December 23, 2009
December 20, 2009
Denise had gone back to college in the states, the arthritis had abated and I was broke. Out of money and without a social safety net, in London, there was one solution: I sought work.
The first few days I worked for building site cleaners. Simple maths put paid to that job, though; my earnings were less than rent, let alone food. Next up I found work through an employment agency, Manpower, or something like that. Just after 5am I’d catch the first train on the District line, change at an empty Earls court and ride the Piccadilly line out to an concrete industrial estate somewhere. Being there early was the only guarantee of work, of making my rent.
They set me to work as a stand in garbage collector, and for a few days I collected the trash of Hammersmith. Trundling down thin streets while the skinhead driver of the garbage truck rolled his joints on the steering wheel. One of the guys a young good looking kid possessed some sort of built in radar – if there was anything valuable in the trash he’d know, just by lifting the bag. Old copper pots, they could be recycled, same with household appliances.
“Heavy bag this one.”
“‘at ‘ill be magazines. Open it up. Porn. Always is. Ang on.” In between the magazines was a set of photos. “Let’s ‘ave a look at these.”
The first few were holiday snaps and then…
“Owwah, look at this, kinky bastard.”
The people of Hammersmith and surrounds, I was to learn over the next few days, take a lot of photos of themselves undressed.
There was a slow patient old guy who we worked with. His accent was softer than the rest, exhausted maybe.
“So are you over ‘ere on ‘oliday are you?” he asked me one morning.
“Yeah, I guess, well I’m travelling round.”
“I started on the garbage trucks as a holiday job. Just for a summer I thought. Twenty seven years later, an’ I’m still here.”
It was time for me to move on.
Next job the people at Manpower found me paid more. A bonus – yuk-money. It involved driving round London servicing sanitary bins in Women’s toilets. Each morning I’d start with a map, a van full of clean bins and the slightly sickly smell of disinfectant. By the end of the say, the clean bins would be gone, replaced by the ones we’d extracted from toilets (“Hello? Is there anyone in there? We’re from Cannon Hygiene. Just servicing the bins”). It was late into a hot, humid summer. By the end of the day the van would stink. The smell, the traffic, the fact that if I wasn’t lost I was always only one wrong turn away from it. I really, really hated the work.
There’s a story that starts in there somewhere. How from the hygiene van I graduated to giving away food samples for a promotion company, to doing data entry work for them, to getting a job in an investment bank.
But that’s not today’s story. Today’s story is about Ben, the tall quiet Kenyan who worked for Cannon. And who would accompany me some days. We didn’t talk much. Mostly we just tried to race from job to job. He’d navigate and I’d do my best not to crash. One afternoon though, we finished early, and I offered him a ride home (one of the perks of the job is that I got to keep the van in the evenings).
“Are you sure? It’s out of your way?”
“Yeah no worries. It’s not that far and traffic’s good.”
“Thanks. Now I can go home and have a sleep before I start my second job.”
“You work two jobs?”
“At night I pack computers into boxes in a warehouse.”
At that point in my life I laboured under some sort of naive third-worldism. I figured that prosperity was a sham of sorts. And that people in developing countries had access to a real ‘spiritual’ wealth.
It was, I’m quite happy to admit, half-baked. And inconsistent with other views I had at the time. But being wealthy, white and living out of a backpack, half-baked thinking was a luxury I had.
Working two jobs, one of them in toilet hygiene, Ben I figured, must have seen this too, I thought. Stuck in London, a city I never loved, a long way from the land.
“So what’s Kenya like, how does it compare to here? Do you prefer it?”
“No, I prefer London. Here, the people, I think, are much more free.”
December 13, 2009
I must have woken in the grey. In a fog that loped in from the sea. To tiny rivulets of water traced upon my tent. I would have lain there for a while, and read, and eaten breakfast from a can. I might have wandered into the village.
I would have started walking. Around the East of the island, or to the bay on the north where icebergs parked like ships inside a harbour. I probably felt lonely, at some point – examining the broken relationship from all angles, again – although as I walked, that would have ebbed away.
Later in the day, still walking, I climbed one of the two hills, up towards the peak, where unanticipated, just shy of the top, the mist gave ground. It went from thick to nothing in a few meters. And I found myself above the cloud, in a powder blue sky. Half a kilometre away the other hill also struck out of the grey. Each peak an island, floating on a fairy sea that stretched to the curve of the earth. Beneath us somewhere the occasional husky howled and calving icebergs rumbled.
And as I hovered there, unable to find words, I promised myself I’d remember that day. And the impossible beauties of the Arctic. Though now, nearly 9 years later, my determination to remember is the main thing I remember. The view itself is faded, barely there, less tangible than the mist.
December 9, 2009
He was discoursing on how Green politics has become a religion, a sinister example of ideology becoming a theology that rejects man’s right to reason and choose.
It was, therefore, no small coincidence that elsewhere in the Herald that day was another classic example of ideology which has become theology…
I know…[that Climate Change is] codswallop, and every time I see a rainbow I have it confirmed for me. It tells me that God is keeping the promise he made to Noah after the world-drowning flood thousands of years ago recorded in Genesis.
“I establish my covenant with you,” God told Noah. “Never again will all life be cut off by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the Earth … I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the Earth. Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between me and all living creatures of every kind on the Earth.”
December 8, 2009
The latest tomfoolery to come my way – all travelling readers will have come across the same nonsense – is the little card that lies upon my hotel pillow, exhorting me to spare the relevant spa, hostelry or caravanserai the cost and bother of cleaning my sheets, pillowcases or towels…
…None of this, you understand, has anything to do with saving the costs of cleaning and detergents. Oh no, indeed. It is we – who pay the bills – who are helping them, the five-star hotels, to look after the environment. Of course, if they really cared about all that green stuff, they’d hang a notice above the bathroom saying “Use Less Bloody Water!” But then again, I suspect that water charges are a fixed price – and the environment can be thrown out with the bath water.
Paul thinks otherwise:
(Note to Robert Fisk: shut up. Really. Just shut up. We really do not care, at all, that the world’s luxury hôtels are now asking you to use your towels more than once.).
None of my business. But I’ve always pondered the psychology of those little signs (they have them in cheap hotels too). Like Fisk I think it very unlikely the hotels are motivated by concern for the environment. If they were, there’d be a few other items higher on the list. Much more likely it’s the bottom line. Of course, if you ever had a sign that said, “Help us maximise the profits of our share holders, please reuse your towels”, people almost certainly wouldn’t.
And so we get the plea to please consider the environment. Which, judging by the proliferation of the signs, seems to work. I know I follow the request, framed as it is. Despite my cynicism. Funny how it works.
December 6, 2009
Sometimes life with a chronic disease feels as much as anything else like being attacked by a flock of questions.
Is the problem with my liver function going to get worse?
If it does, will I have to stop the methotrexate?
If I stop the methotrexate will I be able to get TNF inhibitors?
If I go on TNF inhibitors will I be able to travel overseas?
Does the fact I feel sore this week, mean the methotrexate’s stopping working?
Or maybe it’s just a bad week and maybe I could lower the methotrexate dose and that would help with my liver?
Do the people I see in Australia know what they’re talking about? Does my rheumatologist?
Could I find a new antibiotic to try? Could I find a doctor who would prescribe it to me?
Is work making my arthritis worse?
Would it help if I eliminated all starch from my diet? If I did that, what would I eat?
Why do I still get breathless?
Is the ongoing inflammation damaging my ascending aorta? If it is, would I survive surgery to have it replaced?