Book shopping spree

What do you do when you find out the debit card for your bank account abroad will expire soon, and you have no way of preventing the bank from sending a new one to the address where you used to stay there except by phoning them – but you suffer from phone phobia?

You spend a fifth of the remaining balance on buying all the (thirteen) Kindle books you’d noted down for buying gradually in the future, send another fifth to your best friend still in that country, and transfer the rest to your account where you stay now, only leaving a token amount in the old one.

The ‘Unread’ (meaning ‘not even begun’) collection on my Kindle now contains 27 items. Enough to read not only for the rest of this year, but also for the next I guess, especially given I like rereading one of my favourites every now and than. (But I do feel like I’ve lost another link to the country of my heart …)

 

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Rangers no Celtic?

Chuimhnich am post-bloga seo dhomh air duine leis a bha mi ag obair uaireigin. ’S ann à Glaschu a bha e fhèin, agus cha do dh’agair e gum b’ fheudar dhomh taic a thoirt dha fear dhe na sgiobaidhean seo is mise nam in-imriche. Fiù ’s dar a thuirt mi nach robh ùidh agam ann am ball-coise san fharsaingeachd, ghabh e ris. Ach dar a thuirt mi nach tug mi taic dha sgioba sam bith, eadhon san t-seann dùthaich agam, cha b’ urrainn dha sin a thuigsinn. “Feumaidh a h-uile duine sgioba air choireigin a bhith aige.” Cha robh e gam choiteachadh tuilleadh, ach bha e a’ coimhead orm mar gun tuirt mi nach do rugadh mi, gun do thachair mi dìreach, no gun robh mi air tighinn à planaid eile …

 

Porridge

My mother once served me and my sister with porridge when we were kids. We found it absolutely inedible and, somewhat untypically, she never tried to impose it on us again. Since then this was one of the meals I only needed to look at to lose appetite. Then in 2014 in Argyll I noticed that many Scots my age apparently still perceived porridge as a common starter to a ‘full breakfast’ and that in a sense this tradition was still kept by the young ones, although these seemed more usually to opt for cornflakes.

Walking in the local Tesco on Monday I noticed they sold not only cornflakes, but indeed oatmeal as well. This set me thinking whether I shouldn’t, after all those years, give it another try. Either I’d find out that in fact it wasn’t so bad, or I’d know for sure it was. A look at the sachet told me that – contrary to my knowledge – there was no half-hour to be spent at the hotplate, no milk involved (I don’t have a fridge), simply preparing it like an instant noodle soup. That decided.

Upon opening the sachet the following morning the contents actually smelled good, and although the taste definitely wasn’t such as to make me look forward for the next time, I concluded that a next time there would be. Everybody claims it’s a healthy meal, it’s a traditional Scottish meal, it’s not particularly expensive and it can be made thin enough for me to consume fairly easily despite my current throat problems. All things said and done, it’s a no-brainer: I intend to breakfast on it a few times every week.

 

Bannie Day ’16: air ais a mhanachainn

Bha mi ag iarraidh gun bhòtadh na Breatannaich airson ‘Fhàgail’ agus rinn iad sin. As dèidh a’ chiad aoibhneis, thàinig e a-steach orm gun do dh’atharraich sin an suidheachadh anns a tha mi fhìn gu tur. Jusque-là, il y a eu de l’espoir, dè cho beag agus a bha e. It is virtually zero now. Mar sin dheth, je dois recontempler tout.

Cathair-eaglais Dhùn Chailleann thall Uisge Tatha (bho Cheum-choise an Inbhir).


Well, tant qu’il y a de la vie, il y a de l’espoir. La réincarnation, mar eisimpleir. Ach tha an sgeulachd seo a’ tighinn gu crìoch. Tha mi airson ga crìochnachadh mar bu chòir – agus an ìre mhath nam aonar. For the seagulls they have gone. Ge-tà, faodaidh fiù is foghar a bhith tlachdmhor, un petit peu.

Om.

 

Fiachan na h-Alba

Phàigh mi air ais Housing Benefit Overpayment an-uiridh, cho luath ’s a d’fhuair mi tax refund; stad a’ bhanca àrachas an taighe a thoirt air falbh às an cunntas agam leotha fhèin. Ach bha mi a’ caomhnadh cha mhòr bliadhna mus robh mi cinnteach gun robh airgead gu leòr agam airson fhiachan màil is cìs comhairle a phàigheadh. (Bha cosgaisean riatanach eile agam cuideachd.)

Abair iongnadh, ge-tà, dar a fhreagair comann an taigheadais nach do dh’iarr iad ach £110.01 (bha mi an dùil air ’s mathaid ceithir ceud gu leth). Leis nach eil iadsan toilichte àireamh an cunntais aca a chur ann am post-d, leis nach eil mise toilichte fònadh, agus leis nach eil am banca an seo cleachdte ri seicichean, chan eil a’ chùis seo air a coileanadh fhathast.

Abair iongnadh eile, ge-tà, as dèidh dhuinn an t-seic a chur a-null (gun chinnt gum faod an comann ga cleachdadh mar a tha i), dar a leugh mi post-d o Chomhairle Cathair Ghlaschu, ag ràdh nach eil mu dheidhinn £160 acasan ormsa, ach thar £180 agamsa orrasan.

Ma sgrìobh mi dhaibh uile an-uiridh dar a thig mi an seo, gheibhinn an t-airgead bhon Chomhairle agus phàighinn comann an taigheadais leis … Co-dhiù, ‘is fhearr deireadh math na droch-thoiseach’: cho tràth ’s a nì mi chùis air fiachan na màil, bidh mi gun fhiachan sam bith – agus tha airgead gu leòr agam mu thràth eadhon nam briseadh an laptop agus an Kindle agam.

 

Another absurd research

I’m used to the Beeb telling me inanities about sleep and lifestyle in general. And I have for a long time suspected that a lot of modern ‘research’ consists in statistics done by people who don’t fully comprehend the importance of apropriate sampling. The other day I’ve come across something which possibly takes the biscuit: a study which allegedly revealed the world’s sleeping patterns by analysing data collected from an app.

The important thing to notice is, of course, that the app was released “to help people overcome jetlag [but users could share data on their sleeping habits with the research]”. In other words, the ‘scientists’ believe that if a Dutch businessman sleeps on average more than eight hours a day and a Japanese businessman less than seven and a half, a Dutch farmhand likewise sleeps more than eight hours a day and a Japanese farmhand less than seven and a half.

If those studies telling us how Britons are the fattest nation in Europe are done as scientifically as this, perhaps we have no reason to be all that worried.

 

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.

 

St Mungo’s Day, 2016

I get knocked down, but I get up again, you’re never gonna keep me down.

(Chumbawamba: Tubthumping)

 

And then I experienced a change of perspective.

For months I had been reconciling myself to the story of my life being over, with just the epilogue to live through. But depression and hopelessness are like fear and worries. You can only bear so much. One day you either break down under them altogether, or you observe with some surprise that they no longer bother you.

Back in ’99, after months of tension, I suddenly found myself relaxed again. Two weeks ago, after months of dejection, I suddenly found myself content again. And instead of intending to simply conclude what remained of my days stuck where I was, reminiscing on my own about the past, I found myself resolved to try and get back home again.

I’m not deluding myself. I realise I probably won’t succeed. (Besides, that depression and misgivings will recur.) But I’m determined to try; I have a purpose and I feel alive once more. More alive than ever since my exile began anyway.
 

Incidentally, the fact that this happened on St Mungo’s Day is completely coincidental, just like its also being Stephen Hendry’s birthday. So were the tautology of that ’99 day and its being an anniversary of the battle of Flodden. But I guess that similarly to those, these new ones will make me remember the date even after years.

ETA, 13/1/17: Coincidental too the fact that one year later this would be the first full day I’d spend outside the hospital after the chemoradiotherapy stint there.

 

2015

There isn’t much to say. After some half-hearted attempts at staying I bottled out of it all and returned to the old country, penniless and homeless. (There was a combination of reasons, but more on those in a separate post.) With the help of an old friend I found an accommodation and a job, and thus survived. Nothing more. Survived and kept going, but driven solely by the instinct of self-preservation.

The likelihood of my being able to get back home is, all things considered, minimal. I have obviously sentenced myself to spending the rest of my life in exile, both mental and physical. Ay, where there’s life there’s hope, but in all probability this Vonnegut quote is applicable: “life as a shapely story has ended, and all that remains to be experienced is the epilogue. Life is not over, but the story is.”

 

The long goodbye to the UK

And so on 18 May I got up at midday, had a bath and a shave, ate up the last Spam tin, packed up, drank up the last vodka bottle, threw the last litter bags down the chute, and at four o’clock locked the door of – no longer my – house. Dropped the keys at the office and – with several stops along the way – walked to Buchanan Bus Station and thence rode to Glasgow International Airport.

As I feared, the rucksack was (2kg) overweight, so I had to discard some items; doing which its main zip broke and I had to have it foil-wrapped. Seven quid down, and only the wee top strap to use for moving (i.e. dragging) it around. The EasyJet flight was somewhat delayed “due to a technical problem”, which obviously didn’t improve my mood.

Nevertheless, we were in Stansted by 10pm, and my next flight was scheduled for 0645am. Moving the rucksack and laptop case on a trolley as if I was an OAP, I was killing time by smoking and reading T.C. Smout’s A History of the Scottish People 1560-1830 in the sitting area then in Café Balzar. In the latter I also connected to the Net to check the prices of the old country travel tickets I’d need.

It was a long wait, but finally the Ryanair desk opened. I drank up my second Beck’s (the last beer and in fact the last alcohol I’ve had to date), smoked my last fag on the British soil and went to board the plane. Some time after crossing the Channel I finally dozed off, even though I had music in my earphones, I was that knackered.

Needless to say, I was mighty depressed as well.

 

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.

 

Dunkeld No 5

Inveraray was fine, but my final trip – on the very last day before leaving the country – had to be to Dunkeld. It was in its cathedral that I had promised myself to move to Scotland back in 2010; I had revisited in ’11, ’12 and (with Tommy) ’14; it is a sort of ‘holy’ place for me, if you see what I mean.

Contrary to the forecast the weather was sunny; I flirted with the idea of also revisiting Ossian’s Hall of Mirrors, but I was in a bit of a hurry back for Tommy’s last visit. (It was also so windy I was afraid of losing my cap.) Thus, I just strolled the town, had a fag on a bench on the cathedral lawn, and after the Sunday service was over sat for a very short time at ‘my’ seat (the hindmost leftmost one), promising myself it was not all over and I would be back. If the worst came to the worst, at least as a tourist. I even wrote to the visitors’ book “Bidh mi air ais” (signing myself with my prospective new name), donated a quid and went back.
 

Dunkeld Cathedral ’15.

In Glasgow I had my last pint of Tennent’s in Molly Malone’s and went to my house to wait for Tommy.

 

Packing it in

To begin with I flirted with the idea of sobering up over the weekend and giving it one more try, visiting some agencies on Monday. However, on Saturday I decided against it, and writing my first email after a month I told Rob I was returning to Budweis. He was great, promising to arrange everything, including contacting Mr J. Myself, I also wrote to Tommy, Rado and Falcon.

On Sunday the Js agreed to send some money so I could get back at all (and eat until then); I began discarding things I couldn’t take with me. Settling my affairs and preparing for the move took some time every following day; even so I had time for several visits from Tommy and some final trips, but more about that later.

I’ll just mention here that on Wednesday I shaved my chin, thus wearing only a moustache again; the money arrived, enabling me to buy flight tickets, and after a final visit to the Glasgow Cathedral some things I’d used to buy pretty often in happier times (notably custard creme and malted milk biscuits, mackerel in brine and the 67p pork & ham tin – on Saturday I would add Spam, IrnBru and Scotch eggs); and on Thursday I had my last (and thus rather long) stroll through Ruchill Park, naturally including climbing the hillock.

I resolved that if I ever got to Glasgow again, the Cathedral and Ruchill Park would be among the very first places I would head to.

 

Fucked up altogether

Only I wasn’t tough enough. I just visited one agency and send a request for a 2014-15 tax refund … and relapsed again. This time the bender lasted a whole month, give or take a day or two.

On one of the very first days I was offered a job, but by then I was too deep in it to follow the matter through.

I wasn’t just drinking beer, cider, Scotch and vodka at home this time. I was likewise frequenting pubs, where occasionally I even had to fight tears. Not even always successfully I suspect.

I was also talking to people there (most notably Bobby from Newcastle), but it was no good. I was just heading towards the end.

On the 8th May, with the weird election results of Tory majority in Westminster but all except three Scottish seats won by the SNP in, I discovered I only had £81 in my bank account and some £20+ in cash. The bender was over.

And so was my Scottish dream. All that was left to fight for was sheer survival.

 

’S dòcha gun tàinig an t-Earrach

An t-siathamh latha an Giblean. ’B àbhaist dhomh an dàrna ‘Trian’ dhen bhliadhna a thòiseachadh air an latha seo. ’B fheàrr leam gun robh fhios agam càit am bi mi air an latha seo an ath-bhliadhna.

Ann an dòigh, tha e gu math sìmplidh. An dara cuid gheibh mi obair gu luath, agus bi mi fhathast an-seo, bochd ach sàsaichte, a’ feuchainn fhathast ri saoranachd fhaighinn; no nach fhaigh, agus bi agam ri tilleadh dhan t-seann bhaile, air briseadh-dùil a ghabhail ach beò.

Eaglais Naomh Conan, Loch Obha, Earra-Ghàidheal


Chan eil mi airson tilleadh idir. Bhiodh mi na b’ fhaisge ris na càirdean agam (ach a-mhàin aon dhiubh), ach bhiodh cianalas glè mhòr orm air an dùthaich seo. Agus chluinninn an cànan neo-fhonnmhor sin fad na tìde . . . Air an làimh eile, ’s mi fhìn as coireach ris an t-suidheachadh anns a tha mi an-diugh; feumaidh mi gabhail ris.

Co-dhiù no co-dheth, ge be dè thachras, bu chòir dhomh oidhirp a dhèanamh ri faighinn cho mòran ’s a ghabhas bho na tha ann fhathast dhe mo bheatha. Agus mar a thuirt Naomh Mike, “Seadh, tha seo cruaidh, ach tha mise nas cruaidhe”.

 

Equanimity

No human being can keep permanently afraid: fear goes at last to the back of one’s mind, accepted, and shelved, and done with.

(H. G. Wells: The War in the Air)

 

True to form, only having two appointments for this week meant one at 9am (on the Monday after the beginning of the summer time too) and the other 1.5 miles away at 1020.

Scarcely hoping the cognitive behavioral therapy meeting would make much difference to my social phobia anyway, after twenty minutes without any sign of anybody expecting me I left. That seems to be me done with the NHS for some time, as the two further appointments related to my footdrop, promised on 11th of this month, haven’t been heard of since then.

The other meeting was alright, except that I did underestimate the weather and returned home cold as ice. Still, the letter awaiting me there didn’t bring me down. Even though it was the half-expected one about the rise in my council tax. I just shrugged it off and returned to my bed to unfreeze my bones and reduce sleep deprivation.

True, I don’t have the money. But during these last five months I’ve had so many dispiriting experiences I hardly care any longer. You can only worry so much for so long. Whatever will be, will be.

No, I’m not giving in to depression. In a sense, quite the contrary.

 

Solar eclipse

The BBC claimed that Glasgow would have a 94% one. I had a look every now and then from my windows, which face the west, and to be honest, hadn’t I known about the phenomenon, I’d never notice it. It didn’t even look like dusk; it looked like it does when in winter the sky gets very cloudy and then clears again.

(Another eclipse were the letters I received from the JCP and the GCC. These quite possibly mean that my inability to cope with this world on my own has at last beat me for good and I’m eventually a goner. But that’s a different story.)

 

I don’t want to jinx myself…

. . . but perhaps things are looking up again. Today I’ve got a call from a number I didn’t know. Yet I answered it – and was invited for an induction. Needless to say, that improved my mind a lot. Even receiving a letter telling me that I was only eligible to vote in Holyrood, not in Westminster election, couldn’t dampen my spirits. I had to keep reminding myself that this can still turn into another fiasco like my latest job.

So I did what I had intended to: the weather having temporarily improved as well (even donned my leather jacket and my cap again instead of the anorak and the beanie), I went for a walk to Glasgow Green and the People’s Palace (revisiting after years St Andrew’s Cathedral on my way back), and it seemed to me that my footdrop was, however slightly and slowly, decreasing. Anyway. Tomorrow I’ll know more . . .

 

Most litter from chewing and smoking?

According to a report by Communities and Local Government Committee, “chewing gum and smoking materials are the biggest litter problems”.
BBC: Tobacco tax ‘must help clear litter’ – MPs
My opinion is by and large that of comment No 15: “Visible litter across the country is dominated by fast food packaging and beer / soft drink cans / cartons. ” I still remember the cultural shock when at the beginning of my stay in Glasgow I had to involuntarily accept that all that packaging discarded on the streets and grass, all that fly-tipping and so forth, can’t be blamed on third-world immigrants, because native inhabitants of this so-called civilised country are at least as much to blame. If not more so . . .

 

Illustrating Glasgow

The Glasgow Life website promised that today’s Mitchell Library “presentation would display a cross section of the many illustrations of Glasgow through the ages, both humorous and descriptive, including a sample of the fine range of 19th century cartoons that throw light into some of the people and events of the past” [copyedited].

As it turned out, Bill Black’s presentation was as much about the life in and architecture of the city from the 18th to the 20th century as about illustrating it, but so much the better. It was my first visit to an event of this kind here and I quite enjoyed it.

The two pieces of information which I found most interesting were (1) that the McLennan Arch, which stands at the western entrance of Glasgow Green, was originally a part of 18th-century Assembly Halls on Ingram Street, and (2) that the Glasgow Looking Glass (later renamed to Northern Looking Glass) was probably the world’s first comics.