Saturday, November 25, 2006

Friday Night, Saturday Morning

I got home at half two this afternoon after seeing Casino Royale on my way back from my brother's. Friday ended on his couch at 4am after too much beer, a late night lock-in in Tynemouth and a walk in the rain for cold, soggy chips and spicy takeaway pizza. Saturday, like the exciting relationship I almost started halfway through my fifth pint, was over before it had even begun.

Friday, November 24, 2006

At the Movies

Thanks to my brother's work, I managed to wangle tickets for the final show of the Northern Lights Film Festival last night - Jonas Cornell's strangely episodic Puss and Kram (Hugs and Kisses). I either missed something - not the voyeuristic nude scene, thankfully - or my appreciation was spoilt by too much free wine beforehand. Either way, it was understated to the point of bemusement.

Following my morning run, I potted some Campanula Glomerata Superba seedlings and plonked a couple of dozen English Bluebell bulbs in the front garden, successfully beating the rain front that moves ever closer and threatens to wreck my plans for the weekend. Amazingly, I noticed that a few of the dwarf Gladiolis along the side of the house are now in full bloom, weeks after the rest had rotted on the stem, and just as I was about to start lifting the bulbs up for winter.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Any Given Sunday

The first real frost of winter meant I had to run with more care than usual across the pavement slabs the low sun hadn't reached by ten o'clock. I warmed down afterwards by digging over the vegetable patch and building a cobbled path to the compost bin. After lunch, I went for a walk along Newcastle's other river, the Ouse. There wasn't a soul to be seen anywhere - I think they were all Christmas shopping in Eldon Square.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Things Start Moving

I finally got my criminal record check back this morning, disappointingly clean. The same post brought a contract from JET, so I should at least be getting the odd hour of teaching work between visiting embassies and obtaining expensive translations.

Yesterday was a glorious autumnal day, the kind when everything's in sharper focus. On my morning jog I could see clean across from Gateshead to Penshaw Monument, while the wind scraped clouds rolled out like dough across the sky. After work I went out for a few drinks with a primary school teacher I met last week. As fun as it was I couldn't help wondering what we'd find to talk about once the travel stories ran out. She was obviously looking for something serious, or at least something more serious than I can be bothered with right now.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

No More Heroes

Sometimes you have to feel sorry for the football millionaires. After Thierry Henry had his weekend spoilt by supporters going home early, now Jose Mourinho's joined Alex Ferguson in whinging about fans not making enough noise at home games. Honestly, you constrain people in plastic seats, price them out by doubling ticket prices and then hire a bunch of overpaid mercenaries to play boring, negative football, and the ungrateful swine can't even be bothered to make their own entertainment! Is it really any co-incidence that attendances are falling or that the best atmosphere in the big league nowadays is created by fans of unfashionable clubs that keep ticket prices and wage bills down?

If these parasites really wanted more of an atmosphere, they would talk about cutting ticket prices, creating singing areas or bringing back the terraces. It was antiquated facilities, poor policing, metal fences, hooliganism and overcrowding that caused tragedies like Hillsborough, not the act of standing itself. But then there's no money to be made in any of that, is there?

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Secret Agent

I used to think John Reid was just an illiberal, ineffectual, opportunistic bully. What kind of Labour home secretary pushes ID cards and detention without trial, scapegoats minorities, encourages parents to spy on children and teachers to inform on students, fills jails to bursting and proposes centrally planned limits to immigration? But then he was once a bruising, Trotskyite busting member of the Communist Party, wasn't he? Keep up the good work, Agent Reid. Uncle Joe would have been proud.

Sunday, November 12, 2006


Went to Royal Quays this afternoon, between Reading's second goal and kick off at the Arsenal. As usual since the book shop went to pot, I came back with nowt. The camping shops were full of overpriced garments in small sizes and the only trainers I could find were pairs designed for tools. I mean, who wants to wear six different colours on their feet, or have luminous splodges all the way up their heels? Passing the bike stands, I briefly wondered if it was the first or the second time I'd been back since I cycled there with Katka, and when my mind had stopped measuring every single event by its proximity to the end of my marriage. Truth be told, I couldn't remember the answer to either.

On Running

I set out at half nine, straight after finishing the Sunday paper and my morning cup of tea, running beside cars and shrivelled up leaves, stepping round dog shit and jumping puddles of autumn rain that over-filled the sunken tarmac. The weak sun was as yellow as school canteen custard. Fifteen minutes later I turned around at the traffic lights in front of the new, pale-brick fire station, across the road from the back gate to the hospital where I was born. Speeding up down the crematorium hill, I started thinking about another Sunday morning jog, no more than a year and a half ago, seeing teenage boys in baseball uniforms riding bicycles on the pavement, a homeless man in a wheelchair listening to the radio by the river, old couples weeding under concrete flyovers, football practice in the municipal stadium and shiny black headstones in the cramped neighbourhood temples. Things change: back then, I used to double back at a metal bridge next to a 7-11.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

City Away

Another Saturday, another abject performance from Newcastle United. Thanks to Roeder's inept tactics and ham fisted man management, we started the game with just a crock up front and ended it with three centre halves and seven midfielders. And what of the players? Parker's in a strop, Emre only ever hurts the opposition with his mis-timed tackles, Duff, like Michael Owen, is only in it for the money, Stephen Carr can't defend or pass the ball properly, a blind archer hits the target more often than Obafemi Martins, N'Zogbia's gone backwards, Moore would be better off spending his afternoons in the pub and Sibierski has all the agility and awareness of a bag of cement. As for the chairman...

Thirty seven years since we last won a trophy - with this lot it'll be almost as long till we next win a game.

Remembrance Day

I was still in Jarrow at eleven o'clock, the hour of remembrance. In the teaming rain, old women stood against shop doorways locked in readiness for the two minute silence. In the place on the corner that sells cheap beer, shoppers paused over baskets of cut price confectionary and the sound had been turned off on the push-a-button-and-win game. The queue froze six people deep while the woman behind the counter scribbled noiselessly on bits of paper. I stood head down in the second aisle over the massed ranks of spaghetti hoops and out-of-date ciabattas. Even the tinsel hung against the window never stirred. At 11.02 pop music started playing on the radio and all thoughts turned back to the present: "I mean him off the X-Factor, man." "Can you jump on the till, Carol?"

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Stuff Happens

So goodbye Donald Rumsfeld, that modern day Nostradamus finally brought down by a "little understood, unfamiliar war". It was Rummy, remember, who told us that Saddam's WMDs were definitely "in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat," described the post-invasion looting as the untidiness of freedom, arrogantly proclaimed that the whole thing would last no more than five days, five weeks or five months, and once promised "I don't do quagmires."

If you're looking for a job, Donald, I hear they have plenty of vacancies in the infantry these days.

The Castle

In Kafka's novel, the land surveyer K is summoned to the castle erroneously. His arrival is acknowledged provisionally but never definitively, and he never gets any closer than the village at the foot of the castle, where he works as a school caretaker. Although the novel has no end, K discovers that a land surveyor may or may not have been needed at an indeterminate point in the past, though he was not necessarily the person who was actually called for. I now know how he must have felt.

Nine weeks after I applied for my criminal record check I received a letter from Newcastle Council telling me that I need similar checks done in every country I've ever lived in. The only help I was given was a fax back telephone number, which only has details for two out of the five countries. I'm surprised they didn't set the letter to self destruct as soon as I'd read it. From what I can gather, I'll need to visit the embassies of China, Japan, Korea and the Czech Republic in person, forking out cash for travel, postage, consular fees, official translations and having my fingerprints taken. The Italians will let me do everything by post, or at least I think they will. But unlike K, I won't be getting any kind of job in a school until it's all finished.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Still Running

A whole two months of jogging and I've finally ditched the Minotaur hunt around my estate for an undulating route along the side of a dual carriageway to the local fire station and back. I'm now running for just over half an hour instead of twenty five minutes, and get to breathe in petrol fumes for free. It beats glue, and pump prices what they are these days who am I to grumble? After sitting on my backside for eight hours a day, I'm also doing twenty or so minutes of weights most nights, plus a hundred press-ups, fifty sit-ups and five minutes twisting my waist from side to side on some contraption Katka couldn't fit into her suitcase. To hell with diets and parental responsibilty, what we need are more divorces if we want to tackle this obesity problem thing.

Monday, November 06, 2006


You know those days when everything seems to be going a bit too well? It all began with a job interview for sessional work with JET, a really good organisation that provides English lessons and employability training for migrant workers and refugees. Thanks to a bit of research and some inspired rambling, I left with the promise of paid teaching hours in the near future. Next, I got to the college and discovered that I'm guaranteed work there through till Christmas, leaving me quids in by lunchtime with another forty-odd pounds to come for a two and a half hour lesson in the evening. The inevitable catch came by text message. After two months my criminal record check still hasn't come through, so the two classes I had scheduled for this week have gone down the Swanee. I'm sure it's all the fault of that Guy Fawkes character.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Bonfire Night

Exactly how does Guy Fawkes Night really help us define what it means to be English? Cheap fireworks exploding like gunfire for weeks on end; penny for the guy and frozen kids waving sparklers in car parks; adults burning effigies and piles of wood to celebrate the things that made Britain the country it is today - religious persecution, torture and severed heads on sticks. All a bit of fun? Can you really see many Iraqis spending the next four hundred years begging loose change and setting ropey old scarecrows on fire to keep the memory of Abu Ghraib alive?

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Cold Snap

This morning's cold, bright weather brought an unexpected bonus. Putting my winter coat on for the first time since spring, I dipped my hand into the side pocket and found a ten pound note and a handful of twenty pence coins. That warmed me up for a while.

With the start of winter comes talk of divorce. We've decided to do everything in the Czech Republic rather than here, mainly because of the cost. In Czech law, as long as you've been married for a year and separated for six months then no more questions need to be asked. All we have to pay is £20 for the document itself, and then around the same again for the translations. No wonder they have the highest divorce rate in Europe.

I still have conflicting emotions about the whole thing. On the one hand, it's the very last thing that I ever wanted to happen and I can't help thinking that I'm giving up way too easily. Nonetheless, it wasn't my decision to walk away from the marriage, and I'm certain that there'd be no hope of reconciliation even if I wanted there to be. Under the circumstances, a clean break is doubtless best for both of us.