Monthly Archives: December 2012

Finally home for Christmas

“It’s over!  Ha ha, it’s over!”
–The newly-regenerated Doctor (Patrick Troughton), The Power of the Daleks

Roger the Alien

Time to chillax… and post a gratuitous image of Roger the Alien

Finally I can relax in the bosom (uh huh huh huh, “bosom”) of my family, after enduring one final ordeal before Christmas.  Well, two if you include cleaning the kitchen this morning, but that was my duty on the rota and I did it.  Travelling home to Worthing was not a pleasant experience, as the signal failure in Preston Park that occurred on Friday, and which caused my mother considerable problems in coming up to London, was still in force today.  Really, Network Rail, you’re incapable of fixing a signal failure after three days?!  Legend has it the Man Jesus returned to life in a similar span of days, and thus ’tis my opinion that you have forgotten the faces of your fathers…

Of course, I did it wrong and came home via Ford, waiting until 3pm for a train going that way, instead of opening my ears and getting a train to Gatwick Airport, changing onto a train to Brighton, and then changing again there.  Because changing twice would have been a much smoother experience, right?  Or, and this is just a wild idea I’m throwing out there, or, Network Rail could have not taken several days to fix a signal.  Was Preston Park struck by a meteorite and they’re actually having to relay the tracks through a smoking crater?

But it doesn’t matter, none of my (ahem) hardships over the past few days matter, because I’m at home, I have a Wii that my mother is enjoying playing with, I’ve got the original two Max Payne games to play on my lesser Worthing PC so I can refamiliarise myself with the story before playing the third one back in London on my ubercomputer, and I’ve nothing about which to feel depressed.  The weather’s not even as cold as it has been, and indeed the days will be (gradually) getting longer since the world didn’t end on Friday.  Perhaps this is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius after all?

I’ll see about updating this blog over the Christmas break — not sure what I can think of to post other than gratuitous American Dad! references, or minor First World Problems-style complaints about public transport and the lack of good shops in Worthing.  I do need some add-ons for the Wii, so I can connect it to WiFi and shoot one-handed guns, but there’s no way in Hell I’m going anywhere on Christmas Eve, except possibly for a walk along the seafront…

The best laid plans…

You think you will walk away untested?
–Jigsaw (Tobin Bell), Saw IV

Congratulations, you are still alive

Still not as scary as Mr. Noseybonk

It was all going so well: my mother would be going into hospital this weekend for her operation, somewhere not far from here, and on Sunday her friend would drive us home, together with the vast array of presents I’d bought for her (which I couldn’t carry on the train), and I’d spend Christmas nursing her back to health, installing her new computer and basically being a dutiful son.

And what happened?  Her operation was postponed due to a medical issue that somehow hadn’t been detected, like, ages ago.  This left her despondent, as she’d wanted to get this over with.  On the positive side, her friend was still able to drive her home together with the stuff I needed to send home, one day early, and I now have a reprieve from having to get up early on Sunday to go over there.  In addition, she won’t need to convalesce during Christmas, and we can go climbing and basically not have to worry.

But that’s not the end of it: my pre-Christmas activities continue.  Remember my friend from this post, the lady who takes me to plays and the opera but keeps criticising me over really little things?  Well, I hadn’t spoken to her since that whole mess, but she still wants to be friends, so she arranged to meet up today.  We were supposed to meet for lunch, but having to wait for my mother’s friend to make it through the traffic delayed my departure, and so we rearranged to have dinner together this evening, which obviously spared me having to cook.  As a result, I thought I’d have the afternoon to myself…

At this point, I feel I should reiterate that I haven’t had to go Christmas shopping on Oxford Street this year: instead of going to Selfridges for my grandmother’s presents, I ordered them online, and the stuff I got for my mother came from other places.  Thus I’ve been patting myself on the back that I escaped that horrible experience, and laughing, laughing at the poor saps who had left their Christmas shopping until the last minute.

So imagine my surprise when I found out this afternoon that I wouldn’t be sitting comfortably, watching Weekend at Bernie’s, but would instead be fighting my way along Oxford Street to help her carry some heavy Christmas shopping.  The very thing I’d worked so hard to avoid would be the thing into which I would need to dive; I’d need to become one of the very saps that I’d counted so much on being better and more prepared than.  Sorry, than whom I’d counted on… oh, never mind.

It seems I have to endure this madness every year, no matter where I’m living at the time.  During my inter-university days in the early 21st century, when I’d lived with my mother and grandmother while trying to earn enough to do a post-grad degree, there was one Christmas when I was walking through the crowded pedestrianised shopping area of Worthing and was broadsided by a fat guy who had seemed to make the crowd part before him like the Red Sea.  Being a non-confrontational sort, I just walked away without telling him off; I still remember him calling after me: “Sorry!… Sorry… oh, I’m not sorry either.”  I felt like turning on him and yelling: “Yes, I’m sorry you walked into me as well!”, but thought better of it on that occasion.

So anyway, there I was, one of the dots of human agony flowing along Oxford Street, but fortunately my friend was rather nicer to me than she’s been before, and didn’t criticise me for anything — not my clothes, not my hat with earflaps (or my resulting hat-hair), not my bodily odour resulting from following her around surprisingly hot department stores, not even the fact that I was a bit later meeting her than I’d said I would be… but hey, if someone leaves their Christmas shopping until the last Saturday before Christmas, they can’t really have a go at someone else for being disorganised, can they?  We had a nice meal in an Italian restaurant in Soho, and I helped her to her station home with her shopping (not including a dress she wanted that hadn’t even officially been released yet), and she gave me a Christmas present that rattles like a box of chocolates (I’ll be surprised if it turns out to be a DVD or something!), and I finally got to go home…

It seems my ordeals are finally over, though: even though I’ve had to face Oxford Street during the Christmas rush, now all I need to do is go home on the train, and I’ve even got the latest Private Eye to read.  Moreover, now that Mumsy isn’t convalescing and needing looking after, I can come back to London whenever I want — even for New Year, assuming something more interesting and fun happens than last year, when I had to travel all the way to Essex for a house party that served only to waste my time.  So maybe I’ll stay with my loving family instead… and instead of taking off the first week of 2013, maybe I’ll go back to w-w-wor… no, I can’t say it!

It’s not over

I’m not referring to the totally ludicrous claims that the world was supposed to end today, as the Mayans didn’t predict (so that stupid image going around Facebook is wrong for more than just mixing up Mayans and Aztecs).  Nor do I mean my Christmas shopping, which I’d completed by Wednesday when I got a Wii Fit Plus from my old Japanese teacher, and since I finished work for two weeks today, it’s also not that.

No, I’m referring to… well, a general feeling of anxiety — not crippling, but enough to get me on edge.  This weekend my mother’s going into hospital, and on Sunday I have to go and meet her there, along with the nice man who’s going to drive us home to Worthing, direct him back here to my London home, load up the car with all the stuff I’m taking (including the Wii Fit Plus, which would be very awkward to carry on the train), and go home with Mumsy to look after for her while she convalesces.  It’s elective rather than urgent surgery, so her life shouldn’t be in any danger, but still, I find myself worrying about her.  Which brings back memories of worrying during December 2011, a time I want to put out of my head entirely!

Tonight I’ve also had to be out and about: not shopping, fortunately, but going to a certain building near Tottenham Court Road to get an update on helping to maintain the blog of the campaign against the corrupt Tory council here in Barnet.  I’m more than willing to help, and indeed I started this blog because I was inspired by theirs (or rather, by seeing how easy it is to do).  It felt like a cross between a class and a supervision session at work, but never mind, it’s something I can do to help out and regain my sense of terrible purpose.  It follows on neatly from Monday, when I sat in on an interminably dull council meeting in Barnet (they seem to make them as dull as possible in order to drive away the public, thereby demonstrating their opinion of local democracy), which was the first local politics thing I’d had time to do in ages!  But it meant I didn’t get home until 8:30pm.  Oh well, it’s the weekend, and I’m on holiday… or will be once Saturday’s out of the way!

What do I have left to do before Sunday morning’s onslaught?  Well, I’ve got to finish Borderlands 2, for one thing — I’ll hopefully take care of that after I’m finished boring you guys.  I’ve got to set out all the stuff I’m taking home, including clothes, and make sure I’ve used up as much perishable stuff in the house as I can, to reduce waste.  I don’t have to do any more washing, and I don’t need to buy any more Christmas presents (I’ve said that before, but I feel it deserves to be emphasised again), but I will certainly go and visit my mother in hospital tomorrow afternoon, once her ordeal’s over — she won’t be able to speak (probably), but she’ll be able to squeeze my hand and know I’m there for her…

Ah, that’s better, I feel nice and relaxed now — in a short time, there’ll be no more problems and no further need to worry… and hopefully not simply because the world ends at midnight, UK time!

Climbing out of depression

Once more, he crept upward.  A bit of rock broke away from his hand; dust and shards fell across his right cheek but he did not even feel it.  Every bit of his awareness concentrated on the groping hand, the balance of his feet on the tiniest of protrusions.  He was a mote, a particle which defied gravity… a fingerhold here, a toehold there, clinging to the rock surface at times by the sheer power of his will.
–Frank Herbert, God Emperor of Dune

climbing

You may have noticed that I keep bigging up indoor climbing in this blog; no, I’m not going to stop droning on about it, because it’s the one sport I’ve ever done in my life (with the possible exception of rounders using a tennis ball and a cricket bat) that I’ve genuinely enjoyed and, perhaps even more importantly, been halfway decent at.  It’s also been therapeutic and made me feel better overall — by risking my life, have I in fact been saving my life?

It all began in June when, as a birthday treat, my mother went climbing at a place in Shoreham and took me along to try it out as well.  We both enjoyed it, and I proved to have such an innate skill for it that my beloved mother started calling me “scuttly boy”; I then took some proper classes at a place in Manor House called The Castle (because it’s, er, an actual castle).  Finally I started doing it on a regular basis at The Castle, once or twice a week, and whenever I visit my folks on the south coast, I go climbing with my mother at that same place in Shoreham we went to before.  It’s part of her fitness regime as well (she’s made amazing improvements over the past year), and though she can climb with a friend, she prefers going with me.

So what’s so great about it?  Oh, let me count the ways:

  • It’s building my upper body strength (yes, I know it should be more about the legs, with arms just helping balance, but still), and generally helping improve my health — to the point where I don’t seem to be getting colds every other week any more!
  • It’s helping me overcome my natural timidity and anxiety, and while I haven’t been able to get to the top of a 12m. wall yet (I’m still flaking out a bit when I get higher than around 9m.), it’s something to aim for.  Sorry, for which to aim, says the Grammar Nazi.
  • It gets me out of the house and among real people — I’m getting to know the staff at The Castle (since I generally go for “The Session”, where an instructor can act as your partner if an odd number of people turn up), and I’ve made at least one new friend there!
  • It’s the one thing I’ve ever been able to do as well as or better than my ex-housemate (the “good one” I’ve mentioned before) that he actually likes himself — I know, I’d get more respect if I beat him at Super Mario Kart, but what the hell.
  • The exercise and social aspect seem to perk me up, as even on that dreadful weekend in October when I sank into depression again (as detailed here), I still enjoyed going climbing and was able to forget my problems, if only for a short time.
  • I look up and see a handhold that looks well out of reach, but then I realise that if I reposition my feet and take even a small step up, it’s well within my grasp — it’s like a metaphor for life, or something!  And indeed a metaphor for climbing itself: gradually I’m getting better at it, and while I may never be like Duncan Idaho (the guy in the quote above), one day I’ll be able to attempt a 6a…
  • Attractive young women in sports bras.  Giggity.

Having said all that, The Castle is a bit of a trek away from home (down the Northern Line and up the Piccadilly Line from King’s Cross), and “The Session” starts at 7pm and finishes at 9pm, so not only does it cost money on my Oyster card, it tends to consume an entire evening at a time unless I go with a partner (such as the new friend, but he’s gone home to Ireland for Christmas), and also means I get home late, and have to eat a semblance of dinner even later.  If only they’d extend the Piccadilly Line to Finchley… come on TfL, you owe it to me after all the mornings you lied to me — do the words “good service” ring a bell?!

I won’t be able to go climbing over Christmas because my mother will be convalescing after surgery, but I have a pull-up bar that I can install in a doorway in our Worthing home and thus keep myself reasonably fit over the break.  Unless I over-indulge and it bends under my weight, of course… mmm, chocolate!

Still here

Moon on a Stick

Regular blog updates? You want the Moon on a stick!

Don’t worry, O my brothers, for your humble narrator has not forgotten you — I’ve just been… well, not so much busy as just not in the mood to vent.  Like I said when I started writing this, I’ll stop once my life has been sorted out, and while things still need a bit of improvement (I’ll be posting about things that I want to change and things that I don’t, at least if something during the last week before Christmas inspires me to do so), I’ve less to complain about these days, as you may have noticed.  Certainly, despite the short days and long nights, the darkness has retreated from my life to a surprising extent…

So this is just an update on what’s been happening, and what’s hopefully going to happen. Firstly, the sandwich toaster works fine, although only really on smaller, Warburton-style slices of bread (Kingsmill is too big), and with Monterry Jack cheese slices.  This will revolutionise my breakfasts in the cold days of winter!

Secondly, I’m still climbing (something else I really need to post about), although hanging out with the friend I made there, including a “classic video games” night at a bowling alley in Tavistock Square, means I haven’t been able to attend any anti-Barnet Council events lately, so I’m not so much infected with terrible purpose as getting over a minor cold.  But I remain devoted to the cause, and they only have to ask me for help…

Thirdly, WordPress have gone and changed their look, so I don’t know how this post is going to come out.  Boy, that really grinds my gears!  This post is thus subject to change, so don’t be surprised if something happens — do not adjust your brain, normal service will be restored (unless I have to pay to upgrade)!  If I can, I’ll even stick a picture in this post that I’ve already uploaded…

Fourthly, it’s worth noting that my old Japanese teacher, due to returning to her native country, had a house-clearing sale recently, and in addition to a Nintendo Wii (the first games console I’ve had since the Atari Lynx I was bought for my 14th birthday), I bought some Japanese children’s books that I’m going to spend ages translating.  My mother is a confirmed Japanoholic, and I’ve got a few things for her as well; these are in addition to some expensive Christmas presents, which she deserves because she’s been so inspirationally good this year, and will also be convalescing and in need of cheering up.  This means I can’t spoil my grandmother as I usually do, but I will be helping her around the house…

Anything else?  Well, I have plans for 2013: not that adventure holiday in America, but also testing out my C++ skills by writing (with the aid of the Allegro library) a Command & Conquer-style stragey game involving Daleks.  What could it be called?  Command, Conquer & Destroy?  DalekCraftTotal Extermination?  In fact, if it goes well I might even go beyond Daleks to their spiritual successors, MorningLightMountain from the works of Peter F. Hamilton…

First-world problems really grind my gears

Peter Griffin, from Fox's "Family Guy"

What, you thought you’d seen the last of this image?  You might as well expect me to stop watching “Family Guy” and “American Dad!” on BBC3 every damn night…

As I approach the anniversary of that dark day, “Twelve-Twelve” in 2011, I find that my spirits are, well, not soaring, but certainly on a higher plateau than they were a year ago, even though I’m noticing the dark nights and the COLD more this year than last.  So to show how little I have to complain about now, here’s some utterly tedious and insignificant things that have vexed me today:

  1. The Northern Line.  The Olympic legacy for London Underground seems to be their desperate attempts to pretend that there’s a good service even when there isn’t, and trains for the Charing Cross branch are suddenly eight minutes apart at Finchley Central during the morning rush hour.  Why does the driver need to keep “updating” us that there’s a “good service” several times during the journey?  Aren’t updates supposed to mean something’s changed?  Is it some kind of mantra, and if they say it enough times it’ll come true?  Or is this what qualifies as a “good service” now?  Maybe they should focus more on improving the accuracy of information to customers and less on changing their wording to be more positive (so “severe delays due to a signal failure at X” becomes “minor delays while we fix a signal failure at X”), and actually admit to delays on their website so I know when I need to set off a bit earlier… but yes, I know, at least it’s not Tokyo — they may regard eight minutes as a severe delay (Transport for London would genuinely consider that a “good service”), but they also employ people to squash you into the overcrowded carriages, an experience I would definitely want to avoid if I ever Tokyo-to ni iku!
  2. My job still features the aforementioned annoyingly loud woman.  But hey, I have a job during a recession… if I repeat that enough times, will it become a positive thing?  (Okay, now I’ll stop going on about her!)
  3. Dell Latitude laptops — I have to log into our ones at work every couple of months to ensure they don’t drop off the domain (I know enough from MCSE classes to understand the science behind this), but updates from the Windows Updates server seem to take ages, especially as 5pm approaches (and that’s if they even start — ipconfig /flushdns, open Configuration Manager…).  And the touchpads, ugh!  Why is it I drag my finger along and the cursor suddenly jumps half a screen to the right?  It can’t be another finger brushing against it, I can never make it happen if I do it deliberately!  Oh well, at least I’m doing some vaguely IT stuff at work: imagine if I had to do audio typing again, something I only escaped recently when they decided they were too cheap to upgrade the ancient copy of WinScribe to run under Windows 7!  And if I still had to do audio typing, you guys would have to hear about it, so you’re lucky too…
  4. Jarlsberg cheese recently ran a promotion whereby you get four codes from packets of their cheese slices (why was it in a little booklet on the front of the packet, though?  Surely someone could go into Tesco and peel them open… oh, sorry!) and input them on their website, and they send you a code to get a free sandwich toaster at Argos.  Now, I had to wait weeks for them to “validate” my codes and provide me with the code for Argos; I wonder if they were overwhelmed by the response, and it was the Hoover free flights fiasco all over again… yes, I said first world problems, keep up.  Anyway, yesterday they finally validated my codes and gave me what I needed; today I went to Argos to get my free bread-burner, but they couldn’t get the code to work — not because I’d done anything wrong, but because they’d been having problems with this promotion throughout, which hadn’t been fixed.  Eventually they gave up and let me have the thing anyway (and will sort out the code themselves), so Argos definitely came out of this looking rather better than the cheesemakers, who certainly aren’t blesséd in my book!
  5. Nando’s at Euston were out of veggie burgers.  Oh well, big deal, I don’t have any more C++ classes after tonight and so don’t need their services any more (at least until next year), but it reminded me of when I’d just moved to Caledonian Road in 2006 with my best (female) friend and the guy I refer to as “good housemate”, and we celebrated my 29th with a visit to Nando’s in Upper Street.  Unfortunately “good housemate”, a staunch carnitarian, had already ordered and paid for his chicken by the time I discovered they’d run out of veggie burgers and weren’t offering the same cheap deal on a bean burger and one side, so instead of being able to walk out and take my friends elsewhere, I had to pay more for something I didn’t particularly want!  That was undoubtedly a “first world problem” I shouldn’t have been so angry about, and I felt bad for complaining to their head office and getting a letter for a free meal, but since I never claimed said free meal, it all worked out karmically in the end…
  6. More Tube problems on the way home this evening, and for some reason the Northern Line platform at Angel, on what is supposedly a deep level Tube line (where it usually gets too hot), is almost as breath-steamingly cold as it is outdoors!  Have they turned on the air conditioning, or even started piping cold air down from the surface to stop us getting too warm (as if)?  It’s like when people open their windows in winter — why?  How can you possibly want to cool down in this weather?!

I know, I know, what a pathetic tissue of complaints — it’s like Barry Manilow has blown his nose on it and then handed it to Barbra Streisand… and my second Life of Brian reference of the night: where are you from, Nose City?

But none of it matters: I’m home safely, I’m in the (relative) warm, I’m listening to a collection of blaxploitation themes that I bought at my old Japanese teacher’s house-clearance sale, the annoying woman from work isn’t here (let’s just give thanks to any gods listening for this enormous mercy), and tomorrow morning I’m going to have a toasted cheese sandwich for breakfast.  Maybe I’ll put Marmite in it too… “Low Rider” by War, that’s the blaxploitation song they use in the Marmite adverts!  Oh no, it’s track twelve… and tomorrow is 12/12/12… and since my lucky number is thirteen (hey, it has to be someone’s), it stands to reason that my unlucky number is… NOOOO!!!!!!

Still got it

“Talk to every woman as if you loved her, and to every man as if he bored you, and at the end of your first season you will have the reputation of possessing the most perfect social tact.”
–Oscar Wilde

When I came to London in 2003 to do an MSc (yes, this is going to be another of those blog entries that starts with a long, rambling story that sort of ties into the topic I’m droning on about, but only vaguely), I’d been living with my folks in dull old Worthing for three years since finishing my undergraduate degree, and, apart from some older men at the local astronomy society where I helped out on Friday evenings, I’d had very little social contact with other human beings during that time.  Imagine my delight, therefore, to be placed in a flat with three young women and two blokes!  One of the women was doing the same course as me, and we assimilated another woman from our course into our friendship group even though she lived in another flat — and two guys from another, another flat, but who cares about them, they’re blokes.

While you may think it’s weird for a heterosexual guy to prefer the company of women that he’s not trying to seduce, it’s just the way I am — I like having female friends and treating them as my sisters.  Indeed, since I’d been a muggle for three years since graduating (and had done four years as an undergrad due to my time away on a student exchange in the USA), while everyone else had pretty much gone straight from undergrad to postgrad status, I was a few years older than them and thus able to act as their “big brother”, helping them out and being there for them.  This was a refreshing change from being treated like a little brother by women of my own age (something I really resented at school).

Uh huh huh huh, he said the "sex part" gets in the way.  Mine sure does...

Uh huh huh huh, that dude said the “sex part” gets in the way. Mine sure does… doioioioioing!

Yes, despite Billy Crystal’s claims in When Harry Met Sally, men and women most certainly can be “just friends”, though I don’t like the word “just”: it’s ridiculous to say, for example, that my relationship with my closest female friend, where we watch movies together and tell each other our innermost thoughts, is somehow “inferior” to a relationship in which a man and a woman have no real spiritual bond but knock boots on a regular basis.  My female friends aren’t “just” my friends, they’re my good friends, and I value them all; I’ve drawn strength from them during my recovery from depression, and I wouldn’t change them for the world.

But that’s not what I’m here to ramble on about tonight: it’s that my biggest achievement is to make male friends, because it’s too easy for me to write off all men as “sexist pigs who go on about football all the time”.  To let a bloke into my life as something other than a distant acquaintance is a psychological leap for me, and every time I manage it, I’m pleased with myself.  My two best friends in the world (from my postgrad days) may be female, but I’m glad to have a number of male friends across the world, including my USA university roommate, who took me into the bosom of his family, and his little brother, who invited me to visit many times (and who turned out to have a set of Constructicons — getting to play with them when I went over to visit the family in 2001 was like that moment in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade when Henry Jones, Sr. finally holds the Holy Grail in his hands!).

There’s also the Hong Kong-ian flatmate from my postgrad days, who was a major part of the gang and helped make that one of the happiest years of my life (certainly better than my undergrad days in the UK!), and one of my male coursemates, who later became a housemate along with the two female best friends, and continued tolerating my foolishness for many years afterwards (even after both women moved off up north), and even when he got his own place, he let me sleep on his sofa until I could move into my new home, so I kind of owe him my life.  There’s even some male friends at work, including the guy I upset inadvertently but then apologised for ranting at me (who’s supported me through some difficult times, as well as just laughing at my jokes), and also the guy opposite me, who lends me CDs and is pleasant company (and to think, he and I started off somewhat antagonistically!).

And even now, in 2012 (hence the title of this post), I’m still able to make new male friends: at climbing I befriended a cheerful Irishman who, it turns out, likes some of the same things as me, including learning Japanese, Beavis and Butt-head and, of course, indoor climbing!  At last, I’ve got someone I can go to The Castle with right after work, instead of just for the 7pm “Session”, which means I can get home at a civilised hour and eat dinner without having it on my stomach overnight!  (Yes, I’ll probably do a “cool stuff” post about climbing at some point, since it’s changed my life so much…)  We have a good time together, but don’t worry: this isn’t “bromance” or any of that nonsense, we’re just friends… er, honest!

How different from a year ago, when I could see nothing ahead but a miserable darkness, because I just stayed in my room every night thinking that the people at work and my housemates were sufficient social contact.  Maybe I’ll even have a friend come over (something I haven’t done in ages) to watch a movie, or play on the Wii I just got second-hand from my old Japanese teacher.  No, stop, I don’t want any jokes about having a male friend over to stand in my room and wave his Wiimote around… uh huh huh huh huh huh huh huh huh huh!