No Smoke Without Friends

The biggest thing bugging me at the moment, apart from the KGB, is that until recently I used to walk to the train station to go to work with my friend in the morning. When we first started, I had no intention of getting in for before 9am, thinking 9:30am onwards would be a better bet to avoid the shocking levels of overcrowding on public transport in London. And so I did.

Meanwhile, my friend got an earlier train, because he said he didn’t want to get in after 9am; he just couldn’t possibly by any later. So we went our separate ways.

Until one morning when I just had to get in early, when I decided to go in with him on his train. It was overcrowded to hell, but not as badly as I thought it would be. As a result, I decided to get this train all the time. Plus, it also meant I had some company in the morning and it was a little more sociable, though my friend isn’t the best conversationalist. This arrangement worked well.

But it was never destined to last. My friend, who was often never seen before midday during the last two years, suddenly decided – without giving me the courtesy of letting me know – that he would stay in bed longer and longer. Firstly he decided to get the train after me, fifteen minutes later. Then it moved to a whole hour later. Now I don’t see him in the mornings. Yet, this shouldn’t surprise me… he has the daftest sleeping patterns I’ve ever known; he’s his own worst enemy. He’ll stay up till 1:30am despite needing to get up at 7, and then to correct the imbalance he’ll stay in bed till 1pm when the weekend comes. And then he complains about not being able to sleep!

What annoys me the most is that I came back to an earlier train to accomodate him. Getting up earlier is not a problem for me. But in the end he just decides to throw in the towel, without letting me know, and leaves me on my own again. Only this time earlier, and when he used to tell me that he just couldn’t get in later than 9am.

And now the daft bugger has fallen ill – which happens to him on a regular basis. So now I’ve been abandoned again. And this is the friend who had so much trouble last year which I supported him through. Sometimes I feel a little taken for granted.

But on the plus side, at least I don’t have to suffer his smoking in the morning now. The smoking which is progressively getting worse and worse and is highly probably causing his recent increase in illnesses. Ah well…

Bad Timing

The subject of this post can sum up exactly what’s going wrong with everything in my life at the moment. Work is such a disaster, simply because every time I sit down to do something with my MP, nothing in fact is achieved, just because a magnificent slice of bad timing will derail everything. Today’s problems emerged from the usual random phone calls, but also people arriving for meetings early, then staying forever, making me slowly simmer in my seat.

But the most ridiculous sequence of bad timing was awaiting for me at the very end of the day. My MP had invited someone in to mentor to give them some advice and help for how to deliver a good speech to a local party in order for them to select him. Very nice of him. Of course, the first thing he then does is turn him into a fool by making him deliver his speech for 30 odd people to the two of us in the office… then telling me that, when they return, I will be able to see the effects of his confidence building strategy. This sounded interesting.

But I had no intention of staying to embarrass the poor guy further. The key facts. My train to escape the hellhole of work was at 6:15pm. The current time – 5:58pm. They were still away practicing, so I took the opportunity to leave.

I reach the ground floor, get out the lift, and realise… yes, I’ve forgotten my mobile phone again. I normally just leave the damn thing in work if I do that, but this time I thought I’d rescue it, because I’m expecting an important call from the landlord. I turned round and got back in the lift, forgetting to check if it was going up or down. My luck was bad – I got that sinking feeling and my stomach wept gently. The time was ticking on. 5:59pm.

I arrived at the lower ground floor. Someone got on the lift, and meanwhile I didn’t get out. I just couldn’t. It would normally be the done thing to leave when one has made a mistake with lift etiquette, and pay the punishment of taking the stairs. Otherwise one has to face up to the embarrasment that you have just gone the opposite direction from the button you have, evidently by the flashing light around it, pressed.

By the time I’m back to my floor, it’s 6:00pm. I moved very quickly to my office.

I suddenly realised that it might have been better to leave the mobile behind. The MP had returned with his chum, and they were looking for a victim to inflict the selection speech on. I couldn’t escape. I said it would have to be quick… 30 seconds was the promise, 2 minutes was the actuality. It was a good speech, but I couldn’t give a proper critique. Not that I have anything useful to offer anyway. 6:04pm.

But then, I was volunteered to escort the guest off the premises, since guests aren’t allowed to go anywhere by themselves without the police having a nasty habit of detaining them. We walked to the lifts, pressing the down button.

Ring ring ring. The lift arrived, the doors opened. Only then I realised, as the doors were shutting, that we were in a lift, as the division bells were sounding. There was a vote in the Commons. This automatically sends the lifts to the top floor. Too late. Up we went. 6:06pm.

The fifth floor awaited, and at the doors were a crowd of impatient looking MPs. You see, only MPs are allowed to use the lifts during a vote. I had no choice. I had to get out and walk, from the top floor. Inside the anger was rising, but I had to remain professional. Down five flights of stairs I had to go. 6:09pm.

Upon reaching the bottom I told my guest I was going out the front doors, but he decided he would like to be escorted into the sekrit Westminster tube exit. I had to oblige. A shaking of the hands later, the time was 6:10pm.

Normally the walk to the station takes 9 minutes when I’m at top speed. This time I had 5 minutes. I simply had to get the 6:15pm train as the next one wasn’t until 6:35pm. I couldn’t stand waiting at the station for 20 bloody minutes, standing there having to pretend the London Lite (the terrible free newspaper) is interesting while the departures board mocks me from above. I simply had to get this train.

The choice was made. I ran as fast as I could. The sound of boring work shoes on pavement is very noticeable – crack, crack, crack. Not like soft trainers. It’s also quite uncomfortable to run in a suit, while holding the pocket with my money in and the other with my mobile in. The consequence was that I stormed along the pavement, and every single person who was walking in my direction felt it was important for them to turn around and see what was going on. I can only assume they thought they were about to get mugged. 6:11pm.

I flew round the corner – and to my shock, the traffic was clear. Across the road I went, but my energy was now zapped. I couldn’t run any more. I just had to walk. It was a battle. I even had to forego picking up the London Lite from Mr Give-It-Away-Man who shouts, “Interesting Lite, Free Lite, Interesting Lite, Free Lite…” on an endless cycle every night. But I had to prioritise. 6:14pm.

My confidence that my train would be on its usual platform was rewarded. I steamed through the departure board area, strolling (since it’s not a good idea to run in London train stations!!) past the endless hordes gathered waiting for the glum news of another delay. I dodged the usual slow people, and avoided crashing into the faster ones, got through the ticket barrier, and made it with seconds to spare. It couldn’t have been closer.

An extraordinary series of badly timed errors and requests… but it ended nicely. Only the punishment now is that my right foot appears to have seized up. I suppose that’s what happens when you don’t do much exercise.

Still, I’m home. And another terrible week is nearly over. Even better still is the fact I actually have something to do this weekend…

Plotting and Some Other Assorted Reflections

For most of the day I’ve been trying to come up with a scheme that would allow me to escape here sooner, rather than later, and return later, rather than sooner. The dastardely scheme should also cost the bare minimum possible on train fares – the kind of price that makes people’s jaws drop in shock when you tell them just how cheap the train network can be.

But I’m not having much success. My all-knowing train friend tells me that they only release advance tickets at certain times, but I’m not so sure. Particularly with the high demand of the Christmas holiday, I can’t help but feel that if I can’t get the tickets now, I’ll never be able to get them. There are cheap options currently on the table, but they require me leaving, essentially, straight after work on Friday 15th December. And coming back on a Monday. These are no great losses, and they are “sacrifices” I am willing to make. I absolutely refuse to pay a fortune for our shitty transport network, and I’ll do anything to make it work in my favour.

So that took up most of my work day. Primarily because I had nothing else to do. I had to put up with a moaning MP on the end of a phone line all day, complaining about all the things he’d done over the weekend and how he desperately wanted a break. Of course, it’s all his fault because he can’t say no to things. All we do is set everything up based on what his wishes are. We can’t help it if he decides to deliberately miss flights and trains that we’ve already paid for, and sometimes even rearranged, at his expense, to make his plans work better. It’s absolutely crazy, and the amount of work that he actually does related to his constituency is shockingly low.

As a consequence of this, it is almost making me plot about something else as well. Namely that I am sorely tempted to complain to my course director and find me a different MP. However, I’m not even sure that that would work well… just because I’m quite sure that almost every MP is this stupid – so reliant on their offices that they couldn’t organise a piss up in a brewery. But they can organise a piss up in Stranger’s Bar though. This is the place MPs go to hide from the press at the end of a hard day (some MPs have harder days than others) – and the amount of alcohol downed often leads to some rather strange antics.

On the whole, they really are a bunch of buffoons, completely unable to control their own lives because they just can’t say no to anything. But they are not helped by the fact that there are endless hangers on in the media and pressure group world who won’t stop until they have some vague sort of commitment. It feels terrible when you have to tell endless worthy charities that we support them, but we don’t have any time to show that support. MPs can only really champion one charity. Some get lucky and get lots of champions. Others have none. And so they employ armies of people to try to get some attention. Yet the amount of briefing material that goes straight into the recycling is deeply shocking…

So today has been a day of reflection. Things are quite bad at the moment, and I’m sure they’ll come to a head in the next couple of days as I tell my MP exactly what I think of his shabby attempts to blame all and sundry for his terrible organisation skills and zero-knowledge of his own diary. But maybe things will improve once it’s out in the open.

If not, there’s always the option of a single back home, instead of a return. Or rather two singles, since two singles are cheaper than a return. God Bless Capitalism!

Born of Frustration

Not only is the title of the post the title of a fantastic song by James, it is also quite apt for what’s been going on lately. It’s been a week of frustration so far. I’m beginning to reach my limits of tolerance for my MP’s utter uselessness. It has had many in my office wondering just what, exactly, the purpose of his existence is, because it sure as hell isn’t to benefit his constituents. There is a mountain of stuff for him to do, but he is continually changing his mind, or often procrastinating so long that no decision is ever made, and then I have to deal with the endless phone calls from people moaning that they need a decision quickly.

Yesterday, however, was largely amusing. My MP had long ago agreed to deliver the keynote address to a conference. However, we soon discovered that this very date is the same day as the yesterday’s endlessly amusing Queen’s Speech. This event provides much hilarity for all as everyone goes through the centuries old tradition of opening Parliament for a new session. Only, it’s so arcane, so ludicrous, such a waste of everyone’s time and money… yet no one would ever dream of scrapping it simply because it would create such hysteria amongst traditionalists. It takes all sorts.

Anyway… because my MP couldn’t deliver the speech in person, he decided he would give it via videoconference. Which is something completely new to me. I had no idea how it would work out, but I set it up, putting the technicians on either end in touch with each other, getting the room ready, and then getting everything in place once we were there.

The only problem was that the camera on our end was a little wobbly. It couldn’t hold itself in the position we wanted it to be in. This caused much amusement as we spent a long time trying to get everything right, and then the camera would simply drop, while everyone else was watching at the other end. Luckily the speech hadn’t started, but we were on their video screen as everyone filed into the conference hall.

The only solution was to hold the camera in place. This arm cramp inducing exercise had to be carried out in shifts by me and my co-worker, with us trying to stifle our laughter at this ridiculous situation, while our MP was trying to remain serious and straight-faced as he discussed “The Dignity of Difference”.

Luckily, apart from a few odd shifts in camera as we changed from person to person, it went OK. It’s hard to speak by videoconference though as it’s very difficult to gauge just how well you’re being received on the other end. My MP just rattled through the speech, delivering it as entertainingly as he could to make up for the lack of physical presence, and it seemed to work out OK given the feedback we got from them. A strange day, but the frequency of them is beginning to make even strange things feel a little normal.

Meanwhile, I’ve been trying to setup some sort of excuse for me to visit my friends in Hull. I talked to one of them on the phone last night for the first time since I last saw him back in May. That was really good to catch up on how things are going back up there. I should probably call more often than once every few months – these are my friends after all, and I’ll only end up falling into the cycle of silence that I described about lapsing friendships a few posts back. But it would be really great to do something in Hull one weekend. Things tend to be very boring around here at weekends, so any excuse to change that would be very welcome…

Oh well. Another day begins. But, yet another week is nearly over…

The Haze

The all nighter on Tuesday and Wednesday meant that this week simply disappeared. Two of its days were blurred into one, and next minute it’s Saturday. But it was a lot of fun. The result was how I wanted it to be… and this alone gave me enough energy to survive. But only just…

Wednesday was a battle. I spent most of the day trying to work but drifting in and out of concentration. Numerous silly mistakes were made, like clicking the wrong thing on the screen, or shovelling food around my mouth instead of into my mouth. It was a bit weird. It was also rather amusing. I’m sure most people have experience sleep deprivation when it gets to the stage that everything and anything is just endlessly entertaining. It’s bizarre, but enjoyable…

However, the final two days of the week were not so fun. My boss, my stupid MP boss, decided to invent diary commitments without any prior warning. Then, he disappeared, leaving me in a terrible mess to try to sort everything out. This involved trying to fax him directions to the various places he was going, and yet the fax machine on the other end repeatedly telling me “Sorry, faxes are not being accepted right now, Goodbye!”. MPs are a horrendously disorganised bunch. They become so reliant on their offices to drip-feed them their daily schedule. It is not difficult to type a postcode into AA Route Planner, and hit the print button. Suddenly, you have all the stuff you need. But MPs just don’t have the time. They always manage to fill it up with some nonsense, normally totally un-Parliament related.

So I’m glad we’ve hit the weekend. I need some time to recharge. Plus, there’s always good stuff at weekends, not least the greatness that is football. It really does help the weeks pass by if you have something to look forward to. Of course, it’s not good to be wishing your life away, but right now, because I’m so annoyed with the situation in work, as my diary talents are still being sharpened which leads to the odd mistake, I’m looking ahead to the fun to come.

The only problem is that I’ve been hit by intransigence. Many months ago I spotted that, coming up, would be a three day taster course in London South Bank University, the focus of which would be encouraging men to go into teaching primary children. This was fantastic, I thought, and I would be there like a shot. However, it was still some months away, so I didn’t book it. Then, I spotted there would be one further ahead in February. That was better, I thought. I didn’t want to start asking for days off already.

So I stopped thinking about it. Until a couple of days ago. When, upon closer inspection, I discovered the course in February was actually irrelevant, nothing to do with the other course. In a panic, I called up the November course to see if there were any places left. Of course, there aren’t.

So now I’m just a little disappointed. I was looking forward to this. I really need to do something which will enhance my chances of getting onto a PGCE course once I graduate in 2008. At the moment, this is just not possible as I spent every waking hour in the week in work. The only option is to do something in the weekend. This is tough to do after such a long week…

It’s a problem I’m going to have to come to terms with sooner than I want to admit.

It’s Gonna Be Another Squeaker

It seems that each year doesn’t go by without me being called into action to stay up late watching an election result of some kind trickle in. This time, I think I have my sleep strategy nailed just right, which is an incredible feat given that I am going to leave for work in less than three hours.

This time the US elections are what is entertaining me. The other thing that is keeping me amused is the endless flow of useless promises that come from my housemate. They aren’t damaging to our friendship, as they are trivial, but it never ceases to amaze me how he promises to do a certain thing (e.g. go shopping) early in the morning and then suddenly finds that he’s unable to bring himself to do it. Why this comes as a surprise to him I don’t know, as he is the world’s worst early bird.

Yesterday, as I came in from work (which only seems like a few hours ago when in fact it was 12), he asked me what my plans were for tonight. He was also intending to stay up and watch the US election. I told him I wasn’t sure yet, and then let off some tirade about my work that day, telling him I didn’t really care at the moment. He thought I was talking about the election, and so proceeded to tell me that he hopes that I do stay up all night because he was planning to and he didn’t want to stay awake by himself as it would be boring.

In the end I managed to force myself to sleep at about 8pm, so I didn’t get a chance to check what his final strategy was. In the event, I haven’t seen him, and he’s missed almost all the key parts of the election. Indeed, he also doesn’t seem to care that I have had to stay up all by myself, even though he was almost moaning to me about the fact that he may have had to stay awake on his own if I’d pulled out.

Just another silly promise, I know. He can’t hack anything that involves staying up too late or getting up too early, yet he persistently pledges he’ll make it through somehow.

Never mind. I’ve enjoyed the night. And there is now a long day ahead of me. But tonight has been a further step in achieving my Gold Star to add to my political anorak. And the fun looks like it’s only just begun. Recounts galore on the way. Brilliant.

Meanwhile, amidst all the excitement, I discovered that I’m completely out of clothes for tomorrow. I had meant to wash everything as soon as I got home from work. I didn’t. Now they are in the wash, and somehow I need to get some socks and underwear dry in two hours. It’s going to be a close finish.

Just like the Senate elections! Hey, there is a weird concurrence to life that just runs through everything. On a massive scale, and on a tiny scale, everything seems to co-ordinate in the end…

Remember, Remember

Of all the things that remind me of great times in the past, Bonfire Night is one of them. Known slightly differently in local slang (which I won’t repeat here for fear of giving away where I’m from!) it has always held a place close to my heart, right up there with Christmas.

I have really fond memories of going out with my family to go and watch a public fireworks display every 5th of November, playing with sparklers and then coming back home, freezing cold but fascinated by the amazing display of flashes, bangs and incredible timing with the music. Then we’d set off our own fireworks… which were nothing but a damp squib. There were the ones that “tried hard” – they gave off a few threatening whooshes and sparks and that’s it. Then there were the ones that just didn’t try at all, a trickle of light and they were gone. Then there were the ones that refused to start. They were then strapped to a rocket and exploded in the air. Shocking abuse of the Fireworks Rules that everyone tells you about, but it was fun at the time. I’d never do that now.

Of course, there were some better ones that would just make ludicrously loud noise. My uncle fancied himself as something of a pyrotechnic, and he would always bring to the post-public-firework-display gettogether a box of fireworks that looked a) very dodgy and b) very expensive. Consequently, he was the centre of all the excitement. These ones really did go off with the a bang. Yet, it is a humble, small rocket that brings back the best memory.

My particular favourite of all time was shortly after we’d moved into our new house in 1996. We decided to give one of the rockets a little bit more downward angle, instead of just going straight up. Then we put two rockets together to see what would happen. They were lit, and we, of course, retired to a safe distance.

Only just as we walked away the tube that holds the rockets dropped ever so slightly. It was just enough to make the difference. The first rocket went off, but when the second rocket decided to join it, it took it away in a different direction.

It landed quite neatly on the next door neighbour’s bungalow roof. Upon spotting this everyone retreated inside very quickly and the lights were switched off, as if to say, “I didn’t do it”. The rockets whistled away furiously on their roof, trying desperately to move off but couldn’t. The noise seemed excessive… and then they went pop. The resulting laughs were deep and prolonged.

Next morning we noticed there was a slight scarring on the roof tile it landed on – a stain that persists to this day.

Fireworks can obviously be very dangerous, and I’m surprised they still persist in our risk-averse culture. There is still something quite magical about this night to me, but I know it’s just because it brings back such great family-orientated memories.

Which has made the past three Bonfire Nights really miserable experiences. Here in London the noise is unbelieveable. It’s constant rumbling in the background with the frequent nearer explosions. Hull was quite loud, but this takes the biscuit. It sounds to me like some people are having a lot of fun.

But not me. Nope. I don’t have a family to share it with. I have a friend, but he’s such a misery-guts that something like this just doesn’t suit him. I would have liked to have gone to the public display by the council last night, but I’m not going on my own. Makes me feel a little depressed.

So I just stew here. Missing out on the night that, to me, marks the coming of winter. The acknowledgment that there are cold and dark days ahead. But this is a celebration of it. Putting a little cheer into those long nights. You really feel like winter has arrived when you’re out there freezing, holding a sparkler that’s rapidly burning out. And once it’s over you suddenly realise…

Only eight weeks to Christmas.

Out of the Ether

Too many friends are lost in life that no one really intends losing. After a little while of no contact, it suddenly becomes very awkward to reinitiate a meaningful friendship again.

There is a tipping point of no contact beyond which a reinitiation of a relationship is very difficult because it requires going through the Small Talk phase. You know when you have a friend when you don’t have to do small talk with them. When you have silences in conversations, they don’t feel awkward because you know you can’t always talk about anything and everything all the time. But the silences in any non-friend, or former-friend relationship suddenly become very difficult. You feel the need to fill them with meaningless nonsense about the usual stuff, and you rack your brain immeasurably trying to think up what you could discuss next while on your current old favourite of what the weather is like today.

The reason why I’m suddenly thinking about all this is that I’ve just been contacted by a friend I haven’t heard from properly in about 6 months, but “properly” is defined in this case as an MSN conversation. In terms of any Real Life contact, there has been nothing for nearly two years, I’d say. Which is a real shame, as this is a friend I’ve had from the age of 11 and one I never want to let go of. But distance and time eventually take their toll, and it is a rare friendship from school days that manages to last into adulthood. But I don’t want this one to stop.

Yet, through the neglect of both of us, it has. Once it enters the neglect phase, a friendship is hard to repair because friends then make excuses. They say, “I haven’t heard from so-and-so for x days, but so-and-so hasn’t heard from me in the same length of time! It’s as much their fault as it is mine!” Of course, the other friend is also thinking exactly the same thing – “Why should I break the silence?” – and so the cycle continues until either forever or someone breaks ranks.

It seems this time the other person has done the job for me. Which is fantastic for me… I trust this person implicitly, and I have so much on my mind at the moment relating to what I’m doing with my life. Most of this is related to the fact that what I’m doing here in London is good, but it isn’t convincing me it’s what I should be doing with my life. So if there’s anyone I can talk with about my woes about my future, it is him.

Only I have to pass back through the Small Talk phase first. I can’t just unburden all my troubles on his doorstep. I’ve heard plenty of his problems in the past, particularly related to women, and he’s heard plenty of mine.

But I feel like I need a go on the amateur-psychology merry-go-round that is often the product of talking to your best friend in times of crisis. Though this isn’t a crisis… I just need to talk about things with someone. My housemate here is a really good friend, but he’s just not the type to really engage with this kind of discussion. So I just need to get things back to where they were first.

But the lesson in this is clear: never lose your best friend.