Friday, August 20, 2010

Lights and Tunnels

Sometimes you don't realise it until it's halfway out of your mouth. What you're saying. What it actually means. That, fuck ~ it's the truth.

I've been proper poorly this week. Again. On my return to work interview I was reassured that I have not let things slip and that I am working above and beyond the call of duty (or at least my job boundaries). I don't do this to score brownie points. I do it because I probably don't have anything else to validate my self worth on.

Redundancy has become really scary, even though it is still some months away. My manager was trying to reassure me, but then I heard it actually come out of my mouth. What I've been trying not to say.

'I've kept it together in the past because I always had work as the light. Now there is no light at the end of the tunnel.'

It hit me then, that it his is true. My life is measured against my performance albeit in a job I adore. Stupidly adore. I don't get paid any great wage. I have zero career prospects. But I have a certain autonomy of judgement. I am in control to a certain degree, within certain boundaries. I see good things happening because of my judgement. I work with a lovely team of people in a beautiful city. I have flexible working conditions that allow me to be a good employee even when I'm ill. And it's all being taken away from me.

So no more light. Nothing on the horizon to fill it. I am loved at home yes, but I am caught in my own illnesses, forced to realise that my capacity to earn, to be independent is over. I can no longer work full time - my body just can't handle it. I have to ask for so much from other people who are stressed to capacity in just dealing with their own issues, never mind mine.

This is a horribly cliched post, with stock imagery and phrases. I'm tired, though it's no excuse. Many people are tired, as they keep pointing out to me. Do I have to spend the rest of my life biting my tongue because I am beholden to them?

GD: possibly a bit over wrought. Reading Preacher: Gone to Texas because I need the humour and the jaundiced outlook on life. Listening to Pink Floyd's Division Bell which made me cry and get out of bed when it reached the twin hammers of Coming back to Life / Keep Talking

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


Today the following happened:
  1. It rained so hard on my walk home that the dye from my new blue vest ran and turned my thrupenny bits blue
  2. I succumbed to temptation and bought a green velvet coat that I don't need but didn't seem able to live without
  3. I reacted strongly to perceived criticism and induced a hissy fit in a transvestite
  4. I started yet another fraud investigation at work
  5. I ate most of the millionaire's shortbread in the office (but don't tell anyone else!)
  6. I scoured all the places I want to work for either a job or a PhD Fellowship and didn't find a single suitable vacancy anywhere
  7. I watched tiny silver fish darting about in rock pools on the beach ~ well at least until the dog jumped in it to see what I was doing!
  8. I listened to a very odd mixture of Abney Park, Billy Joel and Lady GaGa whilst commuting
  9. I became hugely engrossed in Anita Diamant's The Red Tent, which I would never even have considered were it not a book club future read
  10. I didn't finish the short story I am entering in the Story Tyne Competition (deadline - Saturday). Story title ~ As The River Runs, So I follow.

So that was my day. A perfectly normal, ordinary day. And now I'm just a bit shattered, with a toe nibbling dog being the perfect companion.

GD: wrapped up in a red and white checked blanket; watching CSI in peace cos the boy is still at work ('Not CSI AGAIN?!); wondering how to get dye out of skin as old fashioned soap and hot water have failed and me bits are still blue!

Saturday, August 07, 2010


Work takes me to interesting places. Well, interesting if you like to watch people the way I like to watch people. Like an anthropologist, with curiosity but not necessarily wishing to be emotionally engaged. So it was I found myself off to give a talk in what is considered a deprived area of the North East.

It is a little rough, admittedly. The metro station was swarming with ticket inspectors and police corralling the fare dodgers into a corner pen of shame, little black books waggling. On leaving the station I was faced with two choices: turn right and head to the venue where I was giving the talk and be forty five minutes early (I am mentally incapable of turning up anywhere late), or turn left and visit the local high street.

I turned left, reasoning that a bottle of water may be in order for the talk (two and a half hours of my own voice, even I get bored). The first thing that struck me was the stink - vomit. Seems the locals make like the Romans and drink to excess, pausing only to purge their stomachs to allow their session to continue. Except in their case the vomitorium is the high street.

Skipping past the noxious puddles of vomit I began the quest for a bottle of water and quickly concluded that healthy options were, well, not really an option here in the hinterland under the shadow of the looming architectural feature known as the Wall. The first two hundred yards took me past three Greggs* shops. All on the same side of the street. All full of punters, resembling ghostly beach balls.

I sought out the local post office. This was conveniently located between two of the aforementioned Greggs, in a Subway. The stench of sugar filled bread and reconstituted meatballs was almost worse than the vomit. Almost. And no bottled water. On requesting such a pure form of liquid I was greeted with an expression of such sublime confusion that one would have thought I'd asked why E=MC2.

There is a shiny new public complex, with an Olympic sized swimming pool and library behind the high street, with a small piazza where you can sit and watch the pigeons shag. Or the more entertaining spectacle of the drunks falling off benches, being chased by the local riot police (unbelievably HUGE) and (yes, you've guessed it!) vomiting on their shoes. I was wearing a back pack as I was carrying handouts and was acutely aware that I was being singled out by chavs as a possible easy theft target. I saw not one person entering the public building to improve either their mind or their body.

So I was sat smug in my middle class security in my pretty little frock with appliqued flowers at the neck, my swishy clean hair and pertness at odds with the surroundings when it struck me I was basically voyeuring at other people's lives the way that they slurp in Big Brother or the car crashes that are Lindsay Lohan, Katie Price or Kerry Katona***. I forget that structurally our lives have probably been pretty similar: substance dependent parent, one parent family upbringing, parental mental illness, social housing, midnight flits. I do think phew, I got to live away from vomitville. I drink it in like an episode of Shameless.

Eventually I need to get to my talk or I'll be less than fifteen minutes early. It's in a local fire station, shiny new and full of cute firemen who are unfortunately shy and ask for the blinds to be shut in the community room so I can't ogle them lustfully during boring moments of my chat.
I turn to the task at hand. After being shouted at for five minutes by someone I can't give a grant to because they are ineligible ("Blame the government, mate. They make the rules"), I take a deep breath and introduce myself to the local crowd.

And pause. Reassess. These people have travelled to see me. Just me, in the hope I can help them and the projects close to their hearts to get a little bit of cash to do something that's a bit of a treat. Even if it is just preserving the local cemetery. Taking a group of arthritis sufferers in their seventies out for lunch. Provide free care relief for those caring for people with dementia, Parkinson's - the list goes on. Local people, growing up in the abysmal shadow of the Wall. They ask intelligent, insightful questions. They talk passionately about their groups and what they do, their small communities that have no other support than that of friends. I talk to each group individually, give them advice, applications forms, business cards, reassurance that someone thinks what they're doing is worthwhile. Nearly three hours later my bottle of water could have been drunk five times over and I'm hoarse of voice.

People hugged me. They thanked me for going and spending time with them. They discussed my age and wanted to know about my life, my husband, my dog - where I came from and what made me relate to them. I found myself giving them anecdotes about my family that they laughed at knowingly. I discovered that I probably have far more in common with them than I do my Evangelical Christian neighbours (lovely though they are), or the people at no. 5 who breed diseased and malformed pedigree dogs.

I realised how profoundly wrong my first impressions of the place had been. Yes, it is still dripping in vomit, saturated fats and an average BMI of 35. However, it is far more than that. So much more beneath the surface that I wouldn't have seen if confined to my arms length people watching that bred only superiority and contempt. Or my ivory tower office perch.

I left the fire station emotionally exhausted but with a profound sense of well-being. As I sign off the first of the cheques to these groups I feel privileged that I can actually do something to give them a boost, even if I know my contribution is ephemeral in nature - what counts is their ability to work as a community and to understand that sometimes means putting aside the self and becoming the many.

I am so lucky, to do a job I passionately believe in and that once in a while proves to me that there is still good in humanity (though when I'm assessing the obviously fraudulent groups my language may suggest otherwise...). Shame the new government is taking it off me next year thanks to budget cuts. My small grants go a long way to make peoples' lives better. Hell, they go along way to making my life actually worthwhile.

What on earth am I going to do next?

GD: listening to Amanda Palmer Radio on which is fabulous. Even if it is all rather heartbreaking. Reading the Belgariad by David Eddings for probably the twenty fifth time. Going out to play tonight for the first time in months with her best mate (and our spousal units). Breaking the writers block that's been plaguing her for months.

* Greggs being a bakers of lardy, high fat stodge selling only high sugar drinks, cakes and other artery busting treats.
** Chav - hmmmm, how do I even start to describe this sub-species of humanity to my non-English friends? Visit ChavTown here which is rather amusing.
*** English versions of Lohan, equal amounts of surgery but less talent. Honestly.