Heatwave…

It’s hot in the city. Everybody is outside on the streets. Protests bang against hen nights bang against organised walks bang against mates on the razz and all of them shit litter all over the place with no thought whatsover. Cans and coffee cups and wrappers and bottles, mostly, lining the roadsides and pavements. An avenue of detritus for *somebody else* to clean, and in the middle of it the spasmodic revelry of the monosyllabic drunks.

Walking through Trafalgar Square in the early evening, all the faces were flushed and the volume control was wonky. Piles of cups and bits of food packaging lined the crowded pavements. Freckles were fully frecked. Necks were pinkly fecked. Drunks were hotly decked. A lot of people are going to wake up tomorrow morning lobstered and headachey. It’s milder tomorrow. They’ll all stay in bed.

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I noticed three people being tended to as they sat wide on the pavement, drunk and heatstruck. You can tell I’m sober at the moment, or I’d have probably found the crowd vibe and ended up talking to someone from Ipswich about spiders. I walked through it up here on my platform. It’s nice up here. Much less cluttered. I might stay a while.

 I cut left, and strolled over the footbridge and through the tunnel to Waterloo. Time is running out to see my friends before I embark on a month of too much stuff. I wanted to go see Helen and chant with her. I’m covering all bases to make sure I don’t get smushed by a truck on my commute. I’m getting in as much bike instruction as I have time for and can afford. I’m staying sober and adjusting my sleep routine. And I’m trying to make sure that the spiritual side of things is covered as well. Better safe than splat. It’s a house of cards though, the big bike. If I fail my theory test I can’t take mod 1. If I fail my mod 1 I can’t take mod 2. If that happens I have to commute on a small bike which is scary as all hell on the motorway. Even if I get my mod 2 I still need to get paid by the Germans before I can buy my big bike. Even if I get paid by the Germans I need to find a big bike I’m safe on that I can afford. And then I’ve got to not fall over on it. If the Gods are kind I’ll be commuting by bike to Oxford for two weeks. If they are cautious I’ll be doing it by train and at the mercy of leaves on the line, bomb alerts, strikes and the predictable apathy of overpriced rail networks. Fingers crossed. I’m rolling the dice.

But tonight I’m turning in early. First train to Margate tomorrow. I’m combining seeing a friend with making some bike time. He’s just got his instructor licence back, but he’s also got a brand new baby, hence the early train.

Keeping it varied

I reckon that brand new A-Class would be happy to cruise at 120mph and you wouldn’t even feel it. It’s hungry for speed. It’s a job keeping it at the national limit when it wants to leap forward. Plus it burns virtually no fuel. From what I’m used to its almost impossible to have that sort of economy.

Without any coffee I essentially teleported myself to High Wycombe. The car talks nicely with my phone so I was shouting music requests all the way and getting them through the huge system. It’s London on a Friday so there were plenty of other people heading out, but from time to time the road opened up and I was thoroughly enjoying myself whilst observing the legal speed limit at all times officer.

A morning of pharmaceuticals. Engaging young people with work in the pharmaceutical industry – and why not? My nephew did that industry for a while. I’ve been working with reps from big pharma all morning. They were delightful. If it floats your boat, do it. I’ve benefitted greatly from expensive drugs, so as a consumer I’m happy to point people towards working with the manufacturer, so I did.

On the way back into town I got an emergency call to “work” 5.30 – 7.30 flyering outside Kings Cross. I used to do that a decade or so ago for pretty good money. This was for friends and I said I wouldn’t invoice. They’ve done me proud over the years.

Now they’re building awareness and momentum for a big project. “Wolf of Wall Street – The Immersive Experience.” Tickets are already on sale. They’ve got an installation in Kings Cross, as part of the station complex. I didn’t realise I’d have to have an induction.

I was sent to the Kings Cross Station Contractor’s office, where you have to watch a video and fill in some forms. The video involves actors finding a tupperware with a flashing red LED in it shoved behind a pipe wrapped in what looks like a Harrod’s bag. They lean over this bomb and open it like a Christmas Present “Ooh look, there’s wires” one purrs as if they’re commenting delightedly on someone’s dress on Britain’s Got Talent.

The same fun actors also follow a few suspicious characters around a bit. It’s at strokes amusing, at strokes interesting at strokes dull. I laughed twice and realised that the friendly conversations I have had with conductors over the years – some might have been because someone on the platform had flagged me as behaving suspiciously.

The video is well made for what it is, and the actors are having fun with it which makes it more palatable. Considering everybody has to watch it I’m glad it’s not an alarmist overserious preach of a video with scary music, as you’d expect.

After the video they made the obligatory jokes about my surname and the Bank, before letting me go in order to get over to the Wolf installation and just … be there. They needed someone on site for security. I chose to spend the time giving out flyers. I wanted to freely experiment with what would make people take them. I ended up having a lot of fun, and finding the few people who chose to pretend I didn’t exist merely laughable. I walked along beside a chinless thirty something target audience male for a good long distance talking, simply because he wouldn’t acknowledge my existence at all. He held his head completely still. I found it exasperating, and I felt a mixture of pity and hostility towards his cowardice. But he was in the tiny minority.

The majority of people were delightful and surprisingly playful. I received much more humour and kindness than I got fear and aggression. I also reckon I gave a bunch of good flyers out to people who will buy a ticket to this curious unusual show. I think it’s gonna be a blast. I hope so.

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Van to merc

Home today briefly. I slept like a rock last night, Brian the same in the room next door. We both commented on it in the morning.

Up early and reluctantly to cross town and meet Bill. He’s unloading some gigantic speakers into a warehouse in Lea Bridge. He needs a second pair of hands.

As I’m waiting on the platform at Tottenham Hale I instruct payment of nearly £1800 to a garage in Mortlake to fix somebody else’s car. It’s been a slog to get it, and feels like a relief to send it off, but it’s probably the most I’ve ever spent in a single transaction and all I get for it is fewer emails. It also brings me square to the bottom of my overdraft. Thank God I’ve got some work coming. Screw you, marble slab.

Once we’ve loaded the speakers, and bigod sir they weighed a ton, Bill toddles off in his mostly fucked Luton. I toddle off on foot. I take it slowly back home. It’s a rare day today, with sun and wind in tandem, not as close as it has been. A day to feel connected to nature. I have a bit of a walk before hitting the admin.

Invoices. Lots of invoices. All the invoices. There’s so much expensive motorcycle training coming up, so I can get myself fit and ready for the Oxford commute. I need to make sure I can pay for it. I’m not going to do this by halves. I am quite fond of my knees.

Wouldn’t it be lovely not to have had to pay almost two grand, I find myself thinking. But on the plus side this situation has propelled me off the booze indefinitely, and that’ll save me countless hundreds of pounds over time depending on how long I keep it up for. It really seems to be easy come easy go at the moment. I’m a focus of energy. A conduit, moving the stuff around at astonishing speed.

Tomorrow I’m up with the lark again. Enterprise Park Lane know me. I get a lot of random company hire cars for my part time job. Sometimes they are nice to me. Johnny rocks up at 7pm with an A- Class Merc that has 49 miles on the clock. It’s just off the line. “Break it in nicely,” he says. “I’ll only be putting about 60 miles on it,” I reassure him. Everything is automated, and it’s pretty compact. Johnny gives it to me completely empty – on the reserve tank. I nervously crawl to the garage to put in £30 of – (surprisingly) – diesel, and the range jumps to 215 miles. Mercedes have clearly sorted out fuel economy! That’s a game changer, make no mistake. I need one of these new engines. I reckon a tenner would’ve got me to High Wycombe and back.

But it’s another early start tomorrow, putting more butter on somebody else’s toast through me. I’m turning in, looking forward to breaking some miles into the pristine Mercedes. Making sure I’m rested just in case some rush hour maniac comes at me full tilt. I won’t get lovely treatment from Johnny and co at Park Lane if I total the brand new A-Class…

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Hyundai Home

Final day in Yeovil today. One tricky character in the room turned the whole day a little bit sour. It could’ve been much less of a slog. Still, I’ve earned my keep in good company. A bunch of actors, 250 kids, several disinterested supply teachers, one neurotic client. They’re a good lot, the guys I work with. Unusual characters, with some seriously interesting CVs, passion and a work ethic. These are the people who don’t like to let the day go for nothing if they can help it. These are the hardworking mentor types. I’m sometimes surprised to be among them, but I’m always glad. They’ve looked after me over the years, this company. When it’s just inconvenient for me to work for them I’ll try my best to be accommodating. The work itself can be satisfying despite neurotic clients. She was probably having a good day. I was just picking up some seriously weird energy from her. The day was still good for the kids though. The company offers a sterling product.

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I was recommended to them by a friend who caught me refilling a pint mug under the table in a pub. It was Jon’s engagement party and I’d just been excluded from a deeply loved dayjob for obscure reasons. I was at a low point internally. Cashflow was terrible, but rightly he said “What the fuck are you doing?”

The next evening I was being driven to Sherbourne to be gainfully employed. And so began a period of years where I’ve drawn a relationship with them. My inability to say “no” has caused me some inconveniences, but it’s always good when the money comes in. I told them I wasn’t available next week at all though, of necessity. It’s one of their busiest weeks of the year. The diary is empty and I could make a lot of money, but I have an unconscionable amount of line learning to do, plus I want to get on a bike as much as possible. If they knew I was free I’d end up working every day, looking like a tit in rehearsal and riding into a tree with a full bank account – maybe even enough to get new teeth. But I couldn’t tour America if I’d eaten tree. That would suck. As would I. I need to work as hard as possible now.

I’ve been watching “hazard perception” videos online. They didn’t exist when I learnt to drive. They’re like boring computer games and have about as much correlation with real life. But I’m going to do everything I can to make sure that when I find my ride I’m safe on it. After all, I drove back from Yeovil today and, as I think back over the drive, I did a few things by habit behind the wheel of a huge great Hyundai i800 which I’d be mad to do on a bike. Things that are done because you KNOW the aggressive driver behind you has seen you. He might not have seen you on a bike, and if he goes into the back of you on two wheels you’ll probably need a new face, hands, neck, knee, elbow or corporeal body so it’s not such a big deal that he’s liable on insurance.

I’m sleepy now though. Glad I stayed sharp long enough to get the Hyundai back to Enterprise but it was tiring. Bastards usually pick it up when you’re a business client but I wasn’t back until 7 so I had to take it to Park Lane and drop it off in a huge underground garage, and then get home with all my bags. Now I’m under Pickle, listening to the wind beginning to pick up outside and break this heat. And I’m off into a deep booze free sleep.

All the same

The Airfield Tavern. They’re not even trying to make it sound good.

As the sun goes down I’m wondering why anyone would come to this place as a destination. Maybe nobody ever does. But they’re packed for dinner tonight. It’s next to the Premier Inn where I’m sharing a room with a stranger who isn’t here yet. Non alcoholic beer for nearly £3. Blog. This ain’t glamour, this job. This is bones. But at least there’ll be money at the end of it. I’m saving up for a motorbike. I’ll take what I can get.

What is it about homogeneity? We live in a naturally incredibly beautiful world. We’ve poured concrete over it and we are so afraid of the unruly truth of nature that we try to destroy it utterly, forgetting we’re part of it. I know people who will push a carrot disconsolately around on their plate untouched because they’ve seen it come out of the ground with dirty mud on it, and then devour a whole pack of machine cut chemical washed carrot batons in plastic for lunch the next day.

Another night in Yeovil but this room could be anywhere – Liverpool or Frome. I haven’t seen anyone who isn’t white English outside of my co-workers. And I’ve seen a lot of people. I’ve never been to Yeovil before and I’ve still got no idea what it looks like. ASDA. Premier Inn. Generic brewery pub. All character has been systematically crushed here because “people like everything to be the same.”

There’s that famous conversation about MacDonalds in Paris from Pulp Fiction. “Royale with Cheese,” said with wonder. A difference! They’ve got MacDonalds in Hong Kong. Teenage Al ended up catching a rare pizza there because it was almost exotic. Two doors down he could’ve had incredible noodles for the same price, and still eaten offal but without the dressing up, but he was curious about the pizza.

You can contract a Big Mac even at the heart of the Negev Desert. In Guantanamo there’s an outbreak, contained with barbed wire.

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They’re still peddling patties that are roughly the same as the ones you get on both sides of the high street in some UK and US cities, where people sit in the windows, attention downwards, forcing antibiotic ground creaturebits into their gullets with both hands ten foot from the local café where Fil is watching them masticate, worrying about the rent but unable to compete with the price of a happy meal.

I’m as guilty as the rest – there ain’t no high horse here. I’m trying to eat better. Live better. Be more conscious. But I went to KFC the other day and guiltily scarfed the remains of thousands of ground up baby chicks bleached and bound with a tasty batter. “Yum” I thought, as I pushed it into my face while the Frankenstein Colonel lurched towards me approvingly. I could’ve been anywhere in the world and I wouldn’t have known any better apart from the language I spoke at the counter. And lots of people just shout in English anyway.

As someone who rarely if ever has the same morning, the same day, the same evening I just don’t get it, eating in these places regularly, going to the English themed pub in Belgium, drinking insipid American coffee in Rome. On a little island in Thailand I got angry to see a familiar coffee house on the high street I turned around immediately and got the next ferry out. You can do that sort of thing when you’re solo. It’s impossible to justify to anyone because it sounds ridiculous. “Why are we leaving?” “Starbucks.” “Al, there’s Starbucks everywhere. Calm down.”

I try to experience the culture wherever I am. And yeah, perhaps the Yeovil culture is fish and chips by the roundabout in which case I’m smashing it. But God this little area is depressing. Still. Money to be made, I guess. One step closer to the bike.

 

Moving about

“Oh look, it’s Stonehenge.”

One of our most ancient and internationally famous monuments bears about as much notice as a horse when you’re on a mission to get somewhere, but it’s nice how you get to catch it from the road.

A singer that I barely know is driving me to Yeovil. Enterprise have brought her a white jaguar. She hates it. She wants an SUV or a mini. “Get me behind that wheel,” I’m thinking. I don’t think I want this car for my own. It’s too generic, too low, too boring. But the engine kicks like a mule, and you barely feel it cornering, and I want to drive it.

Although to be frank I couldn’t drive to Yeovil after the day I’ve just had. I’m knackered. Droopy eyed.

“We’re getting too old for this shit,” was the quote from earlier in the day, out of Tristan. We were we in Bishop’s Stortford back then, pushing massive flats into a hot warehouse to be mothballed like The Arc of the Covenant at the end of “Raiders”.

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It feels like forever ago now, as the sunset burns sharp behind Stonehenge and the new driver curses her fast car.

In my plastic Tesco “overnight” bag I have the following: A toothbrush and toothpaste from Poundstretcher’s in Kentish Town. Two items. £2.39. “Stretching”. Two pairs of psychedelic pink pants and three pairs of socks – all the cheapest option in TK Maxx. Rachel’s father’s ratchet strap, which I didn’t exactly steal – extremely helpful on the van job it has been too. How kind of him to lend it to me. It has to come to Yeovil though as I had to meet the car in fecking Bromley and barely had time to get there after returning the Luton in Kentish Town. A spare shirt! Hooray. I won’t stink for tomorrow, and the day after there’s a bottle of Tom Ford that I bought at duty free on the way back from somewhere and lost almost immediately. I’d left it at Tristan and Tanya’s. Glad it showed up. Explains why Tristan smelt so familiar the other day. And a mobile phone charger. That’s it. I didn’t realise I would be going away for two nights. I hadn’t been checking my diary, which is the external harddrive for my brain where I keep all the practical stuff. And pictures of animals.


Today started so calmly. Me on my back, Pickle on my stomach, checking emails together to discover that the one I’ve been waiting for has landed. Then suddenly my French voisin and a man called Daryl are panicking loudly at my door and Anna comes into my room to tell me.

Daryl is an engineer. He’s locked everybody inside the block including himself, trying to fix the entryphone. The binman is waiting outside. He cannot understand why my French neighbour won’t give him her keys to pass to the binman through the letterbox. I can understand. He’s a man I’ve never met before in a boiler suit with visible panic energy, coming to your flat door at 8am saying “I need you to give me keys to give to the binman through the letterbox now quickly he won’t wait for long hurry up why are you looking at me like that?”

She’s worried he’s some kind of scammer. I reckon he’s legit so I follow him down with keys but the binman has got bored and left. He’s pissed off about it. “People are going to be leaving for work soon,” he tells me accusingly, as if I’m the one in a branded boilersuit that fucked the lock while the door was shut.

We shout at people through the letterbox a little while. Eventually someone accepts the key through the letterbox and opens it from the outside. He immediately takes the lock off entirely and fucks off. I shrug and go to work. Got a laptop to deliver, a van to unload and then I’ve got to be driven to Somerset by someone that hates their car… All in a day’s work. Early start tomorrow. Night night…

Sweaty vindaloo

With my rented van sleeping behind me, filled with the Rotterdam set, I’m lying on my bed waiting for the bath to run, listening to the traffic through the open window, and far below me I can hear the tinnitus shriek of the overloaded entryphone system in my block. It has been like that for months. Nobody knows what to do.

I stink.

When I was clearing out the attic the other day I found a great big electric fan. It must’ve been mum’s. It’s 1980’s style. I’ve been running it all day in the living room while we worked, although Pickle isn’t used to it yet. She would occasionally come and glare at it, but avoids it for preference.

Today was one of those rare summer days where you are glad to have a fan. It’ll go back up in the attic before long, but now I know what’s in the attic I’ll be able to get it next summer for the day or two that it makes a difference. Unless Pickle attacks and destroys it, which I’m not ruling out the way she was sizing it up.

Tristan came round armed with kneepads, a breath mask and industrial gloves. Together we put large amounts of stuff into multiple boxes and threw them up into the attic. Then we got enough plates to run Christmas Carol for about 1000 people – or anything else vaguely Victorian themed for that matter – and we got them out of the flat. Finally.

I had to run a load of boxes to the Gatsby storage and left Tristan working. I realised that over the years I’ve done a lot of strange things for money, but my heart and soul aren’t in it if I’m not being paid properly. So I’m paying Tristan what I’d want to be paid myself for that kind of work in order to make it good for both of us. He’s been a great help, especially as I’d have lost ages driving to Gatsby and back had he not been beavering away at home. He even roped in Anna, who is staying on the sofa a few days. She ended up helping take some almost impossibly heavy boxes full of plates down the stairs and out of the flat.

Then we had a vindaloo – stock image.

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On this hot day. I told Brian this morning that I’ve never had one. It was a gap in my knowledge. I tend to avoid them as it sounds like they’re endurance curries and I usually prefer to enjoy my food. But I hate not knowing, so the opportunity came up and I took it.

I won’t say never again. Maybe on a cold day when I feel a bit under the weather and really want a damn good sweat. But after hauling boxes up and down stairs and precarious ladders on a hot day it was ill advised. I’m slippy like a newt.

I was sweating through my ears. I was weeping but I didn’t want to wipe my eyes in case I blinded myself. Now I’m waiting for a hot bath to run so I can lie in it and sweat a different sweat. Glutton for punishment. At least it’s all good for my skin. And I’ll come out clean, ready for another hot day of labour tomorrow and then two nights in a fecking Travelodge.