Thursday, June 29, 2006

Almost forgot! Joke of the day from Matty boy...

Q: What's the first sign of Madness?

A: Suggs walking up your driveway...

Dragged out the reeking "compost" bag for the rubbish men who by sheer luck were due today. I don't understand what made it smell so bad. Sticking my head near it this morning as I cunningly double bagged it (to disguise it as ordinary rubbish) almost made me hurl my healthy oat-based breakfast. I am glad that I was speeding away towards London when the the ghastly Chernobyl of stink erupted in the back of their chompy rubbish truck.

Rubbish collection day is Christmas Day for seagulls. They rip through the black bags and strew the contents about on the pavements and devour unlikely things. At the end of the Twitten one had torn a big white onion from a black bag and had gored into it. Round the corner by the Bystander Cafe a bag had been slashed open and a dozen empty eggshells and a dab of eggy slime betrayed the nightwork of the gulls.

I am beginning to think that there are two Brightons. The human one, and that of stabby-faced overlords who crap on humans (e.g. me) for sport, and laugh it up all night on the tiles.

More Buddhism on the train. And once at work had a slightly less busy day but I was crabby and yearning for the weekend.

Reuben had sent me a link which enabled me to advertise my bunkbeds in a local website and newspaper. Cleverly left my mobile phone at home though, so missed the first enquiries. Arranged this evening for someone to come around and look at them. And at the time of writing they have simply not shown up. It will be good to reclaim that room: at the moment it painfully reminds me of Jack and Kate all the time.... Front door. Yay! A nice couple with two nippers have just left after giving me cash for the beds. Nothing like the buying price, but at least I know they'll be doing someone with two little nippers some good now. Excellent!

Still really tired, but swimming again today was very theraputic. Did deadheading roses for a bit in the front garden this evening and a small ripple of cheeriness passed over me.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Managed to reboot my sense of humour today, which was handy. Apart from doing all my weekend work all over again to a different brief, it was a dullfest of slogging at copy hour after hour. The Gnome kept busy too.

However I did go swimming again, which I am loving. It calms me and I find myself noticing the support of the water and find myself almost relaxing into it.

Otherwise not much to report. I went to watch a colleague smoke a cigarette outside by the bins and was told about her wrangles with an ex boyfriend who owes her money. Meanwhile she is holding his furniture hostage. In between the slogging, I seem to attracting confessions and being sought out as a source of reassurance this week. Funny how that helps your own state of mind. I have been feeling a tad wobbly but it has helped me to reassure others. Ultimately reassuring other people is heard just as much, if not more, by you as the person you are reassuring.

American Craig called me up with a random poetry question as I was coming home.

There's a bag in my yard which I started it as a sort of repository for peelings and bits of green rotting things I have yanked from the front garden and so on. Trouble is that it is suddenly giving off such a astonishing, Twitten-stunning aroma that I thought my drains had ruptured. I need to do something.

Like go to bed.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Not myself: tired, thin-skinned, and misanthropic. Boo to humans! Kept having a fantasy about sitting on a seawall somewhere with an empty mind and a flask of hot tea and a slim volume of poems. Perhaps I will do that in Guernsey soon.

Max the Mentor asked me to lunch. Turns out she is having a torrid time in her relationship of many years. She was upset and crying somewhat. We had a glass of wine which made us both feel better. Later she told me about her recurring nightmare of people breaking into her house downstairs and defiling the place with excrement. Offered her an interpretation, which we discussed. Downstairs relating to the sub-conscious and so on...

Later Liz came to my desk and was upset too. Me and the Gnome cheered her up although it turns out I have another day of slogging in store tomorrow, redoing the work I did at the weekend. So it goes.

I have been looking forward to the world cup for a long time. Since the Buddhism retreat, however, I discover that footy is just another expression of the ocean of suffering in which we swim. Bloody typical.

Shattered, but got to work early and worked like a dog. A swim in lieu of a lunchtime, but tired and creaky in the pool. On returning to work decided that I'd simply go home early as things at last were quieter, as the pitch is now imminent and most of my work is done. Once home did nothing of note other than to sleep and watch a Samuel Beckett scripted football game between Switzerland and Ukraine.

Also fielded a lengthy and somewhat drunk phonecall from Paul, who is threatening to come down to Brighton so we can take his son to throw stones on the beach.

Had a letter today from Sophie, containing the text of The Eight Verses of Training (Or Transforming) The Mind. Electra had photocopied it, and she had written a note saying "Dear Peter, this is a training fome Sophie". Here's is the Rigpa translation of verse 3 which Sophie likes, and one that speaks to me.

Verse 3 "Watch your mind and drive out mental afflictions"

In my every action, I will watch my mind,
And the moment destructive emotions arise,
I will confront them strongly and avert them,
Since they will both hurt me and others.

Verse 5 "Accept such loss as being blamed, without trying to defend yourself"

Whenever someone out of envy
Does me wrong by attacking or belittling me,
I will take defeat upon myself,
And give the victory to others.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Up at 6:45 to get down to work. Paddy sleeping upstairs for a couple of hours which allowed me time to finish off the document I was editing just as he was coming down.

Went up the road to feed Trotsky the cat, which was full of cupboard love. Then Paddy and I walked down to the sea and wandered along the seafront and onto the pier. Lots of in-depth conversations. Paddy is very good company and is constantly surprising. He is painfully honest but this can result in startling flashes.

We were buying a cup of tea in the park by the Pavilion and he said to the young woman serving that she had the nicest hair he'd ever seen. He said it with such vehemence and sincerity that nobody could take offence, despite the girl being only about 17 and her dad looking over from the kitchen. He told her never to dye it, and I'm sure it made her day.

After Paddy left did a bit of food shopping, and then watched En-ger-land fluke yet another win in the World Cup. They are playing dreadfully but seem to keep doing okay.

Paddy on the pier, and some weird prizes...

Saturday found me waking up at 4.00am. The police were hunting about in the Twitten for someone who had escaped their clutches. They knocked next door and were busy searching gardens and so on for a couple of hours, and talking outside. Finally things quietened down at about 6.00am and I fell asleep again. Emerging blearily at 9ish there was a forensics guy down the lane. Laughed about this with my neighbours for a bit, and walked down to the Patisserie chatting with my next door neighbour Steve. Never a dull moment down our Twitten.

Spent the day doing agency work at home. This broken intermittently by trying to get the place ship shape for Paddy's visit. As I did so First Matie phoned me from her secret garden for a chat. Lovely to hear from her. Spoke to Mum and Mase too.

Finally got a call from Paddy at about 5:30 from his uncle's place on Montpellier Terrace. I walked down and collected him from there, staying for a lengthy chat with his uncle Phil, and his partner Neil. They have been together for something like 35 years... Uncle Phil was fascinated by astrology and we talked about this at great length. He said he thought I was a leo, but that I was very calm.

Then Paddy and me went off for a few beers and lots of food in the Chinese buffet on Trafalgar Street.

Bloody seagulls seem not to be staying in their own sphere of influence. Just left the restaurant and my black shirt was richly decorated by one of those yellow beaked bastards. So that's twice this year already. Fortunately we were close to home so I was able to nip back to Get another shirt and then we set out for more beers. Ended up in the Caxton shooting the breeze, and catching up generally, with half an eye on the football. Really good to see him.

Was very tired though tonight, which was a shame seeing as I'd not seen Paddy for a couple of years.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Bit of a blur today. Mostly slogging at work. The blog I am writing for the agency going down well and consequently I am going through a momentary big and clever phase at work. The mini-film was finished and looked okay, but I realised that I was going to have to work through the weekend. Boo.

Sophie called today like a breath of fresh air, to say that last weekend had also had a big impact on her too. Just trying to find a time when I can put some of it into practice properly. Buddhism and working in an advertising agency aren't natural bedfellows.

Finally gave up work late and went down to the bar with the Gnome and Liz and others. Sat outside on the grass for a while, before Liz and me slipped off for some pub grub. Found that I was blaring about Buddhism again. Most stop this. Fortunately for Liz I ran out of steam after a while, and zoomed home feeling somewhat braindead.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Seagulls harping on in the early morning blended with my dreams. Kept waking up thinking people were calling out for me, or saying other names that somehow meant something to me. And all the time it was those feathered fiends.

Stumbled into Reuben this morning on the station platform, and we sat together on the train. Much chat about our different agency comings and goings. Very good to see him. Informing my musical taste as usual talking about an album made using foodstuffs as instruments. More here

Saw myself talking on film today. I look better on film than in photographs. I always look like a cretin in photos.

The blog I am writing for the agency is going down very well. God knows I've had enough practice on this site.

Home and I went straight up the hill to see Anton and Anna. Anna had cooked a lovely chicken in wine thing with lots of green veggies. This was yummy. Got to grips with Oskar and he is a very cool baby who really likes football. He was very attentive to the Japan v Brasil game. His parents think it is the green colour of the pitch, but I think there may be other explanations.

Anna told me that she has a touch of the baby blues. She wants everything to be perfect, but has little energy to make things happen. Her children are both really happy and healthy, she is an excellent mother. Must be horrid to have your hormones going all over the place.

After Anna went to bed, Anton and I went to the Tin Drum for bad Polish beers. Enjoyed looking at the art in there and planning our next walk.

Home late. And bed seems an entirely splendid idea.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The Buddhist retreat is still having a big influence on me, but time to sit and think is at a premium. Enjoying the morning train journey however, reading Rinpoche's book and asking myself what I can do with the rest of my life that adds to the sum of goodness in the world. When you're on your deathbed what will seem worth anything? It is all about those you have loved, and those who have loved you.

Also had a good idea for a longer prose project on the train.

Anyway. Got to work and straight into a three hour meeting with a cancer charity. Then, for work reasons too complicated to go into, ended up with The Gnome photographing me strangling my friend and colleague Liz. Photos below.

Also had a phone conversation with Louise who told me, much to my amazement, that she was pregnant. Good for her, having lost an ovary last year to a tumour.

Felt a bit wussy today & worked a bit late. Need a blameless and early night.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Reading more from Rinpoche's book about the Buddhist approach to death on the London train. Lots of work to be done at the agency today. Including being briefly filmed discussing what I though were my best ideas. Some general tetchiness abounding. The blog I am writing for my agency went live. Interesting to see how it goes.

Managed to go for a swim which I loved. Some of the pool portioned off again for aqua aerobic ladies. But I don't mind. Normally I swim for half an hour, and was at one time prone to boredom as I did so. But lately I no longer feel bored and just want to go on and on. My mind goes very still and blank. Perhaps I should write a self help book called The Way of the Walrus.

Had a realisation just before I fell asleep last night. I heard some rustling about in the twitten and thought that someone was stealing my lilies from my front garden. This made me realise that I was getting attached to owning them rather than simply enjoying them. Sounds a bit trivial, but worrying about how people might steal them has started to be the dominant thought when I look at them, rather than enjoying their beauty for what it is. I have had a dozen wonderful long lasting blooms in my front garden, and only one has gone missing this year.

Christiane, another of Anton's splendid cousins, emailed me from Australia sending a picture of herself, and three of her cat. She is returning for Caroline's wedding and it will be her first time over here for years. Anton gave her the link for my blog so she could see pictures of Oskar and Klaudia.

Paddy, another old school friend of mine, confirmed he is coming down to stay with me in Brighton this weekend. I am very much looking forward to that too.

Didn't see Maddog tonight as his mother in law "had to get on top of her boiler". Failed also to see Matty boy, who I spoke to a couple of times.

England playing more unconvincing footy today: 2-2 against our bogey team, the Swedes.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Up to London with Anton this morning. Good fun to catch up, making the Monday morning journey seem not too hideous. He's just finished listening to Kafka on the Shore on his iPod and quite enjoyed it.

Felt pretty cheerful this morning, with a post-retreat glow.

Got out of the tube at Baron's Court this morning and decided to take a pleasant walk through Hammersmith cemetery again. I passed a grave that had the headstone recently broken. The stone was bone white at the point of the break. Got a momentary insight into the Buddhist idea of Samsara the ocean of suffering that we live in. There as something about the combination of walking past a possibly-desecrated grave, a woman in a hijab near the war memorial, the fifteen year old girls dressed in jewellery and heavily made up, the security van driving by quickly with its fierce eagle faces on its logo and the looming hospital with people smoking cigarettes outside it, and I was suddenly gripped by a sense of how terrifying the world is, and how terrified we all are of each other.

Nice. Anyway work not great today, but passed quickly as me and the Gnome were so busy. Unable however to go for a swim. On the phone briefly to Mad dog and then Matty boy who seems to be going through extraordinarily poor times with Taranjit, and Reuben. Got a note from MJ saying she'd recieved her mother's wedding ring safely, which is a relief.

Gratefully home before 8:00 for the first time in days and days. Amazing. And off for an early night. Sweet.

Well. The retreat is over, and I feel that it was an amazingly good use of my time, despite it being a bit of a trial by heat and airlessness. Fortunately not so sweltering today in the room where Sogyal Rinpoche was teaching. I have learnt a lot, and have felt very moved.

Spent three days in a big room with yellow walls decorated with pictures depicting the life of the Buddha, and a big red shrine decorated with dragons and numerous pictures of the Buddha, and Lamas past. There was one face among them, one of Sogyal Rinpoche's old masters, that I couldn't seem to take my eyes off. At first the face seemed almost imperious, but my eyes were continuously drawn to it as the picture was in front of me. After a while the more I looked at it, the more I became fascinated. I ended up really loving the expression on that man's face, which is very odd.

In this tradition, meditation is conducted with eyes open. At first I found this very difficult but I began to tune into it. Looking at one thing is helpful, and mostly I chose the face of the "imperious" Lama.

Another attractive thing about Buddhism is that you are not ever asked to suspend your disbelief, or accept unlikely stories as being absolute facts. As Sogyal Rinpoche said, it is impossible to have a Buddhist fundamentalist. So much of what is being taught not only is beautiful, and expressed in beautiful images, but is very logical too. Nobody there made any attempt to recruit me or talk me into anything.

Much of teaching done at the retreat was about meditation. Sogyal Rinpoche (Rinpoche is a term of respect for the Lamas meaning "precious one") frequently used the beautiful image of taking muddy water in a glass. "Just as water, if you don't stir it, will become clear, so the mind if left unaltered will find its true nature: peace". Meditation was also described as bringing the mind home which I also loved.

A fundamental difference of Buddhism is that it does not have the idea of original sin. It suggests that the true nature of people is good. Emptying your mind is a way of returning to that goodness.

There is far too much to write about: but there was one moment of intense silent meditation on the third day. The man next to me was in tears, and I felt something shift in myself, like a big key turning in its wards. I felt strangely absent, and focused on feelings of goodness towards people in my life I wanted to help. There is something about meditating with lots of other people which slides a magnifying lens over your practice, and makes it less easy to see yourself as the centre of the universe.

The final day wrapped up with each of us having an individual blessing from Rinpoche. I was rather suspicious of the set up at first, but left convinced that I had been in the presence of an extraordinary person. His book, with a foreword by the Dalai Lama is called The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, and I have read a bit of it and it is ace.

Sophie and me walked back down to the station, along the dodgy Caledonian Road and back to so-called reality. It made Sophie feel a bit gloomy so we stopped off for a drink and a chat outside a pub. We go back 26 years now, and the fact we are friends again after ten years or so makes me feel like I have got a long-lost sister back. It is really nice. It seems apposite that we are doing this Buddhism thing, after having studied Philosophy together at University.

Arrived back home at 11:55 after what felt like another long train ride from Kings Cross.

Enjoyed speaking to Romy and Toby for a while before heading for bed very late and very tired.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Toby's birthday, but wasn't able to reach him.

A long day at the Buddhist grindstone. It is exhausting mainly because we are all crammed into a room which has few windows, and no air conditioning. It is absolutely sweltering hot (another scorcher in London) it must have been at least 90F inside, and absolutely airless. Battling against nodding off all the time, and I was far from the only one.

Despite this, I found some of the teachings very interesting. There is a stream of information only some of which I was able to download. A bit of it familiar to me in principle, while other parts spoke to me more than others. When I get time, perhaps tomorrow night, I will put here some of interesting parts I was able to grasp.

The event overran well into the evening, so wasn't able to pop over to Ealing for Matty's party.

Went for a walk with Sophie and her Buddhist friend Kate around the local park after a fast Haloumi salad. We ended up talking about Mark, who was Sophie's University boyfriend. Mark, Sophie and me shared a house in our final year, Mark was in the year below. Mark was very manic and had a colossal breakdown as Sophie and I were doing our exams.

Sophie went through lots with him. I look back now and feel that I wasn't particularly supportive of him or Sophie. I dismissed it as attention seeking. In some phases he was so gallingly self-confident and bullet proof, it didn't really register that he was ill at the time. I was 22, and was far too wrapped up in my own life. Selfishly, I just remember feeling angry with him, for disrupting everything. Like coming to my first ever poetry reading, and leaving noisily halfway through. He died more than ten years ago having driven his motorbike at high speed into a parked car. God bless him.

Tiresome journey home yet again. Missed the Brighton train by 1 minute at Kings Cross and then was menaced by a drug addict with a large dog on the platform. Having to advise people to eff off not entirely consistent with Love, Compassion, Joy and Equanimity. Ah, the weight of the real.

Below the master Sogyal Rinpoche.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Ah. Grasshopper. Just got home after an evening at Rigpa with Sogyal Rinpoche. He is a very funny man as well as being venerable. Sometimes he pulls Mason-type faces too, which is a bit disconcerting.

Met Sophie there, who'd earmarked a seat for me. Will be back again tomorrow and Sunday. The retreat is at Caledonian Road and is near Kings Cross, which isn't too difficult to get to from Brighton. Tonight discussions about Contentment and the next two days will be more focused on Meditation. Will post full impressions in the next couple of days, unless of course I have renounced all earthly things by then.

Had my Salem teeshirt on, which on reflection probably wasn't the most devotional thing I could have worn.

Caroline invited me to her wedding, which was nice surprise.

Slow seeming journey home again, listening to miserable but brilliant Nina Simone on my iPod which made me feel suicidal by the time I reached Brighton. Hmm. Note to self: enough with the Nina Simone already.

In work early today, and being asked to write an agency blog now for a new pitch, which is a cunning wheeze.

Went out at lunch to post MJ's mother's wedding ring, which she had left at my house, back to MJ. Fifteen minutes queuing in the post office and then discovered that I had cleverly left MJ's address and zipcode on my desk.

Quickly legged back to the office through the park (which is a magnet for shouty drunks and mad people) and managed to walk at high speed into a branch. Returned to the post office with a scratched and bleeding forehead and a wild look in the eye. Perhaps it was a coincidence, but service was very speedy the second time.

Another England game today. Exodus at 5.00pm to watch it on a massive outdoor screen the business next to ours had erected for the occasion outside the building by the river. England put in a frustratingly poor performance but managed a win against the mighty Trinidad and Tobago.
Great fun in the sun, and lurked about afterwards talking to Phil, Liz and Cliffy before setting off on an unbelievably slow journey home.

Below... folks watching the football on the green bit by the river.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Better day at work. Me and the Gnome working on something for a childrens' charity. I slipped off for a swim at lunchtime, and after work met Matty boy, bouncy Max and a couple of their pals in the good old North Star in Ealing.

Max had extra bounciness being fresh from her final accountancy exam. Hadn't seen her for a while as she had been revising in France with baby Tahlia and the FB's mother. Matty boy was fine, but he and T were having a spot of miserablist relationship turbulence conducted by text.

Then back to Max's place where the FB was at home taking care of the baby. Tahlia has literally doubled in size since I last saw her.

The FB enthusiastically showing me (and later his friend Alan in much greater detail) an aluminum grey water tank he had built himself with his manly skills. It is to go in the pimpmobile (Winnebago). Then he took me out into the garden to see with my own eyes the old and rusty grey water tank. After nodding a bit I had to retrieve a can of beer from indoors, to stop my pulses throbbing with excitement.

Spoke to Sophie who is excited about the Buddhist weekend. I am very much looking forward to it too.

The call of the seagull heard early tonight, and I walked back into Ealing with Matty who was on the way seeing T, and everything being lovely again as is proper.

Home to Brighton, half an hour of football, and then bed.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

A heavy deluge woke me a little before 5am. Went downstairs for a glass of water and stood outside in my yard enjoying the warm rain falling on my skin for a few moments before sloping back to bed.

A better day, and less frustrating at work. And after reaching over 90F in London yesterday it was more tolerable today. London swelters in the heat. The city and its citizens are not really equipped for it. And people wear bizarre things too. Saw a bloke on the tube sporting a classic socks and sandals combo with a cowboy hat.

Clearing out my work desk in and idle moment I discovered some old photos of a leaving do from about three years ago. In several shots was Aimee who used to contribute to AnotherSun. I wondering aloud to The Gnome about her, then went off for a swim. On my return there was a long note from her in my inbasket. The first in at least a year. Spooky!

After swimming, one of my small black toenails fell off. Underneath there was a nice little new one. Be handy if other body parts were also able to spontaneously replace themselves.

After work I met Caroline at Victoria. She is one of Anton's three excellent cousins, who I'd not seen since Anton's wedding. Caroline is getting married in August to a man called James who she'd met at university. Having decided to give a bride's speech, she wanted some advice on what to say. So we drew some mindmaps, and drank several cold beers, as demanded by the heat, and talked for about three hours.

Home snoozing on the Brighton train, then a spot of football and a soupcon or two of Chinese takeaway before crashing out.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Got out of bed the wrong side today.

First thing was to open the door to the postman who gave me a package containing a teeshirt from a US website called Quantum Muse and "a tip" of 50 cents, which somebody had left through the site having read my story. Ungratefully took out the teeshirt and two quarters fell out, which seemed to be a sign from the Gods that I have a big issue about value and my writing.

Hottest day of the year so far. Walked this morning through Hammersmith cemetery on the way to work. Started taking photos of various angels with missing hands and limbs. Suddenly fascinated by their handless beseeching, or the idea that they cannot grasp the help from above.

Felt tetchy all day. Managed, however, to slope off for a swim at lunchtime. Cats and dogs advert now running on TV. Glad that I have my Buddhist retreat this weekend as I am not feeling at all spiritual or particularly balanced at the moment.

On the way home the tube got stuck in a tunnel for five minutes on the way to Victoria. Stuffy and sauna-like on board in the hot press of bodies, and when half the lights went off I found myself wishing I was a thousand miles away.

Listening to an audiobook by CS Lewis called Till We Have Faces which I am quite enjoying. It was his favourite book apparently, and one I'd not heard of till recently. It is a retelling of the Psyche myth.

Below, handless angels.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Woke up again to the sound of swans. Feeling very much like I was on holiday, sitting outside for half an hour or so till Max got up and we ate French bread and chilled melon in the heat.

She drove me off to St Albans and I trained back to Brighton. She was excellent company.

Finally at home, after reading the newspapers cover to cover for footie news on the train. Laid low and did a few household chores and a some ineffectual gardening. However, standing in my front garden gave me the opportunity to talk to my next door neighbour about the bunk beds. She may take them, which would be excellent.

Then Anton called and he Anna and the bairns were off to a new and very friendly gourmet burger joint in Brighton. Tagged along too and we had a nice time chatting. Klauds being adorable as usual, little Oskar still doing his trademarked perfect baby business.

Anton on the edge of another craze to go with cooking buns outdoors: camping as they'd spent yesterday camping with pals. Anna has a new craze too. Special trainers that have banana like soles to make you walk in a more vigorous and muscle clenching way. Nice.

Home, more footy on television; the important business of Angola vs Portugal and then an early night.

Below, the view from Max's spare room over the canal.

Woke up early to the hushed locomotive sound of swans flying above the canal.

Fun day with Max. Playing with her kids and their guinea pigs in the morning. One of the the animals, an ultra long-haired version, looks like a walking toupee. I ended up having to have it on my lap and stroke its "golden face" as young Robyn got a bit upset because I was laughing at it too much. Robyn who is just about to turn eight asked me if I was circumcised, which was a bit of a googly first thing. Turns out she had learnt the word in a religious studies class at school.

Out and about, World Cup Fever had taken over. At least 50% of people were wearing England shirts for the big game today.

After the children had been collected by their father, Max and I then had a long walk along the canal (pausing for a drink at one point) before reaching her mother's house. Very nice walk, and passed some cygnets. I think it is outrageous how they make rings out of them.

At Max's mum's place I watched England's opening game against the mighty Paraguay, which we were lucky to win by a single goal. Then had a lovely afternoon sitting in the sun near the pool talking to Max, her mother, a cousin and a fiancee of a cousin. All the while being given cold beer and ham and mustard sandwiches.

Max and me then pushed off and had a really nice curry and loads of in-depth conversations. Like me until recently, she is conducting a passionate transatlantic relationship, and has been very supportive of me and was very helpful when I was considering moving over there. She is turning into a very good friend.

Later we watched a DVD of a sad love film called The Constant Gardener which I enjoyed.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Found myself on a blind date tonight.

After making me a bracing cup of chai brewed with milk, sugar and fresh ginger, Shaila drove me off to Basingstoke station. On the train to London I realised that after a very sound night's sleep I felt healthier and more cheerful than I had done for at least week.

The day went by in a bit of a blur. Seems the work The Gnome and me had done this week had gone down well. Little to do this afternoon, so I had the idea to sneak off at lunchtime to sit in a pub garden by the river for lunch. Half the agency had the same idea.

Returning to the agency, I spoke to Caroline, Anton's cousin. She wants some advice about her wedding speech, so I will meet her next week which will be fun. Then watched a few minutes of the first World Cup game.

I was then collected by Max the Mentor from the work bar several hours later. Max and I started being friends when she was at one point designated at work to be my mentor. She is in the financial side of the business, and so is organised. Expecially with numbers.

Max drove us to leafy Hertfordshire (where she lives) and en route I was surprised to learn that she had booked a table for two at a Thai restaurant for the blind date she had set me up on. For tonight. When I was quizzing her about this person it turned out that she hardly knew her and she was a friend of her cousin. Much laughing about this.

Collected Max's bairns Robyn and Eddie from Max's mother, and went back to Max's place to drop off my stuff before I was taken to a nearby town. Max waited with me in the Thai Restaurant till my date, a nice lady called Penny, turned up. Overcame fleeting sense of bizarreness as I have never been on a blind date before.

Not ideal preparations as I'd had a few beers and had no time to think about it, so sailed through. Penny, my date, had known about it for a couple of weeks, and was quite nervous. Anyway, she was a perfectly nice person and an artist, and we ended up having an enjoyable evening, with her dropping me at Max's place later on.

Anyway gratefully to bed at Max's place. Lovely third floor room overlooking the canal, and it was so hot and quiet I fell asleep with the window wide open.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Gloom lifting somewhat today, and feeling somewhat better. Travelled in with Anton who was off again to Paris. Mercifully, once at work I was able to think a bit more clearly, and me and The Gnome slogged all day but at least completed something.

To Basingstoke this evening (called Boringstoke when I worked for IBM and had to travel for one or two particularly loathsome meetings there). This time however was collected at the station by my old school friend Shaila in her shades and large BMW and went back to her new house.

Had an extremely relaxed and pleasant evening, grazing on the vegetarian delights she had assembled, drinking a glass or two of crisp white wine and sitting outside in her little garden on the slope of a hill overlooking distant green fields. It is very grounding to spend hours putting the world to rights with someone who has known you for more than thirty years.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Back to work, but found myself struggling to cope. Still far from 100% and feeling disconnected and unable to think properly, The Gnome stressed, with lots to be done immediately. Quite nice to be back in human society again though, but gloom prevailing by the end of the day.

Sleepy on the train home. Feeling tired but antsy once at home. Went for a walk at night down by the sea and took the following two shots. Moonlight on waves, and the old burnt pier at night.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

This afternoon I ventured blinking into the outside world. The sea at Brighton Beach was sparkling and jewel-like. Bought myself a comfortable pair of shoes, as all current footwear are Shoes of Torture (TM First Matie). Also picked up the Emily Carr pictures from the friendly framer, who told me he was off camping in Ashdown Forest at the weekend. I noticed Anton camping about there, when we went for a long walk, despite not bringing a tent with him.

The Carr Prints look very mysterious, especially the one with totem poles.

Will go back to work tomorrow, as four days of man-flu fuelled introspection is enough for anyone. Have been intermittently brooding on my failures: relationships, writing, life etc. etc. etc. And that does you no good at all.

Now reading Andy's book about landmines. Very interesting and readable. An only slightly fictionalised account of his travel around the globe working on mine clearance with the UN. I compare his occupation and mine and feel humbled. It is good that there are people like Andy in the world.

Romy sent me a note today saying that there had been more Settlers of Catan in the depths of Ontario at the weekend. Toby again abandoning the British stiff upper lip and almost destroying the board. Quite pleased I wasn't there for that one. Apparently he won the second came and grew philosophical about other people's outbursts.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Going slightly stir crazy. Finished the utterly brilliant Kafka on the Shore then felt bereft. Something was pushed through my door and found it was a neighbour's note about a Murakami-style missing cat.

Dozed, despite titanic thumps and a pneumatic drill noise coming from a few houses down. Fielded questions from people at work about when they could expect to see me again. Drank mineral water, ached and sweated. Took a shower, shaved scrubby beard into different buffoonish shapes and banged head on wall and wondered if this is what my dotage will be like.

My iPod spontaneously fixed itself, however, all I needed to do was swear at it. Phoned up the gas company with the actual gas meter reading and it turns out the swine owe me money, which is excellent.

Tomorrow, thankfully, is another day.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Still gripped by severe man flu and have resolved to take tomorrow off work. Ribs oddly painful due to bouts of exceedingly violent sneezing. Wussing on my sofa, but now well into Kafka on the Shore. I was really lucky to have such a gem of a book this weekend.

Watched a TV documentary about Germany's World Cup history -- the triumph of grimness over flair and beauty.

The outside world filters in by phone. A quick chat to Mum who was talking about the family meeting up in Guernsey, and has discovered some of my vile school reports. And Anton, who is where he likes to be best... On the cusp of a brand new craze: outdoor ovens. Meanwhile Sarah, who is taking her finals and finding that the Academic's pay strike means nobody is sure about when exams will go ahead, apparently degree certificates will not be issued either.

Quick chats then yawning rubbishness takes over. Like now. Bed awaits.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Blurg. Celebrating a wonderful sunny day here in Brighton with a heavy, streaming cold. However, this has given me the chance to start Murakami's Kafka on the Shore, which seems excellent. I have not read a book by him that wasn't.

Crept out to get some bread, otherwise sleeping, eating and watching England thrash Jamaica at football on TV, with bizarre, robot-dancing beanpole Peter Crouch bagging a hat-trick. He is rapidly turning into an English folk hero. This was the last game before The World Cup starts next weekend. Really looking forward to it.

And talking of Jamaica... This afternoon Sophie called up from a cafe with Electra with the immortal Funking for Jamaica, by Tom Browne, playing in the background. This had reminded her to phone me as it was a top tune we liked when the world was young, and belonged to something called The Soul Society. Electra amazed in the background: You used to dance?

Sophie was asking if I wanted to go to a Buddhist retreat with her in a couple of weeks. I think I shall. Do me good to chill with da Buddhist bredren for a bit, and keep my mind on higher things. Mind you, I hope it doesn't clash with a vital England game.

Friday, June 02, 2006

I was a bit dull today. Slipped off for a very quick swim, but I felt very underpowered. Work again quiet, but enlivened by a much hyped ping-pong game between large Graham (the Robot) and Nick (The Kid) just before lunch attracting people from other departments to see the showdown.

The Crabtree for lunch, and I sat next to Trace and Pat who made me laugh saying you might as well watch bees and wasps in a jar than watch Big Brother.

A quiet night in tonight.

Romy sent a note confirming when she and Toby will be on this side of the Atlantic at the end of July, which is excellent.

Below Nick (The Kid) and Large Graham (The Robot) before the big office ping-pong match. The net had been purpose-built for the occasion and there was a prize of £10. The Kid won, much against the run of form.

Fun day today. Off to work with Anton who called around unreasonably early again. On the train he was talking enthusiastically about an outdoor bap & bun making course he is planning to attend on Saturday.

Work was quiet again, allowing me a long swim at lunchtime. Things livened up in the evening however, as it was Jake and Debs leaving do. First Matie came along for the party too in time to see the leaving card, a giant paper dart, being thrown down into the atrium from the second, and then fourth, floors. Much milling about in the work bar, and then we went off to the Riverside Studios where I sat in the alcovey bit having a series of quite in depth chats with people. Touched and surprised by a heart to heart with Jake who was very nice about the encouragement I have given him.

A play called the Exonerated is on at the Studios which has a revolving cast. I couldn't help noticing that Tim Piggot Smith and the actress who plays Little Mo from Eastenders were on the next table. I only had eyes, however, for Peri Gilpin who played Roz in Frazier.

Now then. I am not prone to crushes on actresses, but I have always had a bit of a thing about Peri Gilpin, and couldn't abide the idea that I would not at least say hello to her. So egged on by that bad First Matie, and overcoming my natural reticence with the ladies, I took the opportunity to explain to her that I thought she was a goddess.

Fortunately she didn't seem to mind this. In fact she turned out to be an extremely pleasant person and we ended up having a very natural and nice chat for ten minutes. She told me about having met her husband on the show, and being born in Waco, and I told her about having been in the US a lot recently, and I asked her she thought of the UK (turns out she was at stage school here for a bit) and a little bit about politics and so on. A genuinely lovely and intelligent person. I didn't stay with her overlong as this kind of thing must happen to her all the time but she didn't make me feel unwelcome for a second.

Home on the slow train. Dratted iPod has died inexplicably. Bah.