Tiomnadh

Chnuasaich mi an nòisean gum bu chòir dhomh tiomnadh a sgrìobhadh a-cheana san t-Sultain an-uiridh, ron chiad àm a chaidh mi dhan ospadal airson endoscopy fon an-fhaireachdair fhaighinn, ach cha robh an t-àm agam air a shon. Tha mi a’ dol a-rithist Diciadain agus an turas seo, sgrìobh mi e: cunntas-banca Seiceach gu Rob, cunntas-banca Albannach gu Tommy, leabhraichean-latha gu Jamie no Falcon (am fear a lorgadh iad na bu luaithe). Tha mi ’n dòchas a-nis gun lorg mi cybercafé airson ga chlò-bhualadh.

 

2016

Generally, a very bad year.

Of course, it had its good moments too; for instance, I’ve read some good (even some very good) books. But outwith books and the Net there were few pleasant moments. On the contrary, there was no lack of nasty things. I hate this noisy stinking land and nation more and more. I’m even losing my affection for Rob; while Tommy has obviously lost all interest in me.

So the cancer I’ve been diagnosed with is quite bad as well, but in fact not extremely bad. Sure I’d like to overcome it, but if I don’t and the next year is my last . . . I suspect I won’t lose all that much. There’s precious little to look forward to either way; I’m only driven by the instinct of self-preservation.

 

Cure begun at last

I’ll spare you too many details; I hope I still haven’t turned into the kind of patient who can only talk about his disease, but who’ll expatiate on that whenever given the slightest excuse for doing so. Neither do I see a point in turning this into a sort of “My fight with cancer” blog.

Suffice it to say that on Wednesday they inserted the PEG tube into my stomach, which wasn’t half as bad as I was afraid it would be (although getting used to it will take some time yet), and on Thursday and Friday I finally underwent my first two radiotherapy sessions (the mask still troubling me, but I guess in time I’ll get used to it as well). Also, my hospital roommates are apparently more bearable than the previous lot (in fact, probably more bearable than my neighbours), so there’s little to complain about.

That said, exhausting it is. Both the diagnostics and the curing tire one more than living with the tumour did. (And my parents are plaguing me with questions, while Tommy ignores me completely.) Then again, if I end up cured, it would be worth a lot of temporary inconvenience. Even though I’ve got precious little to look forward to in the future anyway.

 

Not so heavy

I visited Rob’s today: him naturally having scales in the pub, the idea was to weigh myself before the cure begins, and then after its end to see much much weight I’ll have lost. Given that I have much, much less exercise these days than usual, while eating much, much more, 62 kilo doesn’t seem so much. On the other hand, who knows what was the starting point a few weeks ago at the end of the bender, and anyway, 62kg translates into BMI 19.1, with underweight allegedly turning into healthy weight at 18.5. So it seems that (probably after many years) I have a healthy weight after all.

 

Rob in Jyväskylä

A week and a half ago Rob texted asking me to find out this weekend’s weather forecast for Jyväskylä for him. Putting it down to his usual laziness I complied (later even sent him requested updates). However, I then realised he’d probably expected me to show interest in his trip. Having shown (or indeed felt) none, it made me feel a little bad.

 

A quarter of a century out of college

On 5 July it was 25 years to a day since I left KSK, the student hostel I’d been staying in for the five previous years. I would revisit a few times while some of my former crowd still remained there; there would be quite a few trips together and other reunions; to this day I keep in – however rare – contact with a handful of my former college mates. And I still consider those five years (plus the next one in the National Service) as the best days of my life. But somehow I don’t reminisce about them all that often nowadays. And the handful of old friends are the only ones from that period that I’m still interested in meeting with. Somehow … somehow my three years in Scotland overlaid those older memories.

The KSK days were the only ones in my life when I felt like I really belonged where I was. An indisputable insider within a community I cared about. They were the best: no two ways about it. But the Scottish days were the second best … and they’re much closer in time.

 

Sister’s visit

Generally I don’t like meetings unexpectedly suggested at short notice, but in the end I liked this one. My sister’s in a spa some 25 miles away now (she’d contrived rheumatoid arthritis), so she came over on last Sunday’s morning to sightsee this town and after work I joined her. We went to a restaurant garden and for maybe a couple of hours had a pleasant relaxed chat with no discordant tones. I didn’t bother her with too much talk about the Kingdom, she didn’t bother me with too much talk about the Republic; we mostly reminisced and talked about literature. But then our meetings usually turn out like that. We are close enough without being too close: most of the time we go our separate ways, but when we do meet (every several years or so), we know how to make the occasion enjoyable for both of us.

 

Why I exiled myself

(It’s been almost a year since I left my country and came back here. Probably the right time to put down why: long enough to view the matter dispassionately, not long enough for the memory to be much distorted. This will probably be a long rant, so you’d better not read it; in fact I’m writing it precisely to be able to look it up myself when my memories do, inevitably, become too distorted.)

The short, technical, superficial answer is that I was afraid of ending up on the street, then – not being a citizen – getting deported, thus ending up in exile anyway, but potentially also barred from a future entry. I’m not a lawyer: maybe this wouldn’t happen, but it was this fear I acted upon. Nevertheless, this doesn’t answer why I got into such situation in the first place.

It would be easy to blame everything on alcohol. But alcohol is always a secondary problem, a symptom of deeper troubles. Still, it’s often a highly exacerbating symptom, and this time a trigger as well. Several things had been wrong for quite some time, but the breaking point was probably when before that year’s last spell in my then job, for some reason I could never really recollect (I’d been looking forward to that spell for fuck’s sake), I got drunk and didn’t attend. Since then I stopped boozing several times, but sooner or later the vicious circle of depression and anxiety attacks alternating with being drunk always started anew.

So what made me drink? I think that paradoxically I was having it both too good and too bad. On the good side was the amazement of being in the country of my heart, in a ‘secure tenancy’ flat in an attractive area, the complacency of having already been there for more than half the time needed to be able to apply for citizenship, and the – for me – large sum I’d received the previous year, some of which money I still had at the beginning. My cup was flowing over . . . or so it seemed, now and then. A dram or a pint was the icing on the cake. (Of course, you can spoil a cake by too much icing.)

But under the surface, the bad things were fermenting. I may have been nearing citizenship, but I was getting impatient; the waiting seemed too long. And a sort of midlife-crisis question kept returning: Fine, so you’ll become a citizen, change your name to something you could like, and then what? Any goals after that? To which the sincere answer was No, I can’t think of any. Also, it was getting harder to fool myself into thinking I might ever really belong. Thanks to my social phobia and linguistic inadequacy, after three years I only had one friend there – and I felt I was insidiously losing even him. All of which was compounding my thanatophobia; as if it hadn’t been bad enough even before all this.

Then again, the flat which had so amazed me to begin with and where I’d done so many improvements was feeling less and less like a home. Not for the first (or the last) time in my life, a neighbour upstairs was noisy in the way which isn’t bad enough to entitle you to complaining, but which is bad enough – supposing you’re hypersensitive to noise – to prevent you from sleeping, reading and so forth. (I often sat in the kitchen simply because it was the quietest of my rooms.) A place isn’t really a home when you prefer leaving it to returning to it. A place isn’t really a home when your mind doesn’t associate it with rest, but with worrying about when the noise which won’t let you rest will begin.

And then of course, these things were interrelated, influencing and aggravating each other. Being jobless, I was meeting even less people than usual (hardly anybody in fact), making me more lonely. The noise was making it easier to decide to have another fag and another doze of booze. Not seeing the flat as a home where I’d like to live for the rest of my days, nor seeing any way of changing my situation (after three years I was disabused of the idea of getting anything better than another temporary zero-hours contract), made the future look even bleaker and more pointless. And so on and so on.

If you combine all this: booze, unemployment, no long-term future goal, the paradoxical complacency, thanatophobia, a noisy neighbour, no friend to see regularly . . . maybe it’s little wonder I became too lonely even by my standards and mentally/emotionally burnt out. There were some half-hearted attempts at finding a new job, some more determined visits to the JobCentre, but my heart wasn’t really in it. They were just token, perfunctory activities to salve my conscience before sitting down in my kitchen with a book, fags and booze once again. (Strangely perhaps, my depressions didn’t make me consider suicide. My suicidal thoughts were of a defiant character: often I sat there, pleasantly pished, and thought Ah, what the fuck, if the worst comes to the worst I can always comit a suicide.)

Until the money ran out. Then, as usual, the instict of self-preservation kicked in. And in the state I was in, after some six months of intermittent boozing, to borrow some money and return here, in other words to exile myself, looked like the only feasible option. So I executed it.

Come to think of it, I suspect that the instict of self-preservation is what’s been keeping me going ever since. But that’s already a different story.

 

A handful of people

There’d been no contact between Lùc and me for over a year, so the other day I deleted his email address from my Thunderbird address book. And I realised there’s only a handful of people left to me.

There are many I still enjoy reminiscing about. There are many I lost touch with long ago. There are many about whose present lives I might like to hear. Nevertheless, for various reasons I’d rather not reconnect with them; I certainly wouldn’t be interested in meeting most of them.

There’s only a handful of people I really care about left, and fewer whom I’d really prefer to sit with and talk to to sitting here alone at my laptop: Jamie, Falcon, Rob and Tommy. Maybe Ziggy and Köln.

An old, sad, burnt-out sod. And I’m not even fufty yet . . .

 

Spiritless

On 28th August it was exactly a quarter of a century since I first entered Scotland. On 31st I successfully completed my 3-month probation in my current job. On 5th September it was a quarter of a century since I promised myself in St James Church in St Andrews I’d be back.

Until recently, each of these would be a reason for celebrating; at the very least for an individual blog. Nowadays, I may not even have noticed them if I hadn’t put them down in my calendar.

Similarly, I’ve bought several things to make my life easier lately: proper pillow, fleece jacket, doormat and more. I paid off what was left of my debt to Rob. I finally sorted the flat’s door. All the pleasure these things brought was little more than the satisfaction one feels when one can tick off a completed task.

The View’s newly released Ropewalk CD arrived five days ago; it’s copied onto my hard drive but hasn’t been listened to yet. Tomorrow I’ll pick up the fleece from the post office; I’m not sure I’m even looking forward much to that, however useful (with nostalgic value added) it will inevitably be.

On the other hand, all life is in balance. Big pleasures are invariably followed by big miseries; small pleasures mostly only by small miseries.

 

The Clutha reopened

Almost 20 months after the fatal helicopter crash into The Clutha near Glasgow Green a new bar, created in the former smoking area, was opened to relaunch the pub while the interior of the old pub remains sealed off.
BBC: New bar at Clutha opens after helicopter crash
As far as I remember, The Clutha was back in 1990 the first pub I ever visited in Glasgow, and indeed in Scotland. I have never been inside afterwards, although many a time I passed by, often reminiscing about that pint of McEwan’s lager with Jamie. Let us hope that in a few years the sight of the venue will in most passers-by trigger similar pleasant memories instead of recollections of the 2013 tragedy . . .

 

Ag imrich ’s a’ suidheachadh

Shoirbhich mi. Fhuair mi na h-iuchraichean, ghluais mi na ciad rudan bhon ostail, agus (còmhla ri Rob) an leabaidh bhon t-seilear. Caidilidh mi san àite ùr a-nochd.

Tha fhios gum bi mòran obrach ri dhèanamh san fhlat fhathast. Ga nighe is sgioblachadh, na rudan eile agam a ghluasad ann agus gan suidheachadh, an t-Eadar-lìon fhaighinn ann, an seòladh ùr innse dha iomadach duine is buidhean, deasg is cathair (agus diofar rudan nas lugha) a cheannach . . .
 

Caisteal Dhùn Stafhainis.


Ach rinn mi a’ chiad cheum. Leis an fhìrinn innse, chan eil am flat a’ còrdadh rium ro mhath, ach chan eil teagamh nach fhoghnaidh e. Agus tha dùil agam cadal ceart fhaghinn aon oidhche a dh’aithghearr mu dheireadh thall. Tha mi glè fheumach air . . .

 

First month over

It wasn’t as hard as I had feared it would. The accommodation is bad enough, but temporarily sufferable; I landed a steady job rather soon; hearing the unpleasant Slavic language everywhere is irksome yet not unbearable; I’m in a sense penniless but with ways of material survival; there are occasional chats with Rob and emails with Tommy . . .

Also, I managed to accomplish most of the initial basic tasks, like getting a local phone number and a bank account; finally received the tax refund for 2014-15; and hopefully would shortly move to a studio. So I can’t say things aren’t looking up a bit.

Ay, it’s a cheerless life with little to hope for. Still, as I said, I expected it would be worse. To quote Mike Perham, ‘Yes, this is tough; but I am tougher.’ Och ännu äro inte alla Jomsvikingar döda.

 

Hoping to flit soon

Thanks to Rob it seems I might be able to leave the hostel for a studio even before my first payday. The agency’s already been paid; after paying the deposit and the first rent I should get the keys before the end of the month.

Can’t wait to move. It would cut my commuting time to about a half. I wouldn’t sleep in the same room with somebody falling asleep while watching a film on their mobile like my first roommate, snoring horrendously throughout the night like the second one, or as talkative as the one who moved in on Friday. Neither would I live amongst noisy barbarians who wouldn’t even wash the basin they’ve just used. Last but definitely not least, I could bring my laptop there. No more need to visit the bar for my Internet sessions, which is both inconvenient and costly.

In short, I’d be able to revert to my old lifestyle. Attending work, occasionally seeing Rob, otherwise more or less living in my private quasi-virtual world, keeping this country out of my mind as much as possible.

 

Without a roommate

Looks like my roommate did a moonlight flit.

When he was leaving on Monday morning and wanted me to drop his holdall from the window for him; when he wasn’t in the room as I returned in the wee small hours after my afternoon shift; I just wondered what was going on. But it was only when I was told the following morning by the porter he was in arrears with his rent that I began suspecting.

Nor was he there on Tuesday night, when another inhabitant told me he owed what amounted to more than two months’ rent; this morning people were already looking for him. I may still find him there when I get to the hostel, but somehow I doubt it. In fact, I’ve already begun tidying the mess he’d left behind.

I have to admit I miss him a bit. During the fornight since my arrival, he was (save for Rob of course) the only person here I enjoyed talking too. I may have the room for myself for some time, which wouldn’t be bad either, but I’m anxious about who my next roommate would be . . .

And I hope he’ll get along, although I’ll probably never know; never hear of him again.
 

Postscript, 6/6: As soon as the morning after I’d written this two charwomen came to pack his possessions into black bags for storing away. Needless to say, he didn’t return.

 

First week in exile

Fortunately, when you move country there is too much to do at the beginning for you to have the time to be too depressed.

On Wednesday Rob was proven right: the agency was taking on new employees more or less indiscriminately and immediately. I re-registered with my old health insurance company; sent the Scottish banknotes to Tommy; rebegan doing French Duolingo lessons; even played a (winning) online go game.

On Thursday I got an ‘extract’ from my doctor’s documentation for the employer-to-be’s one, noticing my dentist (who used to sit next door) had retired in 2013. At Rob’s bar I met Peeweet, then surprisingly also my roommate, after which I rebegan Swedish Duolingo lessons – and finding out Norwegian Bokmål was already in beta started that one.

On Friday I had the ‘initial check-up’ (luckily the doc didn’t notice my footdrop), had a supper with Rob during my first visit to his new house on Woodless Street; later in his bar rebegan processing my old photos, starting with St Andrews 2010 – partly, I have to admit, because the WiFi connection in the far room was worse than pathetic.

I had been afraid the weekend would drag on, but after rebeginning my physical exercises on Saturday I had a lot to do on the laptop, including writing a letter to British Telecom to terminate the Internet contract for my former Scottish abode. The unpleasant thing was that my roommate started watching a film each night before going to sleep. Naturally I can’t fall asleep before these end. Ah well, I won’t be there for long.

On Sunday I finally had a shower (the hostel is so cheap the cubicles don’t even have curtains, and my roommate had advised me to shower in the morning, as later on I might not get hot water); before leaving for the bar I rearranged my possessions, my roommate having eventually emptied one of the two bedside tables in the room.

And on Monday the agency called to say they’d arranged an induction for me for Wednesday.

It wasn’t as bad as I’d expected, not by a long shot. Nevertheless, exiled, lonely and depressed I was. I sent to Tommy several emails with a PS reading “I miss you”.

 

The long goodbye to Tommy

During the last several months I was seeing Tommy rarely indeed (which probably exacerbated my mental and drinking problems, but I won’t try to put the blame on him. I’m the one responsible for my behaviour), but during my last Scottish week I’ve seen him an incredible four times. (This, together with the knowledge Rob was awaiting me in Budweis, contrarily helped me keep going.) Perhaps because he was currently lonely and depressed as well. Whatever.

On Monday (the day before his 24th birthday) he came to lend me twenty quid to tide me over the time before the money from the old country arrived. I gave him a dozen of my favourite books I thought he might enjoy as well, and carrying the vacuum cleaner myself accompanied him to his place. Funnily I wasn’t depressed after; I was delighted at having met him again, while knowing it still wasn’t the last time (all right, probably partly also on account of the £20).

On Wednesday the money was on my account, so he came to get back the twenty. Me having to go to the Tesco for some grub we left together again; a strange moment happened when we were walking by the Canal and Rob rang me up. Normally his every call made my day then, but this once I ended it as quickly as I politely could. I wanted to enjoy Tommy’s presence as much as I could . . . while I still could.

As mentioned earlier, he didn’t go with me to Inveraray, but on Saturday he visited again: for some last scans and copies on my printer, to talk (nothing maudlin, our usual way of mutual teasing and so forth), smoke and pick up some other things I wouldn’t take with me (most notably probably the black curtains that used to hang in my living room). I helped him carry them to his place, where we had another coffee – and unexpectedly agreed he’d come once more next day. I could hardly believe my luck . . .

And on Sunday he did come, shortly after my return from Dunkeld. The visit resembled the previous day’s one, except it was shorter. I gave him Franny and Zooey, as he wanted a book with my dedication; I thought up “Tae ma best Glesga mate Tommy Dzim”. Surprisingly he also decided to take The History of Mr. Polly, pleasing me as it’s one of my favourites. (I’m not sure he won’t be bored by it but heck, I’ll probably never know anyway.) Not accompanying him this time, we said our goodbyes at my place; in the end I did manage to sort of manipulate him into an embrace – our only one ever.

And then he was gone. I watched him from my window turn the corner onto Panmure Street; I may not see him again except on the few photos I have. Strangely, I didn’t weep after. But I had to remind myself constantly that soon I would see Rob . . .

It’s nine days later now and I still miss him. And I know I will for a long time yet. Thankfully there are emails, so we still keep in contact. But life will never be the same without seeing him. Time alone will tell whether he’s been as important in my life as Jamie, Falcon and Rob, or slightly less, as Ziggy. It doesn’t matter much. I’ll cherish the memories of our times together till the day I die.

 

Abattu

Il a fait beau aujourd’hui, mais j’ai été abattu tout la journée. Sans revenu, et sans allocation logement, et sans espoir, et sans amis . . . Mais je n’ai été sans ami. J’ai envoyé un mél à Rob, et il m’a répondu qu’il y a la possibilité de retourner à sa ville (qui était aussi la mienne).

Je suis toujours abattu, mais peut-être que je ne vais pas encore mourir . . .

 

Ahead of NHS

When on 3rd of the month I referred myself for counselling, they offered me an appointment on 31st. I asked for an earlier one and did get it, although in a more distant location. Even so, in the meantime there were several morale boosters: realisation I could reapply for housing and council tax benefits, learning I could reapply for JSA, Rob’s and Tommy’s replying my emails, negative blood tests results, negative X-ray results, two phone calls from Rob . . .

Today I signed an employment contract. It’s a zero-hours one, but then I’ve never achieved any other since I came here. When I then attended the appointment with the psychiatrist, the two problems for which I had wanted the counselling, depression and anxiety, no longer deserved one. So the talk was instead mostly about my lifelong social phobia and my two- or three-year thanatophobia.

Not that I expect they would be able to do much about those.