The Platform Shuffle

Getting the train in the morning is now so utterly routine that it’s no longer anything worth getting excited about. I’ve always been fascinated by trains ever since I was a child. Not in the sense that I’d go trainspotting, but in the sense that I have an inquiring mind that likes to know how things work. Maybe a little bit autistic in the sense that I like to understand how humans try to make order out of chaos. Then I just like travelling in general anyway – I love seeing the world swooshing by and me being in a privileged position able to sit back and observe everyone.

So now I stand and wait at platform 3, as usual, awaiting the arrival of the 0832 to Charing Cross. It seems to be the least congested of all the rush hour trains, which is nice, because I hate having to battle other commuters for a space that a tinned sardine would not be impressed with if it had the joy of still being alive. I hate the psychological warfare that it involves – where people don’t look at each other, but are quite obviously weighing up the situation, and the possible empty seats, out of the corner of their eyes. Then the doors open and the charge begins. It’s not me. I like to stand back and be amused as the battle takes place. Then just get on anyway. Getting a seat really doesn’t bother me, though it seems to be the prized goal for everyone else.

Anyway – this morning, things were a little different. The 0832 was late. Not quite so unusual, but what was was the fact that a train was pulling into platform 1, heading for Charing Cross. Normally trains sail through platform 1 as that is the fast line. Only this train was stopping.

Quick as a flash, I knew exactly what had happened. In a brief moment of not paying attention, the line control had swapped the train to platform 1. It was definitely my train, only it was at the wrong platform. I took a glance at the departure board, and it confirmed my suspicion. My train had disappeared. I didn’t need any extra provocation.

I ran. I knew I had an advantage over everyone else as they hadn’t realised the situation yet. But if I strolled across, there was a risk I’d get caught behind hundreds of people all trying to get up the stairs, which would mean I’d miss the train. There was no choice.

So I ran through, chuckling away to myself that my smart thinking had got me ahead of the crowd. I think my speed probably alarmed people that something was amiss. And sure enough I blazed a trail; people started joining me.

In the end I made it safely, though the driver predictably decided to shut the doors quickly so he could make a sharp getaway. He certainly wasn’t going to wait for the dozens of people still on platform 3 to realise what had happened, most of whom were only just beginning to suspect something was wrong.

The doors shut, and off we went, stranding a lot of people. Well, they were stranded for 10 minutes longer. No great disaster. But it was nice for once to get one over all those who I battle with on a daily basis. Or rather, I pretend that I’m too cool to battle with on a daily basis.

Because it is war really. My strategy is just one of sour grapes, though give me half a chance and I’ll demonstrate my ruthless streak.

Either way, it made today’s train journey just a little less routine than normal.

Breathe Again

Since Thursdays are effectively the end of my week for me, as Fridays are just filled with the satisfactory quietness of an MP not being around, I can now breathe easy. Though this week had more reasons than most for being one I was particularly looking forward to seeing the end of…

For a start there was the small problem of the fact that my MP was back off holiday to disturb the peace with his incessant wailing and demands to be taken seriously. Then there was the fact that on Tuesday there was going to be a large number of visitors that everyone in our office was going to have to give a tour to, because our MP had opened his big mouth and made a promise he couldn’t keep – mainly because there were no tour guides available that day.

Then there was the fact that one of my MP’s slimy friends had invited all of our office for lunch on Tuesday. A Very Bad Thing.

And finally I had volunteered myself to talk to some sixth form students about the degree course I’m doing. Which was something I knew I could handle, but it still isn’t without some nerves.

In the event, it’s all gone away very nicely. I did two very small talks of about 10 minutes each today. I am always wary that I’m talking extremely negatively about things, but it’s often the way I feel like I get the most laughs. And, while I’m no comedy genius, I do pride myself on the fact that I always try to get at least three, four, five laughs in every speech or talk I do. All of mine were very critical observations about what I’ve seen here, or anecdotes of bizarre situations I’ve been in.

So I tried my best to be positive as well. I know I moan a lot about things, but I’m not 100% negative about everything that’s going on. For example, the points I made about it simply being a privilege to witness the political process at this close proximity, even if I don’t like what is going on or how it happens, is something I probably don’t say enough. Hopefully that message resonated with the audience today though – after all, they should be interested in politics too, or they shouldn’t be there.

I also made the point that there was a lot of responsibility and so many things to do depending on how much you were prepared to put into it. I also think that even the cynical anecdotes can encourage people too… since they are a demonstration of the kind of amusing things you can get up to. Plus they can capture people’s attention before you deliver the positive message.

Though there’s no way to ever find out what they thought. They seemed to enjoy it, they seemed to be paying attention when I was talking… I can’t ask for much more. As long as they listened and took away the message that it’s a very worthwhile use of your time if you’re fascinated by politics, then I’ve done my job. I’ve no doubt that the skills I have, and the CV I now have, will be treasured by employers somewhere who operate in this field. The only problem is that I am not remotely interested in their jobs, as they just don’t offer me the opportunity to do all that I want to in life with regards to trying to Make A Difference. The actual process of policy change in this country is all about tinkering at the edges, and worse, it’s going in the opposite direction I’d like it to. There is no way one person can make a difference in politics, and I appear to be a lone voice. So why bother?

Unfortunately, my speech was full of a little misery like that, though much more coded. But still with lots of plus points. Much more dedicated people than me will

I can feel my life beginning to move on at this moment in time. I can see the end closing in. I’m listening to Stop Crying Your Heart Out by Oasis. While I’m not crying, I can sort of see the relevance to my life. Take what you need, and be on your way. I’ve had it with this part of my life. It literally is time to make progress in my new direction.

This is also reflected in my woes with my housemate. Today, for the first time, I confided in another friend about the situation. I had to explain why things were a little awkward between me and him at the moment, and when she asked the question last week “Where are you living next year?” and he was sitting next to me, I had to tell her the truth that we were going to live in different houses. She seemed very surprised… but I think she needed to hear the full story. So she did. It was nice to share the problem, but it doesn’t move us any closer to the solution. Simply because there is no solution anyone can offer but my housemate. Which is why I have started to ignore the problem. I have to live my life too.

So it’s been an interesting few days to say the least. Even though not that much has happened really, I kinda see it as a very important signpost on the road to my goal in life, whatever that may be. If I can make up my mind what that is.

The Mood Changes

All of a sudden, things are very different here. The reason why is simple: the alcoholic housemate has returned. If I hadn’t text him on Friday night to ask him when he was planning to come back, I would never have found out that he was just intending to stroll in on Saturday morning as if nothing had happened.

And nothing has happened. Or changed. As predicted, it takes more than 13 days at home to try to get over such big problems. Within a few hours of his returning, the Southern Comfort was out, and that was that for the evening. He shouldn’t be here. He really shouldn’t. I cannot believe his parents have let him return. But I guess he’s his own person, and they may well have tried to make him stay.

My view is that he simply must leave University. The pressures here are too much for him to concentrate on getting over his illness. He is in extreme denial about his alcoholism, but you show me an alcoholic who isn’t.

What I find extremely rude about the whole situation is that his parents have not even offered me the courtesy of a phone call to tell me a) exactly what’s going on and b) that I should contact them immediately if I am worried so that I don’t have to feel under pressure or the responsibility of looking after him. He is ill. Mentally ill. This is such a bad environment for him.

But what’s now made it worse it that the daft bugger is now definitely not going to be living with us next year. While this is something of a relief, it was entirely unintended. I asked him when he came back yesterday if he’d had any touch with our former housemate in Hull (known as “Y”) who is organising where we’re all going to live next year. He told me he hadn’t.

Within minutes I got a frantic phone call from Y saying he had put a deposit down on a house for 6 people. Though if my alcoholic housemate were to be involved it would need 7. The reason being that Y had got in touch with the alcoholic one during the past week after all, and he had assured Y that he was going to live on his own, and that we should all organise something separately. So Y acted in good faith, and did so.

It emerges that my current housemate had obviously decided to change his mind because he wasn’t prepared to tell me to my face that he was organising something by himself. He thought he’d try to wriggle his way out of the situation, totally ignoring the fact that the chances of me and Y not talking to each other about the problem were a certainty.

So I had to confront my housemate yesterday. He buckled very quickly and apologised for lying to me, then admitted he had been looking for a house on his own for some time. When he was planning on telling me, I don’t know.

The upshot is that we are rid of him. This is quite a turnaround, given that we were all happy to live with him, and I thought I was going to be. Suddenly he’s going to have to look after himself. How that’s going to work out for him, I don’t know. I still consider him as a friend, and I’m now going to be really worried for him next year. He shouldn’t be left to his own devices, and yet it’s exactly what he wants. Probably so he can drink without anyone telling him they’re worried.

The more I think about it, the more it seems he needs sectioning. It’s a ludicrous situation. He has no rational thought processes any more. Someone is going to have to start taking decisions for him before it’s too late. This is just way beyond me now. I can’t help. Munching happy pills doesn’t help either. In some ways, it will be a relief. I feel a little guilty, but then he has made the situation himself by confirming categorically to Y that he wants to live on his own. I’m just worried that he won’t explain that vital fact to his parents, who are now surely going to think we’ve all cut him adrift, and wonder what kind of “friends” we are.

How the hell did I end up in this mess?

Wonderful Wednesday

Ever since I “left” home I have lived in two houses which at varying times have had people sticking notes through the door demanding that they come in and change the gas and electricity meters. Unfortuantely, every time this happened I have not been at home. I received a letter last week telling me that my gas meter needed replacing. This only happens once every 10 years for the type of meter I have (so the meter maintenance man told me) so it’s just sheer bad luck to be living in a house for nine months which just so happen to cross the time in which a new one is needed.

I’m almost getting suspicious that my name is associated with someone who might want to try to fiddle their meter readings. A new house, a new meter. But it was yet another good excuse to take the day off work, as if I needed one at the moment. Because Parliament is on recess, and my MP is staying in the constituency working hard (haha) there is effectively nothing for me to do but sit there answering the phone and dealing with people who seem to think I work for them (particularly charities that MP is involved in), when in fact I work for my MP. So, I successfully made my excuses and ran away.

The meter man turned up this morning and did his duty. I, in return, did my duty and did the decent thing of offering, and providing, a cup of tea. It’s such a British thing, and one I’ve been brought up with well. Maybe these little bit of hospitality are dropping out of British culture. I don’t know. However, there is normally a dilemma which asks, “What is the minimum length of time that an engineer must be in the house for to do deserve a cuppa?”. Given that I knew the meter man would be there for 30 minutes (the warning letter said so), I knew that had passed the threshold. But I still don’t know where the line is. For instance, the washing machine repair man who came a month ago was only in the house for 5 minutes, and I didn’t offer him a cuppa. I think 5 mins is too short.

But the worst is when the repairman (let’s be honest, it is still mostly men) is going to be there for an indeterminate length of time because you don’t know what’s wrong, and therefore can’t estimate how long he’ll be working for.

Such is the quandaries of etiquette. I must be one of the few people in the country to have ever considered this point, but I think it is a fair one.

The rest of the day has been spent playing Warcraft III (which, at long last, I am near completing) and watching Charlie Brooker’s Screenwipe downloaded via UKNova. That was excellent, as always. But what really makes me happy is the technology involved in on-demand programming – because it is simply fantastic.

What is even more exciting is the fact that us technology geeks are leading the way. Within 10 years I am sure that content-on-demand will be at the fingertips of everyone, and they will no longer be considered something that only a small proportion of the population enjoy. Sky+ are doing their best to corner the market and charge a bloody fortune for the privilege, but, thankfully, there are ways around it.

But you just know that as soon as everyone else catches up, us technophiles will have moved on to the next big thing. I just wonder what it will be. My personal suggestion would be the creation of Injectible TV, whereby a “TV” programme can be absorbed without having to sit down and stare at the idiot box for hours. “Johnny 5 is alive” would almost be reality.

Talking of staring at the idiot box for hours, I fully expect to watch Bolton v Arsenal later, and it is always nice to watch some free football. However, there can be nothing worse than watching bad football – as it sucks away two hours of your life – two hours that you ain’t gonna get back. So I’m hoping for a cracker – a nice penalty shoot out wouldn’t go amiss. That would make it worth my while.

Then it really would be a good day. I’m calling today Wonderful Wednesday in anticipation of it being good. I’m sure my optimism will soon be crashing and burning in a fit of boredom. Or perhaps that’s just because I’m about to continue some work on my assignments for this year.

Who would have thought sitting in one’s house all day could be seen as a great achievement to be celebrated.

When Mice Attack

This morning I woke up looking forward to a good bit of breakfast. After going shopping yesterday, I bought myself some nice bits of bready goodness that I thought I’d eat the next morning along with my usual boring Weetabix feast (well, actually Wheaty Biscuits, or whatever the Tesco own brand equivalent is). This would be a good breakfast for a change.

That was, until, I noticed that there was a rather large hole in the bag. And there is an equivalent shaped hole in the bread. Which was hollow.

Bollocks. I had left the bread on the kitchen surfaces. Big mistake. We have been having a small mice problem of late – they live underneath the sink in a very inaccessible place, and they seem to delight in being fed mouse poison. But they were not previously on the work surfaces in the kitchen. If they were there would have been the usual evidence. And I never leave anything out anyway – my food is always safely in the high cupboards.

Well, it wasn’t last night. The mice, of course, don’t miss a trick. Up they went and had a little nibble, ruining my planned breakfast feast.

I wasn’t originally that bothered about the presence of mice… they stayed in their little corner, and didn’t appear to be doing any harm or damage. I put down some mice bait to try to get rid of the little buggers though, but as far as I’m concerned it actually encouraged them. They couldn’t get enough of the stuff. Either there are millions of them in the sink cupboard, or it really is ineffective. Now that the bait has ran out, I haven’t noticed any evidence of them again.

Apart from eating my breakfast, of course. So now I really am going to have to declare war. They have committed a terrible crime, one which I can’t let them get away with.

Yes, it really has been that boring a weekend. Next week is going to be even worse as it’s recess week in Parliament. I should have took the whole week off and went away, back home preferably. But I didn’t really think that far ahead. So now I’m stuck here.

Stuck here with the mice. Perhaps I’ll hunt them down to pass the time…

The Country Falls To Its Knees – Celebrate!

I have been amazed by the amount of snow I’ve been privileged to enjoy down here in London lately. Last night was the best snow I’ve seen for some time, possibly since the one that inspired one of my first posts to this blog. Snow is just fantastic – puts everything in a really amazing light.

The only problem is that it’s happening here in London when I’m here. I am currently living on my own (not that my missing housemate would want to build a snowman) and worse, living in an area which appears to have no children. The consequence = no life. Adults generally love a good snowman building and snowball warfare as much as a child… but they can only express that via the medium of a child. It would feel a bit foolish throwing snowballs at the man a few doors down – he would probably think you’d gone mental. But if there is a child in the equation, it is then plainly obvious that the activity is harmless (mostly) fun.

So when I hear people moaning about the simple fact that it snowed – I stick my tongue out at them. I can understand when people complain about the trains and stuff not running on time because of it – simply because these things are avoidable. But then again, the fact that everything goes tits up at the slightest hint of snow is also a very British tradition, one which is celebrated with a good old-fashioned skive from work/school. Why should this be denied by the advance of modern technology?

I’ve been watching the pictures on the news all day (I use the term “news” loosely, since the non-stop coverage of people sledging down Malvern Hills on Sky News all day is not quite news) and it just fills me with happiness. It’s fantastic to watch how lots of people skive, schools shut, and the result is that families get a nice day off from the normal drudgery and get to spend some time together. Of course, there are the usual misery guts who don’t deserve children, those who complain that they’re being forced to take the day off work to look after the fruits of their loins! Imagine that – fancy having to talk and engage with one’s offspring! How dare the schools close when I had no trouble getting there this morning – who cares about whether other people are having problems! These kind of people are in evidence throughout the whingefest that is BBC News’s discussion boards on this issue.

But thankfully, most people are fairly happy when the snow falls – probably because it’s still quite a rare thing to happen across the entire UK. It’s mostly confined to the hills and mountains in Wales and Scotland. I’m sure I wouldn’t enjoy it so much if I had to see it every day; it would definitely lose its magic. But I still wish I had been able to enjoy it properly. If it had fallen when I was in Hull, I would no doubt have spent most of today reverting to a childlike state of trying to kill my friends by putting snow down their back – and I’ve no doubt they would fight back. But it’s good fun. In my humble opinion, of course.

So I sat there watching Sky News and News 24 with a not inconsiderable envy. If I was back home I would have been able to join in – thanks to having younger brothers and a younger sister. But elsewhere, society is not prepared to accept adults with no excuse of having children to impress playing silly buggers in public.

Yet, you can be sure that so many of us wanted to…

Changing of the Housemate

After an interesting few weeks, things with my depressed housemate have came to a head. Only this time before they bubble over into something bad. Obviously his parents have become too frustrated with the fact that their son has completely shut them out of his life because his depression and alcoholism is such that he “doesn’t want anyone to worry” that he’s slowly going insane. They arrived first thing this morning and whisked him away.

They are understandably a little embarrassed. They apologised to me for having to “put up with him”. I haven’t minded that much, apart from the fact that it’s got me down and I haven’t been able to do anything about it. He’s a friend, and I’ve tried to help as much as I can… but I can see that going away for a little while is a useful solution. I hope it works, but I really can’t see it being the end to all of his problems, which are numerous.

So now he’s gone for two weeks or so. This means I have an entire house to myself, which is extremely liberating. I can sing again, I can play music loudly (though not too loud), I can play my instruments without worrying what my un-music-friendly housemate would think about it. But the major bonus is that it lifts the difficulty I have had communicating with him. It has been extremely awkward to talk to him because there has been an endless undercurrent stemming from the current problems, which neither of us is prepared to acknowledge, so it means everything feels extremely forced and filled with small talk so that we don’t have to talk about the elephant in the room.

I have my major doubts that he will finish this course at Uni now. The stress on him is now enormous, from the work that he’s missing here, to the work that he is very overdue on and the University is being very patient with him over, and the work that he will be expected to do in the future… it is all just too much.

It has also put the kybosh on my plans to visit Hull next weekend to sort out the situation with regards to where I’m intending to live next year. But, after finally having a talk with one of my former housemates in Hull, and hopefully future housemate again, including filling him in on the problems with my current housemate, I feel a lot better. We might have actually made some progress. It would be nice to go up to Hull soon though (I never thought I’d hear myself saying that) just to see everyone anyway. I miss having a good group of friends around me.

In other news: my brother’s football team finally won a game. This led to much happiness within the team. I’m just disappointed that it was in a cup game rather than in the league! We’ll only get beaten next round when we get a much worse draw.

So I’m quite happy at the moment. This is quite a rare moment. In fact, I would say it’s been some time since I’ve been this happy with how things are going. It’s an amazing feeling. But maybe true happiness is such a good feeling because we all don’t experience it all the time. If we were always stupidly happy, we wouldn’t know how lucky we are. Depression and sadness spaces out the good times – because you really can have too much of a good thing.

Time to eat.

Money Money Money

I’ve been meaning to post for a couple of days now… though don’t seem to have found the time. The main problem has been the two late nights I’ve had in work the past two days. On Tuesday night we had our much delayed “Christmas” staff night out, which was an occasion in which a few of the MPs me and some of my colleagues work for stick their hands in their pockets and buy food and drink goodies for everyone. This cost an enormous amount of money, but I think they can afford it.

Though my MP can’t, as he is currently facing some rather large invoices. I know all about this simply because I open the mail, and my MP doesn’t mind in the slightest that I am aware of the situation. All of us in his office do. He really doesn’t care that there is no divide between his private life and his life in work. Just the chaotic way he lives, and always has done.

In my life, however, things are not going too badly. At the weekend I travelled to Ipswich to go watch Swansea play Ipswich in the FA Cup 4th Round. My friend is a big Swansea fan, and I thought I’d go along for some excitement. In the end it wasn’t all that entertaining a match, but the atmosphere from the Swansea fans was excellent. I’ve always loved getting involved in the atmosphere, chanting and singing, though I understand that a lot of people don’t. As with a lot of things in my life, I find the socialness of the situation quite fulfilling. It’s nice to feel a temporary sort of bond with a lot of people you don’t know who really care about something that isn’t that important, really. It’s a lot of fun. Perhaps not as good when you lose (as Swansea did) but… never mind. Maybe next time. At least it didn’t cost much.

The most annoying part of this week has been the fact that I bought a present on on Sunday in the vain hope that it would arrive home by Tuesday for my mum’s birthday. I naively assmed that a website that prides itself on “last minute” thoughts would be very good at delivering things to time. It’s not unreasonable to assume, and even the website promises immediate despatch, that they should be very good at getting the process in gear quickly so that “last minute” problem is resolved quickly. They didn’t. It still hasn’t arrived.

Though what did arrive back home was a nice surprise in the form of a cheque refunding, at long last, a lot of money which the taxman has owed me for nearly 18 months. It seems I finally found a sensible employee who read my letter properly, read the evidence, and realised they’d made a mistake. The sad thing is that my refund will just join my pot of money which will just get spent on the sickening cost of living here in London. Though it may actually be the difference between staying afloat and sinking into depressing overdraft. Which is something my chain-smoking, valium-taking, alcoholic friend is not avoiding.

Then there is the mystery of the expensive electricity bill. I’m not actually in the house for around half of the week. Yet the bill is massive, despite the fact we have no immersion heater, no electric fires, and take all the energy saving measures we can (nothing ever on standby, lights off when no one in the room, chargers switched off when not in use, etc.). I can pay it, but I’m a little worried that my housemate may soon tell me he has no money left until the next loan instalment. Which is not for two months. And then I won’t be able to pay things.

I’m really fed up of worrying about money. But ever since I came to London I’ve had little choice. Seriously, I am now beginning to wish I never took this course, or gave more consideration to my fleeting desire to transfer course at the end of second year. That would have been sensible now. At least it’s now February. Only four months to go…