When You're a Stranger, People are Strange

There are two notable things about the post for which I was interviewed today. First, although it does involve the promised IT work, it consists mainly of answering the phone and checking timesheets. And second, it doesn't exist at the moment.

It seems the most effective way to create a new job is not to make the vacancy and then fill it, but rather to find someone to fill the role, and then tell head office that a new role urgently needs to be created, and by the way the ideal person to fill it has fortuitously appeared, as if by magic.

So, I've got the job, even though it's not the one I applied for, and it may or may not exist by the end of next week.

I have three more interviews coming up, two of which seem to operate on the same basis.

That was the first half of the morning. The second half was spent chatting with an unemployed security guard. Like most security guards, he's a great big hulk of a fellow with a beer belly, puggish features and a long black coat.

Unlike some security guards, he's camp as a row of tents and has a degree in linguistics. So we spent some happy hours discussing Madonna's failing career, glam rock, trashy movies...and the inadequacies of Krashen's "LAD" hypothesis in the light of a praxis based model of concept formation in infants.

There's other characters in the same room.

One woman of about forty is an ex-biker. She spent most of her life riding around Britain with biker groups, being fiercely independent and working casually in factories when she had to, before an injury suddenly put a stop to her whole lifestyle, leaving her with only expert knowledge of bike repair and no prospects.

One young fellow has decided with his girlfriend to leave Portsmouth. In itself unremarkable, but they've got no transport, no possessions and no money, so they're going to walk. They're going to keep walking and wherever they've got to after a week, that'll be their new home, because they've got no destination in mind either. It's an act of desperation, but I can't help admiring it.

There's a tiny woman who weighs 90 lbs. She takes care of six people with physical disabilities and psychiatric problems, and dates rough men three times her size.

There's a man who had a high-flying job in management until he stood up to the wrong board member and found himself sacked and seemingly blacklisted. He's going through the painful process of accepting that he doesn't have the automatic right to respect, and some people know better than him.

One very handsome young man is (a) nineteen (b) happily married with two children and (c) the most amazing flirt with everyone, male and female. He asked me to check whether his nipples were the same size, and presented them for inspection - so I examined them and the surrounding muscular area in quite a lot of tactile detail.

Would it have been going too far to lick them too? I certainly wanted to.

A tattooist/bricklayer/former basketball coach sat through two weeks of my off-colour jokes about gay sex before starting to wonder if I might be gay. He's now disturbed by the possibility that some of the other people he knows might not be straight.

Someone once said, "Normal is whatever everyone else is that you're not." I think I've met plenty of normal people - it's just that I can never remember anything about them ten seconds later.

The Book of Job (Chapter Three)

I do want a job. Well, no one actually wants a job, but what I want is (a) a steady income, (b) more money than I've got at the moment and (c) a way off this dratted course. And in effect that means a job.

On paper, I'm spending seven hours a day "actively and intensively looking for work". In practice, I'm spending half an hour a day emailing my CV to job agencies, another half eating reduced-to-clear pasta salad from the supermarket next door, and five catching up on reading in a room with twenty others who've developed the skill of spinning the thinnest of conversation to great length.

Had there been more than twelve vaguely suitable vacancies on Monday it might have taken longer to "actively and intensively look for work". I somehow doubt there'll be another twelve by Friday. I'm supposed to apply for at least fifty a week.

I'm reading the short stories of Franz Kafka. It seemed appropriate.

Yesterday, after another wasted day, I walked into the care home at the end of my street, told them I was looking for a work placement and gave reasons why it would benefit everyone if I worked there. After a few minutes of getting their brains around the notion, I was complimented on my "initiative and assertiveness", and an interview was arranged for next Tuesday.

I then walked into the co-op branch opposite and went through a similar routine with the deputy manager - arranging an interview in Wednesday.

When I got home there was a phone message waiting from an accountancy firm, offering me an interview on Monday. Of the thirty or so CV's I've emailed off, it's odd that the only response is in a field I have little knowledge of and no experience in. Maybe they're just really desperate for accountants.

Last Thursday I asked a member of staff why, seeing as CDG specialise in finding work placements, they don't offer any placements themselves - seeing as they're obviously understaffed. The response: it would contravene the data protection act.

Today I told them I'd found two possible placements for myself. After a full ten seconds of open mouthed astonishment, the woman I'd spoken to on Thursday asked me why I'd felt the need to do their job for them. I said it was because if I'd left their job to them it'd never get done, because they had proven themselves completely useless at finding anyone a placement.

She asked me whether I had any issues I'd like to discuss. I said that any company whose sole purpose was to find other companies that wanted free slave labour, but was unable to find any, wasn't just incompetent - it was absolutely bizarre. She objected strongly to my use of the word "slave".

Half an hour later she offered me an interview for a work placement. At CDG. I didn't ask whether it still contravened the data protection act.

So I suddenly have a choice:

* Do a very boring job I know nothing about, but get well paid for - assuming I get the job, which is far from certain.

* Be an unpaid shop girl.

* Care for people with multiple disabilities - which has no immediate financial reward but loads of career potential and kudos, though it's not certain they'll accept me.

* Do what I've been doing informally for a fortnight, namely helping lame ducks like me write CVs and letters. There's no pay and no job at the end of it, but it's doing what I enjoy with people I've found I like.

Plugged In

New USB keyboard, new USB mouse - and now the disk drive is failing. Gah!

A year ago, I thought four USB sockets was generous. Now, with plugin mouse, external keyboard, external hard drive, external CD burner and speakers, plus the option of a wireless dongle, eight would be useful.

Still, at GBP6 for a keyboard, GBP4 for a mouse, GBP40 for a 120GB hard disk and GBP10 for an external hard drive enclosure, there's simply no need to upgrade or renew hardware that's theoretically long past its obsolescence.

That, and the small matter that new computers are no more powerful than they were five years ago - except for the still largely unutilised duel-core system.

One of the problems the Strict Machines have - apart from a frequently ill singer, some lousy amplifiers, and a guitarist with temper tantrums that eclipse tsunamis - is that they've all got jobs. Specifically that two of them work long, unpredictable hours. So finding times when they're all free to practice and play gigs isn't easy.

However, Paul the guitarist has had a brainwave: When Fabio the drummer isn't available, replace him with a CD player! Which means getting good kind Kapitano to come up with real-ish sounding drum tracks, complete with fills and frills, for the fifty or so songs in the repertoire.

But don't worry they say, there's no great rush. Right now they only need tracks for fifteen songs finished for their gig in six days time. But can they be more-or-less done by Monday morning, please? Just so the band can practice with them.

The weather's been a bit weird recently - hot days that turn suddenly cold, moisture and wind, and two or three brief but intense thunderstorms per week. In the streets you can see people shivering in shorts or sweating in raincoats, dressed a few hours behind the weather's current mood.

I got given a dose of amphetamine recently - about one third of a teaspoonful, wrapped up in a cigarette paper and swallowed, known to the cognoscenti as a "bomb". After half an hour it kicked in and all sensations became...not exactly louder and brighter, but more detailed. The rain wasn't any wetter, but each drop was clearly visible.

We had the most amazing sex, of a sweetness I haven't known since I was twenty - except that when I was twenty I was much too nervous and ashamed to enjoy it. I found myself thinking, "The speed's given me the apparently traditional pounding headache and stomach cramps, so I really ought not to be enjoying this, but I can't stop burrowing my tongue into this fellow's ear canal because it feels so good. It's not even as though I especially like them."

After two hours we went for a walk, compared lives to see who was the most bored lately, and went back to our respective homes. Where I couldn't sleep for six hours because my head was buzzing. And then couldn't do anything but sleep for twelve hours. And still felt shattered afterwards.

So, not an experience I'd seek out again, but certainly worth trying.

Day four on the course - we were treated to a cringe-inducing "educational film" about how to behave at job interviews. In summary: be honest but only about nice things, be confident but submissive, tell the employer what they want to hear but surprise them, have a sense of humour but don't laugh, and never mention money. Well, I'm glad that's all sorted out.

Then for the rest of the day...absolutely nothing. Again. While pretending to scan the newspapers we exhausted two days ago for job vacancies we've already applied for.

Day five - more absolutely nothing, but without the newspapers. According to some inmates who've been through the scheme two or three times before, CDG are pretty useless at finding the work placements they promise, so it's not unusual to spend the entire thirteen weeks stuck in a room.

There are inmates there who've only done the most unskilled labour for forty years, can't read and have never used a computer. Not the kind to use terms like "soul destroying" - but they do, because it is.

Diary of Wasted Time

Today I was supposed to spend the morning receiving hot tips on the job market, and the afternoon being intensively interviewed to find the right kind of job for me. What happened instead was...absolutely nothing at all.

In the morning we sat in a hot classroom waiting for something to happen, and in the afternoon we sat in a different hot classroom waiting for something to happen. Apparently this is because one member of staff was away on a course, and none of the others had time to see to us.

I took the opportunity to read Thomas Paine's "Common Sense". It always pays to carry a book around in your bag.

By lunchtime, having absorbed Mr Paine's remarkably simple and cogent arguments against the monarchy, and having nothing else to do, I took a computerised test to find out what kind of careers I'm suited for. It said I should be an IT teacher, computer programmer, or...metallurgist.

I got so bored I even applied for a few jobs. CDG, the people running the course, have a vacancy for an "Area Support Tutor". I don't know what that is, but I've sent them the CV they helped me write a month ago. I wonder if they'll give me a reference?

Having replaced my laptop's hard drive, the keyboard is now dying. Seven of the keys just don't work, and integrated keyboards are generally neither fixable nor replaceable. I might get a USB keyboard, but the USB ports are getting unreliable too.

Some products are designed with built-in obsolescence. Others just fall apart. Much like government schemes.

Me Da Man!

Far too many things to do, all of them barely started.

First, I had to replace the hard disk of this here laptop. The hassle isn't replacing the disk - it's replacing all the data I didn't get around to backing up from it. Maybe 75% of it I did back up to CDR, but I don't know what is backed up to where, because the catalogue of backup CDs...is in the data I didn't back up. Yes, I know.

I've got a stepping machine and a radio in the garage, and a promise to myself to do at least half an hour's exercise on the former every day.

I'm also carrying around an unopened bar of chocolate to remind me to eat sensibly. Amazingly, the promise and the bar are working so far.

Looks like I've got another gig lined up. The Radical Art Group are putting together an exhibition on climate change, and putting on a fundraising evening to finance it.

I was the last of the five acts asked to perform. There's a blues-rock outfit, two emo/punk bands, a solo blues singer, and a DJ rounding off the evening. So I've got a month to come up with a twenty five minute set, half of it new material.

Ordinarily that wouldn't be difficult, but yesterday the latest pointless government scheme for dolebirds started, and takes up most of each day.

Day One: Nineteen long-term unemployed people in a stuffy room, filling out forms. The majority of the men - aged eighteen to fifty - want to work in the building trade or drive fork-lift trucks.

One is a landscape gardener/dustcart driver/bricklayer/security guard who can't afford anything paying less that 15K per year, just to pay off debts. He was quite successful in the 1980s, then lost out in the 1992 recession, and was left with wife, children, and a stack of loans that once seemed a breeze to deal with.

Another is a fitness freak who knows the building trade inside out but doesn't know one end of a computer from the other. There's a young woman who wants to marry her boyfriend as soon as she gets steady employment as a beauty therapist, and two in their late forties who dress and write like they were secretaries for thirty years.

And then there's me. But I never fit in.

It only seems like a month since I filled out exactly the same forms with similar people in an adjacent room of the same building - largely because it is only a month.

Day Two: Five people just didn't turn up - probably because they couldn't see the point of doing unpaid manual labour for firms who wouldn't offer them a job at the end of it.

The jobcentre call it an "Opportunity", the mysteriously funded charity who run the course call it a "Work Placement", and the rest of us call it a "Scam".

And on the third day - tomorrow - we get to put together our CVs, again.

Last Thursday the univerity's art department held its graduation show - where the various streams (photography, video, fine art etc) display the graduation pieces of this year's graduating student.

The show itself was quite impressive. After a decade or more of limp, derivative work from students,

The photography department has thankfully lost its fascination with Adobe Photoshop, and is rediscovering the potential of straightforward portraiture, landscape and still life. The students of Video Production (soon to be rechristened Creative Technologies) are going naturalistic too, with a series of low-key documentaries and high-octane soap operas.

Half the Fine Art-ists are still painting big confessional words on canvass, or cutting up Vogue magazine to comment on hypocritical attitudes to female sexuality blah blah blah.

Video (now rechristened "Creative Technologies") had the most and best wine, and I drank a pleasantly immoderate amount of it, spilling quite a lot over myself, coming on to a lot of male students, and on one occasion doing impromptu sociology with one of their mothers, dissecting the attitudes of working versus middle classes towards single parenthood in Britain.

Short version: The middle class are fascinated by it but refuse to admit it exists, and the working class regard it as a fact of life, unless they're social climbers.

I remember dozing off on a pavement after my friends left me behind to go to another party.


My computer had died, and in a vaguely Frankenstein-like way, I'm rebuilding it to bring it back to life.

In the meantime, there will be a short delay. We apologise for the inconsequence.

Who Da Man?

Apparently I got to know someone called Carlos about a year ago. We chatted - online or in person - and exchanged emails, and I even got to know him well enough to tell him my name.

I have absolutely no recollection of any of this. I didn't blog about it, and don't have any emails from him.

Now, Carlos wants to meet up (again?), at the weekend. He's sent me some texts to arrange it.

Did I have sex with this person? Did we discuss music, or politics? Did we meet online, through friends or by accident. or what?

There was a fellow called Carlos I met in about 2000. He was an electrical engineering student, a pretty good trance music producer, Greek and devastatingly good looking in that dark Mediterranean way. Straight and engaged, inevitably.

He'd found some of my early music on MP3.com (back when the site was still worth having), liked it and sent an appreciative email. We met once and talked philosophy and politics - then he just disappeared. It couldn't be him - I didn't have a mobile phone then.

There was someone last march, whose name I can't recall at all. An enthusiastic participant in amateur dramatics - he played the villain in "James and the Giant Peach" and couldn't see why anyone would want to stage a Beckett play. We had okay sex until I unexpectedly started to bleed from a shaving cut - which killed his enthusiasm rather quickly.

We might have exchanged numbers, but I can't imagine it's him.

There was an asian male nurse, but he called himself Jeff. There was a married guy on the Isle of Wight who really just wanted someone to talk to, but he was "Steve" (real name unknown). There was an architect who moved to Oxford with his (apparently wonderful) new boyfriend, but he actually was Steve.

There was someone who bore a suspicious resemblance to Peter Stringfellow - and I played an accidental role in breaking up his marriage. His harridan of a wife "found" the logs of his MSN chats with various men, presumably while dusting his computer, and grounded him.

He found ways meet men anyway, and she divorced him. he told me he'd only stayed with her for the sake of their son.

There was one man who more-or-less fits the description, who I quite liked for about half an hour on MSN Messenger, before he started getting bossy. It turned out he was a nouveau riche type with a luxury apartment and trouble keeping friends. We did arrange to meet in a cafe, but he stood me up.

This one seems...the least unlikely candidate.

And I have no desire at all to meet him.

Super Truther

After I die, I want to be reincarnated as a conspiracy theorist. That way, I could spend years burying myself in the minutiae of newspaper reports, eyewitness testimony, chemical tests, and obscure facts about weather balloons, ballistics and train timetables...without ever having to get involved in the real world.

How nice to be lost in a haze of suggestive recondrite contradictory factoids, and communicate only with people who share my obsessions, hermetic and hermitlike.

They say the twin towers collapsed vertically, just like in a controlled demolition of a towerblock. Except that in controlled demolitions, each part of the building is in simultaneous freefall, whereas when the towers collapsed the upper levels fell onto the lower, like vertical dominoes.

The steel frame of the tower might weaken enough to collapse if heated by enough jet fuel on fire. But there wasn't such a fire. Except some footage suggests there was. And in any case steel doesn't suddenly weaken when it reaches a certain temperature - it happens progressively.

The "third" tower was undamaged until it suddenly collapsed. Except it was actually badly damaged on the other side. Some witnesses said they saw a missile, and others a non-commercial plane hit the towers - though most didn't.

Why did the ambulance carrying Diana Spencer take forty five minutes to get to a hospital twelve minutes away? Unless it was actually thirty minutes and had a breakdown. Unless the breakdown was faked to give time to perform an abortion and (badly?) cover up evidence of pregnancy.

What happened to the mysterious white car, just how fast was Diana's car really travelling, was the driver drunk, was he that drunk, did the lights in the subway fail and was that deliberate?

According to Oliver Stone's movie "JFK", it would take a minimum of fourteen seconds to fire three shots from the bookstore where Oswald worked. The FBI put the figure more around seven seconds. So does this make a difference? And did the rifle have a defective sight or not? And was Oswald a good marksman or not? And is it possible to shoot through that much tree cover?

Was it Oswald shot Tippet, and if so how did he get to that crime scene in however many minutes it was, why did he double back and how did the police know where to find him? And if Jack Ruby was an agent why did he die in jail?

"9/11 Truthers", as they like to be known, are obviously right when they say the war on terror is just as big a fraud as the war on drugs, invading Iraq is about keeping oil in American industries and out of Chinese ones, and the threat from terrorists is at best exaggerated.

They're also right most of the time to disbelieve anything their government wants them to believe, and to hold the most cynical expectations of the CIA and military.

The details dug up by the best truthers are highly intriguing, and the arguments over the science fascinating. But it all boils down to one question: What kind of government agency would threaten the lives of its own colleagues and bosses, its political leaders, and its corporate associates for the sake of a giant propaganda stunt?

Is this scenario plausible?

The CIA, or some group within it, or some other government organisation, plans a wave of invasions of the middle east to secure oil supplies, and needs to manufacture some justification.

They decide that destroying the twin towers and blaming it on the middle east would do the job. They know that the towers are a major hub of the corporations which control the government and dictate the need to secure oil supplies in the first place. But what the hell, it'll look great on TV.

They also decide that destroying the white house would add to the justification. Who's in the white house they might not want to kill? No one much. Or let's be charitable and say they only decide to fake an attempt to do it.

And finally they decide on the best justification of all - an attack on the pentagon itself, hopefully killing many of their colleagues for maximum effect.

They sit back and ask themselves: would these events justify a war? And they answer yes.

Then they ask: is there some other way the war could be justified? It's late and they're tired, so they answer no.

Then: Aren't we going to kill a load of our co-workers, friends and superiors? They shrug and say "ce la vie".

And finally: What will the rest of the CIA (or whoever) do to us if/when they find out what we've done? They smile nervously and say "No one will ever find out. We're safe".

Not really.

For what it's worth, I think the British royal family could adapt to the ex-wife of the third in line to the throne having a muslim child - if indeed she was going to have one - without calling in the James Bond squad. Though others say I underestimate the racism of these people.

I think the CIA were quite capable of publicly killing their own nominal commander-in-chief for some reason that would seem trivial now. As were the mafia, and maybe the KGB or even a team whackjobs who met at the NRA and were amazingly lucky to get away with it.

I think Bob Marley did die of cancer, Tchaikovsky was not in a suicide pact, Rasputin wasn't gay, the Bilderberg group are a private club not a secret society, Robert Maxwell probably wasn't a MossAd agent, Jeff Rense is immensely gullible, David Icke is mentally ill...and floridation has no effect on either dental health or brain chemistry.


In a lot of short stories, and a lot of science fiction, the plot and characters are really just excuses to create the world where they happen. Often the political and cultural background is more interesting than what the characters do in the foreground - and that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Anyway, here's a science fiction short story that's almost entirely background.

No one knew who had invented the time weapon, and no one could be certain which side started the war.

It was commonly believed that the weapon's invention, and its inventor, belonged to a timeline long since erased. Some thought they had evidence the war had its origins in a dispute over temporal colonisation rights with the enemy, which had been an ally at the time. Others stated confidently that the war had been religious in nature, though the religion itself had been since erased at source. A distinct minority favoured the notion that it was an unprovoked pre-emptive attack borne simply out of the fear of being attacked first.

The truth was that no one knew why the two empires were at war, and estimates of how long they had been fighting were necessarily vague, but all authorities agreed the other side must have attacked first.

A protective shield had been quickly developed after the first few inexpert attacks. The same technology behind the time weapon allowed an area to be defined which was immune to causality shift. The original plan had been to encase the entire continent in such an area, protecting the whole population from history change while the weapon removed the historical basis of the enemy.

Unfortunately there were two problems. First it appeared the enemy also had such a shield, and second, there was simply not enough energy to protect such a large area continuously.

The result was that the centre of the empire was protected by the shield, and the weapon was used to try to undo the damage done to the outlying regions. Thus the cities of the central area occupied a different timeline to the rest of the empire - indeed, occasionally the outlying regions occupied a history where there was no temporal war at all, or even no empire!

Communications between the centre and it's protectorates were therefore infrequent and confused. However, the centre could on no account afford to withdraw any part of its protection, simply because the centre was not self sufficient.

Supplies of food, raw materials and energy for the protective area had to come from outside the centre, and much planning and effort was spent in ensuring the history of the outlying regions was such that they could provide what was needed.

The enemy was presumably in a similar situation, and therefore many of the tactics adopted revolved around depriving the enemy of productive technology.

In effect, the temporal war had largely ceased to be a fight between two empires to erase each other's founding histories, and become an old fashioned war of attrition, each side trying to starve the other.

The invention of the time weapon had presumably been in an unprotected area, either an outlying region, or more likely the centre before the protective area had been established. Either way, knowledge of its construction was ferociously guarded, even in a timeline when it had never been invented.

It was therefore the holy grail of attack strategies to find some point in the enemy's history which they'd neglected to protect, which was pivotal in the chain of events leading to their acquisition of the weapon. So far though, all attempts to find it had been futile.

The enemy were thought to be a smaller political entity, seemingly occupying the same landmass, ending roughly three thousand years in the past. Historians asserted that it had originally been founded two thousand years before that, but had pushed back its founding date by at least a thousand years.

The empire's own plans for expansion included the stimulation of politically amenable states in the centuries leading up to it's founding, which would either retrogress the founding, or reduce opposition to initial expansion. Both outcomes would of course be desirable.

Recently, a bold proposal was put forward to create such states several millennia in the past, and even provide them with the means to invent their own time weapon. If successful, this would ensure that the enemy empire, when it comes into existence would find itself already contained on all sides by a pre-existing rival - namely the empire's own proxies.

At the last observation, the proposal was still controversial, but support was growing as the war continued with no victory in sight.


I'm quite a helpful person. I'm also sometimes useful, which isn't quite the same thing.

Yesterday, Simon M called to say his computer had a virus which was making it unusable so could I sort out some security. I went around, thinking of the number of times I've been told a computer had a virus, only to find it had a corrupt registry, loose RAM chips or just a fragmented hard drive.

Judge then of my astonishment when it actually was a virus. A nasty and clever one too - it detected when I installed some cleanup software, and created a fake system emergency which made Windows shut down, forcing the user to either live with endless popups and a slow system, or reinstall the OS from scratch.

It beat me. All I could do was switch to the backup Windows installation I'd installed in a moment of foresight, and inoculate it with all the anti-virus and anti-spyware stuff I had.

After three hours I set off home, ready to catch up on all the sleep that hadn't happened the night before. But instead saw some comrades in a pub and felt morally compelled to join them.

Four hours later, pondering on how three people can individually have no money but can collectively buy each other too much beer, walking home and looking forward to an early night in bed, I got another call.

Roxanne C, who telephoned a few weeks ago to say her graduation film project was due in six hours so could I, erm, tell her how to do editing. Saying her brother Craig's final dissertation was due in fourteen hours and neither of them knew what to write so could I help.

Craig, who is young, slim, tall, dark and handsome, with the most gorgeous brown eyes. As well as irredeemably straight and about as organised as a hurricane in a scrapyard. About to fail a two year HND music course (roughly equal to two thirds of a degree), because although he's a very able multi-instrumentalist, he's not much good at writing about it.

Well, how could I say no? Seeing as I know pretty well why a trumpet sounds the way it does, but couldn't play one to save the world.

His dissertation concerns the integrability of non-western scales and playing techniques with western popular music. According to what he'd written, I was one of the experts he'd consulted. I remember the consultation - it took place while we were drunk in a pub, bellowing over a dreadful local band playing in a corner, about the role of prime numbers in traditional Indian sitar song structures.

It wasn't too difficult. All I had to do was tidy up a few sentences, write an extra thousand words, collate the bibliography and come up with a powerpoint presentation to summarise it all. With both of us drowsy and coming down with colds.

We even got a few hours sleep before the deadline, though not exactly simultaneously. It seems he can't sleep while I'm snoring, and I can't sleep while he's hitting me to make me stop. Apparently I have a very loud snore.

In the morning, we had three times the recommended dose of flu powder for breakfast, and thus invigorated I left to keep a brunch appointment with C, but he texted to cancel. He's got a stinking cold too. Get well soon, C.

So there we are. Another student helped up the academic ladder, another member of Roxanne's family who owes me a curry, and another reason why the world can't afford me to get a job.

Politique des Amis

First I bought a train ticket, then a pack of chewing gum. I fixed the wiring of my headphones with the gum, caught the train with the ticket, and set off to meet H.

One hour of techno mp3s and motion sickness later he met me exactly on time, which is just typical, and fifteen minutes later were were arguing about international politics.

Politically H has drifted somewhat to the right, which I suppose goes with getting a steady job and a mortgage - at age thirty nine after a life of academia and mindbroadening travel. Essentially he accepts the line that America is a non-imperial power acting mainly to prevent Arab imperialism by spreading democracy, its mistakes are due do George Bush being an insufficiently reined-in idiot, being in a war against muslims hasn't increased racism, and there really is a terrorist threat.

It's probably a good thing my disagreement on all these points was interrupted by a phone call from his mum.

I got to meet his friend Abo (I think), who is a computer technician, socialist, fan of artificial languages and speaker of Esperanto. Usually I have to explain such notions as DHCP, Cliffism and Lojban before talking about them - it was oddly disconcerting to chat with someone who knows more than I do about all the subjects people think I'm strange for knowing.

A bit like looking in a mirror - except that he's (a) French African and (b) possibly the gayest acting straight man I've ever met.

There was also Uve, H's German boyfriend. Who, unbelievably, had never heard of Doctor Who. so we spent half an hour trying to explain why a kid's adventure show about a timetravelling telephone box is (a) the longest running TV show in the world (b) a defining trope of British culture and (c) an essential part of being a gay man.

He thought the daleks looked like S&M dildos.

H and me spent most of the day applying multiple coats of green dulux to his bedroom wall. Yesterday I had one pair of jeans that didn't have paint stains - today I don't.

When the others had gone, we had a good long heart-to-heart about what it means to be happy with your life, why I'm not, and what I could do about it.

This is why I missed him - we could always argue about politics, and criticise each other's life choices, without it ever becoming personal. I may not like what he has to say about my situation, and in the end I may or may not agree with it, but I have to take it on board, because it's never meant either as insult of compliment.

I slept on a spare bed, and seeing as I'd contrived to be awake for the past 48 hours, snored like a log.

First thing I did back in Portsmouth - buy new a pair of headphones. In the shop there was a woman in front of me who couldn't see why she wasn't able to pay in US dollars. The argument went on for some minutes before she walked out in baffled disgust.

The staff all agreed that her behavior was just typical of American arrogance. When did this little cultural shift happen? When did shop assistants unselfconsciously criticise customers in front of other customers (namely, me)? And more than that, when did oafishness from ordinary American citizens become unsurprising, even expected?

I've met plenty of Americans - they've all been decent, interesting, intelligent folk, and I can't imagine my experience is unique. So when did this woman's behavior stop being regarded as bizarre and exceptional, and start being just the way those bloody yanks behave all the time?

On Monday evening, a forum on "Refugees and Globalisation". The speaker gave an intriguing central thesis, which I'd not considered in detail before.

We tend to regard forced migration as a byproduct of economic and social failures and crises. When economies collapse, wars flare up over shortages, or scapegoating turns to ethnic cleansing, tens of thousands of people migrate simply to survive.

But what if the production of refugees isn't a result of the system's failures, but an integral part of the way the system works? We're not talking about some global conspiracy to destabilise infrastructures and flood the world with cheap labour as and when it's needed.

No, just as price fixing cartels are sometimes a product of successful competition rather than a failure of competition, just as the police have to become corrupt to do their jobs effectively, modern forced migration is both a result of globalised capitalism, and a sustainer of it.

Some people have "Eureka!" moments when a few seconds of insight show a pattern in apparent chaos. These forums give me "Doh!" moments, where what should have been obvious all along stands out in sharp relief.

Where Did All the Time Go?

I haven't seen H for about two years. How could it be that long? We went out almost every week for nine months, went for cycle rides and walks, saw a load of movies - and one rather painful stageplay. We drank innumerable pub beverages and disagreed about more subjects that I can count.

We also almost fell into being lovers once or twice - saved only by both being bruised from recent affairs, and both being a bit hopeless at the whole relationship thing anyway.

Now I've finally got around to getting back in contact, and with any luck we'll be spending Sunday together. I imagine there'll be a tour of his hometown, an update on his life...and probably some painting of his walls. But whatever, I've missed his company.