Monthly Archives: September 2013

That day

Fifteen years ago today (well, possibly tomorrow, bearing in mind I’m on Greenwich Mean Time here and the following events took place in the eastern United States), two things happened which effectively began two passions of mine, though both have confounded me over the years and I’ve felt much despair regarding the possibility of either of them ever becoming a permanent fixture in my life, though perhaps in 2013 I’ve finally begun the necessary processes.

Ooh, aren’t I being mysterious?  Yeah, like you’re not used to that by now.  It was Friday the 25th of September 1998, and I was in Ann Arbor, Michigan at the end of the second week of my eight-month student exchange with the University of Michigan.  For the first time ever (outside of field trips) I had a roommate, and although we were beginning to get under each other’s feet, he was very kind to me and let me watch his TV, and even took me into the bosom of his family (hence why I’m still in touch with them fifteen years later).  Although the exchange programme had almost gone wrong and I’d thus arrived late, I was able to study whatever courses I wanted, such as two first-year Astronomy courses, as this wasn’t part of my Geology degree and was merely a cultural exchange (indeed, I and the other guy I’ll get to presently were the first from our university to go to this establishment).

Anyway… one reason I’d wanted to go to America so badly was that I’d grown tired of English girls, with whom I seemed to have no truck (or a similar word) whatsoever; somehow I’d gotten it into my head years before that American women would be the way forward for me.  I’d noticed a couple of cute girls around campus, but was still finding my feet; my roommate’s cool younger brother thought I’d find someone if I remained positive, and so I kept my eye out.

There was a cute Hispanic (but northern US-accented) brunette who worked at the help desk in our dorm complex, short but curvy, with a tendency to wear shorts; I’d noticed her the previous Friday, but hadn’t really spoken to her yet, though she seemed to be nice.  But I wasn’t confident, perhaps because my roommate, despite looking like a young George Clooney, was himself rather shy and reluctant to chat girls up, and if he didn’t have the guts, how could I?

My roommate had gone home previously for his birthday, but had come back with the pieces for his new PC (a Pentium 166MHz, which seemed a lot in those days); he’d let me play Tomb Raider II on his PlayStation (which also seemed good in those days!), which was fortunate as our cable TV connection was broken.  It was thus as I wandered the undersea wreck of a fictional cruise liner, from the comfort of a chair in an upper-storey dorm room, that I felt a small earth tremor, the epicentre down south on the Ohio/Indiana border, and went down to the common room by the help desk to see if there was anything about it on TV.  I did speak to the girl briefly at that point, but she said she hadn’t felt a thing… however, it’s worth commenting that I e-mailed my mother to say “The Earth has moved!”, adding “no, I haven’t gotten a girlfriend all of a sudden…”

There was an astronomy open house taking place on a campus rooftop that evening; my mother convinced me by phone to ask that girl to go with me, and also told me not to wimp out just because I was worried that the other girl at the help desk might get jealous or upset because I wasn’t talking to her.  (Hey, it’s a valid concern: I’m never sure if women are all one big sisterhood who are glad for each other’s found happiness, or a raging mass of rivals who are always trying to steal each other’s happiness… I’m sure the truth varies between individuals!)

And so, properly commanded by der mommandant, I took my roommate for moral support to the common area.  I was, naturally, nervous… so imagine my relief when I overheard the object of my desire chatting to the other girl behind the desk, saying she was studying Geology and Astronomy courses this semester!  Thus I gained my way in, which when it comes down to it is all you need to initiate contact with someone.  We got talking, and she seemed quite happy to talk to me about herself (she said she wrote sci-fi stories, which got me intrigued!); I asked if she was going to the Astronomy open house… and was interrupted by the other guy from my university, who I hadn’t met up to this point but turned out to be living in my corridor!

ARGH!  I believe the appropriate term ends with “block” and starts with a similar word!  But no, that’s chauvinistic — it didn’t matter, because the girl was still interested in talking to me, and actually suggested we “go together” to the Astronomy evening.  So effectively she asked me out…!

I won’t go into excruciating detail about our evening together; suffice to say, we got very close very quickly (not in terms of that, though — she later told me she was keeping her virtue for her wedding night), and I saw her again, which made me happy.  It took courage to talk to her, and later to hold her hand, put my arm around her and kiss her (all reciprocated, I should add), and somehow I’ve never achieved that level of “success” again.  If only I’d had the strength to slow things down and not try so hard to make up for lost time with her, and if I hadn’t thought, the moment she tried to slow things down, that she was simply going to be the “first of many”, and effectively broken up with her, it might have lasted longer than a week…

(Perhaps in another universe she’s my wife, I’ve lived in the USA for 15 years, and 9/11 never happened?)

I don’t want to believe that I’ve been alone all these years because I’m still somehow pining for that one girl; I have been looking at other women, and trying my luck, but it’s very possible that I just need to find another American, and get away from boring English women…

But what of the other thing that’s confounded me all these years, that happened on the same night?  Well, no, not the astronomical sciences — when I got back from my date, my roommate was hoping to put his new computer together with the help of one of his friends and was feeling a certain jealousy (which meant a lot to me as, with no false modesty, I’d say he was the better looking of us both!).  I helped him assemble his PC, and this was back in the days before colour-coded plugs and sockets, so it was no mean feat!  I also installed some game demos (I’d brought some computer magazine cover CDs with me to America, for no apparent reason), and we got his contraption working fine.  That was the first time I’d ever tinkered with a computer other than my own puny Amstrad, and it felt good to use my intelligence in such a way!

It took some time, but I learned more about PCs by trial and error as I went along, and thus, a year later, got my own when I started my final year back at my own university; I then tinkered with its innards for the next few years, achieving amazing things with a relatively primitive machine, when everyone else was moving on to Pentium-IIs and IIIs.  In 2004 I even used my mother’s old PC and a replacement processor, together with a DVD decoder card, to make a PC that could play DVDs… though that machine died on me (just as I was watching Evil Dead 2).  I finally built a decent machine out of (relatively) modern parts in mid-2006, and have been building my own since then.

But whither my career in IT?  After all, I took an MCSE course in 2010, got an A+ qualification in 2011 and failed a Windows 7 exam in 2012; I’ve ended up stuck working in admin for far, far longer than I planned, largely due to inertia, but at least I’ve kept doing IT stuff in my spare time, helping other people with their computers etc.  And I’m with an agency now, who will ensure I don’t falter again; I just need to convince my technical trainer that I’m ready to take my A+ exams (at a higher level than before), and I can move on to the next stage.

So there you go, my two current passions, women and computers, both of which I started out with on the same night, fifteen years ago.  We’ll just have to see what the next few months bring…

Self-conservation, or: What I really don’t want to become

“Why do women always leave me? Why do they dump me for men who wear turtleneck sweaters and smoke a pipe? I mean natural yoghurt eaters. ‘Reliable’, ‘sensible’, ‘dependable’, and lots of others words that end in ‘-ible’. They’re obsessed with house prices and spend half their life at antique fairs looking for bargains and drinking wine. It’s never beer, is it, it’s always wiiine! ‘What do you want on your cornflakes darling?’  ‘Oh, I’ll ‘ave some wine please!'”
Red Dwarf (S2E4, “Stasis Leak”)

ForeverAloneBefore I start, yes, this is another “girl troubles” post, so if you’re sick of me going on about my love life (or lack thereof), please feel free to post a complaint in the comments section.  I assume there’s someone out there actually reading this…?  Well, for those of you left, this is also an “unapologies” post, because I’m making a stand for who I am.

To summarise recent events, I have been “sort of” dating someone — an “older woman” (but young-looking due to being Oriental) — but it’s come to an end because she prefers someone else she was seeing at the same time to me.  She still wants to be friends, but here’s the thing: even though we got on well and could talk for ages about whimsical things, and even though she herself is geeky and into anime, she felt I was “immature” and “too much like a teenager”.

Yes, I know, what an enormous revelation, but stick with me here.  I don’t drink to get drunk, hang around in a gang of yobs or call random people “fag” in online games, so what’s the problem?  I can envisage only two alternatives:

  1. I’m not grown-up enough, and need to put away childish things, force myself to wear suits all the time and enjoy adult pastimes like wine-tasting; or:
  2. Society itself has a bad attitude, and I’m fine just the way I am.

Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of things I want to change about myself (as you’re only too aware if you’ve been reading this drivel long enough): my social anxiety, my quickness to anger over silly little things, my tendency towards introvercy, my pessimism over changing my life and meeting someone (which leads to brooding and hence to full-on depression), and my inability to concentrate on… er… ooh, a page of Red Dwarf quotes, I’ll read that for 20 minutes instead of writing in my blog…

Sorry, where was I?  Ah yes.  I have a lot of psychological problems, no doubt about it, but I’ve been combatting all of these through a combination of exercise, yoga, Meetup.com events and studying IT through an agency that will compel me to get on with it.  One thing I don’t hate about myself, one cancer I don’t want to hack out of my being and grind beneath my heel, is the fact that I’m a bit childlike, that I enjoy video games, Beavis and Butt-head, heavy metal music, Doctor Who, horror films, chocolate, and soft drinks.

(Mind you, my sort-of ex couldn’t even really put her finger on why she found me too juvenile for her tastes: a general impression, something about referring to TV shows she’d never heard of…?)

Okay, so I don’t have a house or a mortgage, and I can’t drive, and I make silly jokes rather than being earnest all the time.  So what?  I’ve had a steady job for many years and have savings, I work out and eat healthily, I don’t go out boozing with “the lads”… I don’t even support a football team (not that there’s anything wrong with doing so, but it seems to be the only fun thing “real men” are allowed to enjoy).  I have problems, but I’m not a total deadbeat who needs a woman to “fix” him (ironically, I’d probably have more success with women if I was).  A manchild?  Certainly, but is that even necessarily a bad thing, if I behave responsibly?

I yam what I yam, and while I strive to improve myself both mentally and physically, I don’t see why I should have to turn myself into a boring old fart who goes on about house prices, just because our society thinks adults, and especially men, should only be able to enjoy the Harry Potter novels if they’re reading them to their own children (I read the first four back in 2000-1 on the recommendation of a female American friend), and that anyone who doesn’t choose to work overtime, drive a car (in London!) and otherwise put themself through all sorts of “grown-up” stress isn’t a “real” adult and would thus be a burden rather than a potential mate.

Here’s a rhetorical question, but you can answer it if you want: should I change something fundamental about myself, something I actually like, just to attract women who would probably bore me, or should I change the parts that I hate, such as my shyness and anxiety, and keep looking for someone who makes me happy, and who is made happy by me?  Am I alone because I’m so very, very different to “normal” blokes, or is it solely because I haven’t met enough women due to my introvercy (and not asked enough out due to love-shyness), and should I hold on until I meet someone who would love me because of my childlike whimsy, and not despite it?

Hey, should I just lie about my age and date younger women, or would they be too genuinely immature for me?  I’m pretty sure I’m done with older women — I want to find someone I can grow old with, not someone waiting for me to catch her up (probably with hands on hips and a disapproving frown… yeah, and her hair in curlers…), and miss out part of my life.  Yes, I’ve been in arrested development since my teenage years, guilty m’lud; but if I’m not “mature” enough for women my age, isn’t that the loss of women my age?  Are they perhaps old-fashioned, and does the future lie with the young?

(Of course there are heterosexual women out there of around my age who want to enjoy life rather than endure it, who aren’t hung up on what a man earns or whether his interests are “grown-up” enough, who don’t think theme parks are just for children, who might enjoy my sense of humour — even my tendency to impersonate Beavis and/or Butt-head, or Kenneth Williams, at anything vulgar-sounding — and who might even play video games with me… but they’ve all got boyfriends or husbands!!!)

Anyway, I don’t imagine I’ll always like the things I like — $DEITY knows, my tastes have changed over the years (I used to hate the very idea of violent horror movies, for example) — but I won’t give up the things I enjoy just because they make most single women look down upon me as a manchild.  Maybe that’s why they’re still single — in which case, by rejecting me they’re actually sparing me from a boring, prosaic life.

On the other hand, I could always just not tell them I like heavy metal until we’re married… as Basil Fawlty would say: don’t mention the Gwar!  I did once, but I think I got away with it…

Putting myself back together

sisyphusI’ve already spoken in this blog about the time I lost the will to live in December 2011, and the time I almost lost everything in January 2012; well, between that and the start of this blog (nearly a year ago) was a period in which I tried to go on living from one day to the next, but felt, at least in the beginning, like I’d gone mad.  I write of this because I’m feeling a little of that again, thanks to the summer having abruptly ended and the nights drawing in — and since it’s only September, and thus far worse horrors must await me before the spring, I want to reflect on how I got through that twisted time of my life.

So, as you know (ahem), in early February 2012 I moved in to my current place, having endured the worst period of my life.  Unfortunately every day seemed to be a struggle, beginning with the Friday night I moved in: no-one was going to be in the house once the leaderene had gone to work in her lab for the evening, so I had to rush there from work to get my key!  And then I saw my new room for the first time without the other guy’s stuff in it, and realised with mounting horror that there was mould on the exterior walls under the window, and a big greasy patch on the wall where the guy (or a previous housemate) had leaned against it while in bed.  And the fireplace, which couldn’t be filled in because this is a “listed building”, the filth under the bed (and two manky mattresses on top, one with a certain stain that suggests a woman slept there at least once a month), and a corner shelf unit wedged into an alcove which turned out to have a defunct laptop underneath it (apparently belonging to the landlord’s son)… and then there was the fact that I couldn’t get a Freeview signal in my room unless I put my old computer monitor (which I’d been using as a TV), my digibox and a portable TV aerial in a very specific configuration, and didn’t move, and then I could only pick up the BBC channels anyway!

Needless to say, I had pizza for dinner that evening (Pizza Hut across Ballards Avenue, though I seldom use it, preferring Domino’s), and one of the first acts in moving my stuff upstairs from the living room was to assemble my computer desk and computer, and spend an hour or two playing L.A. Noire.  Apart from having to shut my bedroom door after the leaderene complained about the loudness of the dialogue in the game, it was an experience which calmed me down significantly and helped me forget my problems.

(Yeah, you may think it’s an “interactive movie” or a “facial animation tech demo”, but I actually like it as a game… maybe because it got me through this difficult time, but hey, whatever!)

Things didn’t get much easier, as I decided I needed to clean and repaint the manky walls — which I did over the course of two weekends (hey, I still had to work!), despite the leaderene telling me that the landlord was going to sell the house within the year, and that it thus wasn’t worth me doing it unless it was “for fun”.  This, needless to say, made me anxious again: I’d barely survived this horrible move, how could I possibly face another in so short a space of time?

But I repainted my walls anyway, and once I’d moved (with help) all my remaining furniture and boxes of books etc. upstairs, my room finally began to feel like home.  I also sorted out a couple of other things: a previous tenant had had Sky Digital fitted, and I was able to buy a Freesat digibox to use with the dish, and I bought a new, small widescreen TV to watch it on, selling my old computer monitor on a difficult weekend when I discovered just how difficult it is to travel when my exact bit of the Northern Line is closed.  It felt so bizarre, carrying a 24″ widescreen monitor on the bus to Golders Green and then on the train down to Goodge Street, and because my room had been in such disarray at the time, I’d forgotten to bring the power cable as well, so they couldn’t even test it!  And, as for “good housemate’s” pool table, which really didn’t fit in here with everything else, I was luckily able to give it away to a friend of “female best friend’s” boyfriend (later fiancé, now husband) for use in a youth club, so it’s a good job I didn’t let him throw it out.

Still, it felt so weird to be in here every evening, the light on but my room somehow shrouded in sinister darkness, watching a strange array of TV channels and feeling like I was in a strange place… I still remember having the Japanese channel NHK World HD on, and thinking to myself that I’d gone mad, but it was all right.  Work was no better, as somehow, without intending to, I kept thinking of the potential residences I’d seen during that chaotic week in January, and wondered whether my counterpart in another universe was living there now — or perhaps not living

Gradually I managed to restore myself to a sense of normalcy (yes, okay, this is me we’re talking about, but indulge me here), but I really was taking things one day at a time, making no long-term plans other than to not die.  It occurred to me that every time I buy a Doctor Who DVD that’s well ahead of the period I’m watching (when I moved I was mid-Troughton, reaching Pertwee’s time in July), it’s like a pledge to go on living so I can watch the entire series in order.

One thing that kept me going was buying a smartphone, for the first time ever, thanks to the store credit from selling that monitor!  A cheap second-hand Nokia N97, and it failed after a couple of weeks, but it was still a remarkable experience, even if I never connected it to 2G or 3G or whatever.  Since it failed so quickly, I was able to trade up to a superior HTC Desire Z, which I still use to this day (and which came to America with me).  Using this to play Angry Birds on the Tube every morning and evening distracted me from my uncomfortably-crowded surroundings, and later, when I felt better, I started reading books instead (though for a while I was reading an e-book version of Lovecraft’s works on the phone!).

Another thing to keep me from falling apart was, ironically, my job.  I’ve complained about it in the past (yes, mainly the annoying woman, I know, I’m a horrible person, but she’s annoying!), but due to not one, but two senior women at work going on maternity leave at about the same time, I was able to “act up” into a more senior position, with the commensurate pay rise, which meant I was able to save up more.  Not to the level of a deposit, of course, but I’ve had enough to be able to go on a mega-holiday in America and pay for an expensive IT course, and still have plenty left over for a rainy day.  Along with having found this place to live, it’s a reason that I feel I’m helping the homeless in a strange way: I’m not at risk of increasing their number by one.  Money doesn’t buy happiness, but enough money buys a feeling of security.  I also pay less rent here than I did on Caledonian Road, though that’s to some extent countered by the cost (and stress!) of travelling on the Northern Line.

One other thing I did here, in the early days, was to study for the Windows 7 exam (70-680), on the advice of an IT person at work.  It didn’t come to pass, alas, and my failure in that exam robbed me of my confidence for a good long while, and I ended up sinking into decadence, just playing games in the evenings.  At least when I discovered climbing, I began to actually go out once in a while, instead of moping at home, but my love life remained dead and buried, and one of my worst nights ever involved going to a mingling event run by Lovestruck… which I’ll never do again.  (Judging from a Wikipedia article, I suffer from something called love-shyness, but that’s a blog entry for another day…)

In summary, I got through that weird, post-move period by taking things slowly, sorting out one problem at a time, and by virtue of the fact that the winter came to an end and gave way to spring and, eventually, summer.  I don’t always find rainy days depressing, but it’s nonetheless very possible that I have SAD, and perhaps that explains why I’ve not been so well lately — it really did feel like we jumped directly into winter without even a day of autumn!

I think what brought it all back recently was that, without warning (at least not to me), the landlord’s office sent someone around to strip down and rebuild the downstairs shower from scratch; I’d been hoping this might happen while I was away, but in fact it started just after I came back from Worthing.  (My housemate’s fault for inconsiderately cutting us off the Internet a week early!)  Feeling out of control as to what’s happening in my house, and having to take baths in the upstairs bathroom (or very unsatisfying showers, since the showerhead can’t be attached to the wall) is a new experience that’s messed with my head a bit.  Of course, Gwar has helped turn a strange experience into a relaxing one (Bluetooth headphones, if you must know), and it’s only a few more days before our downstairs shower is back, better than ever.

So what’s different about this time I’m in now, aside from the fact that it’s the lead-up to winter rather than the escape therefrom?  Well, I actually have friends outside my household and workplace now, and indeed am getting back into attending Meetup.com groups; I’m healthier than ever, and still impressing my personal trainer torturer; I’m working towards a better job thanks to my online studies (but still need to organise some A+ exams — yes, I’m retaking them at 801/802 level so I can stay current); I’m more familiar with the area where I live, and less likely to get the wrong bus; I’m closer to my mother and grandmother, and can draw on them for strength; and, most of all, I’ve gazed into the abyss and pulled back once, so I feel confident I can do it again.

I’m going to continue making changes: in particular, I want to get rid of my big corner computer desk and replace it with something easier to transport.  I also want to replace my books with e-books for similar reasons; in the meantime, I’m reading them all again so that at least I’ll have gotten some mileage out of them (having finished the Dune novels, I’m now working my way through Asimov, and I read Pratchett every night, though I might keep those).

Finally, I hope that, while 2012 was the year I clung on tenaciously, and 2013 was the year I adventured and felt hope, 2014 will be the year it all finally comes together…

Where were you when…?

“May you live in interesting times.”
–Apocryphal Chinese curse

wtcObviously I can’t answer the question of where I was when Kennedy died, because my own mother was six on that day in 1963, and I didn’t even exist in potentia.  However, today is the 12th anniversary of “Nine-Eleven”, and I remember where I was and what I was doing that day, as with our own equivalent, “Seven-Seven”.  It’s for these reasons that I referred to my own darkest day in 2011 as “Twelve-Twelve” (the number 12 seems to be unlucky for me… perhaps because I consider 13 to be my lucky number?) — though obviously my own problems don’t amount to a hill of beans by comparison…

2001 was already a bad year for me: my plans to go back to university as a postgrad were on hold due to my inability to get a decent job in Worthing (this would have been difficult even if I wasn’t planning to leave and thus couldn’t take a permanent job), and I was unemployed for long periods; I had my mother and grandmother to take care of me, but felt like I was getting in their way and just waiting for my life to begin again.  I was attending the local astronomy society, and had a chance to visit my old roommate’s family in Michigan (pretty much the only two weeks of the year I actually enjoyed), but it was all going wrong for me… and then there’s Tony Blair being re-elected despite his party’s bungling of foot-and-mouth disease.

And so it was, on the afternoon (remember, we’re five hours ahead of eastern USA) of Tuesday the 11th of September, that I was filling out an application form for yet another job; I’d turned my TV off because Neighbours was coming on and I wanted to (ahem) save it for the 5:35pm repeat.  Thus I missed the beginning of one of the biggest events of human history, and would have known nothing had I not gone to get the Yellow Pages from the phone table beside the lounge door (so I could look up a previous employer’s address), at which point my grandmother called me in to see what was happening on Sky News.  She said a plane had hit one of the Twin Towers, and that as she’d been watching another plane had flown in and hit the other tower… at which point I knew it could only have been deliberate, though I wished fervently even then that it could turn out to have been a tragic accident.

There being nothing I could do to stop a terrorist attack half a world away, I continued as best I could with the task at hand (noting that a teacher had led a group of young school pupils to the war memorial in front of our flat, and wondering foolishly whether they were going to run the flag at half-mast, when they almost certainly wouldn’t have known about the incident), and, since I had a local temp job starting on Friday (or so I thought), went into Worthing town centre to visit the Job Centre and sign off the dole (i.e. stop getting unemployment benefit.  I remember waiting there, listening to my little credit card-sized radio that my mother had bought me in Japan the year before, and wondering why no-one else in the room was on the verge of panic, just getting on with their insignificant little lives while buildings full of people were collapsing across the pond.  The staff member I spoke to knew nothing of the events, and indeed the only people in Worthing who were clued in were those clustered around the TV sets in Dixons, muttering darkly that the Americans wouldn’t let this one go…

That evening my grandmother wasn’t in a cooking mood, for obvious reasons (and she lived through the Blitz), and my mother came home from work having heard all about it.  I was relieved when my American roommate turned up on an Internet chatline, with just one word to say about it all: “madness”.  He said that his family were all right (though his mother had been flying at the time of the hijacks, and was grounded a long way from home), and hoped that if we went after the terrorists, they’d be unable to launch any more attacks.  We still weren’t sure if it was Saddam Hussein or Osama bin Laden who launched the attacks; the rolling news didn’t clarify issues, and I went to bed wondering where we’d go from there… and that night, I dreamed fitfully of Afghanistan and jets flying in the distance.

(Aside: an example of the stupidity of rolling news can be gleaned from this little vignette.  At one point BBC News 24 said they had an unconfirmed report of “6 dead, 1,000 wounded” in the World Trade Center; these were the figures for the 1993 car bombing — also an attack by Osama’s cronies — so in all probability they just looked up “WTC terror attack” on the Internet and grabbed the first figures they could find, not realising they were looking at an historical report!)

A tragedy rather closer to home, literally, occurred the previous year when a little girl named Sarah Payne was kidnapped while visiting her grandparents in a town not all that far from where I was living with my folks.  I saw a police helicopter in the distance that night, pointing its searchlight at the ground somewhere to the north-west, but thought nothing of it as I’d seen them around before (usually chasing boy racers), but found out the unfortunate truth the next day.  When she was sadly found dead, it sparked off a massive (and, frankly, over-zealous) anti-paedophile campaign that ran the risk of ruining innocent people’s lives and driving real kiddy-fiddlers to ground, but fortunately that helicopter on the horizon was as close as I ever came to being involved.

Not so on 7th July 2005, unfortunately.  As on 9/11 I was unemployed at the time, but I was now living in London with some of my coursemates from the postgrad course I finally did in 2003-4.  It was a Thursday, and the previous day I’d joined a web forum that I’d been reading for ages (I’m still involved with some of the same people on another, private forum); we’d also been told we were hosting the 2012 Olympics, not that this mattered particularly to me.  I had a job interview at my former (temp) employer, but I didn’t need to get up too early for it (good, because I’d had a near-sleepless night, having drunk a caffeinated drink while watching War of the Worlds at the cinema), and didn’t even have an alarm clock radio at the time, so once again I went in ignorance as Armageddon broke out — and this time, it was the city I’d lived in for over 18 months that had been targetted.

I began to suspect something as I walked from my home in the Wood Green area towards Hornsey, as a passer-by warned me that Turnpike Lane Tube station was closed, but it was only when I met my potential future employers that I found out there had been “power surges” on the Underground and “bombs on buses”, and during my interview I got a text message from my old university flatmate, who had contacted me all the way from Hong Kong to make sure I was all right!

(I didn’t get the job, but that’s probably fortunate, as it would have required convincing council house tenants that privatisation via an ALMO was the best course of action for them, something I didn’t believe myself…)

I was worried for the people I cared about, and all were affected by the incident.  My folks, at least, I could reassure over the phone, but “female best friend”, who heard the bus explode at Tavistock Square, was almost inconsolable.  “Good housemate” had been on the Piccadilly Line at the time — possibly in the train behind the one that exploded, which I think he barely missed — and the Irish guy with the same birthday as me (who moved in when “other female best friend” moved out) had to go down to south London to pick up his girlfriend, who was marooned down in Kent.  “Other female best friend”, at this point living with her then-boyfriend in Nottingham, felt bad for us all and wished she could help; it also later turned out that a friend of her friend had been on the bus.

But despite the carnage, London continued; it survived the Blitz and (various flavours of) the IRA, so it could survive a group of cowardly cultists blowing themselves up.  And so we got on with our lives; indeed, I went with “female best friend” to Walton, my old home town, that weekend (she was going to a wedding which turned out to be in a church opposite my old school!), and the only way 7/7 affected us was to make getting down to Waterloo more difficult.  And, just like on 9/11, BBC1 broke the rolling news to put on EastEnders at the normal time!  It occurred to me that this wasn’t necessarily a cynical ploy by the Beeb to make sure its flagship soap opera continued on schedule, but was in fact a way to help us all feel like life was carrying on.  Even an asteroid impact couldn’t stop Dot Cotton…

Overall I think we weathered the disaster better than New York did 9/11, but (leaving aside the totally different scales) this is probably because we are culturally different from Americans, and aren’t interested in singing our national anthem in order to rouse our spirits — we just get on with things.  Call it a stiff upper lip if you will, but I actually felt a little proud of my people for not descending into panic.

Which contrasts, sadly, with the second week of August 2011, when the London riots began in earnest.  Up to that point it had been confined to Tottenham, not far from where we used to live, but I remember on the Monday (8th) my local supermarket on Caledonian Road brought its shutters down while people were still inside, apparently due to rioting over in Hackney (which is miles away), and thinking of that bit in Aliens… rioters mostly come at night, mostly.  Nothing really happened overnight, although I had a bit of a temperature and wondered if my counterpart in another universe was burning to death (!).

However, on Tuesday my working day ended early as security urged us to leave the building because, they said, rioters were on their way over!  I heard chavs outside that evening, but they were on their way somewhere else, and the closest the rioting came to me was, er, a broken police car windscreen up in Holloway.  Croydon fared far worse, however, as a friend of “female best friend”, who was posting on Facebook, said he could hear the police cars, and was shocked to see that furniture shop go up in flames…

So there you have it: where I was and what I was doing on some tragic days in history.  I didn’t lose anyone on 9/11 or 7/7, and felt lucky; I did, however, lose someone close to me in a terrible accident on a dark day in 1984, but that’s a story for another day (I’ll be “exploring” the emotion of bereavement in a future post).

I just hope that I’m never involved in anything historical to any greater degree than the above!

And we’re back

That’s right, folks, I’m back in London, and our Internet connection has been restored by Virgin Media, in an operation so quick that it could have been done at any time over the past two weeks.  No offence to the two guys who carried it out, though, as it’s not up to them; I even offered them a cuppa (that’s “cup of tea”, for any non-Limeys reading), but they declined.  So now I can post stuff online from my own computer again without having to resort to a dongle (ooh, Matron!).

In fact, I might just take the night off — I’ve got exciting (ahem) meetup groups planned for all next week, and I’ll see if “best mate” wants to hang out, but right now, I feel like having pizza for dinner tonight (after some extensive exercise, of course), rather than going out to a drinks event arranged by a lady who runs a dating site who asked me out earlier this year (no chemistry, so we didn’t continue dating).  I played Call of Duty: Black Ops II while I was offline last month, so it seems fitting to play it properly online now and get all those Steam achievements.

I expect my general laziness and introvercy to continue during the weekend, which means I’ll have time to catch up on posting here.  Yes, instead of interacting with actual people, I’ll be spewing forth mountains of drivel at a few Internet users who might not even read it!  I’ll also be able to research cloning my Windows 7 installation to a newer, bigger hard drive I bought just before we were cut off the Internet, an operation I’d planned for the Bank Holiday weekend but couldn’t do for obvious reasons.  However, since I’m climbing on Monday after work, I’ll see about climbing on Saturday as well (at the Castle’s Session), so don’t fear for my physical health.  I climbed twice with my mother during my self-imposed exile in Worthing, how’s that?

And people keep telling me I look great… well, unfortunately it’s just blokes who have said it so far, but I’m hoping that’s because I have more male acquaintances at the moment, and not because I’m becoming more attractive in a homosexual rather than heterosexual sense!  Or, that the women I encounter are too embarrassed to compliment my appearance, because they’re English and therefore annoyingly reticent (my mother is an exception to this, but doesn’t count anyway because she’s my mother and thus required by law to say nice things about me!).

(Just kidding, Mumsy…)

Oh well, back to work on Monday… which reminds me: I got the train back to London last night (worrying that the guy who cut us off might not have waited in for the Virgin Media engineers — unnecessarily, as it happened), and as I got off the Northern Line here at Finchley Central, I saw a sign apologising for the terrible service on Thursday morning.  Hmm, looks like I was lucky taking this week off after all — the morning of 12th August (which was just before I’d booked a day off to see the quack) was bad enough!

Cool things: Dogs

“The more I know people, the more I love my dog.”
— Apocryphal, but attributed to Mark Twain

eddie_dog

Eddie, the dog from “Frasier” (played here by either Moose or Enzo) — because Jack Russells are the best dogs of all

Yes, let’s balance out yesterday’s moany post with one of almost unalloyed joy: Canis familiaris (or C. lupus familiaris as it’s been since the 1990s), a.k.a. “Man’s Best Friend”.  Today it seemed singularly appropriate, because I’ve been out and about in Worthing, and if there’s one good thing about this town (and trust me, there is only one good thing about it), it’s that lots of people walk their dogs along the seafront and through the town centre, giving me ample opportunity to pet them!

I truly feel sorry for anyone who is afraid of dogs, or for some reason doesn’t like them, and I denounce any culture that treats them like vermin (oops, there goes my South Korean readership), because they are the superior beings on this planet, and we are but their humble servants.

I think that a good 49% of dogs I meet in public are friendly to me (sometimes too friendly, perhaps — my glasses have been knocked off or covered in slobber on a number of occasions!), while another 49% or so are well-trained enough to ignore me as their owners lead them along.  Only the remaining 2%, possibly less, are ever aggressive to me, and that probably says more about the owner than the animal. My mother reckons I have a gift, a “dog mojo”, which means almost all dogs either like me or aren’t intimidated.

In addition, I’ve never med a Staffie that wasn’t thoroughly nice to me, and outside my workplace I once bravely approached a gigantic Rottweiler that turned out to be a big softie (but nonetheless difficult to manage).  Dangerous dogs?  Pah!  Dangerous owners more like — I’m certainly of the opinion that we should be neutering humans. or at least the unrepentently horrible ones…

Until 1999, we had a dog in my family from my earliest memories — the first I remember being an elderly Yorkshire terrier named Minnie, who was sweet but not very active any more; one day my mother said she was dead because she was old and sick, which was a sad moment.  The weird thing is, in later years she showed me a photo of a black working dog that she said we’d had before, but which now “lived on a farm”; this is a classic way of concealing the death of a beloved family dog, but since I had no memory of it whatsoever, and since she’d told me straight out that Minnie had died, without trying to cloak the truth…

scraps

Best. Dog. Ever. But sadly she left us before the age of digital cameras

Somewhere in early-to-mid-1984 we got a Jack Russell puppy named Scraps, who, after a shaky start (house training especially), became the best dog who ever lived.  She was my companion through no less than three house moves, including the one that brought me to Worthing (admittedly the third one was basically up the road from there to the place where we now live), and it was a milestone in my development when I was able to take her for walks alone, during the summer of 1991.  I teased and tormented her all the time, and it was clear she loved my mother more than me (dogs tend to choose one particular family member to follow), but we still had fun together, and she was always happy to see me when I came back from university…

Unfortunately, dogs grow old, and she became increasingly decrepit in the late 1990s, finally losing her personality entirely when I was away for eight months in Michigan; when I returned, she was like a ghost (and weighed about the same), and it wasn’t entirely regrettable when she was finally laid to rest.  My mother especially still misses her, and I think of her all the time… but, alas, I can’t have a dog of my own while I live in rented accommodation.

It’s for this reason that I have to live vicariously through other people’s dogs.  While on the aforementioned trip to Michigan, I met my roommate’s family dog, which I (apparently wrongly) thought was a Red Setter; she was very friendly, and recognised me when I came to visit in 2001, even though she only had a few months left (she was better off near the end than poor Scraps was).

mali_wilson

A rare moment of calm for the dogs I nicknamed “Shock and Awe”

After that, my American “second family” got a golden-haired Labrador, which I first met in 2003 along with a black Labrador that they were raising to be a helper dog; the two of them, who I encountered after a long and difficult journey, were instantly taken with me and wouldn’t leave me alone, leading me to nickname them “Shock and Awe”… the black Lab would even clamp his jaws around my neck, which the mother of the family claimed was his way of “kissing”.  Ew!  By the time of my visits in 2006 and 2007 (for two weddings), this dog had moved on and his replacement was a sleeker, female equivalent, who was also crazy about me from the get-go.  Unfortunately I haven’t been back since then, and I miss both these dogs badly (as apparently they missed me, the equivalent of a grandparent spoiling their favourite grandchildren).

It really does seem that I have a way with dogs; not always, but when it counts.  One time I was visiting my folks in this very town, when I saw a Husky-type dog running loose through the streets while on my way to the shop; at this point our old neighbour, a nice “animal lady” who used to let me look after a somewhat over-enthusiastic dog of hers, said that she was trying to catch this dog, which had broken its leash, with the aid of a young man who I’d seen running after it.  I and the gentleman managed to corner the dog in someone’s front garden; it wasn’t scared, just having fun running around, but somehow I managed to bring it to heel simply by telling it: “Sit!”  It was quite happy to let me hold it by the collar after that, but we weren’t able to figure out where it lived, and so left it with a family in a street where some Huskies were known to live.  I never found out what happened after that, but I can only hope the dog was reunited with its owners…

churchill_nodding_dog

Could we get a bulldog, like the CGI mascot of Churchill Insurance? “Ohh yus!”

My mother says we can get a new dog if we move to the Surrey area (she’s as sick of Worthing as I am, but has the disadvantage of not being able to live anywhere else for the time being), so the question remains: what sort of dog do I want?  Well, another terrier would probably be the best bet (the aforementioned neighbour’s Labrador-mongrel, who I met in the winter of 2005, kind of soured me towards the idea of owning a big dog), but I’d really like a spaniel of some kind.  Mumsy says they have a lot of health problems due to inbreeding (in dogs as in humans, racial purity is stupid and self-defeating), but still, as a child I really wanted a Cocker spaniel.  No, stop sniggering!  It’s because this is the closest breed to the little plush toy dog I was given for Christmas, possibly in 1983, and which I immediately named Benji (which gives you an idea of how old I am — hey, at least I didn’t call him “Littlest Hobo”!).

And before all you “cat-persons” out there give up on me, don’t worry, I like cats too — though they frequently don’t seem to like me.  Many I see in the street run at the very sight of me, and one work friend’s cat even went so far as to hide under furniture, hissing and scratching at me… but on the other hand, I was able to befriend the tabby cat owned by my “second family” in Michigan, to the point where he was pleased to see me when I visited in 2003 (albeit because he was having to deal with those two crazy dogs), and actually climbed into my lap the first time he saw me.  Of course, being a cat, he did it with a kind of “I’m going to sleep here now, wake me when it’s dinner time” attitude!

Another notable exception is the cat that my mother was looking after in 1999 while living in her absent friend’s house (up in Surrey, where they have half-decent wages); I lived there between Michigan and my final year at university, and made friends with this cat, mainly by feeding him (what choice did I have, he used to jump on me at 5am and purr incessantly!).  It got to the point where we’d even rub foreheads together in a sign of friendship… it’s very rare to find a cat who does that the first time I meet it, though it did happen with the cat owned by a friend of “best mate” earlier this year.  And the other weekend, when I was trying to find “female best friend’s” new home in Sheffield, I encountered a very “talkative” cat in the street that kept nagging me to stroke it.  Perhaps cats are friendlier outside London, or perhaps I’m developing a “cat mojo” as well…?

(P.S. I’ll try to add pictures of family pets in the future, but for now, since I’m not on my own computer in London, it’ll have to wait!)  Update: all done!

Sounds that really grind my gears

Peter Griffin, from Fox's "Family Guy"

You know Dave-ros is back on top of things when he has time to complain about anything and everything

Yeah, I’m back, and just because I’ve been denied the chance to write in my blog for so long, doesn’t mean I’m going to say anything profound or inspiring in this post; no, I’m going to complain, belatedly, about sounds that annoy me, because I’ve been bottling this up for a long time.  After all, there’s some new people at work with deeply irritating voices, including one who gives the annoying woman a run for her money, by constantly (and I do mean constantly) chatting loudly, and frequently laughing in a manner that sounds like a cross between a car starting and a heavy smoker wheezing.  Others keep chatting about football with one of my long-term work colleagues, and in one case this goes literally over my head (I sit facing one of them and have the other sitting behind me).

And oh, yes, the annoying woman herself… well, Beavis and Butt-head came to my rescue when I finally got around to watching the new episodes: during “Holy Cornholio” they criticise a girl getting a boob job in a clip from Teen Mom by saying she “talks through the back of her nose”, which is an excellent description of my arch-nemesis’ mode of speech.  Thus, whenever she gets going again (in that voice of hers that’s somehow much louder than anyone near her), I find myself thinking: “Breast augmentationnnn…” (no YouTube clip, alas)

Of course, I loathe people talking in just about any situation where you’d expect quiet.  When visiting “female best friend” recently, on the train home from Sheffield, I was sitting behind a group of three Germans (?) who kept talking loud enough that they were drowning out the Bee Gees on my earphones.  Maybe I’m becoming a racist in my old age, but I really am sick of foreign visitors who don’t know, or care, to talk at a reasonable volume in public places, and somehow the fact that it’s in another language makes it worse, as then there’s the whole “hah, we can talk about these stupid English peasants and they won’t even know!” aspect to it.

But native English speakers can really grind my gears too.  Sometimes I’ll be on a nearly-empty Tube train and a group of semi-drunk middle-aged people will get on, presumably coming home from a dinner party, and the moment some red-faced bloke tells a joke and throws his head back, “rahahahahaha!”, I’ll get up and walk to the other end of the carriage.  And then there was the group of Kettering-ites making a lot of noise on another train home from Sheffield, another time, who actually required a train guard to shut them up… I really wish I had the guts to go up to noisy people and ask them to be quiet, instead of sighing and tutting all the time (the yobs in the latter example claimed it was everyone else’s fault for not telling them to shut up!).

And don’t get me started on people who talk in cinemas… oh, you all agree with me anyway that they should be strung up, that anyone who pays to sit in a movie theatre and TALK the whole time, as though they’re too stupid to realise they’re not in their own living room but are actually sharing space with other people who might actually like to listen to the damn film instead of asking “dur, what did he just say?”, is the worst kind of person?  Good, no need to dwell on their utterly worthless, putrescent existence, let us not give these vile filthbags any more attention than they deserve.  A pox on them!

Oh, and mobile phone noises.  Oddly, the default alarm music on my HTC phone is something that makes me feel physically sick, perhaps reminding me of early 2012 when I first got it, during the time I thought I was insane (and not in a good “wibble, hatstand, Elvis is alive” kind of way), despite the fact that it must have been a week before I changed it for that scary music in Amnesia: The Dark Descent when the invisible water monster first comes at you.  Weird, huh?  Then again, I still cringe if I hear someone’s old Nokia phone playing the noise that I heard for most of 2011 to get me up in the mornings.

But the very worst mobile device-related noise ever, and I doubt it will ever be beaten: the Samsung “text message received” whistle (don’t open that link… oh, too late).  THERE IS NOTHING GOOD ABOUT THIS SOUND, AND I WISH IT COULD BE BANISHED FROM EXISTENCE ENTIRELY.  Not joking, I truly loathe it, and nothing, not even hypnotism, could ever stop me flinching in annoyance at its every intrusion upon my consciousness.

My text message noise used to be Roger the Alien from American Dad! going “Myaah!”, and I got complaints about it (it’s now a Gatherer from Amnesia growling in the distance… I really should stop trying to scare myself, shouldn’t I?), but that was a sound effect designed to be annoying; people with this dreadful whistle emanating from their smartphones don’t seem to think that they’re doing anything wrong, that a fairy dies every time it plays, or that the Chinese are using it as a new form of water torture (yes, I know Samsung are Korean, please don’t point that out).

(I was completely unsurprised when the annoying woman at work delcared she absolutely loved it the first time she heard it — this tells you all you need to know.)

Anyway, let’s try to think calming thoughts.  It ought to be nice and quiet here in the little village outside Worthing where my folks live, and where I’ve joined them for this week-long exile… but no.  It’s bad enough that we get used as a thoroughfare for people who want to avoid the big motorway to the north, every hour of every day, but over the years I’ve lived here, we’ve had the following night-time nuisances:

  • seagulls
  • noisy neighbours (old lady with radio turned up too loud, drug-addled couple playing music too loud, family with kids screaming and jumping around)
  • a weird burglar alarm going off at the old car showroom opposite altogether too often
  • seagulls
  • drunks staggering home shouting at the sky, people chatting about houses advertised in the window of the estate agent that used to be right under our flat (this was at around midnight)
  • a druggie in a bus shelter playing Spirit FM at maximum volume
  • more seagulls
  • some oik kicking a football around in the middle of the road
  • boy racers zooming up and down who didn’t even have the decency to prang their chavmobiles
  • seagulls, seagulls, F***ING SEAGULLS!!!  Honestly, someone has the audacity to walk past our house, and these damned avians get stirred up and swoop around for the next two hours!

And it gets worse: since coming home the other day, we’ve had an old codger constantly setting off his car alarm right outside (he seemed to be triggering it by the mere effort of climbing out), a yapping dog in a car whose owner wouldn’t let me pet it, and (one for my mother here) a guy with a lot of sound leaking from his earphones, delivering a paper or something at around 6am (to make matters worse, he seems to be an Eminem fan, so I can’t even have him executed!).

Which brings me onto music.  Here goes… never mind the accursed Bieber or No Direction, I’ve long hated the entire works of The Streets (especially “Fit But You Know It” and “Dry Your Eyes”, which got altogether too much airplay in 2004… yes, I’m still bitter about him being called “the British Eminem” when he’s not even the British Vanilla Ice!), and I’ll change station if he ever dares to come on.  One time I was desperately trying to turn off the radio, but he just kept on going… which turned out to be because I was still asleep and hearing him on my alarm clock radio.  By comparison, my hatred of “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” is distinctly minor!

There are other, more recent songs I’m sick of hearing: “Next to Me”, for example, which reminds me of the worst time of my life, early 2012; and that song the Military Wives released for Christmas 2011, for similar reasons — a random song doesn’t just take you back to a happier period, you know.  And then there’s the Glee version of “Don’t Stop Believin'”… ecch.  Fortunately, the music I’ve listened to since late 2012 (such as Gwar, and the 1980s stuff my friend at work gave me) has combined with a better life overall and helped me forge some positive music-related memories, but I still get a pang whenever I hear a song that reminds me of the bad times…

Similarly, my mother hates the Homebase radio adverts with the whistling music “Young Folks” by Peter, Bjorn & John — but no worries there, as I play Gwar in the car whenever she’s driving us to and from the climbing centre.  But wait: a challenger appears!  Yes, the final bit of audio-related annoyance for me is that while Mumsy doesn’t seem altogether thrilled by the thrash metal-playing alien barbarians who have kept me going throughout 2013, she was instantly hooked by another band I’ve discovered, King Missile.

You may remember Beavis and Butt-head reviewing “Detachable Penis” in this post; well, I got the album, Happy Hour, and played a couple of tracks (including the aforementioned phallic misplacement-related one) for my mother after finishing the Gwar album This Toilet Earth, and she responded positively and wants to know more about them!  Dammit, don’t the Scumdogs of the Universe get any love?