Saturday, 30 January 2010

The time of day.

In a previous life, time was a commodity to feel pressed for or be fretful about. If something mundane was apportioned to any part of my weekend I'd get grumpy about it, even though it might be beneficial to me or my family. It was as though this time was sacrosanct, because the nine-to-five routine sucked so much of it up in the pointless endeavour of work.

A partner who works from home wouldn't necessarily understand this, and so we may have gotten tetchy with each other. Her about wanting to get out of the house she'd been stuck in all week and me about not wanting to spend six hours shopping on a Saturday when I could have been at home, writing or studying or simply spending time that didn't have any demands or constraints on me. So that's how I found myself resentful of the time not spent of my choosing. I figured I spent enough of that during the week, in the non-inspiring, non-rewarding job that paid the bills, kept Xbox Live alive and bought steak for Sunday.

So what is this 'time of day' and what have I learned about it?

I've taken to walking the mile or two to the village instead of using the car. This has provided me with an insight into a couple of things. One: lung capacity seems inversely proportional to the size of the hill it needs to provide air for, but especially the huge one that emerges onto the high street. At the summit, I bend double on the wheezy pretext of tying a shoelace, while the old lady with the pug, who overtook me half-way, now begins the downward trek with a cheery wave; that self-same lozenge xylophoning against her dentures as she rattles by.

This is the second insight. These faceless, nameless folk are a testament to the time of day. In the past, I've always whizzed by them on the way to some pressing and unavoidable task. They were the extras of my life's drama, as trivial to me as those comparable fodder of film and screen. Bystanders. Scenery.

Anyhow, the second insight is that they are actually a rare breed. An example, if you like, of how life should probably be. This cabal of everyday folk are happy to give each other and me 'the time of day'. At the bus-stop, or from behind the garden wall with secateurs in hand. All it takes, I've found, is a tip of the cap and a 'good morning'. Then a pert comment about greenfly or the number 36 and blam - we're having a real, honest-to-goodness, joined-up conversation. Fascinating, I observe, feeling more like the earthbound, loud-shirted Spock of contemporary time-travel than ever before.

For whatever reason, time is their friend. It's on their hands. It's all over them. And, as I get used to and become less stilted about idle chit-chat, this is me joining them. It's a palpable journey and it extends to the staff of shops and supermarkets as well. Now with my sea-legs firmly in place, I'm engaging in conversation over the post office counter with a nice lady of indeterminate age. I can't tell if we're gently flirting or not, but she blushes when I compliment her ready-reckoning skills. 'You've got the mind of an abacus', I croon clumsily. But she likes it.

Later on I have to take the car for a new battery. Standing in the forecourt, while Martin the mechanic tries to decipher the idiograms on the battery of my mid-90s Japanese MPV import, I see a lady in a similar position. Eavesdropping on her conversation with the grease monkey, I lobby her with a few words of sympathy and self-deprecating ones about my own predicament. I should have took Green Flag's advice a month ago when I'd flattened it by leaving the lights on. Now it's biting me on the bum. She blushes and giggles a bit, before giving me some time of day back. She's a nurse on call. The car's a pain but it gets her from A to B. Careful the car doesn't hear you, I say. They get temperamental when you talk about them in earshot, same as your patients, I imagine.

Crikey, I'm on fire. What pheromones am I giving off? Am I delusional or what? Is this what the time of day does to you? Are they really all on their way to a massive swinger's party in the Free Trade Hall, recruiting as they go? I don't exactly know the answers to any of those questions but, damn, I sure like the idea.

Then I realise. They have become my new colleagues. They are what I missed about working in an office full of people. The shared trivia of a workaday existence. Communicating what sucks about the interconnectedness of random events that led you to turn in with odd socks and a chilblain that morning. And it goes both ways. I've become their colleague too. Maybe that's what they miss, with all that time of day on their hands. There's another side to every fence, I suppose.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

non-fast coloureds

Perhaps elaborating a little on the redundancy theme, there are, I feel, a number of luxuries that the time-unconstrained gentleman may observe to help offset the crushing void of an ordered existence.

  • Engaging the postman in conversation. Posties are nice chaps and will generally reciprocate. Partly, I think this just comes from the relief that you're not yet another slavering animal, come to chew an arbitrary piece of their flesh. (My wife can be pretty crabby in the mornings, but I think he meant pets). One of the pleasures redundant man misses most are those quality moments of 'slagging off', a cathartic process whereby one colleague moans on at length about another (or better still, superior) while the rest wait eagerly for the conch to be passed, hugging themselves and each other with vicarious glee. It takes very little encouragement, I've found, to get postie to slag off his bosses, the Royal Mail, at length and in colourful detail. Very little indeed.
  • Housework is a new and exhilarating novelty. Just having the time to stack the dishwasher thoughtfully, with all the plates going in order of size from right to left, and tupperware boxes set firm in a valid cranny, instead of upside-down and full of water at the end. Also, such things as being arsed to select the right hoover nozzle for the right job. Who knew that slotted little bevel-ended  jobbie could vamoose stairwell and skirting board dust so well? Those washing machine programs are no longer baffling, druidic glyphs but marvels of non-fast coloured science. It was a bit like decoding the Stargate wheel at times, but I got there. 
  • Engaging in and writing up pointless reviews about trivial items. More about this later. I started with the kitchen gadgets (of which I assure you there are many) and then, as a way of mitigating boredom in the many supermarkets I've been forced to visit by an emancipated wife, toilet hand-dryers. The Dyson airblade pisses it by a mile at time of going to press. But, as I said, more of this soon. I will post the results after at the conclusion of my comprehensive round-up. I'm sure I missed out the Cannon Air Jet in Sainsburys.
  • Off-peak activities. Shopping, as already mentioned . Ahh, the luxury of sauntering around an empty-aisled Tesco at half-ten on a Tuesday morning, instead of re-enacting Bannockburn at the deli counter on a Friday evening. There's a driving range nearby and that could prove useful for a leisurely Wednesday afternoon swing, where you might stand a chance of actually being able to see which of the many balls flying through the air is yours. Finally, that miserable dawn swim at the baths, then going in to work smelling of chlorine with your pubes in a squeaky knot? Sack that. Half-eleven on a Monday. Quiet as you like. Me and one old guy with white back hair who could hold his breath like a porpoise.
These are just a few of the benefits of career upheaval and imminent loss of socio-economic direction. Come on, people. Let's stick it to the man...

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Rita Hayworth

I was made redundant in August 2009 and, although this event was potentially the best thing ever to have happened, I seem to have carried around a feeling of being 'unhomed' ever since, a bit like Morgan Freeman in 'Shawshank Redemption' after he gets released and sort of wanders about being fitful and moody before finally seeing sense and going off to claim that massive wad of brick-bound wonga (sorry if you haven't seen it).

Anyway, the truth has gradually dawned. I've been institutionalised. Somewhere between 1979 and 2009, in offices old and new with colleagues young and mature, by bus, train, car and (unmemorably) bicycle, I strayed into waters of mediocrity and dropped anchor. It's easy to see things as they are when you're not aboard any more, staring into those murky depths and wondering if there's anything worth fishing for or whether you should just carry on basking, with just the need for an occasional steadying hand on the tiller. Becalmed, I think, is the word. But in a nice, sleepwalky way that allows you to still watch the kids grow up and visit Disneyworld.

But quite a few things about being a citizen of home are to be savoured. The daytime dogs, for instance, first heard when walking to the shop for a newspaper the other day. A forlorn bark, rising on a querulous note, the doggy equivalent of 'why hast thou forsaken me?' It was soon answered by another. In a different house, another dog wailed 'woe is me'. And so this contest of misery played out to the empty streets. I imagined spinsters and retirees behind closed doors, as unmindful to this caterwauling as the residents of suburban Heathrow to theirs. I wondered what it would take for them to notice. Maybe if cats and other pets were encouraged to join in and give a revolutionary voice to their abandonment?

"I could help those dogs. Wait, I have time now - I want a dog," was my first thought. "Maybe I'll write a poem about it instead," was my second. Naturally I haven't done either.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010


Hello. Socks, paper and Rizlas are important components of modern life. You might think that's a stupid thing to say, but it does at least provide me with a snappy, if weakish bit of wordplay for a title. In that sense, I suppose, it satisfies the impulse to be original too. How do you tell if ideas are original these days? Google em? Yeah, that's it. Then if the search terms don't yield a million hits, or drag you into a frenzy of click-thrus and adsense, you've cracked it. That said, I haven't googled Sock, Paper, Rizlas yet. I'll leave that to you if you want. The truth is, it took me at least five minutes to think it up and I can't quite countenance the thought of it already having been claimed by some Sun reading lesbian who never gets out of bed and tells everyone who'll listen how 'blazed' they always are.

Ideas are fickle, though, aren't they? When you're walking around or driving down the motorway they're all there, like mongrel pups, clamouring at their mother's languid pap. What if snow was blue? What if an albatross could communicate by winking? How successfully could an entire cast of penguins pull off the musical HMS Pinafore, given limitless amounts of optimism and training? Meditative contemplation? You've had it mate. There's no such thing as the quiet mind. As soon as you get a minute to yourself, the floodgates seem to open. But how many times have you reached for a pen after such bolts of inspiration, only to find the car/toilet/motorway bridge bereft of such luxury? Those ideas evaporated and were forgotten because we simply didn't have time. Well now I do. Time to consider and sort the correct matched pairing of a sock, to read a paper from cover to cover instead of just front page and Sports, to roll a herbal cigarette of perfect  conical shape instead of a hastily rumpled windsock Because, like many others subsumed in the turdy spume of this global economic tsunami, I am - dun-dun-DUNNN 'Redundant Man'.

So expect to see bits and bobs of opinion and discovery. Random recycled forum posts from wayoftherodent, for when I can't be bothered. Articles, poems and flash fiction. Snatches of screen and radio plays, maybe a memoir or two, all hopefully enlightening in much the same way that Socks, paper and Rizlas can be. Or not.