Wednesday, 29 December 2010

On A Resolution Already Broken

Once again I find myself returning to the blogosphere's warm embrace with my tail between my legs.

After months of worrying about my advancing age, my greying hair and increasingly severe hangovers, I began to consider growing up. I decided to draw a line under the excess of my youth and at least to grow old gracefully. I was happy with this decision, until Boxing Day - the day on which this new resolution came crashing to ground.

I blame myself. To be more precise, I blame this post. Did I really believe I could be that smug and escape unpunished? No; I should not have said that I've 'learnt from the past' because, quite clearly, I haven't. I'm still completely useless at handling my drink and shouldn't be allowed up past 10 o'clock.

I started early, you see. I noticed that my dad and my (younger) brother were nursing their pints slowly, savouring them and that mine seemed to be disappearing somewhat faster than everybody else's. I explained this by telling myself that they were drinking Guinness, which is very heavy, and therefore cannot be drunk as quickly as lager. And then back to the house, where I should have stayed up for a few hours to catch up with relatives I haven't seen in a few months before heading to bed.

Unfortunately, I did no such thing. I did catch up with everyone, I had many an enjoyable conversation. The problem is that these conversations tended to increase in volume and crassness with each rum and coke that passed my lips.

The clock strikes 6 in the morning. The house is asleep, or at least it would be if yours truly, his father and his cousin weren't belting out a rousing rendition of Band Aid's 'Do They Know It's Christmas'. My dad threw in the towel at half past 6 and climbed the stairs to bed. My cousin fell asleep on the sofa. I, true to form, did some washing up - smashing an apparently expensive wine glass in the process.

The next day I was the last one up. I had trouble looking people in the eye, that bad did I feel. In fact, I felt so bloody bad I also had trouble walking, staying awake, talking and sitting upright. A group of particularly bedraggled people gathered in the corner - Those Who Stayed Up Late. I went to join them, and glanced briefly at their hungover faces before a wave of nausea demanded that I close my eyes. With my dad, my brother and two of my cousins I sat and listened as they patched together the night before. Apparently my brother made my dad go round the circle and tell everyone that he loved them, which we all found terribly amusing after so many years of him being emotionally closed off.

Since then, the memories have crept back. I had a great deal of fun, it must be said. I did not learn from past mistakes and retire to bed without making a fool of myself. I did not remain cool, calm and collected. We spoke of football, of music and people who are no longer with us. I sang, I shouted and I laughed until it hurt.

And then, the next day, I was sick down the back of my dad's head from the back seat as he drove us home.

A fifteen-minute drive later, we reached a motorway service station. As I wiped the vomit from my lap, and tried my best to wring out my sleeves, I began to think that next year I'll have to take my decision to grow up a little more seriously, I'm not 18 anymore, and if I'm not careful I'll have to start making my own way there and back.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

On the Small Screen


1. I have huge bags under my eyes. I am not a drug addict, I've just been out a lot lately, which coupled with this getting old lark is taking its toll on my once youthful features.

2. Despite what this may sound like, I am not going to turn up on your doorstep, so fear not.

3. I keep sniffing. I am not a drug addict. I've just been ill.

4. I'm making a 'I'm going to kill you face' at the beginning. This is unintentional. I don't want to kill you, not in the slightest.

5. This is also complete rubbish.

Monday, 20 December 2010

On Protest

I'm not sure you'll remember my post about possibly becoming more politically-minded. Well, I did mean what I said, and as such I've been devoting no small amount of time to my political education. It hasn't been easy - I'm still trying to suppress the rage that seems to form as soon as I open a newspaper for long enough to enable the formation of an intelligent, considered and balanced opinion of current affairs. This intelligence, careful consideration and balance went right out of the window on the day of the student protests. The more I read, the more I saw; the more I became a monster. Twitter and news websites combined forces to work me into a righteous anger I've seldom felt before. And so, after work, I trotted down to Trafalgar Square for a look.

When I arrived there were very few people about. A few tourists were taking photos. A group of old ladies wearing sashes bearing the name of a children's charity were taking their positions for an evening of carol singing. It was all...lovely. I thought I'd missed the show, and was about to head back to the station when I saw it, in the distance. A huge crowd moving its way slowly up Whitehall. The chants grew louder. The writing on the placards grew clearer. The hoard of Britain's 'Feedom Fighters' grew closer and closer.

Then, all of a sudden, they were everywhere. Traffic cones flew through the air into the fountains, metal barriers crashed to the floor, the carol singers fled. A silent line of riot police stood unmoving on the steps of the National Gallery. And then a horrible thing happened. They started to pull the lights from the Christmas Tree. I looked on, AGHAST. I could hardly watch - but luckily the lights held their own. They are evidently very well secured. So the masked youths (how old does that make me sound?) tried a different tactic; they started a fire, and threw burning objects into the Christmas tree's branches. At this point I was beside myself and my Christmas Spirit lay crushed, on the floor, like a broken fairy light. In a daze, I turned my back and made my way home. I am so very far from hardcore.

However, apart from the attempted destruction of the Christmas tree (which survived mostly unharmed, by the way!) I'm all for the student protests - I back them, completely. I think. But it has to be one of the oddest moments of my life. The next day, any column inches the papers hadn't devoted to Charles & Camilla, told of the dangerous anarchist groups that managed to infiltrate the students' peaceful protest. I'm sure that's true to an extent - but I think part of the reason it spiralled so spectacularly out-of-control is that for the first time in ages, it's the young who are angry. Most of the protesters I saw were so bloody young. I applaud their engagement, but with all those hormones flying around and so few responsible adults, it was only a matter of time before things got messy. It's probably a sign of my age that my main reaction to what I saw was 'WHERE ARE YOUR PARENTS?!'

But, in a way, that's the point - isn't it? Who should they look up to? How else can they really make themselves heard? Who can they trust to keep their best interests at heart? The politicians they voted for lied to them in a way that's far more obvious than is usually acceptable. Graduates and people already in employment turn away, glad that they were lucky enough to sail the sea of Higher Education in calmer, happier climes. Many this new legislation will affect are still not old enough to vote - silent victims of a government they didn't vote for. It's no wonder they lashed out - it's no wonder they feel abandoned, frustrated and angry.

And part of me thinks it's just the beginning. As high street shops are forced to close their doors on the busiest Saturday of the year by people disgusted by legal tax evasion, I can't help but think there's something different in the air. A winter of discontent it may be - but the past couple haven't exactly been joyous. It's almost as if somebody has woken a monster, it's yawning and grumbling and stretching for the first time after a long hibernation. British people are, perhaps, learning from their continental cousins. Or perhaps they are just rediscovering a forgotten art that fell by the wayside in the boom years. Where's the stiff upper lip? Where's 'Keep Calm and Carry On'? I think maybe they've been left behind, for now. Maybe I'm just being dramatic. Time will tell, I suppose. In the meantime, though, it's refreshing to see someone standing up for themselves.

Monday, 6 December 2010

On Christmas Past, Present and Yet To Come

The fact that I have never read any of Charles Dickens' work has always been a source of shame for me. I've often felt that, as a British person with an appreciation of classic literature, it was nothing less than my civic duty to at least get to grips with his most famous works, if not immerse myself in his entire bibliography. And how better to start than with A Christmas Carol, at the time when the country is at its peak of festive merriment? So that's what I've been reading today. I know the story, of course - the Muppets taught me well - and the more i read the more I'm impressed with the timelessness of the lessons it contains.

This morning it seemed terribly apt. The snow has mostly melted, leaving the pavements covered in almost invisible patches of treacherous black ice. It was bitterly cold, and a dense freezing fog hung over the City, obscuring from view the top of the Gherkin and its new, and marginally taller, skyscraping neighbour. As Scrooge made his lonely way home through strikingly similar atmospheric conditions at the beginning of the story, so I scurried (and slid) my way to the office.

And as Scrooge ignored the pleas of two men seeking donations for the poor, so I avoid making eye contact with the people collecting for charities who camp outside Kings Cross, snaring unsuspecting commuters in their guilt-laced webs. It would seem then, that not so much has changed. Perhaps I'm not so different from Ebenezer. If this is indeed the case, then in what form would the spirits of my three Christmases appear?

THE GHOST OF CHRISTMAS PAST. I have perfected the art of holding a grudge, of clinging onto regret and embarrassment far longer than is necessary. From the Christmas Day I shot my mum in the face with a toy gun that propelled foam balls in whichever direction I pointed it (while shouting 'I'm not spoilt!') to the accidental flash in front of my cousin, my past Christmases have been full of moments I'd rather forget. Of course there have been happy times, too. They were predominantly happy, in fact. But it's the humiliations and awkwardness of my past that stay with me and colour my current outlook on life the most. My ghost of Christmas Past would be an amalgamation of all of these - the jokes gone too far, the drinks I really shouldn't have accepted, the tantrums and bouts of ingratitude. I was a snivelling child and a terrible teen for which I'll be eternally embarrassed - but these things have played a part in making me who I am.

Well, that was grim. But fear not - 'tis the season to be jolly after all and my CHRISTMAS PRESENT is a bloody jolly place. You see, I've learned from the past and used it to my advantage. I'm a better person, capable of thoughtful gifts and hiding the slightest trace of 'what were you thinking?' when I get presents I don't like. I've found a place and personality that I'm comfortable with and I've banished the majority of the demons that plagued me as I grew up. At the moment, I'm so chilled I put that icy pavement to shame.

And so to CHRISTMAS YET TO COME. It's hard to say what future yuletides will bring but in order to end this post in a way that reflects the unusual sense of optimism I'm currently enjoying, I'll stick to what I want and not what is definitely achievable. Some of you may already know that I'm yearning to move out. There are circumstances that prevent this at the moment, but one Christmas Day I'd like to wake up in a house of my own. I'd like to repay the favour so many have shown me. To cook Christmas Dinner for everyone that matters to me, maybe. A small thank you to the ever-patient family and friends who have stuck with me for so many years - through the bad, through the good and right up to the perfect. A bit ambitious, perhaps. Not least because I can barely cook a microwave meal, let alone a turkey.

But anyway, I hereby swear that, this year, there will be no bah humbugging from me.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

On the Other Side of the Fence

When I was but knee-high to a grasshopper, my parents took me with them when they went to see Cats. I don't remember it at all, but afterwards they bought a copy of T.S. Eliot's 'Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats', the poems the musical is based on. I read it over and over again, from cover to cover. I had my favourites, of course - and the cat I identified with most was The Rum Tum Tugger:

The Rum Tum Tugger is a Curious Cat:
If you offer him pheasant he would rather have grouse.
If you put him in a house he would much prefer a flat,
If you put him in a flat then he'd rather have a house.
If you set him on a mouse then he only wants a rat,
If you set him on a rat then he'd rather chase a mouse.

Now I'm not all that fussed about chasing rodents, to be honest, but I think I share the Rum Tum Tugger's outlook on life. The grass always seems greener on the other side of the fence.

It's incredibly annoying - to the extent that I irritate myself. The week before last I found myself, as usual, crammed onto a train at rush hour. I was one of hundreds of people jostling for space, gasping for air, throwing 'don't-even-think-about-it' looks at the man with the suitcase as big as a car wondering whether to attempt boarding. As the train trundled along its underground course, I wanted so badly to be somewhere else. Somewhere quiet, comfortable and, most importantly, stationary. Somewhere I could be on my own with my thoughts.

Fortunately, I didn't have to wait long, as I'd booked last week off. Finally I'd have a chance to relax. I'd purposely made as few plans as possible and couldn't wait to do sweet F.A., all day long. When I awoke to find the garden covered in a thick blanket of snow, with more still falling, I thought it couldn't get any better. Snow makes everything seem peaceful, quiet and uncluttered. Everything was perfect; the ideal situation for a week of ultimate relaxation.

Around three hours later, I was bored out of my mind. I had nothing to do but sit in front of the TV, and the TV was annoying me. I wanted to go out, but the snow meant that no trains were running. I even rang the office, to see how everyone was. I was bored shitless, rattling around the house like an old woman whose children have grown up, moved away and don't talk to her anymore. It nearly drove me insane and the phrase 'be careful what you wish for' had never seemed more apt.

But I made it through. The snow came to my aid, in fact - it snowed so heavily that N couldn't get to work, so I had someone to talk at, which alleviated the boredom somewhat. At least for me. Looking back, I can't tell you what I did, it passed in a blur; a blur of complete nothingness that I'm pleased to see the back of. And so, tomorrow I make my long-awaited return to work; to the busy, bustling, exciting place that is London at Christmastime. I can't wait for to be back amid the bright lights, the loud noises, the fast pace. The train delays. Slow-walking people when you're already late. The walk to the station on an icy road. WORK.

I want more time off.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

On Blogging

The room, which had been buzzing with conversation moments before, was silent.

"That was painful," someone muttered, and they were right. Moments before, I had embarked on telling a story that in my head sounded interesting and relevant to the topic of conversation. It didn't quite pan out that way, and halfway through I wished I hadn't bothered.

You see, there's some sort of problem with the way I formulate sentences when preparing to say them out loud. It never works. I have an idea in my head that has the potential to be an interesting anecdote, an amusing joke, a poignant, deep and meaningful speech. Except it never fulfills this potential; the words stumble out of my mouth and lie in a heap - like alphabet spaghetti - in front of me. Attempting to follow one of these conversations is like bear-baiting, the thing you're contending with is desperate to leave you exhausted and confused, and it would take some skill to make it through without losing the point.

And then there's my accent. This isn't a problem with friends or family, of course, but it's incredible how quickly someone will assume that you're stupid based solely on the way you speak. The first time I realised I even had an accent (odd though that may sound) was my first year of university. The most cringe-worthy moment comes from a seminar on Roma Citta Aperta, an Italian neorealist masterpiece. At the time I knew nothing of literature, film or poetry, and had jumped headfirst into a degree course that was half made-up of all these things. Good move, Tom.

So I arrived, understanding what I was told but lacking the means to express it. This particular seminar was a massive turning point for me. We'd all watched the film, and been discussing it for half an hour. I sat at the back, as usual, avoiding the lecturer's eye lest she ask me a question. She asked if anyone had noticed anything in particular about the portrayal of the Nazi occupiers. The room was silent in response. Seized, all of a sudden, by a need to prove my worth, I ventured an opinion;

"Well, they're all, like, gay." I nearly added an 'innit' at the end there to make it sound even worse, but there's no need - it's bad enough as it is. I caught someone to my left rolling their eyes, some others actually laughed. The lecturer replied,

"Yes, exactly. There are definite homosexual undertones." I got it right, you bastards. I was right; I had the answer she was looking for, only I didn't have the correct words to express it. I realised then that this was generally the case in my literature classes - I knew these things, I noticed them, but I didn't know how to get the idea across without sounding like a complete chav. So I read an incredibly boring book on literary theory and criticism, and armed myself with enough knowledge to make myself sound like I knew what I was talking about.

So that solved that problem, but how often do you get into literary conversations at parties? Not often at all, so my complete lack of oratory skill remains an issue. My accent has improved (a year in Italy demanded it - otherwise the people I held conversation classes for could have auditioned for Eastenders). If you heard it now, you'd probably wonder what I was making a fuss about. I've buried it, almost. But I do lapse into it - especially after a drink - and I love it more now than I ever have before. I'd consider resurrecting it if I could do so without people thinking I'm retarded.

And so, to remind myself that I'm not stupid and to give me a place to communicate the strange things I think, I started a blog. I'm not sure why, but I communicate much more effectively in writing. Maybe that's because there's less pressure to perform; I can think, re-think, write and re-write. Then there's the added benefit that if someone doesn't get what I'm saying, I don't witness their reaction. I don't have to see their eyes glaze over as I struggle to pull the conversation back from the brink of nonsense. It's come to mean quite a lot to me, so when people say nice things about it I can be rather too gushing in my gratitude. But I'm British - we have to say please, thank you and sorry at every possible occasion, so my thanks to Amber, Tabitha, Risha, Kisekae, Gnetch and everyone who reads and comments. If it weren't for you, I'd be destined to a life of painful conversation - or silence, which may be preferable.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

On Breaking the Monotony

Lately the world around me has become somewhat grey and dull. As I sit here on the train, opposite a huge man who is taking up two whole seats [how many tickets has he bought do you think? Fare dodger], I find myself yearning for something exciting, something anarchically fun and completely unexpected.

This was prompted in part by last weeks' student protests, which I observed (via news feeds and twitter) from my cluttered desk at work. How I wished I'd booked the day off and joined them in their insurrection. How I envied their passion and their anger. I toyed with the idea of joining them, but decided that a picture of me scaling Millbank in the paper would do my credibility no favours.

The feeling grew deeper as I wrote my TASG post on what I wanted to be when I grew up - dragging up memories of how magical the world once seemed. But don't worry - this isn't one of my usual woe-filled posts. In fact, it marks a new beginning. I stand at a crossroads; on each side a road that leads to an alleviation of the gloom in which I'm currently lost. I will not sit idly by while my life is taken over by bad news, bad prospects and austerity cuts. I will take action.

To my left (for that's the direction to which I'd lean) is a road that leads to the land of political involvement, home of last week's Feedom Fighters. Perhaps, instead of moaning or silently fearing the future, I should get off my arse and shout about it. However, as Rachel tweeted last week, it's incredibly annoying to hear ordinary people talk about topics they don't really understand. To be politically involved, without sounding like a complete pillock, I need to know about stuff. Really know about it, inside out, or else I won't feel comfortable shouting about it. At the moment, I don't know anything about...anything. This will need to be rectified.

So to the path to my right, directly inspired by the memory of trying to jump into a photograph in a book when I was young. I shall stop viewing things with these adult eyes. I'll stop looking at price tags and newspaper headlines and retreat into a world of make-believe. No, that's incorrect. I won't retreat into it, I'll just do what I used to do when I was little, and imagine that there's more to the world than meets the eye. I have dubbed this option my Imagifesto. From now on, I'll imagine that there actually are castles on clouds, the tube is pulled by a team of invisible Harry Potter horses (top marks for anyone who remembers what they were actually called) and that the man opposite isn't just dangerously overweight - he's actually a giant, and therefore it's fine that he only has one ticket for two seats - it would be completely unfair to charge one species more than another. Already, my reality seems a little bit more colourful, and I seem a little bit more insane, I suppose.

I think it's a form of mid-life crisis or something; only where most people revert to how they were in their hedonistic twenties, I've reverted to being six.

Friday, 5 November 2010

On Staying the Same

I was at a bus stop yesterday, white headlights driving past in one direction, red brakelights in the other. The wind was so strong I had to lean into it just to stop myself being pushed back. And that there, that's my life. All of the people driving past had somewhere to go or something to do. I'm stood still, struggling to keep my head above water, waiting. For what? A lottery win? A new and exciting job to fall in my lap? A cure for my mum's illness? Well, a bus, actually. But you get my point; the world keeps turning, seasons come, seasons go. I stay the same.

It's Bonfire Night, so the sky is full of fireworks; pretty, sparkling, multicoloured fireworks. I'm watching them from my bedroom window, thinking about 5th November last year. The only difference that springs to mind is that I didn't have a blog then. I was probably on Facebook. I was probably here though. Broke, bored and hoping that in a year's time something would have changed for the better. It hasn't, not really.

I'm fed up, in short. Completely and utterly fucked off with everything. I hate talking like this - wallowing in self-pity - because I know that I'm fortunate, all things considered. Things could be worse. But they could be better, too, and I want them to be better. I'm not sure if you feel the same, but I feel like our generation wants everything, and wants everything now. Buy now, pay later, instalments and loans and store cards. Why save up? Why work for it? Why wait? It's incredibly impatient. I was incredibly impatient and, although I've managed to rein in my spending sprees, I still feel that same restlessness when it comes to my situation. I want to change, to progress, to enjoy. I don't want to have to wait.

I want to scream. Seriously, I'm in such a mood - the worst kind of mood. The kind that builds up slowly, over a few days. The kind you try to bury with fake smiles, small talk and early nights. The kind that leaves you wanting to tell colleagues to shut up and get out of your face, to cancel your weekend plans and stay in bed listening to Damien Rice forever.

I'll be ok tomorrow. Who knows, maybe just posting this will cheer me up. It will certainly embarrass me when I read it once I've managed to disperse the angry little rain clouds currently hovering over my head.

Man up, Tom, and put some more upbeat music on.

Monday, 25 October 2010

On The Great Outdoors

I am, and always will be, a townie. While I appreciate that the countryside can be beautiful, peaceful and calming, it's really not for me; I much prefer the bright lights and loud noises of the city. So when N decided to arrange a camping trip for his birthday, I was decidedly underawed.

It wasn't, forunately, as bad as I thought; I had a fantastic weekend and I think I managed quite well without the internet, TV and...walls. Actually, that's a complete lie, and I respect you too much to lie to you. I'm sorry. The truth: I was completely rubbish and should not be allowed out of the concrete jungle. Bear Grylls I am not. Setting up tents, for a start, is a chore - especially when the ground beneath is so muddy you can hardly stand. That's something I like about houses; they generally come pre-assembled, ready and fit for habitation. Not so the tent, which requires assembly then reveals a sizeable insect community that has somehow survived those long months in the garden shed.

The first night was rainy, cold and dark and I was incredibly, stupidly inebriated. Towards the end of the night, the end of my night anyway, the group realised that I'd been missing for 25 minutes, and a search party was sent forth. N found me in the toilet block, hugging the hand-drier for warmth and escorted me back to the tents. I went to bed - not to sleep, just to lie with eyes wide open wondering what exactly was walking around outside. I wasn't expecting a bear or anything, but when you're out of your comfort zone, even badgers start to seem menacing.

The second night was less rainy, less cold and less dark. This was mostly because we figured out how to turn the electricity on and so the 'get back to nature' element of our camping trip went straight out of the window. Electricity gave us light. It gave us heat. We stole a picnic bench and installed it in our gazebo. We even, in the true hunting and gathering spirit of our country-dwelling ancestors, ordered a Chinese takeaway. In short, we may as well have booked a hotel.

I'm not meant for the great outdoors. I'll never be able to do without walls, a bed, central heating. I'm too attached these creature comforts and little luxuries to find sleeping on the floor enjoyable. Give me supermarkets that don't close, a mind-boggling transport network and brick, glass and steel. I don't care if I can't see the stars or see through the exhaust fumes. Just don't make me sleep outside again; the badgers might get me.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

On My Un-Futuristic Life

I know that, coming from someone who goes on and on about nostalgia, the past and his difficult relationship with technology, this post may come across hypocritical.

The building I work in is a converted Victorian warehouse. I like this very much; I like how it seems to have been designed to confuse you, with floors that are completely bypassed by some of the staircases, basements nobody tells you about and odd little storage rooms that you have to crawl into because the ceilings are so low. Yesterday, when I returned to the building after my daily lunchtime stroll along Regent's Canal, the Star Wars theme was blaring from the post room. It seemed incredibly out of place, and I began to feel nostalgic - only for the future.

Bear with me, I will wrestle some sense out of the last sentence if it's the last thing I do. You see when I was growing up, this wasn't how I expected the future to be. And a lot of my expectations about what the world would be like when I was an adult were shaped by things like Star Wars. No, I didn't think I'd be living in space, but I imagined things would be somewhat more advanced than they are.

I'm not asking for much. I don't need to float around in a galaxy far, far away. I'd settle for a lift that works. I don't even need a spaceship with hyperdrive capabilities that can fly from one end of the universe to the other in seconds. I would like a tube train that can deliver me to work without running out of breath and sitting in a tunnel for 15 minutes while it recharges its batteries*. OK, I wouldn't say no if somebody offered me an omniscient little robot that can play videos, pick locks, electrocute people and repair machinery. But I do have an iPhone and there's probably apps for all these things already.

Perhaps I should be grateful - my boss, for example, is actually quite a nice bloke and not a mask-wearing tyrant who could kill me by waving at me. It's just if you'd asked 6-year old Tom what the world would be like in 2010 the response would probably have involved hoverboots, lasars and teleportation. After a period in which technology seemed to race forward at a rate of knots, spewing out world-changing inventions like the interweb and mobile phones like there was no tomorrow, doesn't it seem a bit quiet?

Perhaps I'm ignoring important developments. I do spend most of my day in a Victorian warehouse after all, the building would probably reject any technological development - which is perhaps why the lift doesn't work. It's like The Haunting. Please feel free to prove me wrong and restore what little faith I once had in technology. In the meantime, I'm off camping for the weekend (in Dorset, not the Dagobah System).

*Admittedly is nothing compared to the poor souls stuck on the Jubilee and Victoria lines this week.

Monday, 18 October 2010

On Faith-a-Faith-a-Faith

Yes, that was a George Michael reference and yes, this is a post on religion. Well, my experience with religion. I'll do my best not to offend, which certainly isn't my intention, I've just been thinking due to not being able to sleep.

I've mentioned before, in passing, that I'm atheist. While I fully respect others' right to believe in something higher, it's not something I can really convince myself to believe. It hasn't always been this way; I grew up Roman Catholic. I was baptised and confirmed, I went to Catholic primary and secondary schools - I was even an altar boy until someone spilt candle wax in my hair. God, in short, was everywhere when I was growing up.

And then, all of a sudden, he wasn't. I'm not sure what it was, but all of a sudden, I no longer believed what I was being taught, in what I was saying. A lot of it is due to the lifestyle I lead being completely at odds with Catholic doctrine, but it wasn't only that. Whatever belief I had once possessed, vanished. I stopped paying and I stopped going to church. I stopped believing. *

Since then, apart from christenings, weddings and funerals, I've only been to a church once. It was when my mum rang me to tell me she was ill. I'm not sure why, but I decided the best course of action would be to jump on the bus and go to the church. I was probably looking for an answer, an explanation. I don't know really, it's a bit blurry. Anyway, when I arrived 20 minutes later, the church was locked. In my emotional state I decided that, if there was a supreme being watching over us, he evidently didn't have any time for me. [Don't worry; I do know this is stupid. For a start, you could argue that I'd already stopped believing in him so a trip to church was a bit pointless in the first place. Secondly, if God does exist, he's got his hands full and can't really take on management of the logistics and opening hours of his many houses.]

The reason I'm thinking about this now, is that I can't sleep and my mind is wandering. To be more specific, it's wandering to the night before my French GCSE exam. I remember not being able to sleep then, and praying for some shuteye and an easy exam the next day. Even now, when I'm nervous, anxious or frightened, part of me still attempts to contact a higher being to ask for help. It's what I did this morning. I almost prayed that an email I sent on Friday would not have the complicated consequences I've been afraid of all weekend.

Now, that's not the wax-covered altar boy within trying to get out. It's not an indication of suppressed religious belief. I think it's a comfort mechanism. It's one of the things I miss about having a faith; that in times of trouble, [I'm fighting the urge to say 'Mother Mary comes to me'] you have somewhere to turn - even if the problem you're fretting over is completely trivial. Even now, despite my avowed disbelief, I wear a St Christopher when I go on long journeys. Am I hoping that the patron saint of travellers will ward off any danger on my route? Perhaps. More likely though, is that it comforts me. Things like this make me feel better, like touching wood when I tempt fate.

I do hope I haven't offended anyone with my insomnia-fuelled drivel this morning. As I said at the beginning, I fully respect people's right to believe whatever they want, and part of me envies that belief, too. I look at my mum, and everything she's been through, and admire her ability to keep believing. It's just for me, it has never quite fit. That's why when people from the church come to give my mum the Eucharist on a Sunday I always decline when they offer. Maybe it would make me feel better if I accepted, but what's the point of going through the motions when there's no belief attached? What's the point in praying when I don't believe anyone is listening? Surely that's more disrespectful, if anything.

* I am now unable to sleep, and have Journey's Don't Stop Believing stuck in my head. This will not be a good day.

Monday, 11 October 2010

On Globalisation

That's a sausage on my plate, not a huge turd. Honest.

I return, after what seems like an age, to the blogosphere. I've been away and unable to post; I spent last week in Frankfurt, Germany at the annual book fair. While the lack of Internet access initially traumatised me, I've returned from the fair somewhat inspired, and, unfortunately, with a dose of man-flu. I'm writing from my bed, a cup of tea of my left, hot water bottle to my right and the plate that once held my peanut butter sandwich somewhere on the floor. While I intend to drag this out for maximum sympathy, any magical remedies would be highly appreciated.

Back to the book fair. My days there consisted of the following; waking up late and running down to breakfast. Jumping on the train to the fair. Walking MILES to our stand and setting up our books. At 9, the first customers would arrive, and half-hour long meetings continue until 6. Every half an hour I'd repeat the same things, about the same books, sitting in the same chair. The only thing that changed was the face sitting in front of me.

This sounds, of course, incredibly dull and it can get really difficult. But I was saved from complete mental shutdown by my love of talking to people. Though I have embraced the Internet of late, e-mails really are no substitute for meeting someone face-to-face. Furthermore, the people I talk to come from all over the world. Each brings with them something of the place they come from; not a present for me, unfortunately, but a quirk, a mannerism, a way of speaking or acting that sets them apart from the people who sat in that seat before them.

Some live up to national stereotypes; an Italian arriving late, shouting apologies while kissing both cheeks. The French, with that air of class and aloofness, dressed impeccably and making me feel inferior before I even begin to slaughter their language with my rusty grammar.

Cultural differences are evident even from the titles people like and those that they don't. The Greek Easter is incredibly different to how we celebrate it here, so Easter-themed books don't really lend themselves to translation. There's not much snow in Argentina at Christmas, either. An Estonian customer told me that dinosaurs are hugely popular in the Czech Republic, and that books with trains in don't sell well in Estonia (he believes they may evoke painful memories of WWII and Soviet occupation). He actually went on to explain, on a rather large and unrelated tangent, that a recent survey discovered that Estonians drink more, per person, than every other country in Europe with the exception of the Czech Republic. The government arranged a campaign highlighting this, urging people to think about how much they drink and try to cut down. It had the opposite effect; apparently the populace was rather annoyed about coming second so put more thought into what they weren't drinking.

My mental wandering while I was away reminded me of the two weeks I spent in the mountains in northern Italy in 2005. I walked along a mountain road, from village to village (read: from bar to bar) asking for information about the local area, as part of a project I had to complete. What I heard surprised me; there were differences in dialect between villages, even though they were only a kilometre or two apart from each other. I remember thinking of them as countries on a miniature continent; linked by things they have in common, but never the same.

I hope I haven't caused any offence; I know that not all Italians are unable to arrive on time, and that national stereotypes are too often false, bigoted and used for evil means. I know also that the Estonian's comments are his own, and have no idea about how true they may be. But the experience as a whole left me feeling hopeful. We talk about globalisation, fear the erosion of culture and the spread of the English language across the world. We envisage a time when the world is depressingly uniform, grey and unexciting. But everyone I met had something different about them. Each nationality differed from the others, in one way or another. And then each person is so much more than a citizen of the country in which they live; they have their own quirks and personalities that set them apart. I feel reassured, if anything, that the world is far from being dominated by one single culture, and maintains the differences that make it such an interesting and colourful place to live. And even if the borders disappeared and all the countries of the world were absorbed into a huge and happy federation, the differences between us as people would be enough to ensure that we'd never get bored.

I promise to write something more coherent shortly, when my man-flu *cough cough* is cured. In the meantime, if you're looking for a good read on a Monday or Friday, I recommend the Transatlantic Support Group, which is a collaborative effort with two great bloggers, Allison (who will post on Mondays) and Lauren (who will post on Fridays). I will post on Wednesdays, but given my current inability to think, let alone write, sensibly I recommend you check their posts out first so as not to be put off! Plus I'm a bit scared to be sandwiched between two such interesting and entertaining people. There's a better explanation on the blog, so skip over and have a gander, if you feel so inclined.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

On Walking [and almost singing] In The Rain

The train sat at Barbican, stubbornly refusing to move despite the chorus of sighs, tuts and four-letter words emanating from the rain-soaked commuters crammed within. After some time, the driver's voice crept sheepishly from the PA system,
"Due to signalling problems in the Moorgate area, this train will now terminate at the next station." A ripple of frustration and anger spread like wildfire through the carriage. I tried to immerse myself in it, to force myself to dread the 15 minute walk from Moorgate to Fenchurch Street in the rain. But I couldn't. The fact is, and I've mentioned this before, this my kind of weather.

The half-hearted groan I attempted as I stepped off of the train wouldn't have convinced even the least travel-hardened commuter, but I thought I should at least try to fit in. Inside, I relished the prospect of the soggy stroll ahead. My friends in Italy decided my love of rain was an anglosaxon trait, but I really don't think that this is the case. Any of you who are British or have British friends will have probably been subjected to many a lengthy moan about the weather. It's one the nation's favourite conversation topics, I think. And while I can often be heard whining about how effing hot it is, I think I'm definitely in a minority when it comes to my appreciation of the wet stuff.

Despite being traditionally thought of as gloomy and miserable and grey, rain makes me smile. I love seeing the raindrops leap into the air as they rebound of the pavement, and the way it makes the city shine in reflected light. Everything looks nicer in the rain. It amazes me that the ripples in puddles and splashes on the floor seem to be in time with whatever my iPod has chosen to play me. It's like magic. Then there's the patter of rain on the roof, which is one of my favourite noises, especially in cars when it's coupled with the sound of windscreen wipers. I've even started to enjoy the extra care rain forces you take; a leap over an unexpected puddle, for example, or the precision involved in staying upright as you slide like Bambi on ice over a wet station concourse. And then there's the politics involved in wielding an umbrella.

Take this evening for example; the pavement was narrow. A woman with a golf umbrella was coming towards me. Neither of us knew how to act. A collision seemed inevitable. I made a decision just in time; I'd lift my umbrella up, so her ridiculously oversized one could pass underneath. However, I hadn't considered the fact that the woman was a giant and about twice my height so, even with my arm at full length, my reasonably sized umbrella still connected with her's. At least she laughed, and didn't poke me in the eye with it.

Even this awkwardness wasn't enough to ruin my good mood. I felt like skipping through the puddles and twirling my umbrella. If I had a glass handy, I'd raise it, right now, to a few more joyous months of rain [check back in two months to witness me take this back].

Sunday, 26 September 2010

On the Old Days

My friend recently went to a Blitz Party. 1940s fancy dress was compulsory, the venue was a warehouse decked out like an air raid shelter and a swing band played on stage.

Predominantly, I love it. I think it's a great idea. I'm a massive fan of anything retro, vintage or slightly past its sell-by-date. My dream home, in fact, will need to incorporate the following:

  • a phone with a dial instead of buttons,
  • a door-knocker, not a bell.
  • a hatstand
  • a globe

[I'd also like a gramophone, but I understand that, sometimes, practicality must be considered.]

However, part of me felt that maybe it could be slightly bad taste. Is it wrong for people who have grown up in times of relative peace and plenty to go out on the lash dressed as 1940s Londoners who faced hunger, loss and even death?

I swiftly concluded that I was being ridiculous. Who would want to go to a party that accurately depicted the 1940s? An evening of rationing, blackouts and the threat of war does not sound like much of a laugh. But what these parties are doing, in a way, is highlighting the things we miss that their generation had in abundance. A sense of community, for example. Glamour. The ability to get by on what little was available rather than needing everything immediately and paying for it with borrowed money. The music; dancing in pairs rather than sweating out in groups to a bass line that makes your brain ache. They may have had less, and faced dangers that we don't, but they lived.

As I thought about this on my what home, I realised that's the way the world works. Each generation carries its good and its bad to the next. The new generation adapts its inheritance - the fashions, the lifestylyes, the opinions - to fit in with their situation. And I suppose it will be no different for us; our hopes and fears will be carried over and kept, changed or discared as the younger generation sees fit. Perhaps in 50 years they'll do the same for us; a Global Recession Party, dress like bankers and G20 protesters. We're all in it together, I suppose - the women who held the fort in WW2, the bankers who sent the world into economic meltdown and the hipsters of the future, whizzing around on their space bikes and jet packs. We're all involved in a massive struggle, centuries of trial and error, to make the world a better place. I'm off to book tickets for the next Blitz Party. It's not bad taste at all; bad taste would be forgetting.

Monday, 20 September 2010

On Dreams

I worry an incredible amount. Earlier this week I received a work email that sent me into a wild panic and looks set to make my life a misery for at least the next month. As I read it, I could hear the blood pumping through my veins. My colleagues' conversations became background white noise. My stomach churned. And that night I didn't sleep.

In actual fact it's really not that big a deal, but worrying comes naturally to me. It's my talent. My superpower, if you will. It's not just work I worry about - it's family, friends, the future, the past... I'm worrying about you now. Yes, you. Are you bored? Am I coming across as pretentious? Are you even there? Is anybody out there? It's no wonder I'm going grey.

But fear not; for I have discovered an incredible truth. But in order to explain it, I need to tell you about the 'dream' I had the other night, before the aforementioned insomnia began.

In brief, I was at a school fete with my friend [Stacey Slater from BBC's Eastenders] when I realised I had no money. Stacey suggested I borrow some money from the Loan Shark Stall. 'How handy' I thought, as I skipped off in the loan shark's direction. He lent me £14, to pay back at the end of the fete. I stress here that no other terms or conditions were mentioned. He later tracked me down and informed me that I now owed £15.40. 10% interest was to be added to the initial sum every hour it remained unpaid [I'm actually quite impressed that my subconcious can work out percentages when I can rarely do it when I'm awake]. I protested, but the bloke was massive and mean-looking so I went to pay him back and get the hell away. But the stall was abandoned. Stacey told me to leave the money there, so I did, and we left. Before long, however, we were being chased through back alleys and side streets by an angry loan shark demanding more money. He caught up with me, pushed me against a wall and punched me in the chin. Then, I woke up.

Because I'm addicted to the snooze button on my phone, I immediately went back to sleep and had a weird 2 minute mini-dream about my teeth falling out. In my dream, I was completely unfazed by my sudden lack of teeth and went to work anyway.

When I finally dragged myself out of bed, I was shocked to discover that my chin actually hurt where the loan shark had hit me. This can only mean one thing; that - Stacey, the loan shark and the school fete - is my reality. This - work issues, greying hair and the football team I support beset with injuries - is my dream-world. Yes, this may well be a little bit Inceptionesque, but it's the only logical way to explain it. Upon realising this, I felt strangely liberated; all this work and woe was just a dream. In a few hours I'd 'wake up' and return to the world where I'm a crazy, cool, calm and collected individual who rubs shoulders with celebs and isn't even bothered when his teeth fall out. I am that man.

According to my colleagues, I am not that man at all - I have merely lost the plot. And of course they are right. But I'm in the middle of a period of what-the-fuck-am-I doing-with-my-life angst*, as are the writers of many of the blogs I read and it was nice, for a moment, to think that I wasn't really me and that I wasn't really here. And that whatever happens to me during the day, I can wake up from at night.

* Would that be existential angst? I'm not sure it would be, because I'm not worried by the fact that I exist, but that my existence is so rubbish. I studied French philosophy but have a habit of burying things that make my brain ache as soon as I don't need them any more.

Monday, 13 September 2010

On Leigh-on-Sea

My favourite Beatles song is probably In My Life. I think it perfectly captures the way it feels to look back and realise that the things around you have changed [forever, not for better], without you even realising it. And yet, at the same time, it reminds you of the importance of the things that have remained, and the things that are important now. It's a song that has struck a chord with me on numerous occasions, not least on Saturday afternoon.

This weekend I went to a town called Leigh-on-Sea for the annual Regatta. Actually, when I say I went to Leigh for the Regatta, what I mean is that I went to Leigh to soak up the atmosphere of the Regatta while soaking up more than my fair share of alcohol. I used to go out in Leigh a lot more often than I do now. When I worked in Southend I'd go at least once a week, always to the same pub. It's a place with character, with a stone floor, nautical decor and a balcony that looks out over the Thames Estuary. Should you ever find youself in the area, you'll find it at the end of the cobbled street of cottages, fish n' chip shops and boozers that make up Old Leigh's high street, just before you get to the beach. Although the frequency of my visits has decreased, I still go there a for a few pints every now then, and usually spend at least part of the night wallowing in nostalgia.

Saturday was no different, only this time the nostalgia hit while I was having a wee, which it hasn't done before [please forgive my crassness]. In brief, for I wouldn't want to go into too much detail here, I used to have a favourite urinal in this pub. It was at the end of the row, in front of a broken window at head height that was most effective at clearing alcohol-fuelled fogginess. On the wooden window-frame, someone had scrawled "TOMMY P IS A SLAG" - there is nothing like an inspirational quote to ponder while...erm...otherwise engaged. The toilets have since been redecorated and, while the glass has been replaced and the woodwork given a new coat of paint, the memory doesn't fade. Tommy P's apparently promiscuous antics are yesterday's news, replaced with new graffitti for a new age [nowadays all the cool kids are writing about how Domenico and Miguel are wankers. Again, an inspiration]. The pub has changed, small changes over time that have slowly transformed the place so that it's no longer quite the same as it was.

I headed back to my table and looked at the people I was sitting with. Familiar faces; some of whom were there the first time I ever came to this pub. There were others who I've only recently met and am yet to get to know properly. And then I thought of the people who used to be there, and have since gone their separate ways. Like the pub, the group has gained, lost and retained. Things have changed, yet remained the same.

At that moment, just as I was ready to succumb to a wave of nostalgia, reach for my iPod and listen to the Beatles, N came back with a Jagerbomb and business returned to normal. It was only when I found a photo on my phone of the abuse directed at poor Domenico that I remembered that this chain of thought had even occurred. But the nostalgia isn't something I should be depressed by. I have had some amazing times with some amazing people in that pub, I had a fantastic time there on Saturday and I hereby swear to carry on doing so in future.

So despite everything that's changed, and as the Beatles say, I know I'll never lose affection for the people and things that went before. And for the people and things that are still around; in my life, I love you all.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

On The Day The Tube Stood Still

Well, God knows it had been a slow start to the week, news-wise. Page 4 of Monday's Metro had a full-page feature on a carrot that looked like Buzz Lightyear. Not so yesterday morning; thanks to the ever-belligerent Bob Crow and his industrial action. London's journalists had plenty to write about - from praising the 'Dunkerque Spirit' shown by disgruntled commuters to scanning Twitter for the most interesting updates; the tube strike dominated the news sites and headlines.

I get the Underground to work, so the fact that all but one of the lines were suspended left me with something of a dilemma. Do I cram myself onto an already over-capacity bus? Or maybe I should pull a sicky, avoid it altogether? Too much effort and too obvious, respectively. Instead, I decided to walk from Fenchurch St to my office, in King's Cross. This would take about an hour, but would guarantee me impressive bragging rights when swapping "how-did-you-get-in" stories with my colleagues. "''You let 3 buses go? WELL, I hiked. For miles. 3.8 of them. Hiked, I say."

The walk itself was great; through the City skyscrapers, on past St Paul's Cathedral, up through Barbican and Farringdon. And because I'd left early, I saw the city waking up; tables being set up outside cafes, streets being swept, traders at Smithfields Meat Market with forklifts full of raw beef. Or chicken. Or whatever it was - I had to step over a puddle of blood which I wasn't prepared for so early in the morning. But all in all I enjoyed it, and so felt rather smug when I passed a tiny picket line outside Kings Cross. "Strike all you want," I thought, "I don't give a shit because that walk was well nice. I could do that all the time." [I swiftly came to my senses and realised that there is no way in hell that I would walk that far everyday, and kept my thoughts to myself].

In fact, my love of The Walk didn't even last a whole day. By the time half-past five rolled around (and it took its sweet time) I really couldn't be arsed. Instead, I decided to join the scrum of people waiting outside King's Cross for access to the one tube line that was operating a good service. 20 minutes later, I was carried along by a stampede of commuters as they rushed to the platform, and three minutes after that, I'd wedged myself onto a train. It was one of those journeys where the handrails might as well not be there - it was so packed that the train could have rolled down a hill and I wouldn't have moved an inch. Returning to the surface at Moorgate was blissful.

Finally I made it home, having experienced two ends of the spectrum; a leisurely morning stroll to work, and a boiling hot, claustrophobic tube ride home. As much as I think some of the headlines were slightly sensationalist and over-the-top, I can't deny that they have a point. Everyone in my office turned up for work and I don't know anybody who couldn't make it in. That's pretty good going if you ask me.

And the fact is the tube workers strike too often for me to feel any sympathy with them. They are paid very well, and to strike because redundancies may be made in a time that's seeing the whole country tighten its belt seems slightly selfish to me. However, they can cause massive disruption and do so at least once a year. I'm pleased this time the papers focussed more on people's determination to get about on foot, on bikes and by boat and bus, regardless than on the picket lines and scenes of chaos. Plus, managed to beat a bus full of people down Gray's Inn Road because of the traffic. Admittedly I was almost running by the end and the bus driver wasn't actually racing me, just me racing him, but I got a sense of achievement from my victory nonetheless.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

On Horror

My choice of film has recently been the subject of criticism. In brief, I've been accused of having an exceedingly narrow mind when it comes to choosing what to watch. Apparently, I will only admit to enjoying films that aren't in the English language [*cough* Bollocks! *cough*] and, according to my brother and N, I need to broaden my cinematic horizons from World Cinema and watch more mainstream films. If you ask me, that's a contradiction in terms and can only make my selection less varied, but I agreed in order to combat this assassination of my character.

The first genre of which I was deemed particularly ignorant was horror, so it was agreed that we would each choose one horror film, and watch them back-to-back. I had one condition: no torture porn. So I sat down yesterday evening with three DVDs (The Omen, Pontypool and Paranormal Activity), too much popcorn and a cushion to hide behind should the demons, zombies and the apostates of Hell get too much for me.

The fact that I haven't watched many horror films in the past is not, contrary to popular belief, because I think them unworthy. The fact is, they too often scare the shit out of me and I'm not very manly in my reactions. Despite being a complete wimp, however, I can't deny that it is fun to do. There's something about the adrenaline rush you get from horror films that isn't equalled by any other genre, and come to think of it, it's a thrill I'd never seek out in real life, either - you won't find me prowling dark alleys or graveyards in the dead of night looking for something to terrify me, thank you very much. It's all a bit odd really. I mean if fear is a natural reaction, designed to make us run as fast we can in the other direction, what are we getting out of putting ourselves through the nail-biting, blood-curdling, sleep-depriving scenes that we watch? Is that not a bit like self-flagellation? Why force yourself to be uncomfortable?

Perhaps it's meant to provide an escape from the monotony of reality - maybe we look to horror films to provide us with a surge of adrenaline that we don't get anywhere else. And, because the action unfolds behind a screen, we get the rush without the danger. I'd go with this - and add to the theory that, as the setting of horror films is usually rural US towns, I feel extra safe. I mean the chances of being allowed onto a plane with a chainsaw are slim, and I don't think demons have passports. I've also heard that horror films are often looked at challenges to overcome - endurance tests. This is, apparently, why horror is particularly popular with teenage boys - sitting through two hours of blood, guts and gore is a way proving their masculinity [perhaps this is where I went wrong - at their age I was probably still watching and re-watching Pretty Woman]. Others watch horror solely for the sense of relief at the end, the calm after the storm has passed.

While I'm not sure of the reason behind the popularity of the horror genre, I will admit to enjoying the films I watched last night. Perhaps the plan is working and soon I'll be horror movie buff, able to sit through all manner of torture scenes without flinching. But that's a long way off. In the meantime, I'm off to watch some more Almodóvar [my director of choice at the moment]. I need to watch something nice, something colourful, something relaxing. I didn't sleep last night you see; it's quite difficult with the light on.

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

On A Bird's Eye View

It's two weeks before Christmas, and my dad has just told me what he's bought for my aunt and uncle; a microlight flight.

"Ha." I say, grinning. "Nice one. I would hate that. HATE it." In hindsight, this was a mistake, because it convinced my dad that booking me my very own microlight flight would be a really funny thing to do. I should know better by now; admitting any kind of weakness or vulnerability will never escape unpunished. Come Christmas morning, impressed I was not as I peeled open the envelope to find a voucher 'congratulating' me on my first flight in what I've since heard described as 'a lawnmower engine with wings'. I joked about the need to sort out my Last Will and Testament before going, but in all honesty that was the least of my worries. My biggest fear was actually fainting on the way up and spending the whole flight unconcious, dribbling over the edge. With a father like mine, I would never hear the end of it.

Well, yesterday, I did it. I spent 20 minutes flying over an immense patchwork quilt of fields, gardens, playgrounds, car parks and forests. On one side was the green Essex countryside, stretching towards the horizon, on the other the grey urban sprawl of London. I saw the Thames flowing lazily past busy docks, under bridges and then snaking around Canary Wharf, out of view and on towards Westminster, the sunlight dancing on its surface.

I have been in a plane before, but this was different. For a start it's lower, and smaller. You're exposed to the elements and your view is more or less unimpaired. I realise now that my perception of the geography of the region in which I live was incredibly skewed. I had no idea where we were flying until I could pinpoint landmarks; a windmill, a shopping centre, a pier or a station.

It didn't just sort out my abismal sense of direction, but also gave me a renewed respect for the world around us and how it works. I mean the man-made stuff, the logistics. We're so dependent on things that we don't know exist or take for granted - things like water treatment plants or electricity grids. Huge roads and railway lines carving their way through town and countryside. Tiny little cars whizzing around tiny little roundabouts, giving way at tiny little junctions. So many connections, exchanges, rules, systems. And that's just infrastructure; concrete, tactile and in-your-face. As soon as I started thinking about all the hundreds of houses, all the thousands of people, all the millions of thoughts, actions and conversations, my head was ready to explode.

And this was just a miniscule glimpse of part of the world; a tiny snapshot in an immense collage of millions of others, no one the same as any other. At one point we flew over a huge container ship waiting to be unloaded at the docks - a ship that probably contained goods from all over the world - from faraway lands with their very own roads, landmarks and fathers who think it's amusing to scare the shit out of their first-born sons.

I've always thought an experience like this would make me feel powerful, but it had the opposite effect. Rather than making the most of being on top of the world, I felt lucky to be living in it.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

On A Wake-up Call

I have a feeling I'm going to shoot myself in the foot here. You see, I've never written about what I'm going to write about today for a reason. That reason is that I'm very grateful to the people who read what I write, and I really don't want to depress the fuck out of you, or leave you thinking that I should man up and stop whining about my piddly little problems. But it's been a funny week - three nights out on the town have left me with little capacity for rational or creative thought so I'm left with nothing to work with but what's on my mind right now which isn't, unfortunately, particularly uplifting. Consider also the fact that for the last hour I've been listening to a good-mood-wrecking mixture of Damien Rice, Radiohead and a sprinkling of Slipknot and you'll realise that I am far from being a happy bunny.

On Wednesday, the mighty Fulham FC beat Port Vale 6 goals to 0 to advance into the third round of the Carling Cup. Money woes owing to the aforementioned string of late nights had prevented me from attending, so I spent the night in front of the telly, with my mother, living on the edge. My mum has multiple sclerosis which, as you may know, is pretty rough. Every week a physiotherapist visits to discuss how she's getting on and force her to do exercises. In an effort to tear my eyes from one of the gruesome hospital dramas that make up a large part of mum's staple TV viewing, I asked her how the physio went. She said she'd told the nurse, for the first time, about these shooting pains she gets in her face. They're completely unpredictable and, according to the physio, are on a list of warning signs that can lead to suicide among MS sufferers.

Fear not, there's no danger of that happening and that's not where this post is going, but finding out how bad these pains can be did come as a shock. My mum has had them for years and years and as much as I hate saying this, I'd become almost completely desensitised. I'd grown so used to seeing it happen that I didn't react to it like I once did - in fact, I barely reacted at all. But hearing what the physio said knocked me for six. The fact is, I'm able to detach myself, while my mum is stuck with it and I feel incredibly guilty for letting myself get to the point where I'd just stopped paying attention. So while she has been putting up with something that can be bad enough to push people over the edge, I was, basically, ignoring it. I'm not a complete bastard though, I promise. It just became normal. As normal as hearing someone sneeze, or something like that.

It's a difficult situation; to an extent you have to build up some sort of resistance. If the poor cow burst into tears every time she was affected by one of the many symptoms of the MS, she'd flood the house. And it's the same for me, my dad and my brother; it wouldn't be right for us to cause a massive fuss every time something happened, either. I do feel, however, that I'd taken my eye off the ball of late, I'd got a bit too relaxed. As it turns out, I suppose the lightning bolt from the physio was just what I needed. I should thank her - thank her for scaring the living shit out of me and reminding me of the seriousness of my mum's condition. My mum is strong, and she's brave and there's not much I can do to help her. I can, however, make sure I'm actually paying attention. I can make sure I don't forget how tough things can be for her. And I can make sure she knows that.

I can also turn Radiohead off, as I feel less miserable now. I believe that's called catharsis?

Monday, 23 August 2010

On Science

DISCLAIMER: Abandon hope all ye who continue, for what follows is sure to be complete gibberish.

I can't sleep. During my week off I would happily have nodded off at ten o'clock every night. Now that I have to start getting up early again, I've been hit with a bout of insomnia. Like Faithless, I can't get no sleep.

So, rather than allow itself to fall into sleep's sweet embrace, my mind has been racing, darting from one bizarre thought to the next. For a while, I tried translating random sentences into French and Italian, then stopped in case the family began to worry about the multilingual [and in all likelihood grammatically incorrect] whisperings emanating from their firstborn's dark bedroom. Instead, I opened the curtains and looked out at the sky. At first I could only see three stars, but, when after staring at one for a while, more emerged from the darkness until there were...more. Loads of the little blighters, all twinkling away, sometimes visible, sometimes not.

At times like this [and by 'this' I mean past my bedtime and incapable of any logical thought] I think we know too much. There was a time when stars were there to be wished upon, to navigate by and to predict the future for us. They were dot-to-dot depictions of famous heroes and monsters. Stories written across the sky. They were 'the heavens'. Nowadays, they're giant balls of gas. Lovely. Where's the romance in that? Where's the mystery? I'm concerned, you see, that science is sucking the fun out of the world around us when to be honest I'd settle for the Lion King Theory on Astronomy [which states, if I remember correctly, that stars are dead lions in the sky]. Even that's better than a gasball, a celestial fart.

And it doesn't stop at the stars, which I seem to be somewhat obsessed with lately. Mankind has always tried to make sense of things that seemed beyond understanding. The Ancient Greeks explained the seasons with a story involving a kidnapping, a mother's heartache and a glimmer of hope at the end. Thunder in Scandinavia was the crash of Thor's hammer, and Northern Ireland's Giant's Causeway was a bridge to Scotland for, well, giants. Now it's an interesting volcanic rock formation. The actual science behind all of these things seems sterile in comparison to colourful, emotive myths and legends. It's a bit like opening a really nicely wrapped present to find something really quite dull inside.

But I suppose that's because I don't have a scientific mind. I really don't. I don't think I'm bright enough and I'm definitely too easily distracted. I'm sure those that are lucky enough to possess an interest in the real world think I'm being ridiculous - which is completely right, I am ridiculous. Science is an amazing thing; it has worked miracles, saved countless lives and even enabled me to bore you all with this post. It just doesn't seem as much fun to my childish, easily-confused little mind. So scientists, you intelligent and rational folk you, please accept my thanks for all your hard graft. I'll continue to enjoy the benefits you bring, but please don't be offended if I still refuse to walk under ladders, occasionally read my horoscope and secretly believe that fairies live at the end of my garden.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

On Time Off

I have been dreading tomorrow all week. Today is my last day of freedom, my last day without work.

I've had a week off. What fun activities have I participated in? Which interesting places have I visited? None. My week was filled with a glorious nothingness; a lazy, slow-moving, so-chilled-I'm-frozen, so-relaxed-I'm-comatose week to break up the monotony of months in employment.

I'll admit that 'nothingness' is a stretch - I did see friends and even, on the odd occasion, leave the house - but you understand the point I'm trying to make, I think. For the past five days I have been so far removed from my usual daily routine that I've lost contact with the outside world. Like Major Tom, I am sitting in a tin can and Ground Control can't reach me. Because I'm drifting. That's how it feels. I haven't had to fight my way through King's Cross in five whole days (nine, if you count the weekends). I haven't woken up to the stomach-churning realisation that I should already be on a train and not in my bed. And, as I haven't passed any of the legions of people giving out free newspapers, I'm even a bit confused as to what's happening in the world. I am cut-off. Completely.

Until tomorrow morning, when the dance begins again. I'm a bit nervous of the state my inbox will be in when I get back to work. I'm also worried about not getting up on time. However, what I'm most concerned about is the fact that my time in exile has left me with a much slower walk. How am I to keep up with the crowds of commuters with this new dawdle I've developed? I suppose I can just pretend to be a tourist until I get back up to speed - that will also give me time to brush up on tutting at people when they stop in front of me. So, here we go, out of bed and back to reality.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

On Villainy

The BBC recently produced a modern take on the Sherlock Holmes stories. It's fantastic; almost everyone I know has watched it, and loved it. It's only three episodes long [with more to come next year] and I don't think I'll be spoiling the story for anyone if I tell you that in the last episode Sherlock Holmes' arch-nemesis Moriarty makes his first appearence. True to form, the mad little Scotsman has now become my favourite character. He's absolutely insane. Last week, I was talking about my intense admiration for him to my colleague [informing her that I shall henceforth be known as Tomiarty] when I was struck by the realisation that I never root for the good guys. I almost always prefer the characters I'm supposed to hate. Why do I set myself up for such disappointment? Because let's be honest, the bad guys are never going to win, but despite the tall odds, I've always found myself more attached to them.

For a long time my favourite book was Les Liaisons Dangereuses, whose protagonists the Vicomte de Valmont and the Marquise de Merteuil, two bored, devious French aristocrats, amuse themselves by ruining other people's honour and reputations. They are incredibly nasty and sound like they would be too much fun on a night out. I was in awe of them and their evil games, of their heartlessness and complete lack of consideration of the consequences that befall the people they seduce.

Then I discovered Dracula, and decided I wanted him to be my new best friend. He's brutal, dark and from another time. I read this before vampires became brooding, sensitive and sexy and, while both approaches have their merits, Bram Stoker's vision is infinitely more frightening than that ginger bird in Twilight. I sympathised with him, I did. I understood his yearning for the former glory of his house, and his struggle to find a place in the modern world. The poor bloke - yes he kills people and drinks their blood, but come on, give him a break; he's got a lot on his mind.

Come to think of it, before I even knew these books existed I was devouring the Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis. I've lost count of how many times I've read The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. My favourite part was not when Aslan is resurrected [yawn] or when the Pevensies are crowned at Cair Paravel [snore] but when the White Witch calls all the ghosts, witches and monsters to fight for her cause. It read like a list, a list of creatures I'd never even heard of before; I looked up 'incubus' in the dictionary and couldn't sleep for a week afterwards. Her insane jealousy and megalomania makes her, in my opinion, one of the best villains ever written.

I tend to find the good guys quite boring. During the Lord of the Rings trilogy I developed such a hatred of the scences with Frodo and Sam that I think I could have given Sauron a run for his money. However, this isn't always the case. Take Batman for example - he's a crimefighter, a do-gooder but I like him. I like him because he's motivated by revenge and loss. This is good - not for him, but for me. I think perhaps this is what I look for - some sort of imbalance, or motivation other than 'I want everybody to live happily ever after. All you need is love." Yes, I think that's it. Show me a character driven by the greater good or the fate of humankind and I'll tell you to jog on. Show me somebody driven by greed, power, revenge or guilt and I'll be cheering from the sidelines, albeit with the realistic assumption that I'm not on the winning team.

PS Please note that my admiration for the bad guys does not extend to reality. I don't support real evil doers, only made up ones.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

On Stars

When I was young, my nan used to come and visit from her house in Fulham. She would sit in the garden for half an hour each evening, looking up at stars, and tell me how many more there were here than she was used to. I thought this was probably bollocks, until a random road trip with N in Cagliari allowed me to see the night sky as it should be seen. It's incredible, really. Absolutely mental. There are so many more stars up there than I can ever see at home. I can see about two. Well, that's a slight exaggeration - I can always see Orion, and the constellation that looks like a saucepan, but that's about it.

There was a great deal of talk last week about a spetacular meteor shower that was supposed to have been visible all over the UK. As I'm normally unable to appreciate the Great Big Light Show In The Sky, I was really quite up for it. And I wasn't the only one; the Facebook status of one of my brother's friends read:
"Sitting in the garden watching the meteor shower with a glass of baileys."

I'll put my surprise at his choice of tipple to one side for now, and concentrate on the biggest issue I have with this here status. You see, we live under the flight path to London Stansted and I believe my brother's friend was talking rubbish. He was watching aeroplanes, not comets. That's the only explanation I can offer. I looked for the meteors myself and there was nothing there. Nothing at all.

As I drunkenly made my way home on Thursday night, beered up and ready for bed, I stopped and had a look. Nothing. 'Perhaps it's a quiet period,' I thought, 'A dry spell.' I was torn between my desire to get home and the hope of seeing a shooting star. Anyone in possession of common sense would have made a choice; either keep walking or keep staring at the stars. I, on the other hand, decided on a compromise: I strode forward with my head bent right back looking up at the sky. In this way I could ensure that I would reach home at a decent hour without having to miss out. Looking back, it's nothing short of a miracle that I made it home in one piece, as I had no idea what was in front of me; I could only be sure that there was absolutely sod all above me. It's so unreasonable; I risked my life for those bloody comets and they didn't even have the decency to show up. That's it, Night Sky, we're done.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

On iDependence

My ongoing battle with my iPod has been well documented, but I've always been fond of my iPhone, with which I've experienced very few problems. At times I've even been proud of the little fellow; as I was when it transformed a dreadfully ordinary daytime shot of the Thames into the psychadelic masterpiece above. Alas, it would seem that this period of plain sailing has been nothing but a honeymoon period. The calm before the storm. There isn't actually anything wrong with my phone - my worries stem from a concern that it's too advanced. It knows too much.

Yesterday was a prime example. Having reconciled with my great love, Beer, and put our lovers' tiff behind us, I rang N after work to see if he fancied a pint. "Sure," he said, "where?" I was in Farringdon, N works in Old Street - there was about a mile between us. I said I'd come to him, as his office is in close proximity to très-trendy Shoreditch. Alas, I then made a grave error; I muttered the moronic phrase "I'll use my map app to figure out how to get there." BOOM. I had exposed my vulnerability. My iPhone, realising my pathetic dependence on it, swiftly - and smugly - switched itself off. The official reason given was low battery - but I know this to be untrue. The iPhone knew that without its knowledge of life, the universe and everything, I was up shit creek without a paddle.

My desperate attempts to turn it back on failed and I descended into a blind panic. My vision blurred, my head was pounding with the noise of other commuters chattering into their better-behaved mobile phones. Cursing the phone with a string of four letter words that turned the air around me blue, I darted towards a phone box; a red beacon of hope, so often ignored. I threw the door open, grabbed the phone and inserted 50p.
"60p minimum", said the little screen. "YOU BASTARD. YOU BIG RED GREEDY BASTARD." I thought. There, under the gaze of several prostitutes staring down from postcards stuck on the walls, I rifled through my ManBag for change. Success. Another pound. I rang N. Typically, there was no answer. As the money remaining decreased at an incredible speed, I left a rushed message explaining the situation and asked him to be patient - I would get there, I needed the beer - but I might be late as I had no idea where I was.

Leaving the phonebox behind, I began my trek. I happened across a streetmap showing my current location and I did something I haven't done in a long time - I read the map and, not knowing where the next map would be, I commited the street names to memory. It felt strange - I may as well have been using a compass or navigating my course by the stars. But I did it. Despite having to revert to such primitive techniques as using my own initiative, I found my way to Old Street Station where N was waiting with a pint of sweet amber nectar.

So in your face, smug iPhone, in your face. I don't need you. I love you, and enjoy having you - but I don't need you. Now, kindly update me on what's been happening in the world, check my e-mail, warn me of any tube delays and suggest a decent restaurant within 2 miles. Much obliged.
PS I've just responded to about two weeks' worth of comments on previous posts - sincerest apologies, I wasn't ignoring them! PROMISE!