Monthly Archives: June 2017

Prelude to departure, part 94: the longest shortest night

This could be me reading “A Game of Thrones” on the flight, worrying at the back of my mind what’ll happen at customs

I seem to be ready for my looming holiday to Michigan, including checking in online, printing out my plane tickets, visa waiver confirmation and travel insurance document, packing my new suitcase (and attaching a pink name tag, just so I recognise it on the carousel), turning off the superior smartphone work bought me in May and “transferring the flag” back to the lesser phone I got in December (with my old SIM in it), bidding goodbye to my work colleagues and putting up a message in Outlook to advise my “flock”, finishing Dead Space: Extraction after eating pizza (with some slices saved for breakfast tomorrow)… but not burying the hatchet with “drummer-trucker”, as he’s apparently visiting his new home in the Westcountry today.  I’m not denying some disappointment, as I hoped we could part on polite terms, but maybe it’s easier this way — and perhaps I finally feel confident that he won’t do anything untoward between now and his final move-out date.

Even so, I still feel the same trepidation I felt before my last visit to Michigan in 2014, and before that, my holiday to the western USA in 2013: no matter how well I plan things, I always worry that something will go wrong.  For one thing, getting to Heathrow from here is a nightmare — not when “best mate” drove me in 2013, but certainly going via the cursed Piccadilly Line in 2014.  I’ve been advised to get the Heathrow Express from Paddington station, though getting there will be tricky as two of the Tube lines that go through it are suspended during the investigation into that terrible fire at Latimer Road (and yes, I agree the people involved in the fire are having a much worse time of it).  Travelling on the Tube itself will be an ordeal, as my flight is around midday, and thus I will have to make my journey during rush hour, which is unpleasant enough when I time it right and get a seat, and don’t have a suitcase as well as a backpack!

And even if I make it to the airport on time, and even if they let me on the flight without demur, and even if the first leg of the journey to Atlanta goes smoothly, I’ve still got to face the usual interrogation from a humourless (humorless?) jobsworth about why I’ve come to the USA — and while I’ve had no trouble getting past them and onto official US soil in the past (2014, 2013, 2007, 2006, 2003, 2001 and 1998 spring to mind), the current preznit’s exclusionary policy gives me pause.  Well, I know where I’m staying and who I’m staying with, and that the “purpose” of my visit is “pleasure”, so what else is there to worry about?

I’LL TELL YOU what else there is to worry about: in 2007 and 2014 my connecting flights to Flint Bishop were delayed, and it’s become something my American friend half-jokes about when I come to visit!  I already have a four-hour stopover at ATL, and I really don’t want it to extend to five or six hours, since by then I’ll be running on fumes!

(Happy as I am that thunderstorms are predicted for Michigan this week, I’ll be eternally grateful if they have the decency to hold off until Thursday!)

It’s the longest day and shortest night today, 20th June, but somehow I worry tonight’s going to feel like an eternity — not just due to the expectation of my trip: I’ve had real trouble sleeping the past few days thanks to this heatwave.  However, I’m hopeful that this time, unlike 2013 and 2014, I might just be able to catch enough sleep that I won’t arrive in Michigan having been awake for over 24 hours of subjective time (since my connecting flight is scheduled to land in Flint Bishop just before midnight, local time).  Aside from it feeling a little cooler and less sweltering tonight (it’s only 28°C in my room, practically freezing!), I’ve been using “sleep aid” tablets recently to help me get off to sleep more regularly; they’ve at least helped me get a few hours uninterrupted each night (until the birds start singing at the crack of dawn), and I’ll take some on the plane as well, in the hope that I can get some shut-eye.

If all goes well (IF!), and I land in Flint Bishop and am brought back to my friend’s family home around midnight without any problems, and I survive the night adjusting to (a) being five hours back in time and (b) having slept strange hours anyway, I’ll be all set for my two-week holiday to relax and enjoy being with my “second family”, sunbathing by the pool (hopefully the weather will improve), buying things in American malls (like shorts and flip-flops, since I lack these in Britain), and culminating in my first ever July 4th celebration within the US borders!

And when I come back here in the first week of July, I’ll have a new housemate, and one less stress-inducing person in my life (and hopefully discover no acts of vengeance by him); since I don’t go back to work until the following Monday, I’ll have a four-day weekend to recover from jet lag (though my personal trainer will be seeing me on the Friday evening!).

Somehow, I think I’ll need a holiday to recover from the ordeal of travelling to and from the United States… but you never know, I might write something interesting in this blog while I’m out there — just to remind you all:

DAVE-ROS LIVES, EVEN WHEN HE’S ON HOLIDAY!!!

Bad timing

I’m wondering if I should be going away on holiday on Wednesday for two weeks: my “drummer-trucker” housemate is moving out at the start of July, and off work for the intervening time.  I feel a certain paranoia that he’ll figure out I’m away on holiday (or find out from someone), and leave me a “parting gift”… and paranoid panic isn’t surprising today, after a visit to my folks in Worthing that I also wish I’d done another weekend instead…

It was my last chance to see my folks before my holiday in Michigan (and after their trip to the Canaries); although my mother and grandmother arranged for me to have some US dollars as spending money, the exchange rate at the moment is through the floor (about £1=$1.24, when it had been at least $1.50 or even $1.70 every other time!) — would it have been better to buy before the election, I wonder?  Hopefully it’ll recover a bit more once I’m over there, for the things I buy on my debit card — and yes, I’m grateful to my folks: while this isn’t the first time they’ve given me £100 towards a holiday, it’s the first holiday I’ll have taken since 2014, and I’ll need cash out there (especially at the airport).

Coming home this weekend was problematic due to the huge number of people who decided to flock from London at the same time as me, except in their case it was because of the heatwave; I’d wanted to draw a picture in my mother’s belated birthday card (I really should have done it the night before), but had to wait until I was home before I got enough space to indulge my creativity!  On top of that, crowding is still bringing out anxiety in me, and I’m increasingly sure that it’s stress and adrenaline that’s causing my dizzy spells. Let’s also mention the roadworks right outside the level crossing where I get off the train… the heatwave also meant I couldn’t sleep at my family home, as it meant having to leave my windows open and listen to the noise outside (drunk revellers and seagulls), which didn’t help my relaxation situation.

(And as though that wasn’t bad enough, the nice man who does my hair when I come down to Worthing wasn’t available this exact weekend, so I’ll have to get my locks shorn in Michigan, something I haven’t done since March 1999!)

However, the biggest mistake I made this weekend involved baggage for my holiday: not the mini-suitcase I’d borrowed from my folks previously, and somehow thought would be big enough for me (I only brought it down this evening, and saw it really is more like carry-on size), but the new backpack I got in Worthing, on a shopping trip with my mother.  At first I thought I’d made a mistake getting it, focusing too much on the front belts to hold the straps together (something my personal trainer had recommended) and not enough on the pockets.  I was relieved to find it has plenty of pockets inside… including a “secret” one under the top flap.

If I’d taken the time to get used to this bag first, I wouldn’t have put my phone in that special place… along with a USB thumbdrive and an SD card I’d brought home with me and was taking back to London.  Thing is, you see, if you don’t zip up the compartment, anything in there falls out when you close the bag… and not into the main body of the bag, but outside.  It wasn’t until I neared London and was putting my phone away that I realised I’d left it unzipped, and panicked as I searched the interior of the bag, and the interior of the train, for the things I’d dropped (nearly losing my US dollars in the process), though I quickly realised that, since I’d taken my phone out while on the station platform (to play Pokémon GO, of course), that would be when they’d fallen out…

I had to wait for my mother to finish in the gym back in Worthing before I could implore her to go and search for my dropped data devices on the platform.  The SD card had my Wii saved games on it, and wasn’t irreplaceable, but the USB thumbdrive contained my diary (the one I’ve been keeping since 1992) and a copy of my Outlook e-mails, amongst other things — in short, stuff I wouldn’t want the wrong person to get hold of.  I was sweating like crazy as I got back here, but fortunately Mumsy found the USB device at least, so no-one’s going to steal my identity or anything like that.  No sign of the SD card, but (a) I already knew I’d be breaking my unbroken run of nightly Wii Fit Plus measurements as of Wednesday, and (b) I can replay Dead Space: Extraction and catch up with where I was before, though it sucks having to do so.  Rescuing my private files was the important thing, and I’m grateful to my mother (and whatever gods heard my prayers) for helping me.

Still, it’s a bit late in the game to get such a harsh lesson on privacy and protecting one’s identity — take my advice and take good care of your devices!  Perhaps it’s better to send something to yourself via e-mail, or use an online backup service… and above all, change your passwords regularly (something I’ve been derelict in doing).  I have to hope my soon-departing housemate won’t try to hack into my computer while I’m abroad, looking through my files (and indeed, seeing what I’d said about him!), when I’ve just averted something similar…

It was extraordinarily bad timing that I chose a time of my life in which I’m experiencing massive amounts of stress, resulting in “brain fuzz”, to get so overwrought — but hey, I’ve needed this holiday for a long time, so maybe, just maybe, I can relax once I’m out there… as long as I don’t worry about what “drummer-trucker” is doing back here… oh damn!

Losing faith in humanity

It’s bad enough Trump and his supporters making America a worse place, and Islamic State on the other side bringing misery to their own people, but right here in the UK, things seem to go from bad to worse — and it seems to be 100% down to the stubborn right-wingers refusing to acknowledge they might be wrong.

You’ve probably heard about the tragic tower block fire in Kensington today — it hasn’t affected me personally, but it was still a little jarring because I was at the Westway leisure centre in Latimer Road only yesterday, and probably looked at the tower without realising it would be a blackened ruin 24 hours later.  There’s been stirling work by the emergency services, but special commendation should go to the Muslim residents, who were awake in the middle of the night due to Ramadan, and thus coherent enough to realise the danger and start waking and evacuating the other residents.

And yet, they’re still being portrayed as the bad guys: not only were Britain First (a bunch of thugs no better than Hitler’s Brownshirts) harassing them in the street (and then pretending they themselves were the victims, despite video evidence proving them to be liars), but someone actually responded to a Facebook post I saw by saying that if so many Muslims hadn’t come to this country, people wouldn’t be crowded into accommodation like this, and so the fire wouldn’t have happened!  How’s that for a contrived accusation?

(Yes, I know, Facebook, serious business, whatever…)

Evidence is mounting that it’s the Tories who are most responsible for this disaster: in Parliament they voted down a Labour-proposed bill that would have forced landlords to ensure accommodation is safe and habitable (entirely unrelated, of course, to the fact that many Tory MPs are landlords), they’ve been cutting back on fire services much as they’ve been doing with police services, the man who was their housing minister until being kicked out at last week’s election was apparently sitting on a report about fire safety in blocks of flats like this, and if the latest bit of evidence is to be believed, the local council — which, again, was Tory until last week’s election — seemed to be less concerned with residents expressing worry about fire safety than they were concerned with making the tower block look acceptable to the rich people living nearby with what may have been a flammable variety of cladding.

The Tories themselves, of course, seem entirely oblivious to the problems they cause in this country, and don’t seem to grasp that people aren’t happy with austerity, with spying on us, with the poor and disabled being treated like parasites and criminals while the 1% get tax breaks.  Theresa May, who was either scared or contemptuous of public debate in the run-up to the election, is so out of touch that not only did she bring back the aforementioned housing minister (Gavin Barwell) as her chief of staff, and not only is she desperately trying to side with the DUP (who?  Exactly!) just to get an overall majority, but while cutting benefits to the lowest in society, she seems to think that Tory MPs who lost their seats last week need financial assistance due to her error in judgment!

(One expects it’ll come from the taxpayer, not her own pocket…)

In this election, the Labour party under Jeremy Corbyn experienced a resurgence in popularity, and this was despite the tabloid press trying their best to do him down at literally every opportunity — and even though his manifesto was costed, and contained no “magic money trees”.  You’d almost think Murdoch et al. were trying to curry favour with the Tories, whom they assumed would get back in, and yet Corbyn’s remained calm and relatively dignified throughout (indeed, taking part in actual debates), even with that idiot on Question Time saying he’d ruined the country’s future by denying the Tories a clear majority!

Yet there are still those who think he should resign because he didn’t win outright, much as previous Labour leaders have stepped down despite apparently leading their parties to lesser election defeats.  Unfortunately, “female best friend’s” husband subscribes to this view — and that the DUP aren’t as bad as people make out (being more pro-terrorism than Corbyn ever was, and anti-gay marriage) — something I only know, again, thanks to Facebook.  It bugs me: surely he can’t be completely wrong about something this important, if he’s married to my dear friend?  Then again, I argued with him before about non-traditional marriage, so maybe his crowd don’t want to hear my opinion, no matter how measured and non-insulting.

Oh, and as I’ve been writing this, another old schoolfriend (the former-RAF man) “reacted” to a Facebook article posted by a vehement anti-Labour group, about Corbyn “politicising” the tower fire.  I know the anti-Tory groups on Facebook are also full of vitriol and bad language, and that disturbs me too (not in terms of being offended, but being concerned that they’re not thinking it through properly) — but at least they’re criticising a political party who have been in power for seven years, rather than the opposition, and thus have justification for their anger.

Maybe the problem’s that people only want to hear things that agree with their views, especially in Facebook groups… but then again, I’ve never seen any intelligent, logical defence of the Trump administration on George Takei’s wall, only incoherent “hurr durr libtard snowflakes, he’s making America great again!”-style comments — and, frequently, idiotic statements that intolerance of intolerance is somehow hypocritical, e.g. if you criticise people for being homophobic, you’re no better than them.  In much the same way, I’ve never seen any intelligent criticism of Corbyn, just either ranting or smug sneering.

What I really need to do is avoid Facebook for a while, except for funny pictures and IT helpdesk stories… but don’t worry, I’ll keep being political here, in a calm, reasonable way: how about I finally write the post I’ve been planning for ages, about why I think gay people are perfectly fine, and that there’s no sensible reason to call their attempts to normalise their behaviour “evil” or “Satanic”, or that their mere existence is “anti-Christian”?

(I found that article through Facebook God tonight — how’s that for divine intervention?)

Reconnecting with the past

I’m not writing about the UK general election tonight: everyone else has done it to death, and it’d be too late for me to influence anyone else anyway, even if I had any readers in this country to start with.

(However, I will say that those who think Corbyn’s Labour would roll us back to the 1970s should consider May’s Tories rolling us back to the 1870s, complete with workhouses for the poor… and disabled?)

No, instead I’ll talk about how I’m spending 2017 — the last year I can put a 3 in front of my age — looking back at things I’ve experienced.  I know, I do that all the time (hence my “then and now” blog category), but this year I feel like I’m finally moving forwards properly, and I want to know what to take with me and what to leave behind.

I’m beginning this by replaying all the original Tomb Raider games.  No, keep reading, I’m not just being dorky here, the first three take me back to the end of the 20th century!  I played the second extensively on my roommate’s PS1 when I was in Michigan in 1998-9 (indeed, I was on the last level of the ocean-bottom shipwreck segment on that day), and the third in late 2000 after graduating (with a guidebook, as it’s tricky to find those secrets!), but somehow it’s the original that resonates with me the most.  Aside from playing it in early 2000, when I should have been studying (though at that point I had little hope of a First), I also played it in Michigan during Christmas 1999, on my roommate’s family PC — so wandering the Egypt levels strangely made me feel just a little cold, as though it was snowing outside…

Barring problems relating to the authoritarian nature of both UK and US policy (I hope the CIA don’t read this blog!), I’ll be travelling to Michigan and meeting the family all over again, near the end of this month.  I’d thought my visit back in 2014 would be the last time I ever saw Fenton (the chorus to the Eminem song “Legacy” echoing in my head), but in fact they stayed put instead of moving to Washington State.  I’m visiting roomie’s younger brother once again, but this time I hope to communicate with roomie himself, and perhaps their little sister, via webcam — I haven’t seen either since 2007!  Sadly, the dog I first met in 2003 and the cat I first met in 1998 are long gone, but the other dog I first met in 2006 should still remember me.

There’s someone else from Michigan I wish I could reconnect with, but I’ve never been able to find her on Facebook… no, not the girl from “that day” — I’m not completely living in the past, you know — but rather a female friend I made at UMich and stayed in contact with during the early 21st century, even meeting up with her when I visited Michigan in 2001.  We e-mailed each other all the time, and even played online games of Jeopardy!, and I like to think we cheered each other up in those dark days.

It’s a shame we drifted apart, but she’s not the only “old friend” I’ve lost: despite getting back in touch with several old school chums thanks to Zuckerberg, some of the best friends I ever had have either not shown up, or ignored me completely.  Naturally I won’t name names, but still, let this serve as a counterpoint to my list of bullies:

  • “JE”, who was my best friend from almost the moment we moved to Surrey in 1985, and who I knew at school for around six years, still visiting him (or having him over) when I started going to private school, and having him visit us in Worthing two summers running (we saw Jurassic Park together).
  • “CS”, who was a funny guy at my secondary school in Surrey, and whose nickname made him seem like a certain singer-turned-Muslim.  Sad thing is, I probably annoyed him by calling him to reminisce when we moved to Worthing, but we used to have a good laugh during our days at that school, which (perhaps largely due to my following years in Worthing) I recall as the happiest of my teenage life.
  • “MW”, who was my best friend throughout my time at secondary school in Worthing, and with whom I managed to stay in touch when I went to university, and after when I came back to Worthing; we even had a tradition of buying each other birthday presents in October/November which cost exactly the same!  Sadly, I haven’t heard from him since coming to London, and he’s not acknowledged me on Facebook at all.
  • “AS”, a dear friend and fellow Geology student during my undergrad days, who lived in my corridor in our freshman year and joined in playing cards every night; we did fall out at one point, but when I came back from my year away in Michigan, he was still there (doing a four-year version of my course), and we grew closer.  He comforted me the day I found out my grandfather had died on the operating table, and I like to think I repaid him by helping him with his maths!

I know you can’t always go backwards and reconnect with your long-lost past, but these are people I wish I could show how far I’ve come since they knew me — I’m no longer the dorky loser I was back in, er, 1985 to 2003! — and thank, for helping me get through my formative years.

However, more than that, I want (at long last) to get back in touch with my father, from whom I hadn’t heard since 1988 (yes, nineteen eighty-eight, that’s not a typo!).  My mother’s tried to help me find him, and he is indeed right there on Forces Reunited, but I can’t use that service as I’ve not been in the service (nice pun, eh?), and it’s just for ex-soldiers and the like (and also needs you to pay).  However, one of my old school friends with whom I’ve been in touch via Facebook for years may be able to help me, as he served in the RAF and knows all the right sources to contact.

It’s a scary prospect, especially since my pap might have no interest in meeting me, but I want to take the chance and show him that I’ve done all right for myself, even if I’m not a military man, or even technically a man’s man.  He advised me in that last letter to make sure I have a good job, and I think I’ve finally achieved that; if I can impress him with what I’ve achieved, I’ll feel like I’m ready to move on with my life and leave behind my childish angst.

Here’s hoping I can finally remember the face of my father…