Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Hair today...

I can’t bear it. I can’t bear it any more. I look like I’ve been electrocuted. Or viciously attacked by the Bouffant Monster. My hair, when I woke up this morning, stood a full 4 inches off the top of my head. Even when I blow-dried it into submission I was still giving the Sears Tower a run for its money.

Nothing works, and every time I walk by a hairdresser’s, I’m seized by the urge to run in there, tearing my hair and screaming “Make it stop! Take it away!” Toni & Guy currently has the allure of a cavern of earthy delights, so I must be on the brink of a breakdown. I don’t even think I’d mind being charged £200 for a selection of hair products that I will never use, or forking out £45 for a junior stylist to wash my hair with fresh river water.

I’m very wary of hairdressers usually – they have a habit of annihilating any confidence I went in with by making me look either 20 years older than I am, or like a something out of the Wella Shockwaves ads. They never listen to me. Ever. For years I’ve had hair so short that it doesn’t matter what they do with it, but I’m sick of being asked if I’m a lesbian by men I don’t want to get off with (not that this happens often, but three times is enough).

So now I want to nurture it and shower it with love, and it’s most ungratefully turned into a nest of triffids living on my head. Gone are the fantasies of slinky waterfalls of hair, and girly plaits. In a week’s time, I’ll be disentangling myself from tree branches and rose trellises. Give me another month, and I’ll be turning men to stone with a single glance.

Next instalment: Rachie’s Hair and the Indian Adventure. The Hair discovers that humidity gives it twice its normal volume. Will it use these new superpowers to save mankind? Or will it’s evil ways plunge the earth into eternal darkness…

Monday, November 29, 2004

Safe as...

I’m going to India in five days, and I’m getting a bit concerned about the flight. In an attempt to see if I could do anything about my fear of flying, I searched the web, and eventually found this site.

Aha! I thought. It’s called Airsafe.com – it’ll tell me not to worry and that my foolish fears are groundless. Be off with you, it’ll say, with a light punch on the arm. You’re a one! Fear of flying? Pish – you may as well be afraid of bubble gum*.

But no. Instead I find myself reading about mid-air collisions, ‘fatal turbulence events’ and explosions on board. All of my worst fears put down into black and white. I haven’t yet read the page entitled “Most fatalities”, but imagine my horror when I read about the incident where a man sustained mortal injuries from an in-flight entertainment screen. Thank God BA have got the screens in the backs of the seats; I’m going to pop a valium, knock back a couple of Bloody Marys and watch my selection of films, comfortable in the slightly fuzzy knowledge that the entertainment system isn’t about to attack me, and maul me to death**. That’s if we manage not to fall out of the sky, or hit another plane on take-off.

What’s this website for? Hmmm? Who in their right mind would direct someone with a phobia of being airborne to a site like this?

Excuse me while I skulk off to the bathroom for a bout of quiet hysteria.

*Which, as any fule kno, is a potential choking hazard
**I’ll be taken by surprise, having been lulled into a false sense of security, when the headphones attempt to strangle me.

Friday, November 26, 2004

Quack quack

I have to go to the doctor next week, to get some jabs and some valium for the trip – one for my general health reasons, the other to save the sanity of everyone else on the flight with me.

I loathe my doctor. Just thinking about him makes me nauseous. He’s made me cry both times I’ve been to see him, and he refuses to either look at me or touch me (thank Christ). I think he hates women. Really. His voice on the phone sounds like a million slugs crawling down the wires. It slithers. My skin is still crawling from making the appointment just now.

Stupidly, once I realised that he was both incompetent and inhuman, I tried to change doctors. I didn’t realise that all the doctors in the Lewisham area (and believe me, I spoke tearfully and desperately to all 40 of them) are full up, and have waiting lists. Mine is one of the few that has spare patient places, and bitter experience has shown me why. What happens to people who can’t get a doctor? Do they spend their lives going to A&E whenever they’ve got a problem?

I’ve become resigned to this man now because I’m pretty healthy, and flatmate has put the house up for sale, so I’ll be moving soon. I’m not really very excited about next week though. I don’t know how he’s going to administer my tetanus shot without coming into physical contact with me. Maybe he’ll ask his grey and downtrodden receptionist to do it. In fact, I think I might prefer that.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

The Spirit of Woodstock

BF has just informed me that at he has got a 'togetherness'. Oh, how I pissed myself when I found out that that's what they call company meetings in his neck of the woods.

And he thinks I'm bizarre because we have 'team' meetings. Are we still in the FA Cup? he asked, wittily. I don't think he can say anything after that little revelation. I'm going to be laughing all afternoon.

Hoxton nights

I went out last night. BF and co. were playing at The Foundry, near Old Street roundabout, which coincidentally happens to be about 100 yards from my office. So off I popped to see what was afoot. And there was much.

I’ve never been anywhere like The Foundry before. For those not in the know, Hoxton, the area in which I work, was once the place to be seen out and about if you wanted to be part of the trendy set in our great capital. So I never came here. I haven’t got an asymmetric hair-cut for starters, and frankly, if you’re not in the running for a Jarvis Cocker looky-likey competition, you’re on a hiding to nothing anyway. I still have palpitations about going out round here in case I get arrested for wearing clothes without rips in.

BF and co. were on at about 10, so we went for some dinner, and moseyed on back at around 9ish to see what was on. We’d missed the main event – the lead singer spent the rest of the gig floating around the front of the stage in a white silk dress, wearing white pancake makeup and a blonde beehive wig, and dancing as if her legs were being held up by beanpoles. Occasionally she’d throw herself into a frenzy of Irish dancing a la Michael ‘Riverdance’ Flatley. The first thing we saw was a very odd duo – I didn’t catch the name.

There were two members. The main man looked as if he’d spent his life trying to look like a miserable version of Terry Nutkins from Animal Magic. He played a combination of instruments, one of which involved him waving his hands about between two metal sticks to make a screeching sound. The other one involved lots of knob twiddling, and the finale came when he put a pink child’s welly on his hand and stamped it up and down the keyboard, eyes closed, head thrown back in an orgy of self-expression. His band mate was wearing a pair of trousers that kept falling down round his bum. He was playing a cello, after a fashion. Mostly it was just irredeemably awful noise – the proverbial thousand monkeys attempting to recreate Mozart on a thousand electric keyboards. I couldn’t stop laughing. I know I shouldn’t, but it was so horrendous, I couldn’t help myself.

I kept looking around to see if anyone else had noticed how bizarre the whole thing was, but no, they applauded, and off he went to smoke a giant bifter at the table, accompanied by his three mates. These blokes, all of whom were wearing trousers that showed their underwear, were clad in an arresting combination of women’s hats. They’d been out to the organic food shop nearby, and come back with some corn crispbreads and a lump of cheese, which they proceeded to eat at the table. I swear it was like some horribly twisted WI tea party.

Then on after them was a very intense girl with a brown bob, who sang intense versions of Nina Simone songs as if she was the only person in the room. She came back a bit later, during the final act (Australian in curly wig and sunglasses, screaming rock songs about wombat sacrifices in Victoria) to do a bit of intense headbanging.

But the piece de resistance was an act called John Callaghan's AutokaraokeThere’s nothing I can say that can do this man justice. He was brilliant. He went through a blinding variety of clinging dresses, and ended up wearing half a suit, but he started off the act inside a cardboard box on which were 2 painted ping pong balls for eyes, a sponge with a slit in it for a mouth, and a stuffed babygro. I enjoyed it immensely. We ran into him on the tube on the way home, and he was telling us he’s had the box for years. It’s in pretty good shape, considering.

I still think BF and co. were the best though. But then I would.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Wretched and wrecked

A man with a ‘For Sale’ board came round this morning. He was hammering into the ground outside our gate as I staggered out of the house this morning, alcohol fumes pouring from every pore. The urge to puke into the rose bushes was becoming overwhelming. “Smile”, he said. “It can’t be that bad”.

I really hate people that say that. How do they know? Last time someone said that to me I was walking down the street a couple of weeks after my Dad died. ‘Grief-stricken’ would fairly accurately describe my state of mind. Possibly also ‘drug-addled’ from a combination of Prozac and diazepam*. In any case, you can bet that he won’t be saying it to anyone else any time soon.

Anyway, I managed not to vomit down his jumper, and made it to London Bridge in one piece. Bless Boots. Bless Alka-seltzer. Bless you all, my little darlings. So, one toasted scrambled egg and spinach muffin and pink grapefruit juice later I’m feeling slightly more human. At least the greenish tinge has gone from my cheeks, and the ability to speak has returned. The likelihood is that I won’t be mistaken for the living dead, as was a distinct possibility this morning. That is the very last time I go out with people from work for drinks. They’re evil, and wish me harm.

*Don’t you think it’s insane that they furnish depressed people with tranquillizers? Apparently Prozac can interfere with your sleep patterns, so I was told if I had trouble sleeping to neck one of those. I could barely get out of bed in the morning for weeks because I couldn’t bear actually existing. The tranquillizers en-masse were terribly tempting.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Yawwwwwwwwn

Today there has been a paradigm shift in the top-line thinking of our organisation. We will from now on adopt a more holistic approach to our work, and this legacy transition will necessitate thinking outside the box in order to deliver the client-based service-packages in line with the SMART objectives laid down in the business development procedure manual.

Is it time to go home yet?

Pain au poisson

I’m dreaming of food. It’s lunchtime – what else would be occupying my mind? My lunch today consisted of a bowl of cornflakes and three mini Galaxy caramels from the box of Celebrations that is sitting in front of reception. And two mini Galaxy truffles. And a mini snickers. But it doesn’t stop me dreaming.

This is the recipe for my current favourite thing to eat for lunch, and the best accompanying beverage.

Serves 1. There simply isn’t any way this can be shared without violence entering the equation.

4 Bird’s Eye fish fingers (Haddock)
2 thick slices of fresh, crusty white bread
4 thin slices of butter (none of this margarine/dairy spread nonsense, thank you very much)
A dollop of Heinz tomato ketchup

Lightly fry the fish fingers in olive oil until sizzling and golden brown.
Meanwhile, lay the slices of butter evenly across one slice of the bread. When ready, lay the fish fingers on top.
Spread the dollop of ketchup evenly across the remaining slice of bread. Place on top of the fish fingers, ketchup side down, and press lightly. Slice in half with a knife. Eat, then make another one. Deeelicious, especially when accompanied with the following.

1 bottle of vodka (preferably extremely good quality, frozen).
Ice cubes
1 bottle/carton of good quality tomato juice, shaken
Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce
Tabasco
Salt
Pepper
Lemon

Mix in varying quantities, and enjoy. I like mine with lots of Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco, easy on the pepper, lemon sliced like a doorstep, and at least 2 shots of vodka.

And, as an aside, can anyone tell me why Bloody Marys are the best ever aeroplane drink? It’s a pleasing, yet mysterious fact that I’m still trying to get to the bottom of.

Monday, November 22, 2004

The environmentally friendly Beast

I've had a revelation. And because I am in tonight, and I can't help myself, I'm on here again, blogging away. I'm a bit worried that it's becoming a consuming obsession, thinking of things to post, and it's not healthy.

Anyway, when I was cycling home this evening I noticed a whole load of broken glass glinting in my headlights. Concerned for the Beast's new inner tube, I began asking myself who is responsible for sweeping the detritus of car crime from our streets during the night. Whoever it is isn't doing a very good job. It looked as if bicycle saboteurs had spent an industrious afternoon scattering little pieces of car window as comprehensively across the cycle bit of the road as possible.

Anyway, as I swerved yet again into the path of the car behind me in an effort to avoid another puncture incident, it occurred to me. The Buddhist Bicyle! Convenient for concerned puncture-victims, while also bringing peace of mind to confirmed Buddhists by sweeping insects and small mammals from your path, unharmed and free to live another day. I'm going to buy a broom and attach it to my handlebars. I will invent a mechanism which will use the movement of my legs to swish the broom from left to right, clearing my path, and ensuring that my puncture worries are no more.

Just you watch. In a couple of months time I will be ruling the world. It's inevitable.

Wolf in sheep's clothing?

I’ve just read this article in today’s Guardian. Kenco and Nestle are going to launch ‘fairtrade’ coffee brands. Apart from the fact that “Kenco Sustainable Development” doesn’t actually trip off the tongue, it all seems to be a bit of a con. As you might expect.

In order to jump on the bandwagon that is the growing success of Fairtrade and other ethical coffee brands – thanks to an increasing awareness among consumers, for which we can be thankful - Kenco and Nestle are in a rather inelegant race to produce their own ethical coffee.

However, while their marketing machinery is going to be spewing out the fluffy and caring message that their coffee is sustainably produced, they are paying the farmers who produce it less than half of the premiums on sustainably grown green coffee beans that Fairtrade pays. Their excuse for this? They can’t afford to pay the same premiums as Fairtrade – a vastly smaller organisation - because consumers won’t stand for the extra cost. Now excuse me, but I thought consumers were utterly under the thumb of the companies that tell them what they want and need? I don’t buy that excuse in the slightest.

This also comes after an agreement, signed by Nestle together with a group of NGOs and coffee producers in September, to pay coffee workers a minimum wage, to stop child labour, to allow union membership, and to follow international guidelines on environmental protection. So I can’t help wondering whether this drive to produce fairer trade brands has more to do with necessity than actual choice – now that they have to pay a minimum wage, and follow environmental guidelines, they may as well make a mint on the back of it, by advertising their new ethical credentials to the max.

Am I being overly cynical?

Fasten those pants for the lapdance

On my cycle route into work, about three minutes from my house, I have to pass by a series of advertising hoardings.

For some reason, Spearmint Rhino, the UK’s premiere Gentleman’s Clubs apparently, has decided that the Lewisham male is the ideal demographic for an advertising campaign. Thus, daily, I am invited to partake in the delights of my own personal lapdance, while 12 foot high luscious lovelies beckon alluringly from behind the railway bridge.

They’ve changed the ad this morning, and now a rather generously endowed girl in a fluffy white bikini gazes down at me with her come-to-bed eyes. “Come to Lapland”, she incites. I imagine that the place is lit up with Christmas lights, bedecked with fake snow, and full of fur un-clad women promising things that would make Santa blush.

I’d quite like to go. I’ve never been to a lapdancing club before – I’m curious as to what it’s like. A friend of mine got briefly, but expensively, addicted to them once, and it was an education for me, I can tell you. I don’t think I’d be welcome though, unless I shoved a pair of socks down my pants, and went in drag. Oh well.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Bright lights, Big city

Well, what do you know? The day managed to come good, and though a late starter, it got it's head sorted out and delivered the goods.

My mate came over, and we went to Greenwich for a cup of tea. Fortunately, this involved getting out of the car on Blackheath, and walking through Greenwich Park, which is very lovely. Particularly in the dark. In Greenwich Park there is a large hill. If you stand at the top, you can look out across London, and what a sight it is.

Canary Wharf was lit up like a Christmas tree. It's awesome. It dominates the skyline from this part of London, and even on a Sunday night there is obviously things happening over there. If you pan across the horizon, you can see everything from Big Ben to the London Eye. Traffic zooms around, like a million tiny fireflies each on its own unfathomable mission. Jets fly low across the sky, already on their descent into Heathrow, and their headlights strafe across the clouds in sync with the changing note of the engines as they bank. Rising up from this carpet of lights is the distant roar of traffic, the sound of a multitude of lives being lived all at once. It is exhilarating. I felt like a goddess, standing and watching my creation come to life. When you see the big picture London, it's a place to inspire you and make you glad to be here.

I love going out and about with this friend of mine. He looks at things differently to most people I know. We can potter about, looking through obscurities in car boot sales and odd little markets, and I'll always find something I would never have looked twice at normally. Last time we did that, I ended up with a Poole coffee pot, which I don't use, but which I love. This evening we pottered about Greenwich Market, riffling through velvet curtains, admiring dining tables, looking at second hand books ("True Crime Diaries - Read about daring and horrifying murders through the eyes of the perpetrators!"). Then on the way back, we got locked in the park. The police had to let us out, once we realised that anti-climb paint actually means 'get extremely and irredeemably dirty paint'.

To round things off, we went for a quick drink in the pub opposite my house. I never go in this pub. It worries me, frankly. They serve hideous vinegary red wine in half-pint glasses. Last time I was there the publican's two year old daughter was under the next table, licking the ashtray. It's always full of grisly men in dirty jumpers. As we sat with our pints, we noticed a rather ancient looking man staring goggled eyed at the titty poster above the fag machine. Transfixed he was, mouth agape.

So now, I'm sitting here, feeling much more cheery, waiting for 4 Weddings and a Funeral to come on TV, so that I can throw things at Andie MacDowell. All round, a perfect end to a strange old day.

Today is not real

This is one of those days - do you know the ones? - that begin with a pffft and deteriorate. Things are disjointed and jerky. They sky is ever so slightly the wrong colour, and everyone's voices are too loud. I sat in front of a woman on the bus today who was relating an obviously hilarious story to someone over her mobile phone in Cantonese. The only word I could make out was 'chicken skin', and I recognised that only because she kept saying it, over and over again. I'm going to be dreaming about chicken skin tonight, I can just feel it.

My mobile phone has been misbehaving, and all my contacts from the letter N onwards have disappeared. I have them stored in my PDA though, so that's ok.... except that no! I wrote them all down wrong. The writing recognition system has changed all the numbers, and in my overenthusiasm and blind trust of all things technological, I didn't check. So I couldn't meet my friend for lunch today, as planned, because I couldn't call her, and there was no point in expecting her to call me, because that's not something that she does. So my friends are restricted to the first half of the alphabet, which is a shame. I can't call Steve, or Polly. Tine is lost to me forever.

My hair has finally turned a corner and gone into full 'insane bag lady' mode. The growing out era has reached the howler epoch. It's madly curly, and refuses to listen to the hairbrush, even though it clearly knows best. Bits of it are sticking up in odd directions, and the damp weather has made it frizzy beyond the salvation of my Charles Worthington sleeking serum, or whatever it's called. I will have to wear a hat for the foreseeable future. It doesn't help that every woman I've seen today has been fantastically well groomed, and looking gorgeous. Grrrrr.

I just washed my beautiful and expensive cashmere jumper in the 40 degree wash by mistake. It is now the size of a postage stamp. It won't even fit the Christmas angel I have sitting in my room, waiting for its Big Day.

Also, I can't turn my head to the left or right, because I'm recovering from a nauseating headache - 'a bastard behind the eyes' as Withnail so accurately described his. Except mine's not a hangover, more's the pity. It's more or less gone now, but it's made my neck seize up, so I'm lying in bed, feeling decidedly unbeautiful, undertalented, cashmere jumperless and generally sorry for myself, trying not to make any sudden movements. Flowers and chocolate to this address please.

I'm hoping that I'll wake up tomorrow and not remember today at all. It's been a disappointment. It's the kind of day that could have done so much, but instead it chose to underachieve. By this evening it may have pulled it's finger out and put a bit of effort in, but by then it will all be too late. It's time will have passed, and it will never get a second chance.

I have to go now, and get some clothes on, try to tame my hair, and neck a couple of nurofen before a lovely friend from the beginning of the alphabet comes over. We're going to Greenwich for a mosey around. We might go to the cinema. I hope my head will stay on, and not fall off and bounce down the road into town, shocking the punters at Cafe Rouge. I think I need more nurofen. And some cotton wool.

*sigh*

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Just thoughts

I've managed to flood the living room of my downstairs neighbours. Flatmate removed the grout from around the edge of the bath yesterday, and this seems to have resulted in a nice little conduit for excess shower water. They kindly showed me the bit of the ceiling where the paper had come away, and the not inconsiderable puddle of water in which their yucca plant now stands.

They're very nice - the flat's just been sold, and they have to leave in a couple of weeks. They wanted to let me know, just in case the new people object to the surprise addition of impromptu water-features to their interior decor. They may have a point.

Still, flatmate is in the process of deciding whether or not to put this flat on the market and bugger off to South America for six months to learn Spanish. Chances of her doing it are 99%, so I will be homeless again come April.

I don't seem to be the settling type. The longest I've lived anywere in this uncompromising city is 2 years, when my ex and I shared a flat in New Cross. Since then, I've been packing and unpacking on a regular basis. When I was working as a tour leader, I packed and unpacked every couple of days, and ended up sleeping on floors all over London whenever I was back here. By the time I got back, I was usually desperate for a glass of Chardonnay and a girly giggle to counteract the months drinking wine made by "The Syrian Grape Processing Company" (yes, it was as bad as it sounds). And it was nice to have some female company too - I rarely got to meet any Arab women. I worked almost exclusively with men. It was not always easy trying to ellicit co-operation from alot of them. I think I did OK though.

I don't want to get up and go again. I like this flat. I like my life right now. If I move again, I want to move somewhere new and exciting, where I can see different stars at night, and where I can learn a new language. I'm torn between settling and pinging off like a rubber band, boucing off new worlds and new people. I don't think I'll ever be free of the travel bug.

(As an aside, that reminds me of a conversation I had with a French woman in Egypt once. She asked me why I was doing the job, and I said I had caught the travel bug. She looked horrified, and I sought to reassure her that I was not suffering from 'Egypt Surprise', but had a love of travel. "No, No", I said, "I've just got itchy feet". Well, I didn't see her for dust.)

Sigh. Well - we'll see, won't we? That's one thing about life - you never know what might happen,

Stormy skies

All this talk of celestial bodies reminded me of something, and I only realised today, when I was looking it up, how timely this all is. November 17/18/19 every year sees the return of the Leonid meteorite storm. This storm is the result of a comet – Tempel-Tuttle – that passes the Earth once every 33 years, leaving behind it a trail of dust. That trail is always up there, but once a year we pass through it, and when the dust hits our atmosphere it burns up, causing a light show that has to be seen to be believed.

The comet last passed our way in February 1988, and for a few years, each show was more spectacular than the last. It peaked in 2002, where the count reached something like 5,000 meteors an hour. I was lucky enough to see it in 2001, when it was almost at its best.

I was working in Egypt at the time, taking groups of people from the noise and dust of Cairo, through the Sinai desert to Luxor. It was brilliant – I took them diving and walking, we careered about the desert on top of jeeps, and ate fresh baked fish while looking out across the Red Sea and watching the moon rise. If we looked hard enough, we could see the lights of a village in Saudi Arabia across the way, twinkling, saying “We’re here too, just like you”.

Anyway, one of the best parts of this trip was climbing Mt. Sinai. You know the one – where Moses received the word of God and came down with the 10 commandments? And where Elijah hid from the wrath of Jezebel, the Phoenician Queen, after he defeated the prophets of Baal? Well, we used to walk up it. At 2am. And we‘d sit at the top, eating snickers bars and drinking hot chocolate, talking to the Bedouin blanket sellers while the sun came up over the horizon and flooded the summit with light and blessed warmth (the blankets were never quite enough).

The 3 hour journey up the mountain was quite something, and that November I’d never even heard of the Leonids, and so I was in for quite a surprise.

I’d rounded up my herd of ducklings in the foyer of the hotel, all wrapped in their woolly hats and gloves, torches in hand, eagerly awaiting the off. (Well, mostly they were just guzzling the coffee laid out and trying not to whinge about having to get up so bloody early, but it sounds better if I make them seem full of boundless energy, their woolly heads bobbing about like excited mice faced with a mountain of cheese).

Out traipsed to the bus – Jasmine, she was called. She was pink, and looked after us all very well. A short and chilly drive later we arrived at the entrance to the monastery. “Shhhh”, I’d say, “The Monks are asleep – try to be considerate”. Actually, I think at about 2.30 in the morning, the monks were probably up and about and raring to go, but whispering always used to add an air of mystery. Ahead of us, the light of a thousand torches wound up the mountain like a procession of earth-bound stars.

Once we’d got past the usual gamut of Bedouins selling keffiyeh (the black and white or red and white cotton headdresses worn by Arab men), we started up the mountain. Oh god, I nearly forgot about the bloody camels. Have you ever been in the presence of a large number of camels? No? Well, they stink. They are the most flatulent animals I have ever come across. Worse even than the BF’s cat, and that’s an achievement.

They’re noisy too. They burp, and grumble, and groan, and complain, and they lumber about like surly teenagers, occasionally turning to fix you with a baleful glare that says “If I felt like it, I could sit on your head, and fart, but I won’t because I can’t be bothered”. Mainly it’s not because they can’t be bothered, it’s because they will be poked with a sharp stick by the camel handler, but it’s best to let them believe you believe them. Otherwise they might dribble on you. Camel saliva is like slime from hell. And it stinks too. Forget all this nonsense about camels being enigmatic because they know the secret name of God. They’re just mean ‘n’ urgly. Urgh. I hate camels.

So the road to the summit is paved with camels. And a million other pilgrims. Many of them are exactly this – every morning, a colossal number of Russians, Poles and Greeks come here to be closer to god. It’s moving to see people overcome with emotion on reaching the top, and even though I don’t believe in organised religion, I sometimes wish I had that kind of faith.

Most of them climb this enormous hunk of rock in wildly inappropriate clothing. The Italians are the funniest. I saw one woman in heels – heels! – a fur coat and leather trousers, gamely tottering over a small pile of rocks. Further up near the summit the going can get a bit tricky, so I took my woolly hat off to her, as I stomped by in my hefty walking boots, taking care not to knock her giant sunglasses off her head.

And you have to do all this in the pitch dark. It’s quite peaceful actually. People tend to whisper – perhaps because it’s dark, I don’t know. Occasionally, dotted up the path, are huts selling hot chocolate and chocolate bars, and they’re oh so welcome. They sell other oddities, like fossils and blankets too. The atmosphere around the heaters can be quite convivial – you are, after all, sharing this experience with many other people. It’s nice.

This time, I’d just finished depositing a large member of my group onto the back of a camel when I saw the first shooting star. “Oooh”, went a thousand voices. A thousand fingers pointed. Suddenly the sky was full of them – hundreds of them. Everywhere you looked they were blazing trails into the night sky, a natural firework display of enormous proportions. The darkness was filled with hushed voices saying, in various languages “Look! Shooting stars!” I spent most of the journey up to the top with my head craned back, like the cartoon guy in the toothbrush ad who has a flip-top head, open mouthed in awe at the beauty and unimaginable hugeness of it. Not even repeatedly stepping in camel poo could put a spoiler on things.
It was still going on when the sun peeped it’s head over the horizon and upstaged everything by turning the clouds pink. Attention seeking if you ask me.

So, next year remember, remember, the 18th of November, if you want some real fireworks. They may not be as good as 2001/2, but it’ll still be quite a show.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Spiritualised

I don’t think I’ve mentioned that I think our flat might be haunted. Now, don’t laugh, please. I really do believe that there’s something out there that we can’t see, but of which we’re only vaguely aware. Too many people have experienced things for it to be complete nonsense. Imagine how foolish we might look in 500 years time, when people are conversing with spirits on a daily basis, and they’re telling us all sorts of useful things, like not to eat that bit of chicken in the fridge that looks ok, or not to get on the train to Manchester next Tuesday as originally planned.

Anyway, I digress. Flat. Ghost.

This only happens to me when my flatmate is out (which is quite a lot, really – we hardly see each other these days). Our flat has a bit of a funny layout – the bathroom is on the right at the bottom of a small flight of stairs, and my bedroom is on the left at the top. Whenever I come out of my room, and start down the stairs, my chest seems to close up, and I know that someone is standing there, watching me. Sometimes – not very often - it’s so strong that I can’t actually go to the bathroom until I’m so desperate it hurts. Mostly it’s just a little feeling, as if they’re there, but not really interested. Occasionally if I go into the bathroom, when I come out, I have to run up the stairs to the safety of the living room and shut the door before I’m happy.

I’m may be being very silly. The chances are that whatever, or whoever, it is could hurt me are infintessimal, and I don’t even know if it’s malevolent at all. It might just want a bit of company. But it creeps me out.

I’ve had experiences like this a couple of times before. Once, I’m sure, was a ‘conversation’ with my Dad in a book shop in Notting Hill. I’ve told people this story, and they’re invariably very nice about it in a non-committal “hmmmm, how interesting” kind of way, because obviously you don’t want to tell someone you think that their only contact with their dead father is entirely a figment of their overheated imagination. Still, I maintain that when I asked him, in my head, where I could find this particular book of poetry, he found it for me straight away. Call me daft. I care not a jot.

The other one was a picture we had in our hallway when I was about 10 or 11. I swear this picture, which was of a woman looking demurely down at her breasts, looked at me whenever I walked past it. It used to make me sick with terror. I had to get my mum to put it away in a chest. When I went back years later to find it, despite the fact that my mum swears blind they never moved it, it was gone.

That one probably was just my youthful imagination, but you never know, do you?

Thursday, November 18, 2004

The devil makes work for idle minds

Our email is playing up. We have hours of communications vacuum, and then 400 of the useless buggers will pop up in my inbox, allowing me to waste time looking at messages from people I don’t know offering me cheap electrical goods, or informing me that the India office will be closed yesterday.

It’s late. It’s Thursday. I want to go home. I have decided to look up the word ‘erratic’ in my beloved thesaurus to see if there are any words that correctly describe our excremental email system (‘excremental’ being a prime candidate, but unfortunately not related to the word ‘erratic’ in any way).

Capricious rather took my fancy. I imagine our email system dressed in a jester’s outfit, flitting away across the hills, mocking our attempts to pin it down to any kind of commitment to its job.

Unstable I also like. Perhaps our email system is psychotic, and sometimes wants to do us harm by withholding vital information. We should take care, and not upset it.

Eccentric is another contender. Our email system is a very rich old man, who likes to pay his staff to give him his mail only on Tuesdays, from people whose names begin with a vowel.

Or perhaps it is desultory. It just can’t be bothered, apart from short bursts of inspired activity, which soon fall away, and it will be back flicking rubber bands at the ceiling, or counting the paperclips.

Who knows? All I know is that I like to get my emails relatively shortly after they’ve been sent, so that I can look at them and put off today what can easily be done tomorrow. We’re not happy. Not happy at all.

Champagne Supernova

Did you know that without supernovae we wouldn't be here? Without all the different elements created by the phenomenal heat of a collapsing star, and without the incredible coincidence of them all crashing into each other over 200 million years to create the ground on which we stand, we would not have metals or water, or... anything.

And did you know that the earth probably began to form an atmosphere, and support life, when it was only a third of its current size?
Stop me if I begin to bore you.

Also I'm a bit worried that Mr Bryson, should he ever by some unlikely quirk of fate get to see this blog, will get a bit fed up of me relating all the fascinating details I'm reading in his book. I'm not very au fait with the copywright laws.

Anyway, when reading this just now, I was reminded of something the BF mentioned to me the other day when we were watching TV: if we had to start civilisation all over again with the earth as we have left it, we wouldn't be able to get our hands on enough metal or oil to be able to reconstruct life as we know it. We've used up all the bits lying around on the surface that we could easily get at, and all the rest is so far under the ground that we'd have to have metal drills in order to get at it. Which we couldn't get, because we wouldn't be able to get at the metal we'd need to make them. Catch 22.

I'm finding life rather fascinating at the moment. Aren't I lucky?

Stalk this way

I had a stalker once. I lived in Malaysia for a year or so when I was about 20 – had a whale of a time swanning around Southeast Asia, frequenting the street stalls and townie bars, and getting up to all sorts of mischief.

My parents and my sister, as I mentioned, came out to see me while I was there, and we went to stay on this idyllic island called Pulau Kapas, in a traditional style hotel made of teak. It was truly beautiful. The chef there was a guy called…. Oh god, let’s call him Ahmad. I think that was probably his name actually. We stayed up a couple of evenings playing loncak and improving my Malay in light conversation. A couple of days later, we left, and I thought nothing more of it.

To my enormous surprise, once I was back home in KL, I encountered him walking down the street as I left our apartment complex to get some breakfast. “Hello!” I said. “What a surprise! What are you doing here?”. He had come to see me. Apparently he had lifted my address from the hotel records. Such resourcefulness. He invited me for dinner at his mum’s house, and as I was lacking any excuse, or really any reason, to refuse, I accepted. Then he insisted on accompanying me for breakfast, and after about ten minutes I realised that this was a very BAD idea. He seemed to have some idea in his head that I was a saintly figure, who did well in my exams (not entirely wide of the mark), and who was absolutely suited to him in terms of marriageability. His mantra became “I know you are a good girl”. Anyway, I escaped, and because I am nice, and because he knew where I lived, I turned up at the prearranged time to meet him with an excuse already formed on my tongue. “I’m not well” I said, sniffing and looking wan.

Did it work? Oh, no dear reader, it did not. His mother would be most disappointed if I didn’t come. I said I wasn’t up to it, and tried to leave. His grip on my wrist became vice-like, and off I was dragged, deposited firmly on the back of his moped, and driven off to Ampang – an area of KL completely outside my knowledge or experience, and a very long way from anywhere else.

His family, can I say, were delightful. I had a lovely time with them, and after I’d had my photo taken for the millionth time, his mother instructed him to take me to the bus stop. He gave me a copy of Pink Floyd’s The Wall, which I tried to give back, but he wouldn’t have it. I’ve still got it somewhere.

Anyway, this wasn’t the end of it. He kept on turning up at my front door and he wouldn’t go away. He drove me to tears. I took him out to the café in the end, and told him in no uncertain terms that I didn’t like him, that he was scaring me, and that I wanted him to leave me alone. “But you are a good girl,”, he kept saying. “I know you, you are a good girl. My family like you, they think you are my girlfriend. You can’t disappoint them. You are too good.” My wrist became very swollen after a while from his grasping it, and my wrenching it free. “How do you KNOW I’m a good girl,” I eventually shouted (I never shout). “I could be a fucking prostitute for all you know. I could have slept with the entire population of Kuala Lumpur. In fact, I have. Do you want their names?”. He recoiled in shock. “No, no! You are a good girl”. I ran, and from then on I ignored him completely. Eventually he stopped coming. I just got letters instead. A lot of letters, all impassioned and full of pleading.

When I went home to the UK, this continued. He had also lifted my parents’ address from the hotel records. He phoned on a weekly basis. I hung up. Then one awful day, when I picked up, he said “Rachael, I am in Brixton. I am coming to Wales this weekend, and I want to see you.” I hung up. He rang back. Eventually my mother had to get on the phone and threaten to call the police before he stopped. He kept writing though. For a while.

Anyway, this left me with a healthy fear of men and strange behaviour. So now I’m a bit paranoid, because either I have picked up another one, or I am overreacting. It’s hard to tell.

I’ve met this man once, when I went to look at the house he and his wife were selling. We got on tolerably well, but nothing out of the ordinary, and our email conversations were entirely related to the house, which fell through in the end. The emails haven’t stopped though. He wants to meet up for lunch (harmless, and fairly normal). What isn’t so normal is that he keeps sending me text messages when I don’t respond to his emails within about 5 minutes, saying he’s emailed me. He wants to come down to London and take me for a ride on his motorbike. He’s quite persistent, and it’ s making me uncomfortable.

It doesn’t seem right – I wonder what his wife would think. I know I wouldn’t bloody like it if my husband of two years was emailing some almost total stranger and offering to take her on motorbike jaunts into the countryside. Is it just me? Am I being silly? If he wasn’t married, I’d know what to do – I’d let him down gently by saying I have a boyfriend, and that I’m not interested, because it would be obvious that he’s pursuing me. But I can’t say this, because it’s a bit presumptuous isn’t it? Why would I assume that a married man would be trying to get in my knickers? What the hell do I do?

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Life, the Universe, and Everything

Do you ever stop to contemplate how enormously unlikely it is that you exist? I do occasionally, and it makes me wonder whether I’m really doing the most with my life. I should be winning the Nobel prize for Literature (clearly) or changing the world with my ground-breaking political and economic theories. I will end poverty! I will end misery! The world will be full of lambs and rainbows, and lions will lick people instead of trying to eat them, just like in those terrible Jehovah’s Witness pamphlets that I find so amusing.

And then I think, well, I’m moderately bright, and I’m interested in a lot of things. The problem is that there’s just too much out there to be interested in. It amazes me how people choose. I was thinking this last night, as BF and I were lying in bed, and he was reading to me from his “Understanding Chemistry” book. This was prompted by an admission that I had escaped doing any sciences from the age of 15 onwards. He thinks I’ve missed out, and proceeded to educate me in the differences between covalence bonding and ionised bonding. Or something.

Anyway, I was fascinated. Honestly. It was midnight, I was tired, we were curled up underneath his outrageously fluffy duvet, and all I wanted him to do was to read more about the noble gases and why oxygen likes to bond with hydrogen. And as for the periodic table – well, it reads like poetry. Don’t you think?

And then this morning, bereft of a book to read, having finished A Kiss Before Dying (a bit dated, really, but good), I wandered into WHSmith and bought A Short History of Nearly Everything, by Bill Bryson. I bought it because I find him hugely amusing, and very interesting. I like the way his mind works. And it too is fascinating.

We’ve started with the creation of the universe, which expands from a point called a singularity, which exists outside of time and space until it decides to inflate itself to a space a trillion trillion light years across in the space of less than a second. Did you know that when you get static on your tv, a small part of that consists of protons from the very far edge of the universe, that have made their way back here as microwaves, or radio waves or something, and we can hear them. We can watch the universe being born on our TV.

Now we’ve moved onto the Solar system. Did you know that Pluto is so tiny that if you were to put it on top of the United States, it would cover under half of the bottom 43 states? That’s how small it is. There is some debate as to whether it is really a planet at all. My favourite thing so far is the Oort cloud. This is a hypothetical cloud, that exists somewhere in our solar system, from whence emerge comets, like Halley’s Comet, and Halle-Bopp. I’ve known about it for all of an hour, and already I like to think of it as a huge cloud of mystery, containing whole hosts of meteors and comets, jostling about, impatiently waiting their turn to be thrown out into the galaxy to have a good look around. And I’m only on page 35. I can’t wait to read more – and I think everyone should read this book. It’s amazing.

I never liked science at school because there were too many numbers involved, and not enough words. But now I wonder why I missed out on such a rich vein of mystery and wonder. Maybe I should start now.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Water, water, everywhere

God. Don't know what got into me yesterday. Perhaps some horrible misery demon. I feel slightly ashamed of my inner judge, but also relieved that I have somewhere that I can put my thoughts, and spill out how I feel.

Anyway, I am now in Cambridge: a town that I love. I'm in a warm internet cafe, surrounded by people speaking what sounds like Russian. It reminds me vaguely of when I worked in the Czech Republic. And oh, how the memories come flooding back...

I used to have a job ferrying groups of people around exciting parts of the world. I started off in Egypt, which has burrowed into my heart and found a home there. I then went to take tours around Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, which was more lonely and more difficult. I began by hating Damascus, because it was so alien to me - the first time in my life I ever had culture shock. I ended up loving it. I look forward to a day, sometime soon I hope, when I can go back, and wander through the dizzying noise and colour of the Soukh, and pad quietly on bare feet around the peaceful, green gold square of the Ummayad Mosque, which is filled with birds, eating green almonds and thanking God, or Allah, or whoever, that I am alive.

After that, I took walking tours up in the mountains of Slovakia, and worked in Prague and parts of Hungary for a few months. I just happened to be in Prague during the floods a couple of years ago. The problem was, I didn't know it at the time.

I had a group of people (bear in mind please, that this is a tour that takes people up mountains that are mostly more challenging than Ben Nevis), most of whom were over 70. This in itself posed a problem, but I would have been fine had it not been for Barb and Reg, the two ancient Kiwis, who I swear should never have left New Zealand. All they did was complain about how awful everything was compared to home. Their tip for me was some Kiwi fruit liqueur chocolates, which they had been carrying around a sweltering, heat-enveloped Europe for the better part of 3 months. Nice.

Anyway, I had arrived from Slovakia, where it was raining, to more rain in Prague. This wasn't anything particularly unusual. Our first day was a city tour, and I have to admit, the river looked a wee bit swollen. No matter, I thought. It's just a bit of rain. Ha.

I then took my group off to take a little walk around some stunning countryside outside Prague - Karlstejn Castle. Lovely place. We got on the train, all jolly and looking forward to our jaunt. The river looked a bit rough. There appeared to be cars floating down it. Hmm, I thought. Things are a bit out of the ordinary today. We stayed on the train. A garden shed careered past us, crashing into trees and scattering planks into the torrent. We arrived in Karlstejn to find the bridge washed away, and the road waist deep in water. The locals appeared to be having lots of fun daring each other to wade across it.

When we got back to the station, we discovered that the train we were on was the last one to be going back into Prague, and it wasn't going to make it. Barb and Reg nearly had a heart attack. Reg only had two packets of hob nobs with him, and there was some debate as to whether this would last him the morning (he was not diabetic, by the way, and therefore deserved no sympathy. I was in the market for finding a way home, and my first priority was not finding a biscuit shop).

Anyway, much fruitless searching for taxis later, we decided to stay on the train, which eventually got us back to Prague. I dispatched my group to go sightseeing, and I went to pick up the train tickets. Everyone, and I mean everyone, was trying to get out of Prague. I had to queue for 3 hours to get those tickets. When I finally got back into the centre, most of it was empty, save for a few Czechs putting sandbags around the centre of town, and some tourists in Wenceslas Square, waiting for the clock to chime. Unfortunately the electrics had been turned off, so they'd been there for a while. They were still there when we left. I found my OAPs in the Square, comparing flood stories (I saw a refrigeration lorry the size of my house floating under Charles Bridge!!). Oh, the horror. Barb and Reg thought they might catch the plague.

It wasn't until a few days later, thanks to the fact that I couldn't get English language news, that I realised the enormity of what had happened. Perhaps I'm not very bright. Whatever the reason, I paid for it. Barb and Reg tormented me to two solid weeks before I was free of them. And on the same trip, I lost two of my passengers at the early morning border exchange between Slovkia and the Czech Republic because they had the wrong visa. The last I saw of them was their backs retreating in to the creeping dawn, escorted by a rather good looking border guard from Bratislava, who was not open to bribes (cash! I'm not that sort of girl).

Anyway, I'd better pop off and meet BF before he gives me up for lost and goes shopping. It's been nice having a trip down memory lane.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Melancholia on the Old Kent Road

I’ve just got home. It’s taken me over an hour – usual time 45 minutes. This is because I had the bright idea to take a different route home. I did it on Friday (by accident), and it was all ok, so I didn’t think that I would have any problems. I got lost. Twice. Cycling confusedly down dark, unlit back streets behind the Old Kent Road is not my idea of a good time. By some miracle (it certainly can’t be my inner compass – I don’t have one), I found my way onto the OKR and whoosh, off I went.
God only knows how I found the right way on Friday night. At 2 am. Pissed. I obviously have a guardian angel.

The Old Kent Road is shabby. There’s no other word for it. I used to think it would be a bit cheap, as it’s only £60 on the Monopoly board, but I had no idea it would be quite as unprepossessing as it is. It’s one of those places that never looks nice, not even in summer. It’s a long dual carriageway, running from the Elephant and Castle (grimness beyond grim – don’t go), all the way to New Cross Gate, with Peckham (shootings on a regular basis) on the right and a long bank of industrial estates and business parks on the left. There are a couple of big grimy pubs – the Old Kent Gin Palace, now The Red Cow, being probably the most famous. MacDonalds, KFC, Toys R Us, hoardings, adverts, empty car parks, run down shops and grey lace curtains. It’s fucking depressing.

Now I know that a lot of people probably don’t feel the way I do about it, but I can’t help it. For me it represents apathy and stagnation, a lack of will to live or to make the most of life. I’m not saying that the people living near or around it are like this, but that if it was a person, it would sit in front of the TV in a grimy tracksuit, drinking Special Brew, eating day old pizza, chain-smoking Rothmans and swearing at its kids.

And this evening, while I was cycling down this road to nowhere, I saw something that made me feel miserable in the most bitter kind of way: a large man in a greasy blue anorak, wandering aimlessly down the road, with his head most of the way inside a family sized bucket of KFC. I don’t know why I felt so sorry for him. I’m not going to say “Far be it from me to judge”, because that’s what we do, isn’t it? We judge people every day, without even thinking about it, and we judge ourselves as well. He may have been just really hungry, and in a hurry to meet some friends. He might have been having a sneaky chicken leg before taking the whole lot home to his (extensive) family.

But something about him seemed so lonely, and so lost. I got caught up in wondering who he was, where were his family, what he was doing? You know sometimes when someone you see strikes you, and you start imagining their life, and what they do all day? (It’s not just me is it?) It didn’t seem as if he had anyone to go home to have dinner with, not even himself. I felt sad for him, because for some reason, he looked as if he was unloved. I thought of all the people I love, and how I never want them to feel that way. It made my heart feel slightly colder.

Anyway, for some reason he stuck in my head, and I feel a little melancholy this evening. And from now on, the Beast and I are going to go down our normal route, round the roundabout that, until recently, smelled of flowers, and down through Deptford, with it’s market and it’s fruit, veg and fish shops, where people shout to each other in the street, and someone always seems to be having a laugh. It’s a little shabby too, but it’s cheerful and it feels like home.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Leaving on a jet plane...alot

I'm taking a few minutes from my teetering in-tray and bulging task list to write something, because I need to calm my head, and this always helps. I see it as a way to comb my brain free of tangles. I get a sense of well-being from just typing away that I find difficult to recreate anywhere else.

Anyway, I have been in the midst of a holiday desert since July. I decided to celebrate (run away from) my 30th birthday in January by taking a 3 and a half week holiday to Cambodia. It was fabulous. But it left me with a total of 6 days holiday, 5 of which I took in July. So, no holiday for me since then. All work and no play makes Rachie a very tired girl.

So, I have been spending some time musing over what I'm going to do with the abundance of free days that will land in my holiday allocation like a giant gift of relaxation come the new year. I'm thinking of going away for my birthday again, but not for 3 weeks this time. No. That was foolish.

I want to go to Seville. Now Seville in January isn't going to be as nice as Seville in May or October, but it's my birthday in January, and that's where I want to go. I went to Madrid last year and loved it. Mainly I loved the laid back atmosphere, the fact that you could stay out drinking until 3am, the fact that you could get vermouth on tap, and the fact that in my favourite pub you can throw olive stones on the floor. It appealed to my inner slob. (And my inner alcoholic, obviously). Goya got a look in too though. I was gobsmacked by the power of his paintings. You must see. They paint a disturbing portrait of a man descending into madness and despair.

I would put it off until February, but I'm going to Ethiopia in February with work, and I'm hoping to take a few days off after that to potter around and go and see some stuff.

Then there's the proposed trip to New York in May with the BF, which will be great. If I can afford it. If I go on as I am now, I might just have sorted out my overdraft by then, but it does involve not going out at all for 5 months and eating roast vegetables for dinner every single night. New York though! I've never been to America. I feel a bit put off by the whole Monkey-President thing, but New York is safely Democratic, not so full of mid-western red-neck bible bashers and has a thriving bar and jazz scene, which I like the sound of. I would like to go ice-skating in Central park, something I've wanted to do since watching When Harry met Sally for the first time (that and drag a christmas tree up the road in the snow - sad but true), but I think May might be a bit late for that.

And then there's the other trip to Bali to see my sister that my mum keeps talking about, even though it's in October. She always does this. Last time we organised a holiday together she booked it a whole year in advance. By the time it came around I'd forgotten about it.

That sounds like enough holidays to last anyone a lifetime. I can't wait.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

unnngggghhhh

Budgets. Analysing figures. Looking at trends. Trying to work out where I can squeeze more money from, and how much shit we're going to be in if any of this stuff falls through. All day.
My head feels pummelled. I don't want to cycle home - I just want to be transported there, into a nice warm dressing gown, with a mug of hot chocolate (agh - flatmate has used all the milk eating MY cornflakes) and sigh with relief.
Also, tonight I need to call my mother (will be very short - my mum has the attention span of a gnat. Half way through a sentence, she'll say "Well it was lovely to talk to you ChrisEllieRachael", just to make sure she refers to the right offspring, and then drift away from the phone, leaving you hanging, open mouthed and feeling rejected).
Also need to call my friend in Derby who I didn't go and see last weekend because I couldn't afford the train fare.
Also need to put some washing in.
And cook my roasted veg.
Beach please! Pina colada and Ambre Solaire please! No more cold and damp, cycling like a demon. Had enough of winter now. Want to be warm and do nothing for a loooong long time.
*sigh*

Thought for today

Today marks the end of World War I. It also happens to be the day on which Yasser Arafat died. Two momentous things ended. Maybe (and I know this is a contentious thing to say), maybe now there is hope for a peace between Palestine and Israel. I say this not because I think Arafat necessarily stood in the way of peace, but because now the Israelis are deprived of their main excuse not to go to the negotiating table with Palestine. It could be that the new leader may be able to make real inroads to Israeli policy, and as well as the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, they will withdraw from the West Bank, and maybe even tear down that monstrous wall. Somebody should. Or perhaps it marks the beginning of descent into deeper conflict and a divided Palestinian state. It’s a scary time.

Today, here in London, is also a beautiful day. My cycle ride this morning was lovely. The sky is a gorgeous fragile blue, the sunshine is touching everything and making it more attractive than usual. Including the nice little piles of glass that litter the roadside, one of which was responsible for my puncture on Monday. They glint prettily in the sun, and make me wonder just how many car thefts occur in Bermondsey every day? It must be a hell of a lot to make all that mess, I can tell you.

I almost didn’t cycle in today; I have a hangover. I went out for a drink with a friend I haven’t seen for ages. It was meant to be just a quick drink, but you know what those are like. My last memory is of sitting in the pub, with a HUGE glass of red wine, ranting about George W Bush, while my mind was thinking “Gosh, I didn’t know I was so eloquent”. Words were falling from my tongue in an unadulterated stream. Usually I would be clicking my fingers, going “er, um, what’s that word, you know the one… mmm, gah”, and thereby losing all the impact of the terribly profound and important statement I was making. Last night I was spewing out erudition in whole sentences. I was so proud. Can’t remember any of it now though. Maybe I was possessed by the spirit of a political analyst.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

It's a loophole in the space-time continuum...

Well, I don’t know. Inspiration has left me. For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been obsessed, wondering how I can possibly fit everything trivial thing that’s in my head into this blog and still come to work and do stuff. Now my head is empty. Where did it all go?

All I’m left with is the irrational conviction that the BF’s house is actually a portal to another dimension. While he’s out, other beings come over, make a big old mess, and leave random items of clothing behind, like funny coloured socks, and strange t-shirts, before nipping back off to where they came from when he gets home from work. I bet they sit around with their mates, eating bags of popcorn and giggling at his perplexity.

There can be no other reason why, every time I go there, he produces another garment and says “Is this yours? I don’t know where it came from but it’s not mine”. So far, I’ve got a useful pair of green socks out of it, but he’s clocked on to this, and is now keeping all the socks for himself. Selfish, if you ask me.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Monday, bloody Monday

Things that have gone wrong already this morning:

*Big spot. On my chin. Just like the one that has set up home permanently on the end of my nose. Perhaps its teenage children have grown up and found a new place to live. Perhaps I should start blasting them with Clearasil, before they have a chance to procreate and populate my face with little zit colonies.

*Puncture. Half way to work. I had to leave the Beast in Bermondsey. I very much doubt it will still be there on my return, particularly as I now don't want it to be stolen, after spending my month's beer money on making it better.

*General poorness not helped by having to buy tube ticket. General sense of wellbeing not helped by having to travel on stinky tube, full of gormless city drones, all plugged into their i-pods and reading the Metro.

Ok, so it's not all that bad really. The beast burst outside the only tube station on my route, which also happens to be next door to a bike shop. A spot is a spot, not the plague, and as the BF said when I was bemoaning said spots/hair in terrible growing out Albert-Einstein phase, "Don't worry babe, you've got a guaranteed shag". Quite.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

In all seriousness

I've just popped over to see Deirdre at Plodding along to glory, and noticed that she's put a link in to a poem I put up here a few days ago.

That poem, and something she wrote about the remarkable Arundhati Roy set me thinking about where we are today in the world. What do the results of this election really mean for the world? Is there any justice? What are human rights? How can we, as members of the human race, continue to allow people to exist in the most appalling situations, with nothing? In many cases less than nothing. I know I joke about being broke, but I'm extremely aware of how very lucky I am, firstly to be alive, and secondly to have the opportunities that I do.

I'm not living in an African country where the government is in denial of HIV and AIDS. Nor am I living in one where the government is doing everything it can to educate and treat its citizens with regards HIV and AIDS, but is unable to because multinational companies won't spare the medication. The fact that this medication exists and is not readily available to everyone who needs it, I find gobsmacking. And yet this is the way the world works, or so I am told.

I'm not oppressed, or poor, or sick. I don't live in the US, where the likelihood is I wouldn't have medical insurance. I'm aware that multinational companies run the world.

I read an article recently by Naomi Klein in the Guardian, about the Carlyle Group, and James Baker, the former Secretary of State in the US. James Baker is currently in charge of persuading countries to drop the debt owed them by Iraq. Naomi Klein is of the opinion that he may have more success in this if he weren't engaged in a deal with Carlyle that means brokering a deal with Kuwait to extract $27 billion of Iraqi debt. This deal would mean a profit to Carlyle of $1 billion. Now that the news has broken, Carlyle are denying all involvement.

And another, about Lesotho, and it's attempts to try to stop bribery and corruption by prosecuting the British company responsible for a huge bribe to a Lesotho official. Britain, despite Tony Blair's recent 'heartfelt' speech about tackling bribery and corruption in Africa, is refusing to hand over the documatation that would make the prosecution possible.

Things like this are going on all over the place, too numerous, and too depressing to mention. I don't know what to do about it. I'm sure many many people feel as helpless and as angry as me. And I know I'm in danger of sounding self-righteous and up my own arse.

The thing I really wanted to say, John Donne said some 450 years ago. When my father died, he attached this poem to his will, and I read it out at his funeral. Over the last five years, I've come to understand his meaning a great deal more than I first did. We're all human. I wish we could all act that way. Naive, yes. Idealistic, yes. But I don't think I want to be anything else.

No man is an island, entire of itself
every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main
if a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were,
as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were
any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind
and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls
it tolls for thee.

All thumbs

I don't like Grand Theft Auto. I thought it would be fun, and indeed, I'm ok when I'm on my own, and can potter about on a bicycle, trying to find barber shops, and pizza parlours, so that I can get more energy and look cool in the 'hood, man.

But the BF seems to think that the aim of the game is to shoot or run over as many people as possible, in as many stolen cars as possible, beat people up when you run out of money, and get extra points for doing 'insane stunts' on stolen motorbikes. Our afternoon conversation has gone something like this:

BF "What are you doing? If you press the square button you'll reverse. Can't you see the little map at the bottom, with the yellow square? That's where you're going. NO! wrong way! Don't manhandle the toggle button. It's like a nipple. You need to press it gently. NO! aagh. They're policemen. You don't want to run over policemen when you don't have much respect in the bank. Shoot them, shoot them! oh, right. You're dead now."

Me "wha?... but, but, oh, damn. I didn't mean to do that. How do I steal a car again?... Oops.... Why are those people shooting at me? But I'm not wearing green. eek. Blood! Does that mean I'm injured? Do I need to go to hospital? Why did they take all my money? You do it for a minute. Hey! Why did you hit that woman? That's not very nice. Give me the controls. I'm not having you beating up people on my go. Stop it. Oops. Am I dead again?"

Ad infinitum.

So, I've left him to it. He's doing a pimping mission at the moment. This seems to involve picking up scantily clad girls, and dropping them off at various places. And I'm up here with a beer, feeding my addiction.



News blues

I was flicking through the Daily Vitriol (mail) yesterday, and BEFORE you leave in disgust, I had a legitimate excuse. They kindly give our charity advertising space. I'm a bit worried that now someone will see this, they won't give us space any more, and I'll be sacked. Oh well.

Anyway, as always happens when I read it, my head nearly exploded. There was full-page spread on Dubya, bemoaning the fact that Britain doesn’t have the morals to appreciate such a fine, upstanding man. This, bearing in mind that the rest of the filthy rag comprised the following:

*An article about Salman Rushdie, and his gorgeous, much younger wife, asking the world, what does she see in him? (Nudge nudge, wink wink)

*A large picture of Hugh Grant with messy hair, accompanied by an article suggesting that he buy a comb.

*Colin Montgomerie, the golfer, has a new girlfriend. But can he cope with the one they call, the Vampire? (Nudge nudge, wink wink)

*A terrible article about someone who suffered an outrageous slight at the hands of one of the usual scapegoats, accompanied by a picture of a ham-faced woman, beefy arms folded, glaring at the camera in righteous indignation. Headline probably "Asylum seekers stole my head and used it in satanic rituals".

*Something about Abi Titmuss and her outrageous foxiness. Accompanied by a picture of her in a corset. Again. Nudge nudge, wink wink. (I didn’t see it, but I’m willing to bet my life it was there)

Sorry. I seem to have woken up on the wrong side of the world this morning. To cheer myself up, I’m going to go and see the BF, and spend a lazy afternoon playing Grand Theft Auto, eating cheese and snogging. Yay.

Chirpy chirpy, chimp chimp

They’re not elephants. They’re fucking chimps.
For the last week, they’ve been quiet as mice, wandering around with size 12s wrapped in cotton-wool, and whispering to each other across the sounds of the muted play-station.

Then, last night, at about 6pm they decided they urgently needed some furniture. For the next 7 hours, they crashed about, laughing like hyenas, moving in what I can only imagine must be a collection of trampolines of various sizes. Then they proceeded to play on them until 3 am.

When they ran out of something, one of them would throw themselves down the stairs, and drive off. They have a really novel way of driving their car, by the way. They sit in it, rev it up in neutral until the engine is screaming, then whack it into gear and shoot down the road, scattering cats and children, flying over hills into the sunset, a la Dukes of Hazzard.

What, I hear you ask, was I doing in, alone, on a Friday night? Hmmm? Particularly on bonfire night when the whole country is out burning things and exploding things well into the night. Well, I’m broke. Skint. I have pockets full of fluff. If I didn’t already live here, I’d be packing my worldly belongings into a knotted hanky and setting off to London to seek my fortune. This is probably why I feel so churlish.

So there I sat, eating my potato, which I purchased on the way home, with all the change left in my pocket, and a glass of water (are you crying yet?). Eventually I went to bed, with my earplugs firmly in place, my hot water bottle tucked beneath my quilted polyester dressing gown, my hair in curlers and safely in place beneath a hair net. Oh, and an inch-thick layer of cold cream on my face.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Cheers, mate

Part of my job involves writing thank you letters. It’s easy to fall into the trap of writing the same thing every time. My phrase-du-jour is “which we were delighted to receive yesterday/last week/whenever”. I recently bought a thesaurus, and it’s drastically reduced the amount of time I spend actually doing any work. My proposals are full of wonderfully expressive language, and my emails are miniature works of art.

Anyway, I thought that I should commence today’s thank you letter parade with a little variety. So I looked up ‘delight’.

Dear...

“Thank you for your letter, and the enclosed donation of XXX, which we were enraptured to receive.”

“Thank you, we were enchanted to receive your letter….”

“We were charmed to receive your ravishing letter….”

“We were transported into paroxysms of joy by your felicitous donation….”

Well, it’s one way to get noticed.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Slush Puppy

I love books and I always have one with me. At the moment I’m re-reading When We Were Orphans, by Kazuo Ishiguro. Brilliant book. I’d forgotten how good it is. There’s quite a lot of variety in what I read, and I appreciate good writing. It never ceases to amaze me how some people can use words to touch you, and make you feel intense emotions.

In addition to this, I’m an intelligent, articulate woman. I can think, and speak for myself, and I like to argue and express my opinions, (particularly when drunk). I’m not a wallflower and I don’t feel subservient to anyone.

This is why I don’t understand my (not so) secret, sordid addiction to Mills and Boon romances. I can’t help it. I love them. There. It’s out there. Ye Gods, I’ve admitted it.

When I’m feeling down, or ill, I’ll go to the library and skulk around the M&B stand, seeking out a likely candidate to take home and devour. I’ll select two or three. “The Sheikh’s Unwilling Bride” (sultry heroine gets whisked off to desert to be seduced by obnoxious but smouldering and charismatic sheikh, who will also be obscenely rich), or “An Unacceptable Bargain” (sultry, yet innocent heroine is forced by bankrupt parents to marry extremely sexy and charismatic man who she loves, but who does not love her, or so she thinks. He will, of course, be obscenely rich).

The men ‘grind’ and ‘bite’ out their sentences, and always have ‘lean, muscular’ bodies and eyes that bore into their chosen prey with cold passion. The women are alternately feisty and submissive. They usually get kissed against their will before page 35, and are left fuming and furious, yet outrageously turned on.

Oh, and the men are ALWAYS at least 10 years older, and the women are ALWAYS in their early 20s. This is so that they won't have had time to sully themselves with sex yet, which would, of course, spoil the purity of their love. The men, however, can shag shag shag whoever the hell they want and have a past so full of skeletons that it would put the catacombs to shame. This, of course, adds to their mystery, and therefore their appeal.

I usually read two or three in a day. Fortunately, this addiction is sporadic, and I can go for months without a fix. Then it’s game over and Renaldo de Marco is jetting around on his yacht, trying desperately to seduce the lovely, yet destitute Millie Parker. Or some such absolute rubbish. I can’t read them without much eye rolling and mutterings of “Oh for fuck sake” under my breath, but it’s hollow. Hollow, I tell you.

So, if you see someone, sitting in the park, wrapped in a warm coat, wearing a headscarf and sunglasses, furtively reading something tucked inside a magazine, come and say hi. Just don’t try and talk me out of it. I’m a lost cause.

Dorian Grey? Amateur

Goodness me. I can't seem to stop myself today. It must be all the CVs I'm having to wade through. My hind-brain is whizzing away trying to think of other things while I roll my eyes at yet another poorly constructed and irrelevant personal sales pitch. Why do people apply for jobs when they patently don't have any of the relevant experience?

Anyway, I remembered something that happened recently that amused me. I found myself, yet again, in a drinking establishment with some friends. I don’t know how this happens so often. I must have been given some divine mission to bless as many pubs as possible with my presence. The lucky, lucky landlords.

After leaving we decided to celebrate my friend’s birthday by going to a pizza restaurant. That didn’t serve alcohol. What were we thinking? Being saviour of the moment, I hotfooted it across the road to Oddbins, which had been open not ten minutes previously when I wanted to buy cigarettes (I have given up... I have). Obviously, my visit traumatised them to the extent that they had to close up shop early, and the door was barred. So I went to Tesco Metro. It was empty, save for a few dull-eyed staff, listlessly sweeping the floor or just shuffling around like lost souls waiting for oblivion. Tumbleweed drifted through the aisles. I headed for the wine section. The white wine was all warm, even though it was in the fridge. Odd.

After five minutes in there I thought I’d better hurry out, or risk becoming a permanent fixture, doomed to spend eternity walking into shelves and drooling into my shoes. The knackered-looking woman guarding the till looked at me in despair. “ID?” she said. I laughed. I’m 30 years old for god’s sake, and haven’t looked 18 since I was 15. I’ve never been asked for ID in my life. She didn't crack a smile. “Have you got a driving license or anything? I can’t sell this to you without ID.” I handed it over. She didn’t bat an eyelid.

I’ve been checking out my ‘laughter-lines’ in the mirror ever since. It may be my imagination, but I think they’re fading…

Bus stop life

Snippet of conversation overheard, as a rather handsome, but very camp man walked past me, chatting on his mobile.
“….big, fat, wobbly man-tits. And I said, I don’t recall asking for your input….”

I stood reading the dreadful news over the shoulder of a woman standing next to me. Normally in London, this kind of behaviour would elicit frowns, shuffles, and a flicking of the corner of the newspaper, as if your gaze is like a dirty great fly sitting in the middle of the page. She turned to me and said “I can’t believe it. It’s so close. Do you think there’s a chance?”. The paper said the college vote was 254 to 252 at this point, but even so, I thought not. We commiserated, and went our separate ways.

It's just a little crush

I went to see a very funny man last night. Dylan Moran in stand up is something I can’t recommend enough. Unfortunately, I missed about 15 minutes of his set in total, because I was too busy dreaming that he would spot me in the audience, and beg me to meet him backstage, at which point he would propose, and we would live happily ever after, laughing like drains and mocking the world. I mentioned my preoccupation to the BF, who was sitting next to me. He was less than impressed.

God, he’s hilarious though. And he described the post-election blues so, so well. “It’s like that feeling, when you know you’re going to be sick, but it’s going to take a while. You’re going to feel like this for a long time.”

Doom

Oh God. Why? The Holy Crusader has been given four more years in which to wreak havoc on a terrified world. I can’t talk about it yet. I’m sorry.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Words to move you

I was sitting on the Tube the other day. It was a short journey, so I hadn’t bothered to get my book out, and was looking at the adverts. Normally, I find this soul-destroying. Car insurance ads in particular make me want to tear my hair and run amok up and down the carriage, erasing the bland and characterless faces in the pictures, and putting REAL people up there. I don’t know why they set me off.

Anyway, some of you may know that on the odd occasion, the London Underground flirts with culture and puts up different poems. That’s how I spotted Shelley’s Ozymandias, which made me come up in goosebumps. I posted it up next to my desk at work, and read it every day. When I finally got to go to Egypt, I carried it around in my head. I wanted to be the mysterious traveller from the antique land. And I did get to gaze across the lone and level sands. It was every bit as exciting as I'd imagined. That poem never fails to make me want to rush to the nearest airport and go somewhere with History. And deserts.

Anyway, as I was sitting on the tube, resisting the urge to tear down an ad for Admiral and run shrieking from the train, I spotted this poem, by Laurie Lee. I loved it so much, I read it until I had it by heart. Unfortunately, the world is full of philistines, and no-one has thought fit to put this poem on the internet, so I’m having to guess from memory that this is how it goes. I hope you like it.

Less passionate the long war throws
Its burning thorn about all men,
Caught in one grief, we share one wound
And cry one dialect of pain

We have forgot who fired the house
Whose easy mischief spilt first blood
Under one raging roof we lie,
The fault no longer understood

But as our twisted arms embrace
The deserts where our cities stood
Death’s family likeness in each face
Must show, at last, our brotherhood


ps - added 5 November. I found it! The above version is now correct. Phew.

Monday, November 01, 2004

Anarchy in the UK

Well, the Anarchist Toyshop was a strange fish indeed.

I couldn't find it for ages, and wandered around Brixton Village market, searching for a toyshop, or some anarchists, and specifically the BF and his bandmate, who have quite a distinctive style, and who I didn't think I'd be able to miss.
Half way through the set, he calls, and tells me where to find them. When I do, it's a mystery to me how I missed them.

It's less a toyshop than a performance space. The whole room is about the size of my bathroom, and half of this was taken up with a stage, draped with camouflage netting, which just about fitted BF and bandmate and their amps without too much elbow-jostling.

The rest of the space was taken up with the audience. All six of them. They were all really friendly, and shared their spliff very generously, but I have to say that I did feel a bit out of place in my new suede coat with fake fur trim (which I think makes me look like something out of Charlie's Angels, and which I looooove). Everyone else was wearing camouflage gear and army boots.

The toyshop bit, I assume, is due to the representations in lego in the window of: Guantanamo Bay, complete with men with guns, and small lego skeletons; Palestinians having their houses knocked down by evil Israeli tanks; protesters sitting in trees. I was quite pleased with myself that I'd managed to recognise the various scenarios (scenaria? scenariae?), and had a nice chat with the guy who'd done them. He had some great ideas for new ones. My favourite was his plan to buy up all the lego policemen he could find (apparently they look very camp), and do 'Uniform Night at the Gay Bar'. I will be going back to have a gander sometime.

Check them out here.
I'm not sure if it's a permanent fixture, but it would be a damn shame if not.


Fear of Flying

I'm a bit worried. My trip to India is coming up, and this means I will have to get on a plane. Last time I was on a plane, I had hysterics on take-off and had to have a nice member of the cabin crew come and mop me up once all the flashy lights had pinged off. It's a bit of a problem, because I love to travel.

I never used to be afraid of flying. When I was about 18 I bought a book called Fear of Flying, which is less about the protagonist's specific concerns over the improbability of a large piece of machinery defying gravity, and more about her desire for freedom, and her search for the Zipless Fuck. When I was 18, I was incredibly sexually naive, and wouldn't have recognised a zipless fuck if it had come up and hit me over the head with a giant rubber penis. I was left with the vague impression that it was about sex on aeroplanes, and that this is liberating for women in general. (I've been told I should read it again.)

Anyway, I bought it because I couldn't really fathom why anyone would be afraid of flying. You get on a plane, you take off, which is JUST like being on a fairground ride, but better. Then you get to watch movies, read books and drink unlimited amounts of alcohol (on BA anyway), and when you land, and the door opens, you're somewhere that smells new and exciting. After reading the book, I thought things could only get better.

This fear, which in my opinion is completely rational, started about five years ago, and has progressively worsened. I'm not going to let it stop me going anywhere, but I hate it. Hate it, hate it, hate it. My Dad hated it too. I'm wondering whether this has started to become an issue since he died, out of a subconscious need to be close to him. Like when I was very small, and steadfastly maintained that I did not like tomatoes (I love tomatoes), because I didn't want him to be the only person in the family who disliked them.

My Mum and Dad came out to see me when I lived in Malaysia for a while, and being a mostly dutiful daughter, I went to meet them at the airport. A large number of grey-faced, drained looking people staggered through from baggage collection, followed closely by my haggard looking Mum and sister, and my Dad. He was the only person who appeared unscathed. I later found out that this is because the rest of the passengers had had to deal with 13 hours of my father, who never had a quiet voice, going "Jesus Christ. What was that? Did something hit us? Excuse me miss, I'm sure I just saw something hit the wing. Are we alright? Jesus. Christ. Jesus."

Anyway, he would never resort to valium to calm himself down. He just used to drive everywhere instead. I'm not so stubborn. Mother's Little Helper is my friend. Oh Doctor please, some more of these....
eXTReMe Tracker