|The back of an illuminated advertising frame at a bus shelter. On a bleak day, it seems to offer a glimpse into a hidden world of bright light.|
Wednesday, December 10, 2014
Sunday, November 30, 2014
Saturday, November 29, 2014
Friday, November 28, 2014
Thursday, November 27, 2014
Wednesday, November 26, 2014
Friday, July 13, 2012
Monday, April 09, 2012
Saturday, December 31, 2011
I am bitterly disillusioned with my job, which fails to engage me on any level. I actively dislike an improbably large number of the people with whom it brings me into contact. I’m in the wrong profession for my sensibilities and it is far too late to do anything about it.
My political awakening has accelerated. I joined the committee of the Edinburgh branch of my party, and worked on the campaigns for the Scottish Parliament election in May and the City Centre council by-election in August. Much of politics seems to involve running just to stand still, but I am fascinated to continue discovering what I believe in and what I think is worth fighting for. I remain inspired by the Green activists I work alongside.
Helen and I moved house in August, to a detached bungalow a mile further from the city centre than before. It better suits our needs, but I miss the community we left, and sense it won’t feel like home for a while. I took the opportunity to divest myself of a significant number of possessions, and am continuing to thin out my belongings. I feel lighter and more agile as a result.
Shortly before we moved, our cat Poppy died from renal failure. I cried every day for six weeks afterwards. The new house feels very empty and quiet at times.
Having started the year with an injured Achilles’ tendon, I followed a prescribed path of rehabilitation, and by the end of the year had run the Liverpool and Edinburgh half marathons, and the Edinburgh and Liverpool marathons. I’ve now run five full marathons, having never before run two in the same year. I ran Liverpool faster than I’ve ever run a marathon before, after a demanding training regime, which saw me out of bed before six, six mornings a week. There were a few more tears as I crossed the line.
I'm quite proud of my running, and also quite proud of my progress as a self-taught pianist. This year I passed my Grade Two and Three exams, and even bought a piano for our new home.
2011 was my seventh year without alcohol. Watching others dispassionately, I am ever more surprised at the damage it wreaks on individuals and groups.
Abuse of alcohol is one of the reasons I made 2011 the last year that I would go to watch tribute bands performing my favourite music. Contempt for the occasion from audiences mean that celebration has turned to desecration. Enough.
I still follow live music, though, and was lucky enough to be in the audience for Roger Waters’ performance of “The Wall” this year when he was joined by David Gilmour and Nick Mason, reuniting all the surviving members of Pink Floyd.
Like Pink himself, I am subject to funny turns, and without Fluoxetine, I had felt my underlying depression start to reassert itself, and have been referred for very helpful psychiatric counselling, which I continue to follow. I’ve also dipped a toe into meditation, thanks to the Edinburgh Sri Chinmoy Centre.
If there’s a theme to 2011, it’s been introspection. I’ve looked inward and audited my own assets. I feel less reliant than before on external possessions and approval.
Sunday, July 31, 2011
I really didn't want to move, not because this house is perfect, but because it's been fewer than eight years since we moved in, and we have no specific reason to move on. I've never electively moved before. Neither of us has undergone a change in circumstances, but we're still moving. I've taken a fortnight off work, cashed in my investments and given up my life savings to make this possible.
It's costing me a lot, so I have attempted to list the tangible benefits to me.
- Happy spouse (she gets French windows, a patio, and off-road parking)
- Faster, optical, broadband
- Bathroom on same floor as bedroom, thus dispensing with mid-night climbs
- A garage in which to keep my bicycle, as opposed to cluttering the hallway
- An ergonomic kitchen diner
- The move has prompted the purchase of a super-king size bed with allegedly intelligent mattress which may assist with uninterrupted sleep
- On the rare occasions I drive (usually collecting spouse from evening engagements, or somewhat ironically, when delivering election materials for the Green Party) the off-road parking will, I suppose make this less unpleasant
- Life in a bungalow will entail far less shouting from floor to floor
- Detached living will grant privacy to epic arguments and piano practice alike
- I have significantly edited my possessions
It doesn't matter what I paid for something, how long I've had it, or what it meant to me in the past. The important criterion is whether I need it now. Here are some of the highlights.
- Three terrestrial VCRs
- Every VHS cassette in the house
- Every vinyl LP we owned, including some signed to me
- The turntable I had stored in the loft because one day I was going to digitise the LPs I couldn't find on CD
- Music and TV cuttings dating from 1978
- Magazine back issues
- Superseded computer equipment, routers, and broadband modems
- Magazines, including those with articles in which I wrote
Monday, November 22, 2010
We don't run out of things to say to one another, although there are contemplative silences when we talk. There's no background of music, radio, or worse, television, so the silence this weekend was only broken by our thoughtful exchanges, and my return to my mother's piano.
It still stands against the rear wall of the front room, as it has throughout my life. When I was ten, this was where I would labour with grudging piano practice, waiting for it to be time to watch Doctor Who. In my teens, it was where I would experiment with polyphony and songwriting, my budget synthesizer having fallen short in both regards.
But this year, I returned to the piano able to play four short pieces and a multitude of scales and exercises, having, 33 years after my last lesson, finally sat my first Associated Boards exam. It's a hundred years old, my mother having acquired it second hand as a girl in Belfast. What must her memories of it be like?
My sister called round on Sunday bringing her three daughters, all of whom she has produced in the last seven years. They're delightful, but very lively. The effect on my nerves was such that after they'd gone, I announced to my mum that I was going out for a late-afternoon stroll. I left the house and headed down towards the Mersey, walking the route for the first time in at least two decades. I was soon overcome by a sense of geographical nostalgia, reacquainting myself with pavements, verges, and buildings that I had forgotten I had forgotten. I started trying to remember what I would see before rounding each turn, to see whether it would tally, but it was hard. I grew resentful of new buildings, more so when I could not recall what had been there before.
As I reached the river promenade, I turned south briefly, past the scene of an epic childhood bicycle accident, and towards the church around which much of my pre-teen youth activity revolved. The scout hut where I spent three eager years as a cub was still there, along with the adjoining church hall I had nearly forgotten.
These places are the landscape of my dreams, topographies I have visited nocturnally for years without really associating them with their real counterparts. As the late afternoon gave way to dusk, the experience acquired a wistful tristesse, and I felt compelled to walk on to my first two schools. Both Infants and Juniors still stood, and apart from a prevalence of security barriers and comic sans signage, looked exactly as they had in the seventies. I circumnavigated both as best I could, and welled up inside.
Not, you must understand, because I had been a happy pupil. Rather, it was because I had been carrying around memories of these places for so many years, and to see them again laid out in three dimensional bricks and mortar was overwhelming.
Returning to somewhere you knew as an adult could never be like this. The adult mind does not create vivid abiding memories in the way a child's does.
I walked home (home! well, towards what was once home, and in a way I used to resent, but now don't, still is) past what used to be a recreation ground and is now a posh housing estate.
I am amused to be able to say at last, "Eeh, I remember when it were all fields round here".
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
You only have to pay the license fee if you operate a television receiver. So it's not compulsory.
You have the choice to either pay the license fee, or to watch a television receiver operated by someone else, or in premises already covered by a license, or even not watch broadcast television at all.
I sense I may be wasting my time in this discussion, because I passionately believe that there should be publicly funded broadcasting in the UK, and that it should be funded by means-related non-government taxation. The license fee is a close enough approximation to do the job - it's paid for by the breadwinner in a household that can afford the luxury of a television set, so that household dependents do not have to contribute.
I don't have any sympathy at all with the argument that individuals who claim not to use public broadcasting should be exempt from contributing to its upkeep. I seldom listen to Radio 1, 2 or 3, or watch BBC3, for example, but I understand that they are worthwhile and unique endeavours and I'm happy to help fund them. It's rather like as the NHS - I don't pay for the provision of its services (many of which I hope I'll never use) as an insurance policy, but because it's the civilised, decent thing to do.
I observe that the BBC makes the UK more thoughtful, and better informed. It can do this because it follows a mandate that isn't driven by sponsors and advertisers. It isn't funded by business or by government, so it can be uniquely independent and impartial.
If the BBC had to resort to the same kind of funding as independent broadcasters, then it would lose most of what makes it so valuable.
Monday, October 04, 2010
Thursday, June 24, 2010
I'm thinking about this now, because with each year seeming to pass faster than the one before, I am objectively accelerating towards my dotage. It will be upon me before I know it, as every anniversary seems to be. The remainder of my useful life is going to pass by in a fraction of the perceived time that the preceding decades have.
What am I going to do with the second act before the curtain finally falls? Keep Buggering On. I don't have any great unfulfilled ambitions because I'm living all of them already. I share a living, growing, evolving marriage with Helen. I have a career which I mainly like, when it's not crushing me with anxiety. I'm kind to myself and the miraculous planet I was born on.
The thing that makes this realization, that I've now had most of my memorable experience bearable, is that it comes hand in hand with the maturity to cope with it. I think. Rather than striving and pining, I manage by making the best of what is beyond my control. I'm in free-fall and enjoying the view, even though I'm falling faster and faster, ironically never achieving terminal velocity.
Friday, May 28, 2010
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
The platform was crowded when the train arrived, with three coaches labelled D, E and F. We boarded coach D, and I observed that the reservation cards in the seats were marked for coach A. I concluded that the the reservations were valid, but that the external labels were wrong, possibly due to replacement rolling stock. I left Helen to mind our bags while I went down to see if our reserved seats, 31 and 35 were there.
I found them, without reservation cards, and furthermore occupied. I phoned Helen to ask her to join me, and she made her way with the bags through the crowded carriage.
I explained to the men in our seats that they were reserved and asked if we could sit in them. The more senior of them responded that they were not reserved as there were no reservation cards. I countered that I had documentary proof and showed him our reservations. They got up with poor grace, angrily swearing in our faces and calling us troublemakers. One of them faced me squarely, and making sure not to raise my voice, or swear, I asked him not to talk to me in that way. After we sat down, he tried to continue talking to me, but I firmly told him to leave me alone and that I would not be talking to him.
Helen and I were now seated in our window seats, a four-seater table between us, and another table over the aisle. There appeared to be two men with Lancashire accents, who I think were the ones who had been in our seats, and a group of younger men with Scots accents, who were more vocal. All were drinking alcohol, and as well as occupying the the remaining six seats, one or more were standing in the aisle.
Apart from exchanging mute glances of reassurance with Helen, I kept my eyes buried in my book, not daring to further inflame any of the men. One of the Lancashire men was sitting next to Helen, and I did not know who was sitting next to me. My heart was racing and I was full of adrenaline. I couldn't actually read, of course.
All the men were loudly exchanging coarse banter, crowding round a top-shelf Sunday tabloid and making vulgar comments about the contents. On top of this, there was a steady stream of comments about myself. When the subject of fellatio was mentioned, it was suggested that I would oblige with any male passenger. My earlier words, both when asserting my position with the other passengers and speaking on the phone to Helen were repeated. I felt humiliated, emasculated, and above all scared. We were to be on this train for three hours, and the men were not going to get any less drunk.
Despite their deafening stream of obscenities, threatening manner, and the distorted playing of music from a portable device, they were not challenged. It seemed the other passengers were all as intimidated as we were. After about forty minutes the portable devices was augmented with a set of powered speakers, pointedly placed at the edge of the table over the aisle from us. At this point another passenger did stand up and advised that the volume was so loud she could not hear here own headphones over it, but the men ignored her.
At this point, Helen and I made eye contact, and leaned if for a quick conference - we would pick up our bags and leave. We did this, with only a mocking offer of assistance helping us on our way into the next carriage.
We advised the conductor that we had been bullied out of our seats and what the position was in coach D. She committed to intervene and find us seats in coach E. As she went of to do this, I found my hands were shaking and my chest still palpitating.
The conductor came back and explained that if we elected, she could radio ahead and have British Transport Police meet the offenders at Edinburgh, and that whatever happened, she would lodge a report. Over the remainder of the journey we wavered several times between pursuing this or moving on. By the time we had decided to pursue it, it was too late to summon the police. I felt afraid of having to identify the miscreants to the police, or worse, face then in court.
At the time, I felt violated, impotent, and above all, scared. I'm calmer now - this was, after all, not the actions of religious extremists, cynical thieves, or anyone pursuing a vendetta against us. It was simple idiocy. If you put more than one imbecile in the same place, their oafishness is multiplied. If you fill an otherwise dumb individual with alcohol, he still has nothing to say, but says it loudly to anyone who will or will not listen all the same. If you allow sporting fixtures to decant fired-up male-only groups of low intelligence males on to the public transport infrastructure simultaneously, you are letting the rest of your public down. If it had just been me, I could have just applied what I've absorbed from outcome-based cognitive therapy, and rationally concluded that the only lasting negative outcome is that I didn't get to read my books, and had a fragmented and haunted night's sleep afterwards.
But it wasn't just me. My wife was there. I promised Helen's grandfather on the day I married her that I would look after her. I'm not sure I did this to the best of my ability. I'm over this for me, but not for her. She assures me she doesn't think any less of me as a result of my action or inaction, but perhaps I do. In an effort to seek some closure for her, I have reported the incident to the police, and we will be giving statements later this week.
I feel upset having just written about this. But it's been thought-provoking. It shines a light on my own nature - I don't seek vengeance, or even justice, because I don't think there's really such a thing as justice, or even human rights, other than as an ideal. I'm merely disappointed that there are such utterly unimpressive groups of men in existence, even if only fleetingly. And the one thing that does make just a small part of me want to utterly wipe out these crude sub-artisan hooligans is my love for Helen. So that's probably all quite healthy.
I did feel about 20% more right-wing immediately afterwards, but this has subsided. So I no longer feel we should have a futile land war, to which these animals could be despatched to meet their fate at a latter-day Somme. Ask me again when I'm 50.
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
Friday, May 29, 2009
Monday, May 11, 2009
Our lovely fifteen-year-old black cat has a tendency to wander off across the local back gardens, taking hospitality wherever she can, and every few months, we have to go and reclaim her from the lady whose garden backs on to ours. The garden she goes through has recently been surrounded by tall trellises for plants to climb. And cats. My pet theory, as it were, was that she'd climbed over, but didn't fancy climbing back. Round we traipsed, to learn that she had been there, but that she seemed to have a sore leg and wasn't there any more. Containing our worry, we went home and looked for her in adjacent gardens.
Helen eventually spotted her on an intervening patio, motionless, but thankfully, breathing. I called on my Scouse powers of, er, cat burglary, and trespassed over to retrieve her. We got her inside and it became apparent that she couldn't put weight on one of her back legs. Helen called the weekend emergency vet, who disappointingly didn't appear by helicopter.
We incarcerated the patient in her travel podule and drove her over to the practice. Possibly a dislocated hip, said the reassuringly competent and personable vet. She'd need an x-ray, and sedation beforehand, because asking a cat to stay still in the requesite pose is so hard that all the similes about things being hard to control already refer to cats, and therefore can't even be used as similes in this situation. We bid au revoir to Poppy and adieu to a significant chunk of a week's pay, and went home to wait for the news.
The worst case, we'd been told, was that she'd lose the leg. Her sister in Trafford gets by perfectly well with just the three, so this wasn't as shocking as it might have been. The call came, and Helen went to collect her. The good news was that it was just an inflamed hip joint, caused by a jolt which had aggravated some arthritic bone growth (she's a very old lady now). However, she'd have to be housed for a week or so in a run where she could move around freely, but not jump or climb at all, or the anti-inflammatory medication wouldn't be able to to any good.
An abortive prototyope based on clothes-airers and old sheets soon gave way to a kind of indoor fallout shelter made by pushing the dining table against the wall and blocking the other three sides with the sofa and framed prints. The mark two was refined by using just the glass from one of the prints so she got some light. In went her blanket, food and water bowls, and litter tray. It feels rotten to coop her up in there, and I just wish I could explain why and how it's for her own good.
Helen brought back the X-ray plates from the vet, which as well as showing that she's in good shape otherwise, indicate that she swallowed a mouse whole fairly recently – you can see its little skeleton inside hers. This is another reason she's been feeling a bit tender. And possibly, diving for the mouse was what set her hip off.
It's like having a feral great-grandmother living with you.
Friday, May 08, 2009
I'm having an interesting week. On Tuesday, I heard, out of the blue, via Friends Reunited from a very old friend, whose lifestyle means he's very prone to fall out of contact for long periods. The last I'd heard from him was nearly five years ago, when he acknowledged the invitation to our wedding. We've emailled a few times this week, and his tone seems to mirror my own euphoria.
The following day, there was a rush invitation to an all-hands briefing. We're quite sensibly merging our IT function with that in another sector of the parent group. There will inevitably be redundacies. Since my skills aren't specific to our business, I'm right in the firing line. I won't find out for another six weeks, which should at least regulate the runaway rate at which this year has been elapsing. It feels more shocking than last year. I'd had more of a instinctive feeling ahead of the announcement then, prompted by the feeling that being paid to be on the bench was too good to be true. But after informally being briefed that this employer was a safe harbour in which to weather the recession, this feels like a bit of a betrayal. I am angry at the way the job losses have been communicated. The first manager to address us yesterday hedged and dissembled, using the word “impact” until it gradually emerged that he meanyt redundancies. The last manager of the day actually tried to put a positive spin on events – the high level equivalent of David Brent's “I've got some good news and some bad news”.
There was some laudable stoicism among my peers, but this turn has upset me more than I could have forseen. I was very snippy at home that evening, and a mess of autovocalising insecurity the following morning. I'm really not optimistic about my chances, and preparing for the worst. The good side is that I'd welcome a couple of months garden leave, and that it may be time to look for a more high profile role than the one I have now. I'm 43 now, and my “port in a storm” job perhaps doesn't exploit as much of my experience as it could. I would miss Glasgow, though. I like the work/home hygeine the commute enforces.
Thankfully, I had an appointment in London on Thursday, doing some freelance Doctor Who work, which took my mind off more maudlin matters. It was blissful to spend four hours formalising my childhood memories on my netbook on the way down, deliver them to my client in the afternoon, and see some more old friends in the evening. By coincidence, it was the first Thursday of the month, which is when Doctor Who fans in the London area informally gather at The Fitzroy Tavern in Bloomsbury. I started going to this occasionally in 1984, and regularly from 1990 to 1996. It was highly evocative to be sitting in the same alcoves that held so many memories from my twenties, with, as it happened, many of the same people.
At eleven o'clock, I made my farewells and strolled up Tottenham Court Road to Euston to catch the sleeper train to Edinburgh. The Caledonian Sleeper service is one of the great secret treasures of Britain. If booked well enough in advance, it's far cheaper than a London hotel room. Departing at around 11:40, it delivers you to the other end by 07:00 in a frame of mind far calmer than if you'd been a polluting bastard and flown. Furthermore, it delivers you to the heart of the city you're visiting, so you don't have to disembark and spend another hour travelling in. I've been at London meetings by 08:00. The question I'm always asked concerns sharing a berth (that's the little sleeping compartments, containing an upper and lower bunk, confusingly also called berths). “Isn't it a bit, you know, intimate?” Not really. I book the lower berth, get there 20 minutes early, stow my belongings, and change into loose-fitting clothes. There's no point trying to sleep straight away, as you have to let your subconcious noise-reduction system sample and absorb the clanks and rattles of the train, so it's a good chance to read a bit, or listen to headphones. There's a shaver socket above the sink, so you can charge all your thirsty devices. I'd planned to watch The Prisoner last night, but felt drowsy after a couple of chapters, and nodded straight off. The berths have individual lights, so you can read without disturbing your neighbour. I have found said neighbours to be either mute or timid, and beyond exchanging a quick “Evening” or “Cheerio, then” seldom keen to share their insights. Invariably, on arrival at the far end, one of the sharers will depart immediately, leaving the other to wash, shave, and otherwise spruce himself up for the day's business. They don't kick you off the train until you've consumed the continental breakfast they've brought you in bed.
Having left it too late to book to Glasgow (where I work), I had booked to Edinburgh, and parambulated across the Waverly concourse to catch the commuter shuttle. I am now at a table for four which is fully-occupied and feeling my privacy far more compromised than I did with my mystery companion last night. I feel ready for work. Isn't that ironic?
Sunday, February 22, 2009
I have found that if I leave the house at six fifteen, I can get an hour on the gym, and still be at my desk for nine, which isn't too shabby. I get an hour and a half each day to read, listen to music, podcasts, or audio drama, of even watch TV of cinema on a variety of sub one-kilo portable devices, which I look upon as a gift. It makes me all the more dismayed to see how many of my fellow commuters occupy themselves day in day out with the insubstantial and environmentally unhelpful free newspapers that are dropped on Britains transport network each day like doodlebugs.
Tuesday, September 02, 2008
Wordlessly, I donned my helmet and set out, having first rooted around for my bike lights, unused since April. "You are absolutely sure that you threw them in the bin and that they're not anywhere else?" I checked, and even though the reply was defiantly affirmative, I still jammed my bluetooth headset on, ready to field any call to indicate they had been found.
On arriving at the bus stop, I found that the bin was of formidable cast-iron construction, with the pillar-box opening at the top of its metre of height. I couldn't even see into it, let alone see any evidence of rail tickets. I 'toothed mission control to confirm this was indeed the target. If only, I thought, I had a mirror - then, I could hold it in the slot at an angle and look down at the bin contents. Exhibiting, though I say so myself, near-genius, I turned on the camera and spotlight on my mobile phone and held it over the rim of the slot so I could look in at the display. There was something that looked like a train ticket nestling atop a carrier bag. Putting fears of septicemia to one side, I knelt down, fed my arm through the slot up to the shoulder, and at full stretch, managed to grab the ticket. Hooray!
It was Helen's return portion from her journey that day.
Further phonecam surveillance indicated what might have been the crucial vouchers, but try as I might, I couldn't reach them. I had taken out the carrier bag by this stage, and the spectacle of a 42-year old man, bicycle leaning against the railings, wearing a helmet and headset, waving a mobile phone into a litter bin, and hooking out carrier bags, was beginning to attract bemused attention. It looked like a kind of Mission Impossible on it's uppers scenario, Jim Phelps, The Wilderness Years, if you like. I felt the urge to explain to the passengers waiting at the bus stop. "It's my wife. She accidentally threw away the wrong train ticket". They nodded sympathetically, but inside I could tell they were thinking "Aye, right. He's got a wife. Course he has".
I resolved to go and get the tools for the job, and returned to the operations hub to stock up my mission pack with a long-handled dustpan and brush, a wire coathanger, some blu-tack, and extendable metal tape measure, and an air duster. That should do it. Jim Phelps was banished. Now I was MacGuyver. I pedaled back off into the September evening. There would be a new queue of onlooking bus passengers, potentially more aggressive than sympathetic by now. Just round the corner, my headset trilled. "I've found it!" said mission control, going on to elaborate "I'd thrown it in the recycling".
I executed a U-turn and returned to base, standing down the alert to amber. I had expected many things from married life, but scrabbling in bins was not one of them.
"That usually comes later", mused Agent Owen, pouring himself a generous Earl Grey, contemplating a future, with eyes that had already seen too much. Far too much.