Saturday 17 July 2010

Mad weather, aggressive birds and lifts, human waste potential, and bliss

WEDNESDAY: It's been a schizophrenic week. It's not just the fact that the stress of the expansive budget cuts and the realisation that I may be forced financially to move into a cave and live on lichen has made me a bit crazy and out of sorts. The weather has also been schizophrenic, as evidenced by the fact that when I got on the bus only 15 minutes ago the windy sky was darkly dripping with the threat of thunderstorms, and here I am sitting in the Winter Garden eating my lunch, having removed my jacket, my shoes, and my socks because it suddenly became a brightly sunny and hot day.

And my sandwich is schizophrenic as well, made up of whatever leftovers haven't gone bad yet. My avocado, smoked Austrian cheese, and sun-dried tomato sandwich is like a Mexican skier who has moved to Genoa in order to be closer to the Alps. And my fruit, a result of my own purchases and whatever I could get free at work, features apples and pears of winter doing a dos-à-dos with raspberries and apricots of summer. And in a few minutes I'll report to my job, where I will be using my talents and experience designing a poster on the computer while being paid library-scum birdfeed for the effort.

So everything is schizophrenic, everything is a result of chaos, and the next time I hear somebody comment that something isn't "normal" I'm going to scream, "Well, of course nothing is normal! On a rotating planet in a moving universe, there is no such thing as a straight line, much less a perpendicular one!"

(Sorry, just had to rant about something irrelevant.)

THURSDAY: Sprinting through town with a frantically traumatised expression on my face is a great alibi for knocking aside the "Hi, could I have a few minutes of your time?" clipboard brandishers. "Sorry -- I'M ACTUALLY IN A HURRY!" I snapped today as I sped past in turbo-charged fifth gear. With all the ambling and moseying pedestrians with a collection of shopping bags in one hand and dripping ice creams in the other, why do these marketers and fundraisers pick instead on the cheetahs racing across the plains in pursuit of their daily bread?

(I realise I'm madly mixing metaphors, but I do like the image of a herd of rustic Italian loaves grazing in a pasture.)

And I was in a hurry. I was desperate, before work, to find a circle template. And because I didn't stop to listen to someone's spiel, only to finally tell them I couldn't afford to donate anything, I did find my circle template. What a successful day!

THE FOLLOWING THURSDAY: After donning more layers because of a suddenly cooler weekend, I awoke Monday morning to a warm and impressively muggy day. So I switched back to summer wear. As I stood at the bus stop a bird shat on my new straw trilby. Later on I was nearly trapped in a lift, as the female voice repeated conflicting warnings ("Doors opening. Doors closing. Doors opening. Doors closing. Doors opening. Doors closing. Mind the doors. Exterminate!") The week has progressed with this schizophrenic theme, each day promising weather that is contradictory to all the forecasts and each minor experience promising unexpected results. That's why I'm sitting in the Winter Garden, eating my Normandy Brie sandwich with peach slices and raspberries, the bottoms of my feet nice and dry but the tops completely soaked. I don't really know what to expect next.

This morning I read that an abandoned bomb shelter in Helsinki has been converted to a database centre that heats the city. Water is pumped through pipes to cool the computer servers, and the resulting hot water flows out to heat 500 homes.

This is a brilliant use of otherwise wasted resources. So why not expand on this ecologically and economically beneficial idea? Perhaps the hot air produced in legislative chambers could also be used to heat water that would then heat homes, while the carbon dioxide-rich air could be circulated into commercial greenhouses and back as oxygen-refreshed air to fuel the speakers. And just think of all that wasted methane produced by belches and other methods in all the conference and meeting rooms of the world, as the attendees slurp cup after cup of gas-forming instant coffee and tea and chomp away on fatty, salty, and sugary snacks. Why continue to waste this rich source of gas? Let's power our vehicles with it! Save the earth by taking advantage of human potential.

FRIDAY: I'm having a slice of Mediterranean vegetable and mozzarella pizza at the Clearly Food Kitchen, formerly Alfie + Bella. I'm upstairs by myself, gazing out the window onto the Sheffield Hallam University students, with my Tramlines schedule in front of me, planning my weekend of live music, and I'm about to go check out the Emilie Taylor exhibition of Sheffield-inspired pottery at the Yorkshire Artspace before going to work for 2 hours. Then it's home and off to Tramlines. I have nothing to complain about today. Bliss...

Sunday 11 July 2010

Whatever You Do, Don't Make Eye Contact

THURSDAY: It must have something to do with pheromones. I awoke this morning to the most personally devastating news to come out of George Osborne's nuclear war of a budget. As part-time low-paid University Library Scum I still have a job, although the secrets of what the autumn term will bring -- meaning Over There, Across That Mid-September Line -- are currently being guarded as if any leak of a conjecture will suck all of the oxygen off the planet. But as of this week many of my friends, including those closest to me, are either losing their jobs or in extreme danger of losing their jobs, the danger breathing down the back of their necks as they scramble past all the dire headlines and dodge the budget-slashing cannonballs.

Several of these friends, including the one I live with, work in a field that helps improve the lives of those with substance abuse problems, learning disabilities, and mental and physical problems. But that field has been axed down to the bare minimum, with entire organisations losing their contracts. So who cares about a few people who can't be "normal" like the rest of us? Just put 'em all on benefits; and if they don't die from neglect, abuse, or overdosing -- or, of course, benefits cuts -- they can damn well get out there and get a job like the rest of us. All it takes is proving you're a far better choice than the other 7,500 applicants for the same position.

So it was in this bitterly sarcastic and pessimistic mood that I alit from the bus and made the mistake of walking down the pedestrian shopping street of Fargate. Like sharks smelling blood they emerged, everywhere, every couple of feet, lunging at me with "Hi, how are you today? Have you heard of the Frog Protection Society?" or "Hi, do you have a few moments to answer a survey?" or "Hello there! Love those earrings! Don't worry, I'm not going to keep you too long…", etc. My pace accelerated to a mini-sprint as I dodged through the obstacle course of smiling clipboard holders, remembering a survival skill I had learned years ago at all the Seattle Center festivals: always wear dark glasses, stare straight ahead, and whatever you do don't make eye contact! It may sound harsh, but when you're stressed out about your exponentially dwindling finances, the last thing in the world you need is a charming, grinning, healthy young person making you feel guilty for not giving up food for a week in order to provide a village with clean water for a year.

THE FOLLOWING FRIDAY: As I had an appointment in Broomhill this morning, I'm now sitting in Weston Park having a Wensleydale and cranberry sandwich on a sunflower seed breadcake from the sandwich shop just down the road. I'm sitting on the grass in the shade, being watched over by a wreath-waving figure of Liberty and two bronze WWI soldiers, all part of the Yorkshire and Lancashire Regiment War Memorial. The setting reminds me of picnic lunches I've experienced in scenic cemeteries, specifically Mountain View in Oakland, Lake View Cemetery in Seattle, and Golders Green in London. As it's a warm and sunny but pleasantly breezy day, there are many other people here, students and hospital workers and OAPs and people of leisure, sitting on benches or sprawled on the grass, throwing frisbees or chatting or reading or eating their lunch or simply enjoying a peaceful moment.

Ah, yes, and now another memory comes to mind from years ago when I was in university, when I had at least an hour between lectures on a particularly pleasant day (in Southern California this means "big billowy white and grey clouds in a blue sky" as opposed to "the usual cloudless brown haze"). There was nothing better than staking out my own plot of shady grass, and my pastime of choice was studying my Russian lesson. (Call me crazy, but I've always found learning foreign languages fun!)

Invariably a student I didn't know would stroll up, smiling, and comment on what a beautiful day it was, and I'd concur. And then they would say something like, "Have you spoken to Jesus recently?" To which I would respond with either a sarcastic retort or a quick heartfelt request for them to bugger off and go bother somebody else. One time, however, I was at the end of my stress rope, and I tore into the poor naïve soul, telling him that it had been a beautiful day until he came along and destroyed the idyllic sanctity of my Russian-conjugation meditation with his arrogant assumption that everybody else in the world should stop thinking for themselves and swallow his particular religion hook, line, and sinker.

I never saw that particular student again. I suspect he may have abandoned his studies and joined a monastery.

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