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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.