At Last

After nearly 12 weeks in London, I am finally back home again. This is quite a relief as I can finally relax for a bit. Though there is not much relaxing around here in my family.

Unfortunately, the first phase of my plan of action once I got back didn’t go very well. I was always intending to go to the school I worked in last year over summer on the very first day back, which was yesterday. I did that – only they were not as efficient as I hoped they would be. As usual, the person I wanted to see was “in a meeting” – and so the natural consequence was that I now have to come back on the first day of the new term. Luckily, I don’t travel back to London until later that afternoon on the 16th of April. But I do have an agreement in principle for me to work there again, which is essential to stop me going crazy after my time in London is over.

Amongst all the other things I had to do when I got back was the usual fixing of the computers. Once again, my family had managed to completely wreck their systems, which meant the diet of formatting and reinstalling Windows to get rid of the persistent viruses was the only solution. Well, there probably is another solution, but the time involved is just too long. Format gets rid of the buggers. They managed to wreck this system in record time, given that I only reinstalled everything around here last Christmas. It seems no amount of anti-spyware and anti-virus software is able to stop whatever it is they do to damage the computer. Madness.

The worst part about returning home is the fact that we don’t have a shower here – just a bath. Baths just take so long, and I’ve been trying to convince my parents ever since we moved here 11 years ago now to get one. It seems the message is finally getting through, and there are plans afoot to put one in. Whether it ever happens or not is another thing. But the real problem is the fact that there is only one bathroom for six people, often eight when my sister and nephew come around. It means terrible days like today, when I need to shave, can be made much worse. No sooner the shaving gel goes on do you hear that knock on the door of someone wanting a wee. Or worse.

But it’s just great to be back amongst lots of other communicative humans after having lived with just the Sacked Housemate for company, which is a contradiction in terms. It was particularly great to go to the football training last night and hear all the usual banter, geed up by the fact that the team have now won three games in a row. Sunday will be a crunch match, and I’m sure I will be there to see them lose. I have never seen them win, which is very annoying after all the work that goes in!

Overall: it is good to be home.

UPDATE: my brother’s football team won. Woohoo. But in other bad news, my digital camera broke. So I couldn’t take any pictures of them winning. Bah.

An Anniversary

I kept my promise from my previous post to mention that there is an anniversary on the cards. It’s one of those where I can’t remember the exact date involved, but I think it was around about now – and it is worth celebrating!

Yes, roughly 10 years ago I became a vegetarian.

Not really worth waiting for, was it? Though I will never cease to be amazed at how many people are surprised when they find out I am one. I don’t exactly shout it from the rooftops. In fact, I don’t explicitly tell anyone. It’s entirely irrelevant. The only people who find out are those who put me in a situation where they ask the question. But I make that a lot easier because I’m a “proper” veggie, one who spends most of their existence making sure that things haven’t got gelatine in, or animal fats, or even been cross-contaminated. I am no fun to go for a meal with, you can be sure. Of course, it does mean I have a supply of facts about, for example, exactly what gelatine is at my fingertips. Which makes for endless conversation… and the subject can quite easily come up if I suddenly tell a friend not to buy me a pint of Fosters, because it isn’t vegetarian.

But I genuinely don’t understand why people care so much. I don’t want to tell them because the conversation bores me. Once people find out they then start quizzing me as if they have never heard of anything so ridiculous. You then get the usual hilarious person who will start stuffing some beef up their nose or something to demonstrate just how much they love a bit of the meat. Some people will move onto the smart-Alec questions such as “but what about the spiders you eat in your sleep?”… while others, particularly Americans, love to ask “But where do you get your protein?” – as if it is only possible to get protein from eating meat.

A lot of people are vegetarians now. And in fact, it’s incredibly easy to be one. But it always disappoints me when people say, “I couldn’t live without meat!” It just shows such a lack of imagination. They ask, “But a meal isn’t complete without a bit of dead animal!” OK, I exaggerate the last bit. But I suspect that if they were forced, they too would actually not find it difficult to survive without.

I am no zealot. I don’t care that other people eat meat; it’s not my mission to convince them. But I dislike people who question something which is entirely my own decision. I can understand people being curious, and I’m happy to share my thoughts with them, as long as they then don’t try the things I’ve heard a million times before. As Tom Jones almost sang, it’s not that unusual!

But by far the worst of them all was when a friend of mine told me that he utterly disagreed with my vegetarianism on religious grounds. He was/is a devout Christian, and apparently, vegetarianism is a sin because, after all, God put all these animals on Earth for a purpose. And that purpose was for us to eat them. I thought he was joking. But he delivered it with deadly seriousness that it didn’t warrant further questioning, because both he and I knew each others strongly held views about religion, or the lack thereof in my case.

I’m very proud of my vegetarianism, but not so much that I feel the need to tell everyone about it. It is just another piece that makes up who I am. I can never see myself not being one. But it’s just so routine and ordinary to me that it’s now very trivial. There are, of course, some horrible vegetarians – the type who’ll try to force their choice on others. They make it worse for all of us relatively “normal” people out there. Just get on with it. We’re all individuals.

And yes, I do appreciate the rich irony of spending a whole post talking about my vegetarianism when I’ve just claimed I keep it to myself. So here endeth the lesson.

The Milk Snatcher

Back in the school days, and I’m thinking right the way back to reception class now, aged four, I remember every break time we would get a small carton of milk. It was the nicest milk I ever remember drinking, and it was at least something to look forward to. I remember hearing the phrase “Maggie Thatcher, Milk Snatcher” at the time and wondering why anyone would want to take the glorious milk away. When I look back now, I note that that phrase was invented in 1971 – way before when I was born. But then again, my parents did hate Maggie with a passion.

But this must have been in 1989/early 1990, when Thatcher was still in power. But she was so immensely unpopular by that time, particularly in the city I lived in, that even children had their own playground taunts. I remember vividly that one kid would draw a big black mark on the palm of their hand with a pen, and then proceed with the following rhyme:

Here’s Maggie Thatcher – i.e. the black spot
Throw her up and catch her – while making a gesture of throwing and catching
Squishy squashy, squishy squashy – while rubbing hands together
There’s Maggie Thatcher – then demonstrating the hands, now with black ink smudged all over them

Very bizarre, I know, but these things stick with you. But there is a tangential reason for this story.

My housemate has very unpredictable eating habits, the worst of these being his propensity to not eat breakfast cereal for days, then suddenly have an enormous quantity using massive amounts of milk. This makes it very difficult for me to gauge the exact point at which to buy some milk because I never know when it’s going to run out, since he uses about four times the amount of milk I do on my breakfast. So I generally err on the side of caution, which often means we end up with milk going out of date.

I estimate he will pour a giant bowl of Coco Pops and then use about 1.5litres of milk so that even the very generous quantity of Coco Pops he has are still drowning in floods of milk. Then he will proceed to spend the next two minutes dunking all of the Coco Pops so that they have had a good coating of milk. I could never do this – since by the time the two minutes are up, you’d have stupidly soggy cereal, and there is nothing worse than soggy cereal. But each to their own.

This astonishing use of milk led me to recall the term “milk snatcher” from my childhood, which brought back the memories quoted above. It is now my new nickname for my Current-But-Soon-To-Be-Ex Housemate. I think it is deserved, because I just cannot get my head around the way he uses milk. But then, his entire diet is generally appalling. I have noticed how he is getting fatter. This will be down to the chocolate, crisps, microwave burgers and jelly sweets diet he has recently taken up.

Coming up next time, an anniversary. How exciting.

Simple Things

Life continues at its tedious pace, though today I decided to make as much of the sunshine as I could by going for a little wander. So happy was I to feel some warmth coming from the sun that there seemed to be no remaining excuse to do nothing all day, as has been normal the past few weekends.

I decided that I should explore the local area. Given that I’ve now been living here since September last year, it seemed a bit ridiculous that I didn’t really know what lies just around the corner, but I have never needed to go that way. So I pulled out the map and plotted a course around the town that would finally allow me to open my eyes.

Well, it wasn’t that exciting, really. Just different types of houses, and, shock horror, other people. That’s what’s weird about the estate I’m currently living on. There never seems to be any sign of life. I don’t know what everyone is doing, but whatever it is they don’t seem to do it here. The cars vanish, and the area becomes like a ghost town. But elsewhere that isn’t the case. There were people milling around, probably doing exactly what I was doing (i.e. nothing). I even managed to exchange some smiles with my fellow humans – very unusual given that eye contact seems to be a strict no-no around here. But it just feels like that kind of day. Everyone is enjoying it and seems to have let their guard down. There were actually people in the park, playing football, tennis, and loads of kids and parents.

Perhaps, as I write this, you’re wondering why this seems worth writing about. Well, let me repeat myself – this estate is utterly dead. These normal scenes are something rather unusual to me. It was good to see that people aren’t as miserable and as anti-social as I thought they are around here. I even had a kid of about seven years old ride past me on his bike and make a stupid noise at me. Frankly I would have been surprised if he hadn’t – he looked like he had been planning to do it all the way as he rode towards me. I was tempted to repeat the noise back at him, but once I didn’t take the opportunity in the split second that it was available, it was gone forever.

Then the text came through. The usual Sunday morning one that fills me with woe as I find out that my brother’s football team have lost. Again.

Only today it didn’t. They had won.

Suddenly the sun shone that little bit brighter. I smiled just a little bit more.

It’s true what they say about the simple things in life.

Death of a Friendship

Things turned back to their odd ways in the past week when I made the very interesting discovery that my housemate had been sacked from his job. I didn’t think it was possible to be sacked as an intern, since an intern is not contracted, but they effectively told him to never come back.

I made this discovery through the simple fact that my housemate just left the documents confirming this just lying on the living room table. I could hardly not miss them. The result – I had to pretend I didn’t know anything while my housemate began the old charade of pretending he had been to work, lying to my face, by putting on this suit before I got home from work (I caught him out on Monday when I got home early and heard him hastily shuffling back to his room, where the door was locked and the sounds of clothes changing was obvious) and then telling me that work was “boring” and that he’d “finished early”.

In the end I got fed up with this, but there needed to be a way I could broach the subject without giving away the fact that I had technically been snooping. So I just called his office and asked if he was there. They told me immediately he had been sacked (since he’s no longer very popular in there!) and so I had the information I needed.

The conversation was delicate, but easy once it had begun. He explained that their patience had finally snapped because he had taken so many days off and then came in to work and started doing his university assignments when he had a backlog of stuff to do. I explained that he really had to go to see our course supervisor immediately to get something sorted out. In his mental condition, it wouldn’t be good at all to sit around for the next three months. Indeed, he might even have been asked to leave University altogether.

It seems that he’s finally taken my advice, though, as usual, I will be damned if he chooses to just volunteer what the outcome is. I think he has been given permission to carry on, but I’ve no idea what he is now going to do with the rest of his time here. The whole thing is just incredibly awkward. Our friendship is steadily eroding away because of the fact that he just will not communicate with me. Friends trust each other and talk about what’s going on in their lives, not necessarily because we are able to do anything to help (though in many ways we can) but because we care about how each other is getting on in the world. When something big happens to one person in a friendship, more often than not they will tell the other. That’s just the way it works. My housemate doesn’t do that, leading me to struggle to try to keep the damn thing going.

So I’m quite bored about it now. It’s terrible, because I’m beginning to not care any more. Most friendships in life die away due to neglect. I look at my MSN list and see that I only talk to about two or three of them regularly. The others are “every now and then” because they have fallen into disrepair, and so their current state means they can only allow a reasonably detached conversation. But this friendship is dying before my very eyes. When friendships are neglected, you often don’t witness the process of destruction. But here I’m seeing it in all its full glory. It’s not a pretty sight. It means we spend most time avoiding each other. When we do have to communicate, it is full of small talk. I’ve tried – I really have – to show I’m interested in seeing him get himself sorted out. But he doesn’t want me to care, because if I care then it makes him feel pressurised. Which makes him even more unstable.

It’s a ludicrous vicious circle that I’m very tired of being involved in. And in many ways I cannot wait for it to end. Such a shame.

The iPod Generation

I view such phrases with a healthy degree of disdain. There’s nothing worse than seeing common branding slip into the everyday dialogue of human nature as it means the Ad Men and Women have been extremely successful at manipulating our minds into accepting that their product is the true representation of all you would ever need out of the section of the market they cover.

I have never had a music player in any form. I could never justify the expense. However, that doesn’t mean that I don’t want one. I think they are overused by people around me. I have no intention on using one from the second I step foot outside the house until I come home, as other people do. That would not only ruin all my favourite songs by doing them to death, but it is also a sad sign of the steady disconnection from society that the world is experiencing. A sign that people are disappearing up their own backsides. An easy way to ignore other people, in the same way that burying your head in the newspaper on the train is a good way of ensuring that you don’t have to engage with other people in an awkward social situation or people don’t intrude too much into “your” space.

But now I am going to have to test my theory to destruction. Since I have only gone and won a competition…

A month ago in work I was trawling through the rubbish mail when I picked up one of them and a card fell out, on which was a crossword with a prize of an iPod Nano. I wasn’t really bothered about the prize, but with it being a boring Friday afternoon I spent my time completing it. It was one of the hardest crosswords I’ve ever done. By the time I’d finished, I thought I might as well enter it, because how many other people will get this magazine and enter.

Seems like my calculation was right. Last week I got a call telling me I’d won. I’d completely forgotten about it, so the call out of the blue was a complete shock. I was absolutely amazed. I don’t think I’ve ever won anything. I enter quite a few competitions just for the hell of it if it doesn’t cost anything… but it seems that my luck has finally turned.

A 4GB iPod Nano. Which means that I am now an unfortunate part of the iPod generation. My first instinct was to sell it. But then I changed my mind and thought I’d give it a go. I had been wanting to buy some wireless headphones for a long time, simply because it would allow me to listen to music while not in my room, cleaning or in the garden or whatever. Well, I decided I would solve this problem by actually being able to music everywhere.

My housemate has disappeared for the weekend (more on that story next time) which gave me the perfect opportunity to engage in a bit of spring cleaning. Though now armed with my music playing device the whole process was an absolute joy. Who would have thought cleaning the toilet could be so much fun as the next random song comes on? I certainly didn’t.

So now I feel rather pleased with my decision. I could have made a fast buck from selling it, but I would only stick that in my bank account and it would disappear in the monthly rent outpouring. But now I have something that will at the very least entertain me for certain boring activities.

And will I start to use it for commuting to/from work? Probably not. Personally I think I won’t because it’s just a little hassle wiring myself up for the sake of 1/2hour of my life, and then there’s the risk it might get lost/stolen/damaged while I’m out, and then my slight annoyance at listening to other people’s music… so I wouldn’t want to now become a hypocrite.

I shall remain resolute, strong and steadfast. I will stay the course.

Only I could turn something entirely positive into a brand new moral dilemma!