Happy Birthday – My Guitar

I haven’t written for a while, possibly because I’m just completely drained and utterly fed up with life at the moment, but I will make an exception for a recent notable event.

Two days ago my guitar became 10 years old. 10 years that have rattled by in the blink of an eye. I wouldn’t normally celebrate the anniversary of an inanimate object, but this particular one has some significance to me.

It was my first ever high quality musical instrument. The previous guitar I had was just something cheap from Argos, picked especially because I just wanted something to learn on. My shiny new one, in 2002, cost me about £250… and has brought many years of enjoyment.

I am glad that I bothered, because it gave me a proper hobby for a change. Up until that point, when people asked about my hobbies, they invariably involved computers. A dull, dreary thing. Of course, now everyone is using computers, that one is no longer seen as unusual, but the guitar was away from the computer world, and it finally allowed me to pursue the interest I’d had in music for my whole life, but never had the ability or the knowledge to do anything about it.

The guitar got me to the USA. In 2005, as chronicled on this blog, I visited a summer camp in Colorado with this very instrument. It enabled me to entertain, and probably irritate, a number of people for nearly three months. If I’d not taken up music to that level, I would never have got the job I did – which was all about entertainment – and consequently probably not actually went to America, where I had the best time of my life, and continue to regret to this day that I never repeated it.

But what it hasn’t brought me is any kind of development from there. I often toyed with the idea of being in a band, and made several attempts, all of which failed. I wrote my own music, 95% of which is trash, and the rest is good, but probably only to me. I always thought if only I could turn my attention to it and get the right breaks I might have some sort of sideline, at least, in the music world. It didn’t happen, primarily because I just don’t have the talent. Now I can only sit and enjoy, though quietly enviously, the likes of Ed Sheeran.

I still don’t play anywhere near as well as I’d like to. After 10 years, I thought I might be a bit better than I actually am, but unfortunately time and, dare I say it, a lack of inclination in recent years, has put paid to any further improvements. I look back at my youngest brother, who is learning and doing really well, and see myself in his situation. It’s all so much easier when you have more time and don’t feel guilty about using it. When you’re grown up and boring like me, you can get into the horrible mindset of thinking “I could be doing something more productive than this”. I’m getting better at unlearning that, but being self-employed I think I am in a different situation to the majority of people…

But through all that time my guitar has been a constant. In my bedroom, sitting right beside me, ready to rock at a moment’s notice. The tunes that guitar could play if only it were in the right hands. But it has to put up with my mediocre strumming, and increasingly crap efforts at singing.

To celebrate, I’ll play a Bb major chord. Maybe my favourite. Sad, I know.

Attempted Getaway

In the past few days my mind began to wander. It drifted to the other side of the Atlantic, thinking about the time I spent in the USA working for a summer camp. My mind tends to do this when I want to escape from my current conditions, and that thought comes around regularly at the moment.

It was at that point that I realised that maybe it isn’t too late to do the whole thing again this summer. Oh, how I wished I’d had this thought a couple of months ago. I went around, frantically e-mailing the few contacts I could get hold of over there, eventually getting the details of the one I wanted.

Then, the bad but totally expected news. No positions available. I’ve been desperately wanting to do the summer camp thing again, just one more time before the door shuts forever on it. But each year I’ve managed to contrive an excuse for not doing it. I should have done it last summer, but I thought I’d be too busy. I should have done it this summer, but I thought I’d have a job. You know, one of those things where you do work in exchange for money.

In my desperation I thought that maybe they’d still have one or two openings in there somewhere. But, as we all know, the recession is biting, especially in the USA, so I’ll bet they were inundated with applications this year. I know they would have had me back, but there’s nothing they can do about it if I leave it too late.

Briefly my mind had already drifted to what I’d need to do in the event I got the go ahead. I was thinking about the clothes I’d need, some new shoes, etc. You know me, always wanting to be prepared for any eventuality. I don’t know why as I knew there was no hope. But it was an entertaining diversion nevertheless. Lord knows I don’t get many of them these days.

Next summer, maybe? I’d be nearly 25 then. While there’s no real limit on ages in the camp I would go to, there’s a certain feeling in my head that if I haven’t got a full time job sorted out by then that there’s something drastically wrong with me. But then again, the months seem to go round so quickly at the moment. Day after day, ticking by with no hope, no prospects. I’m still desperately waiting for someone or something to give me a break, but once again, my latest attempt to fashion one out has failed miserably.

There will be no getaways this year. I suppose my life is one continuous holiday at the moment, so what could I possibly want to get away from? Such is the mysterious nature of the human existence. Boredom is a very powerful emotion, but I sure as hell have had enough of it now.

Nothing Ever Happens

… sang Del Amitri many years ago. It is a wonderful song, one of my favourites, but it also is very apt right now, since nothing really is happening at all. The US election is over, and while I am still following events there very closely, it seems anything remotely interesting in my life right now has been drained away.

The only event of note recently was on Sunday when my football team, the one my brother plays for, ground out a very dodgy draw. It was probably one of the most tense and nerve-wracking games of football I’ve ever been to watch, as we took a one goal lead at half-time and managed to weather a huge storm in the second half – both metaphorically and literally as the heavens opened and gale force winds blew against us – to only concede once after the opposition had a huge array of opportunities to win and win handsomely.

Literally, that has been the only thing lately worth writing about. I spend most of my time mulling around here, looking at job sections, occasionally applying but knowing there’s really no point right now. I’m waiting for a Eureka moment, one in which I will finally decide what to do with my useless existence.

It’s not like I’m not trying to think up a way out of this hole. I have called in as many friends as I can, but I’m beginning to discover who my real friends are in this situation. It’s amazing how I can live with or know people for so long and think they’re a good friend, but when times get hard it can be incredibly difficult even to get a reply out of people.

And in other circumstances, the opportunity for action has passed. I thought I might genuinely have a chance to get a business started up with a friend… so I e-mailed him to see if he would be interested. He said yes, but he had to delay the decision until he had pending job interview. The interview arrives, he e-mails me and tells me it was a disaster. So we start to plan.

Next day, he’s got the job, and all bets are off. Talk about bad timing. If only I’d considered this a few weeks earlier he might not have applied, and things could be very different.

The daft thing is that right now, with my terrible job prospects, I am seriously considering if I could go to the USA next year and do the camp counselling thing again. But that really would be a desperate situation, because it would pretty much mean that I could start a full time job in the meantime, because I would have to quit come next summer.

So I’m delaying that one for a little while, though the window of opportunity is only open until mid-December. That’s not good, not with the way the days seem to just fly by and I take so long to make up my mind anyway.

My head is wracked with worry right now. I just haven’t got a clue what to do. There are lots of options, but each one I take probably closes almost all the other doors. For instance, if I went to the USA, it effectively means that I won’t have a proper job until next September. That’s too long.

And it’s getting so bad that the first seeds of doubt about dropping out of teacher training are starting to appear. That’s not good at all.

Hmm. Considering nothing has happened, I still managed to write an awful lot about it…

Yes, We Did

After an incredible two days in which I’ve slept for a grand total of two hours, I finally reach the end of the road.

It’s been a stunning moment, one which I think I feel I ought to acknowledge for historical purposes. This was the moment that America woke up and at last picked the candidate that wasn’t the folksiest, wasn’t the one trying to scare you into submission, but actually is articulate, intelligent and conducts himself with great dignity.

The speech Barack Obama gave this morning at 4am my time was, without doubt, the best speech I have ever heard in my life. It hit every note perfectly: soaring, inspirational rhetoric, with an exceptional narrative and even better, almost sermon-like refrain of “Yes, we can”. The resonance this speech will have throughout history should not be underestimated. Obama knows how good he is at this stuff, and always knows how to rise to the occasion. This time he knew this speech would be pored over by history students for centuries to come: so he made sure he left them something to remember him by!

Even if Obama ultimately struggles with the task at hand, and who wouldn’t with his unenviable in-tray, there is no doubt in my mind that he will always be able to find the right words at the right time to rally people to his cause and try to invoke some good faith.

I stayed up the whole night biting my fingernails. It wasn’t over until it was over. Which was basically when Ohio was called for Obama, and that was when I knew we were on the verge of something very special indeed. In the end, I was actually disappointed that Obama didn’t get more votes than he did, or come with longer coat tails (some Senate election results were a bit disappointing); it seems that turnout on the West Coast didn’t match the heights on the East Coast. And some Obama safe states (e.g. NY) didn’t feel the need to go all out and be part of the moment. I dunno about you, but if I lived in NY, even though I know the result for my state is a foregone conclusion, I would want to be able to say to my children and future generations that I was there casting my vote to change the course of American history.

In the end I could take no more and had to go to bed at 6:30am. I had a couple of hours sleep and got back to the computer to keep an eye on the results. I’m obsessive about this kind of thing. I just want more and more data. I thought to myself that it’s quite lucky I don’t have a job right now, or else I wouldn’t have been able to indulge so much in absorbing all the material surrounding this US election.

And what a fabulous election it has been. I’ve been following it all year, and following Obama himself since 2004, and now all of a sudden the election is over.

In its place is the beginning of the struggle. The hard work begins now for the USA. I can only dream that one day Britain will achieve a leader of the same caliber as Obama, one who creates a new movement and mobilises an entire apathetic generation from their slumber. Because I think that’s what we’re waiting for, but we can’t do it alone.

It really is a privilege to have witnessed the events of the past two days. I know I will never forget them. As “Yes, we can” morphs into “Yes, we did”, the election of Barack Obama will forever serve as a powerful lesson that together anything is possible.

Yes, we can. Yes, we will. Yes, we did.

Yes, we must.

The world is waiting.

Our Moment Is Now

Of all the slogans that the Obama campaign has, “Our Moment Is Now” is probably my favourite. It encapsulates the feeling of America, if not the world, that it’s time for a change, and that it is a new generation that will be making it. At least, that is my reading of the current situation. Can nearly 200 polls be wrong and there is a McCain “surge” waiting in the wings, undetected by dozens of polls over the past several weeks?

No. I’m feeling pretty confident about it. And to celebrate, I will be staying up all night tonight and following the coverage. The coverage is, of course, not very good here in the UK, unless you have Sky television, and receive all the US news channels. Tonight, I will have to suffer the BBC and ITV coverage. Hopefully, there will be no Jeremy Vine making a total prick of himself. Bring back Peter Snow, that’s what I say.

So a very long night is in prospect. I usually do this to myself every election night, US, UK and even the Italian election that put Romano Prodi back in power, because I wanted to see Silvio Berlusconi go down in flames. Though he did, it didn’t last very long, such is the nature of Italian politics, and now the corrupt “Il Cavaliere” is back in power.

But this one holds so much significance to me.  Probably more than the UK election will next time around. To me, I hope this is the evidence of a generational shift in politics. I hope it is going to prove to us that there is going to be a change in the way politics is conducted, away from the tired old priorities of the past, towards re-engaging society via grassroots organisation. This kind of narrative slots very neatly into American history – because the USA is built so strongly upon local organisation anyway – but I suspect it will not take root here. We are suspicious of localism in this country, preferring instead to take our direction from politicians hundreds of miles away in London.

I have pinned a lot of hopes to Obama, and I know many of them will be dashed. I talked about this last time I wrote about him. But nevertheless, he is still the perfect candidate for these times. I want to believe, I really do, and have allowed myself to be swept away with the hype, just this once.

And so that is why tonight I feel there is so much at stake. I love politics, and I love elections even more, but normally I view them with a critical distance. There is not too much difference between the parties in the UK any more, so it doesn’t really matter that much.

This time, however, I detect a large difference between Obama and McCain. With that in mind, there is only one possible candidate for me to support. And I have to go all in with my support, because any other result would be a disaster, not just for me personally, but I believe the USA and hence the rest of the world will suffer.

If I was an American, today I would be doing everything I could to get out the vote. I would be knocking on doors, delivering leaflets, making phone calls, whatever. This means so much to me, and it means so much to the rest of the world too.

There is a lot riding on American shoulders today. I know they are up to the challenge. I know some of them don’t like Johnny Foreigner getting involved in their politics either. But the only reason we do is because it matters a great deal to us. It affects our lives too. We want to have a say on that, only we can’t.

How do you think that feels to feel so powerless, helpless, disconnected, unable to do anything about the changing circumstances of the world, Unable to have a say on changing the direction of travel?

Americans should feel very privileged that they have, in their hands, one method of changing the world. I beg of you, on behalf of the rest of the planet, please, don’t waste it.

A Political Week

Rather than continuing the job hunt, I have spent most of this week reading political articles, digesting endless blog comments and watching many speeches from politicos across the USA. I might as well make good use of the endless free time I’ve got right now, after all.

And the timing has been perfect, because, naturally, this has been the week of the Democratic National Convention. As a political junkie, something like this is unmissable. This time four years ago I spent an equal amount of time watching the speeches from that (courtesy of the awesome C-SPAN) – and one in particular impressed me.

Yeah yeah, we all know about Barack Obama’s stunning oratical masterpiece four years ago. I watched it at the time and thought – and this is the honest truth – that this man ought to be the next Democratic presidential candidate after Kerry. It was moving and powerful. I have never heard anything so good since, and I doubt I ever will. I feel pretty smart that I jumped on the bandwagon four years ago, a long time before others. And certainly a long time before almost everyone in the UK.

But with that speech four years ago in mind, Obama was never likely to reach those heights. And so, wisely, he picked a different tack, to give the speech more content and more red meat. It worked. And the final third delivered the rhetorical soar that all good speeches ought to finish with.

On balance I would give it an 8.5/10 when compared with all his speeches I’ve seen (and I’ve seen a lot). 10/10 goes to the DNC 2004 speech; and 10/10 to his “A More Perfect Union” intelligent brilliance of a few months back. But in terms of whether it was the right speech, at the right moment, it truly nailed it. In the context of the election, and using an American analogy, he hit the ball right out of the park.

Why do I share all this on a personal blog? Well, largely because an enormous part of me is dictated by the way I feel politically. It would be foolish to deny that my politics has no impact on my outlook of life. In many respects, it is to my shame that it has the impact it does, mainly because British politics has left me so cynical and jaded at the tender age of 23.

But somehow, just this once, I’ve allowed myself to get carried away with the optimism. When American politics is at its finest, optimism and positivity is the thing it does the best in the world. Maybe it will turn out in the future that we’ve all pinned our enormous expectations to Obama, something which he will never be able to live up to. And so we’re all setting ourselves up for a very big fall when reality crashes in.

Just this time, however, I’m willing to believe. But the message of Obama is far more than just what he can achieve. In fact, I would argue that, if Obama is successful, it will not be because he personally made certain actions that delivered certain positive results.

It will be because he convinces people that they must be the agent of their own change, not the government, not politicians or anyone else. That politics is not about top-down. It’s about the community, it’s about high aspiration, it’s about hard work and passion for your cause.

This is why I have a lot of time for the Obama message. It is one of personal empowerment, and that is extremely liberating.

So in many respects it appeals to me personally. It is a message that I could easily apply to myself. That I must stop wallowing in self-pity, wondering where did it all go wrong, but instead to embrace the situation and turn it towards my own hopes and dreams. To put in more effort and to aspire to achieve something bigger than what I was originally aiming for.

While it’s been a fun week politically, it’s been a challenging one personally. What should my next step be? I can but dream…

Let Them Eat Cake

Since Christmas I have really taken to the idea of baking cakes and various unhealthy items. This has been something of a surprise for me in truth because I normally have an allergic reaction to making food from scratch.

But it seems that with the passage of time I’ve realised just how simple it is. My latest creation was the easiest and yet the best thing I’ve ever made, a microwave golden syrup sponge with custard. Oh yeah. The family enjoyed it, most of all my dad who, despite being very thin, likes anything cakey, biscuity, chocolately, etc. Must be where I get my sweet tooth from. My dad won’t have a cup of tea unless there is something sweet to go with it. Weird.

I don’t know whether I’ll ever be able to make any use out of it. I could, maybe, use these recipes in school when I’m a teacher. But then again, that’s probably unlikely given the outrageously packed national curriculum, which generally regulates every minute of a teacher’s professional life. Hmm. Maybe I’ll have a think about that one.

Meanwhile, my mum is back from her working holiday. It was very interesting to compare notes with her from the time I worked in a summer camp in the USA. She was one of the seven staff there to oversee the school Year 8 holiday to Barcelona so she had a similar experience to me in terms of dealing with homesickness and keeping children entertained. Though they had it easy because there was an itinerary all planned for them. I had to make it up as I went along!

While we talked about this I did feel like I’d missed out again. Really, I should have been back in the USA again this summer. Though this is not yet 100% regret. Maybe by the time this holiday is over I will feel I could have used it much more effectively. To be honest, I would say that is very likely. Right now, I’m not doing enough to justify taking the safe option of staying here.

Naturally, too, there was one other thing that I’d missed out on.

Cake. And food in general. Because out in the USA they looked after us staff extremely well. Lots of food, and lots of dessert. Oh yeah. I put a whole four kilograms on while I was out there. And all that while I was hiking mountains virtually every other day. Perhaps I did overeat a bit. Then again, having M&M thick pancakes (not like the crappy thin British pancakes) for breakfast as well as cereal every day, it wasn’t exactly difficult to overeat.

Anyway, enough reminiscince. I missed out. My fault. I have to make this time here count for something. I’ve not yet worked out what I should do with it. I thought I’d have a job by now, but the good news has not yet arrived from my Contact Who Often Provides Work. If I earned a fair old stack of money then I could feel like I hadn’t wasted this opportunity of lots of free time.

Perhaps I need to get my thinking cap on and see if I can do something more productive with this long summer, probably the last one I’ll ever have.