Sunday, May 30, 2004

All points West

Apologies for neglecting my blogging duties rather of late. It’s been a rather mad couple of weeks with a close friend nearly making it into Big Brother (only Caroline could come up with that explanation!).

Come October of course we’ll have the Disability Discrimination Act on our side of course and hence will be able to bring even stronger legal arguments to bear that folk in wheelchairs should have as much access to making a tit of themselves on national TV as anyone else.

More seriously though (and seeing as most people seem to have twigged anyway, that my friend in hospital was the fabulous Caroline!), it’s been a rough few weeks in which I’ve felt powerless to do anything very useful for a friend having an unbelievably tough time.

I’ve been waiting for the weekend to come so that I can head down South to see her. Having finally escaped her NHS captors on Friday night, a quick change of plans means I head to her place in Bristol, rather than Salisbury hospital.

It’s so good to see her, phone calls are great, but not the same. Within minutes we’re giggling away like the senseless creatures we are and the next 24 hours are filled by a mixture of shared tears, joy, peace and frustration.

I love every minute that I’m there (fabulous flat, fabulous weather, fabulous company!) and don’t want to go, but I’m aware that my inane chatter has probably more than tired Caroline out, so late Sunday afternoon I reluctantly haul my arse back north.

A detour via North Wales means I’m even able to call in at the end of the third birthday party of Seren, the daughter of some good friends. More of that however, another time.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

24hrs and everything changes

After yesterdays celebrations, my friend's "good news" is retracted and twisted around into uncertainty and major nightmares.

I can't find the words to say anymore here, just like I can't find the right words to say to her to give the comfort she needs.

Life just got very raw.

Monday, May 24, 2004

Happy Mondays

After a manic day in the office followed by planning meetings and site visits in Rochdale and Oldham, I’m tempted to take the eastbound M62 and head up into the hills to enjoy the early evening sunshine. Reluctantly however I do the right thing, take the westbound carriageway and head home to trim and cut down the side garden, which I didn’t get around to at the weekend. Telling the neighbours it’s a wildlife garden is one thing, but by the time you have wildebeest traversing the space*, it’s time for a bit of human intervention.

Thanks to last year’s indulgent purchase of an electric hedge trimmer and strimmer, it doesn’t take too long and I’m done in time to pour myself a long Pimms and settle down in the back garden to finish reviewing a report for tomorrow and enjoy the last of the rays.

My mood is improved to ecstatic, when I pick up a voice mail message from my friend, telling me that the hospital tests today have ruled out our worst fear and that she should be discharged tomorrow. I call her back and I can hear in her voice how relieved she is. The best news I’ve had for a long while!

* well ok, more of a case of three tabby cats and several local urchins, the latter of which have been swinging on a branch of the willow tree so that it now protrudes into the road.

Sunday, May 23, 2004

The Return of the King – quiffs that have lain dormant will be reawakened

Now you know me, as far as I’m concerned there’s never a bad time to be a Mancunion, but even by usual standards, yesterday was a special day.

First (but not foremost) United (aka Red Scum) managed to salvage something from their decidedly average season, by winning the FA Cup. Now despite what some unkind souls might suggest there are some Utd fans that actually do reside in Greater Manchester and accordingly as we hit the city centre pubs in the late afternoon the streets are singing.

Which brings us to the second reason to rejoice. Yesterday Manchester welcomed home one of its favourite sons, the supreme king of indie music and all he surveys, one Steven Patrick Morrissey.

15,000 of us gathered at the MEN Arena to witness his first live appearance in his home town for about 12 years. We offered adoration and he didn’t disappoint.

To be fair he was always set to succeed, judging by the number of Smiths T’shirts and quiffed hairstyles in the gathered throng. Which does leave one wondering where these quiffs have been for the past 15 years. Were they especially cultivated for tonight or have their owners been hiding out somewhere, waiting for their leader’s triumphant return? Our favourite theory is that somewhere in Whalley Range is a block of bedsits named Mozza Towers where the be-quiffed have been holed up all these long lonely years.

Tonight however their faith was rewarded. Following on from a blistering set by Franz Ferdinand, Mozza took to the stage and with a mixture of Smiths classics and obscurities, older solo stuff and a good selection from his latest album (probably one of his strongest ever sole offerings) he won our hearts all over again.

We may well be the quarry, but tonight there wasn’t much of a chase required. From his opening words of “Cheetham Hill, Harpurhey, Rusholme – good to see you again” he held us in the palm of his hands and just toyed with us for the next 90 minutes. We danced, we chanted, we roared and we loved every second.

Probably the second best gig of my life. Afterwards we head to Zinc to drink into the wee small hours as we try to come down. To no avail though, 24 hours later I’m still high as a kite.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Double booked

Another decidedly average meal in W@rrington tonight as we head for a meal at the Javed. The restaurant clearly can’t cope with the number of covers booked tonight and food arrives cold, bland and in some cases burnt. Still the lager is flowing freely for those not driving and accordingly it turns into a pretty good affair. Sometimes I realise I actually like a number of my colleagues…

Unfortunately the service is also incredibly slow and so my plans to make it to the end of the Nutsford Vale Public Meeting are thwarted.

It can get frustrating when you make an intentional decision to live in an area and then realise that work and other commitments keep getting in the way of you engaging with the neighbourhood to the degree you’d wish.

On a happier note I speak to my friend in hospital and I'm relieved to hear her sounding more positive. When we spoke at lunchtime she had heard that they were going to keep her in until at least Monday to try to get to the bottom of things. By this evening she seems to be accepting that and seeing the benefit in getting things sorted sooner as an in-patient than being discharged and being left hanging for an appointment. Our converstaion are returning to their usual format of 90% giggling and this can only be a good thing!

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Displacement Activity

My friend is still in hospital and despite hopes this morning that she might get discharged later in the day, it eventually transpires that she will have to stay in a least one more night.

I feel so useless and so far away. I may be able to take Friday off to go down if that would help, but it would mean cancelling meetings and I have no spare leave...

Instead I divert my anxiety into trying to do anything, absolutely anything to make things better for take away any stress I can. Can I find a way to sort her car out so she doesn't have to worry about how it will get "home" if she can't drive? Is there anyone I can contact for her? Is there a way we can get some bits she needs to her? What can I do to take other stresses off her?

Fortunately, another mutual friend is in the loop and so the anxieties are shared. She is also somewhat nearer the hospital (only 2 hours away!) and being an utter angel, manages to get down there in the evening to take our friend some items and spend some time with her.

I speak to "the patient" later and I can tell the visit has worked. I hope this shard of peace carries her through the night.

In between phone calls once I get home, I do some Greenbelt work, but my heart isn't in it and as I finally get around to making a phone call that is long overdue, I know I'm waffling, unable to focus and be coherent about what is needed and how we might best approach things. I'm on auto-pilot. Whatever gets you through the night.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Tough times

Today was an emotional rollercoaster.

This morning I had the words "don't worry it's definitely benign" uttered to me by a Consultant at MRI. Not a big drama as I had no major fears that this strange cyst thing I have was anything too sinister, but always good to have your GPs opinion confirmed.

Basically I'm left with the choice of whether I continue to ignore it or go for a minor op. Somehow even 20mins under general anaesthetic seems a daunting prospect and brings back horrendous memories of what happened last time a member of my family had an op. And so it turns out I'm an emotional wimp and end up blubbing in the car before driving into work. For once the long commute is a blessing as it means my eyes are almost devoid of pink before I have to do the "grown-up responsible professional" act...

This evening it all gets put into perspective as I get a frightened text message from a friend who has been unexpectedly admitted to hospital, saying she needs to speak to me now. Nearly an hour of frantic phone calls later, I eventually get to speak to her. Things are not good and I can hardly understand half of what she says because of the tears. My friend is frightened and alone and I'm at the other end of the country impotent to do anything. All I can do is tell her she's loved and try to calm her a bit. It isn't enough.

Anger wells in me that she is having to go through it. Yet one more thing. Doesn't she deserve a break...I know it doesn't work like that, but that's hard to remember right now.

Monday, May 17, 2004

When Two Worlds Collide

At book group tonight we discussed Ali and Nino by Kurban Said. Set in Azerbaijan at the time of the first world war, the novel is an examination of a time and place where cultures meet and collide. Centred around the carefully crafted device of the relationship between the Muslim Ali and the Georgian Christian Nino, the novel dissects the superficial and deep rooted issues that emerge at the point where East meets West.

With immense skill, the story transports the reader to Baku and the Caucasus region, where Asia and Europe meet. It’s a rare skill for a novel to evoke a time and place so lightly and yet so entirely, the comparison with the opening of Madame Bovary begs to be made.

The first time I read this book was around 5 years ago, pre 9/11 and the recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Reading the book now is a significantly different experience. Back then the book seemed to be about a historical situation, now the resonance with current world events is uncanny. Even on a superficial level I realise that many of the place names referred to regarding the are so much more familiar now.

It’s a beautiful story that captured me both times I read it and it seems that the rest of the group were equally as enamoured.

It's also proved particularly poignant food for thought and our discussions both of the book and the subjects it raises continued out of the library and into the pub.

Sunday, May 16, 2004


This afternoon I attempt to make good some of the damage to my car that has resulted from part of the garage roof caving in.

Washing the car takes over an hour as various neighbours stop to chat in the glorious sunshine. Peter is out and about delivering leaflets for the forthcoming elections, Sahid is fixing his car ready for the nights cabbing, John returns back from an afternoon's bike ride, Khalid and family pass on their way home. Marjorie's son John leans over her garden gate and chats to me whilst enjoying a ciggie.

As I attempt to wax out some of the scratches, Peter returns and is amazed that I appear to 'still' be washing the car.

He looks knackered and when I enquire as to whether it was a long night last night he sheepishly admits to having watched Eurovision. Of course I'm in no position to try and claim some sort of moral or cultural highground as my Saturday night had itself consisted of fajitas, cocktails and strange European song. Peter on the other hand appears to have attempted the night sober (his house is dry) and we conclude that this is probably why he is suffering more than myself.

We resolve that next year he should join the party at mine - after all there's a time and a place for sobriety and Eurovision night isn't it.

Saturday, May 15, 2004


Today was one of those uneventful Saturdays when you just catch up with all the little jobs you’ve been putting off; tidying the house, picking up a parcel, mowing the lawn, sending some emails and popping to the shops.

Having survived the ordeal of our local shops on a Saturday (screaming children everywhere!), I call in to Misty’s Vegetarian Café for a mango smoothie before heading home.

Misty’s plays a strange role in our neighbourhood. The walls and shelves are covered with posters and leaflets from all manner of local groups and events; environmental activists, women’s samba dance classes, a night of kinetic poetry, the co-operative society, the Victorian Bath’s restoration project, Manchester Against Racism and more. The clientele are not the normal mix you might expect to find in a café either, all sorts stop by and are welcomed.

Over the years one of the café’s many roles in the community has become the provision of a sort of safe space/informal drop-in for people with mental health issues. At Misty’s no one frowns at them disapprovingly or asks them to leave.

As I sip my smoothie and resist the rather delicious looking carrot and walnut cake that tempts me from the counter, a guy called Ken wanders in clearly already well lubricated and hurls random abuse at an acquaintance already sat in the café. What appears to be a familiar and regular play is then enacted by Ken and the café’s proprietor. Each party knows their role and cues.

“Ken, how many time to I have to ask you not to shout in here?”

Ken mumbles what appears to be an apology of sorts and sits down. “Can you do us a pork steak?” he enquires grumpily.

The proprietor (of Misty’s Vegetarian Café) and I catch each other’s eyes and share a smile. “Ken, how many times to I have to tell you we don’t do pork…or liver…or chicken…or”

Ken interrupts “I said a f***ing poached egg!”

“Sorry Ken, I must have misheard you. Now stop swearing and I’ll bring it across to you.”

Friday, May 14, 2004

Just a little bit busy

In the past 5 days, 186 Greenbelt emails have come and gone through my mail box.

I think we can safely say that things are moving forward apace.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Five-Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique

Went to see Kill Bill Vol 2 (at last!) tonight. Just me and Phil as a “roaring rampage of revenge” is not really Sarah’s taste

Uma Thurman is a goddess and Quentin Tarrantino is a genius. I have nothing further to add.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

No better than Engineers then...

From the equivalent of the gossip colum in this weeks New Civil Engineer :

"The stand shared by the Royal Institute of British Architects and Architects Journal magazine at last week's Interbuild Exhibition caused quite a stir. Its mirror floor was dazzlingly stylish - and made it impossible for any woman in a skirt to preserve her modesty."

"The peepshow tiling also revealed that the undersides of tables on the stand were plastered in pictures of naked ladies."

"RIBA and AJ reckon it's fun to be risque."

So why do I get the image of a bunch of knuckle scrapping pervs with stunted emotional development, who subscribe to Zoo magazine and wear comedy ties?

Monday, May 10, 2004

The aftermath of a productive weekend

One of the problems of having a Greenbelt purge is that you get so little time to sit back and reflect with satisfaction on the headway you’ve made on that To Do list, before the balls come flying back into your court Deep down I’m delighted that most people reply so fast, but as I log on tonight and see the words “receiving 42 new messages”, my heart does sink a little bit.

Sure enough the To Do list is now nearly as long as it was before the weekend. I manage to deal with about 15 of the issues, but the rest will have to wait. Of course I’ve cherry picked the easy ones as well, sending out the "great to have you on board, we’ll be in touch soon” replies.

Actually I’m delighted to find how many such emails I end up sending out tonight. I guess we must be doing something right as we now seem to have a steady and dedicated bunch of talented venue managers who are keen to be involved year on year and you’ve no idea how fantastic that is. I know the credit for this lies with Ben and Gaynor and the work they put into the new Venue Manager Support roles last year.

Gaynor and I end up on the phone for over an hour tonight and in my inbox is a message from Ben (poor lad had been cc’d in on half my weekend email frenzy!) saying he’ll ring soon. It’s so good having the two of them on board, I don’t feel like I’m so much out on a limb trying to busk it these days. As well as sharing the workload, they are also great people for bouncing ideas off; how should I deal with this tricky person/issue? would so and so be good in this role?

Gaynor and I briefly touch on the familiar theme of “we must be mad to do all this work”. We ponder about how you get sucked into it, bit by bit, and how if we actually sat down and thought about it, would we choose to do so much?

I know my reason for first getting involved was because I wanted to give back to the festival, but I’m pretty sure I never envisaged doing this much. Sure, those feelings of support for the festival are still the driving force, but I don’t think you could keep doing it unless you got something back yourself.

Talking to Gaynor I know deep down that a big part of the ‘payback’ for me is all about the people. Frankly Gay and I could have done the ‘business’ part of our call in 15 mins, but where would be the fun in that?

An unforeseen delight of getting sucked into working Greenbelt is the strange melting pot of people you end up getting to know and love. People different from the type you would normally come across.

So often in life we work from the point of view of I’ll find out if I like you first and then possibly I’ll learn to love and respect you. Greenbelt seems to often work the other way round; love and respect are proffered up front and the finding out if you also like them is a bonus that might follow. The fact that it so often does, probably says a lot about the barriers that our prejudices create

Mind you I could just be talking has been known.

Sunday, May 09, 2004

What happened to the weekend?

Another weekend of Greenbelt work, made slightly more pleasurable by shiny new toy, which is a dream to work on. I turn the hi-fi up (REM, The Bees, The Delays, Jeff Buckly, William Orbit) and disappear into my own little world churning out pages and pages of FAQs for the Venue Managers, answering emails, confirming site layouts, checking people’s availability, making phone calls, updating guides and forms, taking phone calls, creating a new database, updating spreadsheets…ticking off action after action on a To Do list that is frighteningly large. No time to play until the list is significantly reduced.

By Sunday evening however I’ve had enough and escape to Rusholme for a Curry with friends.

The upheaval continues in Rusholme as they continue to change the layout of the carriageway, parking bays and footways and install new street furniture (shiny metal and embossed with the Rusholme symbol). As we walk back to the car, we observe that the new tarmac on the pavements has funky blue and white shiny pieces in. It seems to make sense on the curry mile, beneath all the flashing neon and bright colours.

One of our party also observes that the white pieces will help camouflage the hideous chewing gum splodges that seem to blight every footway sooner or later. Of course this changes my perception of the pavement, with the white pieces now taking on the appearance of thousands of pieces of chewing gum. Suddenly I’m not so fond.

Back home and a further few hours of Greenbelt work and emailing (amazing how many people are also on-line and replying there and then), this time on the laptop in front of Seven Years in Tibet (with Mr Pitt looking mighty fine so I’ll forgive the meandering accent). Again it’s amazing how a single sentence can change your view of something. This time I can’t stop thinking of Jill Sobule’s line in Heroes.

Thursday, May 06, 2004

This is England?

I don’t think I have ever been more ashamed to be English. I have just finished watching Dispatches : Keep Them Out on Channel 4. Basically it follows the campaign of a group of Lee-on-the-Solent residents seeking to prevent the planned asylum processing centre opening at a disused naval property in the town.

I have never heard such absurd and ridiculous reasoning. I’d repeat some of it but it would just make me seethe even more.

The racism was so palpable, so close to the surface, with so little effort taken to disguise it.

As the narrator summarised, it might very well be that far from this country being overwhelmed with asylum seekers, it is far more likely that it will be overrun with fear, stupid irrational, illogical, ill-founded, prejudiced fear.

One interviewee (sporting a tee-shirt stating No Asylum in the UK, which he suspected people thought was racist because of the red, white and blue colour-scheme), professed the opinions that all asylum seekers should just be killed because they “all” believe that would take them to a better place. When questioned as to what religion “all” asylum seekers subscribed to, he stated that he took them all to be Muslim. He did at least have the grace to accept that he might be wrong in that view; as he put it “that’s the problem about being racist..errr..prejudiced…I could be wrong”.

Well I suppose that’s the first step to recovery at least…

Frankly if this is the England that we’re supposed to be protecting, then I actually wish their stupid and ridiculous claims of us being overwhelmed by other cultures, was actually a realistic proposition.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Lancashire in Spring

Heading back from a morning site visit in Lancashire, my senses are bombarded by signs of spring.

As I wind my way through country lanes, with the roof and windows open the sun beats down on me full of promises of summer. I pass by fields bright yellow with rape and lush green pastures; in villages the roads are lined with trees full of blossom and in places the road surface has become a carpet of pink confetti that rises up in a dance as vehicles plough through.

The views are stunning as I look across the plains to the hills to the East. In between I can see a white kite flitting and flurrying in the wind, it’s owner hidden below my sight line.

I take a last lungfull of air fresh with smells of agriculture and freshly mown verges, before joining the M6 for the finally part of my journey back to the design office.

No sooner have I joined the motorway, than the clouds gather in and as I descend the last of the hills that has been obscuring the Cheshire plain, the heavens open.

To compensate I manage to catch Tali in the Radio 1 live lounge - mighty fine!

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

In a Foreign Land

Tonight myself and some friends had agreed to help out with registration, workshop sign-up and letter writing efforts at a meeting looking into Asylum issues.

As well as presentations on the current legal situation and key issues and a chance to hear stories direct from some asylum seekers and refugees, there are workshops looking into How to Resist the BNP, Feeding the Destitute, Housing the Destitute, How to Set up a Project and so on.

I’m once again floored by the amazing work ordinary people do. I was also pleasantly surprised by the size of the turnout. Not being a regular church-goer these days I tend to feel uncomfortable at such events, but these people confound my prejudices with their commitment and compassion.

It’s also a chance to catch up with my friend M, who has similarly been collared into helping out. It seems unbelievable that it’s now 15 months since we first met. All this talk of people being made destitute takes me right back to that time and I can see the emotion rise in her as Phil explains to the audience the ridiculous legislation and practices that put people in this situation.

I offer up a prayer of thanksgiving as I consider how far we have come since then.

There are still obstacles to be overcome. Having now received a positive decision M is about to be made homeless and destitute for the second time as the system runs out of kilter with itself and one set of support finishes before the other kicks in. Still this time around it will at least be a short term thing and M now has a wide circle of friends to see her through. There’s also a good likelihood of her landing a job she applied for (she’s through to the third interview stage!), which will of course solve part of the problem. Here’s hoping.

Monday, May 03, 2004

What happened to my day off?

Well it seems that Radio 1 is doing the trick and backed up my occasionally banging on the ceiling, seems to have got the message across to young Noriega.

Another major assault on the Greenbelt front today. The chief challenge at the moment is trying to appoint Venue Managers to all the venues. So many decisions can’t be made until some other related answer has been confirmed. It feels like one of those puzzles with a square missing where you have to move all the pieces around one move at a time until every piece is in the right place and the picture is completed.

Friends ring from the Peak District and I feel a surge of jealousy, if I didn’t have all this Greenbelt stuff I could get a life ;-)

Plans for the evening change several times; a trip to see Shaun of the Dead turns into drinks in Castlefield, turns into drinks in my garden, turns into drinks in my (warmer) lounge.

Sunday, May 02, 2004

The Uninvited Guest

Woken again at dawn by strange scratching sounds from above my head, it appears that a least one local squirrel has decided to turn my loft space into a B&B.

Much as I support wildlife I’d rather it stayed outside my house, hey I provide gardens don’t I and the one on the side is most definitely a ‘wildlife sanctuary’ (no, honestly I’m going for the natural look). Unfortunately there is no immediate means of sealing the likely entry route.

The dilemma therefore is to persuade my uninvited guest(s?) that my insulation foam is not actually there for their nesting pleasure; preferably before they decide to use my wiring as dental floss (those monkey-nuts really can get stuck between those incisors you know).

So where to turn for inspiration? Well I wouldn’t normally quote the CIA as a guiding influence in my life, but desperate times and all. Accordingly the squirrel is now nicknamed Noriega and a radio is now installed in the loft at full volume.

The only decision now, is what station should I tune to?

Opinions from friends have been offered. Radio 3 it is felt could be counter-productive even if I could find it on the dial (they clearly believe Noriega has high culture tastes); Radio 4 could end up educating the fella (and then we’re really in trouble and I suspect that the RSPCA might judge local commercial radio to be strange and unusual cruelty. Accordingly my usual station of choice is selected. Let’s hope Noriega doesn’t share my appreciation for the Radio 1 playlist.

The rest of the day is spent slaving away on Greenbelt work (how can it possibly be May already???). My tapping away on the computer is accompanied by the vague murmuring of Radio 1 filtering down from above.

Saturday, May 01, 2004

The perfect night out?

Rionne, Mark and I meet up with Jo at Victoria station and managed to make it to the correct platform for the Blackburn train with whole minutes to spare.

Travelling to Entwistle feels like going back in time as you track down the guard and request the train stops at the tiny station, which serves about five houses, an old style faded red telephone box (apparently a listed building), a pillar box and the all important Strawbury Duck.

The station has changed somewhat since this photo from the 1960s, there are no station buildings now, just a single track and platform.

The Duck is a series of small rooms, set off other small rooms – a positive labyrinthine delight. Despite text messages giving clues, it was amazing how person after person struggled to find us as they arrived through the evening.

A grand night was had by all, good food, good ale, good company and several fine anecdotes involving horses (don’t ask).

The last train heads back to Manchester 23 minutes after closing time (how handy!) and amazingly sticking a hand out to hail it to stop really does work! Don’t you just love public transport when it works like this?

Girls and their toys

After a morning of tidying and sorting out I commenced playing with my new toy.

The hard drive on my previous desktop has died (again!) and this combined with the fact that the video card/motherboard combination has never been entirely stable, means I have decided, with sad regret, to put the system out of its misery. Fortunately it had signed a donor card some years ago and thus several of its organs will be going to good homes.

Despite using my laptop most of the time I do need a desktop for video editing and as a back-up in case of problems with the laptop. I lost access to email for about a week last year around May time and catching up with the Greenbelt backlog that developed was hellish. So a cheap replacement desktop is required.

This is the first time I have bought a desktop off the shelf. However there seem to be increasingly small savings to be made in building your own bottom end system and this combined with manufacturers and retailers realising that actually we don’t need a new VDU every time we upgrade means that for the bargain sale price of £599 I got a lot of PC.

The fact that the VAIO symbol on the front glows neon blue when running is an added bonus (and source of deep satisfaction).