Sunday, October 29, 2006

By The Coast

It seemed a pity to waste a sunny day so I took the metro to Seaburn and walked the four and a bit miles along the beach and the riverbank to St Peter's. Watching the yachts circling each other out at sea made me think back to those long Sundays sitting on the sea wall in Siracusa, wandering narrow streets lined with leaning, biscuit-coloured palazzi that crumbled like stale cake, listening to the World Service by my front door as the sun went down over the Ionian Sea, oil tankers crowding the horizon on the way up the coast to the refineries at Augusta. Sunderland's not quite so exotic, but it'll do for now.

Stop All The Clocks

The clocks went back last night. For the next four or five months I'll be getting up in the dark, travelling back and forwards to work in the dark, and watching the sun rise and set through the window. Funnily enough, going to bed in the dark has never really bothered me. I woke up at exactly the same time as usual and passed the extra hour reading a few chapters of JG Ballard in bed with a cup of Darjeeling. Time to start making plans: today I'm going to fill in the application form for the long winded Cert in FE Teaching / Cert for ESOL Subject Specialists course that I'm hoping to start in January.

Before that, I'm off to the seaside.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Big Things

For the third day in four it took me ages to get home from work because of problems with the metro. After a break down blocked the line on Monday, and an overheated axle on a train carrying nuclear flasks to Sellafield disprupted services on Wednesday, yesterday's high winds closed the bridge over the Tyne, meaning I had to walk across to Gateshead and then wait twenty minutes on a crowded platform for a train to arrive.

Luckily, big things had happened in the morning. A letter came about an interview for an ESOL teaching job, then I found out I'd got a month's worth of paid work on Monday and Wednesday evenings at the place where I've been working voluntarily. Add on the three and a half days I'm putting in at Newcastle College and I should be rolling in the cash come Christmas.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Another Desk Job

Yesterday I started my very latest new job on the reception desk at the college's Trade Union Education Centre. In eight hectic hours, I answered six phone calls and dealt with three visitors. The morning whizzed by as I folded up leaflets and stuck address labels over envelope windows. Then after lunch and an hour's gazing out of the window - I could see two vending machines, an Avis car hire, the orange bollards, grey CCTV cameras and barbed-wire topped red brick wall around the casino car park and a brownish pebble dashed office bulding - I went looking for more work and ended up putting stickers onto little boxes on the back of information leaflets for the rest of the day. It goes without saying that not just anyone can adapt to the vastly different skills required to put stickers on both boxes and windows, which is probably how come I got the job in the first place.

So now I'm working there every Monday for the forseeable future, plus I'm continuing with the registers on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursday afternoons. It'll be a squeeze now I've just got a three day weekend to rest up in, I'm sure, but hopefully I'll manage to last as long as Christmas.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Green(ish) Fingers

My first go at gardening wasn't half bad at all. I grew asters and marigolds from seed, got four or five courgettes, more basil and sage leaves than I knew what to do with, a plastic container full of spring onions, and I haven't had to buy a single tomato since I came back from China. This morning I noticed that, thanks to global warming, even the plants I stuck in the corner of the garden as an experiment have turned out all right. In fact, the only things that failed were the garlic bulbs I tried to grow in pots in the greenhouse. I might have another go at those next year, if I haven't stumbled across another hobby by then.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Past The Finish Post

To help get Katka health insurance in the Czech Republic, I've spent the past couple of weeks filling in forms and collecting her old payslips and tax documents. Yesterday, after posting everything off to the Inland Revenue, I emailed her that I'd finally sorted things out and sent my best wishes for the future. I got a childish temper tantrum in return.

In retrospect, I should have known what was coming. I'd touched on some examples of her recent selfishness - such as emailing me a couple of weeks ago to moan that she was really down, had realised that she was losing something special and just wanted to be in my arms; then following it up the very next day with a brief message informing me that she was now in a "really good mood" because she'd solved the problem at work that had apparently been the sole cause of her depression. I was trying to caution not antagonise her, to show how her more thoughtless actions affect others, and could affect her in the future. As my email was friendly and non-judgemental I naively imagined she would be big enough to at least listen to my point of view.

Her response was swift. She never loved me - why else would she have allowed me to go to China? As proof, she was always happy to see me go because she could finally have her own space. Conveniently enough, she neglected to mention that this was space in which she started an affair with her brother's married best friend, which is obviously the very best kind of space a person can have. Next up, I was the selfish one, damned because I hadn't offered to go back to the Czech Republic with her. As the temporary boyfriend was still juggling her, his wife and children for a full three weeks after I returned from China to hear that our marriage was dead and her flight home had already been booked, I'm slightly baffled by her revisionism.

But not really baffled, of course. It's much easier to project blame than to dwell on the consequences of our own actions. Nor does any of it particularly matter - whether she loved me or not is wholly immaterial as far as I'm concerned. Despite the disastrous end to our short-lived marriage, it would be immature and pig-headed of me to obliterate the good times we shared together. If she wants to do so, then that's a matter for her alone.

It's sad that it had to end like this but I'm only very fleetingly angry and not at all bitter. In the couple of dozen emails and two phone calls we've exchanged since she left she has never once expressed any kind of regret or understanding (I did get a text message twenty minutes after I told her that I'd found out about the affair with a few easily-typed platitudes - you are the best man I've ever met, I didn't deserve you), only self-pity and requests for help with tax forms and translations for her new job. Enough is enough: my life is better without her; we have no more ties, only the memories.

Paper Round

Another of those loops: when he retired, my father started delivering the local free newspaper to help keep fit. This week he's on holiday in Spain, so I agreed to stand in for him, getting up at five o'clock this morning so I could finish up before the rain started chucking down. It was exactly the same round that I did when I was at school, fifteen or sixteen years ago - I eventually got the sack for missing out too many houses. Despite the wet weather, I managed to do a better job this time.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006


My brother turned 28 yesterday, which reminded me that I'm now closer to my thirty-first birthday than my thirtieth, and that despite my certainty that I'm living through a pause in time - or more accurately that dead space between the end of one thing and the beginning of another - it ticks away regardless elsewhere, pulling me further from my past towards a still imperceptible future. This is by no means an entirely melancholy observation: the pause will end soon, I'm sure. All I need is a bit of patience, and a ready supply of strong alcohol in the meantime.

Monday, October 16, 2006


I've been working at Newcastle College for almost a month now, checking class registers, tracking down marks and updating the internal database. In ordinary circumstances this would be a routine and mundane task, but at the start of term, with timetables, students and classrooms constantly changing, I often feel more like an archaeologist than an administrator, pouring over fragmentary bits of information that are almost as difficult to piece back together as a smashed Etruscan vase. Today was especially hard, partly because it was Monday, but mainly because we were three people down. I worked against the clock all day and came home with a dull ache in my left shoulder that not so very long ago Katka would have massaged out of me right away. It's always the things that you took for granted that you end up missing the most.

The weekend was obscured by the shadow of that relationship; I felt the extent to which I'd grown accustomed to living with someone, sharing touches and feelings, knowing that they're always there. On the occasions when my shoulder isn't killing me, I feel the loss of those things rather than the absence of Katka herself, though perhaps the two are really bound together. Fortunately, both can be replaced.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Memories and Consequences

Autumn has arrived, bringing crisp, chilly air and pale blue skies. I drove down to Durham with my brother this morning. After a quick look inside the cathedral we walked along the riverbank and up to the Durham Light Infantry Museum, re-treading old footsteps every inch of the way.

More memories yesterday afternoon. At a loose end after a late morning trip to the cinema, I took the metro out to the coast at South Shields. Walking along the sand, I retraced part of the route I used to jog along before I went to Japan for the first time, the place by the rocks where I played boules with Myung-hee and my parents in the boiling summer just after I got back from Sicily, and the bit of sand where Katka and I stretched out by our bikes a few weeks before I left for China. Was that really only four months ago?

I don't regret going to China one little bit. If I'd gone back to the Czech Republic instead, I'd probably still be married now, but it would only have delayed the inevitable by a few months, a year at most. I think she'd already cheated on me once before then, though I didn't know it that day by the sea; I'm sure she'd have done it again, and I would've ended up wasting an important part of my life.

I don't spend very much time thinking about any of this. Honestly.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Unusual Times

Without a doubt, these last few weeks have been among the strangest of my life so far, totally distinct from the months and years that went before. My attitude to it all surprises me: though I still think about Katka more than anything else, and I'll continue to remember the good times we shared together with fondness and occasional nostalgia, the sense of loss is almost gone, the hurt all but evaporated. I feel the absence of a warm body beside me, of the comfort that came from imagining that I'd found what I wanted and would never have to look for somebody again, but I don't miss Katka as a person at all.

I always knew how insecure she was, but I trusted her to resist the temptation of drunkenly following up on a few kind words and a bit of attention. What really stung was not her cheating but the sheer extent of her immaturity and selfishness: from the moment she arrived back in the Czech Republic at the beginning of July I ceased to exist as a person, let alone as a husband. I noticed the change immediately - no more phone calls, only five or six short, semi-glacial replies to my emails in the whole six weeks she was back home - but, at the time, I was just happy she was enjoying herself...

This hurt me deeply, of course, but it also helps. It makes it so much easier to let go.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Back On Top

We set at half past eight yesterday morning, and were starting up the side of Scafell Pike, England's highest mountain, around four hours later. Unfortunately, the clouds came down quicker than we could go up, so that by the time we'd reached the top visibility was down to around twenty metres, and the wind, rain and steam-like gusts of cloud were almost knocking us sideways. Still, for the half minute or so that we were absolutely alone at the rocky summit, we were indisputably the highest, and very likely the coldest and wettest, men in England.

After a long breakfast this morning, we drove north and hiked around the edge of Loweswater. Back for more when spring comes.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Ton Up

My one hundredth post. To think that when I started this blog in preparation for China I was worried that I wouldn't have anything to write about! Nothing at all happening today, mainly because I'm off to the Lakes early tomorrow morning for a weekend of scrambling up and down mountains while drunk and hungover.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Normality Once Again

There's a real chill in the air today, a reminder that winter is on its way. Today I feel like I'm almost back to normal, that Katka belongs to the past, and that my future will be very definitely better for her absence. I'm sure there'll be a few bumps on the road ahead, but I'm just as certain that I could never go back.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Remembering India

Another bloody anniversary: a year to the day since two nervous honeymooners boarded a night flight from Heathrow to Mumbai. I'd travelled down on the early morning Megabus from Newcastle; we picnicked in the park behind the Marshall Foch statue at Victoria, spreading newspaper across the leaf-strewn grass; down and outs and foreign alcoholics had taken all the benches.

And then we were walking out of the shabby, deserted airport and into a black and yellow taxi, bumping along dirt roads, rounding people and cows and auto-rickshaws. It remains scorched into my mind: the baking heat, the beggars pressed up against the windows, the menacing pandemonium of it all. We both had exactly the same thought: What the hell have we done?

Hell was the street between our hotel and the train station, lined on both sides with open fronted shacks. Small fires burnt here and there, naked children ran along the edge of what passed for the road, hunched women stared at us through exhausted, vacant eyes.

Thankfully, things got better after that.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

That Middle of the Week Feeling

I've always been a hoarder, mainly because I'm so stupidly sentimental about so many things. That explains my reluctance to throw anything out just now - the shrivelled up flowers I bought Katka as a welcome home present still sit in a glass vase to the left of the stereo, the clothes she wore on her last day here exactly four weeks ago - red pants and a sky blue and grey hooded jumper - lie crumpled on the floor in front of the wardrobe, and about the last thing I see before I go to sleep is a picture she painted in the week before I got back from China. I'm still not sure if she hung it there as a goodbye present, though I like it more than most of the other gifts she gave me while we were together. I am, however, sure that the first thing I'll eventually get rid of is the plate we smashed outside on the driveway at the start of our wedding reception. It's a Czech wedding custom, each broken piece representing one year of happy life together. Looking back, we'd have been better off dropping it on the sofa.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Open Wide: One Week On

When I said I craved normality, I wasn't thinking about a trip to the dentist's. £15.50 for a pretty girl to move a bit of metal around your teeth then hose them with water. Not many bargains like that about nowadays.

Sometimes I think I'm really ok, but then I walk into somewhere as simple as a dentist's surgery and am immediately struck by the thought that last time I was here I was with Katka, or she was waiting for me back at home, or we'd just eaten dinner. I felt that in the three or four weeks before last Monday, of course, but it didn't have the stamp of finality back then.

I'd been watching a documentary on Albert Speer and the Nuremburg Trials right before I read that email last week. I wonder how long my mind will continue to associate the two events? Funnily enough, I often joked that some of her opinions were a bit fascist, and her infidelity does seem like a fairly final solution.

Good news: easyJet have emailed me a £25 voucher. Ironically, it's an apology for them cancelling Katka's flight home at the beginning of July. She had to re-book and wait twenty-four hours. Shame it wasn't a couple of months...

Sunday, October 01, 2006


How strange it feels to look back at what I wrote last Saturday: the end of an instantly forgettable week. Well, I won't be forgetting this one in a hurry. Nothing has ever wounded me like this before.

Everything else I did this week seems utterly irrelevant, though there was a little new growth among the carnage that followed Monday night. The temporary job went well, and my ESOL teaching career is slowly taking shape. On Thursday I found out that I may well be getting my first paid work from the place I currently volunteer at. The following morning I had a phone call asking if I'd be interested in applying for another position, this time teaching people from settled immigrant communities who don't have enough English to hold down decent jobs.

And I need to give this a try. I crave normality, and I think I have done to varying extents for at least the last year and a half. Despite its many attractions, I've had enough of moving around. I feel a need in me to settle somewhere, to feel my feet are firmly rooted in the ground. I guess that's why I was so eager to get married - I have this terror of ending up like Jay Gatsby, thinking that I can just reach out and grasp something only to find it's already silently slipped away.

I'm still jogging - every day except two for over three weeks now - I read whenever I can concentrate, and I'm listening to stuff that I'd neglected for too long - David Bowie, Al reminds me that there were a lot of things I never got round to doing with Katka. I don't want that to sentence to be misconstrued: I could have done no more at the time given the circumstances that prevailed, Katka being Katka and me being me. There are no what ifs.

Life isn't easy, but I don't suppose that's a bad thing. We learn and re-evaluate, we recover and move on. Eventually.