Friday, 27 January 2012

Up all night again. I haven't been sleeping well since Christmas. It's not even useful time because I put in the hours on the pillow, lying there in the darkness, staring up at the ceiling. I could use these hours, I could use any hours. But to attempt to do anything else would horribly compromise any chance of getting some sleep. Even booze doesn't seem to work.

I'm clearly going mad.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Don't even try

In my local JSA, as I assume there is in all JSAs, there is a person called the Decision Maker. The Decision Maker doesn't like me. The Decision Maker has just stopped my dole. Again. Another week without money. The reason is because I went home for Christmas. To see my mum. At Christmas. I had, on the last occasion I signed on filled in a form to say I would be going back to England for Christmas. This was sent away to the Decision Maker and I was sent on a surprise, unadvertised interview with a man who wanted to ask me about my progress and who was very sympathetic when I ranted at him for the best part of half an hour. During that time my original interlocutor reappeared, said the Decision Maker had okayed my holiday, merry Christmas, and got me to sign a form.

That was what happened. What in fact should have happened is the following: the interviewer should have sent me to another part of the building where THEY would have given me the form, asked the Decision Maker on my behalf whether I was allowed to see my mum at Christmas, on approval they would have torn the first three sheets of the form off and given them to me as they contained relevant information, carefully explained that the day after of my return has now become my de facto signing on date and, latterly, sent me a letter once again explaining when I was due to sign on in "clear" and "concise" government prose i.e. rococo gibberish but with the dates clearly high-lighted for ease of use.

Of course, I only found this out today. After my claim had been cancelled, after the fifteen forms I had filled in. After two more twenty minute waits in empty rooms listening to the staff talking about their lunches. After another two philibustering performances that have me railing against the ineptitude of the JSA staff always, without fail, meaning that I suffer, that I'm the loser. Meaning more forms, more pointless meetings. She rang the Decision Maker, describing me as a "very angry Mr. Higgins, I'm sure you are already aware of him" - which instilled confidence in me that I would get a fair hearing from The DM. He cancelled my claim but I was then told he had no choice, given that I hadn't turned up on the appointed date ("but nobody told me to!" "I'm sorry about that!") and hadn't contacted them within five days ("but how was I supposed to know that, I received no letter!" "I'm sorry about that.") he had to close my claim. So why is he the Decision Maker, if his hands are tied? Surely he's just the Rule Follower and has no autonomy whatsoever, I suggest. We don't make the rules, Mr Higgins, we're in the same position as you. I look at her behind the desk. She has a job, she will be paid. Unless she spunks her entire salary on more tattoos, she will probably be able to pay the mortgage she undoubtedly has. We are not in the same position. I let it go. The fights gone out of me. I've been incensed for an hour and it's not fun any more. I leave with another loo-roll of bumf and an appointment to reclaim on Friday afternoon that I'm assured will take an hour.

Today is the 6 month anniversary of Kelly's death. I had intended to say something about her here. But the poison of tawdry quotidian life has stolen in and robbed me of any poetry. I'm going down to Gulladuff, by bus, today. To see High and Kate and to see her grave. I've never gone by bus before and was hoping to get all my thoughts in order. To be fitting. But the dull spark of fury clicking behind my eyes like a fucked pilot light is because of something as stupid as dole money and not about the monstrous injustice of her dying.

I didn't sleep again last night as I could think of nothing but her. How she looked, how she smelt, how she felt. The eyes and the head movements that I occasionally see flashing for an instant on the faces of her family. Just a moment of Kelly, then gone. I miss her mind more, I miss her thoughts, I miss her quickness, her smarts. I miss thinking that I must, finally, be all right because she liked me. I miss her not being around. And I have done every day for the last six months.

I love her so much, uselessly. Because she's not around to love me back.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Read All About It.

So I'm extra-ing. I'm in a room that stinks of menthol with a couple of sad faced middle-aged guys (middle-aged even by my standards). My role is "office-worker-diner" and I fully expect to be making tedious small talk over a glass of cold tea. Some of the other extras have turned up, they have brought "costumes". I'm glad somebody is taking this seriously. Actually EVERYBODY is taking this seriously. They all look flustered and terrified and they never stop running about. They tend to be quite thin. This is quite weird.

The actress has turned up. She's a bone thin red head and is gracious to everyone, bobbing around smiling and grinning at all the extras. Actually everyone smiles at me. This is because I have grey hair, a good suit and I'm chatting to Susan the producer. I look like I might be money! I'm not.

Aidan Gillen turns up. I'd forgotten he was in this but there he is strolling about with his famous face on. He's in the Wire! He's in Wake Wood! I've seen him performing analingus on a minor in "Queer as Folk". He's pretty charming. In fact everyone is. They're all really nice. It's not like the movies at all.

The bloke next to me, an extra WITH A LINE, won't stop going on about "Withnail and I". None of the other extras have seen it.

My dining partner turns out to be the casting director in a guise. She is a woman called Jude. Every time we go out of shot, which is often, we are very peripheral, I'm stricken with a need to say "now you're Jude the Obscure". But I don't because we are miming speaking to each other. Well I am. She pisses herself laughing every time the cameras roll. It's a great ice-breaker.

There are about twenty takes of the one scene that I'm in and everyone fluffs every line every time. I expect they can do something in the edit. The extras don't even really appear to be acting. I expect that's difference between acting acting and movie acting. Certainly they're playing "small".

The drama certainly escalates after I leave. The next scene is a car accident and the venue for the shoot, for some reason, is a notorious loyalist South Belfast enclave called "The Village".* There is trouble. Gangs appear, rocking the vehicles, ripping off wing mirrors, putting through windows. The trouble escalates and several of the extras are beaten up, one of them so badly that the last thing he hears before losing consciousness in the bin he has been dumped in is "leave him I think he's dead."

I never see this side of Belfast. Maybe I've been lucky. There were the Short Strand riots just after I moved over and then a short spate of bloodless bombings,(not bloodless in intent, mind). But generally I feel safer in Belfast than I did in London. So this sort of fucking idiocy is always a useful, and timely reminder that there are still blood-thirsty, indoctrinated morons out there willing to cut you to pieces on the trumped up charge of your religion. A film company brings a camera crew to your place, so what do you do? Wreck it, kick the shit out of it, make sure they never come back. It's not as if Belfast, dying on its arse and useful mainly as New York's stunt double, needs the film industry.

If Game of Thrones fucks off this year, you clever bastards, what will you watch on your hooky plasma-screens. Morons.

*This was an unbelievably stupid idea, however. What the fuck were they thinking?

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Flight into Terror! (via Manchester)

Return flight delayed. Infuriatingly instead of information being flashed up on the screens regarding the boarding gates or the purported new estimated time for departure there are just the words "relax and wait" running repeatedly along the bottom of the screen. It makes me want to do neither of course. But then I am heroically goadable.

The flight is ultimately delayed by over an hour and is the most turbulent that I have ever experienced, seeming to drop from the clouds to the earth in about three minutes. As we land the plane fills up with the smell of burning SOMETHING.

Behind me on the plane was an annoying noisy family from central casting or a lazy BBC 3 comedy : the dad was a bald Scouser with bruised cheekbones and the mum an emaciated Essex girl like a carrot stick in Prada sunglasses. Their kid, Rhys or Reece or Rheace or Reice, in his flat-cap and gillet combo, moy macho, Rhys, had a peculiar high-pitched whine, an exact tonal cross between estuary squawk and Pudlian screech. And he didn't stop talking. His everyday speech was like an hysterical tantrum and his hysterical tantrums, which he was inclined to in the manner of a Victorian spinster receiving some mildly diverting news, were pitched on a level with a dog's fire alarm. He screamed all the way through the, admittedly wobbly, descent, which helped the experience immeasurably. Luckily I'm very good in these "Act of God" scenarios. It takes a broken toilet or a frozen computer to spook me. And speaking of toilets it transpired that Scouse dad can't work one, as I discover from the toilet cubicle he has just vacated. There in the toilet lies the fruit of his sentimental, sing-a-long guts, bobbing like driftwood in the Mersey. Cheers la!

When I alight from the plane I find that my connecting flight doesn't exist.

I question the bloke in the customer service booth (bored, with a hairdresser's haircut).

"You just have to wait till it's up on the board," he says, rolling his eyes and stifling a yawn. He doesn't actually. But he may as well have done. Go with it: he yawned in intent.

A flight to Belfast appears finally but with a completely different flight number to the one on my ticket. I expect trouble - trouble is my default setting. I ping the metal detector at both airports. I don't know why. The pins in my legs? The tube of Zofirex in my pocket? My silver hair? In Southampton this wasn't a problem: a man frisked me, including sticking his thumbs in my trouser waistband and quipping "It must have been a good Christmas!" - the cheeky bastard, he was twice my size and had a fucking moustache. But then I was on my way.

In Manchester I had to "adopt the position" in another x-ray machine and send my shoes off on a little journey of their own without me. Then they "tested" my little bag of "fluids" again, because I was proper dodgy. The test turned out to be a middle-aged woman scowling at the bag for a few minutes before handing it back to me with a look that said "you win this time!"

My flight is due at 18.45. A sign flashes up saying "next info at 19.00". I read this as meaning that the flight is delayed. Though they aren't saying that, the fucking cowards. There's no announcement, no apology, just the promise of fresh information, fifteen minutes after we were due to take-off.

We eventually fly at 8.30. On the plane the captain reveals the reason for the delay, as well as the hurried descent and the intense smell of burning - the plane from Southampton had been hit by lightning! It was also the plane I was due to get to Belfast, which explains the three hour hangover at Manchester. My journey from Basingstoke to Belfast ultimately takes 10 and a half hours.

Flybe toodle-oo.

Monday, 2 January 2012

Turd Uncle

Met a lot of people over Christmas and everyone was nice to me. Maybe I should be nervous. There will come a point in the future when people won't be instantly kind but I shall be flabbily used to it by then. I feel like I'm being fattened up for something. Cruelty will come as a surprise.

The first person I met, other than mother and brother Barry (we went shopping around an un-recognisible Basingstoke until mum wound down like a clockwork toy and we had to take her home) was Tori and I had an ace time laminating things with her and the redoubtable Arch. Next Kasch drove down from London and I took him on a long and filthy walk in the pissing rain out to Old Basing, where his endless whinging and carping ended as soon as he saw the original civil war brick-work. Show Kasch a bit of proper, manly engineering and you have him on side forever. Later we met up with Tori again and danced until dawn. A staggering feat for a man in his forties.*

Edward arrived in Basingstoke on the 24th like a drunken, bellowing Santa who had left his sack of toys on the train and was convinced it was someone else's fault. It is his standard approach and he rarely deviated from it.

(In the interest of fair-mindedness I should add that while I often saw Edward drunk over Christmas he was often very amusing, never more so than when he was showing me East 17 videos in the kitchen at three in the morning. In fact I have rarely laughed as much as I have over those few days.)

Christmas day and it was time for me to cook the second Christmas dinner. Barry and Maria and their son Thomas and her mother Martha arrived for dinner. It was good to see them, though it was hard work getting through dinner, looking at them with their pleasant fruitful and successful lives, in a room with my wedding picture staring down from the wall. Envy is not a nice quality but there was little I could do: I'm fated to be a "funny" uncle.

Boxing Day was more of the same. Doug and Gwen popped over with Eirlys and their present - a book of locations for films made in Britain and Ireland (startling fact: Superman IV was made in Milton Keynes, a fact that Christopher Reeves (described oddly as "Superman's alias)blamed for the film's lack of success). They know me so well. My sister Laura, her husband Stew and their two beautiful children Alec and Rose turned up as a dizzying ball of colourful, well-dressed energy. And once again dinner in the dining room under the smiling face of my beautiful wife on the happiest day of my life, a geologically distant five years ago, was difficult to get through. There is a lot of talk on her (still extant) Facebook page about how her friends and family feel guided by her love and her strength and I am jealous of those people too. All I feel is an aching physical lack, and her continuing absence is thrown into stark relief by the lives of every body else, who have got on with their lives because they've had to get on with their lives - there are people depending on them. I'm the only one who has the luxury of being completely alone. The only one with nothing else to do but miss her. The only one not to feel her as a sort of mystical sat-nav. I feel nothing but her absence, a huge punctured hole in my life. Which is not to say I didn't love seeing my family. I'm only intermittently a selfish wallowing prick. But I still measure myself against Kelly and find myself wanting. She would have loved to have been here and given those the kids her nurturing unadulterated love, not the mealy-mouthed, conflicted and wary love they get from me. I'll do better. I remembered all three birthdays this year. A first.

The next day was an all-dayer. Family friends the Cummins arrived with new edition (alarmingly five years old) Patti, and then Jess and Si, en route to Cornwall decided to spend a night in Audley Wood Lodge specifically to see me (check my friends!) and show off their tiny two-monther Esme. Who was well worth showing off and resembles a bonsai cutting of Jess. I left there to go directly to the Bounty, to witness my first Basingstoke bar fight, and meet up with an old school friend Robin and his fiancée Katya, who have been living out in Spain but have, rather fashionably, failed to get a tan. I haven't seen Robin twenty years but barring a bit of extra lagging on the pair of us, and an alarming Pampas growth on my head, very little had changed. Except we both seemed to be a bit less ridiculous. We were joined by Doug, Mike and some dentists and fun time was had by, if not all, then certainly me.

The 28th saw a delicious if outrageously filling Colombian meal at Barry and Maria's delightful new home where we were joined by Ange and Phil and THEIR two princes Mani and Remi. After dinner a brief meeting with Tori again and home.

And at this point I feel like I'm fixin' to die. I cannot wait until January 1st so I CAN FINALLY QUIT DRINKING.

There's still New Years day.

*and yes, you may well find a "staggering feet" pun here, if you wish.

Christmas happens.

Three hours in Manchester Airport. That's the bar then. I line my stomach ahead of time with a bacon and brie bagel and a latte served in a bucket. Which I sorely need as I have a Christmas dinner and whiskey hangover. This was the first of two Christmas dinners I am due to cook this year. It was supposed to take place in "Tyndall Towers" but given Dee's sudden outbreak of what was at first dismissed by her dismissive French doctor as "an allergy" but which later turned out to be Hand, Foot and Mouth disease, we changed the venue to Paddy's house and burned Dee in a trench in the back garden. Dinner went well but it was necessarily a "sausage-fest" - all men barring my delightful sister-in-law. When Cormac turned up with his French girlfriend it was like somebody had sparked up a fire in a neolithic cave. She was like a penned sheep for the rest of the evening, bless her.

So I'm in Manchester Airport. Belfast-Manchester-Southampton-Basingstoke is not an obvious route to take home but in my defence it was not my idea and that I feel I was rather tricked into it by Flybe. It has been noted, pricks. I nearly lose my door-keys in customs black plastic trays as someone runs off with it while I'm replacing my shoes. I have no spares, having broken the other in the lock in a rare and pointless display of super-strength. It would have made for some interesting first footing on my return.

I've only ever been to Manchester once before and I don't remember why I was there and who I was with. In later years, specifically at the end of the nineties when it would have been fashionable, I claimed to have gone to both The Hacienda and Dry Bar. This was not true. I had certainly sat outside the Dry Bar but I never went in. And I never went within the sound of gun-shots of The Hacienda.

Not much people-watching going on at the airport. There is a girl with a dragon tattoo who looks like The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. The tattoo is on her flat and not unattractive stomach and when I speak to her, she is the chief suspect in "operation key-theft", she is revealed to be English. Figures. I've discovered where all the best looking girls in Belfast are: at the Airport, waiting to go home.

On the plane now, boiling hot and sat next to a man reading the Daily Mail and eating chocolate biscuits. I fear we are not destined to be friends.

There is a light winking on the wing of my plane. If it was on my cooker I'd be worried but as it's on the wing of a plane I reckon somebody has it covered. I try not to think about what's going on when I'm flying through the air on the plane. It makes me a very confident aeronaut. Looking out the window you really have to be quite impressed. Say what you like but the world looks very neat from up here. Talk about order from chaos - do we know how to parcel off land or what?

My plane appears to be called "Kevin Keegan". WTF? As they say.