It’s Alive!

•14 October, 2014 • Leave a Comment

I’ve recently discovered that I haven’t been alive for these past two years. I have merely been existing. This came as a bit of a shock to me at first, but I suppose it’s understandable, given the circumstances I’ve sleep-walked into.

My parents offered me the money to do a Masters degree. Even 12 months later, that money wouldn’t be enough, what with tuition fee rises, so I took it. I needed a part-time job so I could eat, so I took the soft option and went back to The Cinema. My course ended, so I tried to leave The Cinema and ended up in a six-month temping Hell. And then I made the real mistake.

I quit temping to look for a permanent job. I could afford to languish on the dole until I got a permanent job, but The Cinema was recruiting again. So I figured more money couldn’t hurt. The difference was that I had moved house during the temping fling, and now the commute to The Cinema was 95 minutes. Assuming that I would get some kind of better job soon, I spent recklessly on a credit card. That meant that my monthly bills increased. Before I knew it, I had moved to another cinema in the chain, with a 105 minute commute, and was spending all the proceeds from a working week that I couldn’t afford to dip below 21 hours plus breaks. My job hunt was barely happening. This new site was very stressful and I allowed myself to engage with trying to improve the place. Suddenly all my waking time was being taken up with The Cinema. I got up, I went to work, I came home, I tried to vapourise my brain into submission so I could sleep, I started the cycle again.

I walked like a zombie through my days off, not being able to bring myself to any kind of creativity. Desperately craving validation, I’d spend a lot of time on facebook. I wasn’t writing, and I wasn’t even remembering. Seriously, I’ve forgotten so much in the last couple of years. This zombie existence plus a brain fried with insomnia has left my memory in shattered fragments. The only times I faded into life were when I was in active social company (thank God for wrestling and Dungeons & Dragons).

Now that I’m no longer walking through the grey mists if a mere existence, it’s time to take stock. Put in place the things that are important before I return to the world of work. Become myself again. I’m having a painful relationship with sleep at the moment, but I’m sure that will pass. Even so, I’ve taken the opportunity during some of the sleepless hours to read Sæmund Sigfusson’s Eddas, so I’m already starting to reconnect with parts of myself that I was losing. Normal service may well be resumed shortly.

Adventures with a Trusy Tahr

•29 September, 2014 • Leave a Comment

I’m not a technical computer user, despite the nerd points I get for using Linux. I’m comfortable doing text computing to fix the occasional problem, but I don’t have an immediate and ready knowledge of text commands for things. As such, I keep it user-friendly. So I use Ubuntu, and since they brought in Long Term Support I tend to stick with those releases so I only have to upgrade my software every couple of years.

My current computer is a Toshiba Sattelite Pro 450, vintage 2007/8. It came with Windows 7, but didn’t run it spectacularly efficiently. And when I tried Unity-flavoured Ubuntu at around the 11.04 or 12.04 stage, that sat on my system like a hippo. So for the last couple of years I’ve been trying to use as lightweight an operating system as possible. I started with Xubuntu, but even that was a little slow. So I tried Lubuntu 12.04 and that was as good as it got.

So support was winding down, and I had a level of wariness about Trusty Tahr: two years on, my laptop may be virtually obsolete. Or so low-rent that I can only run Puppy Linux on it. So it was a real concern that even the latest Lubuntu would run slowly on my venerable machine. As it happens, I needn’t have worried.

The only real problem I encountered was during installation. I tried to go with the “encrypted hard drive” option, but it got upset with the hard drive cache and crashed, having already wiped the disk. Apparently, a small cache is normal now, to increase the speed of hard drives, so this is probably a flaw in Trusty, but I don’t have the expertise to even try to express this in a bug report (I suspect several of my computer programmer friends are probably laughing at my neandertahlish ignorance here…). Furthermore, despite my selecting the UK keyboard layout during installation, Trusty thought I had an American keyboard after installation. It had a ‘UK with winkey shortcuts’ option, but when I set that up, my calculator button brought up the Shutdown menu.

Those shortcomings are niggles. In every other respect, Lubuntu 14.04 is everything I want from an OS. Somehow, it’s even more lightweight than 12.04. Even the demo version (my mum, scared of deleting a Windows system on her netbook that’s full of viruses, browses the internet with an Lubuntu demo on a stick) is faster than Precise’s. This has probably been achieved partially by the removal of the screensaver options (who needs a graphical screensaver anyway?). This is fine. I could never get my chosen screensavers in 12.04 to stick after finishing a session anyway. At least now my choices as to when the screen goes blank actually save in Trusty. Plus, the panel customisation in Lubuntu 14.04 is intuitive and actually works. This is a first for me in 9 years of Linux use. Overall, I have to say “well done” to Canonical and the LXDE foundation.

Uncertain Futures

•24 September, 2014 • Leave a Comment

I have parted company with my on/off employers for good this time. The circumstances stink, frankly, but I’m not in a position to go into that in any greater depth right now. What I want to talk about today is the nature of the benefits system. I may find I have a lot to say about this as time goes on.

There are two persistent rumours that I’ve heard about jobseeker’s allowance, and I must admit that I had previously mistaken them for facts myself. One is that you must wait seven days before making a claim. The other is that if you leave a job voluntarily, you cannot claim for six months. The truth, according to the Department for Work and Pensions’ own literature is both more complex and more horrible. Bear in mind from the start that whistleblowers have recently confirmed the suspicion among the public that Jobcentre workers are now required to be as obstructive as possible to people who are out of work. So the following is not an idle threat by the DWP. I’ll quote wholesale from the hand leaflet:

“If you chose to leave your job, we’ll ask for the reason why. You need to show that you had a good reason for leaving. Your last employer may be asked to comment on any statement you make.

Jobcentre Plus will make a decision based on a number of things, which nclude whether it was reasonable for you to take the action you did.

If we decide that you left your job without good reason, you will lose your benefit for between 13 and 156 weeks (3 years).”

On the one hand, at least it’s not an automatic six months (although maybe that’s the time they strike off by default). On the other hand, three years!? Note also that you are still expected to claim as soon as you leave. So if you believe the rumours and don’t claim for six months, a six-month sanction could be slapped on you on top of your mistaken self-imposed benefit-free period.

If this wasn’t bad enough, it gets worse:

“If you were dismissed from your job, we’ll ask your last employer for the reasons. You will be able to comment on what they say.

Jobcentre Plus will decide whether you have lost your job because of the way you behaved. If we do decide that this is the case, you will lose your benefit for between 13 and 156 weeks (3 years).”

In other words, the only way to get Jobseeker’s allowance immediately is by getting made redundant. Fan-bloody-tastic. So, as if being in a minimum wage job wasn’t bad enough, if a petty management team sacks you over a minor transgression, you can be left up shit creek without a paddle because the government want to make a show of cutting a benefits bill that never really had any excess to slice. Makes you proud to be British, doesn’t it?

Change and Rest

•18 September, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Ho hum.

The reason I’ve not posted these last couple of weeks, despite the best of intentions, is that the most interesting thing happening to me at the moment is something I’m currently not allowed to talk about. And I probably won’t want to talk about it after it’s all over and done with. Suffice to say that I feel the winds of change blowing.

Frankly, the last couple of weeks have not been pleasant. I’d booked myself a little break from work to sort my head out because, as you may have gathered from recent posts, I’ve not been feeling great lately. In fact, I feel increasingly like a trapped animal and I’ve noticed myself lashing out because of it. It feels like I’ve become a less joyful person. And a meaner person. And I really don’t want to be this way. My mental health has taken a real drop on top of this general shrinking of myself in the last few weeks, and I’d hoped that a week of literally doing nothing would do me good.

No such luck. What I can say is that my employers have prevented my little rest cure, and that instead of getting myself sorted out, I’ve been unable to sleep for more than three hours at a time. I’ve been put on a short course of zopiclone to try to restart my cycle, but poorly kept hours are a relatively small part of my problem. Plus, I’ve discovered that it does nothing for stress-induced insomnia and makes you feel like utter shit the day after any nights you do manage to sleep on it.

So, one way or another, I’ll be taking a break from life. Ideally, I’d find a bed and breakfast in a mid-size Scottish town with wrestling in the local town hall, but I haven’t got the money even though the room price would be off-season. Instead, I’ll just be letting the days go by until I get thoroughly bored and start finding things to do. I’ll be trying to stay on the Exercise Wagon, because God knows I fall off it too easily if I allow myself to. But otherwise, this is about allowing my mind to stop panicking so I can actually start to concentrate on things again. And prioritise effectively. And do stuff rather than pottering round the flat in a fug of overloaded paralysis that has far more to do with preceived conflicts than reality.

Sure. It’s a noble thing to aim for. I’ve failed to get my head on straight before and I’m likely to fail again. But I suppose it’s the trying that counts, and if I can at least manage to put one or two healthy routines in place, I’ll feel a lot better for it. There are things that used to keep me sane that I’m not doing enough of anymore, and if I can just get myself doing them again, life may be less of an uphill struggle.

Some Half-Formed Thoughts

•9 September, 2014 • 2 Comments

Maybe for now this is my depression blog. I’ve been in a rough way for the past few weeks, but feeling like this has allowed me to find something at the centre of myself. It’s a burning flame. It’s anger and frustration at where I am and what I’ve become and it’s showing me a weak light through the mists of my current despair.

I’m not myself. I can feel it. Despite my outward self-assurance and my usual manic drive (if you’ve got a crazy plan, I’ve got the will to carry it through), I’m more reluctant to put myself out in the world than I used to be. Long-term readers of this blog, or anyone who knew me as an undergraduate, know exactly how opinionated I can be. Yet there are a lot of things I’ve not said on here recently because I can’t be bothered with the potential internet shitstorm. I blame facebook.

Really, it’s more about how I’ve used facebook since getting into music. I used to only add people I knew and kept my account to myself, but a desire for self-promotion has made me a very open user. This means I see the debates on other people’s open statuses and know how heated and disrespectful some people can be. I used to enjoy discussion, but every group on the internet acts like religious fanatics, especially if you dare to call into question a part of their crusade. While in a depressed state of mind, I don’t have the energy to moderate a debate here or on a facebook link on my timeline. So I avoid issues while keeping schtum, at least in terms of my writing here. Furthermore, in terms of expressing my deepest and darkest thoughts, I don’t feel as though I have a forum to vent anymore.

And so I remembered livejournal. Being a blog provider in essence, there was less inane chatter while still having a social-network-esque functionality. And that functionality meant that you ticked boxes as to who you shared with rather than having to close down from a big pool the way facebook does. My least judgmental friends and acquaintances could be shown some of my darkest thoughts in a space that felt safe to me. In fact, my last post on there was about something that, already in 2011, I felt I couldn’t say on facebook.

Other things have happened. I’ve been listening to albums I’ve not dug out in years. I’ve been actively trying to find ways to take control of my psychology again. I want to be the brave, kind lunatic I was, not the defensive, trapped animal I’m turning into.

The time right now is 3:06 am. And here I am writing. This me, this is what I do. This is how I deal with the world. I don’t think I’m back yet, but I think I’ve found the path back to where I was before I fell.

Feeling the Need

•4 September, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Chief among the reasons for my recent silence, I think, is the extent to which I’m treading water. I went back into the cinemas as a part-time job to fund a (failed) master’s degree, and ended up just kind of getting stuck there. An attempt to get out via temping ended up in the hardest six months of my life, and now I’m living with my mum and basically going nowhere for the moment. The band splitting up hasn’t helped any of this.

We’ve not been focussing on drummers. I went out and bought an Alessis SR-16 to tide us over for the drum work, and it sounds rather good through my old Peavey 75w PA system. We’ve auditioned one or two, but really the lack of available sticksmen means that getting one to hang around while we find a guitarist is unlikely. Especially with so many bands that would be able to get them straight into gigs. So we’ve auditioned guitarists week on week. We’ve had good players and bad players, lovely guys and arseholes, and everything in between. But we still haven’t found the right guy.

As such, I’m not sure what adventures I should be writing about here any more. I could easily turn this into an outlet for all my misanthropy and vent on politics, religion, and human stupidity, but I wonder if I have the energy. Or better things to think about. Way back when, I used to write about the adventures of my social life, but what is there to say? I really don’t get out much anymore – I just sort of go to events. Should I be reviewing local wrestling matches? Would the promoters in question (some of whom I’ve had the pleasure of meeting) actually be able to take constructive criticism on the chin, especially from a punter who doesn’t wrestle? And, from that point of view, should I be bigging up some of the people I see at open mic sessions, as that’s the only other thing I seem to be doing lately?

Anyway, I probably ought to cut short this post-for-a-post’s-sake. My life is not the big adventure it used to be. I’m working on that, but the major thing is a job with a livable paycheque plus a reduced commute. 12 hours a day away from home for a take-home pay of c. £8,000 a year isn’t a good way to live. I could and should be having my old drunken adventures in Brum again, but I need the time and money to sustain it. So, in the meantime, what would you like to see? Doctor Who reviews? Local wrestling reviews? TNA Impact reviews? Invective against Richard Dawkins, George Osborne and anyone else who’s pissed me off this week? Please leave all suggestions in the comments here, or on the facebook link you got here from…


•4 August, 2014 • Leave a Comment

One of the things that’s been killing my motivation to blog is that I don’t seem to be going out and doing anything. Since the band split up, each week has just been a slog of trawling classified ad’s looking for guitarists – only to be ignored, stood up on audition night, or rejected after the fact. No gigs and little money tend to mean no adventure worth writing about on here. So I need a better job. The cinema chain whose name I’m careful not to actually mention on here are not Britain’s Worst Employers by any stretch of the imagination, but minimum wage on a zero-hour contract is a killer in an industry with such wildly fluctuating business levels. When the summer holidays finish, I will be barely scraping a living.

Furthermore, I’ve run up money on credit cards over the last few years, casually assuming that I’ll have a “real job” soon and so pay it all back quickly. But real work is surprisingly hard to come by, especially if a lot of your time is spent zombied from the irregular sleep of shift work. I tried the temping agencies, but had a series of disasters that kept me away from them for over a year. And it’s hard to motivate yourself to spend time on the disheartening job-hunting process when you already feel like life is passing you by. Personally, I want to spend my time doing things that actually give my life some meaning. On that note, today has been kind of good. I overslept, admittedly, but that means I’ve faced the day less tired than I would have done. So I managed to drag myself into actually applying for jobs (and ringing an agency or two just to remind them I’m still here…). Part of today’s work was a costing exercise.

Occasionally I work out my expenses on the back of an envelope, just so I have some idea where I’m up to financially. It mainly serves to tell me that I’m not really allowed to have a social life outside the occasional Sunday afternoon Pathfinder game, but today’s little tot-up gave me a ray of hope. I added up everything I needed to spend money on: credit card bills, the bills of a putative shared house, beer money – the lot. And then I struck off the frivolities and investigated how much it would cost me to stop living with my mum but carry on with my current thrifty lifestyle. For a moment, it looked like bad news. When I’ve done this exercise in previous years, I’ve just whacked 25% on the total as a vague tax and national insurance margin. And that figure told me I’ll be living with my mum for a long time to come. So I decided to look properly at the rates and the income brackets. And what I’ve found is that I only need to start earning £12,500 a year to start moving on with my life…


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