It began as a blog about completing a thesis, it became a blog about everything but completing a thesis, it ended with a complete thesis.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Helen Mirren... thrusting...

Here in Barton, we have just watched Gosford Park. Helen Mirren was excellent.

Some are born late, some achieve late, and others have lateness thrust upon them. And so it was yesterday evening at Catherine's. The dear boy Alfie was to be collected at 8:30pm by motherkins, however, she landed an hour later - fair to say that Catherine was getting a 'bit concerned'. There'd been no advance warning, and no response to phone and text messages. The explanation came in the form of "had an awful evening - m' bag was taken". It included car keys, and phone. Was opportunistically lifted from a pub-restaurant, and discovered gone just before she was about to leave. She'd only recorded Catherine's number on the stolen phone, hence had to rely on a late taxi, and borrowed money to get back to the big city. Not ideal for the poor woman, for whom the evening was rare time-off.

On a train for the work trip to FarNorthCity at 7 tomorrow morning. What state Emma at that time? Should be interesting. The work will be a lot of interviewing and some observation exercises. The plan is to do a couple of hours of preparatory paperwork and discussions en route: I'm thinking two words: as if. We'll talk work for 10 minutes, drink tea, speed-read the paperwork, and later find that things in FarNorthCity are nothing like we've been told they'll be. Related to the trip, Catherine's final comment last night: "And by the way, I predict Emma will sound you out on your previous relationships". Apparently that's what a smart woman who's considering a 'relationship option' would do, that is "assuming you both don't just get pissed and get 'back-to-basics'". Am to report to Catherine by text as the work trip progresses - "minus the gory details... and minus the work".

May be able to blog-post from FarNorthCity, if not, will be back on Wednesday.

With apologies to John Major. And the rest of the moral minority.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Valentines warm-up?

Roses are red
My aunty Violet talks blue
My bedroom is a well-lit burnt sienna, with a mural of bramble bushes
And my slippers are decorated with a rather fetching tartan motif's lacking something. But what?

Anyway, off to the big city now, will then be climbing a big hill (up to a monument) with Catherine. Later I am to entertain Gemma and Alfie (horror!). Alfie's Mum (many exclamation marks, and a sense of pending denial) will be dropping him off.

Gulp. Keys?

Friday, January 28, 2005

Catherine, Shane, and Bert too.

In the beginning was the word, and the word was spoken with force.

"But..." I pleaded.
"No. No. No."
"Final answer?"
"Yes - final answer. Now let's go."

You see, the problem with some people is that they just don't appreciate the rich cultural aesthetics on offer from local hospitality. On visiting Barton yesterday evening, Catherine flatly refused to join me in acquiring another 'local experience' - for so enthused was I from the previous evening's success. However, perhaps as a result of my rather needy expression, she agreed to join me for "just the one" at The Leper's Arms - this was a first foray for both of us. From the outside it looked like a dusty 'rustic' pub that would be full of 'character'. Upon crossing the threshold what hit me was a scene from Withnail and I, the one where the two struggling actors step into the unfriendly London pub to be greeted by the angry Irish man. As this foray had been my idea, I had to do the lead striding-up-to-the-bar and ordering. So I did. As bar man (aged 60, 'wirey', denimly uncouth, two hoop ear rings) gathered our drinks, Catherine added quietly "I'll have ice with that". Instinct told me that that was a phrase that was rarely uttered within these walls. Upon forwarding this request to bar man his polite retort was "No ice tonight - only Fridays and Saturdays". I can't explain why, but this struck me as really very funny. I laughed out loud. I may have screeched. Like a girl. Gladly, bar man was not perturbed by this unruly reaction. Rather, he smiled a knowing smile, and recognising us to be unfamiliar with such set-ups he added "and there's a skittles table out back". And so, haplessly following this direction, 10 minutes later we found ourselves to be receiving a free skittles coaching class from a man named Bert. All very quaint. And no 'arm done.

Oh weird. Radio 4 just crashed into my consciousness - I heard Jon Snow speak the words "sexual charm". That is unsettling. Jon Snow. Sexual charm. NO!!!

Thursday, January 27, 2005

My father - the philosopher

Barton is wet. Nb/ For those who are new here, Barton is a place - not a person.

Had a visitor yesterday evening. PhDist Kay - from the far off city of Cosmopolitania - where people don't know each other's names. Was a more entertaining evening than I'd imagined it would be. Ended up at an olde worlde pub that I'd never been in - lots of gritty men, all aged 50+, and including - I later found out - the mayor. Was highly entertaining to listen to them mocking one another. Lots of fine dry wit, laced with unspeakable affection.

Kay floated a vague business or occasional money-making idea that seemed plausible - though for post-PhD times. The task will be to rid the idea of its vagueness.

Earlier today spoke with Emma about next week's work trip. She sounded a bit tense. I chose not to enquire. Jo - the woman who she shares an office with - said there was trouble on the home front - "but they're trying to sort things out". She then seemed to suppress a grin. She suspects my interest was more than casual. Not sure if it's in my interests to appear less obvious in such situations - is it socially acceptable to have an 'interest' in someone who's officially attached? F*** me, I'm sounding like Sex and the City. Not good. I need a cup of tea.

As my father, a man of rare profundity, used to say: "If you're feeling a little 'strained': have a break, have a quick crap". What a man.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Shrink?... Shrunk!... Lifted.

Here in Barton, I see blue sky beyond a brittle beech tree.

An unambiguously good day yesterday.

Went over to the big city at lunch time. Played my weekly game of football ('soccer'). Scored a really good goal. Bit like Marco van Basten's in the 1988 Euro Championships final. Only the purest sort of football anorak will still be with me now, so let's push on together - you and I. Played the game in temperatures of 1 degree celcius (34 fahrenheit). At the end, it felt like my 'manhood' had shrunken to something pre-boyhood. Praise Bea for hot showers.

Later, saw 4'11" supervisor. Said what I wanted to say. Heard what I'd wanted to hear. She was good. All encouraging, full of belief - despite acknowledging doubts of a few months ago, and sharing praise from third parties. Also made sound comments re the viva process. Gave me a boost. Lifted.

Later still, had tea with Catherine and Gemma. Was referred to by Gemma (4) as "My Shane" and "Our good friend". Heart-warming stuff. Bit odd though - what with me expecting to become a less frequent visitor upon the arrival of new Catherine-bloke, new Shane-bird, or one of us one relocating. Ridiculous sequence of thoughts I know. It's what I do.

A robin just landed in the beech tree.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Thought for the day

Statement: Sex sells.
Question: Condoms to the pope?

Today, Barton is cloudy.

Monday, January 24, 2005

"Come here boy" - a matter of interpretation?

Over in the big city tomorrow afternoon, meeting with main supervisor. Bit spooked about that - I know, silly of me to feel like that - but why? - well, she hath the potential to proffer a look that says "Oh dear", "Will this PhD ever be finished?" or "That's good - keep going yeah?!". Hard to say which it'll be. Despite that trepidation, earlier today I did manage to get through a small re-writing 'wall' that had been troublesome.

Otherly, had sympathy for Scottish Dave. Seems that his fears re his latest school placement are coming (no pun intended) into being. A kid at the school was caught "choking the chicken" (Dave's term). That was during a lesson. Who? What? Why? What? But? What? All these questions pour forth. Maybe it was a simple misplaced preventative health measure, and thus, maybe all the other kids are irresponsible for not following this particular choker's lead. Fair to say I'm not feeling drawn to teaching. Also heard from a couple of pals who I hear from only rarely - one is at risk of maturing into a terminal bore - I must warn her of this, the other is so loaded with neuroses that she remains quite safe.

Finally, nominations were announced today for the bloggies awards. I'm sure it's only a matter of decades before this comes to being a highly significant socio-cultural moment in the Barton calendar. I'm unfamiliar with most of those nominated, but will be giving each a quick skim before voting. I suggest you do the same.

If you have been, then wipe! Honestly. Some people.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

When dinosaurs were shaped liked girls

Barton is absolutely freezing, though we are warm.

Saturday was party day. Gemma was 4. Mother Catherine was in a state of auto-pilot from early that morning. I landed at the perverse Saturday hour of 9am (as requested - much earlier than the originally-stated "lunch-time"). Distracting of 4 year old (whilst mother, aunt and grandfather all prepared for the onslaught) went well. Young Gemma demonstrated that she is a faster runner than I, a better painter than I, knows more about dinosaurs and horses than I, and - when re-enacting scenes from Jurassic Park - one ought to be prepared for a thwack in the eye - for 'twas the fate of a Shane-shaped veloceraptor - according to that particular girl-shaped t-rex. And there was me thinking that dinosaurs were a boy thing.

The party went well. Ten moments:-

1. Attendance of 22 - 10 children, 12 adults.
2. Fascinating to watch different styles of parenting - all had landed to an unfamiliar house.
3. Even though he claimed he did, I'm not convinced that Alfie ordinarily wiped his own bottom.
4. I don't believe it's possible to wipe a bottom clean with as little toilet paper as Alfie used.
5. I suspect Alfie's mother experienced a rather unpleasant surprise on Saturday evening.
6. I suspect Catherine may get a funny look from Alfie's mother at the nursery tomorrow.
7. Catherine will not know why she got a funny look from Alfie's mother tomorrow.
8. Holly bollocksed up the game of Stick the Eye on the Pirate by going first and demonstrating a perfect pinning technique.
9. It is hard to sustain motivation amongst a group of 3 and 4 year olds for a game of Stick the Eye on the Pirate when participants 2 through to 10 all know that they are Stick the Eye on the Pirate losers... as reminded by a gloating child called Holly.
10. There is only so much cake that a 3 year old can eat before vomiting.

Then! Planet Wexford experienced prime weirdness. Late Friday, received a text invite to join Emma and Alex (3) for a walk in the park on Sunday afternoon. Accepted that - thinking "Mmm. Sounds pleasant, intimate, all very novel". And, what with my 'How to interact with 4 year olds' priming on Saturday, I was bound to be a hit. However! Saturday evening got a call from Siobhan (chum, really very brief old flame, also a friend of Emma))...

Siobhan: Hi Shane. Siobhan.
Shane: Siobhan - oh, hello, wasn't expecting to hear from you this evening. Everything alright?
Siobhan: Oh y' know - hate my Ph.D, hate this city, diet's gone tits up, whilst everyone else seems on top of the world. How about you?
Shane: Well. Er-
Siobhan: Yeah anyway, the reason I'm calling is to let you know that you can pick me up tomorrow on your way over to country park.
Shane: (Pause) Ah. Right. How did you know I was going to country park?
Siobhan: Well I spoke to Emma of course. How d' y' think I know?
(This is not the Emma, Alex and Shane walk in the park that had been foreseen)
Shane: Oh yeah, I see. (Really not seeing at all)
Siobhan: We'll meet them at 1:30 yeah?
Shane: Yeah?
Siobhan: Yeah. Pick me up at 1:10.
Shane: (Stunned) Ok. Er-, who is "them" exactly?
Siobhan: You have told them that you'll be going for a walk haven't you?
Shane: Yes. (Pause) But I don't know who's going exactly.
Siobhan: Emma, Ed, Alex, you and me. Try to get some sleep. See y' tomorrow.

So, this afternoon, I had the arduous task of engaging in small-talk with Ed (the bloke of the colleague who I really do like a lot: she who has been flirting outrageously with me - I'm sure: Leeds Joe confirms this), whilst Emma (colleague, and largely absent inviter) did girl-talk with Siobhan. It was awful. By the end, I had roundly failed in my bid to appear convivial and interested in Ed's talk of pension schemes and his questioning - but oh so following the social script - of Ph.D. Quietly asked by Siobhan why I seemed to be so moody I could not chirrup up "Oh because you and Ed are here and I can hardly 'share' with you the peculiar sense of taking-the-piss that I'm experiencing with regards to the hot and cold intimacy of Ms E". Later, I felt it necessary to send a brief text to both Siobhan and Emma (to be extended to Ed too) apologising for my dour performance. Got a quick reply from Emma saying she didn't know what I was talking about and that she was glad I'd joined the walk (a gladness that was unsurprisingly not extended as being from Ed too).

Spirits were raised by returning to and finishing the Barry Humphries' autobiography "My Life as Me". In my view: he has a soothing style of writing, his story is a lesson in why not to 'spoil' children, though his reflections on his parents were loaded with quiet appreciation. Recommended.

Tonight, as I look up into the starry sky of Barton, I see a constellation that resembles... Kirsty Wark of Newsnight. *Wonders what the name for that is* *Wonders what was really in this evening's lentil bake*

Thursday, January 20, 2005

He who speaks and acts too soon

The wheelie-bin. It kept blowing over. So I glued the lid shut, hacksawed the side off, and hinged it. Sorted: Barton plays host to the UK's first horizontal wheelie-bin. *Smug grin* *Grin turns to grimace as it dawns that Pete, Liz and Marie should have been consulted: I have, after all, destroyed cafetieres and kitchens through inspired "innovations"* Oh dear *Wonders what it would cost to replace a wheelie-bin* "The theft of a wheelie-bin" he reasons.

Honouring a favoured blog of the moment, let me begin with...
8:10 Delayed - inside handle of loo door came off in driver's hand. Driver trapped all day. Driver looking rather sheepish thought wife-of-driver this evening. This, on top of years of mistrust, means that divorce proceedings will be initiated tomorrow. And all because of a loo door. Where's the justice?

Anyway. Was confirmed today that the work trip with Emma (way way way up north - where they talk really really funny) is definitely happening: Mon 31st Jan - Weds 2nd Feb. Should be interesting. Have deliberately wound down the chitty-chatty with Ms E. There's been a self-feeling-like-a-lost-or-wanting-puppy - not to mention a stepping-on-Ed-toes - thing that I've begun to tire of. If there's to be any developments Emmawardly it'll have to be initiated - or at least really clearly prompted - by her. "And a brandy for him" should do it.

Received a call half an hour ago from Catherine. Would I be able to land at her house in the big city Saturday lunch-time ("yes, why?") to assist with the general chaos that goes with hosting a 4 year old's birthday party ("oh shit"). Grandmother of 4 year old has been laid low with a most vicious of bugs ("oh - the shits") and ought not be going anywhere near small people. So, with face paints and seven barrels of fear (again, "the ...") I shall be heading into the abyss.

Heard from Mother Wexford that Sister Wexford has her last day on placement at Dodgeville First School tomorrow, will be entertaining the 7 and 8 year olds with guitar. Sounded like fun.

If you're reading this at work, and if you can afford it, and if no one else can help: Take the rest of the day off. Go and buy a book - the autobiography that you keep telling yourself that you're going to buy. That's right. Shut down. Coat on. Away you go. Drop by again some time.

And mind the stairs. Or the ramp. Especially if it's icy.

Trouble-seeking behaviour...

In addition to the gale force winds that are rattling all about town, I think Barton may be ready for a gentle person-centred shake-up.

I am to get beneath the skin of the community. I will devise a cross-dressing out-of-town farmer character who shall seek fashion advice from the local newspaper's agony aunt. Bartonfolk should believe their's to be a quietly diverse community. Will be nice to cause a stir amongst the conservative forces of bumpkinery too.

Also, I have read recently of various local legends around the UK that are of the form "There is a wild (insert wild cat name here) roaming around our countryside". There then follows anecdotes of local postmen, police women, butchers, bakers and handlebar moustaches who have seen said wild cat. "Game" tourists are then assumed to come along in search of wild cat. Professors of Rural Studies get publically-funded grants to investigate such claims, and local newspaper reporters have something to write about. Well, my understanding is that Barton lacks such a legend. At the moment that is. It may be the case that one should be created. Perhaps I could run into the office of the local newspaper and scream "I have seen a lion - out there - in the woods, everyone must hide - hide now, exclamation maaarrrrrrk". One to ponder.

Have also realised that I don't like either the title of this blog - "NT, NL, UT", or indeed the url that I gave it. So I ask myself this: carry on or re-brand? Was also interested by stats and reports earlier on the locations of readers of the blog. It seems that South Africa, the US, Canada, and Narnia have been the locations of most non-UK readers. Well, I say "readers". I should say "skimmers" really. Of course, when I say "skimmer", that does include fast-hand nanosecond web tourists. Anyway, with the wind beneath my sheets, and having made no more sense than this all day, I now bid you a good night.

Good night. Man of my word ;>)

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Existentialism, and an unlikley cat

At this late hour, Barton is in peaceful repose. This suits my calming mind and easing heartbeat. Earlier, I drove through a flood.

Following yesterday's brief email test, a techy chap from the university called this morning to point out that as of the end of last year I didn't exist. I soon pointed out that I was well aware of myself having existed as recently as last week. He conceded "Oh, research student are y'?", "Yes" replied I. All was sorted.

Made use of one of the smaller of the university's libraries today - found it to be agreeably quiet - not one that I've frequented much. Seemed oddly devoid of students - ah the soft benefits of student drop-out and falling undergraduate enrolments. And still they talk of 50% of 18-30 year olds participating in Higher Education by 2010. Perhaps, just perhaps:

Many a modern university = FE college with a rather uninviting cherry on top.

Was caught in a lightning and snow storm as I left the big city earlier - was so exciting that I popped in to tell chum Catherine "I've just been caught in a lightning and snow storm". "Foolish boy sit down, I need to talk metaphors" said she. Understanding this to be code for "I'm feeling rather saucy and am about to treat you" I sat. We then proceeded to talk metaphors - related to her PhD - for almost an hour. It was cup-of-tea and orange kit-kat saucy - and no regrets.

Have been wondering recently about whether I want to be a father - just thought I'd drop that in here - seemed a reasonable thing to do. Gladly, I feel less hurried on this than number of my similarly-aged female chums have over the last few years. The most odd one was Ruth - one of the lesbian religion. She took me aside and engaged me in a very tender and caring conversation that led to "And basically, I think that if I'm to become a mother, I would like it to be someone like you who would father the child. (Pause). How does that sound to you?". I chose not to blurt out "But dear, I think you're a complete f***-wit, thus, there is not a cat in Hull's chance of me ever going anywhere near your fertilisables". Instead, I heard myself say "Er-, that would probably mean some kind of arrangement that I'd probably not be comfortable with" - just as true, but so much more socially acceptable.

I think there's someone at your door.

Monday, January 17, 2005

A rare thesis-related post

A frustrating day here in Barton... the weather is simply not important.

Supervisors' response to a request for a meeting next week was a bit lacklustre - although we did get sorted, and then - in a moment of panic-inducement - my access to university email from a remote location (which is just what Barton is) was 'denied'. Called the techy people at the university to sort it out - am fearing that having left the regular employment of the university my reduced status (to that of p/t research student) unofficially equates to that of 'nobody' - not good for morale. Equally poor for morale is the small matter of having very little recollection of having ever written what I'm now discovering I wrote far too long ago - especially when it's yielding self-expressions such as "oosh, that is bad, and what the hell does that mean?".

My standard lunch-time skim of the blogosphere has led me to the following simple pronouncement.

If you want people to spend more than an average of 0.8 seconds looking at your blog, make sure that:-

1) Your blog does not have a black background - they are the hardest to read
2) You do not refer to your humour/family as 'weird' - they are not, and neither are you
3) Your first blog screen image does not feature a picture of your dog

Also noticed that Belle de Jour got a less than glowing review in The Observer yesterday. Made me think that the terms of a blog review and the terms of a book review ought not be the same - unless you're assuming the experiences of reading a book and a blog are the same - a very naive assumption. The very ease of accessibility into the world of blog authorship is the thing that devalues it as a statement of anything other than "This person is 'virtually sociable'" - but then that's not always the case.

To the meteorological anoraks among you: it happened to be a rainy day today. Very much so.

Listening to: The Whirr of a Printer
Reading: What I've Just Written
Today I have: Eaten far too Many Minstrels

As you were.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Introducing the misreading librarian and the divine power of raspberries

This evening, Barton seems tranquil, but then again, I have been in the big city for the past few days, maybe there's a whole lot of lurid licentiousness - or simple devilish deeds - going on behind closed doors. Or, maybe everyone's watching Last of the Summer Wine.

Friday was an interesting day. Had to land at Emma's house for a meeting with a couple of 'artists' about a piece of work that will happen later in the year. Managed to stay patient with the artists - aided by a fine lunch - such that I didn't turn towards berating them for being blindly privileged or unable to articulate whatever the f*** was behind their dreamy 'creativity' (one of the three brands that gets churned out for every third funder). It turned out to be the case that the artists talked sense and - I am most glad to share - entirely absented themselves from my 'artist' stereotype. It was also good to step into Emma's house without it feeling like the set of a David Lynch film. Just before my departure I was invited to return to said house the following evening. Before any enquiry was made, I was told that Ed would be away with Alex for the weekend. I agreed to return for tea and chat.

Saturday day-time, I was a messy work blur at the university library. The librarians therein seem to fall into three 'types':- (i) old bird disillusioned that in the modern era libraries have little to do with bookish learning, or widening interests or intellect, (ii) middle-aged bird who gladly believes - because 1-in-4 of her library's users is a young male who fixes her with wanting eyes - that she must be a "mature stunner" (thus she tries to encourage them with ever-shorter skirts, and ever-oranger make-up) - sad thing is that she is mistaken - in fact, 1-in-4 of her library's users would prong anything that breathed... once upon a long ago, and (iii) young bird who is treating her part-time library employment as a little earner whilst she decides what she wants to do with her life - which is a decision that has to be made before she turns into (ii).

Saturday evening at Emma's was decent enough. I landed with a gift of a bowl of raspberries that had lain in the freezer of pal Gay Franglais (with whom I'd been staying). She seemed thrilled beyond reason. I accepted some hot tea, and a far-too-hard ginger biscuit. We chatted idly on the subjects of personal histories, Celebrity Big Brother, and our mutual chum Siobhan (with whom I'd had a brief interlude of interluding). It seems that Ms Emma and I will be required to take a two-day trip to a city in the far north at the end of this month - paid-for research. Should be fun. I may call on the Family Wexford who live nearby.

And today I have walked - a not-so-gentle 9-miler with a handsome pub lunch somewhere in the middle. Was with pal Catherine - who seemed to be on good form - part-related to "feeling healthy" (10%), and part-related (my inference) to talk of and texting with a "new admirer" (90%). I suspect that new admirer was not unrelated to the querying re one-night stands last week.

And now, as the local flock jump into their 4x4's following another Sunday evening of well-meaningness, I hear a bath-tub calling my name. It is a most agreeable bath-tub - the scene of some of my least-foolish thinking, a zone of peace and wonder, a haven of pro-social hope. Praise bubble-bath. Good evening.

Thursday, January 13, 2005


I spotted a charver in town
His hair was crew-cut and brown
With a can in his hand
In this human sports brand
I observed the epitome of clown

"What's your Ph.D about?"
"Pissing headaches. Daily"

It's been that kind of day.

Bah humbug.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

A learned haircut, and a foul word

Barton is cold. I had my head shaved yesterday. I'm now wearing a hat. Indoors.

Saw colleague Catherine yesterday evening. Her car was off the road, I gave her and Gemma (daughter, aged 3) a lift home from nursery. Following a handsome tea of pumpkin and aubergine curry, Catherine got out the rather ancient hair clippers, and got a-clippin'. Undisturbable - due to a sleeping 3-year old - I returned to my "defensive" performance of last Saturday evening.

Shane: "About my one-night stand, I am going to tell you about it"
Catherine: "Oh dear, bothering you is it"
Shane: "Please"
Catherine: "Sor-ry"
Shane: "A long time ago, I had a one-night stand with a fellow student - we were both very drunk. At that time I was not single. Soon after, I split with my girlfriend - that was supported by my receiving legal aid and a my ex-girlfriend receiving a restraining order. Six months later my one-night stand and I got together - that lasted for just under a year."
(Brief pause - barring the hair clippers' buzz)
Catherine: "Hmm. May I ask a question?"
Shane: "I haven't finished yet. On another occasion - very sober, and without any talk of a 'relationship' - I had a one-night stand with someone who'd been a friend for a long time. Soon after, that friendship - or at least all contact - ended. That was supported by my feeling unmoved at having had the one-night stand and, I suspect, by my ex-friend feeling used or angry at herself. I never found out."
(Pause - barring the hair clippers' buzz)
Catherine: "Finished"
Shane: "It doesn't feel finished"
Catherine: "Not your hair - you clown, your monologue"
Shane: "Ah. Yes. I think."
Catherine: "Ok. So why so defensive when I approached this the other night?"
Shane: "I was willing to talk about this the other night. However, in answer to your question, doing this kind of talk can remind me of the sick feeling I got when I found out that I was my first girlfriend's - my first sexual partner's - thirteenth sexual partner. You could say her sharing that - she thought I'd be "impressed" - kind of took the edge off how I felt about us. In practice, it also meant that whenever we went out we'd end up running into ex-f****s of her's. I didn't like that."
Catherine: "Mm"
(Hair clippers' buzzing stops)
Catherine: "That, dear boy, is one very mean-looking haircut. My advice: get a hat. And by the way, that was two one-night stands."
Shane: "I know. I don't remember which one I'd have had in mind - if I previously said there'd been one."
Catherine: "The second I reckon."

It felt good to have shared that. And thank you to Jay for the comment to the previous post on the subject - a decent prompt. ":)" as you say.

Following Monday's very pleasant non-date (official version) with Emma, she called me today and heard me out on my views re educating children - I began by stating that 'education' was a foul word, and that to conflate it with schooling produced a terrible under-sale of the value of home-based and leisure activities. And, I managed to do this without sounding like the kind of cretin who would bang on about "family values". What a talent. Ms Emma that is. She also apologised for being "so embarrassingly drunk" the other night - first time she'd touched alcohol in months. Apparently.

Have begun to ponder what I would want from an "arts and cultural scene" were our little town of Barton - think Bethlehem, but with more bedspace - to host such a phenomenon. The implausibilities are endless.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

A very good non-date, and an irked partner

Here in Barton it is morning. A distant cow moos, whilst a more distant moose cowers. Hello.

Drove to Emma's from the university yesterday. Landed at 6:30pm - as planned. One car already on the drive - not as had been expected. On getting out of the car I see a flash (not literally) of female at the downstairs window. "Ah, that'll be Emma" I say to myself, and I flick an idle "hello" wave in that direction. As soon as my hand is committed to the wave it dawns on me that that's not Emma's hair, face, head, body or Emma at all. Oh Christly Christ how embarrassing. Whoever it is now thinks I'm some happy-go-looney eccentric. A slightly blushed self knocks at the door. A laughing Emma greets me. And introduces her sister. We hello each other. "Come in come in" speaks Emma. So in I come. And she leans in and whispers "I assure you this is not ordinary". Again, I'm having one of those "What the f*&% does that mean?" moments. Then all becomes clear. We find ourselves in the doorway to the dining room, and what had been the distant piano playing is explained. A big bald man with ferocious beard turns, and nods a greeting - whilst playing throughout. A boy and his father (Alex and Ed respectively) dine. Emma speaks to the four members of the household who I had not expected to be met by "Everyone, this is Shane. Shane, this is my Dad [on piano, another nod], Alex [chomping boy] and Ed [turns and extends hand for shaking, I shake it]. We're off now, see you later". And we're gone. I am amused and bemused - had expected a simple "Hello, let's go". As we step into the car I let it be known that "I thought your sister was you", this is met with laughter and "I know, she said".

In the car en route to Friarton we chat idly about the day we'd just had, all very convivial. We don't need the radio on so it's left off. And Emma jokes "I'd better warn you, I'm almost pissed, I had a glass of wine when I was getting ready". She does look stunning, but not pissed. 20 minutes later we're in Friarton - 40 minutes ahead of our booking time. We decide to drop into a local bar - neither of us know the town very well. The bar is empty, we each have a large glass of wine - 'twill be my only alcohol of the evening. Talk throughout is easy, though I become more convinced that the "I'm almost pissed" joke was the "I'm not joking" kind of joke. We eventually move on to the restaurant (20 minutes late). Given our mis-matched states of sobriety I decide that this is not the occasion for making further enquiries re the state of Ed and Emma's relationship, or comments about the levels of flirting and easy affection that had been exchanged between us. The thing was, to little old me, from the word go, this had - and still was - looking like a date, and from what I could see, Ed was fine with this. Had Emma and Ed already split-up and "moved on"? Surely not.

The evening went on to feature good food, not much more drink, and engaging and entertaining chit-chat. Upon leaving Friarton (10:50pm) Emma stated "I don't want to go home yet". Thus, we called in at the shared chateau, here in Barton, for a cup of tea. Upon stepping indoors I recognised that the analysis had begun. Ms Emma badgered about the place - keenly eyeing all. This was the first occasion of her being at my house. She was given the grand tour, during which she settled herself on my bed and started to comment on the kitschy decor. I joined her and we chatted on. This was all very comfortable. Then (at 12:10am) her phone rang, and she did speak "Yes, I'm just at Shane's having a cup of tea, I'll be back in 15 minutes". And at that moment I realised that there certainly had been no split-up, and that Ed was a rightly irked partner at that moment. I drove Emma back to her home and enquired "Will he be angry?" "Oh I don't know, he'll probably save it for in the morning, I'll be asleep in 10 minutes" "You can tell him I'm gay" I offered (not anticipating further Ed encounters), to which a very firm "No" was returned. Compliments were exchanged. I returned to Barton and slept.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

A most regrettable wall...

The townspeople of Barton are indoors. All by open fires. All curled up with a good book, f*** or soap opera for company. Bartonfolk have better things to be doing than to be answering silly questions. Thus:

Q: When is a wall not a wall?
A: When it's self being an arse.

Spent yesterday afternoon taking an 8-mile walk around a local reservoir - lungs met with clean air, cheeks with ruddy complexion. Bracing it was. Was with pal Catherine (unambiguously platonic single-mum-chum, occasional colleague, quite often smarter and more alert than is convenient). After our walk - an invigorating gad about the hills and trees of local Toriesville (I'm guessing - geo-political unfamiliarity of the new boy in town) - we returned to Catherine's house in Thornbury. A superb vegetablarian meal knocked up out of rotting whatnot and spicy doo-dah followed. The evening eveningised - as it often does - bellies bloated, heads-a-weary, brain mush on TV (Big Brother - I was unfamiliar with 4 of the cast of 8 - it was the celebrity version of the show). And then, out of "nowhere":

Catherine: "Before I ask this I want you to understand that I'm not interested in you"
Shane (quietly alarmed): "You mean you won't marry me?"
Catherine: "No I won't"
Shane: "In that case, (pause) I accept your refusal to marry me. Let us not be married in the summer of 2006"
Catherine: "Deal" (We shake hands)
(Momentary pause)
Shane: "What must you ask?"
Catherine: "Oh. Can I ask you a question about the one night stand that you had?"
Shane: "Where did this come from?"
Catherine: "Oh y' know, nowhere really, just thinking about my new skirts, and then that - it's something I wonder about sometimes"
Shane: "But why now?"
Catherine: "There's no reason to be so defensive"
Shane: "I don't talk about this kind of thing very often"
Catherine: "It doesn't matter. Forget it. It's not important"
Shane: "I don't mind answering it's just that I wondered where this came from"
Catherine: "No, really, it's ok"

At first, why couldn't I respond with a simple "ok", or most radically, "yes". Reasons include:- (i) I wanted to know if there was a judgement or revelation to follow, and with that, I wasn't convinced by Catherine's "I don't know" follow-up, (ii) my acquired (Nb/ not default) setting on such subjects is towards 'defensive' - sad but true, and (iii) I had no recollection of having ever referred to any one night stand - singular or otherwise - and what price inconsistency? We returned to undoubtably inconsequential chat. We later parted with the one-night stand line of conversation not satisfactorily concluded. I felt like an arse. Catherine seemed entirely at ease.

Meal out with Emma tomorrow evening. I will be dressed in 'relaxed' casuals - so relaxed that it only took a 40 minute consultation during yesterday's walk-and-talk to come to that decision. Hopefully, I will avoid the arse persona. Hopefully.

Friday, January 07, 2005

What editorial policy?

Barton today: The wind blows, trees sway, Delia (cat) sleeps, sky is grey, and I've just remembered that there's a huge bag if Minstrels in the fridge. Game. On.

Called in at the office of the local paper earlier, Editor Man hadn't replied to an email of about a fortnight ago. Confirming my worst fears re The Barton Post, the young hound at reception made some remark along the lines of "yeah definitely, write something, send it in, it's almost bound to be printed - cos it's all about y' know local people and stuff". "Eeeek" thought I. Though that's not to say that I was turned off.

Scottish Dave came over yesterday evening, his early in the week wobble seemed largely to have passed - brief analysis revealed "work strain x social vortex = wobble". He certainly left in better spirits than when he arrived. He referred to the house here as 'a bit hippy like' (we are indeed a house of nuts and fruits, as also reflected in the food we eat).

Stomach tension is building prior to Monday's meal out with Emma - must try to stay relaxed. Reminds me of an appalling one-liner that I blurted when out once (and once only surprisingly) with a German. Having not eaten for a couple of days (a bug), a really spicy Indian meal seemed the perfect shock to wake up the old digestive system. Mid-meal, and suddenly mindful of the potential lavatorial consequence of the dining experience, I heard myself utter the words "There could be violent repercussions here". My German friend looked alarmed and enquired "What do you mean". My response yielded a puzzled expression. We did not meet again.

Wishing pre-weekend wellness to all, guten nachmittag.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Is this a date?

Barton is breezy. The wheelie-bin lid just blew open, but for another reason I'm all of a tizz...

Got up, got on with PhD pottering. An email lands from Emma - general niceties closing with would I like to "meet up for a drink after work next Monday" (that's as in her work at the university, I'll have been talking with the supervisors late afternoon). At this query - because I'm prone to psy-wanderings - I start to wonder what the game is - is this just that awful brand of mature socialising amongst the heterosexes whereby we all play grown-ups and refer to one another as "just friends". I then wonder about how Ed would feel re Emma's inviting for a drink a willing flirtee and semi-flirter - entirely relaxed probably - he'll probably be out sipping tea with a string of Page 3 Beauties - or not. Anyway, there was some awkwardness in not feeling sure about what this "meeting for a drink" amounted to. So, how did I respond? Reserved? Cagey? No, I responded with "I'll see your drink and I'll raise you a meal" - with a couple of city centre options suggested. Acceptance of this was swift - 11 minutes - the tone of the email was palpably 'excited'. There was also the line "But we'll go to Friarton as it would be too weird to run into anyone I know". Question: what the fu*% does that mean? I can't help but think that it relates to her being seen out for a meal with a non-Ed chap (i.e. me). Is that because she has something to hide? Is that because she feels like this is a date? Equally bizarrely, I have to collect her from her home. This kind of clashes with my feeling that this is a bit 'underground'. I would be seen by neighbours. I'm guessing that Ed will have returned to working away following the weekend at home, am guessing that young Alex's grandparents (maternal) will be on babysitting duty. I'm not going to share info on any of this to anyone beyond Leeds Joe as I don't want it to be read as my having a date with an unavailable personage - I think that's a phenomenon he'd be comfortable with. By Monday I know I'll be nervous - even though I've shared relaxed time and space with Emma before.

Back to work pottering. Scottish Dave lands at 6ish - I think he'd wanted to come over earlier but I said "not doable". I will ask questions, if he is vague or evasive or bullshitting, I will sigh and ask again. He has used up all of his Wexford patience points.

Wishing you well-rounded beetroot and a good afternoon.

An embarrassment of organ sales

With the exception of Graham - the local pro-plus pusher - it is far too late for anyone to be up, thus, this is a speed-typed one - quite without thought.

Been in the big city yesterday afternoon and for a biggish chunk of today: work-related: reading drafts of a couple of chapters, and generally refamiliarising myself with the library and seeing what key words have begun to dominate a particular strand of literature since I last checked - far too long ago. Also made a tentative agreement with PhDist Catherine as to how we will approach a tiny piece of paid work that we have spread across the year - fair to say that enthusiasms are low - in a loveyish manner I felt like bemoaning "but what is my motivation?". "Money", "the experience", "the 'greater good'" and "so that I'll not have reason to chop your bollocks off for saying that you would do this" would all have been reasonable responses. The people who this work would be for do not enthuse me - religious, monied and from a very small gene pool me suspects. And on the social side of things: collected small book case from and had lunch (Weds) with old pal Gay Franglais - a sound chap. Tried the house of Scottish Dave, however, he wasn't around. Texted him to see if he was ok, he replied to say that he was at his university (hasn't left yet then) and was thinking about coming over to Barton tomorrow - that'd be high adventure in that boy's world - wrote Wexford with a most uncharitable tone.

Perhaps most soap operatically of all, and very much deserving a paragraph of its own, in doing work talk with Catherine (see above), she enquired as to how things were financially - she knows things are 'balancing on a slippery knife edge'. I gave an honest general impression, she then sprung a rather shocking offer on me: "I'll loan you £100 per month if that would help with your repayments" (it would). She can afford to - her's is a very different moneyscape. I haven't accepted the offer (yet?) as I can hold out for a while longer. If need be I'll give her the requested two or three weeks notice and eat any last vestige of pride or self-esteem. I think humbled and embarrassed are how I feel when such kindness is extended towards me. Maybe I could start selling shares in myself - I reckon £100 alone would be enough to get a left leg at today's bargain basement prices. Sell my organs? Hmmmm...

Had lunch with Emma yesterday (Tues) - she looked well and seemed to be glowing of cheek - what price a happy family? That would be just far too yuk. I found myself to be a little irritable - probably at the thought of happy home life - when all had seemed to have the potential for going so swimmingly pear-shaped in a "come to Shane" kind of way. Have put her on a mental back-burner for now - I don't think it's sound or sensible to appear too interested whilst she's of the nuclear family formation.

Having further done my bit for blog-clogging the superhighway, I bid you (a) good night, (b) good and (c) you soon. What?

Monday, January 03, 2005

Textually, shabbily, poison-free

Barton is a restless town this evening. For many people, tomorrow will see a return to real-life routine. In contrast, behind me, a cat sleeps: a furry vision of restfulness.

A late start to the day began with my receipt of a dramatic text message (D.T.M.) - quite the thing for neutralising a relaxing bath. Scottish Dave - a pal from 15 miles west who'd returned to the Midlands (having graduated from here in 2000) for a year of teacher-training did spake: "I AM THINKING OF LEAVING AND GOING BACK TO SCOTS". Initially I was gutted. I knew that he'd been at a social loose end - but at the same time he hadn't shown willing to make an effort to embed in the 'broader community' - neither in terms of creative outgoingness or uptake of gentle suggestions. Whilst initial instinct was to don cape and play superhero instead I offered self as an available chat-zone should he wish to travel over and... chat - here in Barton. He wasn't in the mood for talking. Not an ideal response I thought - as what was the point of the D.T.M. Then, I wondered whether the quick response to D.T.M. had been enough to assuage some of that raw drama. He promised that he'd visit later in the week. I'll make no attempt to persuade him to stay (as I'll not be living his life for him), but I will invite him to consider the potentials of staying and leaving - I think his making a success of his return here would be good for 'globalising' him, wrote Shane The Unsorted!

Otherly, Bartonfolk will soon be able to purchase items from two bin-liners-worth of Wexford-wear that were handed over to a charity shop in town today. As I handed over said baggage the look of the assistant spoke these words unto me: "Bloody hell, judging by the state of today's attire boyo there can be little hope for what's in this bulky lot". I strode from the shop with all the elegance of a saintly fuel-provider - there'll be a red sweater glow in the Barton night sky tonight - and a good thing too.

Beyond the above it has been a generally good and on-task day. Feeling ready for what lies immediately ahead - more of the same - reading, frowning, eeking out words. And somehow, this evening, in pretending to be a vaguely contributing member of our happy little pseudo-family, I managed to avoid injuring or poisoning co-dweller Liz with my interpretation of pizza - a multi-cheesed highly decorative affair. What good fortune.

Tomorrow I will see Emma at the university, she sent me a message earlier saying that she and "the boy" (Alex, 3) had enjoyed an afternoon of playing cars, she hoped that today had been a good one for self and that maybe we could have lunch together tomorrow. All very sweet. I said that all was well here (despite my missing my traditional Bank Holiday football jaunt - finances) and that I would be glad to lunch.

Now, I return to the document that never sleeps. So, toodle pip, piddle toop, or even drooble flip - whatever takes your fancy.

"In it for the long game" - ouch

It is lightly breezy night here in Barton. The town sleeps, whilst a burglar burgles and a bugler bugles. But surely the bugler will wake the town, no? Ah, no, for the burglar has attached a silencer to the bugle - it simply makes a pppffttt noise.

Seeing-in of new year was just right - drove down to north London around midday - quicker than expected, gentle cocktailing mixed with a stream of undemanding 4-player board games from 6pm up until 11:15pm, followed by quick dip into 'town', a bell did ring, fireworks fired, people seemed happy, police relaxed, much glass on ground, Kay and I chatted with a Bulgarian steward ("my job is to stop people jumping into the river, but if they do I will not follow them") who had been shipped in with a bunch of steward pals from Wales, returned to flat, slept well. Evening of Jan 01 I visited another PhDist pal - Lisa - first time we'd shared space outside of vaguely work-related contexts (vaguely work is what we do). Was very good - she asked many questions, talked quickly and challengingly about relationships (presently she throws hope, time and money at an online personal ads site), she understood that new year's day was not apt for reference to 'PhD', and had cooked a ginger cake. Early departure - roads empty - Sunday morning, just in time to collect and drop Pete and Marie at the airport - a week in Barcelona. Lucky - though deserving - gits. Returned to the ranch and happened upon the formula "3 pages of work-related reading = 2 hours of late afternoon sleep = no way I'm going to get to sleep at a reasonable hour tonight".

Had also managed to call in at Barton sports centre on my return from airport - the sportschild manning reception leapt to her feet following my simple "I'm new to town, can you tell me what facilities you've got here?" and proceeded with the "New Year's Resolutionists' Guided Tour". I should have worn a hat proclaiming "I am sad and unfit and cannot touch my toes". I cringed at the exercise and weights rooms - all runners, rowers and lifters therein inwardly chanting the Barton town get-fit mantra: "Firmer females pull fitter farmers". Indeed.

As well as blogging, I've been giving a more detailed account of my interactions and dialogue with Emma to recentish acquaintance Leeds Joe - a witty wordy 50 year old who also originates from the farrer north. From my anecdotalising, I am being told with complete confidence and not a scintilla of doubt that Emma is interested, that she still has sex with Ed - but doesn't love him (a most warming thought), and that if I'm serious I've got to be "in it for the long game" because, like the man said, "she is interested". Such a crisp form of feedback - whilst possibly being totally and utterly gob-smackingly blush-inducingly nut-crunchingly wrong - is good because it's encouraging but in 'real' not-so-starry-eyed kind of a way, however, it's also a bit of a deflator to think that if Mr Leeds Joe is right then Ms Emma is choosing to locate herself in a not so satisfying situation. I suspect a sense of financial security is relevant to that - Ed has a serious job and I suspect serious prospects. There then follows the question of how much respect could I feel for a person who would be led by this instinct. And then there follows the question of how much does their having a son figure as a mitigating factor in this situation. Final thought on this - for now: encroach no further, stay focused on more definite personal interests, remain open to dialogue and some flirting.

Had a chat with PhDist Catherine earlier - a good local egg in a similar PhD situ to self - we have agreed that a biggish chunk of the first part of 2005 will be agressive on us, I believe her words were "absolutely fu*!ing awful". However, assuming we've not tore each other's heads off having become arch enemies (we work in close proximity), we can take a holiday late in the year, I believe her words were "Wales possibly" - now there's a dark sense of humour. And on that note...

The bugler's silencer has become detached. The burglar has been arrested. Now I will sleep. Good evening.