Where there's a Willesden there's a way

Friday, October 29, 2004

Four more wars

With the US election less than one week away and still too close to call, what changes can we expect in the event of a George Bush victory?

Blair to make speech defending fears about the global economy, deriding “economic girly men”. Vinnie Jones to replace Gordon Brown in shock reshuffle.

Congress to vote on new appropriations bill for rebuilding Iraq. Page outlawing the Democratic party and Michael Moore to be secretly inserted in dead of night.

With macho strutting increasingly replacing mainstream political debate, Michael Howard to be urged to announce that he has successively impregnated his secretary.

US Army to replace burgeoning casualty rate by extending recruitment operations in Washington, Detroit and Brixton.

Votes on both Capitol Hill and the Houses of Parliament on future wars to be replaced by handing victory to whichever side can shout “USA! USA!” the loudest.

Debates about morality of Iraqi war and increasing destruction of Iraq’s society to be compulsorily and inexplicably cut short by indignant shriek of “Hello? Have you forgotten 9-11?”

An act of Christian prayer to be made compulsory at start of school day as well as before commencing government business or saturation bombing of civilian areas.

Black Watch to be deployed to North Korea.

Sedated in Stevenage

I can safely say that I've had better fortnights. In fact, the whole thing was a complete waste of time, so rather than write self-pitying drivel here for a whole fortnight, now I've got a bit of perspective I can write it all now.

It got off to a flying start when I failed my driving test, again. One more and it's going to become a routine.

But really did it was being stuck in Stevenage for the whole two weeks. My employers have decided to introduce a new IT system, neatly reducing the whole messy business of care management with an extremely complicated series of boxes. The idea being that rather than spend money on professional IT trainers, they'd spend a fortnight training staff to be trainers.

The writer in me felt the old filing system had an asthetic advantage, with its dusty old letters and scrawled notes it managed to convey a sense of narrative, a personality emerging that the electronic system goes out of its way to avoid. The part of me that has to train the team how to use it (in three blocks of five, in two and a half days each), turned to drink and non-prescription tranquilisers. They're called Naturacalm, and they put me in space for about two days.

The rest of the time I just moped. It wasn't just the early mornings, and that I spent £70 on fares, therefore having no money all week. It was also the fact that I hate working in IT. People have been telling me all month that "There's a lot of money in IT you know". I'd just find working in computers all the time extremely boring and surprisingly maddening. I didn't get into social work to do IT, and people are always going to be more interesting than computers. And let's face it, two weeks in an IT office was enough to drive me cuckoo.

Oh well, my brief spell as an IT teacher starts in a fortnight. My colleagues would be the first to admit that they're not exactly technically minded. And the senior managers weren't much help."I'm just not convinced that I can teach this to the majority of my team.""Why not? Which bit don't you understand?"

The worst bit's over anyway, I hope. I just need to rest, calm down, and work out why the hell O2 just cut my phone off.

John Peel, Rock In Peace

John Peel he dead. Shit.

I always associate John Peel with the late nights in the newspaper office on a Wednesday night, frantically typing away as the radio clanged in the background. Just the sound of his voice was enough to crack me up sometimes. Oh well, lots of tributes out there, and another won't go amiss.

Oo, and LNR have this from him. Close your eyes afterwards, and you can almost imagine him saying it."When Chris Moyles came to Radio One, I thought about strapping explosives to myself and taking us both out. I'm an old man now: it'll make little difference."

Who can possibly replace him?

Monday, October 11, 2004

Purple? Lotto? Decapitation? Why?

Speaking of Ken Bigley (poor sod), Billy Connolly is in trouble for going off on one about him in unusually offensive style. Maybe you just had to be there.

Apparently he was wishing the kidnappers would just get on with it. He also drew attention to the fact that Mr Bigley had a younger asian wife. You just wonder why Billy didn’t just come out and call him a sex tourist.

To be honest, I’m always a bit wary of jumping on these tired old bandwagons of moral outrage. Everyone goes a bit too far with a joke sometimes, and maybe he was quoted out of context, or that you really had to be there. I don’t know, but I wasn’t. The fact that I’ve never liked Billy Connolly never really come into it. But I suppose we pay comedians to shock us, so we shouldn’t be too surprised when they do that in a way we don’t like.

I just never forgave him for those incredibly annoying Lotto adverts. Way to lose any remaining shreds of working-class hero credibility- plugging excessive gambling to the working-classes for the profit of corporate shareholders. And dyeing your beard purple in the process.

I saw that advert anyway, and for that I can judge him harshly; and the fact that he’s never made me laugh.

Still, I won’t go as far as the Friday Thing, who wished he’d hurry up and get hit by a car. After a howl of protest they revised it to a truck. Apparently they’re not cruel, you see.

Why can't they just get on with it?

Has the world gone mad…?

Last week I found myself in a rural idyll which was pure Royston Vasey meets the Daily Mail. It was very instructive.

As I may have said before, I stumbled into a remote pub in Buckinghamshire just past nightfall, quite pleased that I wasn’t going to spend the night in a field, but quite concerned about how I was actually going home. But the conversation was quite instructive.
It was one of those anecdotal political arguments; so easy to rubbish, so hard to make go away. It went like this.
”…and now kids can’t play conkers without safety goggles. It’s in case they hurt themselves. They’ve banned it.”

Yes, we all saw that story. Actually, one overzealous headmaster doesn’t really constitute a “they”. And how exactly he’d “ban” it from the rest of us isn’t precisely described. To most of us, that story was just an example of what happens when you err much to far on the side of caution. To the kind of person who believes that we’re going to hell in a handcart, this is music to their ears, and of course typical of what’s going on in every playground up and down politically-correct Britain.

What else was interesting was the emergence of a familiar old story.
“…and there was this coloured chap who worked for social services, who got sacked for ordering a ‘black coffee’. Apparently he should have ordered ‘coffee without milk.’” Sitting on the bar, rather guiltily, was the handy-sized culprit, with today’s dose of scare stories.

We never actually find out who this chap is, and what council he actually worked for. Or when this happened. Like the European Bendy Banana thing, it has all the makings of an urban myth that’s spiralled out of control. People are just so keen to believe that we’ve been taken over by some loony-left faction, determined to make Britain entirely inoffensive at the cost of destroying everyone in it, that to quote another paranoid conspiracy theorist, they want to believe. An interesting twist on this old tale is that the social worker is now black (or ‘coloured’- this proves the teller is not racist, but…). You see, by making it a black man, it says that the person has nothing against black chaps, they just have a problem with this political correctness gone mad. And it’s about as convincing as the National Front putting on suits and claiming they’re a political party.

If ever I need reassurance of my frequently challenged political views, it’s this; whereas the Times and Telegraph prove how badly things are going wrong with terrifying stories of what happened to individuals, the Guardian and Independent contain actual real numbers. Maybe it’s my privileged liberal elite upbringing, but I believe you can actually get a better handle on broad social trends by using reliable numbers rather than anecdotes.

Anyway, it’s very easy to laugh at the far-right, and that would barely deserve a blog post. But there is an educational point in all this too. I was really genuinely alarmed by talking to an Indian friend earlier on in the week at the sheer vitriol he was heaping on Muslims. True, September 11th and the murder of Ken Bigley are not going to go down as great moments in Islamic History. But it’s a little harsh to assume they’re all like this. It’s up there with assuming that the major Hindu festivals consist of burning trains full of muslims, or that Christians get closer to God by burning women at the stake or storming the Arab lands and slaughtering or enslaving the men women and children who stand in their way (you may wish to ignore this example).

That’s the first terrifying bit. Maybe my uniracial, universally-tolerant utopia’s got a bit of a way to go just yet. Secondly, I was telling this whole story to my mother soon afterwards. “I think it’s a bit harsh to tar all muslims with the same brush” I said.

“Oh, you can’t say that” she said, “that’s racist”.I think she was joking anyway.

Saturday, October 09, 2004


As well as being relaxed by my little holiday I'm also very tired- all this travelling around and enjoying myself catches up on me eventually.

But just time to reflect on what a great week off it's been. I'd like to be able to put it down to my great organisational skills, but I know that I owe my holiday to all the lovely friends who helped me out, gave me an adventure, and dragged me back to the real world and to being myself again.

So thanks to all of you- you know who you are.

Let battle be joined. Or something.

I’m back from my holidays. It must have been good, I feel madder than before. Northern Nurse asked how that could be possible. She’ll see.

I’m still being stalked by the forces of chaos. But this morning the fightback began. I woke up in St Albans early this morning, having forgotten to go to bed. I got home and started to tidy the kitchen. It took 4 hours. And I still have another 3 rooms to go.

But that’s the nature of the godless forces of chaos; disrupting our lives, throwing in dirt everywhere, polluting our precious bodily fluids.

I think the Dr Strangelove impressions have been freaking Brother out though. And the kitchen’s a mess already.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

The secret

Walking the streets and meadows of Oxford is a satisfying but vacant way to spend a day. I stopped pretending I was actually going somewhere about the same time I realised I didn't know where I was.

My peaceful stroll through the fields is briefly disturbed by a fast pace on my heels. I stop to watch the cows, and let a hunched student in a beige jumper hurry past as he sneers slightly into his phone. He seems to be carrying the city with him. I briefly overhear a brisk and learned conversation between two aged scholars as two Italian joggers speed past. Soon l have the wide green path to myself, and I shift my bag slightly and continue walking.

I catch the hollow eye of the woman in the baggy grey coat as she passes me for the third time today. It's a look that betrays something we know about each other. In this city where everyone is in a hurry, for all our determined looks and pretence of action, neither of us are going anywhere.

Like I say, l'm on holiday.

Taking leave

Noticing I was hungry and that my heartbeat seemed more regular than usua! I've headed to Oxford City Centre for coffee and a danish.

Looking out on the narrow, busy streets there's been some changes since I was last here. The thrombosing crowds of tourists have melted away for the streets to be reclaimed by the students and, for a short period, the locals. And I'm shocked to see how much I still look like a student.

I like it here, and not just because its one of the few places outside London I have friends. People are friendly, buses work, conversations are informed. I feel a long way from Borehamwood.

I also know I could be very unhappy here. Out there, somewhere, I sense Physics. And it's clearly too soon.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Forces of Chaos: The Roadshow

The newspaper on the seat opposite opens on a picture of the Ladbroke Grove crash and as my train ambles through North London, we pause opposite a stark red and white sign which commands PREPARE TO MEET THY GOD.

This seems as good a time as any to declare myself On Holiday.

I've spent the past few weeks in sustained conflict with the Forces of Chaos (their capitals}. This is an unholy alliance of dirt, dust, disordered paperwork and Work Stuff which threatened to unhinge me. Everywhere I turn there's a mess and I could either spend my week sorting it all out or I could get out and chill out. So I'm heading over to Mr Fusion's place for a few days.

I've already spent Monday getting tipsy with my colleagues, Tuesday horribly lost in the dark in the Buckingham countryside and Paddington Station has become the scene of Flashmob: The Opera. I'm starting to suspect Chaos is a state of mind.