Oariá raiô, Oba, Oba, Oba.

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More, as they say, than nothing.

The weekend rolls around again, and through the virtue of the government and traditions of our feisty little nation, it is a Bank Holiday weekend.

Which means the weather is a little out of synch with the calendar, because the flash flooding and freak rain levels were earlier this week.
Odd.

My plans stand thusly:

Friday Afternoon

1. Leave for Southampton
2. Arrive at Southampton Airport Parkway
3. Weigh up, seeing as it is payday and I have my passport on me, the possibility of hopping on a flight to Amsterdam, there to pick up the comparatively cheap Netherlands-US express
4. Stop it and cross over to the other platform, there to meet a hamster of a green tint, who will by this time be looking across the tracks at me strangely for standing and staring at a collection of airport buildings for ten minutes
5. Do stuff
6. Sleep

Saturday

1. Awaken halfway to Doncaster, borne aloft on my mattress by greenhamster's resident ant population, being taken back to the subterranean lair of the Ant Queen as the centrepiece for her world famous Human Sacrifice Masquerade Ball, which is always held on the first Saturday night of May
2. Wake up
3. Do morningy stuff, go to the ferries, cross to the Isle of Wight
4. Greet parentals
5. Do caulkhead stuff; shop, play snooker, potentially meet Sharon, chat.
6. Catch the night bus back to Ventnor, where a black cat with no bell will sneak into the house in the darkness and silently and invisibly accompany me to my bedroom and only make itself known when I wake up in the morning with it's arse in my face. This is not the plan, this is just what happened last time

Sunday

1. More Caulkhead activities. Breakfast of Kings (stuff the champions)
2. Attempt to get the parrot to recognise and accept me after my continued absence from the family home. This is to impress Krissa with my jungle-man animal taming skills when she comes to stay later this month, and to avoid the resultant time-consuming trip to Casualty that is almost certainly on the cards if he doesn't accept and recognise me and I try to turn him upside-down to show off to Krissa
3. Go to chemists to buy antiseptic and plasters
4. Trim nails/claws/talons of parrot
5. Go For A Walk With The Family
6. Sleep

Monday

1. More Breakfast of Kings
2. Mong about
3. Half-heartedly repack
4. Catch ferry/red jet/fastcat to The Mainland
5. Pursue any means necessary on the national public transport system to return to Hatfield; this may include buses, trains, planes, roller blades, submarines and/or walking.

Take the above and sprinkle liberally with telephone calls to the United States, my Dad thinking up even more embarrassing nicknames for me, pointed discussion and devising traps for multitudinous insect life, and you have a reasonable idea of the weekend.

So, wherever you are, and whatever or whosoever you are doing, enjoy the weekend, and steer clear of Doncaster on Saturday.

Trying To Make The Other Side

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So we were in the cab of this lorry which had stopped to pick us up on the roundabout just off the top side of campus, past Tesco. The driver seemed okay. He just wanted to be quiet and listen to the radio, which was tuned to Terry Wogan's breakfast show. It was still dark, and the motorway was quite clear.

You know the feeling? That quick-shaking of the ribs that is something between excitement and the cold had susbsided into a cramped and awkward but comfortable warmth from the dashboard heater. Our four or five layers of clothing topped with the blue t-shirts with that bloody stupid collection tin character were making us drowsy, but we were perked on a couple of cups of coffee and the knowledge that after almost an hour of waving our big card signs in the cold, we were on our way to Edinburgh.

The driver swung around a roundabout and coasted down a hill as the sky was paling, but on the ground the morning was still a deep and greyish blue. Terry was doing some kind of Eastenders spoof sketch, but I don't watch soaps at all if I have a choice - you know - don't you find soaps painful? Anyway, I didn't know what was going on in Eastenders so I didn't get most of the jokes, but it sounded fun. I needed to take off one of my jumpers, as I was getting really hot, but the driver had said he wouldn't be able to take us far, so I thought it would be better to wait and not try it, which would probably involve elbowing both him and my partner repeatedly, the crashing of the truck, and a flaming death. So I just sat there and watched the road go by.

A reedy brass intro followed the end of the sketch, and the sun came up as the truck sped around a long looping stretch of elevated motorway and we could see the light of the morning yellowing and warming the colours across the scape of Birmingham and the piano came in underneath and it was one of those moments, you know the kind? When you're doing something, or travelling, and you're happy to just...be.

Ever see a blind man cross the road,
Trying to make the other side?

It was a familiar tune, in a sort of I-think-my-Dad-used-to-play-this-in-the-car kind of way, but it was the first time I heard the Stereophonics version, and it was on the radio again this morning.

No Bones

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I make no issue of it, nor anything else; I'm having a bad day today.

I very nearly got myself killed this morning, which in any case generally tends to put a sense of my own mortality into a day... which, when combined with the kind of day that doesn't come along very often - i.e. bungee jumping, meeting your idol or otherwise doing something to make the day worthwhile, is fair enough.
Otherwise this tint of mortality just rams home the lack of 'carpe diem' in the daily round.
Which is none too cheery.

In another aspect of my life, I am missing my love greatly today.
No matter how I word this, it comes across as an understatement.
Again, it might be because of the boy racer's near hit this morning...it might not.
There is a lot to miss about my love.

In yet another aspect of life, that of fiscal matters, I recently picked up the reins of a long dormant bank account; I have paid a little money into it over the last couple of weeks, money from things other than work - a few quid for some scouting work for a news agency, nothing major. But this is the beginning of using this account for flights, saving and spending for America. This is to be, you might say, The Hope Account.

Well, that was the plan.
I went into the Hatfield branch of this bank (who shall remain nameless until I finish typing Lloyds TSB) and asked, not unreasonably, in my opinion, if I could order a card of some description to use in conjunction with the account. In my mind's eye I could see me ordering flights online...they said no.
I was understandably taken aback.
Apparently, in order to be able to get to the money in any way other than physically going into the bank, proving my identity, writing a request and then standing, waiting while everyone smiles and pretends that this shit is still necessary in this day and age before being formally handed the stuff, it will take approximately six months of 'activity' and 'transactions' on the account.

Which, when they won't give you the money 'til you pry it from their chubby little fingers personally, is bank-speak for, "We want to make sure you're rich enough first."

It pisses me off that they feel the need to have this level of control, when a simple debit card, suitably set up, cannot be used over the amount actually available to spend. It's like they're doing it for the kicks. To keep people down.

I am loathe to set up internet banking because the only net access I have is intermittently through my housemate's PC...

So; I will wait for my meagre little cheques to clear, and then I shall pry that money from their chubby little fingers. And bury it in a box, ten feet under the ground, at the bottom of my garden.

For ease of access, you understand.

Caffiene or Adrenalin?

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I nearly got run over this morning.

On the plus side, I feel very awake and alert - as though I actually drank the cup of coffee I didn't have because I was running late.

So I have been comprehensively woken up, all without the need to resort to pouring chemicals into myself.

The shakes are worse.

I'm not going to try and get run over every day.

Today's post is dedicated to the memory of three rats who managed, in their unwitting and rather terminal electrocution, to cause untold traffic delays and much snigger-behind-the-hand hilarity in my office yesterday.

A Happy Accident

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I rediscovered one of my favourite albums over the weekend, and I don't just mean 'I listened to it again'.

I found it. It was hiding behind a track listing, pretending to be another album by the same band, in one of my CD wallets, and I thought it had been stolen. Or at least, found and not handed in, which, when you're a taxi driver and the stuff is in your taxi, is nearly the same thing.

I refer you to the end of this post, where the words 'drinking will definitely be indulged in' make an appearance.

That was just over a year ago now. It was the night I celebrated getting this job with some of my friends from university. During that evening at Onanon, I spent God's own amount of money, mostly through the utterance of a few key phrases:

"Champagne for everyone!"

"Oooh! A girl selling tequila! Let's have some tequila as well!"

...and then, unbeknownst to me in my heavily inebriated state until the next morning, when I discovered the CDs in my coat pocket;

"I would like to buy these Beatles albums and this Booker T and the MGs CD please."

Damn the HMV in The Trocadero for after-11pm opening hours.

The arrival of these new CDs was vaguely karmic, as I realised almost as soon as I got back, that my bag had gone.
My Radio 1 Record bag; cheap and cheerful to begin with, and then used for about four times as long as it should have been -'loved' was not the word - 'tatty' and 'knackered' were closer to the word - it was resting on the floor of the taxi I had taken to Greenwich, and along with my wallet, and my dictaphone packed notes for the book...it had some CDs in.

And so, in the fullness of time, it dawned on me that I had lost one of my favourite albums with that bag.

But this weekend, putting together a massive bundle of music for Krissa, I found Liquid Skin by Gomez lurking, pretending to be Abandoned Shopping Trolley Hotline.

Naughty CD.

I had forgotten how kickass Rhythm and Blues Alibi is.

The other reason that this comes to mind now is that for some reason, greenhamster seems to think that the best way for me to try to blag my way into anything, anywhere, is to pretend to be a member of Gomez. Should I ever try, this is. I have only done this sort of thing, once, and successfully, in the Ministry Bar in Birmingham in 1999, when I gained access to the VIP area by pretending to be a member of one-hit-wonder group 'Gay Dad'.

Why he imagines me to be a 'Gomezzy kinda guy' is beyond me, but after listening to Liquid Skin non-stop over the weekend, I am in the mood to give it a go on Friday night, when, on my way back to the Island, Senor Greenhamster and I will be going along to see Kosheen in Portsmouth.

Should anything need blagging, of course.
Unnecessary blagging is just desperation.

Ahem.

Four Posts In A Day

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(I bet you think that's pretty clever, don't you boy?)

Okay, much as it may be to obfuscate and confuse, it has been a happy day of moving and new beginnings for many.

There has been much shifting and sliding.

Biscuit has a new site and domain, as does Shivery, and My Little Owl.

Go and say hi and coo at the decor!

Also, in one of those little co-incidences that makes life interesting, Doctor Pockless has finally decided to bring his crusty old poetry studies to light in an arena where they can be fully appreciated, on the same day that the, er, 'Mother'* of Dr. Steven Badgett, (Dr. Pockless' earnest yet amiable opponent in the field of poetical interpretation), dropped by this site for the first time.

So there are a lot of new sites to read.

I hope you've already got a cup of tea.

* read 'Creator'

I have fixed my mobile, or at least managed to reassemble it and make it turn on.
The plastic shell was a little warped, so the body of the phone took a little effort to slip back in.

I used a nearby stapler to hammer it in.

So the score now stands at:

Fixed:
1 Fire Alarm
1 Mobile Phone

In Bits:
1 Reputation
1 Stapler

I am going to try the trick with the carpet tile and the pen lid on the reputation, and see what happens.

Just Another Manic...II!

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The Monday Stuart Made Things Fall To Bits

Okay, so maybe not so devastating or worthy of cinematic immortalisation as The Day The Earth Stood Still, which was slightly more interesting and involved aliens, but this is England, after all.

Things are smaller here.
And probably quaint.

Things that I have made fall to bits so far today:

1 fire alarm (thankfully repaired)
1 mobile telephone (mine, still in bits)
1 work reputation (mine, also still in bits)

The fire alarm you know about. The mobile...damnit, I treat my mobile like crap. I fidget with it. Twizzle it. Throw it up in the air and catch it again (most times. I catch it most times). Today it leapt involuntarily from my hands and sprayed bits over the cobbles in Hatfield Marketplace. I think I'm going to need to get all Engineering On It's Ass.
You see, the big secret is that all this electronics stuff is really easy.
I once fixed a calculator with a small square of carpet tile and a pen lid.
And I'm not making this up.
I have a degree.
I have sellotape.
I can do this.

The Work Reputation...well...that's annoying. I worked the weekend we have just had. I worked hard to get together a massive piece of work.
Only it brings bad news.
So I am crap by association.

So, what else can I, using my new found powers, cause to disintegrate?

The day is yet young.

Just Another Manic...

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I am a fire warden for my office. Each Monday morning I set off a different fire alarm to test the system, and another of my colleagues mutes and resets it. If, by the time the system is reset, the fire alarm I set off is not reading 'OK', then the alarm goes off again.

Only the second time, the entire building gets evacuated.

This morning, I set off one of the little alarm panels, and it fell to bits.

I found myself scrabbling around on the floor of one of the boardrooms for the little 'BREAK GLASS IN CASE OF FIRE' panel whilst juggling the red plastic front half of a fire alarm, a small button, and a key. I was panicking. I had less than ten seconds to figure out how the bloody thing worked, how it went back together, and then actually get it together.

I managed it...just.
Although I think the glass panel may actually be in backwards.

Disbelief.

I don't like it.

I have always had levels of disbelief myself - mostly directed towards areas of religion or philosophy that require you to have what from my perspective appears to be unjustified faith, but I have always tried to couple that with a healthy level of acceptance of both the right to hold those views and my own uncertainty on the matters, as well as a willingness to discuss things.

Which takes a lot more work than saying, 'This is how it is. End of story.'.

As with most challenges, I find people with immovable opinions on subjects I have an open mind on very, very tempting. If they have an immovable opinion, not just on religion, but any issue under the sun, that gives you a great advantage in terms of manoeuvrability, and of course, in the great debate which seeks not to prove or disprove but merely to shake foundations, that's a nice little advantage.
You can't contradict someone with an immovable opinion. It is pointless. If an opinion is a rock, then another rock in another place will not alter it without the need to resort to violence, and a simple matter of which rock is hardest - which isn't my way. You can persuade, and show, and reason, and maybe, this fluid approach can work. Opening minds shakes things up, but...would any one of us in the place of an hypothetical Adam and Eve, deny ourselves the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge?

Anyway - disbelief.

So I'm doing something pretty unusual. I'm upping these Hatfield-based sticks and downing them again in Astoria, NY, based on a love which took all of nine days to persuade me to do it. And I know this isn't something people do every day. I know that from the outside, this might seem crazy, impetuous, naive.

And?
That's an opinion, and I, the person in control of this particular aspect of my life, hold another one.
And because I work so hard to keep an open mind on as much of this bloody complicated world as possible, I really hate it when people tell me I am making a mistake.

How the fuck do they know?
What do they know about it, about me, about us?
Nothing.

It's all well and good for them to be cynical, cautious, wary, reserved. That's a choice. But it doesn't mean that because I'm not, that I am wrong.

They may tell me that in years to come, I too, will be that cynical, I too will be conservative with my actions and the chances that I take.
That's as may be, although I would like to think differently, and even so, those future Stuarts have their own lives to lead. This time is mine. And they will know, they will remember and understand the situation that got them where they are.
Which is more than can be said for other people outside of the situation, now.

I accept that it is hard to reconcile the difference in mindset needed to live between the complex things in life and the simple things in life, but hell, I'm open minded on that too. I accept that for those who have it, faith is a simple thing. It stands apart. It can be an immovable opinion, it can be a religious belief, or it can be the knowledge that love like this is rare, love like this is precious, and love like this is worth taking every goddamn chance the world can throw at you ten times over.

The thing is, I don't think that any faith should be afraid to reason. I don't feel the need to resort to a 'Well I'm doing it so there' mentality, just as my hackles rise to 'This is how it is, end of story'.

But when I find myself in the same position, with a fluid argument, depth of reason and compassion and human emotion and a faith I am not afraid to declare, defending myself from people who attack this with their own stone immovable, unlistening, uncaring and dead points of view, I find disbelief very unpalatable indeed.

I suppose I will just have to accept it.
Throw your stones in the water.
See what difference it makes.

Ack, that sounds almost religious.

Songs of Ending, Songs of Hope

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The air was hot and full of sweat. I took a breath and held my hand against my mouth. One and a half thousand bellowing and screaming voices in front of me. Another thousand behind me. Another thousand packed, talking and crying and laughing and drinking, into the rest of the building. It was a sound we had come to love, and it was louder and more forceful and more passionate than it had ever been.

"And so we’d just like to say, after all these nights," I paused, realising the high and reedy brass section was opening underneath me, "that we love you!"

Ben hit the fader perfectly, I let the microphone drop away from my lips, and three and a half thousand voices were united in song. I stood again at the edge of the stage with my hand over my mouth, which was creased hard with emotion. I had one foot up on the edge and one guy turned and tapped my leg, grinned and gave me a thumbs up. I nodded back to him, still standing. The crowd was bundled, hugging, swaying, hands in the air. People were crying with their faces turned upwards to the lights, mouths open, singing with tears flowing. My housemates were coming on stage, and were hugging and crying together. I stood at the edge of the stage, hanging back, looking out across the packed raised hands, the familiar faces. They were everywhere.

So this is how it ends, I thought. This is how it ends.

- - -

I was sitting on a train, two days before that moment, when I found out. It was a bad day to be on a train; it was my results day. I was an undergraduate masters student, meaning that my course lasted four years, and from scratch I walked away as a Master of Engineering.
It was the second to last day of the summer term, in my third year. The day before, as President of RAG at Warwick, I had been involved with a campus Summer Festival to raise money for charity – we had taken risks with already raised funds in way the society had never done before. We had rented a stage for bands, paid for bungee jumping, organised bars and games and DJs. With the amazing team of people we had, we pressed on against huge setbacks and lost money overall, but got the university to sit up and realise we were serious, and every summer since then, the Summer Festival has raised thousands.
I was feeling good. With the Festival behind me, the next year I would be living back on campus at the heart of things, with another year of RAG, of DJing in the Student Union, of university.
I was on my way back to Leamington after going to London for an interview for a summer job as an Entertainments Manager on a cruise ship. Cruise ship was stretching the definition a little- it was the Hull to Zeebrugge overnight ferry, but there was entertainment laid on; a kid’s entertainer in a Walrus costume, a cocktail pianist, a four piece band, and a DJ. I was to be the DJ and overall manager for the summer, before coming back to Warwick for my final year. It wasn’t stated whether or not I would have to stand in for the kid’s entertainer in his capacity as Wally the Walrus, so I was as yet undecided.
My mobile rang. It was the degree ceremony organisers.
It was obviously a mistake.

"I don’t graduate this year."
"I’ve had your name passed to me as a new graduate. So; will you be coming to your ceremony at such short notice, or not?"
"A new graduate? What in?"
"Says here you have a BSc. I don’t understand. Don’t you know about this?"
"No. I think there must have been a mistake."
"Well, what were your results like?"
"A friend rang me earlier, I’ve been in London – I’m on the boards as having a 2:1 – there’s no way I could have graduated."
"There’s no doubt about this. It just came in from your department. Oh, and if you weren’t graduating, you wouldn’t be on the boards," the woman was tetchy.
The signal on my phone died.

Staring at the table in front of me as the train crossed into Warwickshire, I realised that, despite all the maths, all of the stupid hedging of bets and scores, it was possible. All you needed to progress to year four was a 3rd class score...but it was possible...just possible, to drop off the course with a mark as good as a 2:1.
But...that would be stupid.
But...I had done it.
I had managed to crash and burn off my course, and I had spent the second to last day of my entire university life in London, away from my friends. The family in the seats across the aisle shifted uncomfortably in their seats as I began to cry.

*

I stood outside the Student Union at Manchester University, my bag loosely on my shoulder, an unfamiliar shirt collar and tie freshly loosened around my neck. It was Spring, and Manchester was a really great looking city. Plants around the angular brown concrete plaza were greening and budding, keen against the chill in the air and reaching for the sunlight.
I pictured myself living in Manchester. I pictured myself getting used to its bars, its cafés, its life...it was all so very different from the campus bubble community of Warwick, but I liked it.
I pictured myself setting off from Manchester, and taking a series of hopping flights to South America. I pictured myself with my then-familiar PhD colleagues, hefting our kit bags up the gangplank of a research ship moored in Southern Chile and heading for the Antarctic ice sheets.
I started nodding to myself in that British spring sunshine.
"I can give this a go," I said.

*

There was a new café just open down the hill from the Jobcentre towards the thatched rooves of the Old Village, and he was grateful for my custom. It was November, it was cold outside, and he was trying to wipe away the condensation on the big glass window. I slid the chair scrapingly under the table and began to unpack my books.
Prague.
In a month I could have rudimentary enough Czech to worm my way into the ex-pat community, rudimentary enough to find a cheap hostel before finding work and somewhere to live long term. I flicked through guidebooks, through personal accounts of living in the capital. While the living was indeed very cheap, it seemed that property prices, at least on the rental front, were comparable with the rest of Europe’s capitals. Damn.
Jobwise it seemed that there were plenty of openings for people with bar experience and English as a language. Prague was enjoying a tourism boom.
The tall young man brought me my coffee.
"There’s a free refill," he said.
"Thanks."
So, with the likelihood of getting casual work being pretty good, there would be no difficulty in holding down a hostel to begin with. I could actually...actually do it.
Just...go.
To Prague.

*

I gestured across the harbour water.

"You know, it’s criminal, seeing them just sitting there."
"They’re too small now. There’s too much traffic between here and the mainland."
"Yes I know, but they’re just so...cool."
"So?"
"It just seems a waste."
"I dare say the ferry company uses them for something."
"Do you think they’d sell them?"
"What, the hydrofoils?"
"Yeah."
"Why would anyone want them?"
"Well, you could refurbish them. Make them really plush."
"And?"
"Well, they’re hydrofoils. A speedboat or a gin palace is just a boat, and a boat’s a boat, but they fly..."
"Who’d buy them? It would take a lot to revamp them. They’ve been sitting idle for years..you can see the rust on bits of them...you’d have to fit new engines...rearrange and redesign the interior..and at the end of it you’ve still got a second hand boat. With rivets."
"What’s wrong with rivets?"
"They don’t look modern. Everything is GRP these days."
"True."
"And you’d still be trying to flog a secondhand boat."
"Novelty value?"

He shook his head.

*

The houseparty was in the dying stages. It had been a great night. The music was brilliant, the live show particularly popular, and if anyone had told me that the night would have included a group sing-along before hand, I would have laughed in their face. There was a tangy aftertaste in my mouth from the particularly lively punch which had been emptied from the wide bowl long before, but I had not drunk much. I had been too tired for much of the night, but now, as the heat in the room was dropping and the atmosphere lightened, I had more energy. There were a number of people who had arrived after I lost the urge to introduce myself to everyone, and one of these people came up to me now, as I stood next to the half-opened window, looking out at the night and breathing the air of a city I had only previously dreamt of visiting. The girl on my arm kissed me, detached herself and went to help with the beginnings of clearing up. I couldn’t help but follow her with my eyes.

"So how do you like New York?" asked the unintroduced girl.
"It’s unbelievable. I’ve only been here a couple of days, but it’s really amazing. I went for a bit of a walkabout yesterday, incredible, yeah."
"How long are you staying for?"
"Oh, another week. You know. It’s quite a long visit, but that was because of the flight prices...this was the cheapest way to get here!" I laughed.
"So are you coming back?"
"Yes."
The girl who had been on my arm, who I was already giddily in love with, was helping to clean, and from behind the girl whose name I didn’t know, she looked up from picking something off the floor. She smiled at me and her eyes shone.
"When?" asked the unnamed girl.
"I don’t know yet. I only decided just then when you asked me," I said.
"What?"
The love of my life was still smiling at me from across the room.

- - -

Liz and Alex were reaching out for my arm, and the wall of heat from the singing crowd suddenly seemed to be pushing me. Everyone was caught up in their groups, their friends, their people, and I was standing mulling over my aborted life at university, amongst these brilliant people, as the music played on.

I turned away from the crowd and smiled at the red cheeked and tear-streamed faces of my flatmates, and joined them as they stood. The six of us held each other, in a huddle like any of the others on the dancefloor, swaying slowly behind the mixing desk and being grateful for the people around us, knowing that this was the last night, the last night that this place and these people were home.
And despite the weight of that moment, something inside of me stirred.

This isn’t entirely an ending, you know.

Oi Vey.

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I always find it difficult to post after a Song.

Let it be known that I am working hard on writing projects at home, especially after rediscovering the intense joy of the handwritten word whilst communicating my biographic information to the US Government.

In quadruplicate.

Yay.

(wave small flag)

Gotta dash. More tomorrow.

After a while I sat with my legs over the edge. The view drew me in but after sitting for half an hour on a grassy hump near the treeline I felt comfortable. Large bodied insects hummed around me, dipping into the tightly folded petals of small pink alpine flowers, their wings a blur.

The grass underneath me was pale from two months of summer, but out of the sun the air was cold. Below my scuffling trainers, after a few hundred feet of scored and uneven grey stone cliff, the road leapt out of an overhang and curled away down the side of the valley, with thick pine on the slope above and loose scrubby, tenuous greenery on the scree below, as the country dropped again to the tiny stream at the bottom of the gorge. A ridge to the West was dark, sharp and jagged against the sky. Behind me the path rolled down to the edge of the village, winding through thick pine. Beyond that the land rose again, into another ridge, its crest rounded and bulbous and running off to the East, so high that the grass faded out and patches of snow clung to the rock in the shaded places.

After a month of travel, my hair was growing out of a tidy cut for the first time, and I liked the way I could feel the wind from the valley below in it. It was curling. This came as no surprise; it had been perpetually difficult to control when it was short and, supposedly, straight.

*

There was a bench in a small depression tucked into the side of the hill. For all of the times I had walked the many paths of the Downs, I had never seen the bench before. I sat down and pulled out my water bottle, blinking the sweat out of my eyes, looking out over fields of yellow and green and razed purple blue across the Island. The sun was high in the sky and a white, soundless shape took leave of the grassy surface of the airport in the distance and hung, rising slowly, against the backdrop of the hills above Brading. I was breathing heavily from the steepness of the path and the heat bothered me. A bee spiralled around my head briefly and disappeared into the thicket. The air was heavy with the dust of grass and earth, and the scent of summer.

With no job to tie my time to, there was no reason why I could not walk to my Monday morning appointment at the employment office in Shanklin, about five miles from the house in Ventnor. I walked the sea wall from Ventnor, up through the winding wooded paths of the Undercliff and the uneven landslip below Devil’s Chimney, past the old stone seat whose wish I have saved, along the estate driveway of old Dunnose Cottage, and finally down to the flat sands of the huge bay, which, when the tide is out, stretch from the unnamed chine near Dunnose to the far side of Sandown, and the foot of the chalk cliffs of Culver Down. I was returning the other way, up and over St. Boniface Down, above Ventnor; round the crook of the hill, past the bombed ruins of the radar station and off the hill into the old train station, which was now an industrial estate, above the house.
I was on my way home.

I had never sat in that place before. The familiar lines of the roads and the Downs and the spires in the towns were shown from a new perspective. The white pin of a monument on top of Culver had the shadow of the mainland behind it.

*

A seagull swung into the lee of the ferry, above the dissolving churn of the wake. The sky was a grey shade of blue and dusk was falling quickly. A thin rope barrier in front of a rusting and rickety concertina of painted red metal was all that separated me from the drop to the water. Across that water, and moving slowly away, was an island. A hand snaked into the pocket of my coat and curled cold fingers into my palm and I held them. Tall dark shapes on the island shrank downwards as we moved, and they began to light up gently. A soft dusting of stars on a lifted horizon.

With the release of a breath of air to the wind, the world changed. It and I changed in the twilight of that day and with her and with the unspoken, unhesitant giving of her city, her island.

I took my hand out of my coat pocket and put my arm around her. She nestled into me and did the same. The two of us, looking at the island, standing on the back of a ferry, not intent on its destination.

Unfinished Business

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For a long time I was unhappy and hiding it from myself.

This takes some doing, let me tell you, but I managed it, on and off, for quite some time.

In that time, there were a number of indicators of my unhappiness, a couple of which are only becoming apparent to me now.

I love Italian food. Such food lends itself well to a glass of wine with a meal. The problem with this is that there is now an open bottle of wine in the vicinity of someone who has just eaten a fine meal, and is in the mood for...a glass of wine. I acknowledge that this doesn't sound all that unusual and/or bad. That's because I stopped writing about it at the second glass of wine mark.

This combined with free coffee at work meant that by the time I got home I really needed a drink to relax. Of course, this meant that the next morning, I really needed some coffee. Rinse. Repeat. It dulled the flames.

I stopped finishing books. This has only just hit me; what a shame this was. My favourite authors became too intense, too vivid, too achingly emotional to read. I would veer off from reading a book only half way through, and some not even that far. I would still shop for books, as though I was still enjoying them.

Just as I stopped reading, my writing stopped completely. My opinion of my writing plummeted; even pieces I once held as my best. My worst work seemed incomprehensibly poor. The darkness around the fire seemed a lot deeper.

I stopped listening to music. I couldn't be bothered to turn on the stereo beyond a twenty minute period of unlistened-to radio in the morning, when it was nothing more than background noise. I didn't take my stereo to work. The crackle of the dying fire was the only noise.

And in this time I would sleep, eat, wake, go to work, vegetate and sit. The world kept turning, the sun shone occasionally, as it does normally, and life ticked on. Dreams and hopes drifted into a place where they seemed divorced and separated from daily life...a place that was visited, occasionally, but it took more and more effort as time went by. The embers were glowing.

But events conspired. I found myself between a rock and a hard place and decided that things had to change. So they did. (The solution to this age old problem of rocks and hard places - go sideways)

Things stopped decaying, which was an obvious improvement, but the embers were still only glowing, if with a brighter tinge. I did what most people do in that situation...I explored my new freedoms, looked for myself in places I had previously been - both metaphorical and geographical.

And then, there was a bit of a spark. Despite it making NO financial sense, NO reasonable sense and lacking, as things tend to round these parts, sensible planning and preparation (see Passport, Lack Of), I decided to leave Hatfield for a while, and go to New York.

I had been invited to a birthday party.
It would have been rude not to.

New York; where the fires of my life were stoked up, encouraged, fuelled and fed until they have become higher than they have ever been.

I feel sharper in the mornings; drink less coffee, less wine. My mind dances through music. It barrels through the written word, hunting meaning and emotion and pattern and enjoying every second of the search regardless of what it finds; I am reading two books at the moment - The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and a book I shied away from after a hundred pages, ages ago - Captain Corelli's Mandolin.

I'm not sure if you know that I keep blogging and other writing pretty separate, apart from the few entries under the title 'Songs' there in the sidebar...and looking back, whilst writing about anything and everything, as any of us can, I stopped talking about me, how I was (beyond 'muh'), and anything of any personal honesty. Well, this changes that a bit too.

And I have started writing.

I am in love, but so much more than that...I feel alive again.

Me.

So thank you.

At The End Of The Day

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All that matters is that you lived your life as much as you could.

So I feel good about this.

It's perfect, scary, unusual, full of love, and, I guess, that's life.

A Stitch In Time

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I failed to make it to work by 4am this morning.

It was my own fault, really. I was chatting to Krissa as she cooked her evening meal at around 9pm, you know, not too late, about this that and the other, when I realised that I wouldn't get all that much sleep in before having to go to work.

It's an odd schedule, but I can function on it. The sun rises at 1am, and sets at about 3.30pm. Everyone else gets into the office easily by 4am, some even well beforehand. But it narks me that people feel that they can call round that early in the morning. I mean - the postman?

3.25am.

Obscene. What kind of service is that? If I wasn't working the old 4-1 daily grind, that would be pretty out of order.

My parents aren't on the same daily routine as me. They get annoyed if I call them much after 5pm, because they're in bed. That worries me. I mean, that's pretty early to call an end to the day, isn't it?

The shops round here are amazing. They close early in the afternoon, fair enough, and I can understand that people might get annoyed about not being able to shop after lunchtime, but the provision for early birds like me? It's incredible. There should be some kind of community award.

No one else seems to notice that I live this way. It's just better, for me, to know that my rhythms are very much in tune with the person who means the most to me. It's just...gnarly...when your heart runs on New York time, but the diurnal cycle round these parts doesn't take any notice.

Over the Hills and Far Away

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I'm sure most of you have had your share of long distance relationships.
If you haven't had your share, then I am sure me and everyone else demand that you take your car, or a plane, travel for several hours, start going out with someone wherever you end up, and then IMMEDIATELY go home.

And slash your own tyres, or something.

Now. Now begins the long distance relationship.

For all the half-arsed experience I've picked up in the past, nothing has prepared me for what I...well, we, Krissa and I, are currently going through.

While I accepted, in the past, that I might be in a situation of a long distance relationship at some point in the future, I never thought I would be looking at 3,500 miles of 'long distance'.

I mean, that's pretty damned long.

It's so much bother saying three-and-a-half-thousand-miles you might as well shorten it to a fraction of the distance around the planet. But I'm not going to do that. Because it would be depressing.

And whilst, in the past, I thought that I may well be in a relationship at some point in the future, I never thought it would be the kind of relationship that would have me champing at the bit to pick up my entire life and move it 3,500 miles. Instead of the instant solution, this is something I've been working and moving towards every waking moment...job searches, visa applications, gambling, telekinesis...

I mean, and I hear you agreeing wth me here, that's quite some relationship.

So in the phrase 'long distance relationship', I think, apart from the same thing happening between people in the UK and Australia, we're definitely in the premier league. So we'd like some sort of award, please.

Preferably in holiday time and air miles.

Or a visa.

We feel we're entitled.

A Few Shades Of An Electron Away

I would like to thank Orange, T-Mobile, and the Estate of Sir Alexander Graham Bell for my weekend.

A quick note...

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Chin up.

I'm here.

Reason and Rhyme

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I see patterns everywhere.
It's a dream, it's a fancy, it is the life of my imagination.
I see the weaving of threads in the passing of days.
I see the links and the breaks, the themes that were not there.
When I miss the detail the pattern dies.
I missed what there was.
So what there is may not make sense.
It isn't meant to, but it might.
There's no guarantee.
In films, the pause too long, the detail too deep.
It's easy.
The pause means this.
The detail will be needed later.
There are no hints in life.
Just every single spinning passing detail of your life.
Eyes ears nose tongue skin.
There is no guarantee of a pattern.
There is no guarantee of sense.
There is no guarantee of a meaning.
But there might be one.
There might be one.

Can you remember what your fortune cookie at New Year said?

I can.
I sat, bemused, as my family and close ones heard of impending wealth, or lucky journeys that would bring happiness. I frowned at my little slip of paper, eating a too-soft cookie. But I remember. It was a detail. It doesn't mean anything. It was a slip of paper in a biscuit, for crying out loud. But still. The words were there. Not a fortune, but a statement. And I remember. Pointless information, stashed away.

Tulip is your lucky flower.

Funny really.

Iacta Alea Est - Part One

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Okay, so that went well.

Just in case anyone was wondering.

The parentals...took things in their stride.
They're wonderful. I can't wait for them to meet Krissa, and vice versa.

There are a couple of conversations I can imagine happening this weekend. I have to talk to my sister Jemma, who is currently in Paris with her boyfriend for her 21st Birthday, about things, and I think there may be one of those moments that you can't put down in words afterwards without people asking if it is fiction or not...I won't give it away, but I'll tell you if it happens...

The other conversation happens...later tonight. Around a broad round wooden table, next to luscious palm fronds on thin wooden boarded floors under slowly, lazily spinning mahogany ceiling fans, and over a couple of cool refined lagers. I think I know the script for that one too, but again; you'll get the details as and when.

I want to say more. I want to lay the steps to this delicate dance at your feet so you can see what it is like to spin through them...but the band is playing...

Don't Make Me Laugh

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I was sprawled out diagonally across my bed the other evening...perched with my elbows on top of the covers reading the excellent Kavalier and Clay, which was a gift from Krissa, bought when we happened across a great-looking little bookshop on West 10th Street after having dinner in a restaurant nearby.

The radio was on in the background. My radio is preset to have BBC Radio 1 as the first channel...I don't know why. I just haven't gotten around to changing it from when I used to like the station. My profound u-turn in taste came after they started playing lots of older music in these 'Oldie but goodie' type features. When I went as part of the RaW Krew, this was something they'd just sacked one of our alumni to move away from, and they vehemently defended their decision, citing themselves as 'a wholly new music station'. Everyone is scrabbling for cool. You don't scrabble for cool. You know you have it, and then you do. I know they don't. Wogan? Now Wogan is cool. But enough of my proto-middle aged meanderings.

I wasn't really listening, but when I'm reading, extended periods of speech on the radio, such as the news, interfere with the internal book monologue. There was a DJ and a caller, discussing why the DJ hadn't been on the air recently. It was a hip-hop programme. Well. It might have been. It sounded like one to me. No doubt in my old age I wouldn't notice if R1 sounds like that all the time now.

DJ: Yo yo yo! Browndog (or similar)! It's good to hear from you bruvva!
BD: Maaaaan! Where you bin man? It ain't bin da same on the airwavez. (yes he pronounced the z)
DJ: Well y'know...I bin ill.
BD: Ill? What? You is ill aaaaaaaaall the time, yo.
DJ: Nah man, like, sick.
BD: Nasty. Wozzit dat food poisoning?
DJ: Yeah, well, there was definitely sumfin gastric goin' on down there, dog.

Despite Kavalier and Clay being at a very tense and dramatic moment, I couldn't help but crack up at this.

Now, I know I've neglected my assumed project, Stuart's Guide to Hatfield. I guess I had better finish it off before hightailing it to New York, huh. The Galleria is definitely next on the list. In passing in the entry about Errol's Café and Grill, I mentioned...rather negatively, another bakery-cum-sandwich outlet across the square; Simond's Bakery (deliberately mis-spelled). At the time I couldn't understand how they could charge the prices they charged and survive.

Between then and now...it shames me to admit it, but I became almost a regular in Simond's. They had a marvellous breakfast bap with a number of sausages, more bacon than Errol's, and a snitch of sauce that I really liked, and it was only £1.99. Bargainous maximus. I strolled in there one morning this week and tried to order one. The staff - never the friendliest souls - were nowhere to be seen. A girl in school uniform skulked in a doorway out the back, focussed on her mobile phone. With the passing of time, a great hulking mass in a purple apron rolled out of the kitchen.

"Yes?" she asked, her tones stamped with proprietorial authority, and the weighty demand that whatever I wanted, it had better be good.
"Breakfast Bap, please."
"It's back up to normal price now. That's okay, isn't it." This was not a question.
"How much is the normal price?"
She glared at me, and began waddling around the counter towards the till and the price list there. She stared at it for a minute or so and then walked off into the kitchen.
The schoolgirl glowered at me.
My incredulously spherical servingwoman returned holding a large accounting calculator, and I started to laugh between pressed lips, earning myself another scorching glare.

Five minutes later we had collaboratively arrived at the princely sum of £3.99, and I was striding across the square on my way to Errol's Café and Grill.

Sorry old buddy, old pal, Mr. Errol, sir.
Forgive me?

The Life Lottery

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In the whole general mish-mash of life's spinning likelihoods, I'm very happy with the enormously unlikely outcomes I've been dealt lately.

My nailbitingly close to the deadline passport application was unguaranteed, and arrived less than twenty-four hours before my flight left Heathrow for New York, where I met the love of my life.

Which has lead to me grabbing the tablecloth corners of my life and bracing to pull.

Krissa posted yesterday about the annoying questions she is being asked about us...and I understand that. Only a meagre sprinkling of the people in my every day round know anything about us, and due to the type of people they are, I have been asked no questions.

I like the fact that despite this generalised incredulity from the masses, anyone who has seen us together has done no more than raise an eyebrow, smiling all the while.

This weekend though, I have to explain things to some people who won't get to see us together for a while yet, and who are fiercely protective of me; my family.

Which will be no problem...but it doesn't stop me being nervous as all hell.

We're all adults now, some more than others and not necessarily anything to do with age, but there is still something about the environment that remembers. The kitchen table at mealtimes. Questions that younger versions of my sister and I squirmed to avoid answering...questions on school reports, behaviour, whether or not I was lying when I said I didn't realise I was making little burping noises...and later moving onto more mature subjects...political views, friends, relationships, school reports and university choices.

Parents are there to care, and you would be hard pressed to find a more caring pair than mine, but I am wary of the dinner table environment bringing up that old situation of parentally concerned interrogator and wary, defensive child...which are hard roles to shake.

In no more than thirty seconds, explain and justify your decision to abandon the United Kingdom and your family in favour of a woman you only met for nine days.

I love her.

...

...

Okay. More peas?

A gentle clip-clopping of horse's hooves on the cobbles outside the Coffee Shop of Your Very Dreams heralds the arrival of King Arthur's morning newspaper, and the dawning of a new day here in Camelot. The sun rises slowly, pouring golden light over the battlements and picking out the yellow straw rooves of the township, the air is crisp, and the serfs have been outside the walls weeding the turnips since 4am.

It's just another day in the life of a medieval utopia.

Hear ye, hear ye!

Coffee up, gentlefolk.

A vestal coffee virgin, professing to prefer her men with a good serving of froth, is Lady de Musings, placing an order for a latte, which is big and strong and long. It is also wearing a leather jerkin for reasons of decency.

Merlin was wandering around earlier, prodding at the Uberpercolator and asking me awkward questions about the future, but he scarpered the second Blue Witch popped her pointy hat around the door. He was almost certainly afraid of being upstaged. Have an Americano, my lady sorceress.

A knight in ill-advisedly brightly polished armour, especially on this sunny morning, is blinding the clientele as he accompanies the large filter coffee for my Lady d'Estee...pass the WD40, someone...

Sir Mark of London requests and recieves a large espresso, in the (cleaned and sterilised) helmet of a recently vanquished enemy. Can't have other chaps talking down to one's serfs now, can we?

The rowdy and boisterous Sir Dave de Ciel is kicking up a rumpus by doing an armour-clad can-can along one of the trestle tables...so when he's calmed down or run out of the vast amounts of energy for such a feat, could someone pass him this flagon of mead? Thank you.

Sir Porny Boy de Curtis requests a flagon of mustering disease and ill-health, in keeping with the times. Just to keep our health and safety record at near 100% (no one mention Pompeii, okay?) you can have this large chunk of mouldy bread, which should counteract anything you pick up. I'm sure, seeing as everyone is in here enjoying the coffee and the views of the castle, that no one will mind if you borrow all their serfs to do the chores. Just hurry back. I don't want to clean all this up myself, you know.

Sir Wild requests, in flowery and romantic prose, an espresso, a glass of chilled water and some biscuits, and as a token of admiration for his adjoint bravery and gusto in the recent games, have two biscuits, good sir.

Queen Guinevere! My goodness, welcome! Er, good day, your majesty. Coffee? Pardon? Erm, it's a hot drink, it stimulates the mind and body...maybe not? Chocolate? Well...yes...I think you would like hot chocolate, your majesty. Please feel free to take the table in the window. *shoo Sir Wild, Lady de Musings...make way, make way!*

Lady Hanni de les Chaussettes-Roses very daintily requests a chocolate of the hot variety, to combat her dispair at the weather. I do hope that today's clement and crisp morning sunshine is more to your taste my lady.

The Lady of My Manor, Queen of my Heart, Lady d'Hiboux requests a Hot Toddy to get her day off on the right foot...then the left...and again! That's it darling...see? I told you it wasn't too much whisky. There's a shining white charger outside...isn't it pretty? Oh, hang on, that's not your one, it's not due to be delivered for another five minutes...Sir Lancelot! What a pleasure! Come in, come in. Mead? Certainly. There's a free chair at the table in the window, oh, and of course you know Queen Guinevere. Welcome welcome!

Lady Stephanie de Brune takes a deep breath and orders a Grande Skinny White Mocha, which of course is no problem...no problem...

Sir David of Wootton Bridge requests something easily quaffable...more ale...or a mead? You may join Sir Dave de Ciel with the can-can if you so wish. Double yellow lines haven't been invented yet, so park the trebuchet wherever you goddamn like, good sir.

The impossibly titled Job-for-stu-in-nu-york-achino goes to the good, the great, the chaste (sorry...where'd that come from?) Sir Adrian of Sahthahfreeca, and strangely enough, yes, the coffee has emerged from the Uberpercolator... served up in The Holy Grail!

Oi, Lancelot! Put her down mate! You'll never guess where it was all this time...

Camelot Coffee

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Whoops, nearly forgot.

Don one of those pointy women's hats with a scarf hanging from the point, or your favourite suit of armour, and mosey on up to the castle, where the Coffee Shop of Your Very Dreams has materialised just inside the walls, next to the drawbridge.

Beasts of burden round the back, please, in the stable. Serfs and servingpersons in the left hand side and horses on the right.

Oh, and your order, prithee, if you'd be so good.


Update, much, much later...

You know my situation, or if you don't, then read downwards, and so I'm sure you'll all understand that I simply haven't had time to serve coffee today. Take a tour of the castle walls, pop in and have a chat with His Majesty...take a room in one of the fine inns or hostelries Camelot offers...and I'll serve up tomorrow.

Sorry kids.

Demon in the Sun

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A gusty forceful breeze whips off the sea and a high cloud stretched thin throws a ring of near rainbow around the sun. There is soft grass underfoot, yellow gorse and tidal salt marshes behind, and the wind plays with the long grass on sand dunes behind the lines of low bent trees. The sky stretches wide and open from the South Downs to the familiar distant low grey lines of the Isle of Wight over and away across the seaborne white horses.

A harsh high buzzing sound shoots overhead and a whoop of joy is spirited away by the wind, carrying mine along with it. I raise a hand to dull the brightness of the sun and try to pick out the kite as Sharon flips it and swoops it over my head again, a rapid fabric flapping and a mournful whistle of straining cord. It is the only sad thing about this scene, this place, this afternoon. There is a plane doing aerobatics over the Solent, windsurfers haul their boards from their cars and trucks, and three-wheeled trikes are looping and skidding over the sand as the wind tugs at their 'chutes above them.

A soaring sigh leaves my lips each time the kite trips from my fingers and shoots up into the white-blue brightness, and I run to Sharon's side and we swap places. I haven't seen her for ages, and not talked to her properly - outside of a bar or club, for far longer. She is thrilled by my news and my plans, she is happy here, building her life, and she grins as I lose the wind and the kite spirals to the grass near her feet. I am in love, and it is a sunny day.

I am happy to be alive, and cannot help saying so.

The wind takes my words and carries them unheard off into the world.

Linky and Piccy Goodness

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I think that maybe what with working 10 hour days, looking for work, talking to Krissa (not all mutually exclusive) I am feeling that blogging may go on the back burner for a while. That's a may go on the back burner. MAY.

I'm looking forward to May.

But that's another story.

The angel-like, tulip-loving Krissa has an amazing photo of us at Shiv's birthday party...

..who in turn, gave me a heads up that the fantastic online cartoon strip scarygoround, recently started an entire story set on the Isle of Wight...which, for the less observant of you, is where I was born and grew up...well, thus far, anyway.

I am wishing fervently that I was in New York...the stunningly fabulous owlet posting that picture of us has hotwired my current jitterbug-like energy straight to that longing...but I got my pictures back from the developer yesterday, and spent a few minutes scanning some of them this morning. Click to read on and see them...and click them again for the full size version...

Have a great weekend, everyone.

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