Thursday, December 31, 2015

New Year Resolutions

Ah, the New Year. I can tell it’s here because the telly is cluttered with ads for nicotine patches, work out videos, dubious home-exercise machinery and scenes depicting smiling, happy people doing smiling, happy things while sucking on a mixture of water vapour and propylene glycol.

I wish them all well, I truly do, just as I hope the recent increase of joggers and cyclist we have to dodge during our morning walk will not prove to be a spike that lasts a week or two and then fizzles out by mid-month. I suspect that will be the case, however; it’s as predictable as a celebrity divorce following a celebrity marriage.

This is why I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions in January, and certainly not on January 1st. That is a terrible time to make a resolution, the day you wake up from weeks of excessive eating, drinking and carousing, feeling bloated and stodgy, with a throat stripped raw from cigarette smoke, sandpaper coating your eyeballs, a mouth that tastes like the bottom of a sump pit, and only a vague recollection of what transpired the night before coupled with the hope that, whatever it is you think you remember, is just an alcohol-fuelled fantasy. In this state, you are certain to exclaim, “I am never going to [insert undesirable vice here] again! Especially with Vietnamese twins and a Shetland pony” only to repent your decision in a few days, or until you open the door to a pair of fetching Asian ladies who look remarkably similar and appear to be leading a very large dog wearing a bridle.

That’s why I think the new “Dry January” movement is a grand idea. Sure, give up drinking, but just for the month. No pressure, nothing life-changing, just give your body a chance to dry out and then hit the booze in February. I’m not sure who is behind this, but I suspect it’s the liquor industry. It probably keeps a fair few people from climbing on the wagon every January first, and staying there.

(NOTE: Dry January is, at this time, limited to the UK and a few European nations, but you in America should be afraid, for it is on it’s way over. Think of it as pay-back for Black Friday.)

Back when I was younger, and had reason to make resolutions, I did so in February when my head was clear and the twins were safely back in Hanoi. It was only then that I could reflect rationally on my life and decide, with cold clarity, what needed to change. As I grew older and more sedentary, I gave up resolutions altogether.

This year, however, I am making an exception. My wife and I have made a resolution to start drinking. Heavily. And this is the reason:

Now I know that some of you are looking at this and thinking, “Well, that would do for the weekend, but what about the rest of the week?” Forty years ago, I would have thought that, too, but drinking does not play the same role in my life now as it did then. This can be illustrated by the bottle of gin I bought my wife for Christmas to supplement the one I bought for her last Christmas that she has yet to open, as well as the bottle of port my wife gave me to supplement the (unopened) bottle of whiskey from last year.

And that illustrates the most unusual thing about this situation: we are doing this to ourselves. Each year we give and receive alcohol and each year we fail to drink it (though, if you look carefully at the photo, you will see I am making a heroic effort with the bottles of Ileach and Tullibardine).

Therefore, while the rest of the country hangs itself out to dry this January, we will be knocking back the booze. (And I, thanks to my brother-in-law, will be enjoying the twelve days of Guinness.) It’s not that we want to become hopeless drunks, it’s just that we can’t abide seeing anything go to waste, and there isn’t room in our diminutive flat to store all this liquor.

So have a happy and safe New Year. And rememebr: drnik respensbilly.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Working With What We’ve Got

You may recall that, when I retired the first time, I bought a bike. Then someone stole it from our “secure” garage. So I bought a second one with a sturdy lock. The next day, someone stole it. And the lock.

As a result of this revelation that our secure facility is, in reality, an open marketplace for the light of finger, we have moved items stored in the garage that we would not want stolen and replaced them with things that, if they disappeared, we wouldn’t mind so much.

With the desirable items gone, we figured that would be the end of it. It wasn’t.

One day we helped my in-laws clear out some junk and volunteered to take it to the tip (US: Dump) for them as we live very near our Council-run Recycling Centre. (Aside: this is called an Amenity Tip, roughly translated to US English as “Free Dump,” and a sign reading, “Amenity Tip” points the way to it. When we first moved here, I thought Amenity Tip was the name of a village.)

Anyway, we brought some items destined for the scrap yard home with us and piled them in our allotted space, with a notion to take them to the tip the next time we fancied spending our Sunday morning sitting in a queue at the dump. But before we could do that, someone stole it.

But a secure garage? They've pretty much got all night.
Not all of it (shame about that) but a few items that were worthless to us but, apparently, not to others. That was when we decided it might be to our advantage to keep items in the garage that we actually wanted stolen, instead of just not minding when they disappeared.

A few weeks back, we had another clear out at my in-laws and uncovered an astounding number of redundant suitcases. We didn’t want to just chuck them away as they were in in fine condition, so we brought them to our garage, stacked them up and put a sign on them reading, “Perfectly good suitcases; please steal them.”

There are four left.

And then there came the Great Telly Crisis of 2015. Two weeks ago, my wife came home from work, picked up the remote and tried to switch on the telly. Nothing happened. I do not need to tell you what sort of panic ensued.

Fortunately, we live very near a Curry’s (I could throw a rock and hit it. Well, I couldn’t, but someone like Cy Young might.) so, with just an hour to go before closing, we hustled over and explained our predicament to the young man in charge of appliances. Twenty minutes later we returned to our flat with a new HD TV and a digital recorder. Two and a half hours later—after wiring them up, booting up both the TV and the recorder, running through separate initialisation sequences and connecting both to our WiFi—we had it set up.

Remember when you just plugged the telly into the wall and turned it on?
We then found ourselves in possession of an extra telly and digital recorder that we could not simply throw in the bin (recycling regulations) and that might possibly be in fine condition. The crisis was precipitated, after all, by the digital recorder not responding to the ON button of the remote. I changed the batteries to no avail and after that—given our skill sets—we were out of options. Buying a new telly and recorder was like hunting ducks with a howitzer, but it got the job done.

And so, I put the recorder, with the remote, in the garage, along with a note explained what had gone wrong with it. It disappeared a few days later, saving us another Sunday morning at the the tip.

I’m not saying I like having my “secure” domain routinely and freely invaded, but by offering items I can’t use and they (whoever “they” are) can, I feel a sort of balance has been achieved.

Incidentally, my newest replacement bike is in the hallway, leaning against the wall, 68 steps, two hallways and a catwalk from street level. Its tires have never touched pavement. I may like the balance we have negotiated, but I am not giving them another bike.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

And Here It Is: Merry Christmas

Ah, Christmas. That wonderful, joyous, achingly nostalgic holiday that lives so well in our memories.

The reality, however, is sometimes not so glamorous.

When we mis-remember Christmases past, this is what generally comes to mind:

Cue "Chestnuts roasting on an open fire..."
But at 8:00 this morning, this is what I saw:

This is the High Street

And this is what is growing out back of Sainsbury's
Still, despite the hurry and the hustle and the over indulging and the non-stop-shopping and the jaw-dropping cost, it is a wondrous time of year. One where we are encouraged to pause, look at the would around us—our world, not the fucked up greater world, the one that belongs to us, our family, our friends, our home—and reflect on the many pleasures they give us throughout the year.

May you all have a Happy Christmas, and a relaxing run up to New Year (which deserves it’s own post).

Friday, December 18, 2015

Retired II - the Sequel

And just when I started warming to the idea that having a job wasn’t so bad after all.

I don’t mind, really. And considering I was hired two years ago on a six-month contract, I have nothing to complain about. So I’m not complaining. But I do wish I could be made redundant in, say, May or June. Why is it always at the end of November, when the weather is crap and the most rapacious weeks of the year are already grabbing us by the lapels and barking at us like street hawkers? It’s like, “Merry Christmas; you’re fired!”

And, unlike my previous retirement, which came in with a bang, this one arrived with a whimper. Note that my first official day of Second Retirement was the end of November and I’m only now getting around to mentioning it. The first one was “Yippee! No more commuting to work, no more meetings, no more reports, I can do whatever I want to all day!” while this one is more like “I’m up, dressed and in my office; shouldn’t I be working?”

The thing is, when you work from home, they can make you redundant, but they can’t make you clean out your desk and leave the building. So it feels weird, like you’re still at work, but there’s nothing to do. So you make another cup of tea and check your e-mail. Again.

It doesn’t help that my alarm still goes off at 5 AM and that I am up and dressed and ready for work by 5:30 or 6:00. The idea is, I am supposed to be working on my own projects but, even at the end of my third week, I’m nagged by a misplaced sense of guilt and the feeling that I should be doing something else. Consequently, my writing has not taken off in the big way I had hoped it would. In fact, it’s still sputtering along the apron looking for a runway.

My talent for slacking off aside, I do have an excuse: More often than you might think (and certainly more often than I had anticipated), time that I could have spent writing (which, I hasten to add, does not mean time that I would have spent writing) was spent, instead, in a variety of other locations where my presence was urgently required, such as the bank, the solicitors, the audiologist, the mall (hey, it’s Christmas, I needed to be there!) or staring over the shoulder of the guy who came to look at the water stain in the hall ceiling where the roof leaked.

I do a lot of this these days.
So, yeah, my days have not exactly lived up to the super-writer ideal, where I jump out of bed brimming with creativity and pound out 1,000 words before breakfast. The most creative thing I do most days is try to think of a good reason to get out of bed. Then I stare at the keyboard for a few hours, run some errands an attempt to convince myself that I don’t need a nap.

Still, I have hopes that, once things settle into a normal routine, I will finally get back to doing what I feel I ought to be doing.

As long as they don’t offer me my old job back.