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Saturday, August 28

Outdated; Antiquated; Inaccurate;

Just a brief note before I shoot off down the pub to watch the Arsenal game to say that both my own bio and the Observer article which quotes it are now out of date.

You figure it out; I might provide some details a little later.

Friday, August 27

Stupid Creative Periods

Why is that sometimes 2,500 words can flow out of me no bother (the last post), whereas at other times I can go weeks on end without wanting to get anywhere near a keyboard?

And why is it always late at night, when I should probably be asleep or at least trying to get to sleep, that my mind is buzzing with ideas? Take last Sunday night:

I had stayed up to watch the baseball on Channel 5, which didn't finish until around 4.15am, but when I went to bed, having yawned all the way through the 7th, 8th and 9th innings, I couldn't sleep because my brain was having one of its rare creative explosions.

I practically wrote at least one of the letters in my head before I'd even bought any paper to write it on, and I was having loads of ideas for posts here, articles to write for my student newspaper and a whole host of other stuff. I just could not get to sleep, no matter how much I told my brain to stop thinking.

Oh, and then I got into the usual thing of tracing back the steps along the thought processes of that 20 minute period. You know, when you suddenly think 'why the hell am I thinking about this now, when just a minute ago I was thinking about that?!'. If you sit (lie) there and mentally retrace your steps, you'll see how you've gone off on a tangent and are now at a completely different place from where you started. It's easily done.

And now I find myself sitting in the kitchen with my laptop on my lap (the extension cable for the phone line has broken...), having a quick burst of writing inspiration, even though it's close to 3am. Thankfully, I don't have to work until 6 tomorrow evening (my last at the pub, sniff), but the big list I've made for myself of THINGS TO DO is worrying me slightly. It's very long.

Rewriting What Has Gone Before

I hate having to type up something that I've already written, especially when the text was lost through absolutely no fault of my own. Nevertheless, this is the position in which I find myself at this point, since what I wrote in the internet cafe on Tuesday is quite interesting and worthwhile. Hence here it is in rehashed form.

'Twas on Saturday that I received an envelope in the post, the writing on it I half-recognised as belonging to one of my closest friends from back in Melksham. I was also aided in this recognition by the fact that I'd left her a voicemail message earlier in the week with my postal address.

I wasn't quite sure why she had asked for it, but the envelope went some way towards explaining her intentions. She had wanted to write me a goodbye letter! She still cared.

Of course, the contents of the envelope weren't from her at all. The cruel hand of fate dealt me another cleverly hidden hand...

On the outside of the envelope, sealing it, were two white labels, each with something written on them. The first quite simply said "Hello! Hello!" on it, but the second was more intriguing. It read (and here I am copying it from the envelope in situ, since it's still lying around in my room) "Rob - watch out! card is v. smudgable!"

Card? Smudgable? WTF?

I took it back upstairs and went into my room, just in case the contents of the envelope got me anywhere near being emotional. As a guy, you can't show weakness in front of other guys, right? Erm, yeah.

I was still thinking that whatever it was was from the girl I'd left the phone message for, but the second that I took the card out of the envelope (following the instructions to be light with my touch), I knew exactly whose hand had created it.

One of my very closest friends from back in Melksham, whom I've known for nearly 90% of my life, is hugely artistic, as well as being highly intelligent, beautiful and a fantastically nice person. She has a particular fascination with the colour blue, especially those blues that head towards azure and even a light turqoise. She has had this affinity for such blues for as long as I can remember, and uses them in almost everything she does artistically.

She is one of those kinds of people who always has something creative on the go. She makes invitations to parties, but not anything tacky or boring; each one is different, personalised for the recipient, and a piece of art by itself. Oh, and always with a flash of blue somewhere.

This time around, she made me a card.

I wish I had the cable for my camera, so that I could post a picture of it here, but it's been packed away, waiting in storage at my parents' house to be sent over to me in Germany. I still have the camera here with me, but have no way of getting the images from it to my laptop. The same applies to my phone: it's here, but the cable is long packed away. Stupid boy, Rob.

The card is glorious, beautiful and a joy to look at. She has taken various hues of blue chalks and crayons, and has used each one to create streaks of blue ranging from one face of the card, over the fold and onto the back face. It is, as she warned, highly smudgable, but I try to handle it only by its edges, for fear of ruining such an incredible piece of art.

It is not only nice to look at, though, since she wrote inside it. I won't repeat what she wrote here, because it is highly personal and meaningful for me. Yes, I do lay myself bare on this blog, but this is not mine to share.

When I first read it, I was choked. It didn't quite reduce me to tears, but I couldn't have been far off. She said some beautiful things, including a few pieces of advice which I resolutely intend to follow. She has this easy poetic flow in her writing, which I cannot hope to emulate, but the words seemed to carry such power in them.

I was moved to think that one of my friends from back home, whom I'd kind of lost touch with, would take the time not only to write to me, but also to create this wonderful little thing that now sits on my desk proudly (no doubt aided by the fact that there is bugger all else on the desk...). People do care, I realised.

It was time to show them that I also cared.

I'm terrible on the phone, and I find that email can be a little too impersonal, too bereft of feeling, so I decided to write a letter to both of the girls that I've mentioned so far in this post. They are the two friends that I've probably seen and heard from most in the past two years, plus I find the thought of writing to them relaxes me more than writing to a couple of other of my friends. It's not that I don't want to write to the others, but I feel that I'm closer to and more open with these two.

Fast forward to Monday, and I found myself on a Tube, heading towards King's Cross and the British Library situated nearby, having already stopped at a WH Smith's to buy some nice writing paper. I wanted to go to a library to write so that I would have no distractions. I knew that if I stayed at home, I either wouldn't be in the mood to write or would have no end of interruptions, both of my own doing or by the actions of whomever else was at home.

I'd not been to the British Library before, and it took me 10 minutes of aimless wandering before I chanced upon it. Yes, I'd looked at a map before I set off, but King's Cross is a building site at the moment, so it looks very different to the map. That's my excuse, and I'm sticking to it.

I walked in the rather grand front entrance of the Library (I'm keeping with the capitalisation for it), found a little leaflet with a map in it, and after getting a little lost again, this time with a map, I found an entrance to the Humanities section. I wasn't too fussed about where I was going to sit, but felt naturally drawn to the signpost containing Law on it.

There was also, however, another sign at the same place which told potential visitors that entrance to the Humanities section was strictly by reader's pass only. I figured that this was some sort of pre-registration that had to be completed on your first visit to the Library, similar to a library card at any other, bog-standard, library, so I checked my map, found the office for applications for a reader's pass, and headed there.

The process seemed automated, all done individually at a computer screen, but the poster on the wall as you walked in put paid to my hopes of getting a pass. It turns out that to be able to read any of the books in the British Library, you have to be actively involved in a research project of some sort, and also be unable to find the books elsewhere. Fairly hefty criteria, and nowhere did there seem to be an exception for those persons who merely wanted a quiet place to write a few letters. The bastards.

I decided to instead make my way to the University of London library, which I am granted access to by virtue of being a student at King's. The University of London (henceforth UoL) doesn't exist as an institution itself, but is the name of the federal institution to which all London universities belong.

Each and every student at King's, UCL, Imperial, Queen Mary's and other places of higher education in London will receive upon graduation the same degree certificate. We all get a certificate saying that our degree is from the UoL, rather than our individual colleges. Of course, certain colleges are better at teaching some subjects than others, so it is down to the graduate to tell future employers which college they studied at. Queen Mary's, for instance, is very much the poorer cousin of the more illustrious institutions like King's and UCL, but its graduates will get the same degree as I will.

Whilst UoL doesn't exist as a place to study, it does provide certain facilities and learning aids. It has the library to which I was heading, a careers service, an accomodation office, and also plays host to ULU (the student union), which all London undergraduates automatically get membership to. It's pretty much a bonus to have all of these extras, since King's provides all of them too.

I eventually got to Russell Square, where UoL is situated, and made my way into the impressive Senate House, home of the UoL library (note the small 'l'...). The registration was quick and easy (yes, shame on me for not having used the library at all in two years at uni), but once more I got lost trying to find a suitable place to sit down and write.

Eventually, I opened a door, found myself in a big, spacious but sombre room, and decided that this was the place to concentrate. There were lots of notices around the computers in the room, sternly reminding users that they were for "academic use only", and the entire tone of the room was one of studious silence. I felt bad whenever the floor creaked under me as I gingerly walked to a big table at the far end of the room. Why do libraries always have either squeaky or creaky floors?!

The first letter I wrote was to the girl who'd sent me the card at the weekend. It was initially a letter of thanks, and then I talked for a bit about shit that has happened to me in recent months. If you've been a regular reader here, you'll know all of it already. I closed by stating that I fully intended to keep in touch with her whilst in Germany, moreso than I have done in the past two years.

My final paragraph or two involved paraphrasing some of the advice that she'd given me in her note to me inside the card, in attempt to convey the same sort of meaningful, impassioned and emotive moment that she had done in her own letter, however subconsciously or deliberately. Again, I won't try to quote it here, because this was between me and her.

I popped out of the library briefly to ring her to get a postal address to send the letter to, but she was on holiday in Cornwall with her boyfriend, so I chatted to her mum for a few minutes. I've known her family for ages too; her Dad was a teacher of mine at school and the head of our Sixth Form. Her mum`and dad had also signed the inside of the card she'd sent to me, which was a nice touch. I got the address, and headed back into the library to write the second of the two letters I'd planned to write.

The first one had been a rather lengthy affair, extending to 10 pages in all (I ramble when I write, you should know that by now), but this second letter was to someone who I'd spoken to quite often, thus negating the need to write about what has happened to me.

This letter became very depressing very early on, and was quite morose and sombre in tone. I spent a good couple of pages apologising for not really staying in contact as much as I should have done, not just with her, but with all of my friends from back home. It wasn't so much a letter to an individual as an outpouring of regret and guilt onto the page. And there I was thinking that this blog served that purpose...

After all of that self-loathing, etc, I promised to keep in touch, however it may be, when I'm in Germany, and then decided to lighten the tone somewhat, so that she didn't come away from reading the letter feeling worse than she had before commencing with it. I can't remember exactly what it was I wrote about, but even if I could, I wouldn't reproduce it here, for the same reason as above. Some things are just too personal to be put here. Not much, but this is where I draw the line.

As I left the library, with the letters safely stashed in my backpack, I texted her to get her address. She replied with it, but also asked if I was going to be stopping off in Melksham at all before I headed out to Germany. I had to say no, and briefly explained that the letter was almost an apology for not doing so, as well as a general "Hey, I'm still alive" type of letter.

It pained me somewhat to know that I wasn't going to see any of those friends before I left for Germany, and I toyed with the idea of making one last fleeting visit to Melksham this weekend, saying the goodbyes in person and possibly shedding a tear or two. However, simple logistics and time constraints will stop me from doing so, unless I have a huge change of heart this Saturday.

I bought a couple of envelopes on the way home, specially for these letters. The envelope for the first one was of the exact blue that the girl loves so much, and I left a note for her on the outside of it, pointing it out to her. I haven't heard back from her just yet, which I believe is due to her still being down in Cornwall.

I got a text from the second recipient yesterday, thanking me for being "so cute" (a direct quote), and again asking if I was going to be coming back to Melksham at all. It tears at the heartstrings, it really does, to have to reply in the negative each time she asks. I will have to ring her this weekend and spend ages on the phone to her, chatting about this and that and whatever else.

And that was that. I still have one more envelope, as well as a big stack of writing paper, but I'm not sure if I will write another letter, or even to whom it will be. There are plenty of potential recipients, but I'm not sure if I want to write them a letter when I haven't spoken to them too much for a while. Conflicting responses are running through my mind at the moment, so who knows what I will decide to do?

I certainly don't.

Wednesday, August 25

Stupid easyInternet

Dammit, I spent half an hour typing out a post earlier, whilst in an easyInternet cafe between shifts at work, but a combination of them and blogger has decided to lose it completely. The fuckers.

And it's now 1am, which means I'm a little too tired to re-write it now. It'll have to wait until tomorrow or some other time. Stupid fucking internet cafes.

Tuesday, August 24

The Sparseness I Find Myself In

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. They say a lot of things, most useless tosh, but this one is worth taking account of.

It is relevant here because I want to describe the sheer lack of, well, stuff in my room at the moment. The simplest solution would be to take a photo, but although my camera is still with me, the cable to connect it to my computer has been packed away and is no longer in my house. I should have planned this a bit better, methinks.

Come to think of it, I should have planned full stop (period, for you Yanks). I've known for a good long time that the vast majority of things that I own would need to be collected by my parents before I went to Germany, with the intention of the necessary items being sent to me once I had a definite address for them to be sent to.

I've also known for a fair amount of time that the date for the collection of said items would be a good ten days or more before I actually went to Germany, since my parents are going on holiday a few days before I leave the country. Basically, I should have been on top of things by the time they came to collect everything.

Was I?

Was I fuck.

They were coming on the Tuesday, the one day I had off work that week (double shifts for the rest of the week), and I had also had the entire weekend off work too. I'm not sure how, but that's how things worked out. In theory, I had a completely free 48 hours as well as Tuesday morning to pack everything up.

In theory, that is. In practice, it was altogether a different story.

I didn't start doing any packing until late on Saturday night, and all that that entailed was throwing everything that wasn't clothing and that I wanted needed in Germany into one large box. This was mostly DVDs (I've evidently bought more than I care to remember in the last 12 months), plus my printer and various computer bits.

My CDs weren't coming with me (that was how I managed to sell my Dad the idea of an iPod, remember?), and I had spent nearly every waking moment of the previous week ripping them onto my computer. Again, I'd had nearly 2 months to do this, and I left it all until the last moment. I didn't even manage to get it all done, and still have 15 CDs in my room, as well as a small box to post them in back to my parents. At time of writing, I have 8 days until I fly out, so no doubt I will leave them until the last minute once more.

Sunday was also a bit of a washout packing-wise, since I spent the afternoon in the pub, watching football. No beer though, since I am a good boy. Ahem. Once more I started doing some packing late in the evening, ripping CDs all the while. I took apart my shelving unit (surprising easy, since I'd taken the remarkably intelligent, and somewhat out of character, step of not throwing out the construction instructions 12 months ago. All I had to do was go back from step 5 to step 1...), packed all of my various crap into as many boxes as I could find, and made it to bed sometime around 5am.

Not a good idea when you have a double shift at work that day. I was knackered by the time I got back home sometime around 12.30am, but I knew that still more packing awaited me. I think I got to bed around 5 that night, only to be rudely awoken by a tremendous racket elsewhere in the house at 8.30.

We had builders in, you see? My landlord had arranged for our entire house to be fitted with double glazing, conveniently less than a month before we moved out of it. Yeah, cheers for that. As if my day was not going to be sufficiently chaotic already, I now had 5 or more builders coming in and out of the house all day long.

I still had all of my clothes to pack (I'm only allowed one suitcase on my flight. Stupid Ryanair), and less than 2 hours to do it all in. Oh, and I was still frantically ripping CDs as fast as MusicMatch would let me. My room looked like an entire Squadron of bombers had practised on it for months before unleashing one almighty blast, and I was hopping over boxes as I attempted to sort out the unwanted clothes from those I needed.

My parents turned up, and I was still not ready. I really do leave things until beyond the last minute... My striking memory for the day was me standing by my cupboard, throwing clothes at my Dad with barked instructions as to whether they were to be posted or not. I had a seperate box for each, being the anally organised, if not exceptionally prompt, person that I am.

We were in a rush against the time left on the car's meter, so it was a fair old panic to get everything sorted. But get everything sorted we did, somehow.

There's a couple of things left in my room that I probably won't be able to fit in my suitcase, and will thus have to be discarded, but so be it. So long as I don't throw away anything valuable or of sentimental value, I'll feel as if I've succeeded.

Which brings me to the current state of my room. Empty is the one word that springs to mind every time I open the door, the cupboard or one of the draws. Ahh, I need some sellotape, I think, only to find the draw absolutely barren when I pull it open. That would have gone in a box then...

I'm even having to sleep with an unzipped, old and decrepit sleeping bag on top of me rather than a quilt. Oh yes, I'm living the high life right now. It's one of those occasions that I'm almost glad that I never (get the opportunity to) ask girls home on a night out. Oh yes, I can offer you a share of my sheetless bed, with only a twenty-year-old sleeping bag to cover you. Oh, and there's a delightful view of the carpet in every direction, if only because there is nothing in my room to go on it...

Glorious it is, I tell you. I'm actually quite happy to be out at work for the majority of the time, so that I don't go mad staring at the (bare) walls.

So think of me as you enjoy the various luxuries that you have in your rooms: your stereos; your TVs; your window-blinds; your shelving units; your well-stocked cupboards; your beds;

Actually, don't think of me as you enjoy your bed. That'd just be wrong.

And possibly quite disturbing for yourselves.


That Promised Post

I've been promising for far too long that I will write this post, so here goes nothing.

As you know, I'm currently back working behind a bar again, for the first time in over 2 years. My last pub was a relatively quiet, typically country rural pub, which had loads of regulars and lots of visits from daytrippers in the area. I was merely a barman there, just as I am now, but I ended up being one of the more senior of those of us behind the bar. Whether this is because I had been there longer than the others, or due to my naturally arrogant decision to take on a leader's role is debatable.

This new pub is different. It is still a classically old-school "boozer", with no pretensions to becoming a gastropub, or even to serving any kind of food whatsoever. You can get peanuts or crisps, and not much else. It is all about the drinking. The drinking, and the conversation with the barman.

I am no longer anywhere near senior in the staff hierarchy. In fact, of the four of us there, I am quite decidedly the most junior of the lot. I'm still so very loud and dominant though. Call it a male reaction to a female-dominated environment (the other three are all women), or again just call it my naturally arrogant manner.

What I have rediscovered about myself is that I am very, very confident behind a bar. Obviously, I know my shit and am very competent when it comes to the actual business of pouring and serving drinks (you tend to be able to pour a pint properly after more than a year behind a bar...), but I'm also very full of myself when I'm behind that bar.

For all of the bullshit that "the customer is always right", and the fact that I am working in a service industry, the bar is about me. I am the one who strikes up conversation, who leads it in a certain direction, and quite simply has the power.

I dictate who gets served in which order; I am in control of how quickly the customer gets served; I choose whether to start conversation or not; I am the centre of attention in that bar.

This applies both when I'm working by myself or with other bar staff. It's not to say that I don't let anyone get a word in edgeways, merely that I make myself heard as and when I need to be.

I have noticed that I speak quite loudly when I'm behind the bar, whether it be talking to one of the customers individually or simply greeting them as they arrive at the bar. My voice is noticeably louder than if I am away from the pub, chatting to a mate or something. I guess it must be a confidence thing.

When you know that you're the centre of attention, and that all eyes are on you, you play up to it. I flirt with nearly every single woman that comes into the pub (except for those clinging to the arm of a boyfriend... Even I have boundaries), ranging from a simple "Alright darling, how you doing?" to more involved and even conversational flirting.

Put me in a situation where I am not behind the bar, however, and I would not be able to repeat that. I simply cannot go up to a girl in a club or bar and strike up conversation. I find it difficult to even contemplate doing that. Why is it that when I'm behind the bar, confidence flows through me? I need to learn to translate it into the rest of my life (although it seems recently that all of my life is being spent behind a bar).

One thing that was said to me, which I think I mentioned here a week or so ago, that reiterated the point I'm trying to make here was by one of the regulars that comes into the pub. He told me that I was a "natural barman", rather than a "drinks server", which I assume is a whole world apart.

I guess by this he meant that I had a personality and put this across as I served the drinks. I can't help but do this, I really can't! Contrary to popular belief, I do have a personality, and it doesn't just switch off when I get behind a bar.

I'm not a loud, brash person, but I do like to satisfy my ego to such an extent that I like to be heard in the kind of situation that bar work is an example of. What can I say, I'm egotistical. So sue me.

And that's about what I wanted to say. I'm arrogant (to a point), I'm loud (well, louder than usual), I like to be heard and, above all, I'm so very confident behind a bar. It's a pity that only the arrogance tends to show itself when I'm not working...
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