Monthly Archives: December 2015

Emerging from the darkness

Crossed crevassed chasms vast
And endless plains of unshaven ass
Our time in Hell draws to the last!
—Gwar, “The One That Will Not Be Named” (Beyond Hell)

sp_fp1Right on the Winter Solstice, as the nights finally begin to shorten and the days lengthen, I’ve come home to Worthing to stay with my folks (and recover from this ongoing cough I’ve had for nearly two weeks)… and oh, I’ve realised just how far I’ve come in 2015, and how much better my life is than it was this time in 2014, or indeed before that!

Naturally, I’m right back to having trouble getting down to Worthing for Christmas; last year I avoided any problems simply by travelling on the 20th (though I wonder if Fate was also going easy on me because I’d already “suffered enough” in November and December), but this year, having an actual job, I had to wait until just before Christmas.  I was lucky to be able to take a half-day on the 23rd, and though free pizza (!) at work and a couple of jobs at home delayed my departure, it looked like I wouldn’t have had a better journey if I’d left earlier anyway, as Southern Railway (named and shamed) were having a bad day, and every journey before 5pm would have needed at least one change.

I’d wondered if I’d had too good luck getting to Victoria station (pedestrian crossing and Tube trains being somehow timed to speed me along), and it seems I had indeed used up my positive karma… or had I?  Let’s count the phases of my journey…

  1. A direct train to my family’s nearest train station (west of Worthing) at 5:18pm “cancelled”, apparently due to ongoing train crew shortage.
  2. As a result, I and many others piled onto a Brighton service that had been delayed due to a signal failure at Haywards Heath (as opposed to Preston Park).  At least I got a seat.
  3. No westbound services from Brighton other than an occasional train to Hove, from which we would be able to get a westbound service… “if any trains are running”, as the guard honestly admitted.  At least I got a seat.
  4. Westbound services through Hove further disrupted by a signal failure at Littlehampton (were both signal failures targetted at me personally?!), but a train turned up just as I crossed to the right platform, though it would be stopping only at Worthing and Littlehampton.  At least I got a seat (though I almost missed getting off in time, due to the lady in the aisle seat staying on the train!).
  5. Calling my folks on the train meant my mother was able to come and pick me up from Worthing’s central station (which was certainly easier to reach than Woking); she arrived minutes after I stepped out of the station!  We drove through streets unfamiliar to me (though not quite as creepy or otherworldly as in 2013), and got home safely.

This might seem like a hellish journey, but the fact that I was able to find a relatively simple path through the chaos suggests I did have luck on my side after all — for example, getting to Hove just in time for that one adequate train!  And considering how bad train commuting is for an old university friend of mine (who has to rely on SWT as well as Southern), I think I got off lightly.  I know I suggested that travelling on the 23rd would mean I was cursed, but I see no evidence that travelling today (the 24th) would have been any better; indeed it would probably have been worse, as the ongoing shortage of train crews has been exacerbated by a corpse being found on the tracks at East Croydon…

— — —

Ah, the Sun’s coming out down here in Ferring, after a miserable, rainy start to the day; another sign that things are getting better!  I’m also finally recovering from my cough, after a particularly bad night (very sore throat), so I guess we could say we’ve left all the bad stuff behind with the Solstice.  I know I went through some bad depression in 2015, but it’s now hard for me to feel unhappy, and I need a good run-up to get even mildly disenchanted — and I don’t seem to need St. John’s wort; this seems to be for no greater reason than that I have a good job at last, on a permanent basis, with all sorts of benefits (like payments to help with healthcare… and paid leave until the 4th of January!!!).

(Don’t get me wrong: I know £22k isn’t much of a wage in London, but when you consider I’ve seen £18k quoted for similar “first line IT support” roles — or even £16k for somehow commuting to Stanmore — you’ll appreciate why I’m so pleased!)

My depression really does seem to be largely circumstantial, and my circumstances are pretty good now.  However, think on this: while things are certainly far better than at this time in 2014, when I had no job and felt like a failure, and thus had to run off home to hide in Ferring with my folks for two weeks, what about 2013?  Back then I had a steady job, and indeed a higher pay packet than now, and after the travel chaos I had a nice time with my folks down here, but I didn’t like my job, or a couple of inescapable people in my office, and wanted very much to leave (indeed, the prospect of leaving was all that kept me going).  Thus, the fact that I’m now in a job I want to be doing puts me well above where I was then, and means my happiness has more of a solid foundation, rather than being based on a sense of temporary relief.

It’s good to leave behind my pathetically nostalgic feelings about Christmas 2013, wishing I could go back in time and endure that crazy train journey to Woking, and the scary drive with my mother through unfamiliar country roads, just so my life could be back as it was at the end of 2013, before all the misery of the second half of 2014 and the slow recovery of 2015.  I don’t know how good things will be in 2016, but at least I truly feel like they can be good.  Most of all, I no longer regret leaving my job at Camden council on a fool’s quest to break into IT in my late 30s… because this fool’s damn well succeeded!

An unwelcome holiday

I thought about havin’ a go at an overdose
But I don’t think you can overdose on Beecham’s Flu Plus
—Goldie Lookin Chain, “Self Suicide” (Greatest Hits)

mb_hhI’m just finishing an effective four-day weekend, and I’m resentful of it and hopeful that I won’t have to extend it to five or even more days.  And why?  Because it seems I can still catch cold even now I’m a pillar of health, exercising regularly and eating (mostly) right, and indeed get it so bad that I can’t do the things I want to do in the evenings as a result!

Okay, so being off on Thursday and Friday meant I could spend a lot of time playing classic oldie Doom 3 (which I’d sold years ago and now bought in download form, hopefully for less than I sold it for!), but I’d rather have been at work, facing all the manic problems we face, than lying in bed sweating and/or shivering, or later coughing hard enough to see lights.  I actually enjoy my job now ($DEITY help me), and extra me-time isn’t a compensation for feeling horrible, or having to postpone my personal trainer or not go climbing.

(At the risk of making this sound like another “then and now” post, I remember how much I hated getting a cold in the autumn of 1994, when I actually liked attending school for the first time in ages… the previous time having been early 1992, when indeed the same thing happened; I also remember how being off school with a cold seemed almost tolerable in between those times, considering how miserable I was at school in my GCSE years!)

It’s good that I’m finally in a job where I get paid sick leave, as in my previous contractor roles, I’d have lost a couple of days’ pay as a result, which would have sucked.  I also get paid leave over Christmas, whereas I found bank holidays troublesome in my former role, regarding them as the only holidays I could take.  Still, I hope I’m well enough for work tomorrow, as otherwise I risk going straight into the Christmas holidays without a chance to do my job.

Why would that be a problem?  Well, partly because I’d feel like I was somehow “pulling a sickie” (and no, it wasn’t to see the new Star Wars, I saw that at the weekend anyway), and partly because I want to keep in the vibe of working and not just sit around at home (I had enough of that when I was unemployed)… but mainly because I dread to think how many unread e-mails I’ll have accumulated just from two days’ sick leave.  Naturally, I also want to be over this cold by the time I go back to Worthing on the 23rd, so I don’t infect my mother and grandmother.

Do you know what the worst part is, the bitterest pill (ahem) to swallow?  It’s likely “best mate” who gave this virus to me, having caught a nasty cough when he was working up in Scotland (don’t ask, it’s one of the reasons he keeps warning me to never work in construction), yet he hasn’t been anywhere near as sick as me!  Then again, he’d already suffered enough simply by having to go to Scotland in December, hadn’t he?

Anyway, here’s hoping I’m well enough to return to work tomorrow morning; if necessary I’ll use a cocktail of ibuprofen (a risky proposition considering what happened to me in July), Lemsip (other cold remedies are available, like the one namechecked in the opening quote above) and mentholated sore throat lozenges, and hope that I don’t have a bad trip… hey, it’s my last chance to go salsa dancing do Christmas shopping for my folks!

And if all else fails, I can draw solace from the fact that at least it’s a plain old cold (well, a nastier-than-usual one) that’s bringing me down, and not uncontrollable depression and/or anxiety over my life situation.  I can get over this easily, it’s just a matter of time, but I wish it wasn’t right before Christmas!

What a difference twenty-three years make

290px-Amstrad_CPC464

Yes, I know my CPC 464 was already obsolete by 1992, what’s your point?

After my last post, and my previous post, here’s a ludicrous number of years to go back: 23.  Obviously the world’s changed massively since 1992 (especially in computer terms — I was still using my Amstrad CPC back then), but it’s not a nice round number, so why should I pick that particular year?

Well, here goes: 1992 was the year I started writing a diary, and I chronicled my last two terms at a school where I was happy, in a town where I’d lived from age 7 to age 14, as well as my family moving to Worthing, and my unremitting misery at a new school.  I was getting bullied all the time there, even the girls treating me badly, and in summary I hated my new life and wanted to escape.  However, I made it to Christmas and had a nice time with my family, and somehow made two friends at my new school — and, more importantly, did well at (most of) my lessons…

Anyway, like 1992, in the autumn I started spending my weekdays at a new place, and like 1992, at first I had the nagging suspicion that I wouldn’t be there for very long, and somehow doubted anyone talking to me about the months ahead.  Perhaps in 1992 that was because I’d just gone through a house move and was still in that frame of mind, or perhaps it was just wishful thinking; in 2015, it was of course because I was only a lowly contractor to begin with, and doubt was cast over the possibility of me going permanent — not because of my ability to do my job, but because of their ability to pay for it.  In both cases I stuck at it, and things got… better.

It’s very significant to note how timid I was in 1992, and how long it took me to find my feet; it had been no picnic two years earlier when I started at that posh all-boys school in Surrey, but gradually I’d made a name for myself and worked my way up the pecking order, but at the posh mixed school in Worthing, simply being myself was enough to earn scorn, and gradually I learned to keep my mouth shut.

Now, in 2015, although I still suffer from anxiety, I’ve reached the stage where I don’t need St. John’s wort to perk up my emotions any more, and I can have a laugh with my work colleagues, even though they’re of a similar humour to the school bullies — which makes me wonder how much of what I went through in 1992 was my own stupid fault.  I know, victim shaming is a terrible thing, and the boys especially were particularly vicious (though not in physical terms, thankfully), but there are times I wish it had all been different and that I’d known then what I know now.

Loath as I am to admit that the bullies were sort of right, I have to say, I took things way too seriously back then!  Oh, I tried to be funny, without resorting to (a) sneering at someone else in our year group or (b) simply quoting what a comedian said on TV last night, and that, apparently, was part of the problem — the teachers thought my surreal, self-deprecating humour was “above” the level of my peers, and that was why they made fun of me (the kids, not the teachers).  Back then I could only get upset if my humour didn’t go down well and people had a go at me; nowadays (leaving aside moments of anxiety) I can simply respond by giving people a Paddington-style “hard stare”, or saying “ya funny!” in an American gangster voice (I’m sure Joe Pesci once said it with an exasperated face, possibly in Goodfellas?).

It’s worth noting that 1992 had the same date structure (from March onwards, as it was a leap year) as 2015, and so I’ve been noting that the first year I wrote a diary often has the same pattern as this year.  The week beginning Monday 23rd November, for example, was absolutely horrible in 1992 (so much so I didn’t even notice it being Doctor Who‘s anniversary), to the point that I regretted not having died in the night, thanks to the bullies spraying Snow-in-a-can in my hair (several times).  I even remember crying during a Physics test, and at first thought my best friend at the time was mocking me, when actually he was pretending to cry because he was scared of the test itself (having missed some school) — he didn’t criticise me for getting bullied as he’d had it in the past too!

And on Thursday the following week, thanks to a stupid argument with a classmate, I ended up “answering back” to a teacher I actually liked, and was told off in front of the class.  He apologised later for the necessity, saying he had to be consistent and couldn’t let me off for that kind of thing even though he wanted to, but I still felt worthless, as though I was not only arguing with my peers, but letting down the adults who were supposed to be on my side…

Jump forward 23 years, and the week beginning 23rd November this year was also pretty tricky: after a difficult and frustrating Monday, I almost had a nasty argument on Thursday  when I was told off for trying to help someone who was off research something when I should have assigned it to the off-guy completely and not helped at all (even when he e-mailed me demanding to know why I’d simply assigned it to him).  I began to think my (female) boss was looking for things for which to criticise me… but I know she’s just being firm, and that they actually like me in this job and are just being stern to make sure I’m all that I can be.

In addition, I worried constantly about money, as I am wont to do these days, and as I did 23 years ago when it wasn’t always certain I could afford the bus to school.  However, not only did I turn out to have more than I expected on Monday, but on Wednesday I was paid even more money by the DWP, two days before my first monthly payday; a phone call confirmed that it wasn’t a mistake they’d try to take back with interest, but was due to the gap since my last contractor pay packet!

So yeah, 23 years later my life’s a lot better, even if I face similar challenges… had enough of me dwelling on the past yet?  Maybe I’ll make stopping this a New Year’s Resolution…

— — —

Wait, I’m not done yet!  Never mind 13 (my lucky number) or 19 (a recurring theme in Stephen King’s Dark Tower series), 23 is somehow a number of great significance in my life, in both good and bad ways.  23 was our house number in the street where I’d spent my formative years in Surrey, I turned 23 in the year 2000, and the 23rd day of the month is often significant to me somehow.  I recall 23rd November 2013 for that wonderful Doctor Who 50th anniversary special (and my masterpiece of fan obsession in this blog), but some less good 23rds include:

  • 23rd November 1992: as above, I get badly bullied at school;
  • 23rd May 2013: massive post-holiday depression, as I realise how much I need to change in my life;
  • 23rd March 2014: Dave “Oderus” Brockie dies without me ever being able to thank him for Gwar;
  • 23rd November 2014: my last evening at that horrible 24/7 shift job;
  • 23rd June 2015: after a depressing day, while trying to get money for yoga, I lose my bank card in a broken cash machine, freak out and go home instead, breaking my glasses in the process.

These “bad 23rds” seem to have replaced the “depressing 12th” I used to get (nearly) every month from late 2011 to 2012 (like this and this).  I know it’s silly superstition, but I’m sure you understand I’m going to get a little worried just before Christmas — especially if I take the 23rd as a half-day and try to travel to Worthing, because remember how hard it was for me to get home in 2012 on 23rd December… and indeed, while 24th December in 2013 was bad, the day before had been even worse!

What a difference ten years make

pinhead

2005 was also the first time I really got into horror films, like “Hellraiser”… yes m’lud, that’s why I chose this image!

I know I shouldn’t keep looking back, but too bad, here’s another “then and now” post, somewhere between my last one and my next (planned) one.  I’ve been through a lot this year, and now that things are picking up, it’s interesting to see how much improvement there’s been.

Anyway: ten years ago (2005, in case you’re reading this years after I’ve written it), I was living in the Wood Green area with two of my Astrophysics classmates (the people I now refer to as “good housemate” and “female best friend”), an Irishman born on the same day of the same year as me, and the latter’s live-in Australian girlfriend.  In September I started a temp job at Camden council that would ultimately lead to me becoming permanent there for almost exactly eight years; this followed admin work earlier in the year in an office where I was underused but got on well with my cheerful colleagues.

And now look where I am: living with an Irishman and three others (two of them female and the other a wacky guy who mocks me for being a vegetarian), commuting to work on the Tube, watching the Japanese anime Science Ninja Team Gatchaman (but getting rather further than I did when I only had the first 36 episodes) and doing a job that started out temporary (and quite stressful for that reason) but which has now become permanent.  The differences, of course, are that my Irish housemate is rather more cheerful and less irritable than your man from 2005, that my job is what I want to be doing rather than just something to pay the bills, and that (apart from the occasional issue) my morning commute is bearable… dare I say, almost enjoyable?

(And for your information, sometimes I get the Victoria and Piccadilly Lines to the Castle after work — almost the same journey as my homeward commutes in 2005-6 — and the service hasn’t improved on either line!  If anything, it’s even worse…)

Moreover, I’m still in touch with the nice ladies at the admin job I did earlier this year to tide me over; I think I sorted my head out there a lot more than I did at Haringey council in 2005, and in all probability owe them my life… so I’m having lunch with them on Friday (when, shock horror, I’ll be taking a half-day from my job!).  I spent far less time unemployed this year between the two jobs than I did back in 2005, when “female best friend” had to swing something for me at her workplace for a few days, and I got fired from an audio-typing job at a hospital because the obnoxious lady in charge took a personal dislike to me!

Another improvement on 2005 began this weekend: I’m watching Doctor Who.  No, not the new Peter Capaldi episodes… well, yes, I am watching those, but that’s not the remarkable thing — I’ve begun rewatching the first series of the show’s revival, with Chris Eccleston as the Doctor, and I’m enjoying it a lot more than I did back in 2005!  I didn’t like him back then as I found him too uncouth and “northern” (but not Scottish like Sylvester McCoy), and the fact that he ditched the role after the first episode was broadcast didn’t endear him to me; I also didn’t like the show going to a 45-minute episodic format instead of the weekly 25-minute episodes that built into serials, as it seemed like dumbing down.

Now, however, I find I actually like the episodic format (hey, Star Trek did the same and I never complained about that!), instead of being all “they changed it, now it sucks!” — and I like Eccleston’s portrayal, perhaps because his impish grin and sticky-out ears remind me of my good friend, the yoga teacher who’s helped me feel more spiritual the past couple of years (his is the Meetup.com group I’ve attended by far the most).  It’s a shame he only lasted one season and then turned his back on the show entirely, even refusing guest appearances…

(And yes, I watched the Paul McGann TV movie first — and yes, I do wonder if his claim to be “half-human on his mother’s side” is in any way significant regarding last week’s Capaldi episode…)

Ten years is a nice round number, and it’s also significant to me somehow: I keep saying I feel way younger than the 38 years my birth certificate claims I have (I don’t doubt it, I have memories of the early 1980s — including, yes, Doctor Who).  I sometimes feel like I lost ten years of my life (three in 2000-3 living in Worthing with my folks, and seven in 2005-11 existing but not really feeling), so it’s not entirely delusional for me to claim to be 28; it seems like a more appropriate age for me to be, considering my emotional maturity level.  Also note how physically fit I am now that I eat well and exercise regularly, instead of sitting home each and every night (I wasn’t even going to Japanese night classes back then).

Yeah, maybe I’d really like to be 18, but only because then no-one would object if I tried to sleep around with college girls…