Wednesday, 31 December 2008

The last annoyance of 2008...

...was in the local supermarket when a woman had a go at me: I'd had the audacity to say 'scuse me please to her child, who was blocking the isle. I'd rudely shouted down to him, according to this woman. He's only a child!.

Well if that's how she deals with polite, measured requests (I don't think the child had even heard me), I dread to think what her response would be to someone rude or aggressive.

These things are annoying because they're so completely and utterly petty: much ado about nothing.

Enough of that.

I'd like to thank everyone for their time and comments over here at the Press, and to wish you all a very Happy New Year. Cheers!

Tuesday, 30 December 2008

End of year list type of post

That's right, this is the part where I list the best and worst of 2008 and all that kind of stuff.

Here goes:

Best Fall Album of 2008:

Imperial Wax Solvent.

There, that's it, I really can't be doing with any more.

Mind you, back to the first category, my other favourite Fall album of the year was Dragnet. Ok - strictly speaking, the year in question was 1979, I'll grant you that - but I bought it this summer and have played it almost as often as this year's winner.

My other main reflection on 2008 is that, regardless of all else that has been going on (and is currently going on) in the world, it has been 12 months which have greatly surpassed all expectations for me on a personal level. Maybe that's because really I didn't have any expectations at the outset, but I think that says a lot in itself. Whatever ups and downs there have been, it's felt like I'm heading in a better direction.

However, neither do I have any real expectations as regards 2009.

Well...maybe one.

A new Fall album would be nice.

Saturday, 27 December 2008

Pyromania

video

Well, less of the mania. There's something very soothing about making a fire, watching it take hold, gradually feeling the warmth, and then realising you've been sat there for the best part of an hour, utterly absorbed.

Watching shapes form and dance in the glow, and imagining.

It's just a shame there isn't a loop setting on the player.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Time off

I can't believe that I won't be rudely awakened by the sound of the alarm tomorrow morning. The sound is so familiar, and some mornings it's like a barb. Not so tomorrow. The daft thing is that I'm probably going to wake up around the same time anyway, and before long decide I might as well get up.

It's a very different kettle of fish though when I can then do things - or not - at my own leisure, with none of the pressing concerns that are usually occupying my tired little mind.

But something has potentially changed anyway: I noticed last week. Normally, in the few days leading up to a break, I'm frazzled, tense and fraught - especially when it's so long since I previously had any time off. I did have quite a busy week this last week, but by Thursday I realised I was actually feeling very calm and composed, and it was an odd (but not unwelcome) feeling.

In fact I began to think that I might be starting to feel better in some respects than I have done in months. I've previously mentioned that I have a suspected allergy: I've been frequenting the GP surgery to have blood tests and presciptions and all the rest, to try and get to the crux of it. We're not quite there yet, I'm awaiting more results - but I've switched from taking antihistamine tablets, to using a nasal spray. It seems to be doing the trick overall - less sneezing and other symptoms for a start. But I also wonder if it means I'm getting better quality sleep since my nasal passages are clearer.

Whatever the case, I'm starting to feel a little less tired and run down, and this week should finally see me getting the rest I need. Thank goodness!

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

A minute is a long time at this time of year

I know I posted something along the same lines this time last year: but today, round these parts, the sunset was at 1552.

Tomorrow the sunset is due at 1553.

That minute means a lot.


Monday, 15 December 2008

Thank goodness...

...I'm ten years older.

Otherwise, the likely scenario would have been:

** I would have had a terrible weekend.

** I would have probably called in sick today: my day at home would have been as terrible as the weekend would have been, anxiously turning over Friday's events in my mind and wondering whether I'd allowed myself - or rather my drinking - to get completely out of hand, and my behaviour with it.

** I wouldn't have been a good-natured drunk on Friday night.

** I would be looking for ways to blame other people for how drunk I got, rather than taking the responsibility myself.

** I would be feeling pretty low right now, as opposed to thinking about the good-humoured conversation I had today with my colleagues about Friday night.

** I wouldn't be feeling as good as I am about the arty things done in the group at work today, and how well they've turned out.

Yes indeed, thank goodness.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

"About me"

Work.

Morning, how are you?

Not too bad thanks, how's yourself?

Oh, you know, hanging on in there...

...and so on and so forth, ad nauseum, ad infinitum, and other such latin phrases. Or, as well we know, how to commit to expressing absolutely nothing - at least in a verbal sense - about how one is actually feeling.

Sometimes of course, it's a case of time and place: it would be awkward or inconvenient all round, in certain situations, to express anything more meaningful, honest or open than the above, ultimately coded language.

Other times, it's more a case of habit, politeness, unwillingness, whatever.

Well, I grew bored with that.

Morning trousers, how are you?

Brutalized. How's yourself?

Fine, thanks...what? Brutalized?

- after which there may be a frown, a pause, a laugh, or all three. Or all four if you can't count. There may also be further questions: brutalized? Really?

It just happens to be one of my favourite words, and I decided I would rather use it than come out with something which says absolutely nothing, at least nothing in a direct sense. It does seem to throw people off guard a little, not that my intention is to make anyone feel awkward - but one would hardly expect such an answer to an everyday question: said casually, according to the context of the conversation, it does admittedly tend to jar a little.

It just seems a little more honest sometimes, to say something so obviously, preposterously over the top, in such a context - it does at least have the potential to invite further discussion. In the end it can also serve to put people at ease, when the result is that it's clear that we've opened up a space in which we don't have to follow the usual codes. Namely those codes which allow us to make a habit of ultimately saying nothing with any real meaning.

Of course, I don't really mean that I'm brutalized: the prospect that I might throw such a word into the first conversational greeting of the morning as though I've got the thousand-yard stare thanks to all those inhuman scenes of suffering, mayhem and brutality that I've seen first-hand in some zone of combat, is ever-so-slightly far-fetched. It's not hard though to go from such silly extremes, to somewhere much more reasonable on that particular spectrum, namely what genuine stresses, annoyances or worries may be on one's mind (if indeed such is the case).

It also served as its own form of coded language when things were at their most Kafkaesque, masking certain realities with a veil of humour.

Certain individuals now respond to me in kind, which I think is brilliant - there's an understanding there - but I wonder if it's already reaching the point of having come full circle: brutalized being a convenient shorthand for avoiding any commitment towards expressing anything in particular.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

A bit of this and that

Yes, this could be one of those rambling posts about a number of things. But I've been sat here wondering if I've got anything to blog about, and keep thinking that I haven't - whereas, surely, I have.

Plus I don't want to keep blogging about feeling a bit rubbish, health-wise - it starts to feel tedious to me to keep going on about it, so I'm sure it's not a heck of a lot of fun for anyone else. Still - while we're on the subject of me feeling a bit rubbish: yes I am feeling a bit rubbish, thanks for asking. Not in any way related to guzzling a bottle (or two) of red wine at Fire Byrd's party at the weekend, it's hardly difficult to separate the signs of the after effects of alcohol from other ailments. Though having just had a week in which I felt run down anyway, then perhaps I would have been better off sticking to a more sensible amount.

Not that I was too bad afterwards, and was fine on Monday when I was at work. But on my way home my throat suddenly became very sore, and from thereon for the rest of the evening I had a sharp headache, mainly above my right eye. Plus attendant cold symptoms which exacerbated the binge-sneezing that the suspected allergy is still troubling me with.

I seem to be spending a lot of energy feeling angry about this ongoing slight dip in my health. But I'm back at the GPs tomorrow so I hope to be able to come out of there feeling a little more constructive about my current lot (and not thinking such silly thoughts as, Physician, heal thyself? More like, GP, fob thyself off).

Anyway - enough!

I'm pleased to report that things are getting better as far as my mother's condition is concerned: I've been - and continue to be - very grateful for the messages of concern and support that have been sent my way.

Talking of alcohol (well I was earlier, tangentially), I had a recurring image in my mind today which was a very comforting one: that of being in a very cosy pub. Not a specific one, but a kind of composite of the kind of places I enjoy: a good selection of real ale, a pleasant, relaxed atmosphere, and - especially - a roaring fire. Somewhere (probably) up north.

This really is less about alcohol, and more about being somewhere away from the norm, something associated with holidays and relaxation.

Not that I'm counting the days or anything.... but I've seven working ones left until I feel like I can finally breathe out, wind down, and allow my head to fill up with thoughts of my choosing rather than those which are there to respond to the seemingly incessant demands of all the day to day stuff.

I'm avoiding the temptation to wish those seven working days away, though, as valuable and outright necessary as the ensuing time off should prove.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

I think I could do with a lie down

...but all signs and symptoms today are entirely self-inflicted, thanks to a lovely party over at fire byrd's place. It was great to meet up with her and other bloggers (you know who you all are!) for another get together with much fine food, alcohol, and a whole load of conversation ranging from the very silly to the deep and meaningful.

I was glad for the opportunity also of a decent walk the same morning - in stunningly bright sunlight - and the whole day was a most welcome change from recent preoccupations. So thank you fire byrd for being an ever-genial host, and to fellow guests for being such fine company (and for putting up with that strange chap sat guzzling red wine and sporting a bloodshot eye).

Plus, finally, here's a picture from the previous walk that me and fire byrd went on, two months ago already.

Friday, 5 December 2008

I think I could do with a break

Last time I had any holiday time off work was my brief sojourn in Edinburgh, back in late August. Still, only ten more working days until I've a week off (and I'm not even thinking about the fact that a few friends are currently visiting one of my favourite places, and I'm not. Grrrr) - a decent break can't come soon enough.

I thought my eye felt a bit weird, and then someone pointed out how bloodshot it was: I hadn't even noticed.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Mixed Emotions (2)

I've mentioned, I do believe, just how fulfilling and downright necessary (and many other adjectives besides) the art group is for me at work, for many reasons.

This week and last week in particular, it's offered something else which also feels crucial to me at present: containment. Today's group was hectic, demanding, intense, as it usually is when we've a certain amount of attendees: so many people requiring input and guidance right now - usually 3 or more at any given moment in time. Like a nest full of baby sparrows (why sparrows? I dunno) all straining their beaks aloft for the promise of food.

That could make it sound like I'm getting a little grandiose about my own position in this regard - and I was sorely tempted to replace the word food in that last sentence with some kind of preposterous phrase like the worm of artistic guidance, but I couldn't stand the tension in thinking that anybody reading this might think I'm being serious.

Well the serious point has already been made: it's hectic, very hectic. A couple of hours of relentless activity, usually trying to do at least three things at once whilst contemplating a fourth and vaguely weighing up a fifth. So I'm left exhausted, and - especially at the moment - all the better for it.

The weekend, I went to see my mother and grandmother, the former having just come out of hospital. It doesn't feel right to go into any detail here, though I'll go as far as to say that she has some injuries to recover from, which will take some weeks at least: and given that she has other health conditions which don't exactly make life straightforward...well at the very least it's fortunate that things are no worse than they are.

I was glad to be over to see her, and not make a fuss of her. We don't really do fuss: I think she would be embarrassed if not annoyed if I was constantly asking if she was ok and if there was anything I could do for her. Nonetheless I asked her to tell me whenever something needed to be done, and she did so.

Clearly she was in far less discomfort than in the first few days after this situation came to pass, and that was a relief. She will continue to improve over the next few weeks.

What is currently exercising my mind though, is that - whatever the short term prospects - it signifies the potential for change in the longer term. It wouldn't be true to say that things won't be the same because really, things haven't entirely been the same for some time. Little differences very gradually, almost imperceptibly chipping away at whatever I'm referring to as being the same. This latest is very much on that continuum, but shockingly tangible in its immediacy, its rawness. What kind of a shadow it serves to cast beyond that, remains to be seen.

So it felt less easy to see my grandmother also, since I was carrying such thoughts.

(Perhaps I'm being morose - but I think this is also about starting - and only starting - to come to terms with what may be a period of adjustment.)

She (my grandmother) makes herself tiny these days, I don't know how: she crumples herself into the chair, hugging the cushion and keeping warm in front of the fire. In response seemingly to nothing in particular, her sturdiest moment was when she fixed me with a stare and informed me that she doesn't feel like dying just yet - and then she smiled.

These are precious moments, all of them. I'll make reference to another which I don't feel able to fully share here. It was as I was leaving: letting myself out, rather than her getting up to walk me to her front door, which is more of an effort now. She shouted something after me, which stopped me in my tracks, so poignant was it.

So. The art group today did a heck of a lot for me in terms of containment of my thoughts and feelings and I've come home feeling tired but energised, if there's any sense in such an apparent contradiction. I feel ok right now, regardless.

Well.....ok apart from one thing, about which I feel very annoyed. Annoyed? No, absolutely fucking furious. I need a rant, but I don't want to do it here, so I'll be ringing a good friend. Sorry to be so cryptic, but I feel it will be better done verbally than written down.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Using titles, or not

I've read one or two reports which mention that guidelines are to be put in place next year about how nurses address the elderly. Apparently terms such as "love" and "dear" will be out, and the preferred mode of address will be Mrs --- or Mr ---.

Well, fair enough - to an extent. But my own experience suggests to me that it's less about the words or the terms of address, and more about the attitude of the person using them. For instance during a mercifully brief stay in hospital I was always referred to as Mr --- (obviously they used my surname rather than just dashes), but it was often said in a tone of voice which seemed to communicate something like I may be calling you Mr --- but I'm talking to you like you're a small child. And it grated.

On the other hand, I remember my paternal grandmother (ie not the one who's just turned 93) being in hospital just under 20 years ago - frail, tiny, disorientated, needing much care - and I remember one of the nurses taking her by the arm to lead her down the corridor. As they walked the nurse referred to her as "sweetheart." My grandmother at the time was maybe 88 or 89.

Now if you weren't there, this might sound exactly like the patronising, infantilising (is that spelt correctly? Is it a word?), insulting kind of thing that the guidelines are trying to do away with. But I clearly remember it being said with such clear tenderness and respect, that it stayed in my mind and seemed to help keep a sense of life and spirit about my grandma.

Well I can only speak from my own experience: but like I say, the attitude of the nurses in question, over and above the terms of address they might have used, seems to have been the crucial factor.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Mixed Emotions

I've just had a great day at work, an absolutely nourishing day working on art with people I've never met before - and producing wonderful and inspiring results. I wish for more days like this, and that my future work can head ever more in this direction.

My grandmother is 93 today, I never thought that she'd get this far, and this time last year I thought that her 92nd birthday would more than likely be her last. My sincerest birthday wishes to her, bless her soul.

My mother is in hospital and I'm really saddened, upset and concerned.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Tags (8)

I was tagged recently(ish) by one Rob Clack, and it suits me to confront that particular tag today. Unwelcome and worrying things are afoot, so - in a manner not dissimilar to the last time I was tagged - it should provide a welcome distraction. As per usual I shall not be passing this on to anyone, but feel free etc. As with Rob himself, I doubt I'll manage seven answers to each question.

Here we go then:

7 Things I want to do before I die:

To produce the work that I feel I have the potential for, whether in terms of music, visual art or any other creative medium (I would be tempted to say writing also, but that feels like vanity more than anything else). Above all, to be able to engineer the kind of situation where such things are possible.

To take a long journey on one of those hand-propelled railcar things where you propel it by pushing the lever down in the middle.

To eat clam chowder in some roadside food joint in the midwest after such a journey. Just because I like the sound of it.

To finally learn another language beyond a few useful phrases here and there.

See more of the world, and also revisit some favourite places.

Numerous other things which are too personal for the likes of blogging.

7 things I do now:

Worry. Work. Cycle. Drink. Sneeze. Laugh. Cry. Not always in that order.

7 things I can't do:

Switch off. Have a lie-in. Drive. Be without earplugs. Afford a house. Tolerate the city centre on a Saturday afternoon especially at this time of year.

7 things that attract me to the opposite sex:

Any number of potential combinations of personality, looks, figure. Trustworthiness. A foreign accent is never a bad thing either. Also, a lack of certain things is important, such as being manipulative.

7 things I say most often:

Bollocks (and plenty of other such curses and oaths).
I don't know.
Speak up a bit, would you?

7 Celebrities I admire:

You must be bloody joking.

7 Favourite foods:

Too many to mention really, from Indian, Chinese, French, Italian, Greek and so on and so forth, down to stuff like cheese on toast.
I hope one day to be able to add clam chowder to my list of favourite food though.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

A few more











As threatened, I've added a few more pictures from the weekend (I'd worry about the person who didn't realise this).









This week has gone quicker than I expected, I thought it would really drag given that I had such a good and memorable weekend, but without taking any days off work to recover: I had travelled straight over to see my friends on Friday evening, and the following morning we flew to Paris. We were back home late Sunday night (I haven't blogged the Sunday, not because there were any secrets or because it was any less enjoyable than the Saturday. It just feels like what I've written already is enough to capture it) and I was at work on Monday.











I think what helped on my return to work (though it really wasn't easy) was being there to run the art session on Monday: whatever else happens, getting home and finding I've still got flecks of paint on my hands and under my fingernails, reminds me that there are things which are worth holding on to no matter what.


Monday, 17 November 2008

Deja vu

There's always a sense of revisiting certain things in oneself when seeing a place for the first time. True enough I've been to Charles de Gaulle airport before, but up until Saturday morning that was about as near as I'd got to Paris itself. In the twelve years that have elapsed since I'd previously passed through the airport on a changeover for Geneva - the day after my father was cremated - that same building might well have changed beyond recognition.

Still, as we blearily made our way through the bustle and turned a corner to where we would take the escalator to the exit, my breath momentarily left me, so taken aback was I by how the escalators crisscrossed in sequence, each sealed in its own glass tube, to and fro - and up and down - across a central, circular atrium: because this sparked a vivid memory very much generated internally, from a dream maybe two or three years ago. Amazing how one can sculpt a space in the recesses of one's mind, and subsequently find such a close counterpart in the outside world.

Given the fact that I didn't exactly feel fully awake anyway, after a week of wading through treacle and catching up on lost sleep - and then beginning the day at 5am - then the surreal, dreamlike atmosphere evoked by the collision of the external and the internal was particularly strong. The more down-to-earth sensations of fresh mid-morning air and the incessant revving of car engines, as we headed through the exit to grab a taxi into central Paris, served to prod me back into the realms of the here and now.

We had two days and one night, and we damn well made the most of them. Here on the other side of that wonderful, enriching, nourishing experience, I still have no overall sense of bearings as far as the central districts of the city are concerned. We weren't there long enough for me to establish a clear sense of its geography, but I'm glad of it - it adds to the sense of having been in an absolute whirl throughout the whole time we were there.

What sense of perspective I did gain, was more about what impacted on me internally - a reorientation, a reminder of what makes me tick, of the things that should still be possible. A revisiting of familiar and most welcome territory, thrown into sharp and vivid relief thanks to being in a new place in the outside world: on this occasion Paris. With all it could possibly offer in such a relatively short space of time.

So we did the complete and utter tourist things: starting out taking in the Louvre, and thinking: well, we might as well see the Mona Lisa while we're here. It would have felt a little too churlish not to - but what really did it for me was the huge work by Cimabue which I've known for years thanks to the various art books I've perused and owned. Such a familiar image still had capacity to surprise, almost to shock, such was its commanding presence. And again, that sensation of experiencing something familiar whilst being there for the first time.

The crowd snapping away like paparazzi at the more famous painting - most famous painting - mentioned above, were thankfully not too much to prevent us from negotiating a path through to get a reasonable view. At such times though, faced with something like the Mona Lisa, I experience a certain blankness - what am I supposed to feel, to gain from seeing something which is already indelibly imprinted on my brain through numerous reprints of it in books, on slides, tv - not to mention Duchamp's own bastardisation of it?

Been there, done that and perhaps, for the time being, not much more. And not enough time to linger anyway.

The weather was perfect for our purposes, since we intended to spend a lot of time exploring on foot. Though the sky was grey there was barely more than a hint of drizzle, and it was very pleasantly mild. Ideal for walking.

Having exited the Louvre and not even managing to find the coffee shop in there (if there is one) we took a stroll along the banks of the Seine towards Notre Dame, stopping at a cafe on the way. Coffee certainly helped to bring me round a little more, and the croque monsieur was the best I've ever had. Mind you, it was also the first time I'd ever had croque monsieur, so it would have been rather worrying if it hadn't been the best.

In fact, it would have been time to start asking some very grave questions indeed. For how could it have been second best in any way?

Erm, anyway. Enough about the croque monsieur.

I'm not even going to try and describe Notre Dame, I'll just descend into cliche - but it did pretty much knock me for six. I still was having to remind myself at this point that I was in Paris - after all, we'd flown here earlier in the morning, gotten straight out of the airport and into town, and had already spent two or three hours being bombarded by pretty powerful visual information and experience - and we wouldn't even be checking into the hotel for a while yet. But Notre Dame moved me - its sheer size and scale, and spectacle. We lingered, and at this point felt unhurried. Time for the dust to settle just a little.

Sometime on Saturday evening we were wandering down the Champs-Elysees. By this time, after seeing more sights and wandering here and there we had checked in - had a little time to get rested and refreshed, and to give the stamina a boost for more walking and exploring. The morning seemed a long time ago already, since we had managed to fill so much of the time with what might otherwise reasonably take a couple of days.

I was feeling by this point like I was coming to terms with these new surroundings. Just previous to this, in the Tuileries Gardens, I did what I often do: I found the space in which to break away from my companions for a little while. Not far away, not even out of sight, but just enough to be out of earshot. In the late afternoon light, the Gardens were tremendously atmospheric, and I wandered around at a leisurely pace, absorbing the scene as much as I could.

By now I could tell that I was feeling that I had banished everyday concerns - I felt very much enveloped in the moment. I could react to what I could see around me with fresh eyes and ears and a fresh mind - not just because it was new territory, but because the preoccupations of everyday life, those things which all too often allow subtlety and nuance to be reduced to little more than a dull thud, had shrunk away back to the deeper recesses of my mind. So now, little events - shadows cast, lights playing against the trees, people walking by - now took on a greater sense of melody, of more finely-wrought texture. I felt liberated again, back to a very welcome place.

In other words, to echo what I've said in a previous post somewhere, I felt like I was home again at last.

Later there would be many more things to do and see, to converse over a few drinks and to reflect. But this for me was the moment I needed more than anything else.

I've written enough for one evening, though if you've scrolled down here before reading it, I'll provide a summary:

I had a bloody good time.




Hope you enjoy the pictures, I may post some more.









Thursday, 13 November 2008

A number of unrelated matters

...well, three unrelated matters anyway. But then, three is a number after all.

*Regular reader(s) might know I've not exactly been unwell of late, but not exactly 100% either: tiredness, lethargy, cold symptoms (including binge-sneezing) amongst other things, compounded a few days ago by sleeplessness and also a cricked neck. Most of the symptoms haven't been so bad in themselves, the problem has been that they've been lingering for 2 or 3 months now, and it's not really much fun.

So I went to the doctors, and it appears that I may have an allergy. I'll be having some blood tests soon, in the meantime I'm taking some anti-allergens: they've stopped the binge-sneezing at the very least and I'm hopeful that some of the other symptoms will be relieved too.

Also my sleeping patterns appear to be settling down (thank goodness - I'm utterly rubbish if I miss out on sleep), though this is a seperate thing from any possible allergies, and more the aftermath of hectic and intense times at work, what with the audit amongst other things. It has at times been difficult to switch off from a constant flow of thoughts and of information.

*This coming weekend I'll be in Paris.

*RIP Mitch Mitchell

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Sleepwalking

One of the frustrating things about being wide awake between 3am and 5.45am is knowing just how tired you'll be throughout most of the daytime.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Held

Not much to report at the moment, unless I'm to continue moaning about feeling tired and all the rest...but that would be tedious.

So just a brief post, and another favourite song of mine to link to (and no, nothing as out there as the last one I posted). While I really love the music, there's a demo version of this on the original release which is just a voice and a quietly-strummed acoustic guitar - it's devastating, and highly poignant.

The lyrics carry a lot of resonance too.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Election day collision food

It's been one of those days in which I've felt constantly tired throughout. I wanted to stay in bed, felt like dozing while I was on the bus, and took a good hour and several cups of tea at work before I felt capable of functioning at any kind of level.

Even though it's been an ok sort of day and I've got plenty done, I just haven't managed to shake that tiredness: my eyes have felt like they're set 3 inches further back in their sockets, and have had that achiness which feels like it can only be quelled by many hours of deep sleep. My limbs have lacked energy, I haven't had the co-ordination, I've been clumsy and distracted.

Whenever I've had a moment's stillness I've just wanted to curl up and sleep.

So I did have a lie down and a bit of a doze immediately upon getting home, and that has served to refresh me just a little.

What got me out of such a state of repose, though, was the thought of food.

I wondered if I should be lazy and go to the chipshop. No, no point in spending the money, and I'm not sure if I can be bothered to step outside the door again, at least just yet.

Perhaps I might cook myself something simple and straightforward with the veg I've got left in the fridge, perhaps with rice or pasta and some herbs and spices. Nah, don't really feel inspired by that. Again, can't be bothered.

Then I remembered some of the things I'd got left in the cupboard: a tin of chipshop-style mushy peas; some tinned mackerel fillets (in mustard sauce); some super-noodles (with sachet of barbecue beef sauce).

Somehow, this latter range of options inspired me. Or at the very least, the idea of heating them up, throwing them in a bowl and eating them all together made me grin. One thing for it then: a bit of cordon-bleu-style opening of tins and heating of food later, and I was faced with a steaming bowl of bbq beef noodles, chipshop-style mushy peas, and mackerel fillets in mustard sauce.

I wonder if there might be something in the rather bizarre collision of flavours that might have appealed since they might - whether seperately or in this odd combination - serve to bolster my flagging system? Who knows. I did half-expect the whole thing to taste disgusting.

Perhaps on a day when I might feel more like my normal self (if there is such a thing) it might indeed have tasted disgusting. But this evening, and probably this evening only, it was fantastic, and I feel much better.

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Trial by audit

I haven't posted about work for a while - mainly because it's been loads better than when I used to moan about it: the one day each week that I'm doing art and art-related stuff is so much more than enough to compensate for the most challenging days that might occur. So, the rest of the week, if (or when) shit happens, I feel much more centred and able to deal with it: the impact on me of having the opportunity to develop art practice in a group setting is incredibly sustaining and nourishing.

But right now, to use a phrase I hate, it's a real rollercoaster. That's right folks, a real rollercoaster! Ugh. The auditors are in and they're looking at our fine toothcombs with even finer toothcombs, and then submitting those even finer toothcombs to the utmost scrutiny whilst uttering buzzwords and phrases such as quality, choice, measurable outcomes and a sausage dog which pisses milkshake. Not sure about that last one, but it works for me (well actually it doesn't, but what the hell).

We're right in the middle of this. I might find out tomorrow that I don't have a job to go back to since the powers that be, having previously overspent, are now ensuring that services which don't deliver quality, choice, measurable outcomes and - perhaps - milkshake-pissing sausage dogs, aren't going to be around for very long.

I'm calm, perhaps in part because I had a complete meltdown last week. Ensuring that one's written records over the last 20 months are robust enough to withstand the finest of toothcombs - and then finding out, one working day before the audit begins (that's right - one working day), that a fundamental part of the written records has changed, and that one needs to revise all of one's written records accordingly - takes its toll, but allows one's perspective and priorities to come into sharper focus.

I now personally feel more equal to the Kafka-esque machinations that are required, once again, to complete the task at hand (regardless of whether it's ultimately successful or not).

But I also feel like I did in the fortnight when I did jury service some years ago. I was serving as a juror on a nasty, depressing case: the fact that I was having to deal first-hand with many nasty, depressing issues in my job, meant that this felt like a holiday. Not that I took the issues at hand lightly, not at all: but the fact that we, as jurors, were quite literally compartmentalised, ie in our own little box - and that our task was to observe, to listen, to take in information, and not to take action or make decisions, meant that I felt pretty unburdened by the matter in hand.

Others on the same jury found it stressful, confessing that they weren't sleeping as well as they might, for example. I'm not trying to say that I was an altogether more calm, relaxed person than they were, for that's surely not the case: but I was perhaps more able to process the kind of issues that were being dealt with in the trial, given the kind of things which would regularly crop up in my main job, and which would sometimes necessitate direct intervention.

There was an earth tremor one night during this time, everyone at court talked about it the next day (it was in the papers too) - but I had slept soundly throughout.

When it came to the deliberations however, that's when it hit me. This was the point, of course, at which our thoughts and decisions would potentially have a very big impact on those involved in the case. I felt very engaged in the process - we twelve jurors had an excellent and extremely thorough level of debate over the course of two days - and I took an active part in it from start to finish.

But this was the point at which it weighed heavily on me. I still slept well, but - once out of the courthouse and back home - I wasn't the same. For a good few evenings, I shut myself down - if the phone rang, I didn't answer it, and I made no attempt to ring or otherwise communicate with anyone I knew. I brooded, I threw myself into the tasks I would normally carry out - cooking, domestic chores, going out for a walk, working on music, whatever - with great intensity, most of it to shut out the raging noise generated by the sense of what felt at stake, and what level of responsibility lay with me.

I'm feeling a bit like that right now. There's been so much information to process - and break down, and discard, and start anew, and reprocess over the space of weeks and weeks, if not months - and right now is crunch time.

So I've felt for days that I'm shutting the rest of the world out. I think it's more the case that I just don't have the energy to let the rest of the world even have a peek in at the moment.

Whatever the outcome, it will pass.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

I, precarious

I saw Dead Man's Shoes last night. Nasty, brutal, utterly compelling film - I'd strongly recommend it if you like your films to be nasty, brutal and utterly compelling.



















What was of particular interest for me was a certain dichotomy - that of ruthless, cold reason, against a desperate and frightening loss of rationality. This dichotomy existed both within specific individuals, and in opposing groups of people, which made for quite a powerful element of psychodrama as the sequence of dark events unfolded.

The narrative skilfully made room for the viewer (well, me anyway) to be able to extend a sense of empathy to the central figure, despite the fact that he was out to seek murderous revenge. That empathy was to be necessarily checked later on, but it served to cast light on how a particular event - or sequence of events - can cause a person to take a certain path, dramatically repositioned outside the realms of the everyday.

But this is the key to its strength for me - that ability to draw one in, and to make one ask, under such desperate circumstances, could that be me ? Could I take that course of action, fully mindful of the likely consequences?

It also made me think - perhaps a little tangentially - of the TV film Threads, made in the middle of 80s nuclear-attack paranoia, about the aftermath of such a cataclysmic event.

I don't actually remember much about it - and I'm not vouching for its quality or lack of - but the salient point here is the title, and what it refers to: the notion that everyday, ordinary life (whatever that is) is held together only by delicate little strands, which could break at any moment in the face of certain events. After which chaos and disorder ensues, both within and outside the self.

All of which is way too ridiculously grandiose for the point of what this post was originally going to be about (namely, me), and as such I may well have just written myself into a corner.

Damn.

Well anyway. At the weekend, my mind was brimming over with thoughts about two situations which have occurred in very recent days. These are both related to my employment, but there any similarity ends between them (except that also I won't mention any details about either, since they're necessarily confidential in nature). All I can say really is that both, had they been handled differently, could have been quite pivotal for all concerned.

My sense of preoccupation, such that it was, was about the sheer sense of potential that these two situations carried. I'm not talking about potential in a positive way either: in the one case especially, had things happened in a certain way, there could have been a notable impact both on myself and on a number of other individuals. Over the weekend I still had room for an element of doubt as to how well that situation had been resolved, and so it gave me the space in which to project forward any number of possible scenarios.

Not a great place to be.

Thankfully it turned out fine, but that window of tangible uncertainty allowed enough space to get more than a glimpse of huge changes, of normality rent asunder. It reminded me just how vulnerable and precarious one can feel, or can actually be: often without realising it. I'm still feeling the aftermath of this sense of precariousness.

It was a disturbing blip, which reminded me of a rather humdrum train journey one Friday evening: I was sat in a crowded compartment, full of what looked like businessmen/women, office workers and so on. All sorts of conversations were taking place about finance, accounts, deals in this and that. My eyes rested on a group of four such people sat facing each other just ahead of me: smart in their suits and ties and accessories, and emblematic of so much that I just could not identify with.

I remember actually delighting in finding them irritating as they waffled on about things which I neither knew nor cared about. It all seemed so mundane to me, so ordinary and downright dull.

And then one of them just froze. He looked like he'd got the thousand yard stare - glazed over, impenetrable. He started shaking violently, hands and jaw clenched. Saliva dripping from his mouth. The atmosphere in the carriage swiftly changed as more people saw this happening.

In the moment between witnessing this and realising that he must be having some sort of epileptic seizure (his colleagues were calm and unfazed), there was such a huge gulf between my prior thoughts and assumptions and what was unfolding before me, that it seemed as though someone had just made a big rip in the fabric of that point in space and time.

As with these work-related situations which I've had to be annoyingly vague about here, it served as a wake up call in terms of taking certain things for granted.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Tags (7)












I received this award twice, first time round from katherine, and second time from leigh. Thank you very much to both of you! Both, I believe, first wandered over to these parts via the Black Box widget, and I'm glad to have made their acquaintance(s). I've been rather tardy in properly acknowledging them having awarded me an award, so please both accept my humble apologies (how many times can I get the words both and award into one paragraph?).

Also, leigh had some questions to answer, I'm assuming rightly or wrongly that I'm expected to do the same. Well either way, given that my mind is buzzing with all sorts of other things at the present moment, then it's one of those rare occasions where I'm happy to be charged with the task of answering a few questions, so here goes.

1. Where is your mobile? On the chair arm.
2. Where is your significant other? Pass.
3. Your hair colour? Brown and (increasingly) grey.
4. Your mother? On my mind, presently.
5. Your father? Gone but never forgotten.
6. Your favourite thing? I filled in a job application form once, which asked for hobbies - I think I put "Art, music, literature, pub." I know that's four things but there you go. I didn't get the job either. But there's perhaps a circular kind of logic in the fact that work isn't one of my favourite things.
7. Your dream last night? Quite a depressing one for some reason, which seemed to be about my mother's frailty hence the answer to (4), but which had a rather memorable and funny moment: I was outside in the street looking up at a window, where there were two cats looking out. Both had electric guitars and were playing them with serious intent, and posing a bit as well.
8. Your dream/goal? Self-realisation.
9. The room you're in? Living room.
10. Your hobby? I'm not sure. I don't know if I have hobbies.
11. Your fear? Too many to mention.
12. Where do you want to be in six years? I don't look that far ahead.
13. Where were you last night? At a rockabilly night (not something I've done before).
14. What you're not? Certain.
15. One of your wish-list items? Peace and quiet.
16. Where you grew up? Derbyshire.
17. The last thing you did? Cook.
18. What are you wearing? Trousers.
19. Your TV? Don't have one (though the TV licence people seem to find it very hard to believe)
20. Your pets? I don't have any.
21. Your computer? PC (this one anyway).
22. Your mood? Weary and preoccupied.
23. Missing someone? Probably.
24. Your car? Don't have one.
25. Something you're not wearing? A dress (or for that matter, anything not listed in Q18. Well, except a t-shirt which I'm wearing as well, but I prefer the answer I gave above).
26. Favourite shop? Anything which has some individuality, not part of the identikit high-street chain-store blandness. Now I wouldn't call it my favourite shop, but what springs to mind is a baker's shop in Chesterfield which had a beautiful and very old interior, with amazing black and white floor tiles.
27. Your summer? Did we have one? Well, yes we did, because I got plenty of cycling done.
28. Love someone? Once.
29. Your favourite color? Blue.
30. When was the last time you laughed? Earlier - at my own stupidity.
31. Last time you cried? Reading a book (already mentioned in these pages) a few weeks ago.

As per usual I shan't pass this one on, because I'm rubbish with such things!

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

A taste of horror more violent and sick than anything you can imagine

I was going to call this post Slaying Demons (2), following on from this one. I decided not to because, in the wake of the harrowing experience I'm about to recount, demons have been faced but not slain. Also - and crucially - I thought it better to go with a far less dramatic, less over-the-top kind of title.

An obsessive bloggy-stalker might have seen many a comment of mine on other people's blogs, relating to children's tv programmes, in particular those from my own childhood. Then again an obsessive bloggy-stalker might have printed out those comments and made some sort of shrine, or fashioned them into speech-bubbles and put them on little home-made action figures and played weird games with them.

Anyway, I'm getting off the point slightly.

I had a conversation at work which was a kind of distillation of many of the aforementioned comments - for example, how Mr Benn was (as far as I'm concerned anyway) a metaphor for illicit substances. You know: bloke goes to see a man in a shop, gets to "try on a costume," then spends a whole afternoon having weird and wonderful adventures in strange lands.

Or how incredibly poignant and sad Bagpuss was, and how I don't think I could watch it now for those reasons, and how it served to gently introduce to children the concepts of loss and grief (so someone told me anyway, but it has a resonance).

And so on and so forth.

My colleagues listened and shared their own reminiscences, and then I found myself thinking about it. That programme.

That horrible, dark, scary, squalid, nasty little programme - full of shadows and evil intent. I shuddered.

Did any of you ever watch Pipkins, I asked.

Shit, I'd let the cat out of the bag now. I would have to go through with it.

Pipkins? Can't remember, what was it like?

How to describe it? It was a horrible, dark, scary, squalid, nasty little programme - full of shadows and evil intent, I replied.

Blank looks. No, don't think so.

I went on to describe how it used to scare the shit out of me, how it was all these seedy, malevolent creatures who lived in this shadowy attic, and everything they did was just dark and hellish. Yet I would watch it every week, and it would leave me feeling like I'd had a brush with something evil.

Still blank looks, indeed a furrowed brow hither and thither too. There was one thing for it. I went on the net and found a clip.

It was easier to watch, knowing my colleagues were there with me. A brush with something evil shared, is a brush with something evil halved (or something). They watched, they squirmed, and they understood.

Days later, they're still talking about it - and I'm still shuddering.

Monday, 13 October 2008

Misreading the signs (1)

(with apologies, for the title, to Reading the Signs).

Possibly the first of many such posts: possibly not. But I do seem to continually misread newspaper headlines, billboard ads, posters and any other such texts when I see them at a glance.

Today's, then, was

While the bus is in motion, passengers are requested not to stand forward of this sign, or otherwise wound the driver.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Nostalgia ain't....

If you read this, if your eyes are passing over this right now,(even if we don't speak often or ever) please post a comment with a COMPLETELY MADE UP AND FICTIONAL memory of you and me.

It can be anything you want - good or bad - BUT IT HAS TO BE FAKE.

When you're finished, post this little paragraph in your blog and see what your friends come up with.

(go on. i DARES ya!)

(Cut and Pasted from B's blog)

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Everything in moderation

I'm back home.

Yes I know, I didn't even mention I was away. Well I wasn't far away, just house-sitting for some friends who were staying elsewhere for a week or so. Nice to have a change of scenery and routine and all the rest, and some feline company: said cat being resident at the aforementioned house. I presume he saw me as a temporary change of staff.

It was all very civilized and relaxed, unlike the times when I used to house-sit for some other friends who lived out in the countryside. It was relatively isolated so I wouldn't have much (if any) human contact - and the cat in this particular abode seemed to delight in developing, manipulating and refining a peculiar set of dynamics between he and me.

In short, by the end of my stay there it would feel like a cross between The Shining and one of those fight sequences between Inspector Clouseau and Cato. I could be walking from one room to the next and, to the sound of a bloodcurdling wail, suddenly be set upon by the cat which had launched itself from some devious vantage point. He would be constantly spoiling for a fight, and would also delight in walking up to me and then sitting down facing away from me, his neck scrunched up into his shoulders, as if to say, fuck you .

One day I had the upper hand in one of our skirmishes (started by him yet again) and, utterly disgruntled, he sloped off to sulk in some undisclosed location. I was getting a little worried when I realised the lateness of the hour and there was still no sign of him. Slightly woozy after a couple of drinks, I made sure there was cat food on his plate, did a tour of the house, and then decided he'd have turned up by the morning.

I switched all the lights off.

I went into the spare room and got into bed. I was starting to doze off when I heard the faintest of noises.

I opened an eye, with which I did a quick scan of the darkened room from where I was lying. I couldn't see anything. A faint noise again, from very close by.

I slowly started to move, craning my neck to look behind me: the window was behind the top end of the bed. As soon as I began to move, I caught sight of a cat-shaped silhouette sat in the window: simultaneously, a low and very eerie growl issued forth from that same silhouette.

There you are! I said, and lay back down to get some sleep...except that he wouldn't let me. Everytime I moved, he emitted the same sinister growl. It was hilarious and weird at the same time - but if I laughed, he would growl again. The end result though, was that I wasn't going to get to sleep anytime soon while this situation continued.

After some time, I realised what I had to do. I put my hand out towards the cat, who might more accurately be described as a Feline Attack Unit. He went in for the kill, and I made some token efforts to fight back. In other words, I let him win. Then, and only then, did he exit the room and leave me in peace.



Completely unrelated to the above, all comments for the next couple of days will be subject to moderation.

Why?

No reason whatsoever, I'm just genuinely curious to see how it works.

Friday, 3 October 2008

Something lighter

I found this on the internet years ago, can't remember where, but it still makes me laugh:

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Angry...

...having just read this. Beyond a few choice ones, it's not easy to find words for those with such a callous, casual disregard for someone's life.

Monday, 29 September 2008

In Search of Borders (Journeys by Blog part 2) - continued

You'd think I was getting the hang of meeting all these other bloggers by now, following the ever increasing amount of occasions in which I've had cause to cross paths with various different ones.

Well perhaps I am getting the hang of it, but it's still weird for me seeing people in real life for the first time and recognising them from the photos they've published online - I'm so much more accustomed to knowing people's faces first and seeing photographs of them at some point later. So I'm sure it sounded daft on Saturday when I said, isn't it weird how people look like their photographs?

So - Saturday. I had by now met Caroline, who looked remarkably relaxed and composed given the hectic few days she'd had of promoting Black Boxes. I bought a copy of the book, and tried to give her the money directly (I'm so used to buying cds or records directly from bands after gigs). Luckily for me, she didn't take it, and pointed me in the direction of the counter.

I had also only just started getting used to the fact that I'd met Caroline, who is very lovely, when I found myself being introduced to a whole host of other bloggers (and being introduced as trousers, which made me smile). At which point, who should wander in but Ms M, Stray and Badger. In seemingly no time at all I was sat having lunch with these latter three. I felt very comfortable in their highly genial and warm company, though I didn't get to meet their dog, Ruby: they'd not brought her since she would have been baking in the car (a much underused skill for a dog, perhaps).

The initial weirdness that struck me about Cheshire Oaks now was replaced by a sense of conviviality. I remained with the aforementioned individuals - and the equally lovely b - and we had a mixture of illuminating and silly conversation, drank coffee, looked for bargains in the stationery department, and discussed the finer points of Fermat's Theorem amongst other such pressing topics.

Later there was a change of scenery for a gathering, and much eating of cakes and drinking of tea: the atmosphere remained just as pleasant and relaxed throughout. I also met and enjoyed conversation with some people entirely new to me, and it was a delight to make their acquaintance too.

Well, if this sounds all-too-pleasant and enjoyable, that's because it genuinely was a perfectly good, memorable afternoon. In fact the only thing that served to put a slight dampener (so to speak) on the whole day was when, with perfect comedic timing, a bird shat on my jacket sleeve while I was waiting for the bus back into Chester. Bless it....

With a short while to wait for the train, I had a reflective pint not too far from the station. It was slightly odd seeing such a picturesque town centre being the backdrop for what would otherwise be pretty standard Saturday night drunken hordes, but this didn't serve to break the spell of the preceding few hours. I felt very content.

At the train station itself, the evening light was glorious: I stood for a few minutes just soaking it all in.

Sunday, 28 September 2008

In Search of Borders (Journeys by Blog part 2)

I seem to be making it a habit to be getting up early on Saturday mornings these days - earlier in some cases than when I normally get up for work on weekdays.

Yesterday was no exception, and it was worth it even just for the walk to the bus stop. The streets were totally silent and the weak morning light diluted even further by the hovering mist, though ameliorated by the promise of warm and sunny weather later.

I was journeying up to Chester and then on to Cheshire Oaks, the latter being a big retail outlet village in the middle of I'm-not-quite-sure-where (don't bother trying to search for I'm-not-quite-sure-where on Google Earth: I'm not quite sure where to start looking, for one thing).

Chester is a lovely, historic town with many fine things to see and to savour. I arrived there mid-morning - roughly half past ten - though due to the early hour of my awakening and embarkment (I know that's not a word, but sod it) it felt more like early afternoon. I would like to take you on a journey through this town with its many sights, its hidden stories waiting to unfold: old and beautiful buildings from times past which stand proudly, the weight of history more than ably carried by their aged but resilient facades and interiors. I would like to, but there's bugger all for me to tell because I headed straight from the train station to the bus station, and eating a Kit-Kat Chunky was about as cultural as it got for me during this time.

Perhaps, you might think, this is beside the point. You'd be right. The point being, I was heading over to the aforementioned retail outlet whatsit - specifically Borders, the bookshop - in order to meet the very talented Caroline Smailes, author of Black Boxes (her second novel, following on from the wonderful In Search of Adam), since she was to be signing books instore.

As I sat down on the bus, keeping my eyes peeled and my wits about me, a rather chic lady leaned over and asked in an Italian-sounding accent, Do you know where is Cheshire Oaks?

I explained that that was where I was heading, but that I hadn't actually been there before: so if she wondered why my eyes were peeled and why there were wits about me, that was why. She nodded knowingly. We exchanged a few words here and there. As the journey progressed, it occurred to me that she might be a fellow blogger, heading over to meet the aforementioned author. I had to ask.

Are you a fellow blogger heading over to Borders to meet the aforementioned author?

She smiled knowingly.

No, she replied.

Oh.

I entertained the notion of telling her that she could bloody well find her own way to Cheshire Oaks then, but I resisted. We arrived there soon enough, in any case.

Cheshire Oaks is huge and slightly surreal. The mist had long since cleared and the place was positively sun-drenched - as such, it appeared before me as a big plantation of shops, or maybe a retail-opportunity version of one of those sprawling towns in the American Deep South with wide roads running through the middle of them (whether such towns exist is another matter entirely).

It took perhaps 15 minutes to walk from the point at which the bus dropped us (a bus stop, I believe it to be called) to where Borders was, looking every bit like a huge slab of bookshop which had been dropped there from a great height.

I walked in.

I felt a bit nervous, like I usually do when meeting someone for the first time, but there was no immediate evidence of book-signing-related activity at this point. Upon asking one of the store assistants, I was pointed in the direction of a table which had copies of Black Boxes stacked in neat little piles on it - Caroline would be here in a little while. Fair enough, I thought. It was midday by now, though it felt more like the tail-end of the afternoon. I headed over to the music books at the back of the store, picking up a copy of The Fallen by Dave Simpson to flick through whilst sitting on one of the all-too-comfortable settees nearby.

Not that I really looked at it: I was too busy looking around in search of familiar faces, or at the very least, people who looked like they might be fellow bloggers. Here wasn't a particularly good vantage point in any case, so I wandered around for a little while: presently, I toddled back in the direction of the table, and there was Caroline, hurriedly putting the finishing touches to her book:



















A thought hit me, uncanny in its prescience :

If, say, I blog this tomorrow, it's possible it might get a bit rambly and long-winded...depending how it goes, I wonder if I might use this moment to have a break in the narrative and resume in a subsequent post?

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Trouser leg

This is what happens when you leave the door to the grill on the front of the cooker open and walk into it in the dark:

Still, it's better than the time a couple of years ago when I decided to take a short-cut to wherever I was going, and jumped over a very low (ie less than 2ft high) wall. Not a problem normally, except somehow I managed to make a complete mess of it. I managed to snag my foot against something on the floor which took away my balance completely: I landed heavily against the top of the wall, which gave me an absolute shiner of a bruise in more or less the same place as the one you see here. The main difference was that you could clearly see the brick pattern on my leg.

What was worse than the pain at the time was that it happened in a public square in the middle of the afternoon, but I think I got away with it without anyone seeing me. No such worries this time anyway.

Update: I found a photo of the bruise from when I fell on the wall.

Bricklayers of a nervous disposition should look away now:

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Another cat...

...just because it really made me laugh.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Review

I finished reading The State of Me by Nasim Marie Jafry earlier this week. I'd read the bulk of the book (save for roughly the last 100 pages) a couple of weeks ago, but I quite deliberately put it to one side because I didn't want to finish it just yet.

On picking it up again, I expected that I'd finish it in two or three sittings, but as it turned out I quite easily got through the rest of it in one go.

If I had any hopes or expectations beforehand, it was that at the very least I would find the book engaging, interesting and informative. I found it to be all those things. But what I didn't expect was that I would find a novel about ME - the illness, myalgic encephalomyelitis - to be not just compelling, but to be such a sheer delight.

But I'll add a correction to that: it's not about ME, it's about a person (the central character, Helen Fleet) with ME. In other words, it's a novel about a life - one which becomes severely disrupted by a whole cluster of debilitating, bewildering, frightening symptoms, which in turn are potentiated by the attitudes and assumptions of others and by a huge raft of uncertainties.

Which from that brief description might make it sound like a joyless trawl through tales of illness and suffering: far from it. ME is - necessarily - one of the constant themes here, and it's there throughout. As I progressed through the pages I felt so much more informed and aware about the condition - about what it is and what it isn't, and so on - but the beauty of the book is how this is interwoven into the fabric of Helen Fleet's life, friendships and relationships, frustrations, aspirations and observations.

What makes it so readable and compelling is the deftness with which it's been written, and the keen observational eye and wit as transplanted into the narrative voice of the main character. There is simultaneously a descriptive richness and an economy of expression throughout which can be playful, poignant, sad, laugh-out-loud hilarious, and many other things besides. The key is that the narrative never stoops to sentimentality or demands sympathy or pity from the reader. Rather than effectively say (for example), isn't this terrible, the text instead says this is how it is, and leaves it up to the reader to respond or empathise.

Where the pace of Helen Fleet's life is painfully slow due to her having pretty much been completely floored by the illness, this is brought into sharp relief thanks to glimpses of her friends and fellow students getting on with their lives - flirtations, sexual encounters, parties, studies - again all with a keen and witty eye for telling detail in terms of situations, atmosphere and dialogue.

Similarly, her relationships with friends, family members and with boyfriends are examined as much in terms of how they have to be reorganised or accommodated (or not) afresh, as they are in terms of loss or limitations. Again, all done with a refreshing frankness and straightforwardness: much of the power here though is in terms of what is not said, but is largely implicit.

While there can be seen to be a political element (in the broader sense) to The State of Me - rightly putting across a strong case against all the doubts and misconceptions that have surrounded a now more-understood but still-controversial illness, the strongest aspect of it for me is that it could be -in fact, is - a novel which stands up in its own right as being about so many other things besides.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Slaying demons

Breathing slowly and steadily.

I stood admiring the view: it was a glorious day. A man walking his dog stopped nearby, and he remarked upon how nice the conditions were.

Me: isn't it just? Think I chose a good day to go walking.

Man With Dog: Whereabouts have you been so far then?

Me: Oh I started off going up the high street, then cut sharply upwards towards the Heights of Abraham, all the way over the top and then down into Matlock. Along the road for a while and then up to Riber, then back down the hill and up to here.

MWD: I'll be doing similar with a group of people next week, but we're starting off at Cromford and walking the first stretch down by the Derwent - it seems to be a part which is really overlooked.

Me: I know that one, I went camping down there about 20 years ago at Cromford Meadow, and I would walk along the Derwent to get into Matlock. Seem to remember it being really nice.

Dog: woof.

MWD: It is. Do you know it round here then?

Me: I grew up not too far away, we used to come down here pretty regular. I tend to come back every so often just to do some walking and to have a change of scenery.

...and so the conversation continued for a few more minutes (me having the pleasure of inadvertently lapsing back into my broad Derbyshire accent - something I'm rarely able to do if I'm to have any chance of being understood): remarking on various walks we had done or intended to do, a few general observations about life, and of course about the weather. It was glorious, after all.

Calm and relaxed, I remained at the same spot for a few minutes more once the man and his dog had gone on their way. I felt like I had just gone a long way towards conquering one of my fears. Not - I hasten to add - a fear of engaging in conversation with men walking their dogs.

The point is, I was stood just a few feet away from the sheer drop at the top of High Tor. For whatever reason, in recent years I've found myself increasingly nervous about the prospect of such heights (or drops). Not unreasonable in itself maybe: but as someone who enjoys walking in the hills and mountains it feels like a bit of a handicap, the extent to which it has affected me.

Back in February I had travelled up here and walked on a similar route which took in this particular spot. As I'd got nearer, my legs had the sensation of being made of ice, but with large dollops of electricity coursing through them. I'd felt dizzy and more than a little unsteady, and I'd had to slow down. The closer I'd got, the more it felt like electricity was coursing through my brain as well. It wasn't safe - I didn't feel safe, but I'd forced myself to at least try and stand there for a minute or so. I managed to take a few photographs whilst feeling like the ground might fall away beneath me at any moment.

It had felt like a very dark moment as I edged closer, fear mounting, thoughts racing. Darker than I could handle, in fact: I turned round and walked away, rushed away. Even just the knowledge that I was still on the crag itself (though well away from the sheer face now) was unnerving, like I was being goaded. I couldn't stop until I was back at ground level. The sense of vulnerability was deeply shocking, nasty, raw - and it seemed as though the further away I walked from this particular place, the less in touch with those feelings I would be.

It had left me feeling rattled. I'd visited this spot again in the spring and I fared better, at least to an extent.

So how pleasing it was yesterday to be close enough to the edge to peer over and have an amazing view down towards ground level: close enough, but not enough to be in danger. I felt much stronger, more secure, less vulnerable. A cliched phrase I know, but it does feel like I've gone some way towards slaying a demon. I wonder how much it's about the external fears themselves, and how much it's about a general sense of my own well-being.

Friday, 12 September 2008

Erik

I was really very pleased that one of the bloggers who has landed here in recent days found my post about a piece by Stars of the Lid, checked out the link to the piece mentioned and was, (and I quote) completely blown away.

That's just marvellous, and makes me smile. I did my best in that post in question to give a description of the music and the feelings it evoked, whilst aware that I don't exactly have an adequate grasp of vocabulary, at least as far as certain musical/technical terms are concerned. Not that I would let such things stop me.

Meanwhile, I've just been listening to Erik Satie: Danses de Travers, and Petite Ouverture a Danser (scuse the lack of little dots above the letter a and so on, I can't be bothered) amongst some choice others.

This is one such occasion where no amount of description would do justice to the music in question. But in terms of the impact - they've just stopped me in my tracks, once again. It's the kind of music which forces stillness and silence, and I'm left shaking my head in wonder.

I'm glad these things still serve to have such an impact upon me.

Update: here's a link to an interpretation of Petite Ouverture a Danser, which is along similar enough lines in pace and stuff (my descriptive powers really aren't with me today) to the one I have, which is on a cd entitled Piano Works by Reinbert de Leeuw.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Croatia 0 England 3

It could all change of course. There's still nearly half an hour of play to go.

But: England beating Croatia by 3 goals so far, with the latter team rattled and in disarray?

Up to now, even under Capello (whom I'm prepared to give a lot of credit to), the changes in players, tactics and formation has seemed (despite glimmers and positive signs) still rather easy or safe to regard as a case of rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic.

But this sounds (I'm listening on 5live) genuinely inspiring and exciting. Am I tempting fate?

Update: final score Croatia 1 England 4. Do we blame the atom smasher at Cern? Amazing stuff.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Welcome cat

Since I'm getting a number of different and random(ish) visitors thanks to Caroline's blog widget, I thought I would post something up that may be a little more initially welcoming (unless you hate or are phobic about cats) than a post about panic attacks.















If you want to read about panic attacks, just scroll down a little.

Update: if you did land here via the aforementioned widget, feel free to say hello and what choices got you here.

Saturday, 6 September 2008

A little eternity (1996)

An all-too-familiar feeling. Vague physical discomfort, an outward symptom of something nagging incessantly at the back of my mind. Something trying to unseat me from within, make me feel unsafe. Unease. Disquiet.

Here I was in a little room used for consultations. A room seemingly without features, let alone any redeeming ones. Two people sat opposite me, one of whom looked at me intently. I was feeling like I wanted to get out of here at the earliest opportunity, wanted the questions to be over regardless of the outcome.

I desperately tried to control my breathing - and desperately tried to conceal the fact that I was desperately trying to control my breathing. What would they think if they knew? I felt dizzy - my thoughts, my pulse were starting to race seemingly in tandem and I felt short of breath. Try to ignore the thoughts which triggered this off: to delve into those thoughts felt like it was to delve into something very dark: was it something I had done, something remembered, something imaginary? I wasn't sure: but as painful as it would be to go through the whole process of trying to pinpoint those thoughts, analyse them, ruminate on them and somehow try to find a way of making everything ok again, it would be just as hard to temporarily banish them to the back of my unsettled mind.

But I had to. Somehow. Amidst the whirling thoughts and the physical symptoms which seemed to be gearing me up for confrontation or for getting the hell out of here.

I'm a bad person. I'm a mess. They know it. They can tell.

Next question.

Have you ever suffered anxiety or panic attacks?

I couldn't help but inwardly afford myself a bitter smile that this, of all questions, should come up right now. I tried to keep my voice even as the words came out.

Mumbled half-formed sentences followed.

Yes...sometimes it's difficult to cope. I get...it's like everything is...I get scared to go out because I. Er, it's like something's going to happen. Something bad.

I wished I could stop clenching my jaw. Were my attempts at breathing easily noticeable to them? Could they tell that this was what I was going through right now? That the words being spoken between us just felt like background noise in a room full of people shouting at each other? That it was a strain just to try and feel normal? Eye contact wasn't easy, but I had to do it, just because of that word: contact. It might help, just having these points of focus, but it might also serve to betray what I'm going through. Amidst all this, all that shouting in my head, a further question.

Are you able to tell anybody or get help when this happens?

Fucking hell, how patronising, I thought. How can you tell anybody when this happens? It's like running up to someone who thinks you're a fundamentally decent person and telling them that you're mad. You fear the response and that just makes the destructive cycle worse. You seal yourself in and just try and deal with the symptoms and rake over the thoughts - over and over, like some forced exercise in internal map reading, the terrain of which is harsh and unwelcoming.

A further mumbled answer.

More questions.

Do you take any medication?

Easy enough question to answer: factual rather than reliant on being able to express thoughts and feelings. Good: more like that please.

I felt shattered. The room wasn't getting any bigger or more inviting. The door was still the same distance from my seat, yet still seemed an eternity away. Freedom if I went through it now, before this was over, but what if there were consequences? The thoughts - including all those nameless, shapeless, malevolent ones - still whirled.

The voices spoken in the room still like something barely discernible in the background.

They must be able to tell. Or am I doing a convincing job of concealing this panic? Well they hadn't reacted to me any differently, we were still sat here.

More questions. We were finally away from the intrusive, searching questions and into the realms of the mundane. Name and address of GP, next of kin, thankfully no more delving into hospital admissions, how you behave when you're unwell, raking over painful personal history.

Finally, a perfunctory, almost businesslike, we'll be in touch - and I was free to go.

Fresh air. Space. Freedom - and I realised I had managed to control the panic attack. I was tired, unsettled, but much calmer. Maybe I was actually starting to get better at dealing with this.



The thing I should point out here is that - yes, I was the one who was having the panic symptoms: I was also the one who was asking the questions, carrying out the assessment not being on the receiving end of it.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Fromage

I was tired: just got back from a long day at work. Having just sat down with a cup of tea and finally begun to unwind, I was mildly irritated to have to get up to answer the phone.

I recognised the voice on the other end as a friend of mine. For the sake of cliche, I'll call him Jean-Paul. Should the nuance in the following account be too subtle, I'll point out - as an aid to context - that he's French.

Est-ce que je peu parle à Trouseurs?

I raised an eyebrow. It was odd, I thought, that the question was so awkwardly constructed, given that French was his native tongue. Nonetheless I was relieved that he had not referred to me as les Pantalons. Small mercies.

Oui, c'est moi, I replied wearily. The oui was pronounced, of course, to rhyme with c'est. I breathed a sigh, and was perturbed to note that I was exhaling a cloud of cigarette smoke: I hadn't smoked for years. Why was there a Gauloise wedged between my index and middle finger?

I took another drag on the cigarette and, realising that I was trapped in a prison of meaninglessness, exhaled once more. The smoke danced and whirled and gradually dissipated against the light of the window.

I looked around. Must clean the flat, I thought - it had gone all grainy and black and white. It almost felt like there was a film noir soundtrack playing in the background. I turned off the record player, and the film noir soundtrack stopped playing.

Trouseueurs!

The voice snapped me out of my sense of ennui (do the French, I wondered, have a word for ennui?).

Pardon, Jean-Paul. C'est un problème?

He lowered his voice. Luckily, for the sake of the remainder of this post, he continued in English.

I've got the cheese.

Give me 20 minutes, I'll be right over.

Click. End of phone call.

Given that he lived just 4 minutes walk away, I was able to spend 15 minutes and 30 seconds relaxing and finishing my tea, followed by a further 30 seconds spent putting my shoes on. Exactly on time, I was chez Jean-Paul.

You'd better come in.

Logically, I went in, and followed him to the lounge. He gestured towards a seat: applying a similar kind of logic to just previously, I sat down.

One moment please.

He disappeared into the kitchen. Minutes passed before he reappeared, though that's hardly the right term: he could hardly be seen behind the sheer volume and variety of different cheeses he was carrying into the lounge with him.

He laid them all on the table, then went off again to get a selection of breads and cured meats. The next 2 hours were spent sampling the mind-boggling variety of flavours, textures and tastes - and combinations thereof.

Jean-Paul would discuss how this kind of cheese brought out a certain particular taste when tried with this kind of bread or this kind of meat. I would frown, thinking, surely I'm not going to get that? Each time I would be surprised as the sweetness of one kind of flavour served to enhance the bitterness of another, or how the herbs in a certain blend brought out hitherto latent properties and textures in another.

Eventually, we could eat no more.

A further hour later and we were both drinking pint after pint of tap water, given that our kidneys had all but shrivelled up to the size of raisins. I then stumbled home, as tired out as my belly was aching.


On the third week of every other month, I would get a similar call, and the scenario would play out again. Because on the third week of every other month, there was a French Farmer's Market in town, and it was the best stuff that Jean-Paul could get his hands on without actually bringing it back from France himself.

I've posted all this just because the memory makes me smile - and I really ought to get back in touch with Jean-Paul. Also, because I've found out I'll be heading to Paris for a weekend later this year. I've been to France often enough, but (apart from a changeover at the airport) never to Paris itself.