Sunday, 31 December 2017

#359 Reading all about it

Deep in the southernmost part of zone two, the demand for free newspapers was through the stratosphere. In addition to the existing Peckham Peculiar and the new Dulwich Diverter, a third local read, the Lewisham Ledger, was being planned for Spring 2018.

I'd been meaning to peruse the Diverter since acquiring my first copy two weeks ago but had not bothered to do so. Not until a discussion with my new landlord reminded me that if I intended to go around yapping about how I enjoyed writing, it might not do me much harm to have a go at getting something published. What exactly, I wasn't sure.

I'd often thought that the majority of newspaper stories, as well as the overall character of the publications that carried them were lacking in charm and epicity. This no doubt came from a need to present a professional, respectable impression to the public however it led me to wonder whether it might be possible to produce something a bit more eccentric. The kind of paper that might get blasted by some and fought-over by others. My thoughts on that matter would have to wait for another day though. It was time to take a look at the current state of affairs.

I took the paper from my shelf and gave it a flick-through. It was smart and full of informative pieces on local business owners and community events. There were no surprises there then. All I needed to do was to get friendly with a resident entrepreneur who hadn't already been covered, or get the scoop on a nearby event that nobody else yet knew about. It seemed I had my work cut out.

Saturday, 30 December 2017

#358 Elusive Christmas holidays

I'd thought about doing sod all today. Hibernating under two duvets, the picnic rug and my M&Ms blanket, while playing videogames or watching Youtube.

It was the first day that I'd had to myself since before Christmas. My own personal holiday. I'd had all the enforced fun that society required me to have - the kind that's not actually fun - and was now free to rest and do whatever I wanted, which was the true meaning of the word "holiday" in the first place.

I'd noticed this same feeling among others of my friends. The need to take part, semi-against their will, in all the charade-like scenes and routine obligations that come with being part of a community. The kind of traditions that were necessary in order to maintain contact with certain people but the fulfillment of which felt anything but fulfilling. I was done with all of that now. I'd ticked all the social boxes and was free to concentrate as hard as I could on doing as little as possible.

Only, now that the time had come, I couldn't bring myself to take a break. With only four days to go until 2018, I needed to get clear on what kind of work I was about to start looking for and to do that, I wanted to update the bank of ideas I'd been keeping.

I ended up compromising and took the morning off. After last night's wedding, I'd got back after midnight and could never sleep right after getting home, so had stayed up into the early hours and was feeling pretty groggy.

The ideas bank was in essence a collage of images representing anything that I liked or found interesting. In the afternoon, I trekked out to the Barbican for a change of scene and spent an hour combing through old blog posts for anything I'd done during the past two months that I enjoyed that could be relevant to a job search. Slim pickings. I tended to categorise the ideas fairly broadly and had already put several under each category. It felt like there was nothing left to add.

During the course of the hour, I managed to come up with ten new ideas, which were really just old ones represented by new images. Having done so, I realised I was hungry and rarely felt like doing much on an empty stomach, so I headed over to Brick Lane for a dirt cheap, nondescript chicken curry.

On the bus back, I wondered whether I should carry on updating the ideas bank at home, or to leave it until tomorrow. This was no kind of holiday. I'd been irritated by the inability of my mother and brother-in-law to arrive at satisfactory conclusions to the day-to-day situations that they themselves had created, yet I was no better. Like them, I allowed myself to get wound up by experiences of my own making and didn't seem to want to give myself a break.

Friday, 29 December 2017

#357 Mark and Lisa's wedding

Mark and Lisa entertained me. I found them amusing. Friendly. Easy to get along with. That was why I was going to their wedding. To honour who they were as people. From my perspective, anyway. Also because I'd know a fair few people there.

In recent years, I'd declined more wedding invites than I'd accepted. They often came from people I hadn't seen - and probably wouldn't see again - for a very long time. Spending an entire day to sit at the back of some hall, with people I didn't know, waiting eight hours to eat some poxy slice of cake seemed ludicrous. Today was different. Naino would be there, along with several other ex-Dulwich housemates and their friends. It was also an easy venue to get to.

It would still be a long day though. Accordingly, I'd been racking my brain, trying to come up with some ways in which I could make the experience more useful. Asking people about their jobs, avoiding talking about my career change, paying attention to what I liked and didn't like.  Thinking of people as characters rather than people. I even Googled "How can introverts stay energised while socialising?" Apparently eating and drinking was recommended. As if I'd forget.

None of the thoughts or tips from the Google search felt like things that I particularly wanted to focus on at the wedding. I didn't want to turn up with an agenda. At least, I hadn't found one that I'd like to go with. So I'd be going in unarmed. Unprepared for the day ahead. At the mercy of what the other guests wanted to talk about. Fortunately, I was a good listener.

Thursday, 28 December 2017

#356 Reflections on Christmas

It had been a strange sort of experience meeting up with all those people over Christmas. Some I'd known for a long time. Others, I'd met right then and there. I'd felt like it was important to maintain certain relationships, for various reasons.

I think I'd wanted to find some additional justification for having to tolerate spending so much time in the company of others. With my sister, I'd managed to talk to her about her work and learn a thing or two about it. Playing pool with her and Ronan had been fun. There were a few other chats that might prove useful in future. Beyond that though, the whole thing had been a drag. A series of hoops that I'd had to jump through because doing so was easier than the potential consequences of deciding not to. At least that's how it had felt.

I tried to imagine what the week might have been like had I designed it myself. A carefully selected bunch of people, none of whom I knew in reality but many of whom I'd gotten to know very well in some fantasy and liked very much. An environment other than any that I knew. Incredibly useful and fun discussions that seeped out of existing meaningful affairs in which I and the people I'd met were involved. Unexpected discoveries and laughs. Magical trips to unforgettable places.

Maybe next year I'd stay at home and watch a Disney film.

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

#355 Miniature demons

My mother had become ashamed of her phone. So ashamed she was considering replacing it but not so ashamed that she'd find one in her stocking. The woman was facing a dilemma. Public opinion was by far the only reason for her discontent. This made choosing a new model impossible, since she had no interest whatsoever in any of them. A dilemma indeed.

There was no discussing it. This bothered me the most. It was like trying to fish a sausage out of a barbecue using two blades of grass instead of tongs. Actually what bothered me the most was that getting a new phone wouldn't solve the problem at all. She'd hate whatever phone she got and would complain about how annoying it was, refusing to learn how to use any of its features. There was no solution. 

Then there was my brother-in-law, Ronan. He seemed happy enough in between semi-humorous comments about how he'd blow his brains out if he ever lost his job and wife. Who wouldn't? Still, he'd had to grapple with a miniature demon of his own over the Christmas period. It was about eight o'clock. We'd just scratched all the scratchcards that mum had given us and had each won a few quid. We'd decided to cash them in at the One Stop and get supplies for homeless people.

We got bananas, crisps, chocolate, a few other bits and some baby wipes. Then Ronan drove us around Milton Keynes, looking for tents. The difficult part came when we realised nobody was home. We went from settlement to settlement with no luck. Only empty tents and duvets. Delivering groceries if there was no-one there to receive them didn't seem ideal. They were probably out begging and would be back later but we weren't sure.

In the end, we did end up leaving the goods there beside the empty tents but it was an anti-climax. On the drive home, Ronan complained that it was a shame there was nobody there. I'd tried asking if there were any other places we could check, or whether the goods could be brought back at some other time but neither option seemed worth it. We'd simply had to fail at a task that was our own idea in the first place. A rotten state of affairs. A problem with no solution.

Tuesday, 26 December 2017

#354 A beer garden to myself

9:45pm. Christmas Day. A bench outside a closed pub in East Dulwich. I'd managed to log on to Facebook on my laptop and was checking the news feed to pass the time. Some leaves blew onto my keyboard and I quickly brushed them off again. A drunk man walked past and wished me a Merry Christmas. I gave him a thumbs up.

Ninety minutes earlier, dad had just dropped me outside my front door. He was in urgent need of a water closet and I had to painfully but clearly inform him that he couldn't necessarily come in use mine as it was not my house. He dutifully carried my presents up the steps and placed them in the doorway. I turned the key in the lock but the door wouldn't open. I then remembered that my landlord had said she'd double-lock the front door over Christmas.

I gave her a call. She'd thought I'd said I was coming home on Boxing Day and she was out in another part of the city. I updated dad, who offered to take me back to his house. It seemed like the most logical solution. I told her that's what I'd do, gathered up the presents and hopped back into the car. Dad started to drive to his house.

I felt distressed. Having to spend time with my family over Christmas had been draining and the change of plan was really bothering me. At the top of Lordship Lane, I made dad stop the car and got out without explanation or presents. I told him I was staying here and that he could carry on back to his house. There wasn't much time for him to think about it. He still needed to relieve himself. He sped off southwards.

I sent my landlord a text informing her that I'd stayed in East Dulwich and would like to spend the night there. I asked her to let me know when she was home but not to rush. I then called Dad and still without really giving much explanation, told him that I'd be staying in London and that my landlord would be home soon. I spent the next hour and a half wandering around the neighbourhood before taking a seat outside The Flying Pig.

The wind blew at the scaffolding behind me, the blue tarp tapping me on the back of the neck. I'd found a couple of people to message and was fairly content to be alone and back in my area. At around ten, I received a text from my landlord informing me that she'd arrived. I put the laptop back in my rucksack and walked back to the house to find out how much I'd inconvenienced her and how she felt about it.

Monday, 25 December 2017

#353 Heading north

10:15am. Christmas Eve. Coach U of a Virgin Pendolino Train. I tried to read one of the five blue and white signs that were whizzing past the window. Bermoblablagph… Bermusmphmrph… Berblmlml… it was no use.  The view inside the carriage was little better. Around the sides of the seats, I could see the edges of what looked like several nice Christmas jumpers and some heads of freshly brushed hair but the rest remained blocked from sight.

Ahead of me stretched a sea of plastic seat backs and a row of ceiling lights, narrated by a soulless voice, diligently reminding us all that we could purchase a drink and a snack for three pounds. The sort of message that was as annoying as Christmas music but fortunately ten times shorter.

The railway line ran alongside a canal. I thought how pleasant it would have been to cycle along the towpaths at Christmas. I’d almost wager that some water-dwellers would be barbecuing turkey meat, sitting atop the fake-grass-covered roof of their vessel complete with mounted patio heater and miniature tipple fridge. They’d hand me a Heineken and a chipolata and I would carry on cycling, sausage in mouth, one hand on the handlebars and the other clinging on to my beercan.

I tried connecting to the Wi-Fi but encountered a payment screen. Parasites. I was already a Virgin mobile customer and a Virgin rail customer. Why were they charging me for Wi-Fi? Tethering wasn’t working. I went ahead and started writing offline. I’d got about two paragraphs down before the announcement for the station came. At least the journey was short. I shut the laptop, picked up my stuff and prepared to spend two days in Milton Keynes.

Sunday, 24 December 2017

#352 Christmas Eve Eve

I wanted to write about Hetal today. A brief summary of recent happenings and an observation or two about the contact we'd had since May however I didn't have the chance to ask her first and didn't think it appropriate to write too much without her blessing. I guessed today she might have taken a walk and given some thought to what her and her brother might do or eat over Christmas. Her family didn't celebrate the occasion in any big way.

Was I looking forward to the twenty-fifth? Not really. I liked the cuisine. And the Queen's speech. Also, my sister and her husband sometimes watched Mrs. Brown's Boys although it wouldn't be shown until 10pm on Christmas Day. By that time, if all went to plan, I'd be back in East Dulwich.

Naomi, my ex-housemate was back in the country. Her plane had touched down earlier in the day and I'd be seeing her at Mark and Lisa's wedding on the 27th. We were already messaging about how late I'd stay. For the food at least. Mark's speech would be good too. Probably. I loved his trademark straight-faced humour. In fact they were both really funny.

My landlord was under the weather, the poor thing. She still made some polite conversation when we met in the kitchen. She informed me that she'd be serving chicken liver on Boxing Day. I told her that I didn't think I liked liver. "You don't think you like liver", she repeated back to me, as if to confirm that I'd phrased my response as oddly as I had. Of course, I knew pretty damn well that I didn't like liver but adding "I don't think" was supposed to soften the message.

A couple of friends who I messaged a lot this year were having really hard times. One was helping to care for a sick relative and the other had been beaten up by a family member. I thought about being a kid and how generally speaking, as long as I got what I wanted in terms of presents, I was happy. It seemed really strange now. As if someone could get me a present that could make or break Christmas. Was it wrong to let children adopt that mentality? Maybe I could discuss it at the dinner table in a day and a half's time.

Saturday, 23 December 2017

#351 Christmas shopping

Friday 22 December. My Christmas shopping day. I wondered how old I'd been the first time I'd bought my family presents. I had no memory of it. During my twenties, I used to do stupid things like buying large gifts even though I had to travel. Then I'd end up filling some bin sacks and would barely be able to carry it all. There was no danger of that this year.

In fact I was going to get everything I needed without leaving East Dulwich. The fastest, lightest, most convenient Christmas shopping trip ever. This would be even quicker than ordering goods online. I'd considered heading to Oxford Street or Westfield but Lordship Lane had everything I needed.

Dad was the easiest as usual. Everyone knew what Jon Copping liked so his was in the bag first. A couple of gift cards made their way onto my list this year. A tad unimaginative but I'd received some in the past, plus Pizza Express had practically become a household tradition. The first few people had been straightforward.

East Dulwich High Street had no public benches but someone had left a large broken TV by the kerb side just off the main road, so I perched atop it to eat my sandwiches. I'd wanted to purchase a particular type of book but the only bookshop on the High Street hadn't got it in stock. The line coming out of the cheese shop across the street caught my eye. It was like the whole town had turned into mice.

I walked up the rest of the High Street, almost aimlessly. What was I going to do about that book? I walked past the chemist, a couple of restaurants and another cheesemonger, complete with queue stretching along the pavement. I could just get some cheese. But then what type? I had no idea.

Eventually I remembered that there was another bookshop. A small one, nearer the park. I hot-footed it down there and was pleased to find a suitable tome. As I approached the checkout, I heard the manager telling his assistant to fetch him a sandwich... or a croisant... either, so long as it had cheese in it. Streuth. The entire population had gone cheese crazy.

I hadn't got cheese for anyone. Had I completely failed the task? Would I turn up and watch my family exchanging Roquefort, Munster and Stilton, while I looked on, embarrassed? I texted my sister to ask what she'd got people. She told me a few items. Great. None of them were cheese. I decided to head home and start wrapping. I would sleep soundly tonight. Possibly dreaming of a yellow Christmas.


Friday, 22 December 2017

#350 Making like a tree

I loved drinking water in coffee shops and in meetings. Let the weak have their caffeine and sugar fixes. I was made of sterner stuff. It was a charade, obviously. I'd eaten chocolate almost every day since I was about ten and needed it just as badly as anyone else craved their coffee. I'd never taken to hot drinks though.

While Sarah stirred her latte, I asked her about Christmas and how her move was going. Once we'd been talking for a few minutes, I confessed how I hadn't done all of the homework and that I'd been worried how that would go down. This made Sarah laugh. It was the last week before Christmas. She'd had four client meetings that day and I'd been the only one who hadn't cancelled. Nobody had done all their homework.

As I now rather proudly ran her through what I had done, she made some suggestions about the job search and tried to even out the naive enthusiasm with which I'd taken to looking for communications roles with some cautionary remarks about making sure I was clear on every aspect of what I'd be looking for and to find out as much as I could about these types of jobs rather than simply applying for anything that looked suitable at first glance. I agreed to spend some more time researching between Christmas and New Year.

In the afternoon, Hetal showed up looking very Christmassy and we visited several of the local watering holes as a way of showing her East Dulwich for the first time. We chatted and drank halves of various beers until around seven pm when my energy levels plummeted and I rather hastily called time on what had before that been a fairly cheerful afternoon. 

The abruptness of my change in mood made for something of an unhappy farewell. We talked about it briefly before parting but it left an unpleasant aftertaste. I spent the remainder of the evening at home. It hadn't been the first time my social energy had flatlined. For some reason or other, I occasionally went from enjoying the company of friends, to wanting to depart, in a fairly short space of time, leaving them a bit mystified. Whatever had happened, it wouldn't be the last time I experienced it. A phenomenon to observe further next year.

Thursday, 21 December 2017

#349 The bus to Clapham

"I wonder if your grip would go first or if your arm would dislocate". I was standing with my hoodie and jacket hanging off my right shoulder. The inside of my left elbow joint was locked around a vertical yellow bar.

To my mouth was a pint of semi-skimmed, my head tilted back as I glugged it with gusto. In my left hand was a half-eaten chcolate-coated cereal bar.

The position I was in had me wondering what would happen if the bus crashed, not so much to me but to your average person who was holding a handrail. I guessed that either one or both could happen.

I sometimes removed my outer layers partially by wearing them over my shoulder to cool down, as I often overheated when I walked anywhere. The milk helped as well. I was on the 185 to see Sarah, the career coach. It'd been about two months since I'd met her in person.

I was worried she'd be upset and angry with me. Two weeks had passed since our call and instead of focussing on the actions we'd agreed, I'd seen a job spec I liked and become sidetracked, seeking out any similar roles and the agencies that carried them. I'd been wrapped up in that and when she asked me about the coaching homework, I'd have little to report.

Bounding off the bus in Clapham, I made a beeline for the McDonald's next to the tube station. It was almost like a rule with me, if I passed a McD's at breakfast time, I made the most of it. A delicious bonus for having an unusual morning.

Satisfactorily stuffed with cereal, milk and Mcmuffin, I put my hoodie and coat on properly, entered Starbucks and took a seat. In a few minutes, waiting for the coach to arrive, to update her and find out her reaction.

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

#348 A grueling search

I wrote this several weeks ago and didn't publish it at the time, I think because I wanted to retain good relations with my co-inhabitants and was concerned that one of them might read it. I no longer need that concern and am therefore able to share the post, which was originally written to precede #311 Wanting to leave.

There's no post to write today. This is not a blog post. These words have not been thought out with the purpose of describing a situation that I find amusing, interesting or worth highlighting.

I am not well. Every single night I go to bed knowing I won't sleep. I lie there until 1am or later waiting for the sounds from the kitchen to stop. I wake exhausted each morning and can never make up for it. There are occasions when it's OK but I remain so on edge and out of kilter that I can't sleep anyway.

It's worse when Alex comes, which is often. One assumes Bruno tolerates the loud swearing, somehow. Even the sound of the front door opening and closing makes my blood boil.

South London does not care who it lives with. I've attended six viewings so far. The tenants are either not there or they don't leave their rooms. The landlords won't bother them on my account.

It does not look good. I've messaged fifty-five advertisers and counting. There are no new adverts left to apply too. New rooms trickle onto the web at a rate of three or four a day. They are quickly snapped up.

It does not look good. South London does not care who it lives with. Perhaps I am asking too much.

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

#347 Draining the battery

The frost-covered grass kept my boots from getting too muddy as I marched determinedly towards the middle of Peckham Rye park. It was nine-thirty in the morning and the wide open space at the bottom of the park was large enough for its centre to be free from the average dog walker and the sound of the traffic from bordering roads. It was there that I chose to make my phone calls.

The reception at home was fine and it was probably the case that my landlord couldn't hear my conversations but I wasn't sure and felt self-conscious about calling up thirty-nine recruiters to ask if each one had any communications roles that might be suitable for a candidate looking to build on their writing experience.

Their writing experience.

I've always been a fan of using they as a gender non-binary pronoun where necessary and it makes me wonder why everyone else in the entire world hasn't seen that as the most efficient solution to the problem, since it clearly is. Yes it might not currently be universally seen as grammatically correct but nothing else even comes close in terms of familiarity and changing the grammar rule is much simpler than introducing new pronouns.

Sorry, I've been watching Jordan Peterson videos again.

So anyway, I called thirty-nine recruiters and had some productive discussions. I did a whole bunch of walking around East Dulwich. I came home at lunchtime to charge my phone, then went back out again. The sun went from East to West. I carried my little notebook around all day and for most of the calls, ended up squatting to jot down details, resting the notebook on my thigh. I mean who needs a desk, right?

At 4:45pm, in the darkness at the top of Dog Kennel Hill, I made my final phone call. I hadn't been sure if I'd make it through all thirty-nine. I'd realised after about eight calls that I actually hate calling people. I think that's fairly common these days. I got through them though. Then I promptly entered a nearby pub for a burger and a pint. And to charge my phone for the third time.

Monday, 18 December 2017

#346 An idea

Every day last week apart from Saturday, I'd commuted to the library. I'd started by carrying out some research, which amounted to Googling "jobs that involve writing" and checking three pages' worth of results. About a day and a half into the research, I came across a communications job. Its description read "copywriting, proofreading, social media updates and internal communications". It sounded fun.

Over the course of the next four days, I put together a list of all the recruiters who I thought might have similar communications jobs. I found thirty nine of them. Then I spent an extra day checking their phone numbers. My plan was to call them all and to check if they ever had jobs like that, what qualifications or experience were needed and how I could go about obtaining them.

I knew that I'd gone about the whole process back-to-front. I should have researched that kind of work much more thoroughly before spending such an extraordinary amount of time making a contact list. Once I'd started looking up recruiters though, I felt like I had to finish.

I had a choice now. I could either spend Monday carrying out further research to check what the average communications job really entailed, or I could get on the phone and call all thirty-nine of the recruiters to ask if they had any vacancies like the one I'd seen. The first option seemed more sensible. That way I could avoid any pointless conversations where I clearly didn't know what I was talking about.

What would I do if that job I'd seen was a one-off? I'd have to identify another kind of job that seemed interesting. I'd applied for other roles that had involved writing during the year but most were in publishing and it was such a competitive sector. A decision might need to be made. Not yet though. For now, I could focus on the research and the calls. By the middle to late part of next week, I'd have a better idea of just how rare that job I'd seen was.

Sunday, 17 December 2017

#345 Spoiler alert

Sunday. 4pm. Starbucks. I had a niggling feeling that I hadn't been productive enough during the week. Which meant I was trying to catch-up. Which meant I felt like I wasn't having a restful Sunday. Which meant I probably wouldn't feel like doing as much on Monday. Which meant I'd probably have a niggling feeling next weekend that I hadn't been productive enough...

Yesterday had been spent in a fairly leisurely manner though. I'd been determined to see Star Wars at the Surrey Quays Odeon. Then I'd been determined to go for a run. Then I'd been determined to cook. The only time I'd spent suboptimally had been the hour walking to Bermondsey and back, having realised that trying to catch a train home from there on a match day probably wasn't the brightest idea.

If you haven't seen it yet and don't want to find out what happens, you might not want to read this.

The eighth film in the "second highest-grossing media franchise of all time" (Wikipedia) was a peculiar two and a half hours. It probably could have ended after two, which gave it a disjointed feel. I'm still trying to work out how I feel about the film as a whole but will provide three thoughts.

1) Vegetarianism. Ok, so I can kind of understand that sometimes the politics and culture of the world we live in seeps into the movies. However, in the case of a story line set a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I consider the need for animal rights activists to be non-existent. In case viewers hadn't noticed, this is an environment where several of the main characters seem content to walk around cutting people's limbs off with lightsabers. Why does it matter what they eat while doing so?

2) No lightsaber battle for Luke. How can this be anything but a disappointment? Lightsabers are one of the coolest objects in the galaxy and without showcasing his mad skills all over the place, Luke's role had a distinct feeling of impotence to it. Yes, this is was partly because he had shut himself off from the Force for a long time but he obviously knew his away around it, hence the ending.

3) BB8. No. Just... no. I have always hated that annoying football. BB8 was given far too much of a glorious role in the film. He is nothing more than a novelty and should have been relegated to the reject bin along with Jar Jar. There was even the perfect opportunity for this to happen, in the form of his encounter with his would-be nemesis, BB9 but no. The annoying football lives on to ruin another film.

In conclusion, there was plenty for me to complain about although that's not necessarily the whole picture. I sometimes find that rants come to mind far easier than praise and there were some very cool parts in the film too (the visuals when the bomber ships were exploding, for example... and there was another cool bit... I can't remember what it was...). I'd have to spend some more time thinking about the plot and how it contributed to the overall story to reach a final verdict. For now, I'd say it was entertaining enough to sit through, which is quite a compliment from me, as I hardly ever go to the cinema these days.

Saturday, 16 December 2017

#344 A departure

The subject of this post asked that it be removed.

I may replace it with something else at some point.

Friday, 15 December 2017

#343 One last mission

I'd been away from the island for four days. Home and dry. I now lived in a home with a tidy kitchen, a clean bathroom and people who behaved in a manner that I found tolerable.

While my last interactions with my housemates had all been fairly calm and well-mannered, I was glad to have relocated and not exceedingly keen to talk to them again. I did have to return to the house though, to bring back the keys.

It was early afternoon. Bruno would be working at the coffee van. Unless he had a day off. For a year and a half, I'd had to pass him at the south quay footbridge, or detour and spend an extra ten minutes crossing the river. I took each route about an equal number of times.

I decided to walk along the riverside and approach the house from the south. It was the least conspicuous route. The only times I'd known Bruno to take it had been when he went to the gym, a journey he only made in the evenings.

I kept my eyes peeled as I walked through the shopping mall. The shops selling protein foods were high-risk territory. I made it out and along the Thames path. Past the tower blocks and round to the edge of the street.

I'd placed the keys in a sealed envelope and written "Dan's Keys" in black marker. I pulled it out of my bag, folded it once and slipped it into my front jacket pocket.

I glanced left and right along the road, then promptly marched towards the house. The lights were on in my room. Either they were using it or they'd found someone. I didn't wait to find out which. I walked up to the door, pulled out the envelope, shoved it through the letterbox in one motion and promptly left.

For thirty nervous seconds, I walked back down the street and along the adjoining road. By that point I was a safe enough distance away to avoid seeing them.

As far as I could tell, I'd now made my final trip to the house. The place I'd moved to eighteen months ago in a hurry when the landlord became ill. Leaving my friends, my cat and my home. Now I'd returned and if I had any say in things, I'd be back for a while.

Thursday, 14 December 2017

#342 Thinking about maybe doing something

I'd been thinking of attending a writing group for a while. Mainly to meet people. The thought of having to sit for a fixed length of time and buy coffee while writing sounded hellish though. Maybe I could skip it and just go for drinks afterwards. No, that would be cheating.

I could turn up and write until I got bored, then pretend to write but play games or watch Netflix instead. My laptop was really old, a bit on the large side and needed cleaning. Ok so I'd clean my laptop. With a toothbrush. And a really, really small amount of water.

I'd need a new laptop battery. What laptop did I even have? I flipped it upside-down and held it for a while, peering at the half-worn out label. I wrote down the model number and Googled it. I could get a battery that would arrive in one to two business days. Cool.

What did writers wear? Nothing too smart. In fact, the more bedraggled I looked, the better. Ok, so I wouldn't shave. What would I say to the people there? Um... hello... how're you? As if I'd care in the slightest how someone I'd never met before was. Unless they'd just lost a limb or something. In which case it would be quite obvious how they were.

"Do you come here often?" Too flirty. "So you like writing, huh?" Too obvious. "I'm actually an undercover FBI agent." Too untrue. And American. Wow, this whole business of meeting people was proving very hard. And I hadn't even done it yet.

I wished I still had that pair of shoes that were really cool. Those ones with the stripey bits. I loved those shoes. I could turn up anywhere in them and people would know I was cool without me having to open my mouth. Now the only shoes I had were regular boring shoes. How was I supposed to meet people in boring shoes? I'd have to have a think about it and try and come up with an answer. In the next one to two business days.

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

#341 Eight enquiries.

Monday. The start of a new week. I'd been in East Dulwich for three nights now but my sleep patterns were still adjusting. On Sunday, I'd woken at 8am and had tried to stay awake but my eyelids had other plans. Before I knew what was happening, I'd dozed off. When I woke again, it was two in the afternoon.

Fortunately, this morning I was in a more vigorous disposition. Still flagging somewhat, I nevertheless had the energy to drag myself out of bed at nine-thirty. I was out of the house by ten. To stay perked up, I prescribed myself a Starbucks hot chocolate.

I commuted to the library. It was busy but I found a desk that was unoccupied. Probably because the plug socket was under the floor and I had to poke my wrist through a hole in the carpet and wriggle around a bit to find it. One day I'd write a book about my career change and would feature all the little niggles that I'd overcome along the way.

Once powered up, I set about listing the actions I'd agreed with Sarah and then started with one of them. I had to run through all the people I knew and identify those with jobs that I found interesting. Then, I had to try and chat to them to learn more about what they did.

I selected eight people and sent out some messages. Graham, a magazine and website editor replied first although he was modest about his experience. We chatted for a while, mostly about other things. I sent some more emails. The afternoon flew by and five o'clock came around fast. I had a LinkedIn response from an ex-colleague and a Whatsapp message from my friend Fi, who I agreed to talk to later in the evening.

It didn't feel like I'd achieved very much but the day could've gone worse. I decided to walk most of the way home to tire myself out and hopefully sleep soundly. Now that I'd moved, finding work was my main priority again. I'd need all the energy I could get.

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

#340 The Ivy House

At 6:45pm, I carried my shoes downstairs to the ground floor and placed them on the doormat. I hung my coat on the rack and proceeded through to the kitchen. My landlord had made soup, which she served with bread and pâté. Her cousin, who lived in the room next to mine, came downstairs and her friend had arrived too.

We listened to a recording of some medieval Christmas hymns while my landlord made introductions, serving her soup and cutting a few slices of bread as she did so. The women briefly discussed the recent Jerusalem declaration and some other current topics. The conversation turned to the manners of young people. I had been eating my soup in characteristic silence when my landlord turned to me. "Dan, do you think teenagers are inconsiderate and is it the parents' fault or is it society?"

I grinned and said that I agreed many teenagers had yet to learn how to be more considerate, adding that I was sure the parents had done their best but of course they had some responsibility, as did society at large. I noted that there had been a general decline in family values. This last observation gained some agreement from the table, who then seemed content to move the discussion on, rather than elaborating on the causes of the decline.

After soup, the landlord's cousin departed. My landlord put on a long grey shawl and her large black beret. She then led us out to the car and drove us through the slushy roads surrounding the park. After taking one or two wrong turns, we arrived at The Ivy House, where a large folk group were performing carols.

We shuffled into the back of the room, exchanging no more than the occasional whisper while marveling at the performances, two of which impressed me particularly. My landlord commented on the history of the tunes and the origins of specific lyrics.

The evening alternated between solo performers and the audience singing en masse. I knew none of the carols, save three. Two of which were to non-traditional tunes. The last was Silent Night, which was printed in German. I did my best with it. Being not hardcore participants in the folk group and seeing as Mary-Louise had to meet a friend, we did not stay long. For ten or so songs perhaps. Then a young woman of lesser talent announced that she was going to sing Santa Baby. A grey shawl and beret rapidly flew past me towards the doors. It was time for us to leave.

Monday, 11 December 2017

#339 Settling back in

My eyes opened at 11am to a clear, bright morning. I planned on shifting my sleep pattern back to its normal routine but would do so gradually. I got up and entered the bathroom. It was small and basic but served its purpose. The walls were decorated with a pale orange mosaic, which gave the feel of a three star European hotel.

After showering, I carried my shoes downstairs and sat on the front door mat to put them on. One day, I'd be doing that and someone would open the door, surprised to see me there. Then they'd point out that I could tie my shoes on the stairs if it was easier.

I walked down the road. My road. In my town. Deliberately taking the long way round to the high street because it'd been so long since I'd taken it. I smiled at the people I saw. There were no alcoholics. no drug dealers, no discarded laughing gas cannisters and no groups of kids in tracksuits loitering outside the shops.

I started the day with a full English at the cafe. The manager recognised me and asked how I'd been. He gave me extra toast. I grabbed issue 10 of the Dulwich Diverter on my way out and went for a walk around the park. I sat watching the squirrels chase each other and rummage for their nuts.

After the park, I went up to my hill. I wondered if the landlord knew about it. Not many people did, even among the locals. Back at the house, I spent two hours unpacking. It was the fastest I'd ever unpacked after a move, including when I'd gone to university. I felt liberated to have ridden myself of so much unnecessary baggage.

In the evening, I ran a lap of Peckham Rye Park. Afterwards, I called my dad and told him I'd moved back to East Dulwich. He was pleasantly surprised as he liked the vibe when he used to visit me here. I showered before dinner and made myself use the kitchen, even though I always found it daunting to cook in a new house. When I first moved to the Isle of Dogs, I'd lived off takeaways for two months.

I decided to start with a baby step and heated up some soup. Not the most ambitious meal but it was still my first day. The important thing was that I was using the kitchen. Once I'd become more used to the new environment, I could try being more ambitious.

Sunday, 10 December 2017

#338 Worlingham Road.

Creak. Creak. Creak. I tiptoed up the stairs as lightly as I could. The weight of my load and the age of the floorboards made the tiptoeing almost pointless but I never liked to create more sound than necessary.

I had just unloaded a dozen large armfuls of luggage from the van into the hallway and now had to take them to the second floor. The sweat dripped from my forehead. On my way, I passed a warm glow from the bedroom on the first floor. My new landlord's door was slightly ajar. She had greeted me at the doorway and given a tour of the house. Now she was probably reading or watching TV. 

I carried the boxes slowly across the hall to the second flight, trying to stifle the sound of my breathing. Artwork lined the walls of every room, as well as the staircases. I gripped the sides of my box tightly and slowly crept upwards, praying that if anything grazed the wall, it'd be one of my knuckles, rather than the edge of the box.

I reached my room and discovered three more paintings, a shelf full of books and a collection of ornaments. The wardrobe was partly occupied by several dresses belonging to the landlord's mother. There remained plenty of space though. I set the box down and then repeated the process nine times.

Once the luggage was all in my room, I tore off my soaked T-Shirt and draped it over the radiator. I made my way over to the en-suite bathroom, which had a skylight. It was angled with the roof and the lower end was roughly the same height as my shoulders. I pushed it open and was hit by a cold rush of air. 

I'd placed a can of Coke against a ridge in the roof just outside the skylight on one of my earlier trips up to the room. I reached for the now-chilled can and cracked it open, wondering if anyone else in the house could hear. I stood there for a while, cooling down and gazing at the familiar sight of the street below and the flickering lights of the horizon beyond. 

Saturday, 9 December 2017

#337 Leaving the Isle of Dogs

Six o'clock, Friday night. I was sat in my room waiting for the van driver. My possessions were stacked against the far wall, bagged up into ten loads.

I'd imagined this week. The week in between finding a new room and moving. It was supposed to be an easier time and it had been. Selling things and packing had been much simpler and less stressful than arranging and attending viewings.

There was no nostalgia though. No sense of peace or meaningful strolls around the area for the last time. About the closest I'd come to anything like that had been the trip to Pizza Express earlier in the week. I'd thought about saying goodbye to the pigs at Mudchute Farm. It was cold and far though.

If it'd been earlier in the evening, I might've popped over to Greenwich for a pie but packing had been seriously time-consuming. I wondered whether the landlord would approve of the volume of my belongings. Ten loads wasn't going to fill up the room but five would have been easier to explain. Plenty of foreigners came to London with just two bags.

Would I be able to do all the loading and unloading myself? I'd selected that option when booking the van. I could certainly lift everything but until now, I hadn't properly thought about carrying it up three flights at the other end. That was some serious work. I hadn't exercised properly in weeks.

It would probably be ok. I could bring the light stuff first. Take things at a moderate pace. Maybe the driver would help anyway. It would speed up the journey for him. I mean what else was he going to do, sit and watch? Possibly. We would have to see.

Friday, 8 December 2017

#336 All change please

For all my insistence that London rentals was a seller's market, I was having trouble replacing myself. The room was large. Cheap. Near Canary Wharf. Yet I'd had zero messages. While the city's Grenfell victims remained unhoused, I was temporarily facing my own localised reverse housing crisis. For a week at least, I had too much accommodation.

I also had too much stuff. Who knew that golf clubs were so difficult to sell? I'd just found a buyer for a broken, out-of-date synthesiser at short notice, yet I couldn't shift a bag of sticks at Christmas. Did the game of golf no longer exist? Maybe it'd been superseded by virtual reality and I hadn't realised. I needed to start watching the news more.

Volunteering provided another opportunity to offload clothes. Walworth Road itself was practically one giant charity. I spent more time watching than helping this week though. There was a new guy in the group who knew Wordpress and HTML. Elizabeth, the group leader, still seemed more comfortable routing her requests through me, probably because I spoke better English and had been there longer. That might not last though.

To stay relevant, I'd have to be vigilant in spotting web updates and advising on content. It wouldn't hurt to put in some overtime either if I could manage it. Unlike the house, the volunteering group was one place where I definitely didn't want to get replaced.

Thursday, 7 December 2017

#335 Do they know it's Christmas?

Welcome to E14. The postcode without a charity shop. Ok, so there was probably one in Poplar but that was miles away. I'd sorted through my clothes and linen and had put together a heap of things I'd no longer need. The only problem was its size. It'd take three or four trips to offload it all. Trips to where though?

A search for clothing banks revealed two possible locations. One at the supermarket and another at the boat club. I carried a bag out to the store and walked around the car park. Nothing. I tried the customer service desk. Apparently there used to be a clothes bank three years ago. I wondered why it had been removed. I didn't trust Google's suggestion about the boat club and it was too far to walk to be wrong.

It dawned on me that the only way to give away the clothes without hiring transport might be to take them on the train to another area, making several journeys. That would take hours though. The alternative options were to bin the clothes, to turn up with an excessive amount of luggage or to hope the van driver would make a short detour to a shop when I eventually left. They probably would but I wasn't sure. They might count it as two trips or something. I would probably go with some combination of those options.

It was still only 9pm. If I left now, I could take a bag load over to East Dulwich. It happened to be the only local place I knew that had a clothes bank, where I could make a deposit without waiting for the shop to open. I decided to make the trip. I'd be back before 11pm. I could probably return tomorrow. Take some with me when I moved. Dispose of the rest here.

Part conscientiousness, part pragmatism, part convenience.


Wednesday, 6 December 2017

#334 Tis the season to eat garbage

I was thirsty. I knew I was thirsty because I was drinking water. I used to drink nothing but water until 2015, when I briefly dated a medical doctor. She drank squash the whole time, probably because it helped to keep her awake and was always available in the hospital. I figured if a doc could glug artificial sweeteners all day, they probably wouldn't kill me either.

It was the pepperoni. That's why I was feeling so parched. I'd taken myself to Pizza Express, the same place I'd eaten for my first night on the Isle of Dogs. A regular choice back when I'd been working, I'd been taken to that same branch to mark the end of my Lehman Bros secondment. My parents used to love Pizza Express too.

As I sat at the familiar marble table, I thought about what a cheeky restaurant it had become. There was the launch of its prized Romana range, which was essentially just an ordinary pizza base rolled more times so that it looked bigger. Then there was the magic low-calorie pizza, which was again just a regular base with the middle cut out and filled with salad. The middle is the best part... why not cut the crust off instead?

Most recently they had started distributing through supermarkets too. Only two weeks ago, I'd found the same pizza in Asda on promotion for about two quid. With the added advantage that there was no risk of Alexandru messing the order up. Fortunately it was fine. If a little bland. The green chilies weren't really doing much and neither was the chili oil. Even though I'd drenched the whole thing in so much of it that I was practically drinking the stuff.

There're no calories in oil, right?...

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

#333 My Christmas sale

Everything had to go. Well, not everything. I'd put together a list of the fourteen types of things I'd need once I moved. Everything else was being sold. Were Christmas sales a real thing? Or was I thinking of Boxing Day sales? Either way, I was having one.

There were the speakers I'd acquired when I was sixteen. For three years at uni, my room had emitted a near-constant thudding sound. When I moved to East Dulwich I used them much less. On the Isle of Dogs, I no longer used them at all. Nor would I again. The cables needed trimming. Some dents in the fake black wood needed colouring in with permanent marker pen. They were ready to go though. A chap named Sandy was coming to pick them up in half an hour.

Then there was the keyboard I'd purchased earlier this year. I got it for the specific purpose of learning how to play the Karazhan theme from World of Warcraft, which I sort of accomplished. I had an idea about playing it at St. Pancras as there were a number of pianos there but that will almost certainly never happen now. Some guy called Felix would take it tomorrow. Maybe he would learn the Karazhan theme too.

The guitar and amp that I'd got at eighteen were in... not good condition but they worked. I had fitted and tuned the strings myself and would be throwing in some spares. I'd painted the amp pink. I'd taken that guitar apart and put it back together again. Now it was going to Ellie because she wanted a pink amp. She didn't care about the guitar but I told her they were a couple and had to remain together. She seemed content with that.

The golf clubs were going too. I hadn't played in about nine years. They'd seen plenty of use as additional fixtues to my drying rack. I'd sometimes sandwich a club between the top of my wardrobe and a stack of large textbooks and hang clothes there to dry.

I never used any of those things anymore and my impending move seemed like a good chance to unburden myself from them. I couldn't decide whether to sell the Lynx collection. It might appreciate over time but it took up space. I was fond of my two plants but if the room had no window, I'd try to get rid of them too. Lean and mean. Just me, the laptop, the printer, my clothes and some other odds and ends. That was all that mattered. So that was all I'd take.

Monday, 4 December 2017

#332 Bye bye calendar

I think the first time I ate an advent calendar was back at uni. Ahh that's right. I'd been out with some friends and was monstrously hungry. Famished. I bought a cheeseburger and chips from Bimbi's, the restaurant near the market square. I then carried it the entire half-hour walk back to college but just before I got there, I drunkenly tripped up and dropped the lot of it onto the concrete. 25 days' worth of frustratingly tiny chocolates was hardly compensation but it was all I had.

It's sometimes said that we should try to learn from our challenges rather than dwell on them and from that incident, I learned that when one consumes a calendar, it is best not to even bother with the stupid cardboard doors but to open up the box from the top or bottom and slide the tray out. Then all that's needed is to pop the little chocolates out from their plastic casing and voila. Dessert is served.

I suppose a part of me feels shameful at having ruined twenty-five days' worth of tiny treats in under five minutes but they went to a good home. Plus, there's something really fun about eating the whole thing. It's like revenge for all those little moments of only being able to eat some pathetic little blob of chocolate each day, as though that was somehow exciting or fulfilling in any way. Then there's the added bonus of destroying something secular. Christmas should be about peace on earth, goodwill to all and the nativity story. Not some flimsy heretical indulgence. I mean c'mon people, What Would Jesus Do?

This year my calendar-completion skills have reached their peak. I ate mine about two weeks into November, before plenty of people had even bought theirs. See, you can't compete with me so don't even try. Ooh and it's 4th December now. Maybe I'll be able to get another one on sale. Yum.

Sunday, 3 December 2017

#331 Bright shiny baubles

I'd been particularly impressed with the decorations that hung from various parts of the city this year. Canary Wharf had been graced with the presence of an extravagantly high number of trees, most regal in their splendor. The heights of Oxford Street proudly bore a smart and memorable NSPCC message. The South Bank was no exception. Rows of blue and gold bulbs illuminated the pavements, which were lined with a fine outdoor Christmas market. There wasn't much chance to admire the stalls though. It was freezing and I wanted to be on time.

Had it been a smaller venue, Royal Festival Hall might have seemed crowded and loud like everywhere else on a Saturday. I'd had no idea what was playing but the gamble had paid off. A smattering of concert attendees stood talking at a satisfactory volume. No queues had formed at the glistening bar taps. A few small wooden chairs were dispersed about the well-lit, high-ceiling ballroom. On one of them sat Hetal.

We'd been emailing for a while recently and since her christening in Tulse Hill coincided with my room viewing in Brockley, we'd decided to meet for a quiet drink and to play QuizUp on our phones. The poor creature was evidently in some distress though. A slightly delicate girl in some ways, my ex-girlfriend was not pleased at having had to leave the safety and comfort of her home town. She recounted with intensity the frustrations of her experience for perhaps half an hour and then on to matters closer to home for another half, with no lapse in intensity.

It was as though Hetal had been storing all of her energy in a bottle since I'd seen her last and was now releasing it out into the night. After drinks, by which time I was already a little on the tired side, she expressed a deep longing to do something spontaneous and together we conjured up the makings of an idea which turned out to be playing pool at Namco. My kind of fun.

What happened next I can scarcely recall as I was so incredibly pooped that I became monosyllabic. The white rabbit continued to bounce around frantically though and I followed it to SoHo and beyond, where there was no Christmas, just rows of seedy shops, crowds of drunk people and bars that never closed. At around half past two I had clearly become almost comatose with exhaustion and after some effort to find Ubers, we eventually parted ways.

At the end of the night, I realised it had been exactly a year since our first date and that we'd had almost exactly the same kind of evening.

Saturday, 2 December 2017

#330 What's on my list to Santa?

All I want for Christmas is a new room to rent in South London.

Yesterday evening, I braved the cold to visit the grotto of a grey haired man. He had a helper on hand and I was to sit and tell him what I wanted.

I'd been offered a room in Gipsy Hill. A nice room. With a nice view. A cheap room. With one quiet housemate. For some reason though, I didn't want to take it.

It probably would have made a great early Christmas present but I was scared. Scared because moving was a big change. Risky. Irreversible. It was never going to be like East Dulwich again and I knew it. The train line bothered me too. It was right next to the house. Noise was the only reason I was moving. I'd had an idea though.

John seemed to approve. I'd met up with him and James for a couple of pints, as we always did at this time of year. I'd always respected John. He was now the only school friend I still saw in the flesh. Rob Mac appeared to have reduced his contact to Facebook Messenger only. That said, I hadn't asked him tonight as I wasn't sure how long I'd be out.

The idea I'd had was to ask the landlord if I could spend a night in the room to see if the noise bothered me. My mother had called it cheeky. Perhaps it was. Did I really want to turn into that kind of person?

However, accepting the room knowing I might not be able to sleep there would be foolish. Rejecting it knowing it might be fine also didn't feel right. I wasn't sure if I'd have the guts to ask the question but as it stood, the cheeky plan was the only one on the table.

The thing I wanted most for Christmas was there for me to take but I was going to try it first, to see if it fitted. An unusual yet practical approach.

Friday, 1 December 2017

#329 Avoiding depression during Christmas

I'd only ever been depressed once back when I was a teenager but I knew the holidays could be a difficult time for some people because:

* December's expensive
* Spending time with people pretending to enjoy everything is draining
* You haven't really achieved anything worthwhile this year and you know it
* Greenpeace ruined the Coke advert

I'd been watching some Youtube videos by Jordan Peterson lately, having discovered him this week and one of them was about depression so I figured it could provide some guidance for boosting people's well-being this festive season. It was mainly for men.

Jordan was a stubborn man who had risked expulsion from his academic job by refusing to use gender-neutral pronouns. He had courage. Specifically, he refused to be forced to use GNPs, an important distinction.

A well-read psychologist, Jordan Peterson seemed to stand for male mental health and gave lectures on the subject in a charismatic, practical and humorous style. I immediately recognised his talks as an important counterbalance to some of the more nihilistic content I consumed as part of my information diet.

Peterson divided well-being into five pillars. Work, romance, friendship, health and vices. In a way, all these areas had one thing in common. They were reminders to get back in touch with the world. Timely reminders. Christmas seemed like an ideal time for all of those things. There were always more temporary jobs available in December, it was a romantic time of year, everybody was seeing friends. It wasn't a particularly healthy month but a decent opportunity to make resolutions for next year.

Tonight I'd caught up with some of my sister's old friends. Having seen Emily Underworld's post about Pizza Union at Aldgate, I'd decided to drag them there. That was one of my five pillars covered off. I was healthy as far as I knew and had no addictions so I had three pillars without really trying, which was nice. My first day of Blogmas* was off to a good start.

*Blogmas... a phenomenon whereby bloggers are posting a Christmas-related post for every day of advent.