Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Drinking in The Source cafe in Carlisle

A few minutes ago when I decided to add this post I tried to think of a clever title but I can't manage it tonight, which will come as no surprise to a few of my ex-girlfriends...

Seriously though, I'm effectively 3 days into an 8-day Taiji seminar with one of the best Taiji practitioners on the planet and I'm already feeling the effects. A couple of weeks ago at my monthly acupuncture appointment the acupuncturist said the 4 months of unemployment have obviously been good for me as I've 'uncoiled' during that time. What the uncoiling means is that I've had some moments of ridiculous emotional release: when BT told me they couldn't move my phone number to the new place without sending an engineer round and charging me £125 for the privilege I sat around crying (yes, crying) and whining plaintively to myself, saying "What have I done?" regarding the momentary stupidity that ended my previous relationship and, therefore, my previous life. Of course, by the following day I'd resolved to find a way around BT and their anal-intrusive ways, and I did.

The 'uncoiling' has also meant I've somehow become a lot more comfortable with who I am and what I want from my life. During the few minutes after my stupid mistake, when my then girlfriend was screaming at me (it was justified - although it's not actually the truth, it did look as though I was trying to get another woman into bed, so I deserved the treatment I got at the end) she said "What do you fucking want?" Now that was anger, frustration and confusion erupting out of her and of course no answer was required at the time. That's good, because I don't know if I could have told her - I'm not sure if I really knew the answer or was just too scared to say it, but I wouldn't have said anything no matter what. Now I know exactly what I want and I'll tell anyone who listens. I want something that the vast majority of people would be unable to give, and almost all of them would refuse to admit that they wouldn't be able to give: I want to be accepted as I am. Think about the implications of that for a while and you'll see why most people wouldn't be up to it.

That means there's a chance I could be alone, i.e. not in a sexual & emotional relationship with a woman (sorry guys, I'm straight so my bedroom has a licence for only one penis: mine) for a long time. However, I'm actually so much more happy at the moment I really don't mind. This is probably a combination of the time I've had to unwind, the new experiences I've had, the few days I've spent practicing Taiji with a teacher so good even being in the same room as him improves your practice, the pleasant time I'm having in Carlisle and the bottle of wine I've guzzled this evening. Today was the 'break' in the Taiji seminar so tomorrow is the start of the remaining 5 days and therefore the start of the tougher, deeper and potentially more transformative work.

I spent today wandering through Carlisle in the rain and just enjoying the experience of being alive. I visited the Cathedral and the Castle but drew the line at paying £5.20 to visit the Museum & Art Gallery. I sat in a pub for nearly 2 hours enjoying the great jukebox (Metallica, Johnny Cash, Iron Maiden, QOTSA, Linkin Park) and my book (Ayn Rand's "The Fountainhead") before walking down the road to a Costa Coffee and sitting in there for an hour too. Now I'm in the cafe 'attached' to the dojo/kwoon where the Taiji seminar is being held. I took advantage of the free practice period tonight and after about an hour's work I was pleased to see some of the effects of Patrick's teaching have stuck already so the first 3 days were obviously worthwhile. The remaining 5 days are going to be great, I just know it.

Anyway, the point was that I may be alone for a long time. Given my impotence the chance of my getting any occasional casual sex is pretty much nil unless the woman is happy for a bloke with a beard (yes, I like it and it's staying) to go down on her and do nowt else. At the moment the taste of a good woman, eventually followed by the sound of a good woman's orgasm, would be very welcome. I don't really expect it to happen and my days of strolling languidly through the rain-soaked and slightly pungent streets of Carlisle have reinforced a single idea: I don't care. Nothing is static, everything changes: even a corpse gradually rots away, so I don't think this feeling of solitary bliss will last for very long but while it's here I'm enjoying it.

I'm going to be pretentious and end on a quote from Rudyard Kipling:

"The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. To be your own man is a hard business. If you try it you will be lonely often and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself."

No, I'm going to be even worse and end on a quote from Henry Rollins:

"Fuck all y'all."

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Roomie Nation

A few weeks ago I moved into a shared house, something I'd thought for a long while was a good idea in general but which was imposed upon me due to circumstances at the time rather than being the result of a conscious choice. While moving into the room which is now my home I came across a book I hadn't read for a few years and whose setting is perfectly apposite to my current situation.

The book is John Brunner's 1968 Sci-Fi masterpiece "Stand on Zanzibar" and the title of this entry is actually one of the book's chapter headings. The full story is too complicated to go into but there's an in-depth description on wikipedia for those who are interested. The reason the story relates to my current situation is that it's set in the early- to mid-21st Century and the Earth's population is 7+ billion people (not that far from our current 6.5 billion), causing overcrowding on a massive scale and therefore making house-sharing with strangers practically mandatory. I remember thinking when I first read the book that house-sharing was a good idea and now that I'm actually doing it I'm pleased to say that I was right but I'm well aware how lucky I've been.

I've heard a few minor horror stories about previous occupants here and other people's previous landlords and housemates. There's the usual melee of people who don't bother cleaning up after themselves even though the kitchen/bathrooms etc. are also used by 5 other people, and the folks who think that as the fridges are shared, some of the contents are also fair game. Of course there's always someone who has their music up loud at all times of the day and night with no thought of the effect it has on other people. Funnily enough, one of my current housemates called the council about a neighbour making a lot of noise through the night and that's when I learned that the house next door is actually several bedsits and the other occupants wanted the noisy one out too. One of the previous housemates here was a borderline basket-case and she got away with all sorts of nonsense because everyone else was scared of her - apparently she'd regularly get into fights with guys in town just because she felt like it. Our newest housemate said her previous landlord was the sort of person who'd buy the cheapest possible item for the house and then hurl verbal abuse at the tenants if the item was broken.

So given that this house is now full, the other 5 tenants are decent people and our landlord is a professional who's not just out to make a profit, I've been pretty lucky really. If there were more nice people who wanted to house-share and more landlords prepared to provide a decent environment for tenants, house-sharing would be much more popular and would go a long way to sorting out the ridiculous housing 'shortage' we have in the UK. Before I climb onto that particular soapbox, here's a bit more background information.

Apart from living with family my home life in chronological order is: a shared room in a student hall of residence, a student flat, a student house, a flat with my best friend, alone in my own flat, a house with 3 postgraduate students, alone in a rented a flat, a flat with a girlfriend and now a room in a shared house. Being a quiet, reserved, over-serious kind of guy who's not terribly gregarious I can honestly say that living on my own was the worst thing I ever did, both times. If you're out seeing friends a lot or have people visiting a lot then living on your own can be great but I've never been that sociable and ended up spending most of my time indoors alone watching films or reading while listening to music. None of that is wrong per se but it's incredibly easy to devolve into a Norman No-mates recluse who hasn't a clue how to interact with other people. The great thing about a shared house is you can hide away in your room if you want some privacy or you can hang around in the kitchen (there's no lounge in this house) and talk to whoever is there. One of the guys here put it in a nutshell: some days everyone's in their room, some days we're all in the kitchen all evening, talking, eating and drinking.

Soapbox time! I've just had a look on the national statistics website to get some information. The UK population mid-2006 was approximately 60.5 million people, a rise of 8% since 1971's total of 55.9 million. The number of households increased from 18.6 million in 1971 to 24.4 million in 2007. Note that we have around 4.5 million more people and 5.8 million more homes but there's still a shortage! Now, the number of people living alone doubled - 12% of households are single occupancy - that means there are 2.9 million households containing only 1 person. Speaking from personal experience and having known various people who've lived alone, having your own place can be an intensely lonely experience, yet around 3 million people are doing it! Here's another bit of info gleaned from t'internet: the government has commited to building 3 million new homes by 2020 to ensure there are enough places for everyone to live. Obviously there's no direct link between those stats but it makes you wonder.

Digression: A while ago there was a TV documentary made about the street the film-maker lived in. It highlighted how little people know their closest neighbours and how rife loneliness and melancholy is in the faceless grey streets of many British towns. It occurred to me then, even though I only caught the last 10 minutes of the documentary, that if you looked down the average street you could probably find at least two lonely people who'd love to spend time together just to have someone to talk to. In fact it's quite likely you could find two people who'd be compatible in a relationship and therefore be much better off even if all they did was occasionally have some mindless stress-relieving sex or go the platonic route and just sit around chatting. If only there was some way of getting them all together...

Anyway, the point is: why is there a housing shortage when we have more homes per person than ever before? Daily Mail readers will go on about immigrants, asylum seekers and other 'temporary' residents taking up space that should be reserved for us Brits. However, it's well-known that immigrants tend to live in smaller cheaper accommodation and house-share in relatively high numbers - anyone around in the 80's will remember the jokes about letting out your spare room to a Bengali family. So if it's not the influx of international immigrants, what is it?

Simple: the steadily rising affluence of the majority of the population, coupled with the ever-increasing displays of ostentation that are now such a large part of pop culture, has created a lifestyle-worshipping generation who crave ever more material wealth. In most countries, the most important display of wealth is in the choice of home or, for those with enough money, homes plural. Advertising and television love to make us believe that the 3 spare bedrooms, ensuite bathroom and acres of open-plan living space are luxuries accessible to everyone. Realistically it's only open to those with lots of money but, rather like the way the slew of reality TV shows has made half the population think they could be a celebrity, too many people now think a spacious designer home is within their grasp.

Let me ask a question: why do you want a huge house? Are you never going to leave it? Are you going to spend the rest of your life cocooned in comfortable surroundings decorated to the latest trend but never actually set foot outside? In an age when people spend more time txting and emailing 'facebook friends' than they do interacting with their real friends and family it really is time to reverse the trend. Or, more accurately, push through the current cultural cycle until it once again becomes fashionable to be sociable in person. Then people won't sit around talking or playing with mobile phones in cinemas because they'll recognise the fact that they're in a public place surrounded by other people and not just sat in their own lounge in front of the TV. Then people won't be so badly behaved when they're drunk because they'll empathise with everyone else and understand the impact of their behaviour on others. Then... oh forget it - just move into a shared house at least for a while and learn the value of tolerance, understanding, taking responsibility for your actions and proper communication.

PS If I'd said all that in a public place everyone would be looking for the bottle of cheap cider I'd been swigging from since breakfast and wishing they didn't let people like me back into the community so soon...

Monday, 4 August 2008

Progress checkpoint #2

It occurred to me the other day that my list of goals stated in January had two sets that included time limits and I just crossed another deadline so it's time for a review.

My two targets for March were both missed but not by too much. Now it's obvious that both of my targets for July have also been missed: I haven't found a new job (even though I left the old one!) and I haven't participated in a mountain-bike race. Naturally, I am job-hunting and I would much rather be working than be unemployed but as far as the bike-racing goes I couldn't care less. I've been riding the bike more often over the last few weeks, I've been to places I've never seen before and I've revisited places I hadn't seen for a couple of years. I've also done a PB on my 'usual' circuit: I thought it was 19 miles but it's actually 18.5 miles, even so, the 63 minutes I took to get around it last Tuesday still counts as a best time and it does look as though I may well beat the hour at some point this year.

As for the rest: as I have photographs on a commercial website and in the Autumn a couple of travel articles will be published on the internet I think that particular goal will be in the bag. I also have another article, based on my lap-dancing blog entry from July, which has been sent to a couple of magazines. Who knows what'll happen there but we'll see.

I'm about to make a start on revising my French so that I can get from Toulouse airport to Carcassonne without any hassle when I go to Mum's at Christmas, which means I ought to meet that goal too by the end of the year.

My Taiji practice is still up and down but that's the nature of the beast. I think this weekend's camp and next months 8-day workshop will be a big help and at the very least provide the motivation to maintain a good level of practice over the summer break rather than letting things slide as usual. In Patrick Kelly's book (Infinite Dao) he mentions a turning point in the training where the desire to train comes from within the body, so rather than having to make yourself go through with your personal practice, it's something the body tells you it needs, rather like feeling hungry or sleepy. If I keep going I should reach that point some time in the next few months to a year and that will be a very welcome experience indeed.

As to the energy levels, they're still up and down but getting better. I think the more regular cycling is helping, as is the fact I'm not in a job I can't stand. Let's hope whatever new job I get isn't quite so vampyric!

As a side note, I had been toying with the idea of taking the MA in Western Esotericism offered by the Uni - I don't have a regular social life so I do now have the time to complete the degree while working full time. However, as Lee quite rightly pointed out the other week, I can start that next year or the year after so there's no rush. I'm getting a little dubious about doing it at all because I don't know if studying the esoteric arts as an academic discipline will really suit me - I think practicing the arts would be better and as Taiji in its 'proper' form is an esoteric art I may just keep reading around the subject and seeing where the training takes me. Also, as I'll be a published writer in the autumn I may well get some freelance work coming in so it's more prudent for me to keep practicing the writing and photography so that the machine is oiled and ready to change up a gear if necessary.

Anyway, the basic aims for the rest of the year are to find a new job, keep working on the Taiji and fitness, do a few months of work on the French, by the end of the year make a start on revising the Japanese so that I'm up to scratch for next summer's planned trip to Japan, and hopefully get some writing and photography out there and actually get paid for it.


Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Dirty Dancing II: Return of the shyness

When we'd first arrived at the club there was a small stag party there clustered around the edge of the main pole-dancing area. They were all early- to mid-twenties, quite drunk and obviously quite immature. The stag himself was on the 'stage' with his trousers down and the two girls dancing around him. At one point I heard the DJ make a comment that mentioned "...blow job on the stage." but it sounded more like a joke than a commentary on the action. The DJ also had to tell the boys more than once to put their cameras away - everyone wants a record of their stag night but the girls don't like to be photographed! I only looked in their direction twice more; once to see the stag on all fours being ridden around the stage like a horse by one of the girls, and again to see him try to pull up his trousers when one of the girls was still on his back, which dumped her unceremoniously on the floor and clearly wasn't her high point of the night.

Later on, after my VIP session, the club was filling up quite rapidly and was beginning to be almost as busy as a 'normal' nightclub would be on a quiet night. I had a very brief chat to the lovely brunette who'd danced for me earlier and asked her what she thought of stag parties. Her answer wasn't a surprise: "They're a nightmare! Sometimes you get them chipping in a pound each so the stag can have a dance and they all want to watch." With that she disappeared off to the outdoor terrace which I hadn't even noticed and then Lee and I left. As we wandered back towards his place I asked if we were going to the other place too as that had been the original plan but he pointed out that we were both skint. I said I'd be happy to get some more cash with my credit card so we did that and went back to Union Street and to the second club, which is the one he'd been taken to before.

The second club was smaller and less plush than the first and their security was much more obvious. The head bouncer (who at one point when I was trying to txt a friend politely asked me to keep my phone in my pocket whilst in the club) had a physique, demeanour and facial expression that said "I'm a nice guy who enjoys weight-training, snorting coke and hurting people." which, let's face it, is what you want for security in a lap-dancing club. Actually, you want polite well-spoken gentlemen who're more than happy to crack skulls if the need arises working as security no matter what the venue! This place had two poles at the back and one on the bar, which was faced by a giant mirror. There were nearly always two girls dancing on the poles and when we first walked in the one on the bar pole easily had the best physique of any of the women we'd seen that night. She was one of the very few without any visible tattoos or piercings and she also had nothing in the way of unnecessary wobbly bits, which all the rest had. That's not to say the others weren't in good shape: let's face it their job is to look sexy so although they're not all to everyone's taste (There was one in the first club with an ok body but a face like a boxer) they're all obviously good at looking good.

Despite having been to the other, larger, club and therefore having seen more than a dozen attractive, scantily-clad women (and had 2 lap-dances and a VIP), I was transfixed by this girl's body. She had the smooth, firm look of a swimwear model, which is an awful cliché but is also accurate in this case. Here's where it gets funny. She climbed down off the bar about a metre from where I was stood nursing a bottle of lager and then she hung around there chatting disinterestedly with the barman for a few minutes. If there ever was a stranger's body I wanted to see naked, it was hers. But.... I had an unexplainable attack of shyness, probably my true nature asserting itself, and I couldn't even muster up the courage to talk to her. My internal dialogue at the time pretty much sums it up: "This is ridiculous: she's paid to dance for people, you won't need to chat her up or impress her in any way at all, you just need to ask her to dance for you. She even has her large purse right next to her so all you have to do is get a £20 note out and it'll go from there!" But no, I stood there dumbfounded and could barely look at her. What a sad case.

Then something rather ironic happened. Another one of the dancers had caught my eye because she was not only the oldest one I'd seen (early 40's I reckon) but also because she reminded me of one of the women who worked in the same building as me in my last job. She came over and chatted to me for a bit, pointing out a group of about a dozen men who she said were Polish and were a pain because they wouldn't pay for a dance and kept asking for sex. They obviously weren't being rowdy or obnoxious with it or security would have had them out the door in double-quick time but even so the girls weren't making any money out of them. Anyway, this older lady, who said she was a qualified pole-dancing teacher trying to set up her own studio, took me for a dance. It was quite good but rather spoiled by the fact that none of the private cubicles had any doors on them and the view from ours appeared to look out on the cubby hole where the cleaners kept all their equipment. Add to that the fact that a bouncer was patrolling the area and walked into view at least 3 times during the dance and the atmosphere just wasn't there. During the dance, the lovely lady spent enough time sat on my lap and bent over that I got to read the tattoo on her lower back. There were three large letters: DJM and smaller letters in between which, when the dim light caught them right so I could see them, spelled out the words "Don't Judge Me".

Anyway, after one dance each and a brief chat over a drink we wandered through town towards Lee's place. We popped into a bar on the way as Sarah and one of her friends were in there so we met up with them, had one final drink and shared a cab home. There I got to witness the girls making 'mega-bed', which is all the cushions from both of the sofas spread onto the floor and covered with two duvets. There were only two of them sharing but apparently they've managed to get three in there very comfortably. It basically means they can have the post-clubbing tea and toast in 'bed' while watching some late-night trash on the huge TV. Naturally it's a girls-only affair but Lee and I were happy enough to have a real bed each upstairs, even though mine was designed for a small child and therefore prohibited certain activity as perfectly expressed by Lee at the end of my previous post.

Now, of course, I'm going to have to visit the lap-dancing club in Exeter to see if there's any difference. I'm also going to have to pop back to Plymouth - the next time I see little Miss Fit-Body she'll be dancing for me. And I may well have to see Candy again, just for that ear-lobe nibble.

Sunday, 20 July 2008

Dirty Dancing. No, not the film...

It all began on a muggy summer evening in Exeter. I met Lee at St Davids station and we strolled languidly through town to Wagamama for a pleasant pseudo-Japanese dinner to begin the planned 2 nights of partying for his pre-birthday celebrations. One boot-filling plate of food and giant Tiger beer each and we hopped over to Exe Shed for a couple of drinks before wandering down to Hotel Barcelona for a quick cocktail. After that it was straight to Timepiece where we had a very quick chat to Viet, who was in there with some friends after having seen Wall-E, and then up to the club proper to partake of the Indie music. We continued in our alcoholic theme which meant I had bottles of beer and an occasional diet coke, whilst Lee knocked back JD & coke like it was water. At one point Lee decided to add a couple of sambuca shots to the round, which was a nice interlude, and I think he had another just for himself later on. Meanwhile, there was plenty of dancing going on. Well, Lee was dancing, as he can, and I was doing the sad Indie-boy 'bouncing up an down in time to the music' dance with an occasional bout of head-banging when something heavier came on.

My spaz-boy dancing, however bad, was eclipsed by my general social ineptitude. Lee pointed out a girl who'd apparently been eyeing me up (BUT before I carry on I ought to mention that she seemed to look in my direction ONLY WHEN I WAS LOOKING ELSEWHERE - VERY HELPFUL!) and who at one point danced past me in a way that was, so Lee said, designed to attract my attention. As I hadn't noticed her looking at me at all I thought her 'parade' was merely drunken antics and paid no attention to it. At that point, Lee'd had enough of my obvious oblivion and slapped me in the face, so I was pleased I had 4 days of stubble to cushion the blow. He slapped me again at another point too but I forget what that was for - I suspect after the first one he just got a taste for slapping me. As I said later on during our walk home: had she simply got within 3 feet of me and made eye contact for a second or two I'd have said hello and things would have progressed, but if someone's not even willing to look you in the eye how can you tell if they're interested in you? Answers on a postcard please... Anyway, 2:00 rolled around relatively quickly and we wandered home for a cup of tea and some water before crashing into a drunken stupor which lasted almost until lunchtime on Saturday. That is my current favoured method of avoiding a hangover: if you feel rough when you wake up, just go back to sleep - repeat until you feel ok.

After a relatively pleasant fry-up at the Living Room we lazed about for another couple of hours then strolled very slowly through town to St Davids to catch the next train to Plymouth. That was a slow one and we both wanted to sleep but couldn't. Never mind; on arrival at Plymouth we met Sarah at the station and shared a taxi back to their place where more tea was drunk and more lazing about was done - this is much easier at Lee's place as he has two comfy sofas in his living room and I only have a bed. (Not in the living room - I'm living in a shared house and there's no lounge so I only have a bedroom). After a nice bbq dinner and having watched a pointlessly violent Chinese gangster flick we left the house at 21:30 for part 2 of Lee's pre-birthday celebration. This one was also done as a reconnaissance mission to check out Plymouth's lap-dancing clubs as a favour to one of Lee's self-employed friends. Long story short - we had a good excuse to check the clubs out rather than just actually wanting to go.

Background: Lee's been taken to one of the clubs a couple of times by his boss, who's a bit of a Jack-the-lad sort and therefore does enjoy his lewd entertainment. Lee had mentioned these outings to me and, very cagily as I soon discovered, had not fully described the goings-on. During one webchat I said "I don't see the attraction of having some woman waving her naked vagina 3 inches from your face if you're not allowed to touch anything!" and Lee said "They get closer than that!" which is actually the case and made complete sense at my first dance when I realised I'd misconstrued the rules. I'll get to that later.

A deliberately slow stroll down to the Barbican and into a pub immediately displayed the difference between the Exeter and Plymouth party-goers. In Plymouth, everything was louder and more raucous and the people were more drunk. They were also less physically attractive (on average) and behaved more crassly. It seemed like a chicken and egg situation: did they get more drunk because they were generally so unattractive you had to be pissed to fancy anyone or were they unattractive because they got so drunk? Either way, however much fun some of the people were having, there were plenty who seemed to be bored, depressed or just annoyed for no apparent reason and despite the fact it was relatively quiet in terms of the number of people it was an awful lot louder than Exeter. In the first pub there was a bloke so drunk he could barely stand and when he did he bumped into everything like a human pinball, in the second we stood outside and marvelled at the sullen, drunken hordes ambling past, in the third, which was the Blues Bar (£2 entry as there was a live singer who did more country & western than blues) the average age made us both feel young and prompted Lee to make a joke about us having discovered the elephant's graveyard... After that we popped straight down to the first of the two lapdancing clubs where Lee had promised to pay for my first ever dance.

We went into the first place (£5 to get in £3.50 for a bottle of Becks), which was new to Lee as he'd only been to the other one, and I marvelled at the immediate experience: a very plushly decorated club with a 'dance floor' that was really a performance area for the girls so two poles and a floor that lit up as well as plenty of mirrors. We were there early (before midnight) so it was very quiet and when I returned from a pit-stop an artfully tattooed and pierced blonde girl in the standard costume of shoes, knickers and bra had cornered Lee before he'd even managed to buy a drink. During the brief chat she suggested we came into the VIP area together and she'd do a lesbian show with one of the other girls. All that for the bargain price of £80 each. I very nearly said "EIGHTY FUCKING QUID - EACH?!?!" but managed to keep my trap shut. We declined that offer but we carried on chatting and when she asked what we did for a living Lee kindly jumped in and told her I was a journalist - good thing too as I was going to be honest and say 'unemployed'. The following day Lee suggested I always say I'm a freelance journalist who's 'between articles' and I like that idea so I think I'll use it! He then handed 'Candy' (for 'twas her assumed name) a £20 note and told her to take me for my first dance, which she did. Oh My God, in that few minutes my eyes were opened. I also discovered exactly how calculating Lee had been in the amount of information he'd given me.

In the private booth there was a comfy upholstered bench seat where I initially sat on my hands to ensure I adhered to the 'no touching' rule but then just put my hands flat on the seat by my legs instead. After she'd danced for a little while and removed her bra, I got a serious shock. I thought the 'no touching' rule meant no physical contact. No it doesn't: YOU are not allowed to put your hands on the girl, SHE can do whatever the hell she wants to you. Did I say Oh My God? I meant: Oh. My. GOD! With her bra off she started by putting her head between my thighs and just 'nudging' me and then raised herself straight up, pressing her naked torso all along mine from hips to shoulders, pausing just briefly to nibble one of my ears. I was so shocked by this that when she straddled me, naked apart from very brief knickers and a pair of high-heels, I instinctively put my hands on her backside. She very nicely grabbed my wrists and put my hands back on the seat, saying "No, if you want to touch you'll have to do a VIP", so I apologised and sat still for the rest of the dance. The remainder included her removing her knickers and alternating between sitting briefly on my lap, bumping and grinding on the floor so I could see absolutely everything in its well-trimmed glory, and rubbing her clitoris quite vigorously. She had such a smouldering stare I was so transfixed by her gaze that a couple of times I had to remind myself she was naked and rubbing her vagina for my viewing pleasure - even so I barely gave the eager beaver more than a quick (and hopefully admiring) glance before looking up at her face again. A few minutes later when it was over I was actually trembling and had a dazed 'rabbit in the headlights' look about me.

When we got back to the bar, where Lee was looking suspiciously pleased with himself (almost as though the sneaky sod had planned it all out...) he went off with her for what I thought was just a lapdance and I sat in a comfy seat and finished off the drinks while trying to control my trembling. Within a few minutes an utterly gorgeous brunette had wandered over and was talking to me. There was a little chit-chat where we introduced ourselves and I explained I was waiting for my friend to emerge from a lapdance. She then said "Would you like to see me naked?" and, still being in shock from my first dance and having absolutely no clue how to answer a question like that, I just replied "Well that's a silly question, of course I would." and off we went. She asked if I wanted to do a VIP and I said no, then she said that as it's a quiet night I could tip her if I wanted. I handed over the obligatory £20 and she said "That's not a tip!" to which I shrugged. Then began the few minutes of naked writhing during which I managed to keep my hands to myself and which, although thoroughly enjoyable, wasn't quite as good as the first one. However, as I was still in shock and she had such an adorable face I did give her another £10 for which Lee later scolded me but hey ho - us lapdance virgins are allowed to be silly!

I got back to the comfy seats and had been chatting to another blonde for a minute or two when Lee finally returned from his suspiciously long lapdance which, I soon discovered, had been a VIP. The 'new' blonde suggested I did a VIP with her but the original one said I ought to go with her as I'd said I would. Lee said I had promised (I think it was more of a polite 'perhaps later' rebuffal than an actual promise but I was in no condition to argue) and gave me the additional £20 needed to bolster my funds so off I went with Candy to one of the VIP rooms. That £80 bought me 15 minutes of more of the same with a few bonus features. First of all, even though I had to stay sat down I was allowed to touch her whenever she came within reach. At one point, when she was naked and straddling me but facing away, her back arched so I could see her rubbing herself, I asked "How much am I allowed to join in?" and got a very succinct reply: "Anywhere except 'down there'". So everything from neck to thighs was gently caressed apart from the no-go zone. I got her lovely boobs pressed into my face, her nails gently scratched down my torso, that wonderfully practised earlobe nibble and, right at the end, a very brief kiss. She also spent a good couple of minutes sat on my lap writhing away in a way that was very obviously meant to cause a minor trouser explosion but that didn't actually happen. I was still somewhat overawed with the whole experience and my body was having real trouble trying to keep up. At one point, when she was naked apart from her shoes, she straddled me, lifted up the front of my shirt and pressed herself in her bare and slightly bristly glory against my stomach. That got my heart pounding and also highlighted one very obvious fact: despite all the incredibly lascivious positions she got herself into and the amount of time she spent rubbing her clit and vagina, she wasn't actually wet. She did a great job of looking like she was enjoying herself but she wasn't excited at all, it really was just a job she did. When the time was up she put on her knickers and then sat next to me with her legs across my lap so I could put a hand on her thigh while she put her bra on. We had a brief chat during which I learned a bit about her nice back tattoo and the fact that in her 'day job' she's a teacher. (A teacher! Imagine!) As before, the dim lighting and her utterly absorbing gaze meant I spent most of the time she was facing me looking at her eyes. One of the songs that was played was Chris Isaak's "Wicked Game" and when that started I was floating on an unexpected cloud of bliss for almost a minute. From now on when I hear that song I'll think of a dimly lit room and a smouldering look from a naked lapdancer...

There are more details about the club and their clientèle, the brief half-hour we spent at the other lapdancing club and popping into another place before going back to Lee's for tea and toast, but those can all wait. The important details are in this entry and I just want to finish with the quote of the weekend. I was sleeping in Lee's 3-year-old son's room (Harry was at his Mum's of course so I was on my own) and just as I went to bed Lee made me giggle so much I think I laughed myself to sleep. He said "If you're going to pull your pud, don't get it all over the dinosaur duvet!"

Friday, 2 May 2008

The Quillan Chainsaw Massacre

There's nothing like spending a couple of hours cutting logs with a chainsaw to make you feel like a real man. Specifically, a real tired man. Obviously a chainsaw is much easier to use than an axe but it's still tiring. Mum's chainsaw is electric, which means two things: it's not very powerful (so you do have to put quite a bit of pressure on the wood to cut through it) and the motor is on one side so it's also off-balance and it's therefore difficult to cut a properly vertical line. Still, a lot of logs were shortened today as a result of my toil so when the cold weather creeps in to this region again some time in December the dry logs will fit in the wood burner...

Apart from one or two oddments that's all I did today, workwise. Yesterday I retrieved a dog toy from the roof (don't ask), got both pushbikes working, took dozens of photos (some by request as Mum's nearest neighbours have two pet sheep and a couple of trees they're quite proud of), helped tidy up the garage, swapped the swimming pool covers (winter for summer) and shifted around 5 tonnes of gravel. I got sunburnt and knackered in the process but I've had worse. Of both.

Last night Mum had a Swedish couple staying who were very nice - they were passing through and saw the sign so they stopped off for the night. Tonight there's a French couple who are walkers (this is a good walking area) who had booked and a Dutch couple who are totally cool and who stopped off as they saw the signs and fancied it. They're on their way to Perpignan to collect their 16-year-old son from a canoeing trip and over dinner we discovered that house prices in Holland are about the same as the UK, as is the proliferation of cooking shows on TV.

Tomorrow I aim to get up very early to catch the sunrise from the top of the hill which is about 30 minutes' walk away. I may manage it. If not, I'll get up there for the sunset and do sunrise on Sunday morning...

I'm thoroughly enjoying The Seville Communion by Arturo Perez-Reverte and I also have a book about photography and a book about the French philosopher Michel Foucault. Naturally, I don't expect to understand much of the last one...

I thought I had some interesting things to add today. Doesn't look like it though...

Wednesday, 30 April 2008


The rail companies love to bend commuters over a table and lube up for rear entry into their wallets. I caught the 6:39 from Exeter St Davids to London Paddington which got me there just after 9:20 with no hitches whatsoever. Had I wanted to take the 6:55, which gets in at 9:05, the ticket would have cost an extra £50. Lucky for me this was a trip to France to visit my Mum and therefore not a daily occurrence or my wallet would be bereft of banknotes, if slightly greasy to the touch.

At the point of booking the flight and discovering that Ryanair's impressive list of destinations is matched only by the ways in which they can charge you cash (£6 per item of luggage? £3 to check in at the airport? £6 to book using a credit card EVEN THOUGH THERE'S NO OTHER OPTION?) I had decided this was to be my last Stansted to Carcassonne flight. After this it'll be Exeter to Avignon and I'll learn enough French to use their trains to get me from Avignon to Carcassonne.

Anyway, this journey was train, tube, train, plane and then Mum would collect me from the airport. Not wanting to be panicked and having suffered the turgid display of ineptitude that is 'security' at Stansted airport I gave myself plenty of time. As it turned out, the whole journey was so good it was almost suspiciously enjoyable. The trip up to Paddington was smooth and quiet and the only time anyone disturbed me was when someone asked which way the buffet car was. The tube arrived at Paddington less than a minute after I got to the platform and I was at Liverpool Street in plenty of time for the Stansted Express. Whilst on that they kindly announced over the PA that there's engineering work planned over the bank holiday so Liverpool Street is shut and everyone has to get the tube from Tottenham Hale instead. That explains why the electronic timetable told me it'd take an hour longer than usual on the return leg of the trip. Apart from that and a non-English speaking tourist asking me by waving their ticket at me if they were on the right train (they were) there was nothing unusual about that part of the journey. At the airport the check-in queue was just long enough for it to take 15 minutes to clear and the notoriously huge security queue was the shortest I'd ever seen it: less than 10 minutes to get through and the bloke who frisked me (metal eyelets in my trainers, wait for the beep) liked my Disney t-shirt showing the seagulls from Finding Nemo.

Before I harp on about sitting in the Wetherspoons, drinking a beer and enjoying the groups of fellow holidaymakers around me creating that classic 'airport as a microcosm of life' environment, there was a minor incident which had me beaming with joy at the good nature of my fellow man. I popped into Boots to get some bits & bobs for Mum and completely failed to notice that when I fished my wallet out of my bag I inadvertently dropped the plastic bag containing my Euros. A bloke spotted it, tapped me on the shoulder and returned my £100 worth of sponds with a smile. I was that pleased I could have kissed him but he didn't look like he'd appreciate that so I just said thanks instead. While enjoying my pre-takeoff beer (this was the first time I'd got to the airport early enough to get one in) I also enjoyed the various groups of people around me, especially the group of 30- and 40-something 'lads' who were talking about the 'facking football, innit'. I could go on but we've all been through airports and who really give a shit?

The flight left late, as it always does from Stansted, but was smooth and hassle-free all the way and the prevailing winds meant we arrived basically on time as usual. After we'd cleared the cloud layer it was as bright and tranquil as you'd expect. The breaks in the cloud began to appear as we were traversing the channel and gave wonderful views of white horses dancing across the sea. After a minute or so of that we crossed the French coast and the seascape gave way to the irregular patchwork of French fields and grey arterial roads. On the approach to Carcassonne the clouds were sporadic enough to cast individual shadows on the ground which looked as though someone had spilt a glass of water on an expensive carpet. As usual we flew right over the medieval city and marvelled at the aerial view for which the original inhabitants would have praised the Lord. On landing, the senior flight attendant got everyone laughing by inadvertently welcoming us all to Krakow before correcting himself rather shamefacedly. When he gave the usual warning "Be careful when opening the overhead lockers as some items may have moved" I immediately thought "Yeah, they've gone to Poland!" Thankfully, I'm aware I'm not all that funny so I didn't actually say that out loud.

A pleasant 40-minute drive got us to Mum's place in Quillan where I got to play with the dogs, clock the list of 'jobs' I'm doing over the next couple of days (Which includes chainsaw time. Nice.) and eat dinner before we went out to see the opening night of the Chemin des Artistes en Haute Vallee De L'Aude. That is, as the name suggests, an art 'exhibition' where the artists display their works in various locations (presumably near their homes/studios) in the Aude High Valley area, of which Quillan is basically the centre. There were a dozen or so canvases by an artist who looked like he copied photographs but did a relatively good job on most, plus a free gig which is what we really went for. The local Rock group 'G63' did a decent set of their own material and then went straight into the covers section by performing a French-language rendition of Queen's "We will rock you", an experience not to be missed. After 90 minutes of enjoying the performance and bemoaning the bad lighting (the venue's more like a theatre so no decent spotlights and the front row of the band were in semi-darkness most of the time) which meant none of my photos were coming out well we gave up and came home.

Now I'm off to Bedfordshire and looking forward to tomorrow's hard labour.

Monday, 21 April 2008

A prime example of why I'm leaving

First, the background: an MA/MSc/PhD application will come in on paper or online. Paper versions are entered onto the database manually, online versions are transferred from the web system to the database using a background process. Fields from the web system don't always exactly match the database so some things, notably the address, generally need tidying up. There are two addresses: home and correspondence. If only a home address has been entered it's simply copied across to fill the correspondence address too. As the addresses are known to be a problem area the first person to look at the application will check to ensure both addresses are complete. Then the application is processed, a decision is made and an offer letter is printed. When the letter has been checked and stamped it's posted and an email is sent. So, when you look at the database you can generally tell when a letter's been sent as the corresponding email's been sent too.

Fast forward to last week's example of brown stuff meets whirly thing. An email came in saying a particular email hadn't been received (standard emails to applicants are copied to the relevant support staff) which usually means the letter hasn't been sent. I replied saying the letter should have gone out and I would make sure it definitely did later that day as I was about to go into a meeting. The contact (with whom I developed a very good working rapport as I was responsible for her 'area' for an entire academic year when I first started the job over 2.5 years ago) then replied with a complaint and copied in not only my operations manager but also her head of school and two other bigwigs. That meant my department was possibly in line for a ton of shit because it looked like we weren't doing our jobs properly. In turn, that meant I was hauled into the boss's office and given a roasting for sending an 'unprofessional and factually incorrect' email. In fact, my email was forwarded to the entire department as an example of how not to send emails. Nice.

Unprofessional? Quite possibly - I was very casual about the whole thing. I usually am with people who are casual with me, it's what happens when you develop a rapport: there's not so much need for formality.
Factually incorrect? Not really. My email implied that the letter hadn't been sent as the usual email hadn't been sent. On further investigation it transpired that the email address in the correspondence address details wasn't working so the letter may well have been sent but whoever sent it didn't make a note that the email address was invalid. Not many people would as it happens regularly enough not to be a big deal. The letter was reprinted and sent. I then copied the 'home' email address into the 'correspondence' email address and the email went just fine.

Then I did some more checking and realised that the old email address being incorrect meant the old postal address was also incorrect so the poor applicant still wouldn't receive his offer letter as it had been posted (possibly twice) to an address that was nearly 2 years out of date. Yes, this was someone who'd taken their BA at the Uni, gone back to their parent's home and 18 months later decided to apply for the MA. They'd applied online and only supplied a home address so when their application was transferred to the database the home address was overwritten with the new information but the correspondence address was untouched. It's obvious that whoever checked the addresses just gave them a cursory skim to make sure there were two addresses and didn't pay much attention to the details. From that point onwards there were going to be problems and I happen to be the one who tripped over them. As soon as I spotted the source of the error I corrected the correspondence postal address and sent a new letter so the applicant is none the wiser.

Now, the contact in the school could just have addressed the email to me and the situation would have been resolved just as quickly. By escalating it the way they did they upset all the people on the email CC list and my head of department, caused at least half an hour's unnecessary work for a handful of people and managed to maintain the unpleasant status quo very nicely.

Status quo? Yes, the department I'm about to leave is shat on from all directions and all heights. I could whine like a stuck record about the internal politics and questionable decisions that come from within but nothing compares to the crap that's thrown at us from outside. The above example says it all: I had to try to resolve a problem not of my doing and because I sent an interim email to someone I've had a good working relationship with for over 2.5 years our whole department has once again been made to feel like the world is coming to an end. It makes working life unbearable when you can't communicate with 'colleagues' without painstaking care. It makes you feel as though you have to watch every tiny detail and it makes you afraid to say anything at all. Which is why I'm leaving.

Thursday, 17 April 2008

The good, the bland and the potentially interesting

I haven't posted anything for a while and one or two developments have occurred so here's an update.

1. I had a follow-up food intolerance test and my candida score has improved from 57% to 83% so although that's a lot better I missed my goal of clearing it completely by March 23rd. Another one bites the dust, but at least there is no wheat, yeast or sugar in dust. (Dust. Anybody? No? Dust.)

2. I bought a digital SLR and am gradually learning how to use it. I've had a few more photos accepted onto the same stock photography website as before so I'm not counting that as anything new but I do now have around 15 photos 'out there'.

3. I followed up an 'ad' I saw on the writers website I subscribe to and after some to-ing and fro-ing I'm just about to submit an article about Japan as a precursor to the article I was originally asked to write about France. The Japan one came about because I said I could do it based on my previous trips there and the editor didn't have any other information about Japan. He liked the first section enough that he wants the rest and I'm sending it to him today. In theory that should mean he'll take my France article and may even pay me for it. I'm not too fussed about the cash: the website itself will be a very popular one as it's linked with a TV show that'll get lots of viewers and a lot of people will get to read the article. That may mean I get some paid work as a result. Still, I'll report back on that one if and when it happens.

4. And finally, I have just over a week to go before my job finishes and I'm officially unemployed. I've applied for quite a few jobs but no sign of any potential employment as yet. I can always do some temp work to fill in the gap and something will definitely come up but at the moment it does feel as though I'm in free-fall and heading rapidly towards a crash landing. We'll see. Even if I am just temping for the rest of the summer I'll still have met one of my 'resolutions' which was to get a new job by July 31st. There's just been another incident at work which highlights perfectly the reason I wanted to leave in the first place but it'll take some explaining so that'll be in a separate post.


Friday, 28 March 2008

Gardens and Fathers

The following snippets were both written during long train journeys, which are great for reading, writing and musing, as well as spending hours just staring blissfully out of the window. On one journey I saw from the window a few gardens on the outskirts of a small town and the owners seemed to have all bought the same garden furniture, which evoked the following:

Look across the rooftops of a Mediterranean town at the monotony of the buildings - that's similarity born of necessity. Then look at the towns of England and see how each little enclave looks identical - that's similarity born of unimaginative consumerism. People pay stupid amounts of money to express their individuality and end up looking the same. It's a shame to see such precious resources wasted on something so immediately pointless. Everything is ultimately pointless as life is only short, but some things are worth the effort. A lot of it isn't.

The second one just presented itself during a moment of daydreaming:

Us 'Fatherless' sons spend a lot of our time looking for male role-models, father-figures whose lives we can ape so that we can become 'men'. We also spend a lot of time bemoaning the damage our fathers caused us by their absence, even if we do all the complaining entirely in our own minds and never mention it to anyone else. But do boys from 'complete' families really have it any better? Some do, but not all. Sometimes there's no guidance, sometimes it's fundamentally flawed. A lot of the time our fathers didn't receive any help from their fathers so how can they guide us? They were making it up as they went along. That's what we need to do, but in a more focussed fashion: picture our ideal world and then turn ourselves into people who deserve to live in it.

That's it. Neither of those was exactly earth-shattering, just a couple of pages from an old notebook that I didn't want to lose.

Friday, 29 February 2008

Princess Dead

I know that Lady Diana Spencer, Princess of Wales, was affectionately known as Princess Di while she was alive but we really shouldn't use that moniker now. Referring to her as "Princess Di" is too close to saying "Princess, Die", which is incredibly poor grammar. "Princess, Die" is future imperative; we should be using the simple past adjective: "Princess Dead".

But seriously, I just read an 'idea catcher' that mentioned writing about an historical event that occurred during my own lifetime and the death of Diana was the first one to spring to mind. It certainly had the most impact. I remember turning on the TV that Sunday morning and flipping in mild confusion between channels until it became obvious what had happened. Then the awful thought "Well the telly's gonna be rubbish all day" sprang to mind so I turned the TV off, put on some music and read a book.

About the same time I was a big fan of the drama 'Ballykissangel' which was in (I think) its second or third series. I hadn't seen the first one but I still got very drawn in to the lives of all the characters, especially the intensely frustrating unrequited love between Assumpta Fitzgerald and Father Peter Clifford. I was so absorbed by that little love story that I got very excited when Peter called Assumpta from the telephone box to confess his love for her and promise to renounce the priesthood to spend the rest of his life with her. Then, of course, I cried as though a relative had been run over when Assumpta died. It struck me immediately how ridiculous it was to be upset that a fictional character had died - after all, Dervla Kirwan is alive and well and earning good money providing the voice for the M&S 'food porn' adverts - but that's the effect good art can have on weaklings like me.

The disparity between the two events also became very clear - not really caring about a real wife/Mother/icon dying but blubbing like an eejit because someone I'd never met got paid to pretend to be dead for a minute or two. There's nothing truly surprising about it of course: it's a simple indication that I had a stronger emotional bond with the fictional character than with the real person. It's easy to see why so many of Arthur Canon Doyle's readers got so upset when he originally killed off Sherlock Holmes. It's even easy to see why people get addicted to watching soap operas, although I have little time for them myself. By the way, I do mean both the soap operas and the poor saps who watch them.

Now here lies the problem with trying to write something based on an 'idea-catcher': ordinarily I have a point to make, some information to disseminate or at least a minor personal story to tell. With this post I have nothing of the sort and therefore no useful way to conclude this. The end.

PS The great writer Ray Bradbury, giving advice to budding writers at a workshop, said the following: "The key is to write. A lot. If you write 52 articles a year I dare you to write 52 bad ones." I'm rather hoping I don't meet his challenge...

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

The necessity of necessity

Most entrepreneurs, when making yet more money selling their autobiographies, mention the jumps or growth spurts they make when expanding the boundaries of their business or themselves. These are the moments when they're catapulted into a newer, larger arena. A place where they're the new kid, the small fish in a bigger pond. We all know that a goldfish will live quite happily in a goldfish bowl for years but it won't get much longer than about three inches. If that same fish survives being moved into a larger tank it'll grow bigger. That goldfish could even grow into a 20-inch carp-sized monster if it successfully adapts to life in a large pond. It's that move from the small and familiar into the big and strange that encourages and stimulates growth.

Geoff Thompson has said in many of his books that he draws inspiration from notable success stories like Sir Richard Branson. Richard's method of growing into something takes an amazing mixture of charisma and courage. A great example that Geoff quoted was the time when Branson bought his own island. At the time the Virgin King certainly didn't have enough money of his own to buy a whole island, he just persuaded a group of financiers to lend him the money and when he had the island he then figured out what he had to do to afford the repayments. Geoff himself used the same method (on a much smaller scale) to expand his book sales: he rented more space than he needed in order to store all the books he had to sell and then said to himself "My God, I'd better get out there and sell as many books as I can to be able to pay for this." What they both did was to deliberately put themselves in a situation where they had no choice but to grow.

Ordinarily this would be yet another post where I regurgitate a few muddled concepts gleaned from various books I've read over the years and cobble together a pseudo-intellectual take on some over-worked subject matter. However, a couple of things have come together and made a difference. Last week I was called into a 1-1 with my line manager and given a minor roasting about the decline in the quantity and quality of my work over the last few weeks. Over the weekend I thought about the situation and before lunchtime on Sunday I was already depressed about the idea of going into work on Monday. Then my girlfriend reminded me that I said way back in October 2007 that I wanted to get a new job by Christmas and I've quite obviously failed to do anything about it other than complain about my current job. (She just reminded me about my statement of intent, not the ineffective bleating I've been doing since then) Add the castigation to the procrastination and what emerged was a glimmer of inspiration.

Today I handed in my notice at work. I gave them 2 months instead of 1, partly because it always takes ages to recruit new staff and they're struggling with their workload already, partly because it gives me a little extra time to find a new job. I'll need the time because I haven't even applied for a new job yet, let alone been offered one. There's a good chance I'll end up doing yet another tedious admin job for a while, maybe even for the same employer, but at least it'll be in a different environment and I'm looking forward to something new. Anyway, the basic idea was to inject some necessity into the situation and force a change. Now we'll see what happens.

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

One bad, one good

While sitting at home this week trying to shift the awful cold/flu/whatever I realised that due to the interruptions that have spoiled my training regime over the last month there's almost no chance of my meeting the first of my New Year 'resolutions' and I'm going to have to scrap it. When I'm well enough to resume training the cycling will have to change and I'm thinking about extending the distances to improve my endurance rather than trying to do the same short routes faster. I'll have to wing it as I don't really have a point of reference to work from. So, strike one.

Also this week I received an email from a stock photography website confirming that the three photographs I submitted have been approved for use. That means some of my work is now in the public domain and available to buy so even though it's quite unlikely to make me much money it does count as having something published. Given that another of my stated goals at the start of the year was to have three things published, I'm counting those pictures and any subsequent photos that get accepted to the same site(http://www.britishimages.co.uk/fotoweb/) as one published item. One down, two to go - then I've met one of my resolutions.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

On having low energy (2) My take on Chinese medical theory

In Chinese medical theory, martial arts, philosophy, etc. each person has two basic types of energy: pre-birth and post-birth.

Pre-birth energy is literally that which you were born with - it's the energy levels inherited from your parents, grandparents and the rest of your ancestral line, much in the same way that you inherit some of their physical features and psychological characteristics. The amount of pre-birth energy you have is pretty much set: you can't do much to change it.

Post-birth energy is that which you take on from external sources and generate yourself during the course of your life. This energy is derived from the air you breathe, the food & drink you ingest and the exercise (both physical and psychological) that you do. This is the energy that you can add to and improve.

I won't labour the point about exercise as we all know how it works: you put the body under slightly more stress than it's used to and the stress causes some minor damage. In the recovery period after the exercise your body repairs the damage and reinforces the affected areas to withstand future stress. That's how muscles get bigger, heart and lungs get stronger, circulation improves, etc. It's also how your energy levels rise: as your body gets accustomed to the greater levels of stress and improves its overall function, 'normal' activities become so much easier in comparison that you feel more energetic.

Air is by far and away the most important one (anyone who disagrees is welcome to stop breathing for 10 minutes and get back to me later) and is usually the one that gets ignored. It's very difficult to get into the habit of breathing properly - only a few well-trained people actually manage it. Singers and people who play wind instruments do it very well as the ability to use their lungs & diaphragm properly is the foundation of their performing ability. Most of the rest of us don't even think about improving our breathing we just get on with it. However, using the whole of the lung while breathing keeps it in good working order (use it or lose it!) and even if you only do it for a few minutes a day it makes a difference. [To digress for a second: deep breathing improves your circulation, especially if you're a desk-worker. When you're moving around the heart pumps blood through the arteries and the contract/release motion of your muscles pumps blood back to the heart. When you're sitting still the muscle pump isn't working so it's the pressure of the 'fresh' blood that forces the 'old' blood back to the heart. If, however, you breathe deeply into your abdomen, the whole of your torso becomes a pump and helps move the blood around. Stretching the diaphragm like that also helps release tension in the upper body which, as the solar plexus is the emotional centre of the body, helps you to relax. On the flipside: deliberately relaxing your upper body improves your breathing as well as your posture.] If you need any more convincing about the importance of the air you breathe, try taking a walk in the countryside on a warm sunny day and whenever you get to the top of a hill just take a minute or two to deeply breathe in the pure clean air and see how that makes you feel.

Now for the one we have the most control over and the greatest obsession with: food. Think about the old adage that 'you are what you eat', well that is literally true. You eat an apple (or whatever), it's dissolved into liquid and the constituent parts separated out - some of those parts are used to create new cells in your body. That should demonstrate how vitally important food is to your general health. As to your energy levels; because of the sheer complexity of turning apples into muscle, the digestive process actually uses up an awful lot of energy. The purer the food you eat is, the easier it is digested and therefore the less energy it uses up in the process. If you ate nothing but lean meat, vegetables and brown rice you'd have a digestive system running at warp speed and maximum efficiency at all times. The minute you eat or drink anything impure your body has to work harder at digestion. That harder work slows everything down and uses up even more energy, which is why you feel sluggish and sleepy after big meals, especially if that meal happened to be junk. One of the best things you can do to improve your energy levels is to eat less junk. Now, what constitutes junk for one person may be Mother's milk for another and it can be very difficult to tell what's what. For example, when I had my first food intolerance test the results showed that I shouldn't eat celery or soya, both of which came as a surprise, as well as the usual admonition about sugar, dairy, wheat, yeast, caffeine and alcohol, which were basically to be expected. When your digestive system is working efficiently it uses up less energy while processing and because your toilet visits are more regular you're using up less energy generally because you are literally carrying less crap around with you. If you're using less energy for one thing, more energy is available for everything else - it really is that simple.

[The caveat about improving your diet is the bit they usually don't tell you: during the first 1-2 weeks while your body is adjusting to the change you will feel like hell. Caffeine withdrawal gives you headaches, sugar withdrawal causes mood swings, you'll be hungry most of the time and constantly thinking about your next meal, the food you are allowed to eat will seem bland to the point of revulsion and you'll be incredibly short-tempered.]

The overall point is this: improving your energy levels using physical means is best done in the good old-fashioned twin-pronged diet and exercise approach. I'm gradually improving my diet and when I've shifted this awful cold my workout routine will go from basic to brutal in a very short space of time but will still leave space for my increasingly important Taiji training.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

My take on Cloverfield

Now that half of the civilised world has seen the movie we're all completely engrossed in the opinionated analytical aftermath. For the three people out there who've been on a long camping trip and wonder what the film itself is like, here's the synopsis described in algebraic terms:
Cloverfield = Blair Witch Project + Godzilla + a huge sfx budget.
That's it. Don't look for anything deeper; it isn't there. Now, you could very well talk about the courage of using a single unwavering viewpoint for the entire film, something that could very easily have spoiled the whole experience, and it did actually work well - to a point. Unfortunately that point was passed very quickly and the tension gave way to boredom.

If you've been asleep for the last few years you won't have heard of JJ Abrams or Paul Greengrass and are blissfully unaware of the havoc the two men have created. The rest of us have ground our teeth through several movies that had the potential to be great but were completely ruined by their addiction to hand-held camera-work. I have a theory about this: either they saw The War Of The Worlds as impressionable children and developed a pathological fear of anything that looked like a tripod, or they're allergic to aluminium. What other reasons could they possibly have for not leaving the camera in a fixed position for more than 3 seconds at a time? Let's be honest: the second and third Bourne films would have been dynamic enough if all the movement had been created by Matt Damon's antics, we didn't need the camera to be operated by a man suffering from Parkinson's disease. The deliberately shaky camera-work of films like Cloverfield and The Blair Witch Project do heighten the sense of tension and panic that power the films along but they have the unfortunate side-effect of evoking motion sickness in anyone who's recently eaten popcorn or chocolate - not great for the cinema-going public.

Seriously though, the real problem with this style of movie is that there's no comfortable middle ground: either it grabs you and you get it, or it doesn't and you don't. I didn't.

Friday, 8 February 2008

It's that pesky day job again.

I was going to try my best not to complain about work - I should be putting all my energy into finding a new job rather than bitching about this one - but we had one day this week when the sheer idiocy of the culture left me feeling as disconsolate as days of old.

It all started with a little bit of office politics. We've had something of a backlog of work for about the last 3 months because there's been a huge increase in the number of applications we've had to process (I'm talking in terms of over 30%) so of course we've been struggling. We were told first thing in the morning that we're not allowed to use the word 'backlog' as it has too many negative connotations so instead we're supposed to use terms like 'sudden influx', 'doing our best', 'everything processed in date order', etc. If the person we're talking to decides to say 'backlog' that's fine but we can't say it ourselves. There's one in the nuts for morale.

The most junior member of staff in the office, one I've referred to in previous posts as being less than efficient, takes the day's new applications down to one of the academic schools each morning. On this day she was allegedly questioned by the senior contact in the school who wanted to know more about how our office works, apparently because they're not happy with the service we provide. Now, given our lady's penchant for gossiping and rumour-mongering she could very easily have read too much into the conversation, but it's equally likely that there was some malignant political intent in the interrogation. Either way, it caused a great deal of indignant speculation which of course meant morale's decline got a little steeper.

And finally, the icing on the cake was provided by the marketing department. Apparently they've decided to test each department's customer service skills by adopting a 'mystery shopper' method, telephoning or emailing the poor victims and pretending to be difficult customers. Some of the academic schools have already received the out-of-work-actor-trying-to-get-by treatment and we've been told we may be next. Now that may be true, in which case they're a bunch of c**ts. It could be a rumour started by someone in management (or even in marketing) who thought it'd scare us on to greater heights of administrative efficiency, in which case they're a bunch of idiotic c**ts. It could even be the fabled 'Chinese whispers' created by the ridiculous internal politics of a large organisation. I think you may guess what my opinion is at this point.

It seems to me that the business-oriented management types they've now got running the place have decided that the lazy attitude that has historically existed across most non-academic staff of the university is unacceptable so they're using good old-fashioned Gestapo shock tactics to wake people up and make them work harder. Unfortunately, it also means they're creating a lot of unnecessary subsidiary work and making life difficult for everyone involved. The underlying ideology is obviously the ancient management philosophy that morale is an unnecessary component of working life.

Right, I'm off to update my CV.

Monday, 28 January 2008

Henry Rollins in Hammersmith

Hank did it again: three hours and ten minutes of high-octane story-telling from a man who matures with age but doesn't mellow. Tales from trips to Syria, Lebanon and Pakistan (which coincided with the tragic death of Benazir Bhutto) were neatly sandwiched between reminiscences of Black Flag days, previous trips to London, his latest film role, attending arena rock shows as a teenager and a recent Van Halen gig. The preparation for and execution of the Ruts gig in Islington last year were detailed, as was the attendance and participation in a Grinderman (Nick Cave) concert in San Francisco. Finally there was the obligatory pop at Dubya followed by a plea to the rest of the world to be patient with the USA - it's a country full of wonderful people with a decidedly poor government and it'll take the work of a few more presidents (i.e. years!) to repair all the damage done by the current administration.
All that with barely a pause for breath.

Monday, 21 January 2008

On having low energy (1) Introduction

So, what do I mean by having low energy? Obviously I'm talking about myself so I'm referring to my personal energy levels. To give you an antithetical example, think about those people who are bubbly, energetic and full of life. Think about the sort who can talk enthusiastically for hours and hours about absolutely nothing but still keep you interested in their conversation; the kind of people who, when they're feeling tired, go on about how tired they are. Think about the creative people who always seem to be involved in umpteen projects or go around helping every underprivileged habitant of their local area or are simply so irrepressibly cheerful that they evoke a smile from everyone they meet. Got an idea of the sort of person I mean? Well, I'm the opposite.

I get stuck in a rut so quickly it's like I'm on rails. I've offended many people over the years by falling asleep in pubs and bars, replying to polite conversation in monosyllabic grunts or by simply ignoring people when they talk to me. I've even upset close friends by showing no interest in what's going on in their lives. At no point have I ever really been uninterested - there are few things I have more interest in than the lives of my loved ones - but I run out of oomph incredibly quickly and it all seems like too much effort. You know that saying: only boring people get bored? Well I get bored. I get bored because I don't have the energy to get off my backside and do the things that would enrich my life. My spirit gets beaten down by the mundane so easily that by the end of a tedious, soul-snuffing working day I'm good for absolutely nothing.

Here is a quick Q&A for further elucidation of my point. When was the last time you...

...got so excited you literally jumped up and down? I was 16.
...walked down the street with your best friends and felt so good you were invincible? I was 25ish.
...achieved a short term goal important enough that you punched the air in triumph? About 5 years ago when I beat a PB in the gym.

Not only are those the last examples of each incident that I can remember, they're some of the only ones. In other words there aren't many more instances I could give even if I trawled my memories.

According to my acupuncturist I have weak Heart Qi. A person with strong Heart Qi has what in Martial Arts terms would be called "fighting spirit"; in Western vernacular it would be "lust for life". In later entries I'll explain in detail about the physical and psychological causes and effects of having low energy and what I'm doing to try to combat the problem. I'll also plan the entries so they're a lot more cohesive than this one.

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

New Year, New You

Yes it's resolution time and although the chances of anyone reading this giving two hoots for my plans are marginal I'm going to write in my goals for the year now and hopefully I'll be able to report back when each of tham have been attained. Certainly some of them will be mentioned regularly as I have an idea for a series of entries relating to a generic personal/medical problem I have and some of the resolutions are intended to improve that situation. As you'll see, some are specific, dated, etc. and others are much more open-ended, so obviously it'll be much easier to say yes or no to the specific ones and the others will just be reported in an 'as I feel it' sense. More than one of these are things I've wanted to do in 2008 since mid-2007 and absoutely none of them are knee-jerk reactions to the Christmas/New Year's Eve overeating and binge-drinking bonanza even if they look suspiciously like it. I'll add explanations later on but for now here's the list:

1. By March 23rd, cycle my favourite 19-mile road route in one hour or less.
2. Also by March 23rd, clear the Candida Albicans overgrowth in my gut.
3. By July 31st, participate in a mountain-bike race.
4. Also by July 31st, find a new job.
5. Have three items published, even if that's just emails/photos sent to the local paper.
6. Improve my French language skills from their sparse current state to conversational level.
7. Improve my Taiji skills by developing a very regular practice pattern (i.e. 20+ minutes a day, for at least 5 days a week).
8. Vastly improve my energy levels (see the upcoming articles about my low energy, causes, effects and what I'm doing to try to sort the problem out).

There it is. This is going to be a year of big changes. See you back here for updates.