Monthly Archives: January 2017

Cold snap

got_wic

Bit late, mate, winter’s already been here a while

The weather lately has been absolutely hideously cold… okay, maybe not by Norwegian or Canadian standards, but at least when I was in Michigan during the 1998-9 academic year, it was warm indoors!

It’s still hard to keep my room warm, but I manage — however, this week I’ve been finding it intolerably cold outside as well, and I think it’s brought back a few issues I hoped I was over already.

The good news is that I can now get over a cold virus in a few days: I started coming down with one on Friday, had a tap-like nose during the weekend and Monday, and felt better by Tuesday, to the point that I wasn’t using Lemsip (or its shop’s-own-brand equivalent) by Wednesday at all, and am now essentially over it completely.  It may have been a weak virus in the first place (my grandmother got over one around the same time with remarkable swiftness, considering her age and condition), but I’d rather be upbeat about my condition, okay?

However, on Monday (a year after similar circumstances, and with a similar cause, almost cost me my probation), I was warned by my workplace senpai that people were finding me a bit “snappy” that morning (bad for the “face” of the team); fortunately I didn’t receive an official reprimand, especially not from “boss lady”.  I think my attitude on that occasion was only partly down to a lady from one team contradicting something they’d told me on Friday about a new starter, and making me rush around to make up for my “mistake”; no, it was mainly down to my lousy head cold, which made me less amiable (due to feeling lousy), and more prone to speaking curtly (because speaking at all was unpleasant and so I wanted to do as little of it as possible).

I would hope the staff at work — my “flock” as I call them (when I’m not using the word “peasantry”) — would be familiar enough with me by now not to expect me to behave like a machine, programmed to be polite 100% of the time, but rather that they’d appreciate I’m a human being as well, who has “bad days” just like them… but considering their IT issues, maybe I shouldn’t assume too much common sense on their part?

I’m over that cold now, but although I’m physically healthy in most ways, one problem has made an unwelcome return.  I hope my mother won’t worry (she’s one of the few people who reads this blog), but a couple of weekends ago, when I was visiting my folks down in Worthing, I started having more bouts of the dreaded “brain fuzz”, where every so often, with no apparent trigger, a series of what seem like memories but are garbled and incoherent flow through my conscious mind.  It’s not a cause of headaches, but often a result (or possibly a harbinger), and causes no pain in and of itself, just dizziness, often a brief sense of unreality, and most of all, worry on my part that I’ve got brain damage.

Don’t panic!  I’m almost certain that a primary cause is simple dehydration, as on that occasion the bouts started after I’d eaten my grandmother’s cooking and washed it down with cider, not drinking anywhere near enough water at the time.  Additionally, I was lying in the bath with the back of my head against the porcelain (possibly restricting blood flow) when the first bout arrived.  It’s worth mentioning that I have a habit of hunching in front of my various computer screens (especially at work), which I know I shouldn’t, and I’m trying not to — shoulders back!

There’s also stress to consider: I’d spent the previous two weekdays battling extreme cold and even snow outside (not to mention lousy public transport, which I also endured on strike Monday) to visit an optician in North Finchley after work, obtaining or modifying new glasses.  Furthermore, my eyes were at this point still adjusting to the new glasses, a slightly different shape, prescription and angle than before — in fact, I found them harder to get used to than any previous pair I can recall (except possibly the first in 1997).

(Ironically, I’d bought these glasses after an eye test in December to see if the original cause of my “brain fuzz” was eyesight-related!)

I’m convinced the current cold weather is particularly responsible: partly because cold but dry is naturally dehydrating weather (more so than a hot summer, and about the same as our computer-filled office), and partly because being cold itself gives me headaches, which sometimes lead to the weirdness.  I know this because on Christmas Day last year (and the previous Christmas Day, under almost identical circumstances), I went for a walk along the seafront with my mother but without head protection, receiving the full force of a wintry onshore breeze.  I came home in pain, took headache medication, and then had a bout of “brain fuzz” while lying down and recovering, though both times only the one, fortunately (which makes me hopeful that it’s actually a symptom of “brain repair” — it’s almost like a blockage being cleared — rather than brain damage).

Going between warmth and extreme cold is a known health issue, and indeed back in December 2012, long before this particular health issue started, I had something else weird happen: on my way to the Castle (to climb with “best mate”, who I’d just met at the time), I experienced a strange flickering blur over one eye, which slowly expanded into a ring during the course of my journey, before eventually passing out of view.  I’d also had that happen to me years previously as a teenager (though I don’t remember what the weather was like that day!), and both cases seem to have been isolated — but “cold headaches” certainly seem to be a problem for me.

This week I’ve been especially exposed to the cold, having spent more time outside than I really should have — and here’s something else that’ll cause my mother to curse the heavens: I’ve begun playing Pokémon GO, now that I have a smartphone capable of it.  I’m not training or battling the little blighters, or interacting with other players in any way; I’m just finding and catching the monsters around London, as well as visiting landmarks (“Pokéstops” containing supplies). Indeed, I find myself often walking “the long way” just to cover more ground, so at least it’s getting my steps up.  However, since I need to have one hand ungloved in order to touch my screen… well, eczema is another health condition I have to fight!

(Not to mention having to charge my phone up at least once a day…)

My head was, of course, also cold at these times, although my ears weren’t, thanks to the big headphones my folks got me for Christmas, which act like earmuffs (I listen to music everywhere I walk, even if I’m also searching for Japanese CGI monsters on my phone).  However, in recent years I’ve stopped wearing head covering outside in winter thanks to similar big earphones; this, rather than fashion concerns, is why I don’t use my “Canadian moose hunter” hat any more — which might be why I had a couple of small bouts on Wednesday, before and after yoga, having spent ages walking around window-shopping (and catching Pokémon) after a Nando’s dinner which I washed down with not enough water.

I can drink more water, no problem there, but should I start wearing my trusty earflap hat again, and thus stop listening to music (as I won’t go back to wired earbuds for anything)?  Making my daily walks around London in boring silence… hmm, would the cure be worse than the disease?

(P.S. Maybe it won’t matter, as it’s supposed to get a lot less cold this weekend… am I getting old, obsessing over the weather?  Another source of stress?)

Cool things: The War of the Worlds (most versions)

It seems totally incredible to me now that everyone spent that evening as though it were just like any other.  From the railway station came the sound of shunting trains, ringing and rumbling, softened almost into melody by the distance.  It all seemed so safe and tranquil.
—Richard Burton, Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds

as_wotw

Since this old cover was in my sci-fi encyclopaedia, this is how I always imagined the Fighting Machines to look, not the album or computer game version

It’s about time I posted about something I enjoy, isn’t it?  Two years without a proper “cool things” post is more than long enough — and since I listened to the musical version over the weekend (while travelling to and from Worthing), this particular franchise came to mind.

I’m not sure when H.G. Wells’ masterwork first came to my attention, but I suspect I knew about the 1953 George Pal movie before any other version, thanks to clips on TV and images in my childhood science fiction encyclopaedia, but it was Jeff Wayne’s musical version which I first experienced properly, somewhere around 1988 or early 1989, when for no apparent reason I was looking through my family’s vinyl (back before it was cool, you understand).

This version certainly captivated me when I got my folks to put it on for me (which I had to do, as I was scared to put records on myself); because of this they got me the original novel, which proved to be highly interesting when I realised I lived in the general area in which it took place!  Indeed, Walton is mentioned by name at one point, and I was going to school in Weybridge — and imagine my surprise to discover Horsell Common is a real place…

It wasn’t until November 1991 (according to the BBC Genome project) that the 1953 movie happened to be on TV, and I recorded it; during the latter half of 1993 (by which time we lived in Worthing, a podunk town only mentioned in a lesser work, The Importance of Being Earnest), both versions proved important to me.  During the summer holiday I tried, repeatedly, to get a decent recording of the musical onto an old audio tape; and during the run-up to Christmas (when my folks got me a proper official tape copy of the album), I had a working VCR for the first time since we’d moved there, and watched and rewatched my recording of the film version, staying sane during a difficult part of my life.

(I didn’t realise at the time how the movie twists one of Wells’ original lines, about the bacteria that kills the Martians being put there by “God in His wisdom”, and implies that instead of evolutionary immunity saving us, it’s a literal deus ex machina thanks to Christian prayer!)

A year earlier, in December 1992 (a few months after Ghostwatch did something similar on TV and really scared me), I was able to enjoy the 1938 audio version of the story performed by Orson Welles (no relation) and the Mercury Theatre on the Air; I’ve also since obtained (ahem) an MP3 version, and listen to it occasionally.  While the last third is Welles’ character narrating his journey through the wreckage of the eastern United States, even knowing that the first part is fictional and not a live radio broadcast doesn’t soften the palpable fear of hearing the reports of the Martian invasion as it happens — especially that final radio broadcaster in Manhattan being suffocated by the Black Smoke (as all the klaxons and horns of the evacuating traffic are silenced), and a surviving military man plaintively calling out to anyone left alive in the world… isn’t there anyone on the air?

wotw_martian

“The chances of my train getting out of London are a million to one”, I thought until I made it to Woking at Christmas 2013 and took this pic

And then came late 1998, when I was Christmas shopping with my “second family” in Michigan, and in a computer shop saw there was a PC strategy game based on the musical; when I came back to Britain, my old school friend let me have his unwanted copy (you could do that back before DRM, kids), and I spent the entire summer holiday — in which I was housesitting with my mother in, of all places, Woking* — playing it to death, though I had to start off as the Martians in order to really “get into” it, and it notoriously crashed a great deal.  I ended up with the game’s soundtrack, a set of instrumental arrangements of the album’s famous songs, stuck in my head as I worked in a dead-end data entry job before returning to university, perhaps the only thing that kept me sane.

(* Well, technically Knaphill, though it’s mentioned in the book, and we visited the main town and the above-pictured statue several times!)

With a lot of franchises that have multiple versions and reboots, I normally find myself choosing a “definitive” incarnation — the BBC TV version of Hitch-hiker’s Guide, the 1990s cartoon version of X-Men, the only versions ever actually made of The Wicker Man and Total Recall (yeah, I went there) — and in this case, while I enjoy all the other aforementioned versions of The War of the Worlds (and yes, even the Tom Cruise movie version in 2005, though I can’t comment on the others around the same time), I have to pick the original novel.  Somehow it’s always spoken to me the most, perhaps because I spent my formative years in the general area.

When we moved to Worthing, I found myself trying to locate the various places in the atlas, and on old maps we’d brought down from Walton.  Google Earth has made this an awful lot easier, and I’ve been able to visualise where the cylinders came down, where that one Fighting Machine was destroyed in Shepperton, the extent of that mighty crescent of Fighting Machines spreading the Black Smoke over every possible artillery position in Surrey, and how enormous that crowd of evacuation shipping must have been around the mouth of the Thames.  And, since I’ve been living in London for the past (let me see) 13 years, I’ve been able to locate a number of places mentioned at the book’s climax… making it seem more real, perhaps?

Ah, I even remember walking home from school in late 1991 and early 1992, fantasising that Martian Fighting Machines (tripod versions faithful to the book) were laying waste to Walton town centre with their Heat-Rays (sounding like the ones from the 1953 film version).  Weird though it may seem, I guess that shows how much I liked living in that area — as I never bothered to have such thoughts about Worthing, a town far more deserving…

(P.S. Why that opening quote?  Well, think how everyone’s carrying on with their lives despite the world-ending disaster hanging over us: Trump’s inauguration on Friday…)

Gotta have faith (with apologies to the late George Michael)

lonely_shinjiIn the middle of this dismal, cold, dark winter, I have to keep up my confidence and have faith that things will get better — in my own life as well as in the world.

However, I think I’ve figured out the real difference between depression and anxiety: one is the fear that things will never get any better, while the other is the fear that things will get a lot worse — and even though I’m not as badly off as I was in late 2014 (when I was afraid I’d never get another job, and feared I’d end up having to leave London and my fledgling IT career entirely), I still know how much it sucks to have both at the same time…

Don’t worry, it’s not another “girl troubles” post — I know I still get depressed that I’ll “never” find that special someone, but I try to keep the faith alive; no, it’s anxiety I’m on about tonight.  I need to remain confident that I’ll keep my current job, and not let myself believe that I’ve totally screwed myself, a year after nearly losing everything while I was on probation.  I know I’m a permanent employee now, and thus it’d be a lot harder for them to get rid of me than simply saying “yer fired” (unless I made a server explode or insulted the chief exec’s dog); the staff (mostly) like me, and frankly I’ve gone above and beyond the call of duty for the organisation a couple of times — both the overtime I did in December when they needed help restoring the website… and yesterday, 9th January 2017, the day of a dreadful Tube strike in London.

last_chopper

Imagine there were lots of choppers going out of Saigon, but they’d all filled up with passengers before they got anywhere near you, and sometimes turfed everyone off for no apparent reason… or don’t

Ironically, my faith was nearly my downfall there: I was naively confident that, like on previous occasions (especially in 2014), the Northern Line would be the only one running; thus I agreed to come into work, so we’d have “boots on the ground” while the senior members of the team remoted in from home.  In fact, my Tube line was just as closed as the others, except the bits at the ends (why?!  What’s the use of being able to head away from central London?!), and I had a hell of a time getting in when my bus terminated at Swiss Cottage (I walked through Regent’s Park).  It also took me hours to get home again; luckily a bus that starts at the bottom of Tottenham Court Road goes to North Finchley, and so I was able to get on, but others weren’t so lucky (I saw a lot of packed buses going past without stopping).

Today it seems I also made the mistake of having too much faith in others who just let us down: my boss (or should I call her “boss lady”?) told me off for not having chased up the private company that maintains our printers.  We have regional offices in the other three countries of the Four Kingdoms, and the staff in Scotland were having trouble yesterday with their local printer; I’d called the company and asked them to send an engineer to that office as soon as possible, but today, distracted by a more immediate problem with our remote software (coincidentally also to do with printing), I’d wrongly assumed I’d simply get notified about the guy arriving and fixing the problem, as has happened several times before.

drill_sergeant

At least R. Lee Ermey telling me off, drill-sergeant style, would make me laugh more than cringe

Oh no, sir: the staff in the regional office had actually complained to “boss lady” about no-one having turned up all morning, and she told me I should have been on the company’s case about this visit, as though my oversight had let people down and clearly I couldn’t be trusted.  It brought back bad memories of her telling me off in the early days of my job — especially the horrors of 15th January 2016, when I felt like my whole IT career was hanging by a thread…

However, I suppose I should be confident that she was simply in a bad mood, partly due to her daughter taking exams and partly because she hates receiving complaints, and that she was taking it out on me (not to mention the company themselves) rather than me having done anything especially wrong.  This seems likely, as I felt it was a little petty and unreasonable for her to have a go at me for the failure of a separate organisation, as though I was too trusting and not cynical enough about a routine thing.

(Not unlike the time my grandmother told me off for not having checked I’d put the phone down properly after talking to my mother, when she discovered it had been slightly off the hook and thus blocking calls… if I’d checked by picking it up again, wouldn’t I have been equally in danger of not putting it down properly again?!)

To make matters worse, I’m worried that I didn’t do enough yesterday to make sure it wasn’t a network problem in the regional office, having put too much faith in my contact there having checked with their building services.  The engineer did some testing today (with my assistance), and it seems that the connection for the printer is faulty, not the printer itself.  I had to leave the issue with one of the veterans in my team when I left to come home, and I’m anxious that it’ll come back and bite me tomorrow… I may need some St. John’s wort to keep my chin up!

No, I won’t allow pessimistic feelings — I’ve gotta have faith that I’ll make it in this game, and that the good things I’ve done in my job, and the massive effort I’ve put in, will outweigh any little mistakes I’ve made!  I guess you could say I need more faith in myself, and more cynicism towards others…

— — —

On that topic, I’ve no faith whatsoever that my country’s government is trying to help anyone except themselves and their business cronies, and am highly anxious about how “democracy” is going to fare under the Trump-May Axis of Evil… but I’ll post about that another time.

Assuming, of course, that I don’t get warned away from saying such things on the grounds that if they sue me, I’ll have to pay their court costs even if I win

2017 starts… ambivalently

ss_ffI’ve got good news, after a long period of keeping on keeping on: they’re increasing my pay at work — and not just by a “cost of living” increase, but by a couple of thousand a year, backdated to October!

It seems the recent reappraisal of pay rates at my employer has worked in my favour, and now I’ll be on £26k p.a. instead of less than £23k (with all the same benefits as before — for one thing, they’re paying for my new glasses!).  My boss was in my corner for this process, and naturally I’ll be eternally grateful to her — not just for the added moolah, but also for not firing me last January!

Obviously I’ll wait until I see it in my bank account before I get complacent, but the backdated pay (along with the money I’m owed for my December overtime) will mean I can buy myself a new 1440p monitor, and give (not sell!) my old one to my mother; the overall increase means I’ll no longer feel like I have to space out paying for my personal training sessions, or somehow give it up entirely and exercise on my own initiative (what a ludicrous notion!).  I’ll even be able to save up for a proper holiday, perhaps even outside Europe…

Of course, this leads to a certain compulsion: I feel I must defy the Tube strike on Monday in order to journey to central London for my job, instead of taking the day off.  I wouldn’t say the place would fall apart without me for just a day*, but I reckon anyone who can be there ought to at least try, just to keep things running — especially Citrix, as a lot of people will undoubtedly be working from home!

(* Obviously I know my own worth, but it needs to be said that some staff members are a lot happier when I’m in the building — presumably because I deal with all the little problems, while my teammates work on the bigger projects)

beavis_christmas_carolOn the other hand, I’m still not having any success finding a woman: I’ve just had two dates on consecutive days, and both have been one-offs that have not led to anything more.  As far as I’ve advanced emotionally over the years I’ve been writing this blog, I still feel down when this happens — indeed, even more as the big four-oh approaches in the autumn, and I wonder if I should even bother trying after that point (since I’m so shallow that I won’t ever be happy “settling” for an older woman, except maybe Courtney Cox in Cougar Town).  After all, it’s not just women who face ageism in the dating game… maybe I should use some of my newfound wealth to see my dating coach again, for the first time in three years?

Mind you, my gloom is nothing compared to that of “best mate”, whose car (to which we always refer as a name similar to “Batmobile”) conked out while he was on the M6, driving back after visiting his family in Ireland over Christmas.  He’s in a bad way now, as not only was the journey back to London horrendous (he nearly needed a third tow truck to get his car all the way!), but there’s every possibility he’ll need to buy a new vee-hickle, and while he can afford to do that, it’d cut into the money he’s saving to become a homeowner.

(Maybe I shouldn’t tell him I dreamed last night that we’d been driving up a hill when he’d hit-and-run a pedestrian, and I had to convince him to turn around and go back…)

Even if he does pay for a new car, he still might end up getting his own place sooner than I thought (with family help), which would leave us with the prospect of needing to find TWO new housemates this year, neither for desireable rooms (his is always cold, while the former drummer’s is a box room).  It’d be like late 2011 to early 2012 again, as I might have to find somewhere else entirely to live — and I doubt somewhere even further away from the centre would be cheaper, or even warmer!

And, just to rub salt into the wound, he’s considering Greenford — a miserable dump that I would call “a wide spot on the Central Line” (easily the worst Tube line, except maybe for the Bakerloo) after personally experiencing it in September and October 2014, as you guys may remember ($DEITY knows, I’ve tried to forget!).  Am I going to lose touch with him, like I lost touch with “good housemate” (who I’ve barely spoken to in years)?  At best, will it be like when he lived in Willesden and had to drive over here when we went to the cinema or otherwise hung out?

Remember in 2012 when I posted about “potholes on the road to happiness”?

Never mind 2015 or 2016, this really seems to be the long-awaited rerun of 2012: I’m getting mo’ money at work (albeit this time permanently, instead of for helping to cover maternity leave), but potentially losing a close friend from my household and facing upheaval.  Believe it or not, it happened in 2007 as well: I went up in the world (from Scale 2 to Scale 4 during one of Camden’s endless reorganisations), but it was a bitter consolation after “female best friend” moved out, having never really settled into that pad on Caledonian Road.  At least she stayed local until she went to Sheffield in late 2008… but it was hard to get to see her after that, and of course then she met her future husband, and I felt like there was no place for me in her life any more…

(And worst of all, we never got to watch the second season of Space Battleship Yamato together!)

Am I now discovering a five-year, or even ten-year cycle in my life (major life changes), to go with the four-year (specific events) and three-year (emotional states) cycles I noticed before?  Or am I just down because it’s a dismal, cold January, and that’s getting everyone else down as well?  Will this be “my” year, or is the money just a consolation before I get fired?  Will I go through the worst “girl troubles” of all time, the final end of my futile efforts to get laid, or will I have another chance with an American girl (like the one I never even met face-to-face in mid-2012), and this time actually get it right because of all the confidence (and muscles) I’ve built up?

Yeah, I know I said I wouldn’t do these “then and now” attempts to figure out mystical cycles any more, but hey, it gives me something to post about here, doesn’t it…