State Of Play

So this year’s gone quickly for me really. I almost hadn’t noticed time passing because despite my significant misgivings about temping it’s actually not been too bad at all. I’ve met some great friends and colleagues along the way. Added to that there’ve been some fantastic trips and visits. The year has seen me get away with Rob and the boys to The Lakes and go scaling and trekking near Keswick (not to mention discover the joys of Old Peculiar on draught), I’ve made it to Lyn and Simon’s stylish, Bond themed engagement party outside of Brum, helped to cook a veritable banquet for Nay, Marc and Dom in The Big Woo, been on hand for the final party of the mighty No. 8 in Clifton, been instrumental in stupidly big and riotous family get-togethers not to mention random drunken sessions with friends, old and new. It’s been time well spent.

So now. It’s time for the big push. The assault upon the capital. Dave and myself are attempting to find a place somewhere near our mates who are already ensconced in various degrees of SE-ness. Me and Mr DJ are in the process of shopping round for a place that hopefully combines value and location before moving on to the finer points of removals and house insurance and all the head aches that those bring. Anyone who knows me knows that this is a long held dream of mine to actually become something approaching a proper Londoner. My dad’s dad’s family were cock-er-neys after they were Irish so it feels like something of a return and I think I’m better equipped to handle myself after travelling and the variation of the year’s temping assignments. If all goes to plan then a job will follow soon (a ‘can do’ attitude has taken on a whole new meaning this year) and maybe pronouncing my ‘th’s as ‘f’s will be hot on its heels. I expect to visit Worcester, Malvern and (dare I say it) Welland a lot as I always have (can’t stay away really) but now that the escape tunnel is up and running I intend to use it. Watch this space for further developments. And wish me luck, I will be needing it!

Scotland!

I had been vaguely aware that this trip was going to happen and even bought Mum the Scotland Lonely Planet for Xmas because I knew how keen she was to go back. It still managed to creep up on me and before I’d even caught my breath from the previous week’s work I found myself packing and becoming quite excited by the thought of returning to Scotland. Mum decided originally that we would all go to visit with relatives and maybe take a trip out to North Uist on the North West Coast to visit the place where her mother was born and that she hadn’t been to since the mid sixties. More important than this though was that we all able to have a family holiday and so when we found that Rae couldn’t take enough time off work we re-imagined something based around Edinburgh and Glasgow and a short hop westward to Ayrshire to see Grandma’s only 2 surviving siblings, my great aunt and great uncle, in Largs. I hadn’t been to Scotland or seen the family since 1997 so was looking forward to a visit. Scotland is a fantastic place and I knew that there would be plenty to do and see but I couldn’t remember what Edinburgh or Glasgow were really like (although I’d seen my relatives ten years previous I hadn’t been to either city since I was four or five so I wasn’t sure what to expect). So after a few drunken nights saying my farewells to folk at Sanctuary I got as prepared as one can be to spend six hours locked in a confined space with your immediate family and clambered into the car for the epic journey. This was less painful than I’d expected and I managed to pass myself off as dead by plugging myself into the iPod and dozing.

We made for Edinburgh first and arrived about four-ish on the Friday. The parents were duly deposited in a cosy B and B and Rae and I opted for the centre of town backpacker experience. Our place boasted the requisite amount of Aussies, assorted strange folk and loud colours to be called a proper traveller’s hostel and was comfy and well appointed except that it did smell like something has died in the washrooms. Being situated in the Cowgate (pronounced ‘Koo-gitt’) area of the city a few levels beneath the main high roads there were a few clubs nearby and it was quite a lively area which suited us and we weren’t far from the Royal Mile where a lot of the older and more atmospheric pubs were to be found. We were greeted by intermittent rain and cold winds but we pretty well expected that. The first day we did the castle and got lost in the bowels of this huge and imposing building that seemed to be at one with the rock it was manacled to. The castle was preoccupied with ancient heraldry and coronations and chronicling the various military regiments that it has spawned and we shuffled though trying to take it all in before being spat back out into the driving wind and rain and taking a direct route down from the hill through a series of winding and steep ginnels that Edinburgh is riddled with and making for a lunch venue. The night before we’d picked out a restaurant and were seated in a basement seemingly away from the other customers and this day the same thing happened – we were starting to think we needed to be segregated for some reason. This didn’t stop the food being really good and escaping the wind and rain for an hour to consume ridiculously good French food was a tough job but someone had to do it! We spent the afternoon wending our way down the Royal Mile to The Palace of Holyroodhouse at the bottom of the hill and attempting to ascend the crag of Arthur’s Seat that lay just beyond it. We never did learn exactly where we were supposed to go but felt as if we’d had some exercise and glimpsed some alternative views of the city before we repaired to a series of cosy pubs and a friendly little Italian restaurant for supper. Sunday was more successful and we found the camera obscurer just next to the castle. I’d wanted to see this ever since discovering the one in Bristol. This superb piece of Victorian invention allows you to use light and mirrors to spy on the city below you and get glimpses of the unsuspecting bustle nearby. The camera obscurer here was slightly superior to the one in Bristol in that its controls were more flexible and it was in better keep. It cost more to go in but then on the way up to the top floor the visitors were treated to chambers full of optical illusion games, puzzles, displays and holograms which were even more fun (if you do go, spare yourself the horror of morphing into your relatives – it was more than I could take!). We then grabbed a bit of lunch from a very trendy café that supplied you with colourful reception-class furniture and delicious shakes and wraps that Dad was highly suspicious of.  We had a good look round the National Gallery and then discovered a place that offered tours of the abandoned closes under contemporary street level. Since Edinburgh’s rapid development and lack of space had forced it to grow upwards and laws were in place preventing people  dwelling underground after it was paved over these endless passages and catacombs were deeply atmospheric and eerie, preserved pretty much the way they would have been, albeit without the sprawl and jostle of huge families packed into single rooms, stores and workshops, the endless flow of raw sewage along the main thoroughfares and the caverns stuffed full of cattle. The rooms were haunting with some apparently haunted aswell. The ghost stories were a bit hammy but some of the historical accounts were slightly chilling especially the plague element. We took ourselves off for a swift pint after that and found a superb seafood restaurant.

Next day we made for Glasgow and spent the afternoon doing a walking tour that our Lonely Planet suggested and finished up with a meal of haggis and veg and a nip of whiskey. Rae and I had a hostel in the west end by the university where most of the more stylish and friendly bars and shops were to be found. I knew that Glasgow would be much bigger but the more I looked round it I saw how much it had to offer and how much more of a functioning and kinetic city it was. The older parts boasted just as much compelling and complex architecture as it’s older neighbour yet felt as if they had made more of an effort to move with the times. The metro was also fun (and so ickle!). I just wish that we’d had longer to look round. Although both cities are less than an hour’s drive apart it still took the whole of Monday morning to sort ourselves out and get out of one hostel and into another and we only really had the Monday afternoon there. The Tuesday was reserved for seeing relatives and we had a good few hours catching up and reminiscing. The Tuesday was the only really decent day in terms of the weather which was helpful because we were by the sea so this made things that much more pleasurable, and gave us the chance to have fish and chips on the sea front. The whole break felt far too short but we packed a lot in as we usually manage to. I just hope it’s not another ten years before I can make it back.

Ode To My Attention Seeking Headphones

We met through a friend, I thought; ‘Why not?’
I needed to pipe music to my ear.
I paid my money to see what you’d got,
How I’ve come to regret how you interfere.

At first I was surprised at your length of lead,
Like a fool I pushed it to the back of my mind.
From that day to this you’ve done nowt but impede,
My every movement; you seek to confine.

Walking with poise in the city is hard enough,
Yet you wrap round chair legs, you catch on railings.
Living with your attention-seeking ways is tough,
You hook on clothes, you exploit my failings.

You’ve a jealous streak a mile wide!
You can’t bear for me to think of anyone but you.
You think nothing of becoming entwined,
And causing me pain and humiliation anew.

Bastard.

A Story About Staying Positive

My name is [James Leahy]. I had an accident, and I woke up [temping in Worcestershire]. Am I mad, in a coma, or back in time? Whatever’s happened, it’s like I’ve landed on a different planet. Now, maybe if I can work out the reason, I can get [back to my previous life].

What do you call those people who are convinced that the world is there because they are? I don’t think I am (I hope I’m not) but a lot of my favourite films (The Truman Show, Vanilla Sky, Solaris) share this theme and it’s something I occaisionally think about. The paragraph above is a recurring mission statement (I hate that phrase so sorry) that continues to rattle around in my head, as it has since early last year, because my current situation is, to a degree, echoed by Sam’s predicament in Life on Mars. I’m convinced that Manchester in Life on Mars is an involuntary construct of Sam in that it just seems to have trapped him and is relentless in its refusal to release him. Worcester exudes a similarly bleak and foreboding quality to this stylised and slightly unreal Manchester of 1973 (it’s certainly not the most attractive and welcoming place in the world, something perhaps not helped by the time of year). Like Sam, I’m helped along the way by the cast of great people I’ve worked with at Aiim, the city’s branch of the Cheltenham and Gloucester, CAFCASS and latterly Sanctuary Housing (the changing of jobs in itself feels episodic). It just feels like, as with Sam, it might only be me who decides when I escape. I keep hoping that at some point it all becomes clear what I’m doing in this wretched place and I’ll realise how to escape. In the same way as the slogan for The Truman Show reads “How’s it Going to End?” I’m looking forward to seeing how that light at the end of the tunnel will manifest itself (y’know, as opposed to wondering how I’m going to die, because that would just be a bit morbid…).

I’ve finished whining now and if you’ve read this far then I owe you a drink at some point. Cheers.