Sunday 30 November 2014

#91 Priorities

This never-ending list's been overflowing for a while
I've nearly fifty emails, half a dozen voicemails too
It's been so long since we sat down and I could make you smile
but I'd keep working every day, every day for you

That's right, I would work every day
Sunday right through Saturday
I'd work without a holiday
Every day for you

The meetings in the calendar are almost back to back
The keyboard's full of breadcrumbs and the printing's in a queue
Sat here in the office while the sky is turning black
and I'd stay here right round the clock, round the clock for you

Yes I would work right round the clock
Every tick and every tock
I'd even bring a change of sock
In fact I would bring two

My friends are all out having fun. The night is nearly through
This latest draft is not quite done, so still I work for you
It almost feels a waste of time but what else can I do?
I'll just keep working every day. Every day for you.

That's right, I would work every day
Sunday right through Saturday
I'd work without a holiday
Every day for you

Saturday 22 November 2014

#90 End of the road

"Liz, Tom" asked Marc, "if you go out of the house, which direction would you head in to get to the top of the road?"

"Left", answered Liz "because that's where house number one is". 

"It's also where the highest number is" said Marc "but surely if it was just the lowest number, it would be the bottom of the road?"

"Then we'd be saying that the road begins with us" reasoned Liz "and that is a bit arrogant". 

She thought for a moment. "Although if you're climbing a mountain, you start from the bottom and end up at the top".

Marc checked a definition and announced that in the English language, the bottom of something could be the farthest part of it from the observer.

Liz showed some agreement with this but explained that she had thought that the Left end was the top for seven months now and so it was pretty much fixed that way in her brain.

Naino chipped in to say that the top end was where the road met a main road.

Liz seemed to like this idea. "There's more going on at that end of the road" she said. "The other end is a bit rubbish and is not entrancey".

There you have it. Not entrancey.

After work, I sometimes find up to eighty unread Whatsapp messages on themes from how men should get out of the shower to euphemisms that might pass acceptable commentary when playing chess.

Not entrancey.

Saturday 8 November 2014

#89 The dropping of pins

Sasha glanced across the glass bar at the motionless penguin. It was a slow night. Shifting around to face the stage, she brought the black straw up to her mouth and sucked until it gurgled. Some of the other girls were chatting, clustered in their usual cliques. If there'd been a clock in the place, she'd've been aware of the pause in between every single tick.

The thought of her flat mate pushing pasties around in Greggs made her smile although she also realised that she could murder one right now. There were six hours to go. Maybe she could get a snack in her break. With a slowness that she'd learned to the point that it was now unconscious, she got up off of the stool, adjusted her attire slightly and sauntered across to the cloakroom.

"Are you pissed yet?" joked Alexandru. "Maybe because I just saw talking gorilla" she shot back, with no change of expression. "What?" He scoffed, "Ruta, who you think spends more time in the gym, Sasha or me?" The girl smiled but didn't say anything. "Who you think spends more time?" he repeated. "I'm not saying anything" she replied and then quickly changed her mind "You work out to impress Ivana" she stated. A grin spread across the man's face. He didn't reply.

Satisfied with this brief amusement, Sasha walked gracefully back to the bar, adjusted her hair, sat back down on the stool and ordered another vodka lemonade.

Sunday 2 November 2014

#88 Home Alone

Foamy brown suds coated every surface and dripped from every wall. This was the best that the downstairs bathroom had smelled since I'd moved in. I felt like the decision to dilute the bleach with two litres of cola had been a good one.

Placing the new rug and recycling tub in their positions, I took a step back and admired my handiwork. I'd had the whole house to myself this weekend, which I loved. I'd cooked fish cakes, skyped Lela and the twins and watched a ton of Him and Her episodes.

It had been a pretty solid week, the highlights being trips to Toys R Us, which was still good and Mamuska, the Polish restaurant in Elephant and Castle shopping centre. I hadn't had a date in over a month, which these days was borderline unusual but in a way, it was nice to have one less thing to think about.

In the two months to Christmas, I figured I'd focus on work, getting the shopping done and just generally chilling out. December tends to be full of seeing friends and family. I wanted to meet one or two new people before the end of the year though. Perhaps another night out by myself was in order too. There's only a certain extent to which a person can get away with blogging about cleaning the bathroom.

Saturday 25 October 2014

#87 Ok fine, bring it.

Lately I've been giving a lot of thought to stepping up my indulgence in a particular area of socially unacceptable behaviour. The increases in self-awareness and confidence that comes with age are only gifts in strong hands. Unfortunately for all of us, not all pairs of hands are the right ones. Who knows though, maybe I'll get lucky.

In other news this week, I got tasked with a bit more responsibility at work. Actually I asked for it. It's necessarily a good thing. There's little benefit of looking over one's shoulder during a run. This isn't a run though. It's a fucking rat race.

Speaking of races, our dear new housemate (who was already our mate) took Liz and I out to the new Peckham Rye Parkrun at eight thirty this morning. Why is it lately that everyone's dragging me out for runs? It was awesome though. I mean, the second lap was pure hardship but it was awesome if that makes any sense. It will to some. While I ran, I thought about a girl over whom briefly I'd held an umbrella last month. So what if that's the happy place that my mind went to? It was a nice image. 

Sunday 19 October 2014

#86 There's nothing quite like a 10k

I wasn't sure how I felt about McDonald's using their children's charity to sell burgers. On one hand, it might encourage people to give. On the other, maybe there was something inhumane about the link between suffering kids and a conscienceless fast food business. 

Jamie Oliver might agree that McDonald's contribution to the global epidemic of dietry related diseases grossly overshadowed any positive impact of its charity campaign. In short, you'd be better off not going there in the first place. Unless of course, you're ordering carrot sticks... or a fruit bag... milk, water, tea, coffee, orange juice... or you're just going in there to use the facilities although you really should buy something if you're going to do that.

It's 9:05am on a Sunday and I'm on a train to Orpington to run 10k because this is how my dad most wanted to celebrate his 59th birthday. I was out last night checking out this new bar in Peckham, where some bunch of farmer lookalikes have got in some old American arcade machines and craft ales. Hauling my ass onto the replacement bus to London Bridge at eight thirty this mornig was less fun although McDonald's at London Bridge was open so at least I've had breakfast.

Saturday 11 October 2014

#85 Tiger Tiger

It wasn't that I'd intentionally lied to my friends. I'd worked the tail off of a donkey this week and instead of spending time making small talk, I just wanted to go home, do some laundry and go to bed. Then it got to about 4pm, I changed my mind and wanted to go out alone.

Lately I prefer the tube to the train. It's warmer. I made my way north of the river and over to Picadilly. "Evening" said the bouncer outside Tiger Tiger. "Have you got friends inside?" I paused for a minute, tempted to ask how I could possibly know. "No, no" I replied with quasi innocent breeziness. He checked my ID and waved me in.

This was a pokey little place compared to its Portsmouth cousin. The tunes were good but I got bored and decided to see what Covent Garden had to offer instead.

As I started walking away from Tiger Tiger, I realised I had a stitch. I tried to walk it off but it just wouldn't go away. So I sat on a wall for a while to rest. A girl came over and talked to me about God for half an hour. Afterwards I still had a stitch and was feeling rather tired so decided to go home for food and sleep.

This wasn't quite the colourful night that I'd imagined. I wondered if I might try it again sometime.

Saturday 4 October 2014

#84 Nando's

"Third floor, walk in like you belong, get the lift just on the side of reception". It had been a while since I'd set foot in a university. We dress down in the office on Fridays. My backpack was corporate issue but it did the job. I came out of the lift and stared blankly for a moment at the members of the classroom opposite. A few looked back. Swallowing and putting my phone up to my mouth, I unsubtly looked at the room directions on the side wall before wandering off down the hall. Room 325. 

"Hey :)" said a familiar face. Her expression quickly changed. "It's never ending! I think I'll be here another hour". "It's ok" I replied, plonking myself down in a wheely chair. "Here, you can read if you want". She passed me The Writer's Book Of Hope by Ralph Keyes. I spent twenty minutes skim-reading it. It was ok. A pretty good crash summary of the challenges of writing and the qualities needed to meet them.

I was in a happy enough mood but carried inside a sadness, from a decision to let go of something earlier in the week. Something beautiful. I'd been holding onto it but had felt uncomfortable and uncertain. I didn't even really know why. I just...

Maybe this extra extra hot sauce would help. We'd decided on Nando's as the Marquis of Cornwallis was completely packed. I poured the bottle over some meat and a few chips and let the fiery chilli dance around the inside of my mouth for as long as I dared. We ate until we were both completly stuffed. Before leaving, I went up for a refill of Coke Zero. I mean why not? It was Friday night after all.

Saturday 20 September 2014

#83 A Friday night in September

"I just walked past you" I texted, as I walked up towards the ticket barrier. "Want to go for a drink?" came the response. "Ok". I started walking back down towards the crossroads. Looking around for some black hair in a leather jacket, I felt my pocket vibrate. "I'm near the steps down to Borough Market, where are you?" I trotted over the road, dodging traffic in an attempt to look cool and daring.

Anna was very apologetic about blanking me and was grateful to have a buddy on the scene as she waited for her friend, who was apparently already hammered somewhere. So we started to chat whilst waiting for the drinks. All of my friends who are teachers complain about the stress of the job. It's perfectly understandable. In theory, an educator should be able to mark papers between 3.30pm and 5pm and plan lessons during those extra weeks of holiday that they get. In reality it doesn't work anything like this. For one thing, marking thirty students' work takes a long, long time. Evenings and weekends start to disappear under a mountain of papers and when they finally get time off, they've lost touch with some of their friends and have to try to pick up with them again.

"How long does it take to pour a large G&T?" Still, it was refreshing to hang out in a proper London boozer. Lets face it, most pubs have become a bit camp these days. Is a burger still a burger when it's so delicately placed under the obligatory lettuce, tomato and onion, skewered between a brioche and forced to sit on a chopping board instead of proper tableware? If you listen carefully enough, you can hear the chips crying that their souls were destroyed somewhere between the second and third fry.

The drinks finally arrived, brought over by what looked like a student on his way to a farmers' themed fancy dress party? No, like I said, this was a real pub. I think they had Amstel but I opted for Fosters. Could you get Amstel in British pubs twenty years ago? I don't know. We had a bit of a gossip about work, friends, dating, the house, recent weddings and then went our separate ways. The fading warmth of summer lingered in the air as I wandered up the road towards the station. My own work had provided just the usual sort of challenges that I'd needed to sustain and simultaneously drain me over the course of five days. I felt ok though. Maybe I'd go for a run tomorrow.

Sunday 7 September 2014

#82 Some thoughts and a book review

It was a phrase that my soulmate had echo'd time and time again
I wondered when I would ever listen
A grape would kill itself trying to be a nut
It's squishy and not hard enough
The other nuts would never understand
A grape may of course harden over time but it will never be a nut
A nut will equally never be a grape
It is hard and strong but it lacks sweetness and will never gain it

The last slice of pizza sat on the plate, mocking me
This wasn't the day to be a hero
I'd probably end up refrigerating it
That's my pizza

o O o

The Art of Happiness is a book based on interviews between Dr Howard Cutler and the Dalai Lama. Tibet's exiled spiritual leader spends much of his time philosophising and dispensing general advice. He may not be technically qualified to do so. His speeches and advice may not be rooted in established educational theory. This is because his teachings are not scientific in nature.

If a person wished to solve a practical problem, learn about a historical event, obtain a medical diagnoses or treatment, they should approach experts in these areas.The role and advice of a Buddhist monk is more akin to that of a mother or father. Comforting. His recommendations will be based on his own perspective and life experience.

The monk may be a worthy person to talk to about happiness and well-being. He routinely spends hours contemplating warmth and compassion. Studies, using MRI scans and electrodes, have shown increased activity in the parts of the monks' brains that are associated with feelings of contentment.

Happiness might be recognised as an art rather than a science, as what makes one person happy may not work for another. It may not even make sense to the other person. Perhaps the monk can be compared to an artist, who, through practise, has become particularly good at envisioning an image that is beautiful to him.

Sunday 31 August 2014

#81 India

When Rich met Lisha three years ago in London, I wonder if he started to imagine what the marriage ceremony might be like. It's entirely possible that he did. Still, for all of us that flew to the south Indian state of Kerala for the wedding this weekend, it was a special event.

We arrived several days before the weekend and spent a day and a half shopping for clothing, including a trip to the city of Kochi's largest and finest silk store. Scores of brightly coloured maidens and young men flocked to assist and tailor our garments, which we chose from the many bright and golden materials adorning the walls of the store.

Before shopping, we ate at a restaurant next to the silk store. Fish curry is popular in Kerala and the chefs like to use a lot of coconut in their dishes. The locals eat with their right hand, which we did later during our stay. For now, we tentatively requested forks.

The wedding itself took place over a day and a half, in the jungle town of Muvattupazha. It was monsoon season, so umbrellas were provided, even when walking to the coaches that ferries us between between the hotel, the church and the bride's parents' house. They had been there for a month already, decorating their home and arranging for the two hundred guests several three course meals and many ceremonies and entertainments. There were dancers, singers, musicians and fire jugglers. At the church, we were greeted by rows of drummers and a large decorated elephant.

Some of the local customs were unusual. The hotel waiters sometimes only took orders from the men at the table and even when asked for things by the women, brought them to the men. The rice pudding dessert was spicy. The hotel elevator contained a light switch, so you could ascend the floors in total darkness. That last one was kinda cool.

India is a dirty, smelly, over-populated and materialistic country. It is also beautiful and raw. The people are sincere, polite, hard-working and have an admirable appreciation of family and spirit. Kochi is a growing city and hopefully in the next five to ten years, development of its massive above-ground metro will be complete.

This week, I have enjoyed being wealthy (a decent restaurant meal costs between £2 and £4) and stared at like a celebrity as I walk around (I saw two other white people in the city this week outside of the wedding guests). Most of the locals were very friendly. The city, particularly the mainland, is pretty much untouched by tourism and is a very safe place to visit.

Sunday 24 August 2014

#80 Bank holiday weekend

Uncertainty, my strangest friend
You're back again, just like before
Wherever did you come from?
Wherever did you go?

Every time, you leave a trail
Your cargo heavy like a snail
I hope one day, I will prevail
But when I do not know

We like to wrestle here and there
and I'm on top when it begins
Somehow my old friend always wins
and then he goes away

One day I'll wake up next to you
and still not knowing what to do
will hug you till the moment's through
Cause that's all friends can ever do.

Saturday 9 August 2014

#79 The Inbetweeners 2

I was pretty excited about watching the latest Inbetweeners movie. I hadn't been to the cinema since the last Harry Potter film was released three years ago but the promise of well-established characters being transferred into yet another predictable environment lured me back. If some typical English boys' transitions to maturity being drawn out well into their twenties in a light-hearted way didn't put London's keisters on its seats then I didn't know what would.

Sitting through the trailers, I at once realised what I'd been missing. Bill Murray, at 63 was playing some layabout loser, who liked to knock back the liquor. There was a film with that Irish guy from the IT crowd in it. Oh and another film about a big maze. I did in fact want to watch more of all of them but I wasn't sure how long the novelty of each would last.

That was definitely the problem of cinema for me. My life may have appeared intolerably dull to an outsider but inside my own mind, I was constantly surfing a never-ending wave of circular thoughts, fuelled largely by work, sleep, fast food, my own mortality and shortcomings and near-constant internet access. Whenever a two hour film came along, I automatically became bored half-way through and wanted to play with my phone. Except that I couldn't because I was in a sodding cinema. In the middle of a row.

I laughed quite a lot up until that point and overall I thought it was a fine movie. It was absurdly unrealistic right from the start. This was a good example of a film not being quite true to the original series that preceeded it, which was pretty much a horrifyingly realistic portrayal of sixth-form life, at least at the school that I went to. A relatively entertaining effort to milk the show nonetheless.

Sunday 27 July 2014

#78 Passing Go

Rolling over, I lifted the pair of black boxers off of the top of the alarm clock to reveal the unforgiving glow of the numbers 11:47. "That's actually not too bad" I thought to myself as I writhed back into my original position in the bed. Realising that this made me nauseous, I rolled again so that my head was lower and slightly over the edge of the bedside. With one arm reaching down, I pressed the phone and started swiping through the morning post. Couple of comments on last night's photos. 

By around 3pm I was feeling better and walked leisurely into town for a set 1 fry-up. That's the one with just one sausage, one egg, one rasher, some beans, a solitary little hash brown and some toast. It would be awesome if English cafes served American style hash browns. It was pretty much as hot as it had been yesterday. I grabbed a coconut juice on the way back to the house and searched around for some kind of ginger cake. Ended up settling for a Barney, the bear-shaped cake with chocolate in the middle.

I spent most of the rest of the day fiddling about with the Indian visa application, checking I had the documents, printing the forms, getting photo paper, printing the photo, measuring it, resizing it, printing it again, etc. Organising adventures is boring.

Monday 14 July 2014

#77 Flashback

The first big party that I ever went to was out at some girl’s parents’ house in the middle of nowhere. My friend’s dad had to drive us out through the countryside to the house. It was cool though, with a pool and a massive garden. Hard to believe her parents were letting her have free reign. They weren't coming back 'til later. To be honest, I was nervous on the drive up there. This wasn’t some gathering of close friends in my bedroom. It was a proper party with tons of the coolest and baddest people from the local comprehensive, hot girls and big, pint cans of beer. My friend and I had cautiously taken six packs of half pint cans. At the risk of looking sad, we didn’t dare to walk around drinking pints. We were still young and had no real idea of how much we could handle. This didn’t stop some of the other guests.

It was 10pm and Dan Bryant was staggering around with a large can of lager in his hand. He spotted my tiny little half-cans and sniggered as he passed me. Dan was one of the stockier guys in our year. He had a rough edge, on account of being raised in a pub. Another consequence of this was his diet. It wasn’t uncommon for Dan to get through three packs of crisps in a day. Apparently he once managed a dozen packs. I cheekily suggested that his beer can was the same one that he’d been carrying around since the party started several hours ago. He sternly denied it and trotted off down the garden. I think I’d hurt his feelings or something.

Back in one of the tents, one girl was in a bad way. She’d necked part or all of a small bottle of neat vodka and had started throwing up. When I heard this, I strolled over to see what was going on. I found her lying on her side, practically unconscious, except that she vomited out a small amount of hard, yellow goo. It looked like dough or something. One of the guests called for an ambulance, which eventually came and took the girl away to have her stomach pumped. Why was Ben laughing? It didn’t seem the most appropriate time. I asked him this question. He just looked at me and laughed. I asked him if he was drunk, which he obviously was. He just carried on laughing. I grabbed one of my friends and brought him over. “Hey look at Ben. He’s just sitting around laughing at everything”. Ben looked at me, smiling. Then he looked over at my friend. Then he looked back at me. Then back over at my friend. Then he just burst into another fit of laughter. We couldn’t get a word out of him. I’d never seen anyone enjoy a party so much.

The party girl’s parents didn’t have much more luck in getting Ben to talk at the end of the night. They’d arrived home to find their garden messed up, an ambulance parked in their driveway and some half cans of beer spilling out into the pool as they slowly bobbed up and down on the surface of the water. “Ben, what’s your parents’ phone number?” “0…” Ben replied, paralytic. “We’re gonna need more than that fella” they urged. “0…” he replied, eyes closed as he lay in the deckchair with his arms down by his side. “0…”. They never got it out of him and had to wait until Ben’s parents’ car pulled up at around midnight.

Sunday 6 July 2014

#76 The self-help industry: a two sided coin

On Saturday morning, I went with a friend to the Excel centre to check out a personal development seminar. The lead speakers were Duncan Bannatyre, Les Brown and Chris Gardner from the movie The Pursuit of Happiness. It was a pretty packed event, full of small business owners, mostly in their thirties and over. It was my first time at something like this.

First up was Duncan, who had a pretty good story to tell, from his first job as a paperboy right the way up to property management. He'd had a couple of scuffles along the way and described with shameless bravado how he hospitalised a fellow trader during his time as an ice cream salesman and then later misled his bank manager by convincing able-bodied members of the public to occupy beds in his nursing home so that it looked full. I remembered how Richard Branson similarly wrote in his autobiography about ilegaly evading tax on the records that he transported across the channel in his early Virgin Records days. Overall though, the Duncan seemed to be a legitimately good businessman and his Scottish accent lent charm to his story.

I enjoyed Les Brown's talk too. The guy had a good sense of humour and I don't have a problem with listening to encouraging soundbytes underpinned by common sense. It's a signature routine of an industry whose followers are convinced that they know the true power of belief, especially when it's accompanied by a few practical tips. Like religion, the critics see no proof that it works. In a sense, they are right and for every celebrity that loudly endorses their own accomplishments as an example, there are many others who wouldn't bother for the same reason that only a minority of the attendees at these events will become very rich. After all, if every bee were a Queen, there's be no-one out collecting the honey. 

I ended up missing Chris as I had to leave for a friend's BBQ. In between Duncan and Les, was a chap that purported to be the world's leading authority on public speaking. I doubted whether Duncan or Les had used his services but knowing how to speak to groups was doubtless a good skill for business people to have. What concerned me was how this guy managed to hype up half the crowd and get them to flock up to the stage in order to convince some of them to buy his product during the next ten minutes. I'd already decided to stay seated when he announced sincerely that his DVDs were worth £5k... but that he'd offer them right now for just £100. I found this mildly amusing. Somehow he'd managed to amass a personal fortune without having any understanding of basic economics. I hate being marketed at. Especially at 9am on a Saturday.

I think the encouragement and general messages are mostly ok though if correctly interpreted and can sometimes be put to good use. My own experience of self-help is after listening to a load of Tony Robbins' audio a few years back, I ran a marathon, started dating and decided to move some savings around to get a better interest rate (which I use to justify the purchase of the audio, since I made more than I spent). Still, maybe I would have done those things anyway. Maybe it was my friends Mark and Tim that really inspired me to do all that running. 

A full day's or week's course run by some millionaire who knows NLP shouldn't be compared with an MBA, a doctorate, natural talent or good old fashioned hard work but such courses have their place in society. At the very least, they do provide some tips, inspiration and enthusiasm for business owners and others that need somewhere to turn to. I had fun at the seminar and might go to another one sometime. Self-help content, if consumed, should be done so responsibly, with a healthy amount of skepticism and as part of a varied diet and an active lifestyle.

Saturday 28 June 2014

#75 The journey continues

Collapsing into a kneeling position on the cobbled concrete, I pulled my hands up to meet each other and said a few words of thanks, aloud, for the experience that I'd just had. I felt invigorated and filled with gratitude. Certainly not for the fact that I'd failed to do this ten seconds earlier, when the passing groups of people had been a few yards closer. 

I always felt self conscious praying in public. I wondered if I'd ever really be be comfortable with it. The busiest place I could think of was Oxford Street. On a Saturday. If I could get there and move myself to the side, so as not to obstruct the shoppers, I could kneel and pray. They'd see me doing it, this personal thing, in public but harmless and perfectly legal.

I already knew that this sort of behaviour would make me a better person, so what was stopping me? Fear, obviously. A fear of... being judged? Perhaps it was reasonable. People did judge those who practiced religion. What would the outcome be? Maybe I'd feel slightly more courageous for a second or two. Some passers by might see a person praying and reflect upon it briefly. Maybe they'd wonder to themselves whether this person was underprivileged or part of a cult. They might, for an instant, upon observing that the person's approach to religion was different from their own, if they had one. Then, almost inevitably, they'd reason that their approach worked best for them, or they'd decide that they didn't really care about it that much anyway and then they'd think about something else. 

Of course, I was just guessing about the outcome. What would happen to a person if they prayed aloud, on Oxford Street, for ten minutes? An hour? A day? Would they get interrupted? How many people would see it? How many people's thoughts would be impacted? Would a very small percentage of those people give some consideration to whether they had the courage to do it themselves?

Saturday 21 June 2014

#74 Goodge Street

"Craft beer ho!" I leapt onto the train. It was six o'clock and I was heading uptown for a rendezvous with the notorious crew. "No girls allowed" according to the Facebook chat. That was just how we liked it. Deep in some musty corner of a north London public house, Ditch, Burrows, Shiel and I gathered to sup Portobello brewed suds and discuss the finer points of girls, football and social politics.

Rumour had it that the fabled Chunderland FC, our shelved six-a-side team, might be resurrected by its former captain to grace the leagues of Southwark this summer. Into the night we plotted until merrily we stumbled across the road and fell into the appreciative lap of London's cheapest pizza parlour. 

Shiel and I mooted the return of Keira, the house cat, from the prospective marital home of my old house mate. He agreed to return her the next day. Tomato and pepperoni churned vigorously about the lad's pieholes. As it turned out, she hadn't caught any mice but had been an effective deterrent nevertheless. This was the sort of job to which Keira was perfectly suited. A role where she could sit on her fat ass all day looking pretty. We paid her in cat food and cuddles. 

After eating, we headed back to the pub for a couple more and then parted ways. There would be more meetings like this. Ditch's craving for obscure brands of alcohol knew no bounds and before too long, it would be time again for it to spread it's wings and fly out into the night, searching for the perfect prey on which to feed.

Sunday 8 June 2014

#73 Life finds a way

It started with a few small bugs appearing in the downstairs bathtub, each one about 2mm long. I wasn't quite sure what they were or where they came from. They appeared to be some variety of beetle. Fascinating. I washed them down the drain, brushed my teeth and went to bed. That was the first day.

"Rich" I called, "they're back". My housemate wandered in to have a look. There were about two dozen of the little black things crawling around the tub. I realised that they had wings but they never actually seemed to fly, unless they saved this special talent for when nobody was looking. We started to wonder where they hatched and whether they could survive in water. Rich boiled the kettle and gave the latest arrivals a temperature shock, which cleared the second wave.

It wasn't long before the weekend arrived. I usually cleaned one of the rooms of the house each week and decided to check out the downstairs bathroom. This time they weren't just in the bath but crawling over the floor and up the walls. There must have been about fifty in total, scattered around the room. "Not bad" I thought, admiring the species' resilience and explorational tendencies. Grabbing the vacuum cleaner, I whizzed around the room, clearing every critter in sight. Two hours later, they were back.

During the week, I was up in my room and heard a couple of guys muttering to each other downstairs. Pulling a four iron out of my golf bag, I crept up to my bedroom door and listened to their conversation. It turned out that they'd been sent by the estate agent to check out some damp patches in the house, as well as the bugs. Shoving back the club, I headed down to talk to them. They had a couple of ideas about resolving the bug situation but would have to speak to the estate agent. Meanwhile, Naomi had ordered some bug traps but they hadn't arrived yet.

By the time the weekend came, the kitchen was covered with ants. Maybe they'd been feeding on the beetle larvae. The tiny insects had spread themselves out fearlessly across the floor, while the larger flying ants swooped, dived and crash-landed about the scene. I'd often seen ants form a trail towards food but these guys were just scattering themselves from one side of the room to the other. They didn't seem to be after anything in particular.

After vacuuming up most of the insects from the kitchen and emptying the contents the furthest down the road that I had yet emptied them, I kettled the bathtub one more time. Then, I sprinkled a solid line of baby powder right the way around the outside of the kitchen, creating a perimeter inside which the bugs hopefully wouldn't crawl. Even Keira realised what was going on and gingerly stepped her paws over the powder rather than messing it up. Later that evening, I checked the kitchen. The baby powder method appeared to have created a bug free zone, at least for the time being. With satisfaction, I put away the kettle, vacuum cleaner and baby powder and headed to bed, hoping that the traps would arrive the next morning.

Monday 2 June 2014

#72 Unplanned leave

"I promise I can change"... "No! You can't!" she cried. "You're not capable of changing and I can't do this anymore". "Wow" I thought, drawing a deep breath and lying back on the sofa. "I'm going for a shower" my friend called. "Do you want me to change the channel?" "No I'm ok actually", I hollered back. "I kind of want to find out what happens to these stupid Chelsea people next". "See, you love it!" She told me, grinning. I had to admit, it was kind of amusing.

There was something about watching those spoiled, good looking kids talk to each other about their relationship issues that I found comforting. Their unrealistically well-timed dialogues reassured me that there was something fake about what they were going through, or at least the way that it was being portrayed. "I mean how can he say he loves me and then cheat on me four times, one of which was an orgy?" "Five times" said her friend "Oh yeah, five times" she replied, remembering.

The four day week had been my last at work before a fortnight of annual leave. Typically, I hadn't arranged much for my time off, having hardly thought past finishing off some work and tidying my room. I'd spent part of the week wondering what my South American friend thought of the idea that I go visit her. It was a pretty last-minute idea that I'd brought up about a week before and I hadn't heard much back on the subject, so it looked like I'd be remaining in Blighty for a couple of weeks. 

Friends and colleagues had asked what my plans were. I replied honestly that I hadn't really made any. "I shall simply do whatsoever I feel like" I answered. I then realised that this in itself might be some kind of plan but was able to reason that if I wasn't completely sure a) what I felt like doing and b) whether I'd in fact do whatever it was that I felt like doing after I'd identified it, then I could probably sleep safe in the knowledge that I hadn't planned my time off. I liked this thought. It made me feel like anything was possible. In actual fact, a lot of things would have required planning in order to be possible. As a determinist, it occurred to me that whatever I'd end up doing was effectively planned anyway but as a human, I knew that in order to be stimulated by it, I'd have to have uncertainty as regards to the unfolding of events and this was, I suspect, the main reason for my lack of planning.

Sunday 25 May 2014

#71 Sit back and turn up the volume

It was the second bank holiday weekend in May. I lay on a futon, that I had dragged out into the garden, to soak up some of the sun that had appeared, boldly, for that one day in the week and as I lay there, I reflected on the variance in my moods of late and the sense of wellbeing that I had come across at times. I could remember very little about the first few days of the week, except that I was profoundly happy. So unusual was it to find this level of happiness, let alone an unbroken three day run of it that I sought to question it.

My understanding of sources of happiness was limited. My parents, by nature it seemed were both happy people and I knew that a certain amount of a person's emotional palette was genetically determined. Tony Robbins, the American self-help guru would explain that happiness could be achieved through progress towards ones goals and contribution by helping others. The likes of OSHO, an Indian mystic, would argue that happiness didn't need to come from anything and that it was in our nature to be happy. In fact, he would say, if a person tries to achieve happiness, they will usually miss out on it, unless they find it in the pursuit of that achievement but even then it will evaporate when the goal is reached. Happiness is not an achievement, it's about realising that things are fine as they are.

My own experience of happiness was that it had come simply from an absence of problems. Work was going ok, health was ok, parents and sister were ok. In truth I had never really had any problems in my easy life but I tended to commit the sin of creating plenty in my own mind, even when they didn't really exist. Perhaps my brain felt like having a break for once and just letting itself be happy. The sunshine was certainly helping. 

Sunday 18 May 2014

#70 Party party

"Cards Against Humanity is a party game for horrible people. Unlike most of the party games you've played before, Cards Against Humanity is as despicable and awkward as you and your friends". It was about eight o'clock and to get the guests chuckling with a mix of suppressed glee and guilt, Naino had launched us into the most politically incorrect form of entertainment since Trey Parker and Matt Stone started playing with little 2D eight year olds and filming it. Fortunately, the young, white, heterosexual and able-bodied group of friends around the table were inherently unlikely to be offended by any of the inappropriate sentences encountered. They were the exact target audience at which the game was aimed, which is of course, why they found themselves playing it. It helped that Naino had spent four hours that week diligently cutting up the little cards, which you can find myah.

In one particular episode of House, the maverick doctor diagnoses what he refers to as the world's first case of human parthenogenesis, a virgin birth, to a woman who I think didn't want her husband to find out that she'd been cheating on him. Hugh Laurie's character explains how one other case was theorised, referring of course to Jesus. A friend informed me this weekend that there are in fact many reported cases of virgin births worldwide and most interestingly, many more than can generally be explained by the human propensity to lie, a factor to which House usually gave a great deal of respect.

Friday 9 May 2014

#69 Pomp it up

"We're across the road in Wetherspoons" texted Rich. "Cripes, you're starting early" I replied. When I got there, he was sipping a coffee. The minibus turned up and took us to Go Ape, that thing where you climb up trees and then walk across rope bridges on a safety line. Activities that can be enjoyed by both kids and adults are generally not appropriate for stag weekends, with the possible exceptions of karting and paintballing. Still, we tried to be creative by bailing up hay and holly at the bottom of the zip lines so that the next person smashed into it at the bottom. Don't do this yourself.

By 2pm, we were done pretending to live dangerously. The minibus weaved through the country roads of Kent and we started boozing. Rob stood above Rich with a look of complete concentration as he tightened the gimp mask around the stag's head from whence hung the One Direction dog tag that I'd picked up in Tesco moments earlier. We sank a few cans and eventually checked into Portsmouth's Ibis Budget for more pres. Rich was langered at this point. The ship came into the harbour and brought with it all kinds of shite, including shots of some really bleurghy rum but it was ok my brothers cause we were about to head to the Chinese buffet.

Kind of knowing where the three cabs we'd ordered were but also kind of not, we hobbled across the city and gave them a ring to give our locations. The drivers turned up about five minutes apart from each other as we strolled but they found us. Rich's phone had been confiscated by one of the lads, who posted an ultrasound foetus pic on his Facebook wall, which the others then started to congratulate. Rich drunkenly led me towards the buffet and then hurried to the John to chuck for the next hour and a half before a couple of boys took him back to the hotel. We hit the pub and then the club.

I found Brightwell and Stu in the corner next to the treasure chest of cocktails Yates had layed on, got rid of a couple of them and helped out with the fishbowl before staggering off to do some dancing on my own somewhere. The bass line thudded from the floor below but it hadn't started to fill up yet, so I wandered around and around, occasionally rendezvousing with Rob, who also likes to wander around clubs on his own. There can be only one but I don't really mind if the other one's Rob. So. We danced. The awesome thing about this place, if you don't know it that well, is that there's another massive club through the door on the other side of one of the blokes' toilets. You could probably spend a night there and not notice it. There is another entrance somewhere but it's a big place. Anyway, we found it and went in there and bounced around for a while.

At about 1:30, we were back outside. The night was still young but we wanted chips. Leaping up onto the plastic garbage bins without falling through them, I made my way around the back of the carpark and met up with two of the guys. The McDonald's drive-thru wasn't buying our impression of a car and told us we had to be in one, so we called a taxi, took it through and then parked up. Sitting in the foyer of the Ibis Budget eating chips, we started to weigh up whether to head out again and decided to. Different sort of club. By 4am, I'd handed over the last of the cash and stuck some stuff on card. We grabbed a cab back to the hotel, set an alarm for a few hours later and collapsed into bed.

Saturday 26 April 2014

#68 Nearer the river

The light coming in through the blinds showed that the sun was setting over another day in Rotherhithe. It was Saturday evening and I lay sprawled on the sofa, playing with the phone and drinking beer, while my new friend bustled about in the kitchen making dinner. We chatted a bit while she cooked and it was just nice. It reminded me of the great conversations that we'd had during our first few dates the week before.

Leaving the flat for a while to go food shopping had been a good idea and I loved the smell of the garlic and herb mixture thrown over the chicken that we were about to devour. I'd missed a few meals during the week and a hell of a lot of sleep. For a moment, I started thinking about home. How the new housemates were getting along, whether the cat had been fed.

Dance music blared out from the speakers as the girl of good taste shovelled chicken and salad onto the plates. After eating, we cracked open the two bars of chocolate we'd picked out. Hers with strawberry yoghurt, mine full of hazelnuts. She had some more baking to do before the evening was out but assured me she'd be done by around ten or eleven. I lay back on the sofa, got out the phone and started writing as I watched her knead the dough. One more night here wouldn't hurt.

Friday 18 April 2014

#67 Easter weekend

I wouldn't normally kill a mosquito. It sat there, inverted, on the ceiling, next to me in the shower, perving quietly. It was early season and I really didn't want it to bite me as I washed myself. Looking around for something to use, my eyes passed over the narrow shampoo bottles and the fragile mirror, stopping on the pack of disposable razors. Poised for a couple of seconds, I darted my arm upwards, fast, smashing the pack against the ceiling. One of the razors passed through the plastic, cutting me slightly.

Our conversations had diminished lately and I was in a sad mood. Back upstairs, I flicked the stereo up to a high volume and threw open the window, staring outside towards the clouds. My spirits gently lifted just a little bit as I let the music pour over me, standing there drying and looking to the horizon. 

Forgive me for the stuff I've done wrong. Don't let me over-think every aspect of the rest of my life and let the sun shine warm and brightly this summer for a change. I lay on the bed, thinking and writing until the feedback between the phone and the stereo flared up again, creating a siren-like sound. It was time to get up.

#66 A familiar part of the city

"Hey!" I said, beaming, as my Turkish friend made her way into the bar. It had been more than six months since I first stepped through the door of her apartment. Tonight, as it happened, it was her that needed the hug. We pulled up chairs next to the group of friends that I'd abandoned a few moments earlier and ordered some obscure beers.

The next couple of hours were spent mulling and philosophising over the usual stuff; friends, work, relationships. Coincidentally, in his quest to find a pub serving a good selection of ales, Rich had picked one very near her building. She'd just gotten back from a date by the time I made the call. My friend looked healthy and seemed in good spirits overall. She'd had proposals from two gentlemen lately and I spent a comical couple of seconds over-analysing how impressed I should come across at the revelation but this was all good news.

"Don't spend too much time chatting online" she cautioned sagely, "cause you can never fully know a person that way. It's not a true interaction". I decided to try and keep my own counsel on the subject, on which I was also arguably an expert. I might even reach Gladwell's 10,000 hours of online chat in this lifetime. I also loved chatting online. It could at time be a strange, intense, habitual kind of love but this wasn't that what the internet was for?

Apparently her flat had become cluttered again, so I offered to help her with some of the lifting and tidying, my other area of developing proficiency. "It's ok for now. Maybe at some point" she said. As we walked out of the bar, I turned to say goodnight to a couple of other friends. When I turned back around, she had vanished. I gave her a quick call, just to say goodnight and that it was good to see her and jogged off to the tube station.

Saturday 29 March 2014

#65 Measuring up

It was appraisal season at work so people were scurrying about collecting feedback and setting up meetings. Season is not an exaggeration. Every year, the firm's thousands of employees are taken through a process that lasts several months, culminating in remuneration discussions in the summer. The feedback flowed like the rain in Forest Gump's Vietnam tour. Sometimes it came down from above, sometimes in from the side and sometimes it even came up from underneath us.

I was in my element at this time of year and loved nothing better than to sit back and write about my colleagues, all their greatest qualities and achievements and any areas in which I thought they could do better. It occurred to me that not everyone felt the same way. I think a lot of people get frustrated by the assessments because they take up a lot of time and don't directly make anyone any money.

In a large company, reviewing and grading people properly can be a challenge. People work on various different projects and don't just report to one person. To get around this, each person is assigned an independent manager, whose job is to collect and review feedback across the range of jobs on which the person works. The objectives that they have to meet on those jobs are aligned to a set of core competencies, several of which are going to be needed in any job, such as courage and integrity, technical knowledge, client focus and relationship building.

I expect that there are a lot of ways to review people. For me, a thorough process and meaningful discussions are part of what makes somewhere a great place to work and help to make a person feel valued.

Sunday 23 March 2014

#64 Back to basics

Sunday was a day of rest. I figured I'd earned it too. I'd gotten plenty of work done during the week, plus all of the usual cleaning and ironing of the weekend. Lela and I had been getting along well and stayed up until around 3am chatting on the Friday night. The surprise party for Kev's 30th on Saturday was a lot of fun too. I'd bumped into another old friend on the train home. A kid, that I'd called Kicker on the first day of school on account of his shoes. The name stuck on the schoolbus for the next six years.

So on Sunday morning, I lounged around in bed for a while and watched Moneyball. It's a pretty good film. At least I thought so and it scored 94% on Rotten Tomatoes too.

None of this makes for cinematic blogging but the year is young. In the evening, I just made some pasta. There wasn't quite enough tomato sauce but after throwing in a load of garlic, olive oil, chilli and basil it was just about ok. In some ways cooking for one is a lot easier.

Sunday 16 March 2014

#63 Friendship from a distance

It's a new morning, flip up the laptop, check if she wrote back
Eyes barely open, or if it's nearer, checking the phone
The second alarm, a reminder to stagger towards some hot water
Slowly waking, still imagining that we're not alone
A quick glance back at the clock as I'm dressing
Thank god for the urgency of work. 
Cause not that many things make time fly when you're missing a soulmate
Trying to concentrate, head down, drown out the gossip from a few desks over
Check over some numbers, write a few lines and get it all sorted
Thoughts drifting, my eyes shifting briefly, outside into space
Somewhere really far now she's probably waking
The phone rings and it's back to the task at hand
Nearly lunch, grab the phone and head over
to that area I found on the side of the canteen that has reception
Chicken's tasting good for a change, network in range, feel a bit strange
as I take a quick photo, take a look and send it over
Get back down quick, meetings, emails, telephone calls
Checking the phone as I stroll out the building 
and on the train, sometimes as I walk or back in the lounge
switch back to laptop, chat as the sun sets, what shall we eat next?
while Rich plays videogames in the background
wishing her goodnight, turn out the light, let's hope my thoughts pause for sleep
cause this hill can be steep, up and down but never flat and nobody knows
quite what's at the top or how deep the rabbit hole goes
close friends for seven months and it shows
in the way we message every day, sometimes for hours on end
sometimes for hours on end
debating our latest feelings, what we've been up to or how nice her hair is
the weather outside, her dad's new ride, the moon and the tide
persistently keeping it open, constantly believing and hoping
against the cynics and the critics, the norm and the difference of time
that we'll have our time
for however long, right or wrong or what happens after she's gone
in this space we are the masters
nobody comes close, accepts us more or feels more sure
hardcore to the core, the connection is pure, sometimes think about more
eyes wandering between the pavement and the sky
moving through the usual crowd as they pass by
deserving no more than a fleeting glance
between work, family, friends and the occasional run
and the possibilities that lie undiscovered under the sun
cause you don't meet the right person, you be the right person
try or die, it's never perfect but at least I don't lie
some days are good, some bad
constantly missing all the things that we never had
watch this space but be patient cause this isn't a race
It's hot outside, I might go for a walk.

Monday 10 March 2014

#62 Maple maple maplelicious

"I got milk. You got the eggs, right?" I asked Naino after work. I knew she had eggs. Despite wondering which side of the use by date they were hovering around, I was pretty excited. It's not often that we eat as a house and it's not often that British people eat pancakes. Rich was home, Barbs was on her way and Naino CBA to go to badminton that night, so we were all set. In fact she'd already made the mixture.

It wasn't long before I was scraping a piece of half-cooked batter off of the hob. "If you're going to toss it, you've got to go all in. You learn these things" she said. "Did you learn it when you messed up the first one?" I asked. We were doing ok though and had plenty of batter. I took some video while Rich elegantly flipped his perfectly golden creation. I think he'd achieved it by reducing the heat slightly, as he'd sagely suggested earlier on.

In the interest of diversity, I stirred some cocoa into the mix and threw in some broken up 70% but it tasted pretty bitter until the syrup was added. The extra fluffy self-raising flour and baking soda types were next. I'd be tempted to add more of the stuff but apparently you can OD on it. Keira was sat at her place, in front of an empty plate, wearing her usual innocent and vacant expression.

For the next four days, I made a couple of pancakes each night. 

Saturday 1 March 2014

#61 Friday night

"Dan dan?! What r u up to tonight?" My housemate must have really been thirsty. She hates Facebook and hardly ever uses it to message people. It turned out that she was in the middle of getting her hair styled and wanted to show it off on Lordship Lane. I was at home ironing shirts and had just started shaking my ass to some tunes but fortunately she had a while to go yet.

"What r u doing? Can I join? I need food" chimed in Naino. I'd forgotten that Barbs and I had been using a group conversation. "Meet in Adventure and go from there" she replied. "Can't get food in there" replied Naino, followed by "I need to be in bed by 9:30 so actually going to go home instead". Problem solved. I jogged out into the rain, across the high street and found my housemate propping up the bar. "What do you want?" She asked. "A beer" I said. "What type?" "Any beer" I answered. She sighed and started walking over to a table. "Just get two Peronis". I waited while one of the dozen student backpacker turned novice bartender types started making some girl's drink. 

It's ok to be meticulous in making cocktails when you're also really bloody fast at it but this guy had just got out of diapers and was no Tom Cruise. Adam is Tom Cruise. We all know this. That is, we that know my friend Adam from school. He looks just like Tom Cruise. Anyway, despite the late drinks, Barbs was particularly happy tonight. Not just because she was off to Tanzania in three weeks' time. The bar had also gotten rid of the cocktail menus that she'd found offensive and about which she'd written an email complaining. I had also never been that keen on the idea of cocktail menus printed on the inside of a VHS cassette case, which also contained a cassette entitled Star Whores, partly because retro was too easy a style choice for a place like that and partly because I doubted that the videos were actually the ones that they said that they were.

We had a couple of beers, got approached as usual by some drink weirdo and came home to find Naino dancing around in her underwear, several hours past her intended bedtime, trying on outfits for tomorrow night. We gave our expert verdicts on the various tops and shoes while Barbra's pizza cooked just about enough for her to ... ok gotta go

Sunday 23 February 2014

#60 Il Mirto

Dulwich searched Greek place walked closed across street tiny Italian looked naff outside inside ok no tables waiter hmm maybe squeeze here hmm moves tables manager not sure hmm fine sit look around niceish atmos really good olives waiter charming omg other table really really awesome pizza order blah blah love this place clam linguine wow nice wow tons stacked profiteroles o.m.g. 'mazing must blog.

Short one this week.