REPORT A PROBLEM
It gets harder and harder to know what to write about. Thatís no excuse to stop though. When you embark on a project like this itís not really possible to be writing something gripping every day. The main thing is to keep going. I remember reading how Isaac Asimov would sit at his typewriter for six hours each day. Such discipline is admirable. Itís also instructive. Persistence pays dividends. Iím not always sure why I write; only that I need to. And knowing I have a handful of regular readers is enough to keep me sufficiently motivated to keep persisting.
Watching the decline of the British pound is depressing. With each passing day it gets weaker and weaker against the Australian dollar and every other major currency for that matter. It wouldnít be an issue if we werenít moving back to Australia next year. The catch is our building project is going to be financed by our British funds. One would hope that things will pick up by next year but all the long term forecasts about the prospects for Sterling make for dismal reading. Still, compared to many thereís no doubt we have much more to celebrate than bemoan.
For the last couple of months weíve been preoccupied with choosing who is going to design our new house. Given that weíre building in Melbourne a lot of our time has been spent telephoning, emailing and Skyping our prospective architects and then weighing up all the pros and cons. This week weíve come down to the last two, one a young high flyer who is one of the hot names on the Australian architecture scene and another more experienced one whose work we equally admire and having sent out for references from referees we now have to make a choice.
The final choice has been made. Weíve erred on the side of experience (and price) over the Wow! factor. Financial considerations aside, itís the confidence of the more experienced architect combined with his track record of pushing potentially controversial projects through council thatís clinched it. At the end of the day we have a very clear idea of what we want to build and we donít want to be forced to compromise unless we absolutely have to. Our chosen architect doesnít think weíll have to and he has the advantage of precedent, having had similar buildings passed by council already.
Itís taken me a while to come on board with this project but now I have done Iím feeling genuinely excited. What weíve come up with is a truly exciting building Ė three stories, hidden rear courtyard, three bedrooms with en-suite bathrooms, a ground floor studio and garage, an open plan first floor living area, four balconies front and back and a fourth floor reading room overlooking a rooftop garden. The whole design is very modernist minimalist with solar hot water and water harvesting and one of the highest thermal ratings achievable. After years of living in boxes we wonít know ourselves!
It has to be said: Iím becoming disenchanted with my job. For such a long time my enthusiasm has remained high, due in part to the fact that I have had enough variety to keep me interested and engaged. Working with disaffected and disengaged kids is demanding. It can also be incredibly rewarding. There is a real satisfaction to be had in helping to facilitate positive change in someone who for whatever reason has either lost their way or never even had one, especially kids, but Iím beginning to think itís not the kind of work you can do indefinitely.
With so many Airmiles up my sleeve and a partner who often reminds me how slack I am at organising such things, Iíve decided weíre going to go to Madrid for a few days. Iíve found a nice little hotel next to the San Domingo Metro station. Itís a short stroll from many of the cityís main attractions and a few metro stops from the rest. Weíd initially considered Portugal but upon discovering I was too late to take advantage of the free flights I gaily announced we were off to Madrid.
To date, my slackness hasnít come to light.
As the days get shorter and the long hours of winter darkness beckon Iím determined not to fall prey to the lurking sense of foreboding that can accompany it. This being our last winter in the northern hemisphere for the foreseeable future, Iím determined to enjoy and appreciate each passing month for what it has to offer. The lead up to Christmas is never a major issue and the New Year will hold the promise of our move back to Australia. That leaves room for the appreciation of the winter season and its many poetic moods.
Thatís the theory, anyway.
We had the first Skype meeting with our chosen architect in Melbourne this evening. Heís a likeable enough fellow with a positive, can do attitude. Weíre apparently his first Skype clients. A few of my colleagues have commented on the long distance nature of the project and itís taken me a little while to get my head around it myself. We email him our sketches and ideas and he responds in kind. We follow this up with a Skype meeting and the procedure is repeated until we end up with a successful outcome, while Skype serves to personalize the process.
For a long while Iíve been resistant to the idea of leaving London, a city where I could imagine myself spending the rest of my life but just lately Iím beginning to see the merit in moving on. Thereís no doubt that moving back to Melbourne will throw me back on my wits again. That in turn will be good for me. I often joke to people that Iím one of the laziest people I know. Others canít always see it but itís true. Once in my comfort zone Iím happy to remain there, which isnít always a good thing.
When we moved to London I became a lot less sociable than I had been in Melbourne. Iím not entirely sure why that was. Traditionally Iíve been one to have a multitude of friends. Which isn't to suggest that Iíve become a hermit; rather, Iíve become more comfortable with my own company and that of my partner. So much of my emotional energy is taken up with working with challenging kids that I often donít have a lot of energy left over for others. Itís one of the reasons Iím beginning to think I need to consider a career change.
Iíve got this theory that some people need to create crisis in order to give their lives meaning, almost as though theyíre afraid to acknowledge how ordinary and pedestrian life can be. In a world obsessed with celebrity and the pursuit of some abstract future happiness it can come as a rude shock to discover that life if often dull and uneventful. Inventing crisis allows people to hold such unsavoury notions at bay by allowing them to believe that everything will be wonderful just a soon as the current crisis has passed.
When it isnít, a new crisis is required.
What happens to the people we once were?
Had I died at the age of 25 I would have died a very different person to who I am today. Any memories that may have lingered of my existence would have been biology and time bound as well as irrevocably tied to the social and political era of the mid 80s.
Sometimes the hue of a cast shadow or a lingering musical phrase casts me back to a time and a place long gone; a place where a younger Terry gazed out at the future and wondered what it might reveal.
The new members of my team at work are having a tough time of things. I took one of them out for a couple of drinks after work today to see what we could do to make things easier. In doing so I may just have convinced him not to quit.
Itís not easy working with kids who are hell bent on making life as difficult for you as they can. Itís not necessarily with malicious intent. They just donít know any better and it takes time to establish oneself in such a setting.
I hope they hang in there.
There are days when you need to have the patience of a saint to do this job and there are days when I feel decidedly less than saintly. The thing is these kids really get to you! There are days youíre left almost speechless over some minor breakthrough that leaves your humanity confirmed in ways unimaginable in many other professions and then there are days when you end up wringing your hands in despair over the sheer level of opposition and defiance they are capable of dishing out.
Itís hard to keep the faith sometimes, but keep it I do.
Iím not being particularly creative these days. I have an unfinished painting sitting in the spare room and the novel I embarked upon with my sister, though complete, has amounted to little more than an enjoyable collaborative exercise in creative writing. I guess thatís why I keep plugging away here. The temptation to quit has become a monthly ritual but somehow I manage to find the wherewithal to keep on going. I fear that if I was to miss a month then that would be that and Iíd probably not pick it up again.
And that would be a shame.
I canít imagine getting by without the refuge of the weekend. By the time Friday rolls around I feel totally knackered and all I want to do is chill out in front of the computer or relax in front of the TV with a glass of wine and a good meal. Gone are the days when the idea of heading out to the pub was an enticing one.
I used to look at people like me now and quietly vow to myself Iíd never end up like them. Itís funny how oneís outlook on life changes and mellows over time.
If I was single Iíd probably make more of an effort to get out and about. Iím a social creature at heart and the idea of spending so much time at home on my own would not be a savoury one. Thatís the thing about being in a relationship: you always have that other person in your life and if youíre lucky like me you tend to prefer their company over the company of others. Conversely, thereís always a risk of becoming insular. All I know is, as the years roll by Iím increasingly satisfied with the way things are.
When we first embarked on this project I was having difficulty imagining how we would be able to work long distance with an architect on something as complicated and demanding as a new build. Iím pleasantly surprised to discover how straight forward itís proving to be. Between email and Skype weíre managing to keep the project moving along at a cracking pace and Iím feeling more and more confident about our choice of architect. Heís taken our ideas and managed to transform them into something really exciting and any misgivings I may have had about the project are fast disappearing.
The level of absenteeism at work is really starting to do my head in. Each morning I dread the incoming text messages as I emerge from the Underground at North Greenwich Station. Apart from my two teaching assistants everyone else on the team works part-time. Not that thereís anything wrong with that but when you have six staff as opposed to three there is a greater propensity for absenteeism. Employing supply staff is out of the question given the kind of kids we teach so guess who has to pick up the slack.
Sometimes the pub job looks really attractive.
For all my passion and dedication, if someone was to offer me a different job that offered the same pay Iíd probably take it. It wouldnít really matter what it was. I can generally turn my hand to anything. The problem is: whoís going to hire someone on the wrong side of 50, let alone pay them the handsome income I currently receive? Mind you Iím going to have to face that one soon enough. By this time next year Iíll be living back in Melbourne and what Iíll be doing work-wise only time will tell.
Hope itís something good.
I can almost smell Madrid. Iíve spent the last couple of weeks finding out about how to navigate the metro, which galleries and museums to go to, which parks and historical landmarks are worth a visit and what the general feel of the city is like. As the weather here in London starts leaning towards the autumnal the idea of a few days of dry heat is an alluring one while the idea of tapas and good cheap wine has me rubbing my hands in anticipation.
Ah yes, after a challenging first term back at work Iím ready for Madrid.
For the first time I can begin to imagine the pair of us living in a space which we ourselves have created. As our ideas and concepts become more defined and fleshed out, what starts to emerge is the blueprint for a building that could not exist without us because what began as an idea for somewhere to live is being metamorphosed into something remarkable: a building that will almost certainly outlive us and become a recognized landmark in the area. Iím beginning to appreciate the importance of having a good architect and the time required to get things right.
Iím being given the silent treatment. Apparently Iíve committed some terrible misdemeanour although what, Iíve not been informed. All I know is Iím being punished for something. When I attempt to find out . . . well, thatís what the silent treatment is all about.
Iíve known a lot of Passive Aggressives over the years. Itís a technique Iíve never really been able to master. I find it way too tedious and emotionally manipulative. Itís all about punishment for punishmentís sake; a primitive way of trying to instill regret and claw back power.
Ah well, might as well enjoy the peace and quiet.
Allís well that ends well. Itís not always easy to live up to the expectations of others. Hell, I find it hard enough to live up to my own expectations! None of us are perfect, although apparently some are more perfect than others.
Still, letís not dwell on that. The fact is weíre sorted. Weíre ready to move forward again.
Relationships can be tricky at the best of times Ė challenging but in our case never boring. At the end of the day our commitment remains if not unchallenged then certainly not diminished. We invariably emerge stronger.
And you canít knock that.
Thereís something reinvigorating about landing in another country. Disembarking the plane at Madrid Airport today the warm, dry air filled our lungs and brought a spontaneous smile to both our faces. While weíve been to Barcelona this is the first time weíve been to Spain proper. Given my partnerís Filipino heritage and the fact that my mother is as fluent in Spanish as she is in English, having spent so much of her youth just a few houses down from Franco, itís perhaps surprising that itís taken us so long to come here. But here we are, refreshed and reinvigorated.
I regret having not learned another language. Growing up in Australia it never seemed important. How misguided I was! That said, I find the challenge of navigating a foreign city an enjoyable one. Itís so easy to take language for granted. Itís only when one is forced out of oneís comfort zone that the miracle of communication becomes apparent. Yet even without the use of language there are a myriad of ways to make oneself understood while the process of doing so can illicit a sense of humbleness in the face of the effort of those whose assistance is sought.
Thereís something inherently sensible about having a siesta in the middle of the day. While on the one hand it may seem at odds with the notion of getting work over and done with to be free to enjoy the rest of the day, I canít help thinking thereís a lot to be said for being a little less dichotomised about the work-life divide. In some respects a siesta makes the day seem longer, not to mention less stressful, while the focus on sustenance and rest as a central focus of the working day is certainly a civilised one.
We should do this more often; take ourselves away from the everyday distractions that so preoccupy us and diminish our appreciation of the simple pleasure of each otherís company. Itís all too easy to lose sight of what brought us together in the first place. Away from the humdrum routines and demands of our daily lives we get to check out this amazing city with its noisy streets, its cultural riches, its gracious squares, its many gardens and its gourmet delights and more importantly, we get to chill out and relax together in a way we rarely do back home.
I snapped without thinking and now I find myself reeling from the impact of what I said. Itís forced me to confront the fact that Iím capable of such insensitivity. Had I been in your position Iíd have been mortified.
I pride myself on being nurturing and supportive. I like to think Iím above being spiteful and cruel. It would appear not.
If thereís anything positive to emerge from what happened itís that I have to admit that I do get things wrong; that Iím not always right; that I donít always occupy the higher moral ground.
Hah! Reality check.
Itís been a while since weíve connected as well as we have done. I like that. With nearly sixteen years to our credit and a whole new chapter opening up before us itís good to know we can still go to that place where itís just you and me.
There are times when I question where weíre at, or more precisely, where Iím at. The fact of the matter is you never waver. Nor do I at a fundamental level but I do find myself wrestling sometimes with uncomfortable questions.
At the end of the day however, all is well.
The Tip Jar