Friday, 23 December 2016

A Little Learning

              I’ve been sent on two courses at work, lately. One of them was about…actually, I don’t know what it was about. But after the first two hours, I rang my boss and begged her to let me come back. She agreed; but I then had to get permission from one of the lecturers, who kept demanding to know why I had to go back. I was trying not to say “Because this is a pile of s!*t.” At the same time, I felt angry that I had to explain anything to him. It felt like leaving the Unification Church, and when I finally got out of the building I nearly ran down the street in sheer relief.
              During my career, I’ve been sent on some unorthodox courses. Stress Management. Creativity. Assertiveness. There’s usually the introductions, where you have to stand up and tell a group of strangers about yourself, which always reminds me of Alcoholics Anonymous meetings; and the dreaded role-playing. I like to think I’m reasonably tolerant. And if you knew what I’d normally do to get out of a day’s work- especially with tea and coffee on tap- you’d realize how angry this course made me.
              It was something like those team-building courses. That’s the nearest I can get to a description of it. It ran for two days, and there was a glossy, full-colour workbook to go with it. Oh, and everybody was going to be the best of friends by the end of it. There were two speakers, both men, both evangelical. You could not miss a moment of it. They prided themselves in not using Powerpoint, which sounded great until you realized what that meant: every so often, they would get you to stand up and follow them to the far side of the room (“Come walk with me,” one of them said, like Jesus) where they would deliver a speech that they could just as well have delivered back where they were.
              I wasn’t in the mood. I might lose my job soon, and if I do keep it, there will be more responsibility and fewer colleagues to help me. And there they were talking about managing the public’s expectations. So when the first tea break came, I went out to the corridor and rang my boss on my mobile phone. Even then, one of them tried to drag me back. They’d begun again, and I’d missed a whole two minutes of their wisdom.
              I might still have to go back on this course, if I keep my job. My boss must have told management that I’d had some sort of stress-related panic attack. But I wasn’t the only one there who wasn’t getting into the swing of things. There were some incredulous bin men at another table. And I heard that, on another party, a woman had stood up and announced that this was a waste of time, that she didn’t need to be there, and that it was a pile of s!*t.
              Compare that with the second course. The council kindly set up an Interview Training session, the better to help us reapply for our own jobs. But the teacher couldn’t have been more different. He was a softly-spoken Kiwi, who’d been made redundant himself in the past, and knew the score. He made us feel good about ourselves. He said that the thing to do at an interview is not to sell yourself but to tell them about yourself. With honesty and integrity. And that makes a hell of a difference. I left that course (a couple of ours in a morning) with tears of gratitude brimming.

              Have a great Christmas, and let’s hope 2017 is a better year than 2016.

Friday, 2 December 2016

Visiting Time

                At the weekend, we went to see my uncle, my late dad’s brother, and his wife. I was dreading this visit ever since my wife and my aunt arranged it between them; but when we got there, we had a great time. I’m like that when any sort of visit has been arranged. I’m on tenterhooks, and can’t relax until we’re coming away.
I don’t like my routine upset. I worry that somebody will say something which will upset my wife, and I won’t deal with it properly, which will cause tension between us. There have been people-especially my parents- who have said some stupid bloody things to her. Sometimes I didn’t hear them, but then at other times, I simply haven’t said anything because I hate causing a scene. My wife hates me at such times, and I hate myself. So the upshot is, I try to keep us from going out and meeting people.
I worry that the people we’re visiting won’t like me, or will discover something bad about me. We don’t invite people to our flat, on the whole. It’s small, cramped and smells of damp. And I don’t like people looking at my things and judging me.

My uncle and aunt are both conservatives, so I feared a political argument. But we gritted our teeth when they started talking about what made the British Empire so great, and somehow got through it. After all, since my mum and sister deserted me, they are my only real blood relatives.

Friday, 25 November 2016


By UnreifeKirsche - Own workThis graphic was created with GIMP., CC BY-SA 3.0,

                This week, I had to go to a training course. It was for two consecutive days, and lunch was laid on. The course is compulsory for employees, it’s cost the council a lot of money to hire the two speakers, and furnish us all with glossy, full-colour workbooks (at a time when they’re about to jettison staff in order to make savings).
                By eleven o’clock, I was out in the corridor on my mobile phone, begging my manager to let me come back to work. If you knew me, and knew what I’d do for free sandwiches, you would realize how deep my loathing was. My manager said she’d have to ring me back- we were short, so it’s not that she didn’t want me back, but she had to get permission from someone even higher up than herself. Meanwhile, one of the evangelical-seeming speakers had come out, and was all but dragging me back to the room. The tea break was over. Everybody else was back at “work”. I was missing it. At that moment, my manager rang back. I took the call, she said yes, come back, and I told the speaker, sorry, I have to leave.
                He looked at me, dumbfounded, angry (presumably at my missing his words of wisdom) and, possibly, concerned for my personal welfare because his course was all-important. He took me into another room and close-questioned me. Who was my manager? Why did I have to go back? As though it was the third year, and I was trying to get out of P.E.. Finally, he relented and let me go, but said that I would be rescheduled to attend this course again.
                What was the course about? I don’t know. It had started promptly at nine o’clock, the speakers had been speaking. I was surrounded by council employees of every description- I was sitting next to a social worker. At one point, a speaker said: “Come walk with me,” as though he was Christ. We left our tables and followed him to a corner of the room, where he delivered a speech he might just as well have given where he was, and which we could have listened to sitting down. After which, he allowed us to go back to our tables and sit down.
                There were placards all around the room about being the best you can be. They asked us to write our names in our workbooks, once with our right hands and once with our left. Does that give you any clue? Because I’m still stumped.
                If I’d merely found it irritating, I might have gritted my teeth and hung on. But I found it casually offensive. In the new year, we will all have to reapply for our own jobs. Not everyone will succeed, and those who do will have to take on more work for less money. Well, the speakers started talking about us raising our own morale. For the good of the council. At this, I flipped.
                It was the sort of course that might have been useful for managers of supermarkets, say. Or CEOs, or stockbrokers. On a par with the team-building courses companies used to run. Perhaps the council wants to get us all exercising together at 8.30, like Japanese corporations do. It was brainwashing, and I found it repellent.
                Yesterday, Human Resources emailed me to say that I’m rescheduled to attend the course in January. I replied to them saying, no, you’re alright, let someone else go in my place. They replied, saying, this course is compulsory. I must explain why I’m not going.


                Still not writing anything.

Friday, 11 November 2016

It's Good To Talk

                I went to see a counsellor for assessment, to see if I needed long-term counselling (I do). Same institute as a decade ago,same central heating cranked up to maximum. Sitting in the waiting room, I felt like a failure.
                I wonder when there will be light at the end of the tunnel. When I can wake up and not feel anxious, not wonder what the point of it all is or when am I going to feel as happy as everyone else seems to be. I’m a mess.
                I felt teary in the session. My assessor was younger than me. She listened sympathetically as I told her about my life. Was I making it sound worse than it was? No. While I’m luckier than a whole lot of people (I wouldn’t want to live in either Syria or Yemen at the moment, for instance), I still felt angry at the way things have been. Not only for me, but for the people around me. I feel so alone. I wish I could join an organization to fight it, but an organization made up of reasonable people, not cranks and nutcases.
                When I left, I felt a weight had been lifted from me, and I’ve felt a little better ever since.

Blog Role


                As you can probably see, last Friday I clicked the Send button and posted to this blog for the first time since May. If you read that piece, I hope you liked it; simply posting, for me, felt like an achievement. So did writing the original text, in my Marvel Superheroes notebook. It felt good. I felt alive.
                I was determined, too, to get the hang of this blogging lark. I sought out blogs by like-minded people. I leafed through Blogging For Dummies, etc; and found some blogs, like Stephanie Klein Greek Tragedy, and some web directories. I also looked in the comments sections of those blog posts, to see if there were some other potentials.
                It was a long slog. You might click on a link and find that the blogger last posted in 2009, or that the blog didn’t appeal to you. The search engines all seemed baffling.
                I found it of no use whatsoever to look through my Google Blogger profile and then click on my interests, favourite books, etc. Clicking on Doctor Who only seemed to bring up sites exclusively about the programme, written by rabid fans. I couldn’t ever seem to find a normal, friendly person who liked Doctor Who but who also had other interests. And nobody seems to be interested in the Quatermass serials except Paul Chown.
                Finally, I subscribed to these blogs, because they are funny and humane:

                 This post, by The Bloggess, helped me come to terms with the results of the US election:

Friday, 4 November 2016

                I’m going for counselling. I’ve been struggling with depression for as long as I can remember. I didn’t realize what it was, though, until a doctor diagnosed it when I was in my mid twenties. Up until then, I didn’t think of myself as unusual in any way, although I was beginning to realize that I came from a weird family.
                Sometimes, people ask me what I’m depressed about. The question always takes me aback. Should I give them the obvious answer: everything. Why are you not depressed- about poverty, war, economic stagnation, spiritual impoverishment, The Great British Bake-Off? Have you simply not noticed things? Or do you not believe that they exist, or think that they don’t affect you?
                So I take anti-depressants and I go to church and I make lists of all my blessings and I try to think positive thoughts. In short, I’ve been doing everything in my power to try to fight it. But they’re not enough any more.
                On our wedding anniversary, I kept falling asleep. My wife snapped. Not before time; I’d been doing this too often. She sent me to the doctor, who diagnosed sleep apnea. I’ve got to lose weight, get fitter. I also made an appointment to go and talk to somebody. I’ve been to counsellors before. They’ve made me feel better for a while. But I hope that this time I can get ahead for good. Anyway, I feel like a load has been lifted.
                I’m not really writing. Bits and pieces. Writing practice. Nothing seems to knit into a story. I can’t seem to do it any more. When I was ragingly desperate to keep writing, to keep myself together, to give myself hope, at least, that this story is another step on the road to publication, to performance, when I needed to write more than ever, writing deserted me. Not only am I at square one, I’ve got a ball and chain around my ankle. I cannot envisage moving to square two. I don’t want to think about it, in case it makes me feel more unhappy.

                I’m calm. I’m trying not to think about the future too much (I have to reapply for my own job again soon, by the way). I’m not writing, and that’s all there is to it. My muse knows where I am if she wants me.

Friday, 20 May 2016


                I have entered one of my short stories in a competition. I got it together and sent it off a mere two days from the closing date. I knew about the competition for at least a month beforehand. It was specifically for horror stories. I kept telling myself that I didn’t have time to write anything new. It never occurred to me that I had all those unpublished horror stories languishing on my memory stick.
                By the time I thought that I might like to enter the competition after all, there was only about a week left. I decided to have a look at what I’d already written. Predominantly they were first drafts, and even though I’d had feedback on most of them, I hadn’t, out of sheer laziness (or, perhaps, a fear of revision) done any further work on them. I knew I would have to act fast.
                There was one story which my writers’ group said needed very little work on it. Unfortunately, it was 500 words short of the limit. I pondered over what to add (as I read it back, I found myself actually crossing out words), and came to the conclusion that all I would be doing was padding it out, and therefore making it less effective. I would have to find something else.
                Looking through the junk in my locker, I found a lot of feedback notes on another story, and this one was about the right number of words. I was reasonably pleased with it, but knew it could be improved. So over two days I revised it.
                I’m proud of myself for doing this. To have actually written a second draft of something is an achievement for me, and the second draft does actually improve it. I wish I’d started a whole lot earlier, and I feel ready to look at some of my other stories and to revise them and send them off. Obviously, I want to win the competition, but even the fact that I posted the story has energised me and given me hope.

                I edited on my work computer, when I was meant to be working. As I travelled home that night, my back was aching and my eyes were swimming from staring at the screen for longer than was good for me. I was aware that I’d had a gnawing tension all day, as I’d tried to beat the clock. But I’ve got a story out there, and that feels terrific.