Way Back When it Was 2001

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

Coffee-shop

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

The Anti-Midas touch.

Current mood:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh well, Happy New Year everyone.

 

Friends re-acquainted.

Current mood:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Quest for the unholy grail.

Current mood:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Procrastinate now.

Current mood:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

There’s no place like it.

Current mood:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There’s no place like home.

 

Reasons to be cheerful

Current mood:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I just did.

 

Getting out (of my head)

Current mood:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Ch-ch-ch-changes

Current mood:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yup, that’s justification enough for me.

 

Order! Order!

Current mood:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Finding my feet

Current mood:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Current mood:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The problem was always in the question.

 

Electric Dreams come true

Current mood:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Silence of the Lambs

Current mood:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Animals slaughtered to April 19: 1’294’000

Animals awaiting slaughter: 512’000

Carcasses awaiting disposal: 264’000

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Carried away

Current mood:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Drive me to the Moon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Can’t be arsed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Making a meal of things

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

My 15 minutes

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

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

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

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

 

Unpleasantly surprised

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

Back inside

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Time’s up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Way back when

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You’re “it” now, so pass it on.

 

Changing My Days

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

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

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

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

06.41: Have toes skinned by cat.

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

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

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

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

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

12.30: Get out of bed.

13.00: Have lunch.

14.00: Have bath and get dressed.

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

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

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

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

Next Monday: Get a life.

 

Culture Vultures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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