The Train Fiasco

One little bit of fun I experienced lately was one Friday evening, just trying to make my way home.

In my wisdom, I’ve been trying out new ways of Going Home and Coming Back. My new strategy was to travel late at night, often on the last train, partly because it’s cheaper, and definitely because it’s quieter.

So that was the plan, one Friday evening.

I eventually arrived home at 3:30am, some nine hours after leaving.

It was quite possibly the worst experience I’ve ever had on public transport. Everything that could go wrong did. I left my house on time, and arrived into Basingstoke. Where I waited, and waited. Eventually, the connection arrived that got me to Reading.

And that was that. The train went as slow as possible up the country, getting stuck at various bits, and then they gave up and terminated it at Banbury. The reason was that someone had jumped in front of a train. All very tragic, and all completely beyond their control.

So there wasn’t much I could do but ride it out. Some coaches turned up, but a woeful number. Hundreds of us were milling around, in the deadness of anEnglish town that we all only know due to a nursery rhyme. More trains kept arriving and being terminated. The anger swelled.

Some time later, after telling us that no more coaches were coming, they got the line open again. So we all squeezed onto a Silverlink train and got to Birmingham Moor Street at 11:30pm. I should have been home by this point. Instead, I trudged across the city to Birmingham New Street, where I knew I would either be put in a hotel or a coach.

In the event, none of it happened. They somehow managed to get a merry band of 20 or so of us onto a specially laid on train which took us to Manchester. Arriving at about 1:45am, we were all pretty knackered, but still – I was in the wrong place.

Eventually, they organised taxis for us. Which wouldn’t take me all the way. So I had to pay out my own pocket for another taxi, and they “assured” me that I would be reimbursed if I claimed it.

I’m still waiting. That’s £20 I’m out of pocket. I sent all the forms off like a good Citizen should. But they’re ignoring it. Or it’s got “lost in the post”. Which would piss me off royally. I did take scans, because I had a feeling this would happen, but it’s such an inconvenience.

Needless to say, I was pretty annoyed, but I wasn’t as pissed off as I thought I would be. The whole time I had a “ho hum” mentality. It was no one’s fault. I couldn’t do anything about it by getting angry. I just had to lap it up. It’s the price I pay for not being able to drive.

But still, I was most pleased when I finally got home, and got to sleep.

Unfortunately, I didn’t account for the fact that I would be disturbed at 7am the next morning.

My family’s dog has lately decided that it doesn’t do weekends. It starts crying, pleading, for its Mamma to get up now bright and early at 7am, or before. That’s because it’s what it’s used to during the week. It never used to do this. Now it does. And my bedroom is right above it.

Hell. No one else could hear it. Either that or they’ve got used to it. So I had to suffer. Until I gave up. At 7:30am.

I was not impressed.

Training Home for Christmas

One of my favourite Christmas songs, apart from Stop the Cavalry, and Fairytale of New York, is Driving Home for Christmas by Chris Rea. Though I’ve never actually driven home for Christmas – after all, I have zero driving skills – at the same time the sentiment is wonderful. Everyone around, just the same, heading back to see their families and loved ones.

So it is at this point I should sit back and reflect. I do plenty of that already, but these days I get so few of it down in writing. That’s due to a combination of having too much to do, and very little inclination to do any writing. What used to be my usual “writing” time in the morning has steadily been eroded, and now if I’m sitting around doing stuff that isn’t going to earn me a crust, I tend to get guilty.

It’s a very bad habit I have. I can’t relax. I can’t unwind. The only way I can is if the circumstances are right and I’m forced to.

So, to get away from my residence down South, and, in fact, travel several hundred miles in the other direction, will do the job perfectly. I am presently writing this on a train to Birmingham New Street, all on course to make my next connection. Amazingly, the weather hasn’t disrupted this journey at all, and I’m rather surprised. After weeks of terrible snow, stuck on the ground and turned to sheets of ice, and the worst winter so far that I can remember, despite it really only being 22 days old, the country seems to be moving again.

And getting home is my target. I haven’t seen my family in about a month, and though, when I was away at uni I used to be away from them for 12 week periods, if not longer, it still seems like ages. At the moment, with business going so well, and my time being eaten away effectively, there is a rather odd effect going on. It doesn’t seem like that long ago when I was last home. And, at a month, it really wasn’t. Yet, because of all the many different bits and pieces of work I’ve done, it seems like an age.

The irritating thing is that my best plans of Christmas presents have gone wrong. One of them hasn’t turned up, and is missing in the postal system somewhere. The other hasn’t even been dispatched. All because of the snow. I now don’t know whether to rush out and buy more stuff, or sit tight and just say to the intended recipients, “Well, I did order them three weeks ago…”

What I’m most looking forward to after the Christmas and New Year family fun is over, though, is going to see some friends in Edinburgh. I’ve never been there before, and who knows when I might go again. But I’m assured it’s lovely, and I know being in completely a different place will make me switch off from work altogether. It will only be for a few days, but it will make all the difference. It will be peace and quiet. Assuming I can get there.

Hope the snow is kind…That’s quite enough for now. It’s nearly 9pm, and I still have almost three hours of this slog to go. I’ve never done this journey at this time before, but given how quiet and relaxing the journey is, I would be tempted to do it again. Except for the fact that someone is sitting next to me, despite there being rows of empty seats ahead…

Electoral Fun

My train is rather uncomfortable this morning.

After having to come via a slightly different route, involving one extra change, the net result is still exactly the same. I arrive at the same time back home, and will get there at 11:37.

It’s another weekend where I’m going back home. And I’m really looking forward to this one for some reason. It’s not been any longer than normal. But perhaps it’s just because business has been so quiet this week. I have taken a grand total of approximately £100. Which is clearly insufficient.

It’s been the worst week I’ve had since January. Not sure why it’s gone like that though. Perhaps it’s because I’ve stopped running the advert in the local paper. I didn’t think it was working for me, but maybe it is after all. Well, at least it’ll be illuminating when I run it next time.

I really need to go out leafleting, but with constant trips up and down the country I end up delaying it.

And then there’s the election, of course.

Political nerds like me find elections stunningly wonderful things. And this one in particular is pretty exceptional. I have been absorbing almost all the coverage I could find. Watching interviews, seeing all the debates, reading endless articles and writing my own. Because I do have a political blog out there now, which I won’t link to. But it’s good. No one ever comments on it, but at the moment I’m getting a couple of hundred visitors a day.

It’s at times like this that I really feel like I’ve missed my “calling”. I still don’t think I’d enjoy being an MP, having witnessed it at first hand, but my mind is filled with so many ideas about political ideologies, political strategies and arguments about X, Y, and Z. I hardly ever end a real political discussion without either convincing someone that I’m right, or that I need to amend my views based on their experience. Thinking critically and analytically is so normal to me. I should be using it more.

But I know that when the inevitable happens, and the British public once more vote for the same old rubbish, I will be depressed about politics again and vow never to get involved in it. And if the British public do indeed vote for more of the same tired old politics, they will probably deserve it.

Not a good attitude for someone who might want to go into public service one day. But I’ve always been a cynical bastard.

The one good thing about life in the South? The weather. It’s been glorious now for weeks on end. It’s about to end next week, apparently, but it’s been fantastic for early spring. I can’t wait for summer. I’m hoping for a good one this year. In every respect.

Getting Closer

This past week has made a big difference to life in the new home.

On Tuesday, after much distress, we finally got the phone line and broadband installed. That makes things so much easier. No more trips to the library, suffering terrible computers and watching the clock count down till it threw me off.

But yesterday, something just as good as that occured.

We got a shower installed. A proper shower, with real water pressure.

And it works so good. Even better than the one at my Northern home.

I’ve been desperate for the new shower to appear, largely because I’ve been having to have baths, which I hate because of the huge amount of time they take in comparison to a shower.

But something the other day made it worse. I was leaning forward to wash my hair – as you do when you don’t have any form of object to get the water from the bath up to your head – threw the water around, then opened my eyes to a rather unusual amount of red in the water.

I was, quite literally, having a bloodbath.

My nose is quite feeble even at the best of times. There’s obviously a dodgy artery up there. But leaning forward clearly provoked it and the consequences were not pretty.

At least there won’t be any more of that.

And even better, now that I’ve got a real shower, I’ve been able to cut my hair. Yes, I’m still cutting my own hair. It’s the only way to save money. Those clippers I bought five years ago have proved to be a wise investmenet. Plus, I always feel like I give myself a better haircut than the barber ever did. That’s quite something when you consider that cutting my own hair involves razors, the bathroom mirror and another handheld one.

In sum though, all of this has made me feel a lot better. My new life is still very much moving slowly into existence, with no progress on the business yet, but I have a feeling it won’t be long now. I’ve got a lot of ideas ready to deploy once my new printer arrives – which should be today.

Only one problem… I’m going back home again tomorrow. The nightmare five hour train journey awaits, with four changes. So the business is going to have to be delayed again. I was originally getting a lift home with my housemate tonight, but he’s now decided he doesn’t need to travel North. Fortunately, there were still cheap tickets available, so it’s not hurt me too much.

Anyway, life goes on. And at least I now have things to do to while away these tedious work-free days…

Still At Home

It’s now been a week since I was in my supposed new home down South.

I came back last Friday because I had some work back here. That plan worked out nicely, and I have had several things that have earned me some money. That’s more that can be said for life in my accommodation.

But now I’m in this position where I’m starting to think, well, should I go back at all. Of course, it’s a silly thing to say, because I have to go back. After all, I’m handing over the best part of £600 a month just for the place and all the bills, and I’m not even there.

But if I had the choice right now, I would choose not to bother. Firstly, I’ve grown to doubt the business proposition, largely because I believe I’ve been led up the garden path by my housemate. He assured me that he would be able to get enough work from his web design angle, but nothing has materialised. He also keeps raising my hopes that he may have found me some work via his extensive network of contacts, but it never actually appears. That is frustrating.

So I’m prepared to go it all on my own, and one day I will. When I finally get back down there and get things moving.

Another reason why I’m not impressed with life down there is my utter lack of social interaction. When I’m someone who struggles with this anyway, life has become a disaster if the only person I speak to in a day is my housemate. He’s OK, but is probably the world’s worst listener. I don’t feel comfortable discussing anything with him, as invariably the conversation turns back to his life and the wonderful things he’s achieved.

It might help if I had a working phone line, as that way I could keep in touch with life at home better. But the farce over the phone/internet installation is long and continuing. They still haven’t put the wires in outside the house, and if they haven’t before Tuesday it will mean further delay, as that’s when they’re supposed to be coming out to do it. Only they can’t do it if the preliminary work hasn’t been done outside the house.

Next, there is the general logistical problem with travel. If I really am going to come home every two weeks, the bills are going to be large. But not only is the cost high, but the problem of the travel itself is a nightmare. At both ends, the houses are 20 minutes walk from the station. 20 minutes carrying a heavy bag and a laptop. Then a hellish 4.5 hour journey. Crazy. I wish I’d thought of it more before I agreed to the move.

Finally, there is just the general cost of living down there. At least while I’m here, sponging off my parents again, I’m not having to pay anything to live. Not ideal. But it’s better than the large sums of money I seemed to be handing over all the time for my food in the new house. Sharing the shopping bills appears to be a loser for me, as my housemate eats far more than I do, and has terrible habits of buying things that he’s never going to use just because they’re on offer. Which in turn go in the bin.

There are many problems in my life at the moment, and I have no real clue how I’m going to solve them.

Same as it ever was, it seems.

What A Difference A Friend Makes

I post this morning from the living room of my friend’s flat in Hull. On Monday I got an excited text from him, and others, asking if I’d be available for a visit this weekend. I haven’t seen him or any of my remaining friends in Hull for almost a year.

That has now been corrected, of course. I arrived here on Friday after an extremely long National Express coach journey, something that I will be repeating early this afternoon. It’s been a very good weekend, full of banter and getting back up to speed. Because, no matter what the internet offers in terms of keeping in touch with people, it just can’t compare to talking face-to-face.

On Saturday we wandered around Beverley market, something which I’d actually never done properly before. It was excellent, and I’m really envious. The variety of wonderful food on offer was just fantastic. Where else in the country will you find a shop dedicated to the baking and selling of scones? The smell when I got in there was just heaven, and the bewildering choice, from orange and lemon to ginger spice had to be experienced to be believed. And as someone who has baked many scones in the past but never achieved anything as wonderfully light and sweet as the scone I ate from there, I was even more jealous than before. I wish I had a way of bringing some home as my dad would have loved it. They just wouldn’t be the same though; the one I ate had just come out the oven. Even better.

So the market was explored and then we moved on to one of the many local pubs to play some pool. That was a success, especially because I actually won a game. I also felt like I was improving too. I need to remember to play with a longer bridge – it seems to improve my game.

Then we went out for a meal in an Indian restaurant. That is somewhat traditional now between my friends and I as we are all great fans of the food. That was also excellent, if a little too filling. I still feel stuffed this morning. But that’s why I love Indian restaurants. You always get enough food to eat, and the price you pay is similar if not cheaper than any other restaurant.

Overall though, the big lesson to me from this trip has been that I’ve dearly missed having friends around. My life would be so much better with them. There’d be more things to do and people to share it with. It’s made me seriously consider moving back here. I never thought I’d say that about Hull, that’s for sure.

I have to get my life in order. If I can get my PC sales business to take off, then realistically I can live anywhere in the UK. It wouldn’t matter as I’d be doing everything through the internet. I need a break, somehow. I just wish I knew what would do the trick – cos I’d be prepared to spend good money to achieve it.

Watford Gap

On Thursday I had my interview in Harrow. It was the first interview I’ve managed to land in all the applications I’ve sent out. It was nice to at least be considered.

I’m using the past tense here because I sense that the opportunity has closed itself to me. I thought I did well in the interview – I’d prepared answers to almost all the questions they asked. Except one – how will I deal with the relocation if offered the job?

I had done some basic research. I knew how much it was going to be to live in the area. Plus, there is the fact that the transport links are excellent in almost every direction in London. I would be fine, I said. I could live in a cheaper area and just travel more. Bad answer: cos, of course, travel costs would then increase to compensate.

But, in truth, the salary is probably not enough to live in London from the job. £19k a year is only £14.5k net. Rent at £800/month is nearly 2/3rds of my income gone. This was what got me. I felt a bit stupid. I blustered with excuses that I could carry on with freelance work that I get from time-to-time from a friend, and also that I could referee to earn a little extra, but I think the damage had already been done. I looked like I hadn’t done my research properly, and that’s fatal.

The daft thing is that the salary for the job is actually better than what I would get if I chose to pursue the London MP assistant career. Which is such a bad choice anyway because the progression route is so badly defined. The miserable pay is a result of the huge demand: everyone wants to work there so they reduce the wage. Only the most desperate apply. Am I that desperate?

Anyway, they said I would hear either Friday or Monday. Friday went without a call, but at least I have the weekend off from worrying about it now. In any case, there’s nothing I can do. I guess I have to keep looking. There can’t be many people who get their job at their first interview, anyway. I knew I wouldn’t be that lucky. I never am.

The day itself was actually a lot of fun. Travelling by train is always something I enjoy (as long as I get a seat!), especially now I’ve got an MP3 player. The time just flies by. The weather was excellent, and I even got a chance to sit in the park for a little while before hand to prepare myself for the interview. It’s a very nice area. I really would have liked the job – it would have suited me perfectly, I think.

If I don’t get it, I’m going to have to reassess my position. Maybe my experience is just not good enough to apply for these kinds of jobs. I feel like I’m trapped in the old circular logic: to get experience you need experience. No one advertises their post saying “Inexperienced PA required immediately!”.

In any case, if I don’t get it I don’t think I’ll be doing any more applying for jobs a long way away unless they offer to reimburse my expense. It cost me £70 in total, train fares, taxi fares. And I did a lot of walking. It was a nice little adventure, a nice break from sitting here all day, but I could do that anywhere and it wouldn’t cost me so much money.

The waiting game is on hold until Monday. I’m sure I’ll be put out of my misery then.

UPDATE: A few minutes after writing this post a rejection letter turned up. Oh well – at least I didn’t have to wait all weekend after all!