Monopolised

There is something about the game Monopoly which tends to bring out the worst in people. My family is unable to play a board game without it descending into farce as accusations fly about certain people being picked on. They cannot accept that everyone is going out in the game to win, so when they are stung for the random throw of the dice putting them on Mayfair with a hotel, then the tears flow and the belief that they are being personally fleeced for millions seems to be genuinely held. Then the fists are stamped on the table as the money is handed over and bankruptcy is forced.

So that was another four hours of life wasted. Monopoly with six people is a lot better, but it is also much more complex, and the amount of money changing hands is not inconsiderable. Though we were playing the new form of moneyless monopoly, where everyone has a plastic card which “stores” their money. The only problem is that the game designers foolishly chose to colour code the cards in such a fashion that one card is dark purple and the other is an ever so slightly lighter purple. But then when you make the mistake of sitting the owners of these two cards next to each other, there is always going to be a problem. We can’t be sure of the end result of the game as we’re all convinced my sister was using my mum’s card to pay off her debts while collecting my mum’s income onto hers. She won the game by a stonking £13m (the values of everything have increased in the new form of Monopoly) – an impressive win, but a little suspicious given her general lack of good property.

What I wonder about is how many people have ever actually finished a game of Monopoly. It might be possible in one evening with only two people, but with six the property is so split and people so unwilling to deal with each other that the game chunters on with little prospect of those killer hotels appearing for hours. Only four hours into the game did we begin to see houses appearing everywhere, and by then it was 1am and time to give up. That must be the 10th game of Monopoly I’ve played in my life and I’ve never played any of them to their proper conclusion. It’s a fantastic game, but life is too short to “save” a game and come back to it the next day.

But still, the best part is the anger it generates. It’s meant to be a board game, something the family can all rally around. Instead the accusations were flying, and the tantrums were everywhere. Even my 17 year old brother joined in when he landed on the same property (mine) for the third time in as many trips around the board. So much for encouraging family unity. It is probably just as well my sister won, quitely amassing her fortune, as no one suspected it. As usual I was being accused of having many millions (I came second) by cheating people out of money. It’s something I’m used to, because I have a habit of winning all of these board games we play (except Cluedo). But it’s not true… I’m just a lucky player it seems.

Anyway… it looks like we’ve finally arrived at the end of the year. This is both good and bad. Good because it means there is a party tonight, and it’s always great to see all my family members, most of whom I’ve not seen since last year. And bad because it means I’m going home in a week. Bah.

I’m looking forward to 2007. Which is very easy, and not wishing my life away as usual, because it happens tomorrow. Yay.

Two Years

Another Christmas has come and gone. Boxing Day is really an excuse for people to drink, eat and recover from the Christmas pressure just for one extra day. But it’s been good fun here: the present haul was the usual clutch of books, DVDs, games, clothes, alcohol and more… and all of my presents were well received by the looks of it.

To me, the transition of Christmas from the receiving to the giving is almost complete. You can’t beat some new things to read/listen to/watch/play/wear for Christmas, but now I also derive some enjoyment from seeing the reaction when a present I buy for someone is met with happiness, gratitude, and then ultimately being used a lot. I bought my brother some computer speakers, which I know will be used every day for the next few years. That’s probably the best possible…

The usual Christmas feasts were followed by a small extended family gathering for drinks and too much TV watching. EastEnders (I don’t watch, but had to last night… it was rubbish), Doctor Who, Coronation Street, Little Britain. There were not enough seats so I had to sit on the floor. That was painful. My back still hurts a little this morning. But that was great. It’s becoming very hard for me to escape the fact that I really enjoy spending time with my family. This may be a slight problem if I ever decide to go through with my long held pledge of leaving this country. Argh.

But what’s interesting, well, to me at least, is that I have now been blogging for two years. That’s some commitment. I always wish I had started earlier. I meant to begin in September 2004, just when I started Uni, but I never did. I had thought about doing it earlier than that. I wish I had found the inclination now as it would just have extended this now fascinating history that I’m building up. In some respects I also wish I would write more, as I know there is a lot of stuff that happens to me which I never get to write down… I just don’t have the energy or the time in a lot of cases. That’s a shame, as I would love this journal to be as comprehensive as possible.

Still, what I have here is better than nothing. As I’ve said many times before, it is largely for my benefit, but I think the idea that someone, somewhere, might (heavy emphasis on the “might”)also be reading just gives me that little extra encouragement to keep writing. I love to go back and read what I’ve written too. For instance, things are now so enormously different in my life compared to what they were when I first started. It may not seem it at first glance, but I genuinely do feel a different person to the one that was writing extremely miserably back in December 2004.

And that is the change. I wrote back then about a “permanent depressive mode”. Thankfully, it wasn’t so permanent after all, though it did feel it at the time. I like to think that this blog has been a really useful way of getting a lot of stuff out of my head and expressed in more constructive ways… so in many respects, this blog has also helped me to change the way I think about myself.

This place has played a small role in helping me become a different person. I really could go through dozens of posts and describe how I’ve changed since then, but it would just take so long. That Youth Review was hard enough. I just know things have changed, and I have continued to grow up into a young adult – and what’s amazing is that some of that process has been documented here. It provides me with a fascinating read when I look back with a curious sense of detachment. Once enough time has passed, it almost feels like I didn’t write it, so I can examine it with a different perspective. I really would encourage everyone to keep a journal of some sort…

So today, I shall be raising a (small) glass at my conscientious effort to archive my thoughts and life. Long may it continue.

The Road Not Taken

It really is good to be back home, although the fact that I have been back here a week disturbs me as it is simply ludicrous how quickly this week seems to have gone by. I have not exactly done much this past week… the idea of coming home for Christmas is generally to vegetate while spending excessive amounts of money on presents. I generally keep my present spends quite low, especially as I just paid my next instalment of rent (£412 – bye bye!) when I’m not even in the house that I’m paying for. This was not much of a problem living in Hull, as there I was only paying £36/week… so it didn’t annoy me so much to be spending money on something I’m not living in. But now. Urgh.

So it’s even more important that Mr Taxman gets it right this time. I have had a long running saga with the tax people over how much of a tax refund they owe me for 2005/06. I know they owe me money, but I’m finding it difficult to prove it. So I have been forced to resort to sending them almost all my documentation of income for the year. If this doesn’t do it, then nothing will. So, yet another weighty letter has been sent off, and now I shall wait two months or more for the reply. Still, the amount of money we’re talking about could pay off that rent bill for one month and a little more, which would be a very welcome boost, especially as there will be credit card bills to pay once Christmas is over.

Something I’ve talked about before is the fact that I like being at home because it gives me a sense of responsibility and of having more purpose. Like last night: my mum and dad went out for the night, so I was left with my two brothers and sister. Even though they’re 17, 13 and 12, they still need feeding and generally looking after. So I utilised my culinary talents and stuck pizza and chips in the oven, combined with a little salad for those who actually eat it. Then there was the fact that I have to encourage them to look after their pets, and then we played a board game… which, even though it ended in some controversy after my sister was bankrupted, it still taught the usual lessons in life. It just gives me something to do… and someone to, sort of, be a role model to, although I hope they end up with better cooking skills than me.

So that’s been my last week. Apart from the fact that I got an e-mail from a friend from summer 2005 in the USA, which has brought back lots of good memories. Which is great at this time of year. With reflection, the rose tinted specs are making my summer in America feel better than it actually was. It was outstanding, but my memory is forgetting all the negative parts and making it even better than it was. I can’t lose perspective, otherwise I will force myself to go back without thinking through the consequences of such a decision.

Overall though, it just continues to feed my passion to do something really worthwhile with my life. Which in turn makes me a little worried that I’m getting a little over-enthusiastic with the concept of being a teacher. Although it does encompass much of the above, it also involves me teaching boring lessons of English comprehension. Urgh. Maths I can deal with, and science, geography, history, music… the list goes on. But teaching a child the utter, interminable dross that is explaining where to put commas in sentences?

Snore. I shall have to use my miniscule creative talent to make that more interesting when the time comes. If the times comes. This path has no certainties.

The Choir

Last night was the third part of a fascinating TV programme on BBC2 called The Choir. As someone who is interested in teaching, when I first read the description to this programme – how a choir master (Gareth Malone) goes into a school with no previous musical background and creates a choir from nothing to compete in the international choir Olympics… it sounded right up my street. I’m interested in teaching, and music is one of my passions. Plus, I have always secretly wanted to be in a choir. So I watched.

I wasn’t disappointed. The results were an amazing insight into what music can bring, and how the continual focus on tangible results – league tables – in school, and the competition that is now so evident between them, has driven out all of the other important parts of the school curriculum. Music being the first of them, despite the fact that things like choirs, orchestras and bands bring together so many people from all different age brackets. This is so important in schools for the simple reason that there is so much hostility between people of different year groups in school. It’s all artificial of course, but it’s all ridiculous. Musical schemes in particular create a feeling of togetherness that very few other societies can bring – simply because music has such a mass appeal. That was very evident in the programme.

But it also displayed just how lacking in self-confidence so many kids are. People often mistake the arrogant in-your-face attitude of a lot of kids these days as overconfidence, when in fact it is, in fact, a defensive mechanism to protect from rampant peer pressure. So many of these kids have so many different talents that you would have thought it was a school’s duty to try to nurture… but unfortunately, there just isn’t the time or the money, and in a lot of cases, the inclination. It was very obvious that the school featured in the programme didn’t care a jot for music… and I can’t blame them because they know that focus on such activities just doesn’t bring them any noticeable tangible benefit to their league table position. To hell with all the other benefits: the self-confidence, the unearthing of hidden talent, the development of responsibility, the feeling of togetherness, the inspiring of creativity, the knock on effects of having generally happier students who are proud of their achievements and representing their school… it just goes on and on. But on the face of it, they don’t have any impact on the schools GCSE and A-Level results. So why bother?

So in many ways the programme was extremely sad. It was a fascinating demonstration about how more specialists (to teach, as so few teachers can do music) and more focus is needed on projects like this. But it showed that with a bit of graft, and the right environment, an incredible amount can be achieved in such a small space of time. There were real transformations in a number of the children they followed during the series… and to me, that was inspiring. It has, once again, showed me just why it is I want to be a teacher.

It’s a tragedy on so many levels that the country’s educational system has reached this state – that driven by market forces it is throwing away all the other intangible benefits of education, the key among which is inspiring the joy of learning. But what exactly can we do about it?

Some other reaction to the show here and here.

Saucerhead

Up until about 4pm today, it was another run-of-the-mill, boring day.

Then the phone rang. The number on the display read “01727”… an area code which fills me with dread, for it is The Weird Man calling us again. The guy who is quite clearly sitting there with a tinfoil hat on to stop “them” from reading his thoughts.

I hate talking to him, for obvious reasons. We don’t know how to get rid of him, and if he wasn’t so stark ravingly mad, it would be very funny.

No, forget that. It is funny. It goes against my brain, which tells me I shouldn’t make fun of people who are quite clearly insane… but it is impossible to stop yourself when this guy tells you how, just by changing the locks on his house, he has successfully managed to stop his random bleeding from various parts of his body. Apparently, the magnetic waves they use to control us can be deterred by a simple lock change.

As a result, I try not to talk to this guy. But I felt like I had to today, as it was, sort of, my turn to.

“Good afternoon,” I say.

Silence.

“Good afternoon?”

An eerie voice replies

“Is that X’s office?”

“Yes it is. How can I help you?”

The diatribe began. He was very miffed that he had not received a reply to his latest e-mail (one of my colleague’s tends to wind him up a little with continuing replies, which doesn’t help) which had contained a considerable dossier of hilarious anecdotes from fellow tinfoil hat merchants. I told him that I was sorry that my MP hadn’t replied just yet as he was quite busy, but he was planning to tell him that he felt that he was unqualified to take up the case anyway.

This didn’t stop him. He launched into something new… and I couldn’t stop myself. I felt the smile raising on my face, and I burst into laughter a microsecond after I had hit the button to cut him off. I just couldn’t believe what I was listening to, and the bizarre situation I was in… while all my colleagues were sitting around me listening for what I was going to say. So, utterly unprofessionally, I spontaneously exploded into laughter, and now this guy was probably left wondering that they’d got to me too. It took me some time before I could stop control myself again.

Within 30 seconds he rang back… and my much more professional colleague dealt with the situation well. And yet the caller didn’t even mention the fact that I’d suddenly disappeared. I guess he’s used to it in his strange world.

The annoying thing is that this caller was originally referred to us by another MP. It seems to be the done thing to pass weirdos around, and we are often a target for various reasons.

But now he might be gone forever, as we’ve got our MP to sign a letter which effectively tells him we can’t help. I wish it recommended he go see a doctor, but I doubt he’d take any notice anyway. We’re all against him.

So that certainly brightened up my afternoon. As did another nugget of information that I received at the end of the day. Extremely amusing, and quite a turnout for the books. But alas, not something I can type here. I’m sure I’ll remember it when I look back on this in the future. Indeed, it is quite unforgettable. I hope.

A Case of Whine

“Grab your things, I’ve come to take you home”

It’s quite a co-incidence that the song that’s just started up on my computer is Solsbury Hill by Peter Gabriel, given that that is exactly what I’m thinking about at the moment. Another week has gone by – a week in which everything has ground to a halt in work, meaning actual things to do have been few and far between. Good job I have a few good friends in my office, which means the banter is a lot of fun at times. It passes the time.

But now there’s just a week to go. I’m going home next Friday evening, and I’m really looking forward to it. I’m just a bit bored with here now. There’s nothing to do, and I’m now able to use the excuse that I’m going home next week, so I shouldn’t bother trying to set anything up. Many weeks ago I’d said to my friends back in Hull that I would come up and visit them this weekend, but all the planning fell apart at the last minute. Some of them have decided to go home this weekend, so there would have been little point in me going up there.

Of course, there are things I could do… such as go and buy some clothes. I desperately need a load of cheap t-shirts, as I’ve finally decided that I really shouldn’t waste my good ones as undershirts when I’ve got a jumper on, or just to go under my shirt for work. So I keep saying (to myself) that I would like to go to Peacocks or Matalan – good and cheap as hell. These shops are about 15-20 minutes walk away… so a small amount of effort is required. But I absolutely detest going shopping by myself. I find it a little intimidating. If I have someone else with me, it’s someone I can talk to about things utterly un-shopping related. It is very important to let the shop assistants know that you would not like to be disturbed, and that you are not taking any pleasure in this experience at all. Plus, if I’m on my own, I tend to rush myself, as I feel slightly embarrassed about digging deep into a rack of clothes to find the right one.

Anyway, life is pretty good at the moment… even though I am ruining my good t-shirts. In fact, right at this present moment, the only negative point is the fact that I don’t have an advent calendar this year, which could quite possibly be the first time I haven’t had one for 18 years or so. Shocking. I used to look forward to a chocolatey treat every morning. Now I can’t. I forgot to buy one, and it seems daft to buy one now this late.

But some people don’t expect such luxuries anyway – such as the homeless. And on that theme, I bought a Big Issue magazine yesterday… It amazes me how much the issue of homelessness is ignored in London. I gave him about £2.50 (cover price is £1.50), as I just chucked all the money from my pocket to him. There was me, a poor intern, getting bollocks all for all the work I do, giving as much as I could. And others really don’t give a shit. The evidence from that was from a survey the other day, which said that 41% of people believed many homeless people don’t want to be housed. I despair for this country sometimes.

Moan, moan, moan. I really have to be more positive; have more of a “what can I do to solve the problem?” kind of attitude.

Now that sounds like a failed New Year’s Resolution could be on the cards here.

Ceasing To Be

There was a short period of mourning yesterday morning, as my computer decided to die for no apparent reason while I was typing in a beautifully crafted e-mail. Thinking it was just a power cut of some kind, I pressed the power button to fire the machine back up.

Nothing happened. Again. Nothing happened.

Now I was annoyed. My computer – bust. No more glorious posts to my blog. And no way of fixing it. I could order some parts over the internet, but I can’t get them delivered to this house because I’m never here. Besides, I couldn’t face not having a computer for almost a week while the stuff got here.

So there was no choice: I had to rely on the high street, something I haven’t done in years. I avoid shopping on high streets for a number of reasons, the first on the list being just how much I hate going from one shop to the next to browse. It’s so easy just to buy the first thing you find, yet you know you will only find something a few days later at half the price on the internet.

I decided that the power supply must have been to blame. I was 70% sure. £20 later, my computer is back to its old self again. And all fixed within 8 hours. Pretty impressive, I thought. I was preparing for a long time without it, and having to watch the bores of TV again.

This trip to the high street gave me an excellent excuse to leave work early, not that anyone is counting. This gave me a great opportunity to avoid all the disasters that were happening in work yesterday. My MP was in a foul mood, and the atmosphere was spreading to the rest of us. He deliberately avoided the office so he didn’t have to do work. Now we have a huge backlog on our hands, and it only makes things worse for him in the long run.

So I took as many opportunities to escape as I could. The usual lunch hour was extended to lunch-hour-and-ten-minutes. Then I, quite conveniently as it happens, had a pre-booked appointment to go and give blood. This turned to a disaster when they couldn’t find me on the system, as they still don’t have a national database of all donors. Pathetic. So I had to register again as a new donor, and so go through all the boring questions about have I ever injected bodybuilding drugs again. Does it look like I’ve ever injected bodybuilding drugs?

Then things got worse. Mid flow, my vein decided that it didn’t want to give any more. Half a bag full, and no more blood would come out. The consequence was that the nurse had to move the needle around – at some pain – to try to get the flow going again. Nope. Nothing more would come out. So I had to abandon mid-donation. Hopefully they still use the blood for something, but, as I’m sure you can understand, it is quite damaging to one’s male ego that I couldn’t deliver the goods. The feelings of inadequacy were soon eased by the free biscuits.

The recurring theme today: well, the usual sillyness of my life is normal, but today it is combined with the death of my computer, and the apparent death of myself. Whoever heard of someone stopping bleeding when they have a big hole in their arm and a needle sticking in it?

Argh

The anger levels are quite high at the moment.

Since Friday night, the evil building site at the back of my house, which gives me a fantastic view of the intracices of good scaffolding out my back window at the moment, has had an alarm going off on it almost non-stop.

But it’s not like an ordinary alarm in that it is predictable. In fact, its unpredictablity is what makes it so extraordinarily annoying. It is not loud – it’s a short, “wheeow-wheeow-wheeow” which often cuts out mid wheeow, making it sound like someone’s just turned it off. But then it will come back, cutting out and coming back at random intervals.

This seems to be a payback for the fact that on Saturday morning they took away one of the cranes. This moment of great celebration, which meant that the amount of light coming into my bedroom would be significantly reduced, has since been tempered most significantly. The fact that it also went off for a couple of hours this morning meant that I thought someone had turned it off at long last, and that I wouldn’t suffer another dodgy night’s sleep because of it.

But no… it came back, and is currently going off almost non-stop. Last night I only managed to sleep for 6 hours because of it. I was tired enough to ignore it last night, but once I woke up an hour and half before my alarm (and after being awake for half an hour at 3am) the only thing I could hear was the alarm. There was not enough tiredness left to let my brain switch off from the noise.

My housemate has suggested that it is the one remaining crane wailing for the loss of its companion. It is as good a theory as any other I could come up with.

The daft things that happen around here are just too numerous to mention. And they always seem to come at the same time: the washing machine appears to have decided to head to the scrapheap this morning. But it’s in that delicate stage between working and truly fecked which means that it’s still working, albeit starting to develop an unfortunate habit of leaving a burning rubber smell on my clothes. Why can’t things just go kaput altogether so there can be no doubt to the landlord that a new washing machine is required?

Meanwhile, my brother’s football team have just taken another thrashing, and one of their best players has quit. I strongly predict that this will be the end of the team – and I will be recommending it to my parents next time I speak to them. It’s not worth the hassle any more. Which is a shame as it’s a lot of fun and it’s something really worthwhile doing. But between the fact that we don’t ever get any luck, the current players don’t seem to be improving, there are no sources of new players, and half the parents are truly horrible, it means the effort is just not worth the reward.

Then there’s the extremely worrying fact that I keep noticing I am forgetting things all the time. Yes. I keep forgetting things all the time. Even forgetting that I’ve just typed that I’m forgetting things all the time. Last night I thought of something really funny to write in my brother’s birthday card. It has now gone. It will never be recovered.

The anger levels are quite high at the moment.