Where there's a Willesden there's a way

Sunday, February 27, 2005

All stations to Doom

The big red London bus is a much-loved icon to anyone to doesn't regularly use one or have a disability. Personally I'd like one of those soulless modern ones with decent suspension and a roof that doesn't leak..

I'm bumping painfully across town on my way up to Watford. Brother's having a night out in the High Street, so I'm keen to get there early and get out before the paramedics arrive. Nothing truly prepares you for the horror of Watford on a Saturday night, and although it's a year since I last did it, somehow the memories just refuse to fade.

Of course, this could all be academic, as I'm supposed to be there in an hour and I've so far got to Neasden. And with the streetlights looking strangely colourful, I've got what might just become a migraine.

If it wasn't Brother's birthday I'd be hiding under a pillow right now. On the other hand, Mog's having a Girl's night in,and boys are very much not invited.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Still here...

I've spent a lot of time this week walking round town with clients in the heavy snow. I feel like I'm in an ironic remake of "It's A Wonderful Life".

However, despite the heavy workload and even heavier potential for ironic juxtapositioning, I'm surprised at how much I'm enjoying my new job. I'm also surprised at how fiercely protective I get towards the people I've been entrusted to look after.

Which, together with some impressive train delays, could start to explain what I'm still doing here. Six-thirty, and I'm still in Borehamwood. And very cold.

So much for supper.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Cold Snap

Winter's come to the South East belately, settling on North London in sustained flurries. And here in Meteor Street we're starting to take on a Moscow air to our daily lives. We're huddled, sick and miserable and very much aware that it's only Tuesday. Somehow the promise of Spring isn't going to be enough to sustain us until Friday, which is why I'm breaking out the fur hat, unscrewing the Smirnoff and taking an early night. No wonder it took the good people of Moscow a good seventy springs before they managed to throw out communism.

It's the worst kind of cold outside, the type you still carry with you even hours later. Just going about our daily business of working and battling germs seems enough to suck the life out of us even before we go about the more important extras like going out and having lives. I seem destined on nights like this to write the kind of prose that would make Hunter S. Thompson, sitting at his desk with a typewriter and a browser, put out his nearest handgun and put himself out of his misery. No-one seems to know why he did it; but it seems a fair bet that a week of heavy snow could make even the most vain writer lose the will to leave. But it's only a vodka and tonic for tonight.

Maybe if we all make it through the week without succumbing totally to viruses and gloom I might just think I've managed to achieve something this week. But so far it doesn't seem that way. A good cold snap is a good thing in the long run; it kills off all the bugs and might even get rid of our mice, who have been strangely absent this week. More importantly, we carry the memory of weather like this when Spring finally arrives on the scene, and we wouldn't appreciate warm weather all the year round.

At least the heating's working fine. I have a date with a duvet and a dream of a long pointless boat trip at slow speed on a hot day.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

People I've met lately

Mog took me out to our local. But she's made it clear I'm not to talk to anyone. It follows a bit of an incident last week.

I think everyone's quite familiar with my night with Seamus and Martin. And I was determined the next night night that I wouldn't talk to any of the angry mad drunks that often speak to you in Finbars. And I was doing so well too. Mog joined me and Smooth B for the last drink of the night.

"So how's your night been?"

"OK. Been very quiet". Smooth B's shocked lock threatened to give the game away, but I kept my cool. "Quiet. Yes."

We spoke for a while, until angry mad drunk behind me stood up with a cigarette in his mouth and shot me an expectant glance. I flicked my lighter, and turned back to Mog, who gave me a quizzical glance.

"I was just discussing work. I had a bit of a strange day."

Mog announced soon afterwards that she was heading home. I'd got away with it, and looked quite smug when I felt a mild blow to my shoulder. Angry mad drunk was raising his fists behind me, and looking quite sincere.

"Democracy!", he shouted. "Fucking Democracy!" I knew the game was up.

"Democracy" I reluctantly replied. Mog glowered.

You see, I'm not really supposed to proselytise to the drunks in Willesden. My 1984-inspired optimism about Willesden being ground zero for the revolution should have really run out by now. But that really hasn't stopped me.

It's strange; everyone else gets more right-wing as they get older...

Friday, February 18, 2005

All the way from China

So much for staying in, saving money and staying out of trouble. Don't think I'm in any trouble though.

Finbar's in Willesden Green is not a place that immediately associates itself with miracles in technology. It's very much associated with Irish-themed stouts though. I was just enjoying my third of the evening when my phone chirped. I was expecting the usual- a text from Smooth B about his womanising, or one of those "where the hell are you?" texts that reminds me that I've forgotten something important. But no, it was an email. From China.

It's quite exciting to hear from someone on the other side of the continent. Somehow, all this talk of the Global Village hasn't taken that away from me. It's an old friend, and I hope she's well. And I was very pleased to hear from her.

I've also given her the address of the blog, so assuming I haven't written anything this month that might upset China's Internet filters, she's very welcome.

Wow, and up until now my most exotic reader was in Devon.

End of the line...

It's Friday night at the end of a long and challenging week. I could hold my head up high, if I wasn't so tired.

It's gone well, but I can't shake the idea that I'm tired and broke and I should just lie here until Monday morning. Or maybe Sunday night. I could go to the pub.

Snow and rain are forecast, and I can almost reach a good book from here. I doubt the world's going to miss me for a day or two.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Male bonding, Cricklewood Style

There's certain things I hate to see in the morning. And one of them's a mouse rooting through the breakfast cereals. And as of today, another thing's Coco Pops. That mouse has got to go.

I headed into B&Q this evening to buy something to fix the problem. Nothing too drastic, and I have nothing against the little guy except him leaving little poos around the kitchen. The lady on reception pointed me towards aisle 1, where I found B&Q's own brand KILLER range. The KILLER mousetrap looked like it would take my fingers off. And the KILLER bait looked just a little unfair. I stopped a member of staff.

"Excuse me mate, I'm looking for a mousetrap."

"D'yu want spring-loaded or poison? There's a good range."

I looked up at the various torture devices. Jerry, Danger Mouse and the advert for Stuart Little flashed into my head at once. Really all I wanted to do was trap it in a little box and take it out into Gladstone Park to start a new life. Maybe with a little suitcase.

"Well, I don't really want to kill it."

The staff member put down his two pots of paint to give me a contemptuous laugh.

"You don't wanna kill it?" This was a trade B&Q, and I wasn't feeling particularly tough at this point. I needed a change of tack and fast if I wasn't going to be laughed out of this store.

I shrugged my shoulders. "Women, y'know?".

"Ah." He gave me a sly grin. "We used to 'ave a range of cardboard traps but we don't sell that many. What you wanna do is head down to the pet shop in the High Road. About a fiver and reusable."

"Cheers mate." My tactic had paid off. And Mog really wouldn't appreciate this one.

He pointed towards the spring-loaded trap and tipped me a wink, the light glinting off the steel wire. "Or you could get 'er a bottle of champagne, couple of roses and get up early."

Saturday, February 12, 2005

No signal, some complaints

It's generally considered impolite to admit certain people had a point. Hitler, for example. Thatcher, Major and all those other tyrants certainly. But I'm starting to wonder about the Unabomber. And there's a song on my walkman that neatly sums up what's on my mind.

I'm several hundred feet below the nearest phone signal on my way over to my sister's. Heading to her place has always been a good way of taking a break from the world for a few days, and I always use the journey to reflect on successes and, er, errors of judgement.

It was my first psychology tutorial this morning, and I was making a very good impression right up until the moment we moved onto ethics in experiments. There's quite a famous set of ethically questionable work carreid out by Henry Murray; it involved lying to and manipulating young volunteers and essentially messing with their heads. And no-one's really quite certain what the aim of the experiment actually was. So far so academic, but one of the volunteers was a brilliant but asocial young student called Theodore Kaczynski. Admittedly the majority of students didn't go on to become Unabombers, but you have to wonder.

Of course, when someone asked who the Unabomber was, I may have betrayed the depth of my knowledge. And I was getting some very strange looks right up to the point I finally shut up.

I've never liked those people who have an encyclopedic knowledge of criminals; they tend to be the mostly ones to become copycat killers. But Kaczynski's story has everything; genius, insanity, some sort of misguided plan for reforming society, and, well, some beliefs that aren't a million miles away from my own. Before retreating to his shack in the woods, this man carried out work in an obscure field of pure mathematics that's still unrivalled in its brilliance; admittedly I couldn't pass a physics degree, but I think it's a story with salutory lessons to all of us that think about things a little too much. How could it go so badly wrong?

I was sounding a bit Unabomberish yesterday with my rant about advertising. Kaczynski had a conviction that scientists were developing ways of manipulating people's behaviour. There's a school of thought that he got that idea from Professor Murray. And you see where I'm going with this one, right? All these people in pain in the world, and psychologists get into bed with advertisers.

So, just how mad is this man? Well, I decided to bite the bullet and acquire a pair of tongs and the Unabomber's manifesto. It's been a painful 20 paragraphs, and I can safely say that it's so far rambling and valueless. Not least in that he seems to think it's the Left destroying American society. So far so barking. But maybe it will be a valuable lesson; 1 or 2 good points in 250kb of nonsense does not make someone a great sociologist or representative of a rich seam of thought lurking under the surface of society. Technology and modern society are what you make of it and not things to despise; the secret is to make it work for you whilst living a life that is definitively yours. Sending mail bombs just makes a mess.

I'm still a long way underground, and still waiting to pick up a signal. I'll probably get one at Canary Wharf and I'll tell my sister what time to expect me and yes fajitas for dinner would be fantastic.

Next tutorial in a month. Maybe I should talk about my clients a bit.

Friday, February 11, 2005

That's our Ken...

Asked about the incident, Mr Livingstone said: "When you make it quite clear you don't want them to interview you and they follow you, constantly badgeringyou with questions, you have the right to make it clear that they are not welcome."

Asked if he would apologise to Finegold, Mr Livingstone said: " Absolutely not. If he isn't happy he shouldn't be working for a paper like that. You can't expect to work for the Daily Mail group and have the rest of society treat you with respect as a useful member of society, because you are not."


A quick pint

"And all I'm shaying ish, can youu do dat fuhr me? That'sh alllll I'm shaying son."

Just five weeks into my new job, and my outreach worker skills are being tested to the limit. Except it's 10.30, I'm in my local, and Mog's left me talking to two very drunk Irishmen. And I don't think this is their first night in this place.

Forty minutes ago I was listening to an audio cassette called "Exploring Psychology AC1", and decided to reward myself with a pint at our local. Now I'm trying quite hard to blag an answer. It's probably not helping that Seamus is becoming rapidly less coherent and significantly more agressive. As far as I can tell, he wants me to look up a long-lost relative on a social services computer, but I'm really not sure. We've had a long chat after both strongly appreciated me drinking the Black Stuff, and Seamus seemed extremely interested in psychology. He says he's never known a psychologist, and I've been telling him about Pavlov's dog. However, communication seems to be breaking down.

Martin grabs his coat and me by the shoulder.

"Now, I'm going to go home" he says in a broad brogue I've warmed to instantly. "Now don't you go causing this fella any trouble." I shake Martin's hand.

"You're a social worker intya?" I nod. "I can tell you've got a heart of gold, cause yer hands are fucking cold."

I go over and join Mog, who gives me a grateful look. I think it's called taking a bullet.

I promised to meet Seamus there tomorrow night. It's been a good night.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Those little signs

I spent quite a lot of time with Miss Not-a-racist-but today. She's certainly a busy lady.

Miss Not-a-racist-but isn't racist, I have to point this out. She said she can't be a racist as she's had black boyfriends. I also meet people who say "Some of my best friends are black" or "Gay people don't make me uncomfortable at all. I feel totally comfortable. It doesn't bother me. Really, it doesn't"

We were discussing politics on the way into the office. Most social workers have common views on Thatcherism and the collectivisation of public services. I was arguing that the government believes that if you're going to spend money on children, the best time to spend it is in the very early years, as educational disadvantages become pretty firmly entrenched by age 5. I said it's the most sensible thing a government's ever said.

"Or rather than give some 15-year-old who's just had a baby £3000, spend it on sex education and stop other wasters having babies."

It was beginning to dawn on me that this really wasn't my sort of conversation. "Or roll out universal child care, giving advantages to children and giving parents the chance to work." She flung the last set of doors open.

"Or kick out all the immigrants."

A long time before I could start to argue immigrants offer a net benefit to the economy, Miss Not-a-racist-but was through the doors.

Maybe this should be my first battle against the revolution. She's scary though.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Sunrise on Meteor Street

I think it must have been 6am when I actually decided to give up on going to sleep and make some breakfast instead. This must be bad; I don't do breakfast.

There's no doubt about it, my sleep pattern seems to be getting worse. I tend to wake up at a decidedly godforsaken hour most mornings and can't get off again at least three times a week. Tonight (last night?) it was especially bad as I couldn't get to sleep to begin with. Fortunately, the last two nights I've been on holiday, so I've got back to sleep and stayed there way past midday. I'll probably end up at work in an hour, but I've topped up my reserves at least. I'm with clients *all* day and at least one of them will notice.

I've never really been much of a sleeper, but I really don't know when it qualifies as a medical problem. My nightmare (well, not many of them lately) is that I'll end up like my Mum who has always been the worst sleeper in the family. She now wakes up around 5 and goes to bed at 8.30 to compensate. When I last lived there we used to pass on the stairs around 4am.

Maybe I'm spending more time than is healthy worrying about work, the state of the world (see a *lot* below) and things in general. Or maybe I always get like this when Supernurse has been to visit. And I'm not seeing her again for a long month.

Now, where's the sunrise? I've got work to do.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

We're not racist, but...

Well, it's finally happened. The right-wing revolution starts here. Already Fleet Street and the Tory Party are preparing their kerosene-soaked crosses. Shit.

For a long time I've been struggling to reconcile these facts; that
almost everyone I meet is tolerant and easy-going,
I have no racist friends and just the one racist relative,
I've always lived in quite racially mixed areas, and
to make outrageously racist comments means dismissal from most jobs.
(Except Chairman of the BNP, but there it's part of the job discription.)
The majority of the tabloids are written by, well, frothing xenophobes, serving up a daily dose of paranoia about immigrants and asylum seekers.
I seem to be hearing more and more comments with scary undertones from people I know. (Ref Christmas, St George's Day and the whole 'who's country is it anyway?' incident)

I think I've finally found an explanation. I hang out in pretty tolerant circles and I'm from London. Sometimes we forget the rest of the country's not quite got the same views. You see, in London ethnic minorities cannot be described as "outsiders". A little further out, where people might see one non-white person a week, it's more easy for them to believe these myths about "floods". These myths have been spreading like wildfire- classic ones involve 'banned Christmas' (see previous) and 'White Britons now minority in their own country'.* And now the dam's finally broken, with New Labour, rather than making any attempts to dismiss the more lurid tabloid myths, deciding to go along with them. This makes this new mutant form of racism an accepted part of the mainstream, which means it's all downhill from here.

I've just met this new colleague who within three minutes of starting a debate on cultural diversity announced "I'm not racist, but...". And then went on a diatribe about how whites are daily discriminated against (she couldn't cite any specific examples), and asylum seekers get extremely preferential treatment. Even Supernurse did one the other day (she only buys the Daily Mail for the TV guide). Her client had said "I'd be getting this benefit if I was an asylum seeker, and instead of saying "Well, you'd probably get stuck in a hellish tower block, beaten up by xenophobic youths and then being sent back to a totalitarian country to be tortured by British-made equipment" or a truthful "probably not, no", she answered "Look, I know it's wrong, but I don't make the rules." A public-sector worker neatly perpetuating the myth.

Being the only person who's actually taken the time to speak to the asylum team, I know that you don't get given a three-bedroom house, car and mobile phone if you're an asylum seeker. But people are very keen to believe all they read. And that's because saying "Bogus Asylum Seeker" is just a code-word for "non-white". And the majority racism never totally went away, it just took on new forms.

And now the government's bought into it, totally, making this new form of racism totally acceptable. I think we can all guess where it's heading next. It's disappointing to find out that Britain's really not as left-wing as I thought, and the Labour government I voted for has just traded racial equality for a handful of votes. I think I've definitely worked out who I'm voting for next time.

We need a counter-revolution. I'm going to make a plan. But in the meantime:
  • Do not believe a word you read in any paper smaller than your pillow. It's poison and gets under your skin after a while. These are people who genuinely want to be racist again, and are trying to shape the country to their own goals.
  • Don't fire bomb the Daily Mail. I've thought about this, but they'd probably blame the foreigners.
  • Arm yourself with the facts, and whenever you hear a bit of this lazy racism, challenge it and argue the person either into the ground, or revealing their true motivation. Either way, it's not hard.

Thanks to Tony Blair, yet again we're in trouble. Damn him.

*Just so you know, the ONS counted the ethnic minority population in the last census as 7.9%. Which is probably a lot less than you thought if you've been reading the Express lately.

So much for the six-day bender....

It's been a strange couple of days here in Meteor Street. I've been off work since Thursday, meaning my Caring Professional facade seems to have fallen off for a few days. And Mog's been off on a six-day bender, which I've occassionally joined her in.

She tells the story better than I can. On the bright side, I've finally finished unpacking, and it turns out that without the ugly seven foot curtains my room actually gets quite a lot of natural day light. Shame I nearly fell off a ladder demonstrating that one.

Oh, and Supernurse was round last night. Which means the flat had a whole day of me swooning and going weak at the knees.

Maybe it's just as well I'm back at work tomorrow.