Where there's a Willesden there's a way

Monday, September 29, 2003


There's a canal running round the back of my flat. I'd like to live there one day. I've got this image of buying a boat and a strip of land by the canal. I could call the boat Lila and grow vegetables on my strip of land. Maybe even build a little outhouse.

Just think, peace and quiet. No TV, no ratboys in my back garden, fewer traffic fumes. I just like the idea of having my own place and to not be disturbed.

Tonight seems to be the first night of fireworks season. So I'm a little scared and down on the urban thing.

Withering Away

By a cruel twist of fate, I work in the ugliest town in this area, and yet my bus journey on the way in takes me through some beautiful areas. And that's why I always get incredibly philosophical on the way in.

And so as the sun shone through the fading trees past Aldenham Lake, I thought of David Blaine sillouhetted against the harsh London skyline and had a rare moment of clarity. He's starving to death to teach us something about nature.

It's true, as David whithers and dies, so too do the leaves on the trees. He entered in Summer and will leave in the winter, whatever's left of him. And the trees don't die. Life carries on regardless of all of us, and whether he dies in that box or not.

Well, that's my theory. It's either that or he's starving himself to death for our entertainment.

Above Above the Below

Finally seen David Blaine! Although I think his stunt is missing a certain element of spectacle. He was, just as I expected, dangling in a little box. What was amazing was the huge crowd who had turned out just to watch him slowly starve to death. And of course, the forlorn figure in pink, his girlfriend who has been there throughout, watching her love slowly wasting away.

I think we're still missing the question of why? I really don't see the point in destroying your health, even for money. If he'd been sitting in a bath of baked beans and wearing a red nose, we might have been a little kinder to him, perhaps.

I didn't fancy the idea of descending to City Hall level to join the sea of "well-wishers", and watching David slowly digest his internal organs was making me hungry, so we retired to enjoy an excellent grilled salmon. It's what David would have wanted.

Saturday, September 27, 2003

Well thank God it's Friday. Honestly didn't think I'd make it to the weekend.

All itchy and tired, and last time I felt like this I ended up with shingles. So this weekend I'm just going to take it very easy and try and get in slightly better shape. Just for a change there's some money in my account (woo-hoo!), so I'm off to get some wine.

Self-obsessed in the city

DOAFW has exclusively obtained a transcript of the final ever episode of the hit US comedy Sex in the City. We don’t want to give away too much, but we can reveal that Carrie’s shoes in the final death scene are really to die for. But here’s a sneak preview of Carrie and Miranda’s final conversation.

Carrie: You know, I’ve been thinking.
Miranda: So have I! You will not believe the purse I just saw in Macy’s. How many men am I going to have to sleep with before someone buys me that?
Carrie: I just can’t help but think that I’ve wasted my life.
Miranda: Sounds like someone needs a little retail therapy.
Carrie: It’s just, admittedly belatedly, I’ve realised that since 911 there’s more to life than fashion and orgasms. And I can’t help but think that I’ve been reduced to a caricature of myself by ratings-thirsty corporate pimps.
Miranda: My God Carrie, you’re right. And in a way we’re allowing ourselves to become tools for chauvinists to prove that infinitely complex modern women can be simplified to two glib desires; fashion and sex.
Carrie: I’d spent so much time whining about my gloriously over privileged, quasi-aristocratic existence I totally overlooked how spiritually empty I really was.
Miranda: You know, running up a visa bill doesn’t really make you happy. What made you realise all this Carrie?
Carrie: I came out of Calvin Klein loaded down with carrier bags, and I saw a group of emaciated refugee children scavenging through the bins in an attempt to find food. And I realised I’d seen all this before, and all I could care about was my stupid shoes.
Miranda: That’s terrible. How had we overlooked all this suffering for so long?
Carrie: Maybe it’s time we did something about it.

Friday, September 26, 2003

Coast to Coast

First in a new series of "Supercities UK", and for once an actual vision of urban planning. If Will Allsop's buildings were as elegant as he claims they were, I'd sign up to his vision of the future right away.

The last time we had real vision in urban planning was in the 1920s, when the Garden Cities were built. The idea was fantastic- create urban spaces with all the joys of the country, designed to be stable and pleasant communities. We've let that vision slip a little- their ideas of essential green spaces became the empty bland grass verges of poor areas in Hertfordshire. And in Hemel Hempstead, the post war government tried to implement these on the cheap. The idea of a New Town (as opposed to a Garden City) was essentially to move people out of London. Poor people are much easier to move than rich people, so an entire class of people were told they were not wanted, and moved out to these towns which were always destined to become hotspots of poverty. They were poorly planned, cheap and large.

Fifty years on I'm living with the effects of this. Hemel and Borehamwood are hellish, concrete environments lacking purpose and hope, and with poverty comes crime, teenage pregnancy and anti-social behaviour, all things the government wants rid off. The New Towns were a huge social experiment, and it's impossible to stand in the centres of these places and say the experiment worked.

So why am I ranting on about this, apart from the fact that I'm stuck in Hertfordshire? Well, the government is planning to build a *lot* of houses in the south east of England. Whole new communities springing up in just a few years. Two possible outcomes:
i) There's a development plan, a grand scheme that makes sure these places don't become traffic-chocked concrete hellholes of crime and poverty. Taking into account cars, transport systems, fostering a genuine sense of community and all those other essentials for a functioning town.
ii) It's going to look like Hemel Hempstead.

In the absence of hearing about any major plans, can we assume ii) is the most likely? It's all going to happen again, isn't it?

If you doubt this is an issue, compare how you feel in Borehamwood High Street with Central Square in Hampstead Garden Suburb. One environment is peaceful, breathtaking and pleasing, whereas the other is noisy, dusty and ugly. I believe cities affect their people as much as people affect the city. So this is very important.

What we need is a Garden Cities Society for the new era, one that understands that towns actually have to have a good effect on their inhabitants and create a happy and healthy environment, whilst being aware of consumerism, traffic and crime.

It's either that or we can let more of the country be covered with depressing urban sprawl, where we can stick the poor and forget about them.

Thursday, September 25, 2003

Found out the name of Zoe and Rob's baby- they had a girl called Dallas Rebecca. So pleased for them.

OK, how long before my cool cynicism cracks and I start making baby noises instead? It's already happened once this week! There's something about talking to a baby, for a second you know a whole new language, the best way to communicate with this person. And yet to the bemused observer, you're standing there going "GoogooGOO" and "hsthyoodere. Heeessyyooothere lilll onne!"

It's a bit like speaking in tongues. It's amazing how babies seem to cast a spell on the people around them.

Old Lady on the bus had a stroke. I don't talk to this lady much, but when she's on the bus I tend to overhear her, and it's a little compelling, even though the conversation doesn't get any deeper than the price of fresh vegetables at the market. I remember the day she had the stroke though. It was in the high nineties, and we were all wilting, but looking at her I knew something was wrong, she just looked awful. I'd assumed it was dehydration, and I ended up helping her on and off the bus again, and told her to go and drink a lot of water. She said she'd had lots of tea, but that's just not enough in hot weather.

But it's really nice to see her back. I get quite attached to. And from those brief conversations you have at the end of the line, I could tell the bus drivers have too.

We're cracking up

I had a strange experience today. Midway through teasing me for being crazy (and this happens a lot), my colleague got upset, and so did I.

We got slightly tearful for no good reason. And it's taken me all evening to shake this feeling of malaise, and I suspect the others are the same. Something's eating away at my team and my friends, and I think we need a break.

Outside of the team though, everyone's had a shit day, and I suspect out there, that scene was played out again and again. There's something in the air I just don't like.

And people can get so fed up with days like this they put themselves in danger as a result of this feeling (the 'fuck it' can't get any worse feeling). Days like this come along every now and then, and all you can do is work out how to live through it. I have to tell someone that.

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Counselling 101: Beyond the silence.

It's the first day of my counselling introduction course, and I need to keep a journal. So here's some rudimentary notes.

we all came in with predetermined ideas- I know I'd written my speech for when I was asked what I was doing there and what I expected to gain ages in advance. So it was an important lesson to just forget all of that, sit back and listen. That's probably fairly essential for a counsellor. What an unexpected result of that was that I realised all I was planning to say had been said better, so I just said what I was feeling. Which was something like:
"People sometimes come to me for advice and I'd like a better idea of what to do. And personally, what I really want to know is how to care, but not so much that it affects me. How to care the right amount."

At the very least, I'd probably sleep better.

The teacher also did an interesting exercise. We split off in twos, and once had to be the counsellor, one the client. The client (went first) had to just talk about what it felt like to be in that chair. And although they were identical, they were totally different chairs. As the client I was sprawled out on the chair, slightly freaked out by my partner's totally impassive stare. Speaking to fill the silence, which was unsettling.

Can you believe we actually had to physically swap chairs midway through? Although I thought we were both actors, we were experiencing a very powerful tool. It helped, too, that the client chair had a black jacket on it, and the counsellor chair a white top.

As the counsellor my posture was totally different, closed and upright, and I had to concentrate on the right responses- not speaking, obviously, but I'd learnt from my turn the importance of a counsellor registering what their client says on their face. I think it worked (mostly). But you don't give as a counsellor, I think, you receive. The client gives you something, and when it follows a long silence you can see something significant building inside them. We don't often let silences finish themselves off and see what lies beyond, which is a shame. But this is very fragile, and the slightest word or look from me would have broken it.

I suppose all the counsellor gives in cases like that is the time to let the client see what lies beyond that silence.

Those are the main lessons I'll take from session one. The scale of the forces, and the importance of being yourself. I'm too prone to rationalising, putting everything into words and imagining scenarios. yet when I strip off the surface and daily chatter of thought and almost stop thinking, that's when I really start to learn.

I'd actually composed a few little rants in the course of the day, but that puts them into perspective. Here goes anyway

Two dominant thoughts this lunchtime. First of all the water boiler at work's broken, so people have been continuously boiling the same old kettle all day. When I came to make a coffee it just reeked of chlorine, something I choose not to drink. It dawned on me that boiling the water continuously must concentrate the pollutants (which don't evaporate) until you're drinking dilute bleach.

Second thoughts from the Guardian, so probably a bit of an exaggeration, but the Catholic Church's new policy seems to ban girl altar servers, clapping and dancing in church and puts ecumenical services on a par with black mass. After describing homosexuality as "evil" a few weeks ago, none of these would surprise me hugely. What with gays and contraception, the church seems to be getting progressively more and more extremist.

So join the dots. As secular influences grow, is the church working in the same way as the kettle? As the influence of catholicism shrinks, is it destined to become an extremist remnant? Sad really, because if the church would only use its influence for good (stopping wars, bringing peace to people's hearts, saving the planet) rather than focussing on what are fairly fringe causes in the big picture, it could really be a positive influence, rather than the reactionary axe-grinder it seems determined to be.

Eventually all but the coffee addicts in the office switched to bottled water.

Rob and Zoe

Just had genuinely amazing news- Sister's friend Zoe had her baby, very early but otherwise fine. That's all I know so far though...

Doubt anyone's reading this one day in, but just felt like telling the world how fantastic that is. They're a really lovely couple, and I think the world's just got that bit brighter.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003


I have fleas.

At least, I have fleabites. The carpet has fleas. My office was overrun with them a few weeks ago, and the entire team got them. Now no-one else seems to have them, and I've got nasty bites all over.

My guess it was Sassy Nurse. She's got a lot of cats.

Got your number

There's several things wrong with this statement. When Brother needlessly quotes it, he's making a false statement, as he doesn't have my number, as it's on his mobile phone, which is on the desk next to me. So in a way the opposite is true.

Secondly, apart from being something to do with your mouth when it's not busy, what does it mean? It's not like "Take a break" or "Because I'm worth it", it just totally lacks any meaning at all. And yet everywhere I go I hear people for some reason quoting it.

Advertisers subscribe heavily to the concept of "Viral Marketing". People will hear a really catchy phrase, receive a fantastic email clip (!) see a great advert, and immediately spread the word, sharing it with their friends, family, and anyone else with the misfortune to be within earshot. So we're queuing up to help advertisers. All those underpaid, overworked nurses, teachers and social workers, and the public choose to help out advertisers- people paid extremely large sums of money to make people who earn less than them part company with the money they've got. What's more, if this slogan is anything to go by, they're right. Again, we can be proud of the society we've created.

Finally, if my last experience with 118 118 is anything to go by, I'm willing to bet they haven't. Got your number.

Coughing Man sat right behind me on the bus this afternoon. Usually he sits on the other side of the bus or a few rows behind. The Token Screaming Kid didn't get on, and I thought things were going a bit too well. At first it was quiet and I thought he might have finally taken some sort of action, but after our obligatory 8 minute wait at the town centre he sniffed, and I knew I was doomed. After a while the first icey breeze of winter on my face combined with the warm spray on my neck, and I experienced ironic season syndrome.

So I decided to try a little experiment. Traditionally the bus makes an inexplicable series of four right hand turns at the junction station, so I leapt out. I decided to walk down the road, past the station, dodge up an alleyway and jump up to the mainroad. I wanted to get on exactly the same bus (15 minutes later), and sit down right in front of Coughing Man again. But the traffic was surprisingly light, and I just missed it. Shame.

Fun you can have with a bus pass number one.

What's worse than being sectioned? Is it listening to the shrieking of a smoke alarm? Having the details of your psychological debris being broadcast to the nation (on ITV of all channels- really)? Or listening to it at high volume when a smoke alarm is going off, and you're trying to think of a witty user name. What card do you send to Frank Bruno? Get Sane Soon? But more about my views on cards at some other point. The first thing to bear in mind when reading this is I have an opinion on everything. The second thing to bear in mind is my whole host of foibles. I can't take listening to adverts, ITV, football, or anyone who thinks being a rapper is about talking in a deep voice to a generic beat.

Anyway, back to Frank. I suppose I've got more of an insight into this process than most (I'm a secretary in a social work team, including two ASWs- the social worker needed to report when someone is sectioned). Some secretary somewhere is typing up an ASW report hardly believing what they're doing.

I suppose we get hung up on the "otherness" of sectioning- very few people will admit to knowing someone who has been, and we haven't really progressed beyond the "carried off by men in white coats" cliche. So Frank's proof that it's not that rare. After all, one in three of use will get close to that. But I got told at work once that although there are signs, a great deal of people choose to ignore them, until one day they just loose it. The hospitals are full of professional types who just didn't look after their mental health, and one day just woke up crazy. I can believe it.

Nice to see the public still haven't got out of Diana mode. Thanks to all those people who jammed up the hospital switchboard to wish him well, and to all those journalists standing in the ambulance bay.

Get sane soon, anyway.