Happy Birthday, Sis!

Today is my big sis's birthday. In my recollection, I have never bought her a joint Christmas and birthday present: her birthday is to be celebrated, Christmas is just an "occasion". This seems only right to me.

This year, I fell victim to the vagaries of the Royal Mail: her pressie wasn't delivered to me - and therefore hasn't been sent to her yet, either. Being gallant, she hasn't made a big deal of this and claims that it will mean she can "defer gratification" until later. This is most typical of my sister: she really isn't comfortable tugging at anyone else's guilt strings.

I did manage to send her a card, though. In it I wrote, "You are my inspiration." I mean it, but maybe I should explain what I mean...

When I was a small child, my sister was often given the responsibility of looking after me. Not just the way that older siblings are asked to "look after" younger brothers and sisters, but real responsibility for giving care. I can't remember a single occasion when she complained. No doubt there were times she felt aggrieved, but she didn't express it to me: it wasn't my fault, after all. Not only did I grow up secure in the knowledge that my sister loved and cared about me, but also I learnt not to "pass the blame down" to those who aren't responsible for their situation and to take responsibility for those who are helpless. Not in a saccharine or condescending way, but in a way that is practical, pragmatic and principled.

As she got older, she got more politically aware. She would sent me letters and postcards from college, some just chatter about things she had seen and done, some with leaflets and explanations of issues she was involved in. From this political awakening, it inspired me to join the Anti-Apartheid Movement and CND when I was of an age to have my own opinions and had the passion to want to change things that were unjust. I still have that passion. So does she.

I am enormously proud of the desire my sister has for wanting to change and improve people's lives. Her grassroots work with the Labour Party has definitely changed the lives of the individuals who have met her: she is fearsome when she speaks on behalf of others (and exasperatingly modest about it) and is principled and informed when she does. Her teaching has also affected the lives of many: children, parents and other professionals all have benefited from her passion for education to transform lives, enabling and empowering individuals to fulfil their potential. If I were half the teacher she is, I would be more than satisfied.

More recently, my sister has been a huge emotional support for me. She hasn't just listened and given blind sympathy or meaningless platitudes, she has given me constructive criticism (much needed), a warm and welcome place to seek refuge, practical and rational advice - and however panicked or concerned she has been about my welfare, she has remained calm and level-headed, whatever the crisis. I try to do the same, to be non-judgemental, practical and supportive. I might not always succeed, but I strive.

Don't get me wrong, she hasn't been a saint, she has a "past" and indeed a life, but she has always been there for me, regardless of distance, and she is always there for others, impassioned, informed and empowering.

Happy birthday, sis - I love you and I am proud of you.

And in other news...

OK, another interview, another rejection letter. This time it was a really positive one. Still not a job, though... Ho hum. There's always the new year job splurge, I suppose. I'm no numpty - I'm an employee worth having, I just need a break. And some cash.

Oh yes - and I haven't been paid for the work I did last month, neither has my benefit claim been processed (and won't be until I get a payslip: see the catch 22 there?) so Christmas is going to be frugal. So much so, I've sent my sister an IOU for Christmas. Ho and again hum.

All the same, I'm feeling optimistic, chipper even. I'm looking forward to the new year - all the new experiences, challenges, pains and pleasures to come. Every day is different. Every year is different. New people, new places, new life. From today onwards, the days get longer again, the sun slowly returns. Even if Winter's bleakness is yet to show its full force, Spring really is edging closer and closer.

I don't feel "Christmassy" - and there's no pressure to be so, I suppose. But if you are - or even if you don't - I wish you peace, happiness and comfort in the everyday things that make you smile or think.

(I'm not sure how much I'll be blogging over Christmas- but whatever you are doing, wherever you are and whoever you are with, remember it is just a day, and every day is precious... Although if that makes you feel nauseous- remember every day is there to fuck you over and you have to keep your eyes peeled and your nerves razor sharp - Christmas is no different. Better?)

What Cameron Diaz will be getting for Christmas....


I'll get the good bit over first: going to Wales was a good break away; Theo remains lovely *sigh*; my flat is reasonably warm and cosy; I might bake some scones later and will definitely make a chilli for dinner.

Now for the griping...

  • I didn't get the job. My presentation was OK, I interviewed well, I just didn't get the job.

  • I have what could well be the beginnings of a cold (possible cause: getting drenched on Talacre beach in the pissing rain, chucking a fetch-toy for four boisterous collies - fun! - and not really getting warm for a few hours... then meeting "locals" of various types in the spit and sawdust pub where our party got soundly whupped at pool by Manc-lads who may or may not have been diseased - it was hard to tell, their speaking voices were so nasal...)

  • My mobile phone is on the fritz: it works ok for calls, texts etc - but I can't connect to my PC to upload images. I've fiddled with the drivers, re-installed the damn thing from scratch, but it is buggered. Thus no pics of aforementioned collies frisking in the surf.

  • The pressie I ordered from t'internet for my sister's birthday hasn't arrived. I ordered it on the 5th... I now need to report it missing officially in order that it can get re-despatched. It won't arrive in time for my sis's birthday...

  • I'm sick to the tits of all this Christmas family togetherness nonsense. I have my sister and bro-in-law and that's it. I can't afford to fly down to see them - and to be honest I wouldn't fancy Christmas at my sister's in-laws' place: it sounds like organised chaos - and I'm not exactly festive anyway... But if I see another smug, tinsel-tinged, glittery, schmaltzy "how to have a brilliant Christmas and feast on flesh of rare beasts/spend a gazillion on tat/be smugger than Colin and Justin" I might just immolate myself with the nearest lit Yule log... (Theo and I are having an anti-Christmas, incidentally - we might make a concession to the festive feasting and have a mince pie, but that's the extent of it...)

  • Oh, and I'm missing being around Theo. I know she has to go to work (poor wee soul) and that seeing me every day would probably get on her nerves, but I'm missing her all the same...


Hwyl fawr am y tro!

Theo and I are off for a brief break on the cheap (extremely- I'm broke. Christmas is cancelled until my tiny pay cheque arrives!) staying with one of her friends.

A visit to "Rockworld" has been mentioned - as a confirmed folky, this is of course a terrifying prospect... But then again, it could be worse: it could be a jazz club!

I'm looking forward to the time away - mainly to spend more time with Theo, but also in order that I can look forward to returning to Edinburgh. A bit like at Festival time, Edinburgh gets drainingly busy when it puts on its gladrags, and if you are immersed in it it too often becomes somewhat overwhelming. Coming back with a new perspective having cleared out the gaudy festive fug is just what's needed!

Er, the image above has nothing to do with the trip, by the way - I just like Banksy's stuff!

Incidentally, I have prepared a presentation for my interview - part of it based on this BBC News article, like, yeah, but no, but.... whatever! *fiddles with mobile phone* It's an improvement on 10 minutes of silence, anyway.

Presentation Tense...

Oh bugger.

I've got an interview for a job I actually want.
Part of the interview requires a presentation of ten minutes on a subject about which I know.
For some reason I am four slides in and my mind has gone blank. Ironically, the presentation is about "communication".

. ..."

Yes. Quite.

Once, a long time ago in the mists of time long before PowerPoint became de rigeur, I had to assess students oral presentations for English GCSE. Being a trained drama teacher, my colleagues were most happy to "volunteer" me to assess the entire Year 11. Ah happy days... Over 100 students related to me their tales of "An even that changed my life", "Why Sega is Best", "My Sporting Hero" etc...

One presentation stood out from the rest. A red faced, feisty, fists-clenched girl - who most of the time looked like a belligerent ham in a frock- stood up and stomped her way to the front of the classroom. In front of her fellow students she bellowed, " My presentation is about silence and how it is very important. So you can get the best idea of how important silence is I will now remain silent for three minutes."

And she did.

She stared at the class who giggled nervously in front of her. After a while, the giggling stopped. The silence was thicker than fog and more opaque. She didn't so much as twitch or flicker an eye. She remained impassive. Her face nearly purpled with the effort, but she didn't say a word. Three minutes exactly passed before she cleared her throat and said a final, "Thank you." She strode back to her seat leaving a palpable ripple in the still silent classroom.

I would love to say that I passed her - but I didn't. Although she communicated perfectly well her contempt for the task, she didn't fulfil the rigid criteria set down by the exam board. If I could have passed her, I would though. She was by far the most effective communicator of the entire fortnight.

Somehow I don't think her tactic will work with the interview panel either.
But it certainly is tempting.

JobCentre Pus

I knew it would be bad - I just wasn't prepared for how bad.

Don't get me wrong - the "customer service advisers" were politeness itself, even though I'd arrived 10 minutes late due to a school party of infants stampeding onto my bus and the teacher in charge not letting the bus go until he had done a thorough head count. Twice. Even the bouncers on the door (yes, they now have "door supervisors" at the dole office) were polite. Politeness is scoring highly at the new improved JobCentrePlus.

No, the thing that made it bad was that the customer service centre in Dundee had allocated me to the wrong JobCentre. I sat around while a gaggle of advisers debated what to do for something nearing an hour before I was seen by yet another advisor (who looked a little like Shrek's less good-looking sister) who regretted to inform me that they couldn't process my claim in the city centre due to their being too busy. I would have to have another appointment made for me at the JobCentre in Leith. They wouldn't be able to see me today, obviously. I will now have to make a journey to my new JobCentre on Monday. Oh good.

It could have been worse - it could have been on one of the days I will be away - but it could be better too. It's now unlikely that I will receive any money at all until after Christmas - seems they also need my current payslip, which I won't receive until December 20th- and they cannot process the claim until I have handed it over. I'm hoping I get a job before then. Really hoping. You have no idea how much hoping I am doing.

Failing that, on Monday I shall take a book to read while waiting in the endless queue-and will be prepared to be sent to the JobCentre somewhere on Jupiter. Or Linlithgow, whichever is less pleasant, certainly.

Doctors and nurses, dole queues and curses

I hate going to see the doctor. I hate it so much I have postponed changing medical practice for as long as possible, however seeing as I need a new prescription for "happy pills" I thought it was about time I traipsed down to the local surgery to register.

As expected, I needed to see the Practice Nurse for a new patient review. Unexpectedly, it wasn't entirely a horrific experience. Apart from the insecurity felt from having to walk down the street with a vial of urine in my pocket, I wasn't made to feel overly anxious by the experience.

The nurse was warmly professional and listened, weighed, tested and tapped with an appropriate degree of professional interest. She neither quaked nor quailed when I told her I was, indeed, a lesbian (unlike a previous nurse who, when I was asked about my sexual history, raised her eyebrows so high that it looked as though she had visited Joan Rivers' plastic surgeon... ) She complimented me on my weight loss over the past couple of years. She even shrugged off my recent smoking lapses, pointing out I had quit before, I knew how to quit and I could access help to quit whenever I wanted it.

On leaving the surgery I made an appointment to see the doctor - an appointment was available for Monday morning: not in a fortnight's time, but this coming Monday! I'm hopeful that this medical practice will finally be one in which I feel comfortable to be a patient.

Tomorrow however I visit JobCentrePlus (now with added... "Plus!") I've signed-on before - it wasn't fun- so I pretty much know what to expect. Of course there are subtle differences from when I last wrote my name fortnightly for money: now, before attending a "Job Start Review" [incidentally, how can you review something before you've even attended? Just curious...] you have to be interviewed over the phone in order to prepare the greater part of your JobSeeker's Agreement. The phone call lasted 45 minutes.

I was called by a friendly, soothing-voiced Dundonian, based in a call-centre somewhere near the Tay (apparently). She asked the usual plethora of questions - she even ad-libbed a few quips and varied the tone of her voice in order to make the incessant, daft questions seem both more ridiculous and less dull- and the entire process wasn't entirely vile. I hate signing-on with a passion. I recognise it is a social safety-net and I am in economic freefall, but I still resent having to do it. I feel as though I am being judged as a failure in some way, that I should have a "successful" career, be using my qualifications to full effect and not languishing at the expense of the state. Of course, I've paid a fair bit of tax and a whack of National Insurance, so I suppose I'm just dipping into a bank that I've already paid into -but I still feel like shit.

Tomorrow no doubt I shall have to go over the questions again, do a pointless job search (not many colleges recruit through the JobCentre - with or without the "Plus" - neither do schools... nor many not-for-profit organisations... My career choices must be so very left-of centre. Err...) and get that familiar sinking feeling that I am doing something somewhat disappointing.

On the plus side, I might head back to the German Market and treat myself to a pricy German Sausage and Gluhwein lunch. Alternatively, I might just limp back home, scour the jobs pages and treat myself to something ridiculously tasty, artisan baked and yet reasonably priced from The Manna House...

Bowled Over....

Today was a bit shit. Last session with students. I made them scones. Say no more...

The weekend was pretty fab though! As well as going to the pictures (Stranger Than Fiction - recommended) and an evening stroll around the atmospheric German Market on Princes Street,Theo arranged for me to do something I'd never done before: we went bowling.

It might seem odd to some that I have never been bowling. Certainly, I have been to a bowling alley: in Coventry I once supervised a Year Seven outing *shudders at the memory* but due to being very professional (and afraid of being humiliated by a mess of 11 year olds) I refrained from bowling itself. There's even a family history of bowling - my mother was apparently an OK bowler - my sister's dad even had his own personalised bowling ball (there's something vaguely worrying about that, but I can't quite put my finger on it...) but I had never succumbed.

I was, I will admit, quietly excited by going bowling. Part of me felt as though a part of my childhood, or adolescence at the very least, was missing having never been bowling. The hideous cacophony of the bowling alley is strangely atmospheric: loud music, the rumble and clatter of the balls as they hurtle down the alley and crash into the pins, the chatter and buzz of meaningless conversations, the clink of glasses. It might seem commonplace, but it is nonetheless exciting. What made it even more exciting was being taken there as a date!

Luckily, Theo and I aren't competitive with each other - lucky for me certainly, as my bowling was as woeful as one would expect from a first time bowler - which made things even more fun. She tried to assist me with my bowling technique and I contented myself watching the way she shimmied as she let loose her cannoning shots. We also played air hockey and pool - and Theo even won things from the grabby thing (you know, the ones that stroke the toy you want before returning mechanically to their corner to mock one's ridiculous hope). I may have been a little mischievous in snatching the odd kiss here and there - and in front of heterosexuals, too *tut* - but it all added to the "replaying by re-gaying adolescence" experience. Sometimes its good to feel like a teenager!

As a consequence of our bowling trip, we did wonder if perhaps, just perhaps, we should organise a dykey bowling trip - something that might enhance the woeful lesbian scene in Edinburgh (where the choice would appear to be either the usual drinking and dancing, or bookgroups and football/basketball/cricket for a less sceney activity- all of which which are fine, if somewhat lacking in good old-fashioned fun...) - and give us a "grown-up" excuse to go bowling again, of course.


OMG. It is December.

How the fuck did that happen?