I know I’d be at a loss without her. Fortunately that’s not something that I have to contemplate, as by mutual agreement, she’s here to stay, for good. I’ve announced here before that I’ve been in love but without really knowing what love is. Now I know that it’s someone you can live with, be close to all the time and never be able to imagine life any other way. That’s what I have now.

My little “flatlet,” as an estate agent would call it, really feels like home now that Jill’s here: the housework gets done more than once a week as Jill has the time that I never did during the week to do such menial tasks. I have time to myself and for us to spend together now in the evenings and at the weekend as a result. The reason I’m able to write this on a monday is that I no longer have to prepare dinner in the week, although I do at the weekend. Whereas I would normally write here on a Sunday, that being my only free time, this sunday past had Jill and I with better things to do. Before anyone accuses me of anything porcine, I should like to point out that this is an arrangement arrived at by mutual agreement. This place feels like home at last.

Work continues to pay just enough to keep the wolves from the door and allow Jill and I the occasional treat. The two of us are looking at flats together as the current arrangement gets a little cramped sometimes. It’s a good job Harley doesn’t enjoy being swung around in the air above my head, as I can’t do it. The problem is one of money. Not lack of it as such but rather the cost of renting a decent gaff around here or in London. I would need to be earning considerably more that I currently am in order for us to be financially comfortable in a decent abode and have various plans afoot to realise my true worth.

Meanwhile, Webbyfeet was incorporated as a limited company on 7th August, making Jill and I company directors in English law (oh dear). Our first commission is due to go online soon and there are a few others in the pipeline. The time and effort that both of us are investing, combined with people’s positive reactions to our business philosophy, means the future does indeed look bright.

Found this week on the Interweb:

Statesman or skatesman: politicians on skateboards, space hoppers etc: This site came about after the author saw a picture of Enoch Powell on a pogo stick. He then took it upon himself to write to politicians and enquire of their novelty transport methods. Worth a look if only to see Margaret Thatcher on a toboggan and for the chance (if one’s needed) to say “cunt!” when you read the reply from Tony Blair.

Four-way Pong action: The classic game of Pong for four players. Or one very dextrous one.

Interview Hitler: On your PC. His lips move and everything. Ask him if he’s gay.

Internet saddo: With all the talk of perverts and nutters on the Internet, you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s a dangerous place. If it keeps this bloke indoors though, at least it’s safe for the rest of us to go outside. Point and laugh.

I can smell dinner cooking so I’m off to enjoy some proper home life.

 

The future’s bright…

Friday August 01, 2003: In the cup to my left: tea; In the CD-player: Acid Jazz (Nice!)

When I last wrote here, about a month ago, I’d lost in love again and was receiving online counselling from my fellow B3tan, mother inferior. As I noted then, how quickly things can change. In the last few weeks, mother inferior has become Jill: my live-in partner. Only last week I was made redundant from my job. Today is my last weekday of unemployment before starting a new job on Monday and Jill and I have set up a small venture together. I will attempt to bring you up to date here.

Before going on, I shall just mention a film that I saw shortly after I last wrote: The Trip to Bountiful is a beautiful film about a lady (Mrs. Watts), living the twilight of her life trapped in an apartment in 1940s Houston Texas. She shares the apartment with her hen-pecked son and controlling daughter-in-law. Her fondest wish -just once before she dies – is to revisit Bountiful, the small Texas town of her youth which she still refers to as “home.” The trouble is her son is too concerned for her health to allow her to travel alone and her petty daughter-in-law insists they don’t have money to squander on bus tickets. This prompts “escape” attempts each month which coincide with the arrival of Mrs. Watts’ Social Security check. This is the touching story of Mrs. Watts’ successful escape and last trip home. 4/5.

The film touched me in some way and prompted me to take my mum on one of our occasional trips to London. She doesn’t get out much and these trips are a treat for her, although I always seem to have other things to do and don’t treat her to them enough. Although I’ve spent most of my working life in London, it’s not often that I have the chance to enjoy the city without work being involved.

Sunday 6th July was a beautiful, sunny day which began with a visit to the new, pedestrian-friendly Trafalgar Square. Only one road, the one that ran from Pall Mall East, in front of the National Gallery, has been pedestrianised but what a difference it makes: Trafalgar Square now extends, by way of a staircase one quarter the width of the square, across what was Pall Mall East, right up to the stairs of the National Gallery. Now one can stand on the balcony at the front of the gallery and look over the square, with its fountains and lions, like some country squire surveying his estate. And what’s more, the pigeons have gone. People may argue that these were a tourist attraction but I considered them vermin and destructive to the square. They made it a place which one would quickly pass through, rather than wish to stay. Perhaps tourists will now realise that London has more to offer than the opportunity to pick up the odd disease from its winged rats.

My mum had never been to the National Gallery so, seeing as we were there anyway, we had a quick look around. Just like me on my first visit, she was in awe of original paintings by the likes of Rembrandt and Constable: huge, priceless canvases, hundreds of years old and displayed here for free for the nation to appreciate. We resolved to return another day before heading for the other free national institution which neither of us had ever visited before: The Victoria and Albert. On leaving the National Gallery, I deposited five pounds in the donation box. The suggested donation is just one pound but I was feeling flush at the time, what with having a job, and the philanthropist in me figured that my donation would allow others less fortunate than I to view the gallery’s delights for free.

We took a tube to South Kensington and enjoyed a very pleasant, if over-priced, Italian lunch before heading down Exhibition Road for the Victoria and Albert. There were far too many things of interest at the V&A to merit mention here but I particularly enjoyed the historic Japan section, with its Samurai weapons and armour, and the history of British design.

We “did” the V&A in less time than we’d anticipated, so while in the area decided to “do” the Natural History Museum as well. I must confess to being a little disappointed at the latter as the static exhibits which used to dominate the place have now given way to animatronics and interactive displays. If this is what is needed to make natural history interesting for the track suits and baseball caps that were in abundance at the museum though, fair enough I suppose.

The two weeks following that weekend were largely uneventful, apart from a two-day sales training seminar that was held on-site in the first week at my now ex- place of employment, that myself and 14 sales colleagues were obliged to attend. It was mainly the usual Americanised fare of acronyms and role-playing and I am not sufficiently long departed from the job to give a full description of events. Suffice to say that the proceedings were made less tedious by the participants by way of a few challenges involving song lyrics.

The second week was the one at the end of which mother inferior would be visiting. For the uninitiated, “mother inferior” is the screen name of a fellow member of the online B3ta collective to which I belong. My B3tan screen name is “Dog,” or “Diamond Dog.” Mother inferior had been my online shoulder to cry on when I was feeling a little down previously and we quickly progressed from being online and email friends to real-life ones on the phone. Jill and I spoke every night on the phone for two weeks in the lead up to her coming over to stay, ostensibly to attend the annual B3ta bash which was being held that Friday in London. All of the talking that we’d done had made us very close and provided the physical attraction was there when we met on the Thursday, this could be a true love thing.

At 6pm, two weeks ago yesterday, a nervous me greeted a giggling Jill at London Bridge station. After about 20 minutes, it was clear that the physical attraction was indeed there. This was just the final piece of the puzzle as we knew that we liked each other in every other way. Meeting the way that we did was so much easier and less complicated than the physical-attraction-first,-getting-to-know-you-later approach that is the norm. This was a good thing as Jill had travelled on a one-way ticket.

The next day was the day of the B3ta bash and we’d arranged to meet a group of fellow B3tans for pre-bash shenanigans in the afternoon. These people, like all the others that would be there in the evening, were relative strangers, known only to us by their screen names and what they got up to online. Jill and I wore “mother inferior” and “Dog” T-shirts respectively, to aid recognition and had only been in London for 20 minutes when someone stopped us and asked Jill if the name on her shirt was her B3tan one. Had it not been for the shirt, we’d have gone unnoticed but this occurrence was confirmation of the size of the B3ta “secret society,” where membership can sometimes have all the benefits of Freemasonry.

We met “Groovegenerator,” “Tedious,” “Vulga,” “Bovine,” “DarkEdge” and about six others at Namco, next to County Hall, where we played pool and commenced alcohol consumption at 4pm. Others joined us there by virtue of a few of us with mobile phones acting as call centres and co-ordinating movements and meeting points. At around 5.30 (and to give you an idea, here’s something Tedious did – mother inferior and I are bottom left), a dozen or so of us headed for The Salmon and Compass bar in Islington, picking up “Spacefish” on the way. Spacefish, like many others that were with us already or whom we were due to meet, is a minor legend among the B3ta fraternity. Some of these people are reviled as stars among us but I shall not try to explain this here. Suffice to say that they are sufficiently prolific and talented in what they do that they deserve respect.

A few drinks later and our number now double what it was when we arrived, we left The Salmon and Compass and headed for Babushka in Cledonian Road. This was the venue for our bash, where we had two floors and a balcony reserved. Although the two hundred or so people there were relative strangers, we all had something in common through B3ta. The online collective had collected for real and we had a ball. This was only a relatively local gathering. Had the entire collective, which numbers around 14’000, on and off gathered, we’d have needed a somewhat larger venue. Mother inferior and Dog can now count “Martian,” “Mictoboy,” “Professor Fnord” and many others, including those we’d met earlier as real-life friends as well as online ones. B3tans look out for each other, so they’re good friends to have. Which actually leads me quite nicely to the person who’s left a couple of unwanted messages in my guest book lately: I’ve got a pretty good idea of who you are, even though you don’t have the courage to identify yourself directly. There are ways of finding out where you are, which may be beyond me but not my B3tan friends. They, like I, don’t like cowardly trolls, so one word: Don’t. Unless you’re a really curious masochist.

Jill and I reluctantly caught the penultimate train home that night and woke on saturday with hangovers that were a suitable testament to the bash. Once recovered, we decided to undertake some spring-cleaning of my PC as years of downloading various crap had rendered in on the verge of falling over and it had less than 10% hard drive space left. The hard drive was where we concentrated our efforts but cutting a long story short, we were a little over-zealous and we fucked it up. We spent about six hours over the following three days trying to rectify the problem before conceding defeat and calling in a PC repair man. The computer is now running just as it did when I first got it and we managed to blag some software into the bargain, which was nice. Thank you Bill Gates and your crappy security.

As well as the friday, I had the monday and tuesday off of work and the return on wednesday came around far to quickly. Fortunately, the return to work was brief as it was on the wednesday that I was made redundant. Before that happened, I’d left home with a packed lunch made by Jill in my briefcase and was looking forward to a dinner that she was preparing on my return. I have always prided myself on being domesticated, preparing my own dinner after a day at work and not relying on a microwave ready meal. Although I protested with Jill, she was insistent that if I was the one working all day, she would lighten the domestic workload. Who was I to argue?

I spent the best part of wednesday afternoon using the firm’s phone to call various contacts and play upon the fact that in the printing industry, the drums of the jungle beat loud. I owe gratitude to many friends and contacts but a few good friends are worthy of special gratitude and to Claire, Karl, Mark and Nick especially, I extend heartfelt thanks for your help. As I said at the top, I have now found alternative employment and start on monday. The basic salary in the new job is significantly less than the relative luxury which my former one afforded me but, combined with Jill’s money, we can pay the bills and have a little left over. The low salary will give me an increased determination to win business and therefore supplement the basic wage with commission. The job sees a return to commercial print sales, so wins should be easier to come by than they were in the corporate finance sector which I have just left. Less guaranteed cash will also lend a sense of urgency to making the new venture that Jill and I have started a success.

It was on saturday that the two of us were discussing our options and when I suggested that perhaps now was the time for me to realise a personal ambition and start a business of my own. I have nothing further to lose, after all. We compared our various skills and attributes and on saturday evening, Webbyfeet was born.

Jill is very skilled in web design and combined with some business ideas that I have, we decided that we could make ideal partners in business, as well as in life. Unlike most web design firms we will not be designing sites that are laden with flash animations and so on, preferring simplicity and ease of navigation. Ours and the research of others have found this to be what most people browsing the web look for. We will also be able to be very competitive, as at the outset, this is something that we’ll be running in our spare time and something that we’d like, rather than need, to make money from. We’ve asked friends to critique the web site and the feedback has been universally good. What has provided particularly positive feedback is our pricing as, like our web site, our name and our designs, it is slightly quirky, certainly innovative and we hope, refreshing: if we design a web site that someone doesn’t like, they don’t pay. If they like what we’ve done, they pay what they perceive it to be worth. Sure, that’s a policy open to abuse but we trust people as we expect them to trust us. Besides, if anyone were to really muck us about, we have friends.

So, if anyone knows of an individual or small business, that needs an affordable, innovative web design or web-support, we’d be grateful of any recommendations at webbyfeet.co.uk

All of which pretty much brings me up to date on the events of the last month, at the end of which Jill is here to stay, I have a partner for life, in all respects and we have a business in which we both share a passion and confidence.

The future’s bright. The future has orange webby feet:

Edit: Almost forgot the web finds:

Operation Slaps: The playground game of “slaps” is now on the web, and less painful.

Tunnel Surfing Game: Very pretty and very addictive.

Boil the Kiddies: You control a witch. Pick up the little brats and drop them in the cauldrons. Yay!

Cloudbusting: Point your mouse at the clouds to make them rain on the grass and grow flowers. Aw!

Chat to Google: Download MSN Messenger, add “chattogoogle@hotmail.com” as a contact and speak to God. After all, Google knows all.

Talking Computer: Just type something at the command prompt and see what it says. Try “wanna cyber?”

Fuck up your eyes: This is the optical illusion to end them all as it’ll fuck up your eyes.

 

Previously…

The “Towl”

Can’t fly very fast. (C) Dog

Smoking harms your unborn child

No it doesn’t: it makes them into cool freaks. (C) Dog

No wonder it crashed

What with NASA’s budget cuts. (C) Dog

This just in (my garden)

I think it’s called a Velociphant. (c) Dog

 

Mis-spent weekend

Sunday 29 June, 2003. Current mood:

 

(C) Tedious

It’s amazing how my moods change week on week sometimes but I guess that’s a reflection of my life at the moment.

The reason for my current mood is the fact that this weekend has been spent not doing what I’d planned to do. Last Sunday I met an absolutely wonderful woman whom I hit it off with straight away. We got on so well from the start and had so much in common that it was almost as though we were meant to be together. In fact, after only two days of knowing one another, our conversation was taking the form of talking about the future and as each of us spoke, that future included the other. We’d planned to spend this weekend together but alas on wednesday we had to cancel. I shall not go into detail as to be honest, I’ve not totally grasped the complexity of the situation myself. Put simply though, my other-half-to-be had past issues that she felt didn’t allow her to enter into another long-term relationship. She told me this whilst we were having a drink outside a pub on Beachy Head (always a good place to receive bad news). Unfortunately for me, that’s not the be all and end all of it. In fact it was her fondness for me that prevented her from allowing the relationship to go any further as she was afraid of being hurt. It goes without saying that I would not harm someone whom I feel so strongly about but I’m still a relative stranger to her and she has no reason to trust me on that. The bottom line, by her own admission, is that I’m too nice. The situation is one of paradox, which might explain why I don’t understand it. Right now, we’ve agreed to leave it, I think. I hope I hear from her as she made me feel like a teenager again. Oh for those halcyon days of a mis-spent youth back. How I miss them.

So this weekend has been spent moping, getting drunk and spending far too much time with my B3tan collective friends, one of whom took me under her wing when I needed someone to talk to in my time of need. This collective to which I belong probably sounds very strange to the outsider but to me, B3ta is a second home. I wouldn’t expect anyone who visited the place to understand that as it takes a certain kind of person. Like me, I suppose. It’s not a physical place, it’s an online community but so much more besides. It’s not a cult but a collection of like-minded people, sharing a similar sense of humour but whom one can also call trusted friends, even though the majority of them remain faceless. Mother Inferior, as my B3tan counsellor is known, produced a Photoshopped portrait of me that reflected my mood quite well at the time:

 

(C) Mother Inferior

In a strange way, it cheered me up.

As I’ve mentioned previously, every week at B3ta we have an image-manipulation challenge thought up by the warped minds of the collective. This week the challenge was to imagine an alternative world where smoking was good and healthy, and to come up with ideas for “International Smoking Day.” Among my ideas, this was the one that shouted out to be made:

 

Caption: The tobacco giants rebuilt the World Trade Centre and every year on International Smoking Day, they’d turn on the special light and smoke display to celebrate the humble cigarette

 

(C) Dog (that’s me)

 

I guess that’s a one way ticket to hell for me but I shan’t be alone. We just share a sick sense of humour, so I’m in the right place when in residence at my second home, “home” perhaps being the operative word for where I belong.

And thanks to B3ta, I give you the following fun things from the interweb:

All music is shit: Enter your favourite singer, band, album or song and this site will slag it off. Just that.

Salt maze for slugs: The things some people do to put on the web are often perplexing, which is why it’s such a great place, I suppose: this bloke made a salt maze and put a slug in the centre of it to see if it could find its way out.

Right, I’m off to get drunk again and to celebrate the fact that in six months’ time my daily commute into London ought to improve as those cnuts Connex have been served notice. What a mis-spent weekend.

 

Waiting and GameParking

Sunday 22 June, 2003. Current mood:

The original pic was thus: and my fellow B3tan, Scoopzilla Photoshopped it, so thanks for that mate. The thing is, I didn’t even ask him to: I was just browsing the B3ta messageboard, where members of the collective to which I belong post messages and amusing pictures they’ve made, and there I was. The trouble with posting pictures of yourself is that they’re sitting ducks for abuse. I think Scoop’s job here though is fucking hilarious.

One of the many current image manipulation themes is cross-breeding animals. For example, you get a picture of a dog and a picture of a cat, mix them up in an image manipulation program thing and produce a hybrid, in the case of the cat / dog to produce a “cog” or a “dat”. Traditionally, I’ve merely “lurked” at b3ta, just watching what other people are doing and gaining great amusement from it. Recently though I’ve begun to make my own pictures and post them. My latest creation is a hybrid buck / fox. I give you the fuck box:

It’s crap but I’m still practising.

It was thanks to another B3tan, Barnesy, that I got my GamePark32 working this weekend. It arrived on Wednesday and although I’m quite computer savvy, I’m also impatient. Although it’s a games console, using the GP32 isn’t just a matter of slotting in a cartridge and playing a game. First you have to install the appropriate emulator so the thing can emulate the computer or console that you wish to play games for. Once that’s done, you have to find ROM images of games and install those. Anyway, it’s taken most of the weekend but thanks to Barnesy and a couple of late nights, I’m done. My GP32 is now emulating the Atari ST and I’m playing Xenon, Dungeon Master and many other classic retro delights from the days when games were playable. It’s also emulating an old PC and I’ve installed Doom on it. Envy me, GBA owners on the train tomorrow.

Talking of trains, I had the biggest arse of a journey home on friday and one that typified the general crapness of our rail network. I’d left work early at five O’clock and was looking forward to getting back to Tonbridge and meeting some mates for a drink in a pub garden, the evening being so fine and sunny. I was originally due to go for a date on Friday (see below) but that has been postponed. More on that in a moment.

Arriving at Waterloo East station at 5.15, it was clear that all was not as it should be (nothing new there) as the next train to Tonbridge was the late-running 4.13 service. There appeared to be three or four other trains heading my way behind that though, so I figured if the first train was packed, I’d just wait for the next one. The platform that all of my trains were due on was actually closed, so I and many hundreds of others were directed onto an adjacent platform. Just the one platform this was, for every single commuter heading out of London to squeeze onto. Laying claim to my postage stamp-sized piece of platform, I waited. And waited and waited some more, while none of my advertised trains turned up. At this point I was fortunate enough to spot a fellow Tonbridge person and it was actually thanks to my new friend Chloe that we progressed from there. We were standing at the far end of the platform where there aren’t actually any PA system speakers, relying on the visual clues that our trains were due, these being the departure boards that still advertised said services.

After a further four trains that weren’t going our way passed through, Chloe decided to ask a member of staff what was going on. It turned out that there’d been a fire at Charing Cross station: a train had caught light and they’d closed five platforms as a result. I know there are health and safety issues but surely that’s overdoing it somewhat? So, with just three platforms dispensing and receiving trains from Charing Cross, the decision had been made apparently to divert all mainline (our) services out of Victoria. We thanked the platform staff person for not having told us this before, as well as for the general abundance of information available generally and wondered what to do next. Oh, and apparently the trains still advertised on the departure boards for our line no longer existed, “innit?” Don’t ask. We didn’t.

Then we were told that Hastings line (more of our) services were running from London Bridge, so we squeezed onto the next train to arrive and went there. Upon arrival, there was a train on the opposite platform announced as being a Hastings service, even though it said “Cannon Street” on the side (those Connex cunts scamps!) So we boarded, only to be told that this train was fast to Tunbridge Wells and therefore didn’t stop at Tonbridge. But, we protested, surely we could make an additional stop as there are apparently no trains to Tonbridge at the moment? Apparently this would cause disruption to services. Because they weren’t fucked up at all already, were they? So, off we got and then we heard that a Tonbridge service was due on a different platform, which we made our way toward. Well, we couldn’t even get onto the platform as it was six people deep, so our chances of getting on the train were somewhere between none and er, none.

At this point, I applied a little lateral thought and pointed out to my companion that we could travel via Redhill and change there for a connecting service to Tonbridge. This would take us longer to get home but was an option that had not occured to many people, judging by the number of them on the platform we’d just failed to get onto. The next Redhill train was due to depart in five minutes and was on the complete opposite side of the station to where we currently were. A quick sprint though and we made it.

Then we heard an announcement that an additional service on our main line was due to depart in twenty minutes but it was a direct service, so we’d get home earlier. It was on the side of the station where we now were so we figured we had a good chance of procuring seats. We did, and with twenty minutes before departure, I suggested that we get some drinks. It was now just after 7pm and I certainly needed one, as did my new friend. Twenty minutes later and the train pulled out. Chloe and I toasted the fantastic service that our rail operators, erm, “operate” and I finally got home at 8.30. In no country other than this would the public not riot at such a shambolic state of affairs. It’s no wonder us Brits are so good at queueing and waiting. My mates had moved on by the time I got back so I just went straight home and got very drunk.

If only my date hadn’t been postponed, I’d have been out in London on friday night and therefore travelling home after all the shit had died down. I’m not bitter at my date: she had her reasons, which I understand. I’ve asked her whether we might try again but thus far I’ve not heard back in the affirmative. I happen to know that she’s quite shy and nervous and if I’m honest, so am I. This will be the first time we’ve been out, after all. I just hope that she can find it in herself to want to get to know me better and agree to go out with me. I just know she’ll overcome her nerves after just a short while with me, as those who know me will testify that I’m a friendly kinda guy and so easy to get on with. Aren’t I? Maybe that’s what I should do: give her a “get out clause” and tell her that if after an hour or so she wants to leave, I shall understand.

If the trains are as fucked up this friday as they were last, I hope she likes me enough to stay out for the whole evening. Before that though, I truly hope to hear her response to my proposal and hope that it’s a “yes”.

Patient person that I am, I shall continue to wait in hope.

 

Always read the smallprint*

Sunday 15 June, 2003. Current mood:

In the glass: cider (I found some). In the CD-player: Madness. Just Madness. All five albums in fact. Film watched last night: Nationale 7, a French film set in a special needs home. Funny and sad at the same time. In my movie equation method of summing up a film, this would be Crazy People + Tod Browning’s Freaks + Lars von Trier’s The Idiots (Idioterne), with a surprisingly touching ending. 4/5.

Whilst not being arty, I’ve been awaiting delivery of my GP32, as previously described here. It’s not turned up yet due to my credit card company’s inability to accept payment on any day other than that on which they direct debit from my bank account. This despite my making an over-the-counter payment at my bank in cash in order to give me sufficient credit on my card to pay for said GP32. At the moment, the credit card company have accepted my payment but on questioning, have referred me to the smallprint on my statement that says that additional payments made to one’s account are ignored, or something. Cnuts!

I’ve also been meeting people and the reason for my current mischievous Cheshire cat happiness is a particular young lady, whom I shall say nothing about till after our first date in London on Friday.

When one is happy, time seems to fly by and it seems as though I was only here a few days ago. Oh, I was. In that case there’s little to say and I just hope that the next week hastens to Friday. Until I’m next here then, here’s a few things I’ve found to amuse yourselves with:

You must choose: a series of sometimes tricky moral dilemnas. For example, “You must fuck some-one once. By doing so, you will inherit their wealth but only for the period of time that they are famous. Thereafter, you’re flat broke: A. Avril Lavigne; B. David Bowie.” Actually, I made that one up. I know which one I would though. There are similarly simple ones but many are actually quite thought-provoking. And you get to see which voting group you fall into. You’ll get the idea.

Revenge on the spammers: this is the tale of Steve Thompson, who got one over on a Nigerian “419” spammer. The 419 spam / scam is the one that’s been running for years whereby a supposed dictatorship escapee pleads for assistance in liberating millions of dollars from the country escaped from in return for a cut. This guy actually saw it through, to a fashion. Interesting reading along the lines of the now infamous Junk mail check deposited by Patrick Combs in 1995.

Lego treasure hunt: a puzzle / adventure game made entirely of Lego. It’s sometimes amazing the depth of games that are available for free and without download on the net.

Sleepy Kittens: a video and song about cats and their love of sleep by Rob Manuel, who’s one of the founders of b3ta, the online collective of which I’m a member and where I spend far too much time with others finding the links that I post here. I’m going to the b3ta bash in London on July 18th and this is by way of a tribute for the invite from the man himself (which was actually an open invitation but I asked if I could go and he said I could). Well, I think it’s funny. The kittens, not the invite.

Britney’s naked cat-a-phone: still in the feline theme and again by Rob Manuel. Utter stupidity but that’s what the Internet’s for surely? Makes me laugh but then I suppose it would.

Top ten cutest kittens (NSFW*): and a third and final kitten / Rob Manuel thing. If you’ve seen ratemykitten, then you’ll know what to expect.

And with that, I’m off in the hope that this week speeds past and that Friday arrives post haste. I shall leave you with a joke:

How do you titillate an Oscelot? Oscillate its tits alot.

/ Coat

 

* NSFW = Not Suitable For Work

(always read the smallprint)

 

A week and a half

Thursday 12 June, 2003. Current mood:

In the glass: cider, which is becoming hard to come by in Tonbridge of late. I always knew that I drunk a lot of the stuff but surely I cannot be the sole reason for this town’s shortage? There’s a plate next to the glass and it is currently host to a BLT burger that I just made and am currently eating and dropping bits of into the keyboard at the same time.

Unusually, I’m writing this on a thursday as today has been the first in the last week and a half that I’ve had time to do so. Last weekend was mis-spent and the weeks that last weekend is sandwiched between have been busy both professionally and personally. Suffice to say at this stage that my beloved London could soon play a lesser or greater role in both capacities over the next couple of months, so watch this space.

My current happiness is on account of my awaiting delivery of a GP32 from GBAX.com: the GP32, AKA GamePark32 is a Korean hand-held games console along the lines of the Gameboy Advance (GBA) but with a number of differences: the GBA is the Nintendo’s popular hand-held gaming thing that I see many sad people holding in their hands on the train on my daily commute into work. I say sad people as the device that they hand-hold costs around 70 quid, has a CPU speed of 14mhz and will only play Nintendo games at a cost of 30 or so pounds per cartridge. The GP32, on the other hand costs 120 quid and that’s where the differences start: the latter runs at 133mhz, so it’s ten times faster than the GBA. It has its own operating system, like a scaled-down Windows, which is inter-changeable for say, Lynux, so it’s programmable. More importantly, it’s open-source, so anyone with coding skills can write their own copyright-free games for the thing. Most importantly though, the GP32 can run emulation software, freely available on the Internet. This means that it can be a Sinclair Spectrum, Atari 2600 / 5200 / 7800 or Jaguar, a C64, Atari ST, NES, SNES, Megadrive, PC Engine (playing original “Doom” and “Quake” ROMs, and even a MAME (Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator). As the owner of a GP32, I will have no need ever to buy a game to run on the thing as it’s all available for free.

The GP32 is also an MP3 and digital movie player and with the right attachments it can be a digital camera and TV. All that and two decades of retro-gaming in one’s hands: I really should get a life and find better things to do with my hands. Until I do, my fingers have been clicking and found the following:

Insect-eating game: control the rather odd Butch and catch insects. Simple but nice.

iSketch: it’s been around for a while but only recently have I become addicted. You will too, I promise.

Snake Jump: it’s got a 3D snake and looks nice.

Interactive human beatbox: Err…

 

And now to bed. Goodnight.

 

That was the week that was

Sunday 01 June, 2003. Current mood: /

In the glass to my left: Ice cold cider. Currently in the CD player: “Ok Computer” by Radiohead. Film watched this week: It’s a Wondeful Life – Not the kind of film that I’d normally watch but I’m glad I caught this on FilmFour last weekend. I was feeling a little low and this film gave me a lift. A classic from 1946 when films had to rely on good stories, acting and direction and couldn’t hide behind special effects and CGI. 4/5.

This week began on a tragic note when I learned of the sudden death of a very dear friend. On Tuesday, I’d been at my firm’s Birmingham office. We have offices in Paris, Frankfurt, Amsterdam, New York and Birmingham and it was the latter that was chosen as the venue for a meeting last week. Having set out at 6am and returned home at 9pm, I was pretty shattered and certainly not prepared for the news that was about to be broken to me. My friend Pete called at just after 10 and the lateness of his call alerted me to the fact that this might not be just a friendly call and indeed it wasn’t. It was Pete’s unfortunate duty to tell me of the death of our former colleague and close friend Trish, who had been taken suddenly at the age of just 30-something. She was a mother figure to me and always joked that one day she’d be able to buy a nice new hat when I, her “boy”, finally got married. She was hoping to model new headwear at the marriage of Helen and I when things between us two looked to be heading that way but alas she was denied the pleasure. I shall miss my friend and surrogate “mum” dearly and will shed a tear on Wednesday when we bid her farewell but take comfort in the fact that she is now free of the health problems that beset her in life and is now living the next part of life, as I believe we all do when we depart this existence.

As soon as I learned of Trish’s death, I phoned the first person that I thought of: Helen. She was wonderful, as she was on Friday when I saw her. Friday was my birthday and although there were many people whom I could have seen, I chose to spend the evening with Helen as I felt it a good opportunity to tie up some loose ends that I thought still dangled since we split. In short, we spent the evening slagging one another off but it was a constructive exercise. We agreed with hindsight that we weren’t meant to be together as we were not compatable. The bloke she’s with now seems to understand her better than I ever could and so they’re better suited as a couple than she and I were. At the end of Friday evening, we hugged and went our seperate ways. Yesterday, unlike the day after I’d previously seen her, I felt enlightened. It’s taken a couple of months but thanks to Helen herself, I’m truly over her and have my life back, as she did hers by ridding it of me.

Yesterday I travelled to Hertfordshire to spend the best part of the weekend with my friend Sarah and the time spent with her really was the best part of my weekend in all respects. Yesterday afternoon we had lunch in her lovely home town of Ware then spent yesterday evening at her house and that of her next door neighbours. I met some truly lovely friends of Sarah’s and enjoyed my birthday weekend thanks to all of them. Sarah had hung a “Happy Birthday” thing in her living room and bought me a birthday cake, which I thought very sweet (the sentiment, as well as the cake). Today she cooked a lovely lunch for which we were joined by yet more friends, before driving me home.

Probably the most comforting thing I heard when Helen and I split was when my friend Mark at work said that I could look forward to falling in love all over again. Until now I’ve not really thought I could but someone whom I met this weekend encouraged me, not by anything that she said but by simply being. A particular friend of Sarah’s set off feelings in me that I’ve not had since I first met Helen and last fell in love. I’m not saying I’m in love, that takes time. I did feel that familiar and pleasant something though that I’ve not felt for a while and that you feel when you meet someone with whom you click. The person in question was due to go on a date today so I’m not even thinking of pursuing the matter. I’m just happy that I can feel that certain something that I thought I might not again.

Trish: you will be able to get that new hat one day, and I just know you’ll be at my wedding.

_____

New finds this week:

How dodgy are you? – this site tells you how many years in jail your secret misdemeanours would have earned you. Entertaining and proof that I’d do a lot of porridge if ever anyone knew all that I’ve got up to in the past.

Headbutt the screen – move your mouse and make a bloke headbutt the screen. Very therapeutic actually.

Mini Baywatch-type game – save Laydeez in distress whilst avoiding jellyfish and speedboats. Kind of like “Frogger” but better.

Interactive penguins – control the penguins with your mouse. Similar to the lovely analysts from a few weeks back.

 

Limbering up

Sunday 25 May, 2003. Current mood:

The reason for my current annoyance is my new next door neighbours: for the past couple of hours, they’ve been playing Celine Dion at full volume and with the windows open as they seem to believe that the rest of us around here want to hear the Canadian-froggy warbler. We do not and I shall pop next door and inform them of such if it’s still going on by the time I’ve finished this.

This will be a brief entry as I am about to undertake a couple of writing projects. One is a short story and the other my novel. So if they’re the hundred metre sprint and marathon respectively, I’ve come here to get my writing flowing. This is the crouching down at the starting blocks then standing up and looking stupid doing warm-up exercises bit.

Since the split with Helen, my writing has suffered somewhat in that I’ve not been arsed to do any. The few attempts that I had at short stories turned out so morose that the only escapism they would provide for readers would be an escape from life by way of suicide.

I am happy to report in all honesty (having reported self-deludingly previously), that I am completely over Helen, or rather have come to terms with the situation. This has been largely due to the support of friends, some of whom I’d neglected to keep in touch with whilst with Helen but who fortunately have remained true friends despite this, by being there for me in the aftermath. I thank you all.

Helen also has played a role in my getting over her by being characteristically blunt and telling me that she wants no contact from me if that contact is to take the form of moping. Since my last mope to her on the phone I’ve not spoken to her.

Further support has come from my occasional little Saturday night visitor, who as well as showing me that there are girls besides Helen for mutual entertainment, company and so on, has read my short stories and given me encouragement. She has built my confidence as a person and as a writer. Most recently this encouragement came last night.

So this afternoon I’ve been reading “Writer’s News” and am about to pen a story for a competition therein. About half a dozen sheets of frantically scrawled notes are on my dining table waiting to be turned into stories. Beneath those and the weekend papers somewhere is the synopsis for my novel, which I plan to write a more detailed chapter plan for.

In order to write, I require relative peace and quiet which is being denied me by my neighbours still. These are the kind of people who like Celine bloody Dion because “well, she’s got a nice voice, aint she?”; the kind of people who watch “Stars in Their Eyes” and vote for the person who tries to emulate someone they like, even if the impersonator is no good; the kind of people who probably had friends round last night for a “Eurovision Song Contest” party. During said contest, the UK received a total of “nil points” from our European neighbours. Neighbours? Cunts!

So off I set and I shall leave you with the following:

Throwy, catchy ball game: for one or two players, the idea is to catch your opponent’s balls (arf!) whilst trying to throw yours so that he can’t. Each time you out-wit him, a level of flooring is removed from beneath him. You’ll get the idea.

Platform cow game: collect the vitamin pills and jump on the bacteria. Kind of like Sonic but with pills instead of rings. And a cow instead of a hedgehog.

 

New favourite joke

Tuesday 20 May, 2003. Current mood:

(C) Humandescent

(Edit: Thanks once again to my friend and mentor Emma for her spooky (but nice) ability to get right inside my mind last night and actually tell me what I was thinking without me realising myself: you’re the best girl.)

I apologise in advance but today my favourite joke (what did the slug say to the snail? “Big Issue mate?”) was superceded:

Two pregnant Irish ladies are knitting jumpers for their unborn offspring. One says to the other, “I hope mine’s a boy cos my wool’s blue.” The other one says, “Well, I hope mine’s a spacker cos I fucked up the arms.”

(I’m so very sorry. I’ll get my coat…)

 

Sofa, so good

Sunday May 18, 2003. Current mood:

(C) MrSheep

In the mug to my left: Coffee, lots of cream lots of sugar (I’m tired as well as sad). Musical entertainment is courtesy of “The Amp” on digital satellite.

Films watched this week: Dog soldiers – Great modern British horror. Imagine a cross between “An American Werewolf in London” and “Night of The Living Dead”, throw in some black humour and this is the result. 3/5; Panic Room – Very tense and atmospheric drama. And with my acting heroine Jodie Foster in the lead role to boot. 3/5.

The reason for my sadness and tiredness is Helen, in a nutshell. Although I’ve tried to tell myself that I should be over her by now, I guess you just don’t get over someone that quickly if you truly love them as I did her, and still do. She’s moved on and I should too but I can’t because I’m not ready. It obviously takes some people longer than others. I still wish her well and care only for her happiness.

Recently when Helen and I have spoken on the phone it’s almost been as though there’s a game of one-upmanship going on between us, with her telling me that she’s happy (good) and me telling her that I’m likewise (a lie). I’m not too proud to admit this, nor that my greatest wish will not be granted me: that of getting Helen back. I do have another wish though and that is that she might phone me soon and that we might have a conversation where she tells me that she cares about me enough as a friend to listen to me being truthful. I’ve not spoken to her this week as I’ve been loathe to interrupt her life. I would value an intrusion from her into my life, which is somewhat barren without her. Just a phone call would be so fulfilling for me right now. I hope that wish can be granted today, on what would have been the first day of our 22nd month together.

Anyway, besides moping I have been keeping busy over the last couple of weeks since I was last here. I’ve been re-establishing contact with a few more old friends and am very much looking forward to my birthday weekend, the weekend after next when I’m staying in Hertfordshire with my very dear friend and first true love, Sarah. Before then, next weekend is one of options as a number of invitations have come along at once like proverbial London buses.

This weekend has been spent at home in a vegetative state, as I didn’t actually bother to arrange anything social. Instead I’ve been watching films, reading, writing and being geeky tinkering with the computer. On Friday I had a new graphics card with TV-out fitted. Together with my cordless keyboard and mouse, this has facilitated my current position: slumped on the sofa, writing this entry on the TV screen. And this is where I intend to stay for the rest of the day, pee breaks aside, browsing the web, watching films and hoping for that phone call to breathe a little life into me.

Whilst spending far too much time on the Internet recently, I’ve found these:

Another Japanese game: this involves not touching the sides (arf!), along the lines of those games where you have to pass a metal loop along a bendy wire without setting off the buzzer. A steady hand required.

Switch zoo: a bit like Mr. Potatohead but with animal body parts. Get creative and make your very own freak.

Pastaroids: Asteroids with pasta shapes. Groovy!

I also found a little comfort in the two blokes below. If ever I’m tempted to think that spending a weekend home alone makes me sad and that I should get out more and find a girlfriend, I’ll be reassured by the knowledge that there are those far, far sadder than I:

Find me a wife: this bloke has been let down by dating agencies and web sites, so has set up his own site where he’s looking for his ideal wife. Nothing too unusual in that, apart from the fact that he could go out and meet people. What’s interesting is how, as you read on, the guy’s unfolding weirdness becomes apparent.

Sleazy Gigolo: this guy is just a little tragic, and he looks ridiculous. Good luck to him if he’s making money from it but for me this is sadder-than-I and a demonstration of the magic of the Internet: you can laugh at people without them hitting you.

Maybe I’ll build a new web site…

Addendum

Further to this entry, I spoke to Helen: I relented and called her. In a stroke she told me to buck up and stop being so miserable as she doesn’t like me being that way (for her benefit rather than mine). She said that she wants to be friends but not if I continue to mope. She was blunt as ever, perhaps on account of me interrupting her while rushed off of her feet and generally a little stressed.

We didn’t speak for long and Helen said that it would be a while before we spoke again, due to her workload. It made me feel better though, having spoken to her.

I subsequently got a call tonight from my friend Emma in Exeter, who pre-Helen, was my writing soothsayer, and who’d read here of my sadness. It’s cheered me no end to hear from yet another true friend.

Breaking up is hard but friends with time to spare are the best cure for a healing heart. And so, with thanks to my supporting cast, I am able to lift my arse off of this supporting sofa and retire to bed.

Night all.

 

Breaking old news…

Wednesday May 07, 2003:

I’ve received many emails at work of late with “amusing attachments”. Due to my new-found singleton-ness and geekdom, I’d seen most of them weeks ago when they appeared in their original guises, due to interracting online with fellow geeky people. One of the purposes of this bit of the site and the email that goes out whenever a new entry is made, is to alert people with more fulfilling lives than I that myself and my fellow geeks have served as “filters” and only report on the good stuff. Today, we found these:

Kick ups: Keep the ball in the air with your mouse. Quite difficult and furiously addictive.

Mini Golf: A real mini golf course, on your screen. Wicked!

Ant City: This is fucking great! Imagine you’re looking over a city and that you’re giant-sized. And you have a fucking great magnifying glass in your hand. And the sun’s shining. Those aint ants down there. Them’s liitle people, trying to get home from work. Get them under your magnifying glass and focus the sun’s rays. Warm ’em up and: kaboom! This is what the net was made for. And then there’s the cars (focus, focus). And the oil truck. Oh, get that fucker!

Japanese shoot-em-up: This am the best though. It’s a first-person shooter, kinda like doom. But simpler. And more fun. Some of the animation is much amusing. Yay to the Jap art of animation.

And me? Tonight I have been reading Modern Drunkard Magazine: The article on the virtues of getting drunk in one’s own company was particularly poignant. My inner monkey is waiting in my bed, so I shall away to play with him.

 

This just in

Tuesday May 06, 2003: I found another Poem generator today. These proliferate on the net but this one’s a little different: you enter a web address and it sends a spider bot thing to pick up key words from the text on that page. For my front page it came up with this:

 

Welcome to disk in any form without the file

If your questions answered, interrogate me

May be viewed with the spider a starman waiting in a goat

out the Typewriter font click here.

I intended them to get a spastic as writing cooking, eating, crosswording,

searching for ET, my birthday suit.

This site is Major Tom to stevelaker.net:

the snake and I know out the sky

The size of something alcoholic and vice versa.

 

Kinda weird, in many ways: surreal accuracy being one of them.

 

T.F.F.T

Monday 05 May, 2003. Current mood:

Thank fuck for that: the weekend’s over. I’m not glad that the weekend is over, per se, rather that the spring-cleaning which I undertook at the beginning of the weekend is.

The pile of poo that pertains to be my computer had developed a bit of limp lately so I decided this weekend to sort it out, either by cleansing it or throwing it out of the window. Fortunately, the former approach has worked and now my measly Celeron 433 with 56k dial-up is performing more like a Pentium 4 2GHZ with broadband might, on a particularly bad day.

My clean-up operation began on Saturday when I downloaded Spybot: Search and Destroy, which identified and removed no fewer than 200 bots, spiders, adware apps and other shit from my hard drive.

The next problem to address was the 100 or so spam emails that land in my inbox every day. Mailwasher is well on the way to filtering the nasties out, bouncing them with an auto-generated email that tells the spam server that my email address doesn’t exist. In time, the spam servers will remove me from their mailiing lists.

Of course, the reason for my problems is my proliferation of net activity attracting attention to myself through newsgroup posts, messageboard activity and domain ownership. Occasional geek became total geek this weekend when not only did I undertake the above preventative measures but I also changed my browser software.

Mozilla is a far superior browser to Microsoft’s Internet Explorer: it’s a smaller but faster program, it has an email client, web page composer and chat client integrated and it’s open-source. It’s also freeware.

And now, after sitting at this keyboard till 1.15 this morning, having previously spent the majority of Saturday and yesterday here and finally eight hours today, my system is purged and I’m happy with the improvement almost to the point of banging one out.

I’m too knackered for that though, so instead will now retire to the calling of the sofa and crash out in front of the TV for the conclusion of the snooker final.

Good evening.

 

My left hand

Monday 05 May, 2003: 01.15am.

What am I doing still up, you may wonder. And so do I.

I was just pondering a “screen name” and an alternative name for this site: I have nothing better to keep me awake.

For some reason my left-handedness sprung forth into my mind and to all ICQ people, henceforth I should like to be called “Sinistrophile”.

Good innit?

You will no doubt be wondering where such a name came from, so I shall attempt to explain: A “-phile” is the opposite of a “-phobic”, the same as a “-philiac” mirrors a “-phobiac”: the former loves with a passion that which the latter fears. “Sinistro-” is the prefix of all things left-handed and it sounds quite good, don’t you agree?

Anyway, I’m left-handed and proud of being a spastic in that sense and am therefore glad to have blagged sinistrophilia.com and .net as domain names tonight.

Whilst I wait for said names to procreate and having no girlfriend, I just ate the proverbial Pot Noodle, so all that remains is to wank furiously. With my left hand.

 

A wise man said…

Sunday 04 May, 2003. Current mood:

(C) Crap PaintShopping by me

On the saucer to my left: the remnants of a bacon croissant with extra fall-down-into-the-keyboard bits, that I had for brunch this morning. Since then I’ve been in geek mode, talking to friends overseas on ICQ, downloading stuff and toying with Paint Shop Pro. No musical entertainment this week as it’s the snooker final today so I’ve got that on the TV. Both the finalists have won the compo before so there’s no underdog to support. Also, one’s a Taff and the other’s a Paddy, so I’m really lost on who to support. I’ll just appreciate the gameplay and sportsmanship that exemplifies the game.

Talking of sportsmanship, or rather gentlemanly conduct in general, I had a conversation this week with someone whose name I cannot mention but suffice to say that it was interesting and informative. This certain gentleman told me something and swore me to secrecy. Gentleman’s honour dictates that I shall respect his wish and we shook on it. I mention it only because it gave me hope and comfort and those are two emotions that have dominated my heart this week.

On Wednesday, I visited my sister in Kent and Canterbury hospital, following the birth of my niece (see below). I am not the paternal type and even on the train to Canterbury I was unsure of what my reaction might be to this unprecedented occurrence. I was sure that I would remain composed and absolutely determined that I wouldn’t succumb to any bouts of cooing, which quite frankly make me reach for the nearest bucket when watching others make fools of themsleves with such displays.

I’d not been to Canterbury since my childhood, when I visited the cathedral and was struck by the sheer size of the place (Canterbury, as well as the cathedral). Working in London must have had an effect on me as my first thought upon arrival at Canterbury West station was how small it was (the station, as well as Canterbury). I sought directions from the station to the hospital from a cabbie outside the former and he very kindly offered to take me there. The journey was pleasant and it struck me that despite the difference in size between the two cities, they have at least one thing in common: friendly, helpful cabbies. An engaging conversation formed the soundtrack to the journey, during which I spoke of Helen and how I rue our split (something I’ve been doing to anyone prepared to listen lately) and also of Alice, my niece.

Negotiating my way through the warren that are the corridoors of the maternity wing, I located my sister, gave her a peck on the cheek and said “hiya” in the half second that it took my to scan the bay and spy Alice in her cot. “Aaww, look at you! Aren’t you gorgeous? Aah, bless you. You’re so cute aren’t you? Coochy coochy coo!”

Fuck!

I’m bound to be biased but Alice really is a lovely baby, with her mannerisms and facial expressions, as well as just being a cute little Human being. I got to hold her and spoke simultaneously to her and my sister as I did so. I said how wonderful it was that this new life could be created and that here it was, out in the big wide world with a whole life ahead. Cradling this precious, vulnerable little person made me feel somehow strong and brought a lot of things into perspective. For a moment it were as though nothing else mattered and I was truly humbled by the experience. Incredible I thought, that a new life, with no experience and total innocence, can be so comforting and give so much hope to a world-wise soul such as I. It’s difficult to explain the feeling in words as it was just that: a feeling.

I am truly proud of our new arrival and of my sister, who will be a wonderful mother to Alice and no doubt others. Maybe one day, I in turn will make her an aunt.

I was due to visit Alice again today, with my parents. I have chosen not to though, as I saw Helen last night, who is unwell. I didn’t wish to run the risk of passing anything on to the little one.

Last night was the first time in three weeks that I’d seen Helen. We had arranged to meet a couple of times prior to last night but on both occasions I didn’t feel that I was ready. To be honest, I wasn’t totally sure that I was last night but my fears faded when I met Helen and we got along just fine. I suppose my main fear was of all my feelings manifesting themselves and I getting emotional as a result. I’ve done well in coping lately but our contact has been confined to telephone conversations. When I say “coping,” I mean keeping my emotions in check and gradually repressing them over time. When Helen and I first split, all I could do when we spoke was to ask questions in a hope of understanding what had gone wrong and to offer to make amends. Gradually I’ve come to terms with the way things must be between us, even accepting that Helen is now with someone else. I am able to speak with her as a friend now, with no mention of what was and what might have been. I cannot deny that I still find her incredibly attractive, in all respects but I guess that’s a measure of lasting love. I can’t say I’m not jealous of her new boyfriend either but as I’ve said elsewhere, I care about her enough to wish her only happiness. Last night, despite being ill, I sensed that she was happy. She seemed happy to have seen me too, which is comforting and gives me hope that we can continue to see one another on the same basis as last night.

In the taxi on the way home last night, I spoke of my evening and my week to the driver. Among other things, I mentioned how I wished I’d known that the last time Helen and I had done things was indeed to be the final time. Had I known, things might have been so different. I also spoke of Alice and a parallel was drawn: that of two girls starting anew and who knows what role I might end up playing in those lives.

This realisation somehow gave me hope. It’s difficult to explain the feeling but it’s a comforting one.

___

Also this week, I went looking for things and found these (isn’t the net wonderful?):

The incredible phonebox cam: A great idea. This bloke has a webcam pointed at a phonebox across the street from his house and he’s put the phone number of the box on this page. Watch for someone passing the phonebox and phone it. Great fun! Taking this as an example, another bloke pointed a webcam at a phonebox outside his flat and put it on the net. The site lasted three days before someone verbally abused some kids who answered the phone and the webcam owner got a visit from the police and had to take the site down. Even more fun!

Online graffiti wall: Leave your “tag” on the electronic wall. At the time of posting, the site was about to introduce a “cock filter” as so many people had been drawing cocks and the site owners thought people might want to see the fine works of art on the wall among the cocks but without the cocks. I was “tagger” number 10’458: I drew a cock. An artistic one, mind:

(Clicky to enlarge my cock. I said “enlarge my cock.” Fnaar!)

Spectrum Top Trumps: Remember trump cards? There were space ship ones and monster ones and each card had various attribute scores. The idea was to “trump” your opponent and end up with all his cards. And make him cry. Well, this is a trump card game using Speccy games. Aah, the nostalgia.

Hacker or spacker? First there was “Tash or gash?” then “Lady or lady boy?”, “Real or fake norks?”, “Cleavage or bum-crack”. You know the kind of thing. Many variations have followed but this is the sickest. And so sick as to be genius. Check out the soundtrack.

Still in a sick vein, Japanese scat dolls: they shit for you. Oh God! Would the last one out please turn off the Internet?

I’m going to the toilet. Goodnight.

 

This just arrived

My niece.

Aaww, bless!

 

The man’s an U.N.C.L.E

Monday 28 April, 2003. Current mood:

(C) Cozza

“Unexpected Niece Came Last Evening” is the best I can come up with for “U.N.C.L.E,” given that she was a couple of days premature but her arrival deems me an uncle.

Celebrations today then, for two reasons: Firstly, at 1.10 this morning my sister gave birth to the above-mentioned baby girl, by Ceasarian, so she’s in hospital for the next few days whilst she recovers. Unfortunately, this is two hours away by train from London, so I’ve been unable to visit her after work tonight before visiting hours end.

Alice Rose (after my maternal grandmother and my mother respectively) is the first of a new generation for our family, so for the first time my parents are grandparents as well. Given my track record in the love life stakes they’d have been in for a long wait if it were down to me, so well done sis.

My other reason for celebration is a phone call that I received today from my old mate Pete, who moved to Lancaster a couple of years ago. Among other things, he rang to commiserate me for the break up with Helen, having read about it here. This on top of the other two well-wishers last week proving that my readership here numbers at least three.

Sympathy and compassion are qualities that Pete does not possess. Instead, he has a killer wit so outrageous that it serves as a verbal slap round the face to anyone foolish enough to be feeling sorry for themselves in his company. Our conversation today was an example, as I told him of Helen dumping me:

He: “So, were you gutted?”

Me: “I’m okay now but to be honest, for the first few days I was inconsolable.”

He: “Did you blub?”

Me: “A few times, yes.”

He: “Fucking poof.”

Mates are great aren’t they?

Anyway, we resolved to get together in the summer when I will travel to Lancaster (“Lung cancer,” as Pete calls it) to stay for a few days. I’m very much looking forward to it, as I was to the last weekend that I stayed at his house while he still lived here in the south. Prior to that weekend, I commented to him on how much I was looking forward to it, to which his retort was: “Yeah Shame you’re gonna be there though.”

It was on the recommendation of another mate, Mark, whom I work with, that I purchased a copy each of today’s newspapers. These I shall package appropriately and give to my sister as a kind of time capsule to be given to her daughter at a future date. Okay, so birth date editions of newspapers are available by mail order and on the Internet but they’re invariably facsimiles. The ones I have are the originals. And as Pete pointed out on the phone, “rather than cost you forty nicker mate, you got ‘em for four quid, you tight cunt.”

Anyway, I just wanted to share my good news. If only I had more than you three readers, by now the world would know that it has another child.

On Wednesday, I’ve booked the day off of work to visit my sister and my new niece, as travelling from home as opposed to London means that I will get there quicker and be able to spend more time with them.

One geeky thing discovered today on the net is this compare-spaceships-with-real-buildings-and-animals thing. You can even move them around for comparative purposes. Wicked!

Goodnight.

 

Damaged goods

Saturday 26 April, 2003. Current mood:

(C) Tedmus

I’m in a reflective mood at the moment, taking a look at myself, away from the madding crowd and deciding if a bridge needs to be built and crossed. That’s the poetic way of putting it. In reality I feel like an unwanted pet, whose owner has grown bored of it and replaced it, as one would a broken kitchen appliance. More on that in a moment.

CDs procured this week: “BeautifulGarbage” by Garbage and “A Rush of Blood to the Head” by Coldplay; both very agreeable. No music this week as I’ve got the Snooker on the telly, an activity that I wouldn’t have been allowed to indulge myself in whilst with Helen but now that’s she’s no longer with me I can do whatever I want, like going out in London and getting totally wasted with mates.

To be fair, Helen was never worried about what I got up to. Rather it was I that was so besotted by her that I’d make sure I was home in time to phone her before bed. Sad, perhaps, but no more.

So, today I’m nursing a bad head due to last night’s copious intake of alcohol. The evening was spent with a group of friends whom I’d not seen for a couple of years and it was very nice to meet them again. The first thing that one of them said to me upon arrival was “I don’t want to hear that girl’s name from you tonight, alright?” And so it was that I enjoyed the night without a thought for Helen. But how did he know that Helen and I had split? Well, he reads up on me here, which is one of the many purposes of this site, to keep distant and parted friends up to date on me. It saves phone calls and it saves me constantly repeating myself. He was the second person in as many weeks to comment on things he’d read here. Proof of what I’ve always suspected: that I have two readers.

Anyway, I got a bit carried away last night and at 10 O’clock had to excuse myself on account of feeling more than a little nauseous. I didn’t excuse myself verbally as I feared that to open my mouth would bring forth speech of the technicolour liquid variety. I apologise therefore to those that I left and hope I can stay for the next one.

This will be a short entry as I’m expecting company tonight. The reason for the kitchen appliance analogy at the top is that Helen has informed me that she’s with someone else. I knew that she had a “friend” but also that she didn’t want a relationship, with anyone, not just me. She tells me today that her “friend” is now her boyfriend. Given that it’s only been three weeks since we split, I guess I’m not that hard to get over. Well, I wish them all the best and only hope that he looks after her better than it would seem that I did.

For my own part, I’ve realised that there is no bridge to be built, as the water to be crossed is actually quite shallow. Instead I shall walk upon it, happy at least that Helen remains just a friend; something that she’s helped me realise this past week.

My other “friend” is now due, so I shall bid you farewell dear readers and leave you to play with a couple of things I’ve found this week on the net, whilst I limber up for some twanging of knicker elastic:

Remember “Pigeon Street,” the kids’ programme from the early ’80s? It annoyed the hell out of me, which is why I like this Pigeon Street Massacre game as it allows one to shoot the rats-with-wings motherfuckers.

Not quite as satisfying but nonetheless good for wasting a few seconds is WebWar. It’s kind of based on Tempest, the 3D vector graphics shooty game from the ’80s.

 

Retrobate

Sunday 20th April 2003. Current mood:

(C) Reverend Dan

I’ve been burning the candle at both ends this weekend and retro gaming. More on that in a moment.

In the carton to my left: multi-vitamin fruit stuff, for vitamin and nutrient replacement purposes. Musical entertainment is this week provided by “The Amp,” one of three new music TV channels on digital satellite, because we need them.

This weekend started pretty much as it was intended to go on: drunk. Lately in my ex-Helenness I’ve been in danger of becoming a bit of a hermit, so decided on Thursday night to meet up with some old friends in town. I needed to get out and enjoy myself in surroundings other than my house and where there would be fewer reminders of my lost love.

The evening started fairly quietly with a friend and I having some catching-up banter over a pint or five, in one of the quieter pubs in town. Once the formalities were out of the way, and we were sufficiently lubricated to be talking shit and therefore with no need to be able to hear each other any longer, we moved on to a more lively venue: The Hog’s Head, which overlooks the river and where Helen and I spent a few romantic evenings last summer (“stop it Steve!” Sorry.)

On this particular night, the Hog’s Head seemed to exist in a parallel universe as my friend (who’s twenty five years old and also single) and I (thirty-ish) didn’t get served and yet all the school kids in the pub did. As it turned out there was a school disco thing going on at the local nightclub and the “school kids” were actually teens and twenties dressed up as such. The place was so full of them that my friend and I couldn’t physically get to the bar. Pleasant though the scenery was (the girls), it didn’t warrant not having a drink to dribble into.

We moved on to the local Weatherspoons, a cavernous place, and it too was packed to the gills with girls in school uniforms. The crowd waiting to be served at the bar was six deep but with patience and sharp elbows we made it to the front and got drinks. Forward thinking souls that we are, we eschewed pints of lager / cider and figuring that we’d have to wait a similar age on our next visit to the bar, we procured four pints. Of vodka Redbull. Each.

Milling around the pub, we met up with a few others, somehow managed to blag a table, where Helen and I once sat (“oh do shut up!” Sorry), and proceeded to get even more drunk than we already were. From there the memory of the evening blurs. I do remember that one of our group, whom I’d not met before, was in a wheelchair and that my friend decided to have a go in it, whilst its usual occupant wasn’t, as it were. In particular I recall the thud as he fell backwards on attempting a wheelie and the drunken guffawing that ensued as a result.

Come closing time, I decided to walk home and grab some food for company on the walk; the walk that Helen and I had traversed, hand in hand, so many times (“oh for fuck’s sake!”) All food establishments were closed and I somehow managed to get lost, arriving home a full 90 minutes after setting out on a walk that ought to take 40 minutes at the most, even when very drunk.

Hungry as I was, a chip butty seemed appealing so I proceeded to clatter about in the kitchen, cooking and assembling said culinary delight. I managed to hit the bed on my third jump and fell asleep with my chip butty at my side. In the morning I was wearing it.

Waking up to a cold chip butty and not Helen (“oh God”. No, hang on) was a pivotal moment, for although I had desired it the night before I had got through the night without it. A piss-poor analogy, I know but what I’m trying to say is that as each day passes I’m getting more used to the idea that I am single again. It’s tough at times but there are more good days than bad now, whereas a couple of weeks ago the days were all bad.

Friday, yesterday and today have been spent in the company of myself. I’ve always valued personal time and now I have it in abundance I’m making best use of it.

One of the topics of conversation between my friend and I on Thursday, whilst we were still capable of speech, was computer and video games: in particular how we’ve both grown tired of trying to keep up with the latest hardware and software, and in any case games nowadays are all about looks and quite frankly too complex. We both agreed that today’s games lack gameplay and reminisced about the classic old games where the object was simply to get a better high score than your mates. He showed me his mobile phone, onto which he’d downloaded some classic Atari games: Space Invaders and the like.

Phones are another area where I’ve grown tired of trying to keep up with trends: I have a decent enough mobile but this is why I have a 1970s Bakelite phone at home: so retro-chic. So for the last three days I’ve been retro gaming and in the evenings I’ve been getting drunk.

I have MAME (Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator) on my PC and have been playing “Bomb Jack” till the early hours. “Bomb Jack” is one of those games that anyone can play, as it’s ostensibly simple. Only when you get to know its inner workings though can you truly excel. I used to be able to score just short of a million points on the arcade machine in one of the pubs in town. So far I’m up to 640’000 with my late night gaming sessions. If I were sober I might achieve my pinnacle again. Some may think this sad but I’m having fun and justify my current nerdiness by pointing out to myself that I went out on Thursday.

There’ll be plenty more nights like Thursday spent with my fellow single friends and no doubt more mornings like Friday when my main preoccupation on the toilet was with one thought: ‘it smells of Redbull in here.’

Helen will always be in my thoughts but I’ve realised that I must move on and that I can enjoy doing so. The two of us still speak: she tells me that she’s happy, and her happiness is of paramount importance to me. I care about her enough to wish her happiness, even if for her that means being without me.

One day I’ll be truly happy too and until then I’m having a good time getting there, doing the things that blokes with no girlfriends do.

Including trawling the Internet for fun things and this week I have found the following:

A great running down pedestrains game Control the car with your mouse and squish the pedestrians. Yeeha!

Since the departure of Helen I’m smoking quite a bit more. The new government health warnings on packets of tabs are a little depressing, I feel, so I found http://www.smokingcures.com to cheer up my fag packets. Print out the labels, stick ’em on your smokes and feel better.

 

Get along

Sunday 13 April, 2003. Current mood: ish. In the cafetiere to my left: Tea. “Tea!? In a cafetiere!?” I hear you cry. But teapots are so last century, darling. Haven’t you heard? The cafetiere is the new teapot. “Oh shut up Steve.” Okay. But it’s great stuff: longer leaf tea from PG Tips, designed for the cafetiere. It’s very nice. And I don’t have a teapot.

Film watched this week: The Player. A Hollywood satire, part of the fun of which is spotting the cameos. There are more than 60 Hollywood names (okay, some minor) playing themselves. 4/5.

Currently in the CD player: “Electric Dreams,” a compilation of music from the 1980s. I’m having a nostalgic afternoon and proving that, tea-drinking aside, I’m still back in the last century. Oh well, happy memories…

Which brings me to the subject that has traditionally dominated these pages and who, as in my life generally, will now play a lesser role here. Helen and I are but a memory, albeit a recent and fond one.

After seeing her on Monday I was quite upset by the finality of it all, as I was when we met again on Tuesday to return mutually accumulated artefacts of one another’s. On Wednesday I returned to work, tired and deflated but all credit to my management, colleagues and friends who got me through the day. Come Wednesday evening, an understanding of the situation had taken up residence in my head, evicting the confusion and some of the grief that had been squatting there. Wednesday was the turning point and far from being over my emotional loss, I was nonetheless resigned to what must be.

Helen and I remain friends and we are continuing to speak regularly on the phone and will continue to see one another, albeit with less regularity and minus some of the things that were part of our nights out. To whomever was at the other end of the CCTV camera in the tunnel under Reigate station, I would say: I hope you recorded it all as there’ll be no more live performances.

And so, rather than reminisce, I shall do as Helen is doing herself and as she and I are doing together: get along, but rather than with head bowed, dragging my feet, with head high and a spring in my step.

And that will be my lasting memory of Helen, as that is how she made me feel: proud and confident. She still makes me feel like that, you see because I figure it this way: if I can pull someone as stunning and brilliant as her, it stands to reason I can pull anyone I like.

No-one will ever be able to replace you babe but you’ll always be the one that “done it” for me, in many ways.

Ooh, almost forgot the fun things I found this week:

Death Star Pong: A sort of cross between Arkanoid, ten-pin bowling and well, Pong. Good fun.

Pigs fly: whilst wearing helicopter hats, in order to feed and breathe fire. Yay!

Make your own dancing freak: Hmm. Defies explanation. And physics.

 

Farewell my sweet

Monday 07 April, 2003. Current mood: (There’s no icon for inconsolable). In the mug to my left: Tea. In the CD player: Nothing. I think that music of any kind will set me off at the moment.

I am currently nursing a broken heart as Helen and I have just split up. It’s not fully sunken in yet but as I type this, it is beginning to.

I shan’t wash our dirty laundry in public but suffice it to say that Helen and I had grown apart. I’m so thick-skinned that I didn’t realise until it was too late. It truly is too late as despite my protestations, Helen’s mind is firmly made up and she no longer feels for me as she once did. I respect her decision and wish only that she be happy, whether with or without me. I care about her enough to hold her happiness paramount.

She had the decency to come down here today and tell me of her feelings face-to-face, when perhaps a lesser person would have chosen an easier method. Cliched though it may sound, we have agreed to remain friends and I know that we will get on as such, with all pressures of our relationship thence gone. The alternative was to cease all contact but we care about one another on many levels and would always wonder what happened to the one that got away if we’d chosen that route. The route that we have taken may be a more difficult one but I’d rather have Helen as just a friend than not at all. My lover alas though, has gone.

The times that we spent together were the best of my life and I thank Helen for what are now fond memories. I will never forget the girl who was the love of my life and for whom I will carry a candle for the rest of my days. Deep inside I hope that she can rediscover her love for me but I fear that will not be the case.

Ahead is a period of grieving and if you’ll excuse me I will commence that now as I’m welling up. I must cry alone.

Farewell my sweet. I will never forget you and will always love you.

 

Never gonna give you up

Sunday 06 April, 2003. Current mood, beamed directly from the satellite above my house:

(C) Artamnesia

(be patient while it finds me and zooms in).

In the mug to my left: Tea. My fifth in as many hours, randomly. In the CD player: Nothing. Music today is courtesy of the digital radio station “SBN”. Not sure what that stands for but they play some good vibes.

Recently found on the Internet:

Barbed wire skipping: Press the space bar to make your character jump, thereby preserving his legs. So much more fun than a standard skipping rope.

Cheap shopping: Use this site to produce alternative barcodes that you then stick over the real ones, so they’re cheaper when scanned at the till. Totally illegal, as it’s theft.

Films watched this week: Happiness. Disturbing yet poignant. The intertwined lives of various dysfunctional characters, all connected by three sisters. 4/5.

A friend and I were recently discussing the respective merits of literature and film, as well as examples of adaptations of the latter from the former. Among other things, we decided that film is a more powerful medium for invoking one’s emotions as it engages more than the one sense. Literature engages just the sight but can be more powerful, we opined, through its ability to paint mental images, the product of the “sixth sense” arguably being more personal and therefore emotive than any celluloid image. We could both cite many examples of films that had moved us emotionally but were at a loss to name a single book which had had the same effect. Proof perhaps that literature is a far more difficult medium to produce than film.

After much memory-searching, I did remember an example of a book that had moved me, almost to tears, and which continues to do so every time I read it: “The House on Pooh Corner.” Some may say that the writing of A.A.Milne cannot be classed as great literature, to which I would argue that this is subjective. What may move one person may not similarly affect another.

Reading the stories and poems of Milne affords me an escape, back to a time of innocence when I could empathise with Christopher Robin: to a time pre-school when one made up one’s own rules and lived in one’s own world, oblivious to the greater scheme of things. The particular passage in “The House on Pooh Corner” that moves me to tears is when Christopher Robin effectively has to say farewell to Pooh. Pooh, Rabbit, Tigger et al, are all aware that Christopher Robin is going away but none of them know where or why. Christopher Robin of course is about to start school and realises that this is the end of his carefree adventures with Pooh, day in, day out. His days of innocence are coming to an end and the time has come for Christopher Robin to grow up and enter a world where Pooh will not always be at his side.

A great literary artist is something I shall never be, which is why I don’t aspire to such great heights and remain content to write as I do for a hobby. Although I make time for my writing, my life schedule is too busy to allow the far greater investment in time required of the submission process.

I was heartened recently to read of the chap who, at twenty-one, has just been given a six-figure advance for his first children’s novel, set in his own fantasy world. This he wrote in lessons while he was disillusioned with school. On completion of the book he was convinced that it would appeal to no-one besides himself and consigned it to the bin. Unbeknown to him, his mother fished it out, read it and liked it. Six years later, she gave it to the widow of the late, great Douglas Adams, who was a personal friend. She liked it too and showed it to Adams’ agent, who liked it so much that he took the author on and secured the advance. A story with a happy ending if ever there were one.

Helen and I have been distanced by circumstance this weekend and today on the phone she dropped a bombshell when she told me that she needs a little more space and time to herself, which I respect. I shall not now assume a reclined position on a proverbial psychiatrist’s couch but merely accept that I have to not love the object of my affection to the extent that I suffocate her. I love Helen dearly and am determined to maintain reciprocation in that respect. My fairytale just took on a feature more commonly found in mainstream literature: an obstacle to be overcome by the protagonist. As the protagonist in this plot twist, I am determined to work personally to overcome and I will, as I’m not one to give up easily on something that I feel so passionately about.

I don’t feel that speaking of my relationship with Helen in terms of literature is an inaccurate comparison as my feelings for her are best explained by way of a reference to the piece of literature that moves me the most, emotionally: if ever she and I were to separate, I would feel as Winnie the Pooh without Christopher Robin.

Right now, I’m going to deposit all of my writing in a bin and mention that I’ve done so in passing the next time I speak to my Mum.

 

Guilty

Sunday 23 March, 2003. Current mood:

(C) Mystery Bob

In the glass to my left: Cider. In the CD player: Nothing. Music is currently being piped into the room courtesy of Classic FM TV via satellite. I’m feeling a little stressed and it’s having an agreeable relaxing effect.

 

Found on the Internet and responsible for a few wasted minutes:

Scary Danish game: A rather gruesome first-person shoot-em-up, complete with moustachioed psycho shouting encouragement.

Economists: Trace a line on their graph and watch their reaction. Simple, cute and worth wasting a couple of seconds on.

 

Films watched this week: Signs, with Helen last night. A very poignant tale of faith lost and re-found when confronted by a common nemesis, I think. 4/5.

 

Thought for the week: when love and friendship are parted by distance, there’s always the phone. The phone is the means of the verbal hug, even if the physical one is denied by geography, and soon you’ll see one another again. Let not distance be a barrier to love and friendship.

 

Having said last week that things were quiet in the corporate finance markets, as they are in the print industry generally, my firm this week was forced to make redundancies. Business is likely to pick up now that the uncertainty of war is over, being as we are, a country at war. The long-term forecast though is still uncertain and Friday’s inevitable cuts are my first reason for feeling a little guilty.

More on that in a moment but firstly, I would just like to go on record as saying publicly that I support the current war, led by this country and the US. There are many valid reasons against war and I dare say that there is much that we, the general public do not know and which our leaders do. That aside, I feel that the removal of a dictator and the liberation of a country for its people is justification enough for the war in which we as a country are now involved. I sincerely hope that the allies’ aims are achieved quickly and with the minimum of Human casualties.

Having berated Tony Blair here before, my views of him as a man, and the party which he leads, remain the same. What has changed though is my view of him as a leader. That after all is what he is supposed to be and in the House of Commons this week he made a speech which I felt was inspiring and heartfelt. I actually admired him, as a leader, not only for that speech but for his conviction in laying his leadership on the line if Parliament didn’t back him. I felt that he was genuine in his intention to step down as Prime Minister, should he not have the backing of the house.

Parliament backed him, thank goodness and now we are fighting what I believe to be a just war. Had they not backed him, I dread to think where we might be now, given that the majority of the rebels against war were within Tony Blair’s own party. I still hold the Government in contempt but wholly support our Prime Minister for doing his job as a leader. To the rebels and those that still choose to protest against this war, I say that to do so is their democratic right, living as they do in a democratic state. I hope though that they realise that they are a minority and that the vast majority of the public in this country are behind the fine men and women who make up our armed forces, fighting for the very right that the anti-war brigade are able to exercise. I would ask any anti-war faction to consider for a moment how they might feel if they were on the front line, knowing that the people back home weren’t supportive of them. They’ll never know because they’re a lesser breed who would never be capable of the conviction and bravery of those that are out there in the Gulf.

To return to the point, certain parallels are apparent, to me at least, concerning the wearing of blinkers: the “management” of my old company, faced with the need to cut costs, would have looked at those that were not contributing to the business most immediately: the sales people. A less shallow-thinking management would realise that they needed to have sales people in place for when markets improved. Furthermore, the former would operate a by-the-book first-in-last-out policy, without any deeper thought or analysis.

But I digress. Returning to work, as I will tomorrow, Friday was a sad day for me as the redundancies included a very dear friend of mine. I’ve only been with the company for six months but my friend was one of those people with whom one “clicks”, which he and I did from the start. Six months later, he’d become a very good friend indeed, both professionally and personally. I will return to work tomorrow as I have been reassured that my job is safe, for now at least. I will return to a slightly emptier workplace though, both literally and emotionally.

When notice of impending cost-cutting was given on Thursday, everyone naturally feared that it could be they that were about to be rendered jobless. Close colleagues confided their fears to one another and provided mutual reassurance in turn. Given that I am the last Sales person to be taken on by the company, I confided to my now-late-of-the-company friend that perhaps one of the redundancy notices could have my name on it. As I’ve said before, I’m working hard in what I see as a great opportunity of a career but market conditions have dictated that my success has been limited. My friend reassured me that although my sales were less than might have been hoped, this was through no fault of my own but rather due to prevailing market conditions. My activity levels are such that I have a prospect list that is bigger than many sales people, although others have less need of opportunities as they have greater actual sales. He in turn confided that it might be he who was made redundant, to which I assured him that with a turnover greater than my own, I felt that I would likely go before him. In fact, I offered to put myself up before him. He has three young children; I do not. Were he anyone else, I might not have made such a gesture but as a true and respected friend, I felt it right. He thought this a very gallant gesture on my part but insisted that there were no need: the two of us sell different products so it was simply not a practical proposition for the company.

As it turned out, it is I who am returning to work tomorrow, still with a job and an opportunity. In the aftermath of Friday’s events, I registered my disappointment with my boss that it was my friend and not me that has been made redundant. Having been in the job for far less time than my friend and still having that job after Friday’s events made me feel guilty. It is my opportunities and not my time that have saved me and I intend to make the most of those opportunities to prove that the wider view decision on the part of the management was right, as far as not making me redundant is concerned. My friend and I have swapped home phone numbers and vowed to stay in touch.

And my previous “management”, to whom I made comparisons above? Well, I heard a rumour this week that certain parties are seeking to have him made personally bankrupt. This was relayed to me via a reliable source as having come from the man’s very own mouth: the husband of the horse’s mouth, as it were. I stress that it remains a rumour but as my ex-boss himself would advocate, rumours are there to be spread. So now you know.

There’s a second reason for my guilt and that concerns my beloved Helen: thanks to me, she’s probably had one of the worst and unrewarding weekends ever. My general unease and insecurity concerning work at the moment has meant that I’ve been in a far from good mood this weekend and I’ve taken it out on her.

She had yesterday off of work and so came down here to stay with me on Friday night, looking forward to a whole weekend of she and I being together. This is a chance that we rarely have as she only has four Saturdays off in a year.

On Friday night, I was understandably upset about the events in the office and Helen, being the understanding girl that she is, well, was understanding. Yesterday, I should have been appreciative of the fact that she was here and made the most of the weekend. Instead, I let the work situation rule my mind and effectively disregarded her. We met with friends yesterday afternoon and I just talked “shop” all the time, making her feel left out. Last night I was still so wrapped up in myself and unable to relax that the poor girl couldn’t get my attention except when she dropped some food on the carpet and I got all anal, tidying up behind her. Sweetheart that she is, she later religiously picked all her dropped remnants off of the dining table and carpet. She shouldn’t have had to because I should have let myself be relaxed in her presence and it shouldn’t have mattered. Last night, like the night before, we went to bed and straight to sleep. By my own admission, I’ve wasted what should have been a very special weekend.

Thankfully, Helen and I made up before she returned home today. Perhaps she would have been better off going out with her friends than being with me this weekend. Perhaps I’d have done better to think of her rather than my work mates. In much the same way that my friend at work declined my offer to put myself up ahead of him for redundancy, I hope that Helen feels that the weekend with me was worthwhile as without her at my side, I’d have been far more worried about my future than I was. A job isn’t everything; a partner like her is though.

One thing that I’m sure about of the future is that I’ll always have Helen. Deeper down than all the day-to-day events in life, she is my whole life and always will be. I just wish she wasn’t so far away so I could tell her.

I shall phone her now.

 

Having a ball

Sunday 16 March, 2003. Current mood: In the mug to my left: Coffee. In the CD player: The Greatest hits of The Electric Light Orchestra: a recent bargain acquisition at £15.00 for a double CD set.

 

Recently found on the Internet and responsible for many wasted minutes:

Simon Swears: an expletive-laden version of the classic 80s game of memory.

Spacerunner: Deceptively simple game of hop, roll and dive. Cute, and quite addictive.

Gridlock: A block-sliding game. Addictive and increasingly difficult as you progress through the levels. I’m on level 27.

 

In the couple of weeks since I last wrote here, not a lot has happened. It’s been mainly work and Helen, both of which remain agreeable.

In the case of the former, the Corporate Finance markets, in which my company is involved, are very quiet so business is slow as a result. I am fortunate that I work on the Report and Accounts desk and that the product which we sell is a legal requisite and therefore business is being done, albeit slowly. I am also fortunate to work for a company of sufficient size and financial standing to be able to weather the storm while the markets are quiet. I am relatively secure in the knowledge that although business is slow, my efforts are appreciated and will pay dividends in due course. This is partly due to the intuition, amenability, trust and understanding of my boss, one of the Sales Directors.

I wish the same compliments could be heaped upon Helen’s boss but unfortunately hers is the opposite of mine in all respects and that was no more true than this weekend, which Helen’s boss effectively fucked up for us. I’m not an unreasonable person, which is perhaps why unreasonable people annoy me so much. What goes around comes around though, as proved by my last boss, who had not the first inkling of man-management skills and subsequently got what he deserved: his staff deserting him en-masse and his company going tits up. A very satisfying and reasonable denouement to that period of my life.

The Friday just gone was the evening that Helen and I attended the black tie ball that I mentioned here in my last entry. It was a charitable event to raise funds for her college and we had been planning for it for weeks. Helen had requested the Saturday off of work so that she and I could spend the whole weekend together, not having to get up early on Saturday (yesterday) morning. Her request was granted when she made it about four weeks ago. Helen and I were therefore looking forward to staying for the duration of the ball, which finished at midnight, secure in the knowledge that we could enjoy ourselves and not have to worry about an early rise the following day. I had booked a cab to take us from the venue in Reigate back here, where we would enjoy the remainder of the weekend relaxed together. Then it all went the way of my previous employer.

On Thursday, Helen’s boss told her that they were short-staffed and that she would have to work on Saturday. Helen protested that she’d booked the day off well in advance and for the reason that she wouldn’t really be up to working on the Saturday, following the late night on Friday. She further pointed out that both she and I had spent a not inconsiderable sum of money, dressing and preparing ourselves for what was a very special evening for us. Her boss’s reply was that we shouldn’t make plans for the weekend without consulting her.

When Helen told me all of this I was livid, to say the least. How dare her boss be so pretentious? Helen had booked the weekend off of work and so therefore our plans were ours to make. I asked Helen if I might phone her boss to protest: to say that unbeknown to Helen I had booked us a weekend away and that her boss’s reneging meant that I would have to cancel all of our plans. Helen said that I’d only be told, as she was, that we shouldn’t plan our weekends without consulting her boss to which I would be at a loss to reason and so rather than me losing it with Helen’s boss, and Helen perhaps losing her job, I should leave it. Out of respect for Helen, I duly dropped it, wishing her boss plague and pestilence for the rest of her days, followed by damnation in Hell after her death. I don’t think that unreasonable.

In true fairytale style, we did go to the ball. And we looked very fine indeed, even if I do say so myself: I in DJ and all the trimmings; Helen in a beautiful, flowing ball gown. And here (for the first time I believe), is a photo of my beloved, looking lovely as ever, along with me, being un-photogenic as ever:

(That’s me on the right).

 

After Helen’s boss dropped her bombshell, we were thinking that maybe we should ease off of the alcohol a little and perhaps leave the ball early, so that we got a good night’s sleep. In defiance to her boss though, we decided fuck that, we were going to have a good time and fuck the consequences. And we did.

When we arrived at the venue, Reigate Manor Hotel, Helen took great pride in introducing me to her various friends and tutors. Without exception, they were very nice people. After a couple of introductions, I spotted the bar and made a beeline for it. This being a posh hotel, they didn’t have my favoured tipple of cider on tap but in half-pint bottles. I requested that two of these be decanted into a pint glass and was duly charged £6.00. This pretentiousness of making cider a premium drink would render the evening quite expensive, I surmised. I hadn’t reckoned on the reasoning of the barman who served me on my second visit to the bar though: “How much did they stripe you for that last time?” he enquired. When I told him, he replied: “I think that’s fucking outrageous mate. It’s only a pint so I’ll charge you for a pint. Three quid okay?” An expensive pint but half the price of the last one, so I agreed. “You see me next time mate,” said my new friend, obviously a fellow cider-drinker. He winked and I winked back and that was to be our little sign of defiance on my subsequent seven or so visits to the bar. I lost count.

I proceeded to get extremely drunk and Helen got a little tipsy thanks to my forethought of putting a hip flask in my DJ. It was an over 21s bar and Helen is not, so she was on Cokes, which I duly topped up with Bacardi.

Helen danced rather a lot, and I did too once sufficiently lubricated, which embarrassed Helen considerably. The pride with which she’d introduced me earlier turned to disassociation.

We stayed at Helen’s rather than mine and rolled in just after midnight. Well, Helen glided; I staggered. We undressed and crashed out, both thinking we were too tired to be capable of any post-ball activity but I surprised myself (and Helen more so) by putting on a very good performance under the duvet. At 2am we drifted off, her to sleep and I into a coma.

At 7.30am we were rudely awoken by the alarm clock and Helen had to get up for work. My head was pounding with a classic hangover but I got up too, to escort her to work, gentleman that I am. On arriving at Helen’s place of work, her boss was unfortunately nowhere to be seen, so I couldn’t give her a piece of my mind. And boy did I want to give my mind out because it hurt like fuck. Had we been able to enjoy our weekend as originally planned, we would not have been there, then.

Helen came down after work yesterday and we continued our fragmented weekend. Last night we had a fish and chip supper and an early night to put on a repeat performance of the night before under the duvet. Alas Helen returned home earlier than is usual on a Sunday today, so there was no time for a matinee performance. However I’m warm in the knowledge that I spent a lovely weekend with my Cinderella, my fairytale girlfriend.

With hindsight, I’ve not actually asked Helen if her boss turned up for work yesterday, so as far as I’m aware she could have been involved in an horrific accident the night before. Even now she could be lying in a gutter somewhere, being pissed and shat on by dogs and tramps even as I write this.

What goes around comes around, not unreasonably.

 

I’m back

Sunday, 01 March 2003: The more observant among you may have noticed that I’ve not been around here for a while, or rather that this web site has been unavailable.

As I’ve said before, I’m not particularly good at writing in my own mind, which is why it remains a hobby as opposed to a career. I enjoy it though and I’m still learning the craft while enjoying occasional plaudits from friends and online publishers. While professional publication continues to elude me, I’m glad to have this place back where I can write about nothing in particular.

I will attempt to explain briefly why this site has been unavailable of late: Yahoo (!?) are cunts. They will henceforth be known as “Boohoo”.

To elaborate, Boohoo were the registrars of this domain and they failed to tell me that I needed to pay a renewal fee, so the hosting lapsed. I tried to renew said hosting but found the Boohoo web site incomprehensible. I shall not go into boring detail but the simple inclusion of an email address to write to within the site was lacking.

I then transferred the domain to totalregistrations.com, who in turn could not get a response from Boohoo by way of permission to transfer the domain. Two weeks of emails from them and me to Boohoo finally resulted in the latter relenting to the transfer of the domain. And so, dear reader, here I am. Yahoo! And no thanks to Boohoo.

A lot has gone on since I was last here, including Helen and I celebrating our second Valentine’s day on Sunday 16th February, this year at a Gurka restaurant in Reigate. During our meal, I presented Helen with a song I’d written, or rather ripped off, which goes thus:

Surrey Girl

(With apologies to David Bowie and Iggy Pop)

 

I could escape this feeling, with my Surrey girl

I feel a wreck without my, little Surrey Girl

I hear her heart beating, loud as thunder

Snuggled with her, smashing

 

I’m a mess without my, little Surrey girl

Wake up mornings where’s my, little Surrey girl

I hear her heart’s beating, loud as thunder

Watch her go (smashing!) down

 

I feel a-tragic like the littlest hobo

When I look at my Surrey girl

I can pretend that problems really don’t mean much

When I look at my Surrey girl

 

And when I get excited

My little Surrey girl says

Oh baby you stupid fucking dog

 

I stumble out the pub, just like a drunken sod

Visions of tunnels in my head

Plans for both of us

It’s in the front of my pants

 

And when I get excited

My little Surrey girl says

Oh baby you stupid fucking dog

 

My little Surrey girl

I love it when you play with me

You make me everything I am

I’ll give you television

And the remote control

Whenever you are round my house

And you rule my world

 

And when I get excited

My little Surrey girl says

Oh baby you stupid fucking dog

She says… stupid dog

 

Not terribly good, I realise, but it’s a sentiment based on the words of a hero and intended for the one that I love.

The referrals to me as a Canine are on account of Helen’s perception of me as an occasional idiot. For the most recent example of this, see my previous entry and my encounter with the food steamer.

On the night that Helen and I were out, she contributed to my accident proneness by poking me in the eye. Being slightly superstitious and aware that mishaps are alleged to occur in threes, on my return to work on the Monday, I requested of a colleague that he trip me up randomly, in order to get the third mishap out of the way. He didn’t oblige and I still await my third mishap.

I am currently listening to “So Long and Thanks for all the Fish,” a tribute to my late, great hero, Douglas Adams (Author of “Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”) on BBC7. I was just on the complimentary web site, which invited one to partake in the composing of some Vogon poetry.

To the uninitiated, Vogon poetry (according to the Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) is the third worst in the Universe. An example:

Oh freddled gruntbuggly thy micturations are to me
As plurdled gabbleblotchits on a lurgid bee
Groop I implore them my foonting turlingdromes.
And hooptiously drangle me with crinkly bindlewurdles,
Or I will rend thee in the gobberwarts with my blurgle cruncheon,
See if I don’t.

And so on.

At the BBC7 site, one is invited to enter key words which are placed into a Vogon poem. I decided to compose a verse myself, effectively a reworking of another hero of mine, for Helen and entered key words required by the site thus:

 

A word to describe your mother: Cuddly

An unsuitable colour for a T-shirt: Brown

Something that smells: My bum

A friend’s name: Helen (who else? It’s whom the poem’s for)

A word that describes how you feel when you wake in the morning: Horny

Something small and green: Pea

A completely made up word: Anyuh

A word that sounds rude but isn’t: Masticate

Something you’d find in your fridge: Courgette

An ugly animal: Cockroach

 

And the Vogon poem that was generated:

See, see the Cuddly sky
Marvel at its big Brown depths.
Tell me, Helen do you
Wonder why the cockroach ignores you?
Why its foobly stare
makes you feel Horny.
I can tell you, it is
Worried by your anyuh facial growth
That looks like
A Courgette.
What’s more, it knows
Your masticate potting shed
Smells of pea.
Everything under the big Cuddly sky
Asks why, why do you even bother?
You only charm My bums.

I said I wasn’t too good at this.

Helen and I are due to attend a ball in a couple of weeks, the dinner jacket and trimmings for which I was measured up for yesterday at Moss Bros. While there, I spotted a particularly attractive bargain in the form of a Cashmere overcoat, reduced from £200 to £65. I will be wearing it for the first time tomorrow, into the office. I have no doubt that I will either stub a cigarette out on it, close it in the train door or trip over it.

 

Letting off steam

Monday 10 February, 2003. Current mood: In the mug to my left: tea. in the CD player: “Uncut Starman” a compilation of David Bowie covers that Helen found for me.

I’m writing this diary entry from home as I’ve taken the day off of work on account of the fact that I’m a complete imbecile. On Saturday evening I was cooking dinner for Helen and I. Our meal comprised minted lamb steaks, roast potatoes and vegetables. The latter I was steaming in my new food steamer. I’m never one to read instruction books but I should really have taken note of the safety precautions for my new appliance. Cutting a long story short, when the time came to dish up, I removed the lid of said steamer and promptly steamed my right hand, to the extent that my index and middle fingers are now covered in blisters and are very sore.

Helen was so sweet on Saturday night, nursing me and constantly enquiring of my wellbeing. My injury affected her too, as the two fingers in question are the ones I, well, you know. The sympathy was short-lived though as, when we were washing up yesterday morning, Helen noticed the label on the lid of the steamer, which read: “Caution! Hot steam. Always use oven gloves when removing lid.” In an instant I was transformed from poor, injured baby to “you fucking tosser”. Anyway, my fingers bloody hurt, I didn’t get a very good night’s sleep last night and so decided to lie in this morning and take the day off.

My boss was very understanding when I phoned him to ask if I could take today off when I explained the circumstances. My boss is never one to ask questions and will grant any reasonable request. With hindsight though, I wonder if I should have waited till I was feeling more awake before I phoned him this morning. My explanation of Helen staying over for the weekend, me cooking us dinner and the resultant accident was condensed into one sentence along the lines of “I had an accident on Saturday night with Helen and the food steamer.” Perhaps that’s why he didn’t enquire further.

On the subject of work, my job continues to go well. If I’m honest, towards the end of last year I might not have made that statement. The main part of my job involves making phone calls, usually to Finance Directors of Stock Exchange listed companies, with a view to producing their Annual Reports. As with any sales job, this is a numbers game: the more calls you make, the more business you’ll eventually end up with. When calling these people, the ultimate goal is to secure an appointment. Short of that, the aim is to be given the opportunity to quote on the project and at the very least to gain a request for further information on my company.

This is what I’d been doing for the first three months and by my own admission, with limited success. The run up to Christmas was a bad time, as most companies weren’t going to be doing any business until the New Year and therefore, sales wise, this was a quiet period. It was during this time that I analysed my call records and realised that I simply wasn’t getting as many appointments or requests for quotes as I needed. In my previous sales posts, gaining appointments was comparatively easy and I realised that something must be fundamentally wrong.

Returning to work after Christmas, my boss, myself and the other two members of our team got together to review the situation. We concluded that an appointment to discuss the kind of work that our company does is far less likely an outcome than it would have been in the market sector from whence I came. In order for a company Director to wish to speak to us, we surmised, they would need more than an introductory phone call to persuade them to give up their valuable time. So, we hit upon the idea of making the gaining of an invitation to quote the prime objective. I’ll not go into the psychological reasoning behind that decision but the figures speak for themselves: In my first three months of selling Annual Reports, I made about 150 calls. From those I gained two appointments, 10 requests for quotes and ultimately, two new customers. In the last month, since adopting the new working practice, 100 or so calls have resulted in 30-odd requests for quotes. The appointments will come later. It’s still a numbers game and of the 30-odd companies whose Annual Reports we’ve quoted, maybe five will become customers (the conversion rate is better as an interest has already been stated in the request for prices), but it’s a much better numbers game now that we’re working differently.

All of which is of no consequence to the casual reader but to those who take an interest in these updates, it means I’m enjoying my job. And it’s been a long time since I was able to say that with conviction. Compared to my last job, well, there’s no comparison to be made between a dictatorship and a democracy. Nor for that matter between a company that’s well run and still doing business and one that wasn’t and therefore isn’t (meow!)

While the job itself is enjoyable, I only wish I could say the same about the journey to and from work. To be fair, the train service is good for the most part. When things go wrong though, Jesus they go fucking tits up with a vengeance. There are too many instances to describe individually here but I’ll relay the events of last Tuesday morning as the most recent example of incompetence and mismanagement. (I haven’t been told who my ex-boss’s new employers are but I have a sneaking suspicion that he may have been charged with running the railways):

I arrived at Tonbridge station last Tuesday for my usual cattle truck into London: the 0752 to Charing Cross. It was cancelled. I should just note here the prevailing weather conditions on Tuesday morning: It was a little cold, perhaps 4 or 5 degrees Celsius, and there was a light drizzle of sleet.

The next train that would have been due was the 0758 to Cannon Street. This is a viable alternative for me as I can change trains at London Bridge and continue to Waterloo east from there. It was running 25 minutes late.

The next train due was the 0802 to Charing Cross but because of a fault on the train, this was terminating at Tonbridge. So, with three train loads of “customers” (and I’ll have a bitch about that in a minute) and no trains to put them on, what’s a station manager to do? “We advise customers to seek alternative means of transport” came the announcement. There is no fucking alternative! If there were, I wouldn’t mind being called a “customer” quite so much. “Customer” implies choice and we have none.

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t blame the train staff themselves. Nor the train operating companies for that matter. I blame the Government that has allowed the public transport system to descend to the level that it’s at. And this is the Government who are introducing a congestion charge on London’s roads a week from today and who expect us commuters to use the public transport “service”. I’ve been looking for an opportunity to make a political statement and I guess this is it: Tony Blair: you’re a cunt!

Back to Tuesday morning then and as my travelling companions and I are wondering what to do in order to get to our places of work so that we can do our jobs and be taxed by the Government for doing so. So that they can use the money to improve public transport, a train arrives. Well, I say a train arrived. What actually happened was that the indicator board said: “0802 Charing Cross – Arrived.” Well if it had we couldn’t bloody see it. And that’s when we realised where all the money’s going: Cloaking devices!

As it turned out, the indicator board was faulty, according to the “customer announcement” that was put out. The indicator board, the rolling stock, the management, the tracks. They’re all fucking faulty, and corrupted, like the Government that let it get that way.

I seem to recall that a few years ago there were efforts to introduce “APT rolling stock” onto Britain’s railways. “APT” stood for “Advanced Passenger Train”. The reason given for its withdrawal was that in order for the trains to run properly, the tracks that they ran on would need upgrading and that this wasn’t financially viable. I have my own theory: The “Advanced Passengers” had all fucked off and decided to drive to work.

Being a passenger of a relatively advanced nature myself, I applied a little lateral thinking on Tuesday morning: We are fortunate enough in Tonbridge to have a branch line into London, as well as the main line. The journey on the former takes three times as long as that on the latter but I figured this would be my best bet, so I boarded a train for London Bridge via Redhill. The journey went reasonably well and I eventually arrived at Waterloo east two hours after setting out. On arrival, an announcement came over the public address system: “We apologise to customers for the delay to services this morning. This is due to extreme adverse weather conditions.” Extreme, my fucking arse! And stop calling us fucking “customers”. “Passengers” if you please. Perhaps “victims” would be more appropriate though.

Well, until the next time I have nothing better to do, I shall bid you farewell. It’s great having this little corner of the Internet to vent my spleen and generally write about nothing in particular when ideas for stories elude me. I find writing here quite therapeutic sometimes when I need to get something off of my chest.

Right now I feel as my food steamer must have done on Saturday night.

 

Just a minute

Sunday 19 January, 2003: This will be a short diary entry as I’m tired and have a multitude of things to do tonight before the return to work tomorrow (notice how the return to work nowadays is no longer the dreaded return that it used to be in previous employment).

Over the Christmas period, I grew a Goatee beard and became attached to it to the extent that I bought a beard trimmer to keep it happy as an adornment to my face. The beard and I got on well and people told me that it suited me. Lately though it has started to interfere in my life to the extent that last night I subscribed to “Artsworld” on satellite TV. Realising that I had become a ponce, tonight I have shaved it off.

In much the same way that I learned to appreciate certain people while I was stranded in America post September 11, my appreciation of my Mum has been brought home this weekend as she has been in hospital since Friday. She went in for a routine operation to remove her salivary gland but developed complications post-op. She had a second operation this morning to remove a blood clot and is thankfully doing well. With a bit of luck she’ll be discharged tomorrow.

It’s humbling to have to realise that one’s parents are mere mortals like the rest of us. One day we shall all be gone but for now we’re still here and for that I’m grateful. I told my Mum at the end of visiting hours on Friday, “I love you”. It’s something that I tell her far too infrequently but I know that she knows that I mean it when I say it. My world is somehow emptier with my Mum in someone else’s care.

Parental love cannot be compared to the love felt for one’s life partner but I feel empty and somewhat cold now that Helen has gone following the first weekend that she and I have spent together for some time. I miss the two most important ladies in my life at the moment.

I’m typing this on my new cordless infrared keyboard that I bought yesterday on a whim. I needed a new keyboard and mouse anyway and thought “what the hell.”

I’ve been testing my new purchases by placing the keyboard and mouse gradually further away from the transmitter that’s plugged into the PC as I write this. Right now I’m sitting on the sofa and I can still see from the screen that my typing is being faithfully reproduced.

I’m now in the bathroom, checking the cuts to my chin, post-shave.

And having returned to the desk, keyboard under arm, I can see that my words reached the screen.

Now I’m in the kitchen. Back in a mo…

(It worked!) Hang on…

I am now in bed, typing. Can you see me?

(Hehe! This is fun!) It’s cold outside but I’m going down to the end of the garden…

Ccccaannn yu stil se m?

 

Let it snow, told you so, gotta go…

Sunday 12 January, 2003. Current mood: In the mug to my left: Filter coffee. Musical entertainment is courtesy of “Alternative Rock” on the Music Choice satellite channel.

Today is a busy one on the writing front. As well as this diary entry, I’m writing four short stories.

I keep notepads next to the bed and beside the toilet, as those are the places where ideas most frequently occur to me. Indeed, the lavatory is where I tend to think in general. Alongside the usual thoughts such as ‘get out you bastard’, ‘no wonder that hurt’ and ‘surely it shouldn’t be that colour’, the occasional story idea will spring forth.

An explanation for my proliferation of ideas could be the number of times that I’ve been in my “Thinker” position today due to the curry that I had last night. I sometimes pay for my taste for spicy foods in more than a financial sense but last night was certainly worth the slight loosening of the stool that I’m suffering today.

Helen and I went to Lal Akash in Reigate, an Indian restaurant as opposed to a “curry house”. I’m not a restaurant reviewer but to my mind an establishment can be judged on three criteria: food (obviously), price and service. The food was delicious and arrived soon after ordering. The service was efficient, friendly and attentive, the waiters even having that rare thing: a sense of humour that was appreciated and reciprocated. A two-course meal with two bottles of French table wine (of superior quality to the usual stuff made from real French tables), came in at less than fifty quid.

Something else to be said of the restaurant was its general atmosphere. It wasn’t quiet and subdued, as no restaurant should be in my opinion: people pay to enjoy themselves when they’re having a meal and I can’t stand the stuffier establishments that still insist on a jacket-and-tie dress code and expect its diners to speak in whispers. Neither was the place rowdy as so many lesser establishments tend to be. Instead there was a happy medium where the place was lively without being too noisy. It was a happy place, filled with diners who were happy to be there, as Helen and I were.

The place was full, so it was a good job we’d booked our table in advance and the fact that it was filled to capacity makes the level of service more impressive still. The food was so good that I asked for what we’d not eaten to be put into take-away cartons, a request that was duly obliged.

I am suspicious of restaurants that do not have a “doggy bag” service. As far as I’m concerned, I’ve paid for the food, so I’m entitled to any that’s left over. I often ask a restaurant when making a reservation if they offer doggy bags and don’t complete my reservation if they do not as I don’t want to eat something that perhaps a previous diner didn’t.

I spoke last time of Tony Blair (the cunt) and what a useless, toothless wanker he is as this country’s so-called leader. Leaders are supposed to lead positively, as President Bush did when he addressed the American public in his New Year’s message. Although the US is a nation poised on the brink of war, Bush told the Americans that theirs is a nation to be proud of. Thus America enters 2003 with hope. With his talk of impending doom to an already browbeaten public, thanks to his Government’s mismanagement, I wouldn’t mind betting that Blair’s New Year’s speech means the Samaritans are doing a roaring trade.

Speaking of mismanagement, the firm that I worked for before joining my present company has gone tits up. My ex-boss still tells people to this day that I spoke nothing but praise of him while at the same time holding his other employees and I responsible for putting a curse on his business. As far as he was concerned, he was perfect and it was everyone other than him that was to blame for the firm’s downfall. Assuming Tony Blair to be similarly deluded, and trusting that the same forces of black magic can work again, I’ll say just one thing: repeat after me: “come on Tony”. That should do it.

Whenever I’m feeling a little down, I often recite a couple of my favourite jokes to myself. One concerns the Irish cat who had a poo then buried himself, and my all time favourite which goes thus: What did the slug say to the snail?

“Big Issue mate?”

The weather brought cheer this week when central London was covered in a liberal layer of snow for the first time in twelve years.

Getting to work on Wednesday was an absolute arse but my fellow travelling public and I weren’t nearly as stressed by this as we normally would be, thanks to the white stuff. Leaving aside the fact that the country was typically unprepared for winter and that the mismanaged, under-funded, crumbling public transport system collapsed beneath the strain of a little snow that other countries’ public transport systems would take in their stride, Wednesday was actually quite fun.

Where rain elicits grumbles and moans, snow is greeted with “Aaw!” and “Aah!”. Whereas rain often has adjectives attached in our language, like “bloody” and “fucking”, snow is just snow. And so it was on the train into London on Wednesday morning as people looked out of the windows in awe at famous landmarks with icing sugar on top.

Eventually alighting at Waterloo East, big, squelchy snowflakes were falling and the pavement was covered in snow two inches deep. The sound of snow crunching beneath my feet as I walked to work was quite surreal.

Later, a colleague and I were returning to the office in his car having visited customers. We were in the middle of a council estate when someone threw a snowball from the balcony of a block of flats. Normally, if someone throws something at a car the occupants of the car will curse and swear and seek to catch and punch the perpetrator. Instead, we both looked at the exploded snowball across the windscreen and said, “Aah!”

At lunchtime, the Royal parks and open spaces were scenes of fluffy white riots as normally reserved city workers couldn’t suppress the urge to gather up a snowball and throw it at someone. And nobody minded. What a difference the weather can make. Let it snow!

It was a pity it hadn’t snowed earlier in the week. Had it have done so, the police outside my office on Monday might have better appreciated my humour. There were twenty or so of them, stopping seemingly random cars. To my mind they were drawing the wrong kind of attention to our company so I enquired of the officer who seemed to be in charge how he’d like it if I were to stand outside his station stopping police cars. He said that were I to do so, I’d be in breach of some section of some act and that I’d be arrested. Humourless bastard. Probably unhappy in his job though, to be fair.

Of course, I blame Blair and on that note I shall retire to the toilet in search of more story ideas. I fear that my frequent visits to the smallest room today may soon render me without toilet paper.

This evening I shall search the weekend newspapers for pictures of Blair and cut them out. I’ve often wanted to see him with egg on his face but this will be much better.

 

A Dedication

Sunday 05 January, 2003. Current mood: In the mug to my left: Coffee. Musical entertainment is courtesy of “Total Rock”, a digital satellite radio station.

It occurred to me just now as I archived the entries I made here in 2002 that 2003 will be my fifth year of being here; of having this site I mean: I am more than five years old.

Looking back over 2002, it was a fairly eventful year, a fact that it occurs to me is made clearer by the keeping of a diary to look back upon. 2002 saw the most dramatic changing of jobs that I have ever undertaken and the subject dominated the entries here as the move became a slanging match between certain others and myself. I am happy in the job that I’m doing now where I was far from happy previously. 2002 was also the first full year that Helen and I spent together and 2003 is our third yea r. It was also the year in which I lost a very dear friend and surrogate Uncle. I will remember Keith very fondly for the rest of my days.

Looking further back to the entries that I made in 2001, what is quite striking in the general improvement of my mood and wellbeing since August 18 that year, that of course being the date that I met my wife-to-be. Shortly after that was when I spent an impromptu two weeks in America, courtesy of Osama Bin Laden. Upon my return from exile, all things Helen-related dominate my diary entries. My mind and heart remain hers now and will do till death us do part.

2001 was also the year that a few others and I arranged a primary school reunion of people who’d been out of touch for twenty years. Earlier in the year, reading the pre-Helen stuff is interesting as before her it would appear that I misspent most of my weekends in a drunken state. Helen has done many things for me, both knowingly and unknowingly. Among them, my drinking is more moderated and I rarely drink before 6 PM. The quality of my weekends has improved infinitesimally since being with her. Even on the rare weekends when we don’t see one another, I am able to concentrate on my hobby of writing, due to the fact that life is good and I have no reason to block it out with my previous hobby of rendering myself blind drunk. This weekend is one of those when Helen and I are not together and I miss her intensely. I am however using the time constructively and writing a couple of short stories.

It is interesting reading further back in 2001 how happy I was when I first started the job that I grew to hate. Were it not for the manipulation and back-stabbing that were rife in the place, and were individuals respected as such and allowed to do their jobs unhindered, I guess I’d still be there now. As it stands, not only am I long gone but so are the majority of my former colleagues. Tomorrow, the firm itself perhaps.

I’ve not got around to trawling through the entries for 2000 and 1999 and I’m not sure I’ll even bother. I remember that the former was the year of the “great flood” and that it started with the most amazing free public party that was Millennium eve in London. Such a pity that London can’t do it again but I’ve commented on that enough elsewhere.

Rather than continuing to look back I am now looking forward to 2003 immensely. Helen has made me happier than I’ve ever been and I really can’t do her justice here as there aren’t sufficient superlatives. It says a lot though that she is my main reason for looking forward. That in itself is proof, were it needed, that Helen continues to be the most important aspect of my life and a very large part of it. In fact, I would like to dedicate this entry, as I have my life henceforth, to Helen. Without Her I feel I would be the lesser, unfulfilled person that I was reading back on the diary entries of earlier. As it is, I enter 2003 a happy and confident person thanks to her.

6 PM and time for a drink: here’s to us babe…

 

 

Most things “Found” whilst hanging around on the message board at b3ta.com

 

Archive 2002

Archive 2001

Archive 2000

Archive 1999

 

All content © Steve Laker, unless otherwise stated. “Dog” and “Diamond Dog” are my on-line personas and copyright of both revert to me. The images that I create are free for download and use but please credit me if using them.

The Way Back Machine

17.12.14 (Day 360, still)

16.42

It’s been said and I’ve been warned that everything posted on this blog and the internet as a whole is indelible: an imprint is made which can’t be removed, thanks in part to The Way Back Machine or Internet Archive (http://web.archive.org). Even when a website has been removed or become obsolete, the foot print is there for all to see for ever more.

I know this of course and have always deliberately not left much out of this blog so that it may stand as a reminder to me of what I wrote and experienced. Some of what I’ve written was whilst under the influence, so the reminders are sometimes handy and occasionally cringe-worthy.

Before I started writing this blog – just over a year ago – I kept one which I started 15 years ago. It’s here.

The old blog is indelible and therefore will always be there but for continuity, I shall copy and paste the entries from my old blog to this one. It might be interesting to become re-acquainted with my old self;

So I shall climb into my time machine and travel to way back when…