I brought something unpleasant back from England and my head feels like a pressure cooker filled with slime, unspeakable slime. Staying home today, doing work related stuff that doesn't pay but must be done. Ugh. Yuck.

We had the obligatory nightmare trip problems on Friday after things going mostly well before. Got on tube in Belsize Park with an hour and a half in hand before train to Manchester Airport from Euston. Just four stops, what could possibly.... Train motionless. "We'll be going in a few minutes." The announcer grew more and more optimistic for twenty minutes until he announced that no, things were stuck, completely and horribly so. Everyone trying to get taxis and buses, us with luggage and kids. Time passing, trying to think what we could do. Train tickets booked a month in advance, cheap and unrefundable. Full buses crawling by, and would we even know how to get to Euston station anyway? But at what seemed like the last minute we got a taxi, got to the station in time to see that... Well, you can guess every step in this story. Late trains, missed connections, cancelations, persons on the line, everything I had expected, then got cocky about avoiding, crammed into one evening. It was like Zeno's paradox by the end, on the slow, stopping train from the most inaccessible platform of Manchester Picadilly to the airport.

Next day, everything was back to being dandy again. Except that my squeezible Marmite was confiscated - 3 oz of suspicious gloop showing up on the x-ray machine. "I'd kill meself if they took my Marmite," joked the x-ray operator. Ha ha. Quickest pass through customs in Chicago ever, measured in minutes rather than days - except we had allowed four hours between planes after previous horrors, so that was a drag....

(But anyway. A good week. Nick got to meet his grandparents for the first time, Miles for the first time since he learned to walk. Six years is too long, but.... Transatlantic travel is a different kettle of fish when you've got kids and precarious employment. And don't want to be that family on the 8 hour flight with the screaming kids. Which we weren't....)

Cough. More later. Ugh.



This is the point I've been dreading for a long time -- when I have to ask myself quite seriously if I'll ever get another job, or if I'll be stuck in a limbo of contract work and unemployment until I "retire." It's 18 months since I "left" V., since which I've had one eight month contract and two 10 week contracts - all paying nicely, but leading nowhere. But now it's 10 weeks since the last contract....
Part of me suspects that Technical Writing is a dying career, or turning into something else entirely. You see contracts now that expect you to be proficient at various programming languages -- well, if I was I'd be a developer and earning proper money, wouldn't I? Or they want you to write white papers and marketing stuff. Again, I'd be wearing a tasteful suit and going to expensive conferences if I'd gone in that direction. I've thought about the later route and tried faking it, but they always want samples. The job requirements change but your past experience is mostly fixed.
(Also, and this is something to go into deeper another time, technology has changed and most modern software doesn't need a shelf of manuals and operating guides. For instance, it used to be that 40 page installation and setup guides were common. Now it's just "Right click to download.")
And I'm course I'm old and that's pretty much illegal in the IT world these days. "Get an intern in and she'll do it for minimum wage. Or we can just set up a forum where users can help each other if they get stuck."
I've thought about chucking it in and doing something else, but how are you supposed to do that in your mid-50s? Whatever happened to all those middling jobs that middling people used to have?


That attempt at updating daily didn't fare quite as well as I'd hoped, but it's hardly a big surprise. I wish I could manage a daily update, if only to amuse myself for a few minutes each day, rant about stupid things, wallow in self-pity and generally indulge in behavior mostly frowned upon at FaceBook.

BOOKS: Reading FLATSCREEN by Adam Wilson, which really seemed like a terrific update of Catcher in the Rye at first, only with the ennui and accidie turned up to 11, then just seemed to stall in Sam Lipsyte territory. Maybe I was in more appropriate mood when I started.

Also reading BARONS COURT, ALL CHANGE by Terry Taylor, a 50s novel of troubled youth, bebop and the birth of Mod culture, back before it became something codified and less interesting. And Donna Tart's THE GOLDFINCH, which I wasn't intending on reading, let alone buying, but showed up on my Kindle at $1.79 a week or so after publication. And Barrington Bayley's short story collection, SEED OF EVIL. Which is way too much fiction to be reading at once. And I have to urge to have another go at John Barth's GILES GOAT BOY, which is a bit of a weird nostalgic trip as it was a book I borrowed from the school library around the time of my A levels, put down around the 500 page mark and never got back into again.

LIST OF CONSUMABLES TO BE CONTINUED. Or not. We will see.... (For various values of "we.")


Official Selfie

Applying for a new passport. Not only did my old one expire five years ago, but the forms I downloaded "recently" to get the new one are also out of date. Lucky that I checked as they've also changed the mailing address for us foreign johnnies -- no longer can we sent it to the resplendent British Embassy in Washington DC, but instead we have to courier it across the Atlantic to some shed back in Durham. Got new photos taken and when I plucked up the courage to look at them saw what the Texas sun, married life, BBQ, kids, a dodgy eye and 15 further years of life have done to me -- the chubby-faced ne'er-do-well has been replaced with... well, what was it Orwell said? "At 50 everyone has the face he deserves." (Although he was 46 when he wrote that, and he died before he could find out if that was true in his case.) At 40 I had the passport photo of an truculent 20-something, stout and unlined, the look of a peeved assistant bar manager cleaning up on a Saturday morning. Now, according to my passport photograph, I look like me, lined, bemused, not giving anything away. I have character, gravitas, a face somewhere between worn in and worn out. I look like the sort of person who would know where the extra large bolts are at Home Depot, who would tut at the antics of undernourished pop grisettes. I don't think I'll be using the picture for any other purpose -- not for LinkedIn or Facebook or here.

This fear of cilantro


It's cold here, he wrote, although it's probably colder where you are, so I'm not going to dwell on it. The kids were watching cartoons, and sausage and lentil soup bubbled on the stove. He lay on the couch, thinking of the alternate history novel he had planned but not written, in which George Orwell had faked his death and returned to London to set up as a private eye in the East End. ERIC B. INVESTIGATES.... It had seemed like a good idea at the time. Then there was another alternate history he had not even planned, in which Alan Turning faked his death to set up a school for troubled gay superheroes. In Surrey.

He walked to the kitchen. He was troubled by pop culture. He wasn't even sure if it was still referred to as pop cultures, with or without quotes. It used to all be about Avril Laverne, and her feigned punky toughness and temporary refusal to show some skin, but then things had changed. He thought about writing a novel in which she faked her death to become a private detective, then looked in the refrigerator for a beer.

Forgotten torments of the schoolyard 1899-1968

"As well as the well-documented Wet Willy, Indian Rub and Chinese Burn, pint-sized ruffians of the schoolyard were also know to inflict the following:

The Ukrainian Shove, the Sticky Norman, the Double Professor, the Damp Cuthbert, the Sideways Shamble, the Estonian Tickle, the Meaningless List, the Triple Professor, the Icelandic Stare, the Sudden Chadwick, the Flange, the unspeakable Minnesota Finger, the Feigned Kick, the Camel's Elbow, the Gummy Edna, the Bird of Paradise (3rd and 4th position), the Ohio Heel, the shameful Delayed Royston, the Glistening Gilbert, the Kenosha Kid, the Dog Boarding Rebuke, the misleadingly entitled Housewife's Catastrophe, the Arctic Thumb, the Smiling Imposter, the Mildred, the Sentient Shoe, the Ocky-Ocky-Oi, the Tepid Terrence, the Castleford Soak and the rare but often lethal Chocolate Avalanche."

-- From Invocations of a Rotten Childhood, Norris Sandcastle (University of Duck Gulch Press, 1993)

WalMart Jobs - Hiring Now!

Still intrigued by the missing people from the friends I had on LiveJournal back in 2009, which seems to have been peak-LJ, for me at least. A little research shows that half of them are on Facebook (although some under identities unknown to me), but others have gone, gone into the dark -- such as burkesworks, jermynsavile, gutterboylive, herculesmusic, davidfrazer, justdandy, irkthepurist (oh, he's here) and others, plus those who have deleted their accounts, like.... umm....

Looking back through my old LJ postings brings back mixed feelings, dredging up half-memories that dashed off writing, dead links and missing videos don't resolve, ... I'm not sure if it was me or the Internet that was being particularly incoherent for much of 2007 -- Here for instance. (The links are all dead, but the piece about iku iku byo has been saved for posterity here.) 

Introducing Plantagenet Prendergast and the Onion Girls

If I was feeling especially masochistic I might be impelled to do a "looking back over the last twelve months" piece here, but to be honest, 2013 sucked.... Rush Limbaugh's atrophied scrotum.... Through a dirty straw.... While watching The Following.... Etc. So I'll skip that, at least for now. Save it until I need a proper full-length wallow.

So, 2014 finds me out of work, out of shape, out of luck and out of similar phrases to end this sentence. The number of things That Give Life Meaning has gone down by approximately three. Only the news that, say, Malcolm Gladwell has got his hair caught in a revolving door could bring a smile to my dour Victorian countenance.

And yet I have vowed to post to LiveJournal every day this year....So in an attempt to enrich my life with the lively interaction and community that I know surely survives here, I shall rise above this brown study and grin like a fool and talk about my cat a lot.

("That's a joke, boy, I say, a joke, boy," he said in a Foghorn Leghorn rumble.)


Subject No Subject

So it looks like no one is reading this, which isn't surprising as it's Christmas, as we hateful liberal atheists call it, and everyone is counting their blessing and falling asleep in front of Die Hard With A Hernia. I got two bottles of whiskey (Glenfiddich and Balvenie Doublewood), two pounds of uncured salami and a book of Sriracha recipes, so that's breakfast tomorrow taken care of.

(What about that Dr Who, eh? I understand there are people who are quite keen on this show. Having got rid of cable we are way behind. That Jon Pertwee, eh?)