Where there's a Willesden there's a way

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Doafw at the races

"And they're off!", screamed the tinny blue trumpet into my ear, "These two talented drivers racing head here at Silverstone, nose to nose on the back of the same flat-bed truck. It's synchronised recovery, ladies and gentlemen."

As the announcer bled his joke and my eardrums dry, a battered, souped up Peugoet 206 landed on the tarmac, and a cloud of blue smoke and noise engulfed a line of ancient rocket-shaped formula one cars, that I just managed to jump clear of. The smell of petrol, frying burgers and dozens of people I would hate to encounter on a driving lesson further overwhelmed my senses. As a person with a healthy fear of both cars and car enthusiasts,what was I doing in the centre of Silverstone racing track, in what looked like Britain's biggest and meanest service station? I was only looking for a sandwich.

Mr Fusion's birthday and Karting had brought us to Silverstone, and with my back and credit card having taken an impressive battering in recent days, I was looking for omens to encourage me to sit it out. The first was the unexpectedly heavy traffic on the M-Something on the way there. The second was the unusually intense young man with a walkie-talkie, who pointed at me as I entered the shabby two-storey portacabin at the side of the, admittedly improvised, Karting track. Pointing his antenna towards my knee, he said "Right, you're going to be number 13, you'd better get changed now." I eyed the khaki wet-weather gear suspiciously.

"Actually, I was just going to spectate if that's OK." He gave me the look I'm fairly used to by now, and I walked out to introduce myself and find a suitable spot on from sidelines to carp. It didn’t last.

Fry had generously offered me a lift to the track, and stuck in traffic we took the opportunity to go through his CD collection thoroughly and to discuss the admittedly low standard of driving around us. I prayed it would be better once we got to the track. Anxiety was setting in almost as much as hunger, and Fry was more enthusiastic to get in a cart than I was to eat sandwiches. Watching another service station fly past, I imagined a paradise packed with deep-fill sandwiches and accessible cashpoints. By that stage, I would almost have settled for a Burger King. I saw a Wild Bean Café up ahead, which was definitely looking accessible. I remembered their toasted pizza wrap, and my stomach whimpered sadly.

“Do you fancy stopping there? Just for a sec?”

“No.” he said. If my stomach was a dog it would have chosen that moment to lie disarmingly on its back and urinate on the floor. Instead, it just made a groaning noise and tried to fall in on itself, impeded by the single Polo mint I’d had all day. Maybe breakfast would have been a good idea after all.

I was replaying this memory as the first heat kicked off. The car at the front rounded a bend, closely followed by the one behind it. It rounded another, and my attention began to wane again.

”Any idea where I can get some food?” I asked, um, someone. They seemed to be chewing.

”Thhrryy uph sere” they said, through a mouthful of crumbs pointing to the top of the portacabin. I ascended to the stairs, to a “Spectators Gallery” which brought back uncomfortable memories of a prison “Visitors’ Lounge”. The forbiddingly named Control Room was shut, and after a few attempts I managed to get their attention.

“Do you know where I can get some food? Preferably a sandwich. Or maybe some cake?”

“Yeah, go down there, go straight ahead and tweet tweet tweet tweet.” My attention was certainly wavering.

“Right”, I said, uncertainly. Straight ahead and then go….?”

“Tweet tweet to the pit lane.” he said, in the voice reserved for ‘If you fall in the Thames you’ve gone too far.”

I nodded, and set off. There was some limited activity on the track, mostly concealed behind cavernous and empty grandstands. I found a tunnel, that looked optimistic. A small kid sat on the edge of the ramp throwing pebbles down below. I picked up a can. He stopped.

The first thing that struck me about the centre of the raceway were the little metal trumpets. Looking like something out of a cartoon, I half expected them to pulsate comically as the announcer spoke. Which was all the time. As inane commentaries filled the air, so too did the smell of frying Meat. No particular meat. Just generic Meat, clumped together with what might have been onions from numerous burger/hot dog bars. All I could think about was food, but I wasn’t quite that hungry. The car park around the pit lane was looking like the encampment in Independence Day, as crowds of men struggled to bring their dusty, tired creations back to life. Most of them at least started off as cars, but were by now transformed into battered hulks surrounded by clouds of blue smoke, ugly reinforcing steel bolts sticking out from the cockpits and the drivers’ ears. Lines of flatbed trucks unloaded a constant stream of broken cars, to be hurriedly fixed up by squadrons of enthusiasts before being dispatched onto the track in preparation for being smashed up again.

There was no sign of this sandwich though. Despite looking like a massive service station, my sandwich and my cashpoint were looking pretty elusive. Unexpectedly the tarmac gave way to flower beds and trees, giving me some much needed shade and oxygen. I could hear a fountain in the distance, assuming I held my noise and looked in the right direction, the chaos of the yard was far behind me. Hoping to blag my way into the Motor Racing Establishment, I edged through a turnstile, but there was no way I was going to get any further.

Eventually, perched on the only piece of grass within the perimeter track, I found what could just about pass for a café. It looked as if it had been stolen away from the rest of the service station, but as I stepped in, the sheer volume of oily bearded men and racing games assured me I was still in a race track. I imagined it was hell on race days, but today, with all the serving hatches closed and a glut of formica tables, it was merely purgatory. So I sat down in the lazy afternoon sun, ignored the handful of wasps and petrolheads who hovered nearby, and enjoyed what was the best sandwich I’ve had in ages.

The route back to the race course was easier than I expected. The same parade of retired race cars blocked my path as they ambled noisily off the track, and I felt it was a sensible precaution to at least find a small tree to cower behind. But soon I was back at the Karting, and, stomach filled, I could finally take an interest in the finals. Borrowing Fry’s intimidatingly expensive-looking camera, I took my share of moody shots of the track dwarfed by the cavernous stands and similarly nonsensically huge sky, and then cam back down to earth in time to position myself for the action shot, preparing for the moment when Mr Fusion, the birthday boy and natural race winner would elegantly skirt the corner and claim victory.

Well, someone elegantly skirted the corner in my action shot. Sadly Mr Fusion came in third. But he clearly deserved to win. I backed off from the presentation when the bottle of perry came out, and then went off to a party to get drunk.

I still don’t understand motorsport. Had a great day out though.

All the colours of the spectrum.

Brother thinks I'm diagnosing everyone with Aspergers or personality disorders. Maybe it's just the company I keep.

A major part of social work, I'm slowly learning, is that no matter how apparent the differences may seem, there is always very little separating us from our clients. An accident of birth, perhaps, or a trait we've got but manage to ignore. As Northern Nurse is very good at reminding me when I'm off in my own waking dream world; it's a thin line.

And what better time to try and put myself in the mindset of someone further along on the autistic spectrum than a day I haven't slept, and can quite easily disappear into an imagined safe, ordered world? Well, preferably one when I don't have to drive home, but there's no harm in trying up until then.

It was when I got home I realised the difference. I turned on the TV expecting music, and all I got was adverts. Usually I'd sigh and turn the adverts off as soon as possible, but just this once I imagined I just didn't know how to change reality like that. So the only logical reaction was to try and shut it out. It would have been terrifying if I wasn't able to get out of that place, and just for a second I came a bit closer to understanding that mindset. Only a little though.

Maybe I need to do more moaning.

I could do it with my eyes closed

I finally managed to escape from the clutches of insomnia at about 4am, with less than 3 hours until my first alarm, as well as one and a half blog posts and a particularly captivating sequence of photos showing my clock between 1.50-2.20am.

Somehow, against all the odds, I still managed to go through an entire day without completely falling apart. It was a close run thing at times. And I'm not really convinced I can remember doing any work.

The first hours went something like this.
6.45 Stereo starts playing Radiohead. Sit bolt upright, turn volume right down. Go back to sleep.
7.05 Phone alarm goes off. Sit bolt upright, hit snooze and go back to sleep.
7.10 Hit snooze again.
7.25 Number 7 bus ambles by at the end of the road, unhurried and unmoved.
7.50 Brother goes into bathroom for shower.
7.55 OK Computer finishes impercetibly. Sit bolt upright in bed. Again. Swear. Sit there for a while.
7.59 Brother leaves bathroom. Leap out of bed. Swear. Run into bathroom; insert lenses etc.
8.08 Make a miserable hash of shaving.
8.10 Brother goes into bathroom for prolonged nose-blowing session.
8.13 Number 724 bus ambles past front dooe. Unhurred. Unmoved.
8.14 Brother leaves bathroom after prolonged nose-blowing session. Run out of door, looking surprisingly smart in sideways glance in mirror.
8.15 Do up flies. Buy newspaper, give up on bus.
8.30 Catch number 7. Get stuck in traffic. Bus unhurried and unmoving. Sleep.
8.59 Sit bolt upright in seat. Call into office. Doze off again.
9.30 Wonder dazed through doors of office. Sit down. Stare.
9.33 Get sent on first of Manager's errands for day.
10.10 Return from errand. Obsess about lack of sleep.

No escape key

I can't sleep.

Never been any good at getting to sleep. When we were kids, Brother used to drive me up the wall with how easy he found sleep. His advice was pretty simple:
'Just close your eyes and...go to sleep.'

I've spent years trying to follow that advice, but I always seem to get stuck after the closing my eyes bit. Some nights it's thoughts and ideas doing their bit to keep me here. Tonight it's just that I'm not ready- whilst on my short break in Oxford I slept from 2 to 11- although a big early evening coffee probably didn't help. So I'm alone with my thoughts in the dark. Again. And I have to be up in 4 hours.

When I was heading up to Oxford I was really looking forward to being alone with my thoughts. It's lucky that didn't happen as I discovered on the journey home that my thoughts seem to consist only of obscure Guardian articles and the fact that Doafw apparently rhymes with gopher.

And I'm alone with that thought. Damm I'm bored.

Monday, August 30, 2004

So much for the City...

The 4-day weekend has finished a lot sooner than I expected, and I'm on a coach (*very* unusual for me) being distracted from my highbrow newspaper by, um, another passenger's Marie Claire.

Despite this as my coach ambles through Buckinghamshire I'm pretty relaxed. Oxford's as good a
place as any to chill out, see some friends and make a point of doing nothing.

Except for Saturday. Sometimes this blog seems to write itself.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Come, friendly bombs...

There aren't many people in the country who might benefit from a vicious and unprovoked mortar attack. I think Rebekah Wade is about the only possile candidate.

On the one hand, having her office suddenly ripped apart by a barrage of crudely-made explosive rockets might do her and her staff some serious harm. And terrorist attacks are always wrong, and DOAFW almost never condones them..We'd like to point at this stage that we are *not* inciting a vicious and unprovoked mortar attack on any employee of The Sun newspaper.

On the other hand, becoming the blameless victim of a vicious and unprovoked mortar attack, watching her office collapse in on her and her innocent staff in a terrifying burst of noise and limb-mangling concrete, pinning her beneath rubble for hours with the bleak certainty of life-changing injury (which we can all agree is *wrong*) might give her some insight into what it's like to appear on one of her front pages.

Time was when the Sun's cowardly and bullying attacks were generally limited to the rich and famous, and rarely, dead scousers. The inevitable Price of Fame was that those who made their living from widespread recognition could expect tabloid employees trawling through their rubbish, furtive pictures of them putting rubbish out in their y-fronts and heavily bribed ex-pa rtners revealing mundane personal details under lurid Sunday headlines. But that was part of daring to be publicly successive, and it was difficult to feel that much sympathy.

But two things happened. Firstly there was reality television. Suddenly fame and its accompanying hatred were open to ordinary, frequently naive, everyday folk. And without the fear of expensive Celebrity libel lawyers, newspapers were free to slaughter these lambs as much as was profitable. The Sun crossed the Rubicon when it ran a headline of Jade Goody, essentially a gameshow contestant guilty of nothing but a mildly annoying laugh, inciting KILL THE PIG.

Secondly newspapers realised that people did not have to solicit fame or give permission in order to be torn apart, for profit, by the tabloids. And someone merely had to be close to a famous person to be fair game.

Today saw a classic of the genre. Not content with tearing apart the painfully young Wayne Rooney's fledgling personal life based on some inexplicable grudge, destroying his relationship and his family life, The Sun's now chasing hookers.

Being of a distinctly Victorian morality, The Sun doesn't feel it owes any sympathy to any woman who works in the sex industry. For that matter, if she happens to have had a celebrity customer, it's perfectly acceptable to chase her down the street with a camera and splash a picture of a terrified woman over millions on front pages with the headline DON'T FANCY YOURS MATE. When, exactly, did it become acceptable to hound members of the public and taunt them about their lifestyle and appearance? In any other context, isn't this called bullying?

Rebekah Wade in particular has had no qualms about humiliating and viciously bullying private, invariably poor citizens. Just a few months ago a clearly troubled individual found herself declared the LAZIEST WOMAN IN BRITAIN.She could do this to a vulnerable young woman knowing perfectly well her readers would take her devastating and unprovoked attack at face value and that no-one else would ever have the guts to stand up to Britain's biggest bully. Especially not politicians, there only as long as the bully is able to tolerate them.

For evil to triumph it is necessary only for good men to do nothing. And when evil sells six million copies, it might just be time for good people to reach for the welding torches.

Which, as we've said, would be wrong.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

It really is the most important meal of the day

I was struggling to work out why the Aussie backpacker in the queue in front of me had pissed me off so much.

Maybe it was the fact that I was late for work, and she stood between me and paying for my croissant for long enough to force me to abandon it and go to work without breakfast. She was forcing the newsagent at the Quik-e-mart, North Watford, to go through his stock of international calling cards, giving a detailed explanation of the costs involved in calling South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. She clearly wasn’t from round here, as everyone knows you keep it simple in the newsagents. Everything more complicated than “Do you have a pack of 20?” is generally asking for trouble.

As I walked to work on an empty stomach I began to formulate angry thoughts towards the backpacker. “Do you think I care about you and your exotic lifestyle and your friends spread across the globe? Or that you call South Africa so much you require a discount? I bet you’ve got a room full of exotic rugs and clothes from around world. Do you think I care about that? Why don’t you get out of the way, piss off to whatever shithole you’re going to after this one, and let me have my breakfast?”

Clearly I did care.

As I passed the Junction Café for the 5th consecutive morning, I realised why I was annoyed. You don’t need to have a degree in psychology to know that I was clearly jealous, and maybe starting to wander if my life was going anywhere. I was expecting to stay in North Watford for the summer 2 years ago, and I’m still doing what started as a temp job in Borehamwood 15 months ago, with an expected promotion on hold until April at least. And I haven’t had a holiday for ages.

And then, predictably, I got onto a dark study about further education. There was a promise implicit in all of this that I may incur some debt, but it would be worth it in the long run. It wasn’t, and I get pissed off this time of year every year when I see hoards of bright-eyed A-level students excited about marching off to university, apparently unaware how big a millstone they’ll be putting around their necks. But I’m not bitter; I’d just feel better if I could move on.

My plan was to do some counselling study, but for some reason I was, well, blocked on that one. And if there’s something you learn right at the beginning of studying counselling, it’s that nothing happens for no reason. Except measles, perhaps.

Anyway, around lunchtime I was starting to cheer up, and I came back to an idea I’d been considering about a year ago, and seem to keep on coming back to. Why not do some part-time study, study that’s not going to totally take my life over this time, and do something that interests me and that I can apply in a job I could see myself doing? So I did some research, with Manager mocking me over lunchtime, and found a good one. How about a BSc in Psychology at the Open University?

It looks like it would take 3-4 years, depending on how stuff works out. And then I’d need a year’s full-time study on a Masters if I wanted to go into Clinical Psychology. And the great thing about the OU is if I change my mind, which I have a tendency to do, I can change direction without losing too much.

And, as I don’t earn much, as I’m constantly being reminded, I should qualify for some pretty serious financial assistance. Hopefully, once I’ve sorted out a few things, study starts in February. But before then, I need to shake my life up a little, yet again.

As Brenda (SFU) put it, I think I’m pretty well qualified when it comes to crazy people. It’s the others I can’t figure out.
The weird thing about all this is I don’t really like Quik-e-mart croissants anyway. They’re always burnt on the outside and raw on the inside. Oh yeah, and I found the same backpacker sprawled unconscious in my hallway 18 hours later.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

It's a thin line. About six feet deep.

Is there's one thing watching Six Feet Under is guaranteed to do it's force me to think about death.I always thought that was unhealthy, but like most things, musing about death is healthy in bite-size portions.

Brother's just made me realise that *most* people don't sit around in churchyards and eat lunch. Brother, and most of the country, think its a little disrespectful to sit among the dead and eat a picnic. Personally, I think they could use the company.

When I used to work in Abbots Langley the nicest, and most peaceful spot was the churchyard, which surrounded an ancient church and sat at the heart of the village. I believe that places like that are too good not to share between the dead and the living, so l found a spot under a huge tree to eat my sandwiches and be harassed by wasps.

As a former altar server (and I'm surprised that's never come up before) I've been to more funerals than most, and no matter how much we disconnect them with ceremony every person there is one of us, even the one in the box. Death's not something alien, although given that we go out of our way to shun it you'd be forgiven for thinking that it was. The sooner we can consciously admit how we feel about it the sooner we all start to grow up.

Time was when I looked at funeral ceremonies from certain cultures as alien. I saw the wailing prominent in an lndian burial as unhealthy and gut-wrenching. But now I see that screaming and weeping are natural to loss and pain and I wish I'd done the same in the past. In this culture tears are expressed in private, with repression of grief seen as a virture, and a person displaying real emotion at a funeral is to be pitied and politely but firmly led away from respectable company. Mourning is carried out in darkened rooms with the curtains drawn; death in great wooden boxes firmly nailed shut. Now it's my own culture that seems alien to me.

Unlike the Norman town of Abbots Langley, Borehamwood was built by modern people who chose to put their cemetary, and death itself, right outside the town. Like every other new town in Britain, dead peoplea are not something that we want near our houses and shopping centres.

But it guarantees everyone's going to get out of Borehamwood eventually.

Monday, August 16, 2004

A flash of the city

Ambling between two slow-paced London satellite towns in the early morning, I don't have a huge amount of contact with the hectic commuter lifestyle.

But because it gives me an extra 30 minutes in bed for just double the fare, once a week I like to travel in via St Albans Thameslink. It's a brief immersion into a totally different world.

For a start everyone's in a hurry. With Arriva buses you come to an acceptance, with time, that your journey time is not in your own hands and the act of hurrying and sighing frustratedly is soon exposed as the impotent sham it is. On the commuter line, frustration and high blood pressure are virtually local dialects.

Hand-in-hand with this is the walking pace. I like to walk quickly, but only over distance. People here steam down the platform, and it becomes impossible to stop, however carefully, without the person behind you clipping a shoulder and mumbling an insincere apology.

I looked at the breakfast selection in Smith's, and turned around to find a queue behind me. Maybe London knew what it was doing when it spat me out.

Sunday, August 15, 2004

Showdown at The Junction

I knew him from somewhere, that was pretty certain. Maybe some other late night in some other pub, or maybe Mr Motivator had fallen on hard times. Best not to bring it up, I thought, as he slapped the table and yelled "Bring it on!"
The Kid didn't flinch, and cooly blew smoke into his face. I stayed out of it and studied my pieces with trepidation.

The Junction's a pub where things just happen People talk, jostle and sing as cocky bouncers work hard to pull the underage clientele. lt's loud and hectic, but unlike most pubs with Atmosphere you can still talk and, if you don't fancy the full Junction experience, there's a massive garden. Inside, there's a decidedly unfinished theme serving as a reminder of the number of times it's closed since l hit 17. Outside the garden is still marked out with parking spaces. It has an improvised atmosphere other places in Harrow just can't match.

Back at the fusball table, things were getting intimidating. I should have guessed it would turn into a grudge match the moment The Kid asked for my help to “take“ Mr Motivator, whose loud aggressive playing had been drowning out my conversation. He can't have been more than 17 and I'd been introduced to him five minutes earlier as a friend of a brother of a friend. Ordinarily I wouldn't have touched this one with a bargepole. But fusball is my game- my only game, and for all the shouting Mr Motivator didn't seem that good. I agreed and shook The Kid's hand firmly. Then I saw the look that flashed between them as he put down a pound coin.
"I'll defend", l said.

Remembering my record in defence, I strode up to my pieces and shook hands with Mr Motivator and his Gangly Partner. I took the poles and realised the defence pole barely moved. I pointed this out to The Kid in the coolest manner l could. "Won't matter", he said, lighting a cigarette.

The game began, and within thirty seconds I'd heard the clang of ball on baseplate twice. But I hadn't actually seen a thing, and I felt too embarassed to ask the score.

It became apparent we were winning when Mr Motivator entered the bargaining phase. A promise of a lucrative cash bet for The Kid not to use his middle striker, and we were at 3-3.

My only involvement in the match flashed by. The ball lingered in my half long enough to hit it, and I struggled to bring my defensive line to life. One creak later and we were 3-4 down. I tried to avoid eye contact.

The Kid pulled it back, and we'd won. Sort of. Mr Motivator was angry, and Gangly Assistant backed off.

"Two on one!" he yelled, banging the table. I backed off. "One on one" I insisted.

Me and my mate had meant to leave, but the grudge match was compelling. The Kid got two quick goals, but Mr Motivator began to play up even more. The table bounced and beer flew. The third ball was particularly bad tempered and seemed to last forever.

But once it went in I realised the tide had turned.I would have bet on The Kid, and very nearly did. But for all his coolness, he just couldn't go in for the kill, and Mr Motivator's sheer force and bluster were, ultimately, unbeatable in what became the best fusball game I've ever seen.Or it might have been that defensive line.

Saturday, August 14, 2004

Scandal of the kid killing racists

Probably time for a bit of Daily Mail bashing. It's too hot to do anything else, and they really excelled themselves this week.

The headline screamed "FEARS OVER NEW 5-IN-1 BABY JABS", and despite my policy of avoiding things like this, it just seemed to call to me. So with a sense of dreary inevitability, I walked over to the news stand.

There was also an inevitability to the article, fragments of identikit scaremongering pseudo-science lazily strung out into what could almost pass as sentences.
"Government...fears....overwhelming babies immune systems....autism...MMR...campaigners say...."

No word from the doctors, I thought, Harold Shipman has a lot to answer for. And then it dawned on me why all this is happening. They're using terrifying screaming headlines and confusing parents into avoiding potentially life-saving medical treatments based on vauge 'fears' and ignoring all the scientific research and common sense that should go with serious issues like public health because...they can.

They can cause a spate of hate-crimes against gypsies and asylum seekers; they can force the Home Secretary to tread all over human rights obligations that took generations to build; they can make women scared to use any medical treatment or make any non-'traditional' lifestyle changes by shouting the word 'CANCER', and they can make thousands of parents shun immunisation, resulting in hundreds of deaths among the very children they claim to protect, and well, don't they just know it?

They can do anything they like, and no-one's going to stand up to them. Defy the Daily Mail and you'll be branded a traitor, an idiot, or worse, a liberal.

Oh, they hate Liberals, with their namby-pamby concern for "human rights", "medicine" and "education".

But it doesn't matter, because they'll win. And when hundreds of children die of the 5 diseases the Mail's added to its list of things you can't be immunised about, it won't be their fault. Why didn't the government address our fears? That we invented to begin with.

Again, it's because they can....

See you in another 18 months then

Friend of mine was back from his travels last night, visiting London after an impressive sounding 18 months away.

There was a real sense of anticipation about meeting him again. I last saw him on Westminster Bridge, and when I called him to say I was at St Paul's, he said he was on the footbridge. I told him to wait there, and 5 minutes later I was walking across the Thames, the sunset casting an orangey glow over the cold sleek metals of the bridge and the middle-aged brown waters of the ancient river. The only sound was a piper on Bankside, playing a haunting tune that seemed to rise and fall with the very wind.

I got to the end of the bridge, and still there was no sign of my mate. He texted me to say he was now in the turbine hall. No sunset this time, but still a good place to see someone I haven't seen in a very long time. Eventually I picked him out amongst the statues, and finally he walked over and shook my hand.

"Great to see you." I said, "You haven't changed a bit."

"You look a bit different" he replied. "You look like you've put on some weight, especially around your stomach."

The highlights show

I think I've been off on one more than usual this week. Here's a few highlights.

Brother took me bowling with his workmates on Wednesday in Hemel. Very much mindful that the last time I went bowling (4 years ago) I went nuts, I tried hard to be as normal as possible.

"Can I get you a drink?


"Do you want ice in your coke?"


Obviously, it didn't last. Although I did manage to keep quiet on the subject of Hemel, I wish I could say the same about my theories of corporate mind control. Several JD and cokes later...

"No, machines aren't going to take over the planet, we'll wreck it before that. The thing we should be worried about is humans acting like machines. And that's not hard."

"We'll never start acting like machines. We're too human."

"You wait. I was reading a book about a world in which there's a surgical cure for imagination."

"People would never go for that."

"Yes they would. People would be queueing up to have bits removed from their brains. If the papers decide it's in their interests, they'll make them do it."

"Papers don't make people do things."

"Yes they do. The Mail's already decided to get people to stop having their children vaccinated. For a laugh."

But no, very little word on Hemel. Technically, that counts as my best behaviour.

Last night, too, I managed to offend an entire tube carriage. Me and a friend were talking loudly, encouraged by an attractive passenger who seemed to find us funny. My friend explained at length why the lack of air conditioning on the tube was probably the thing that was going to kill us. So, apparently I thought this was a good time to go off on a tangent.

"It's 2004. We were supposed to be living on the moon by now. You'd think air conditioning on the tube wouldn't be too much to ask for."

Another member of a group leant over to Attractive Passenger, who was smiling. "Sorry about these two; they're always like this."

"No, they've got a good point" she smiled. "All this money we've wasted on the dome, and they can't do up the tube."

I agreed "Yep, and Trident. And invading Iraq."

Coincidentally, at that point, the air in the carriage seemed to chill slightly. We got off at the next stop.


I spent last night in some uncharacteristically trendy bars. It's not like me to go for a night out in Zone 1- ever since I moved to Hertfordshire I've taken to calling it London- so I thought I'd make the most of a special occasion and take my mates to places with panoramic views and interiors that look like final year text books from an architecture degree.

It just felt different, pretending to be part of some trendy City set. I was musing on this when two of my mates came outside.

“They just lit the Olympic flame!“

And then I realised this was the first time I'd missed the opening ceremony. I was sitting next to a fellow aspie, and we mused over the torch-lightings of the past; the Korean dove-torchings, Spanish Archers, American Tackoramas and Aussie Godesses. Then, perhaps fortunately, the conversation turned back to women and holidays, and I realised this is
maybe the first Olympic year I've had a life.

Besides, Olympic ideals don't count for everything. Particularly when it's sponsored by Coca-cola and there's 70,000 people crammed into a hastily-built Greek stadium. Maybe I should spare my nerves that one.

Except I have been following the beach volleyball. So much for having a life.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Maybe that's why they call it a lottery...

Statistics are strange things.

The same numbers that cause two children in a class to have the same birthday are exactly the same numbers which result in you being struck by lightning, an unexpected heart attack or murdered by a member of
your own family.

Take the National Lottery, or "Lotto" as it's now known for the convenience of tabloid newspaper readers. Your odds of winning are 1 in 14 million, per ticket. Which means that if you buy 2 tickets, your odds of winning are one in 7 million. No ticket, and your odds are zero. And, in both cases, you're significantly more likely to die in a road accident. But "It could be you" never caught on as a road safety slogan.

And yet "It could be you" was emblazened across billboards, television screens and unsuspecting members of the public for years. And, on the condition that you were over 16 and had £1 and a loose grasp of mathematics, it applied to anyone, from a Tesco employee, to the Queen or even a violent sex offender.

It was the beauty of the slogan, and, ultimately, its downfall.

So the fickle hand of statistics came down heavily on Camelot's PR division this week. On the one hand, one jackpot winner was a terribly ill cancer patient, an innocent victim of a dreadful disease who, having never been publicly accused of a violent sexual offence, couldn't be a better advert for how fate can move mountains onto small fishing villages, but sometimes, just sometimes, can be kind.

On the other hand, a man with a history of apalling crimes whose piercing eyes and very haircut screams "danger to society" is also (assuming they are at liberty) at just as much liberty to stroll into a newsagent on a darkened street corner and buy a ticket for the National Lottery. Or indeed Lotto Extra.

But maybe we're judging him harsly. Everyone looked like that in the 70s.

Essentially, society has always had a problem with dealing with random chance. Rather than be told life is full of uncertainties and probabilities, we like to look for someone to blame, preferably one with a beard. But some extremely small probabilites, such as those which keep people on low incomes spending £20 a week on lottery tickets, are the type we like to exhort, whereas others, such as being struck down by cancer or a speeding driver who *knows* there aren't any cameras, are the types we play down.

When applied to anything else, newspapers abhor the word lottery, as in circumstances other than the random undeserved distribution it smacks of unfairness and a failing in the system. But the rest of the time, the lottery is a god send to newspaper editors, Camelot executives. And now serial rapists.

On the bright side, the fact that he chose to buy a lottery ticket rather than commit an atrocity is something we should be thankful for. Probably wouldn't have made as many headlines though.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Voices in the darkness. And they sounded angry.

Me and Brother got very little sleep last night. Our neighbours were having about the most blazing row I've ever heard. From midnight to sunrise, the shouting and screaming got louder and more embittered. It was fantastic.

Brother didn't agree, as he got a lot less sleep than me and pretty much ruined his day. But it was the most interesting argument I've ever eavesdropped. Problem is, I'm not sure how much I should post.

Actually, I'm clearly being ridiculous, as no-one reads this right? On the other hand, how would I like some other idiot with free time and a worn out keyboard posting the details of my conversations. That I shouted through the floor in the middle of the night.

Lots of arguments stem from misunderstandings. Very few misunderstandings lead to stabbings though.

Like I say, a fantastic argument.

The short dark nights

Maybe I should have mentioned this one sooner, but Six Feet Under's back on Thursday. Which is strange, as we seem to be back in the long dark summer again.

Series Two ended in a confusing blur of violence, death and ghosts, with Nate plagued by the ghosts of his loved ones goading him to end it all.

In a way that would have been as good a place as any to leave it. I don't imagine the writers of Six Feet Under to be the type of people who believe in endings and conclusions, and short of Federico going postal, I'd never be able to think of an ending that ties up all the characters that's true to the programme (although it's generally impossible to second-guess this one).

It's hard to see a third series being better than the second one, I think I'm just scared it won't be as good. But I said that about the last series as well.

Six Feet Under is a programme that belongs late at night, where certainties of story-telling and faith are far away and time seems to run to strange rules. I associate Six Feet Under not just with the characters and the stories, but the state of mind it alway induces in me. I tend to find myself staying up half the night and sitting under trees in the dark because, well, they put me there.

It's hard to explain this to anyone who's not into it. Somehow, if stories of SFU prompt someone to tell you about the ITV docusoap based in a funeral parlour, you can be pretty certain they're not going to get it. Or that they'll like the story about Claire and the foot.

But that's never stopped me. Don't call me on Thursday!

Friday, August 06, 2004

Mushroom for manoeuvre

Sassy Nurse was a little shocked on her trip to Camden today.

"I fought it was a fruit and veg stall, and I got a bit closer and they were all selling magic mushrooms. How weird is that?"

Well, it was a great moment to share some of my offbeat knowledge on neurochemistry. Or rather, a good moment to tell stories of weird things that happened to me at college. I can tell them at work now.

You see, it's the funniest thing, but at some point behind the hoo-haw surrounding the government pretending to decriminalise cannabis (They really didn't, thereby pissing off everyone) they have apparently legalised magic mushrooms. They're now openly on sale at festivals, and out on indie markets.

They're fine, as long as you don't pick them or dry them. But apparently it's now fine to import and sell fresh mushrooms from Europe. Given that the British drugs scene is one of the most protectionist markets in the world, it's strange to open up this one. Particularly given the War on Drugs, and the Evils of Drugs, and the Damage to Society we've heard so much about. Won't the country grind to a halt, the streets clogged with 12 year olds gripped by drug psychosis?

Apparently not. And unlike how it was in, say, 2000-1, it's now perfectly easy and legal. And not a single angry headline in sight.

Now, if you don't mind, I have to pack for my day out tomorrow. Better bring more biscuits.

The fourth emergency service

Thought we had a police car out the back just now. Turns out it was just one of those robin reliants with orange go-faster stripes, a mobile number and a flashing orange light.

Orange lights are great. There's pretty strict rules on blue and green lights, but for some reason anyone's allowed to show one. And then the humblest plumber or washing machine repair man with a mobile and an irregular sleep pattern can call themselves an emergency service. And lie in bed waiting for that 3am crisis which will allow them to leap out of bed, strap on that emergency light and save the day.


Nothing to Declare (Watford Edition)

I love the Watford Observer.

No joke. It's just a great newspaper. Actually, let me rephrase that. It's a great local newspaper. Not like those tabloid piece of shit twenty 23 pages of adverts 1 page of news all written by the same guy apologies we used to get in Harrow. And not like that scary one in Willesden with the future of the library centre on the front page and all the murders reduced to page 7. There's so few murders in Watford it couldn't fail to make page 1.

And not to mention the fact that they used their local contacts and knowledge to scoop all the national newspapers when a major anti-terrorist raid took place in Bushey. (All the nationals just said "Hertfordshire". Big Place)

Quality journalism, deep roots and a damn good gig guide that gives you the sense that you live in a place where things happen. And a funny letters page.

"I notice from your article regarding the new Watford signs that they are being sponsored by Hertfordshire Highways.
Is this the same Hertfordshire Highways which doesn't have enough money in its budget to mend the potholes in Loudwater Lane?"
- Mrs M White, Loudwater

"I know Watford Council enforcement officers will not hesitate to prosecute any establishment that is found to breach the rules in this context.

But I would much prefer it if the establishments themselves acted to help Watford reduce under-age drinking and thereby contribute to a reduction in teenage pregnancies and other drink related anti-social behaviour."
- Councillor Rabi "Silver Bullet" Martins

"I am very concerned that we seem, in this country, to be on the threshold of weapons in space."
- Peter Eldridge, Watford

Thursday, August 05, 2004

The medication's wearing off

By the look of the single gray cloud that's now covering the entire sky, I'm in for some serious storms again.

Given that I've got a temperature of 101, I'm finding it hard to work out whether today's incredibly hot or not. Most of the useful advice I've ever been given about what to do when ill has been firmly rooted in winter. I can't imagine Wrapping Up Warm or Lots of Hot Drinks making me feel any better. And taking a cold shower didn't help.

On the bright side the thunder's started. And the lights are flickering. Cool.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Call it a night?

My 3rd attempt to describe my illness in a witty way has gone wrong. Apparently mobiles can also crash.

I'm going to drug myself into what could be mistaken for a deep sleep. Do not mix with any other paracetamol containing product? Whatcha going to do about it?

I'm a nice colleague. I'm just crap.

I'd been a little preoccupied last week with getting ready for Glinty's return. She'd been on holiday, and I *know* how hard it is to come back after holidays. Actually I've only ever had a long weekend, but I can guess. So I've been trying to ease the transition for her.

Someone (not me), broke Glinty's mug whilst she was away, and I spent a toxic couple of days trying to stick the handle back on, whilst trying to ignore the instruction to use the glue only in a well ventilated environment. And giggling.

But it didn't work, and since she's come back, I've been waiting for the right moment to tell her. Because she WILL freak if I time it badly. Or I could just hope she finds out whilst I'm off sick.

My first move in easing the transition when she came back was opening the security door to let her in and giving her a big welcome back hug. And the security door swung shut and winded her.

Maybe I should take the rest of the week off.

It started with an itch

The new Atkins....

Whilst clutching my ears at my desk, I realised that Sassy Nurse hasn't been ill in all the time I've known her. Which lends some weight to my theory.

I'm giving some serious thought to trying to publish it as a book. All I need is a copy of the Writers Handbook (check), access to a photocopier (check), and a author's picture (where's my tinfoil hat?)

I'm just dying to receive a letter that Takes It Seriously. ("We do not, however, believe your book has what it takes to succeed in a competitive market. We do not believe it is a good business investment to give away free cassette tapes.")

Just need a sample chapter. Any suggestions?

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Dear Daily Mail...

Yesterday I was sitting in a team meeting when I was overcome by a terrifying feeling of falling through the floor. After checking that we hadn't had to hold the meeting in the lift (again) I realised I might be coming down with an ear infection and might need some antibiotics.

At 1 I called my GP, who said they couldn't see me until first thing this morning. I'd barely sat down when the doctor buzzed me in, and 5 minutes later I was on my way in to work with a prescription for antibiotics, a gentle reminder not to stick things in my ears, and some bonus eardrops.

What does this say about the state of the NHS today?

Actually, as anyone who debates on a grown-up level knows, anecdotal evidence is worth fuck-all. But, hey, we live in a society that bases rightness on who can tell the most shocking story the loudest. Try to put forward any argument that the NHS might be alright as they go and you can expect a response like "HOW CAN YOU SAY THAT? I read in the paper that a 93-year-old granny was left on a trolley for EIGHT HOURS! It's a bloody disgrace." Quote some independent statistic from say, the 93-year-old granny trolley index, which shows the number of 93-year-old grannys left on trolleys is down to 1 this year compared with 5 last year, and they'll say "You can prove anything like that."

Add this facile level of debate to a government that's pathologically incapable of arguing with an implacably hostile right-wing press, preferring instead to validate their delusions with yet more promises to "get tough", and apply this to everything from crime to schools, and it's no surprise that so many people think this country's going to hell in a handcart when all the evidence points to the contrary.

So it's about time someone told a good, if worthless, NHS story.

Now, if you don't mind, I'm late for my job in the NHS. It's a bloody disgrace.

Sunday, August 01, 2004

The last Britney song ringing in my ears..

I think I may have stayed out a bit too late.

I say that because the next train heading home is at midnight 50, I'm at least 35 minutes from home, I have to meet Northern Nurse at 820 to get to work on time, she lives 40 minutes away and, well, I don't want to do the maths. I know I'm not getting much sleep tonight.

Been in a confessional sort of mood tonight- if there's one thing I've learnt from work it's how to get out things I wouldn't normally have the guts to say. The secret is to change your posture, tone of voice and general attitude into one of “well, this is me being business-like and this is what I *have* to say.“ The aim was to get it off my chest and to provoke a deep and meaningful conversation about this thing in particular and my life in general.

Fortunately my mate's response was to suggest we go inside and check out the Karaoke. I've had enough of deep and meaningful for one weekend.

Got that Britney piano solo playing in my head now. Can't think of a better one to send me to bed with- assuminq I ever get there.