Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Nightmare Town / French Letters

Nightmare Town

Leamington Garret.

This is what I wrote last night at 8.37pm by Big Ken: Nightmare Town! Leamington is really doing in my head.

It has been an appalling day. Despite the dry heat and bells ringing out, I feel utterly miserable.

Also, I am dog-tired. I have been for a swim but it has made me no better. Nothing seems certain; all turns to dust.

8.02am Overcast but the sun peeking through. I am feeling infinitely better today, just because yesterday was so bad. Do you ever get that? Where almost anything would seem an improvement.

After watching Italy beat Ghana, at a nearby sports bar, drinking three pints of Stella and drafting out my England poem, I returned to the flat and went to bed.

French Letters (Flashback to Monday, 22 May 2006)

6.59am. Lewes-East Croydon train. Heavy grey clouds above. What I would like is to become a successful poet. Throughout my life I have strived for success but somehow it has always eluded me.

I have watched my mates become national newspaper editors, vice-presidents of major companies, television presenters, star comedians and so on.

I would love to be reading my poems to a packed room of people and to bask in their enjoyment and appreciation. But, then, perhaps I am a dreamer and self-delusionist with little hope of achieving this success.

9.20am. Leafy Lainesford, Home Counties. The bus was waiting at the station. I and a number of grey and/or dreary looking individuals embarked. I sat behind the driver and read my Alan Clark Diaries, occasionally glancing up to take in the passing suburban mansions in their verdant glory.

The training centre, in a corner of whose reception I am currently hiding with a cup of herbal tea and an apple, is a bland building with an officious air about it.

The lady at reception has been on her walkie-talkie demanding a 'little replenishment' (it is spotless and well stocked). On the wall, there is a large sign which reads: 'STATE OF VIGILANCE: BLACK SPECIAL'. What the hell does that mean? There were clearly expecting me!

The man on reception tells me I cannot check into my room until midday and that my course starts in an adjacent building at 10am on the dot – around 34 minutes and 32 seconds away. A guy has walked in who looks totally like the comedian Harry Hill. If only it were Harry – that would jolly along proceedings.

1.37pm. A little plump lady is loudly telephoning her team back at the office. The lunch hour is nearing an end. The course is going OK. The facilitators are the sort of career trainers who speak in strange voices and have a bedside manner – functional but not inspiring.

The other people on the course are a mixture of junior and (just) senior civil servants. Some very pleasant people, particularly a Scottish forestry bloke and a Welsh scientist.

6.20pm. My room, the Lainesford Garret. A friend has called me to ask a favour (immediately granted) and also told me what happened when I blacked out during our last meeting.

God! It was not good. Jauntily, he said he had left his home and his girlfriend and been with 'some woman' over the weekend. He wants to return to India.

Enjoyed the afternoon, although a trial. We had our first group 'task' – just like Big Brother – and, after much group hesitation, I volunteered to lead it. Didn't do too badly. A long and complex task was completed within a very tight deadline, but I was chastised for 'losing' one member of the team, interrupting people, hurrying along, and using my laptop to draft mission, vision and values statements. Mea culpa!

Have been feeling remarkably ill. Partly the early start; partly the stress of leading the session this afternoon; partly what my friend told me. Dinner was jolly. Quite pleasant.

She said she rose at five every morning to get into work at 7.20am and rarely went home before 7.30pm. She usually got back at around nine, in time to prepare for bed. I was amazed by this. Although she said she had a social life, it was clear to me that her life was her work.

But good for her! A Scottish lady with a strong work ethic. She was glad to be rid of David Blunkett who she said had been a shocking swearer. Charles Clarke she had liked. (I like Charles Clarke and feel sorry for the guy). John Prescott she loathed. Who does not dislike John Prescott?

Even when I worked on the Hull Daily Mail in the early 1980s, I built up a healthy hatred of John Prescott for swearing at me – using the F-word – down the telephone.

But as Auberon Waugh used to say, he has no doubt served some historic cocktails in his time as a cruise steward. Listening to these guys makes me realise that Alan Clark was right – civil servants do, on the whole, loathe their politician masters.

I like the two guys from Wales on the course. One of them said over dinner that it was disgraceful that we were in 'student accommodation when the course cost so much'.

The other one claimed he had read a newspaper article revealing that the person who invented the kind of programming we had been taught had been hooked on crack-cocaine and kept making late-night telephone calls threatening to exterminate people. Can this be true? I am prepared to believe anything in this parallel universe.

Most exciting thing that happened today was that one of the gang asked to look at my old brown case. I showed him the inscription inside: 'Camus A, 5 Rue Rampak, Paris'. He told me that Albert Camus was a famous French writer. This might have been his bag.

I must confess I have not read the work of Albert Camus, but, if I have his bag, I must put that right.

In a strange way it augurs well for my writing.

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