working frustration

Suffering a hideous lethargy and desire to simply give up and go home to bed. Triggered by too much to do and too many people to convince that the ‘to do’ list is filled with the correct ‘to dos’.

Spent most of the day arguing my corner and then the rest of the day realising that my efforts had been lost on the people I’d argued with. None of whom appeared to have listened to a word I’d said and resorted to the same old patterns they are familiar with – so that by the day’s end I felt I’d walked two paces only to go back three…
Of course it may be the case that my powers of persuasion; my ability to hone a well-reasoned argument; to marshall my intellectual resources – all have deserted me. I admit to a certain lack of conviction in some of that which I have to present. Maybe the others can scent this ambivalence? Like hounds scenting blood?
The meeting organised for tomorrow will be difficult. A conviction that honesty, integrity, ‘right’ will out – is starting to feel hollow. 
I do feel that I walk a tightrope though. Work colleague A’s confession that she found me ‘intimidating’ (said when she obviously realised I wasn’t either too clever or an intellectual threat!) hasn’t eased that feeling. Now I feel I have to present – but not too passionately; to convince but not to obviously – else I risk ‘intimidating’ the others…
Democratic structures can be so frustrating! Consultation can be soul-destroying! It’s on day’s like this when I can see the attraction of workplace dictatorship!

Sat in the cafe this morning, watching the faithful called to worship in their provincial insular best. Glad-handing on the steps of the church. Begloved, besuited, booted and hatted. Almost uniformly middle-aged. Only a smattering of the very young. Scrub-faced and eager, toddling and laughing and tugging at grannies’ hands.

The odd one or two came for take-away lattes and black teas. Trailing that particular powdery smell of the prim and pious. Stout heeled sensible shoes adorning sturdy feet. Paisley scarves and woollen coats protecting against the snell High Street wind. Hairstyles set and nodding to the 1950s. And not succumbing to that wind.
The talk was of old Eddie: ‘My, he got a quick one, didn’t he?’ ‘Funeral’s on Tuesday’ ‘Should be a fine turn out for that’ ‘That’ll be a guid hoose for somebody’…
A couple of farmers followed behind them. Faint reek of the byre clinging to them. All dungareed and thick-knit cable-sweatered and mud-encrusted steel toe-capped boots. Bacon rolls were ordered and sheep dip discussed. The young one was ruddy cheeked and red-nosed and already tending towards the meaty muscularity of his father. Horizons defined by the sheep and the cattle and the timing of markets and the price of red diesel and government subsidy.
Then came the boy-racers in their borrowed mazda soft-top. T-shirted and jewellery be-decked they ordered paninis and irn-bru and boasted of the drink consumed the night before and exploits with the lassie who’d gone back to the flat.
Mad ginger came in and ordered his customary coffee and toastie and got lost in a rambling jungle of words and E lost patience trying to decipher the mess and cut him short to go into the backshop.
My own coffee cooled and reluctantly I made for home with the shopping.

Saturdays

Saturday! My life-raft day. 

The kids have plans – which don’t involve me (thankfully). 
Baby A has settled after her shower-hysteria. That girl does not like cleanliness. I gave up on gentle cajouling and platitudes many moons ago. It’s a in, scrub, out, affair. Probably brutal – but it minimises the caterwauling – never welcome anytime but especially not on life-raft day.
J has spent the morning wheezing and coughing. Had to resort to the old spacer arrangement with his inhaler because that new ‘snail’ inhaler just doesn’t hit the spot. He takes it like some patient but much- beleaguered old man – all he needs is the cap and slippers (no pipe for an asthmatic); the lumbago and the plate of tripe. He has even taken to reading the sports pages and the betting tips. Gave T a dead cert last Saturday apparently – and it came in at 8/1. 
E has gone for the village hall key. He has fretted about badminton all week and was mightily unchuffed that he was forced to wait til a decent hour this morning before chapping Mrs McG (terrifying keeper of the key) up out of her bed.
L is working. His dreams of Rockness are almost realised. He should have the readies for the ticket by the end of tomorrow’s shift.
He and I had a peculiar end to the night last night, with him telephoning from mid-road home at 11pm to ask me what he should do, there was a drunk woman with a buggy and a toddler weaving off and on the pavement in front of him. He had apparently asked if she needed any help and she’d given him a mouthful of garbled abuse. I could hear the blood dripping from his soft heart. His distress crystallised by a repeated ‘that poor baby; that poor wee boy, Mum’.
I jumped in the car and went up to get him and to assess the situation.
She was staggering towards the Terrace – I didn’t recognise her at all and hadn’t a clue what her address would be. Now that I was there and given my day job I simply could not drive away. So, I phoned the local police station… She was intoxicated and in no fit state to provide care for children. Schedule One offence. L thought he knew the woman’s name – so I gave garbled and vague details to the operator who then told me that there was a car in the area.
I waited in the stationary car. Watching as she disappeared into the gloom of the Terrace. Less than 5 minutes after I called, the police car arrived. I flagged them down and explained. But it was too late. There was no trace of her – and short of the police chapping on every door, she would remain unknown.
I’ll look for her. Over the coming days and weeks I’ll look. And I know that L will too.
It may have been a one-off. She may be a completely wonderful mum the other 364 days of the year.
When we got home we sat and talked about the realities facing other children. L’s no innocent. A fully comprehensive state-provided education and a working-class family working (or claiming benefits) in the state sector saw to that. But there is a gulf between theory and reality. He can know the possibility of x – but the reality of x is something quite different. Following from last week’s ‘collapsed man in the street’ incident, he seems to be learning fast.
Parental desire to protect and to shield is intense in situations like that. But perhaps there is a more powerful comfort to be derived. L’s response was one of active compassion. He offered help on the last two occasions. He did not pass by, averting his eyes. 
I have (maybe self-indulgently and selfishly) worried long and loud about my parenting capacity over the last two weeks (M’s going’s-ons have triggered a wave of self-doubt and recriminations). Maybe comfort can be found in L’s responses?
And now E is back with the hall key… oh, who knows what’s ahead for the other three?

First Day

The password and logon hadn’t been organised and the laptop was sitting, still boxed, on my ‘new’ desk. The blackberry was in need of charging – and had my predecessor’s grubby prints all over it. Tucked into the corner opposite me, a handsome shiny-pated bearded man, wearing a scottish socialist party t-shirt was seated in front of a huge Chavez poster and was hugging a mug emblazoned with Spanish Civil War slogans. 

He welcomed me to the madhouse.
I opened my mouth to speak but Bossman appeared – sweaty and heavy-breathing from the stair journey – and whisked me off to his dirty cluttered office to ‘induct’ me. Pictures of him, glad-handing prominent politicians smiled from the walls. I glazed over once or twice – but to no avail. He droned on and on and on. About him. Largely. Him and the party. Him and the job. 
He was very light on the precise nature of the job I’d been engaged to do. A bit of organising. A bit of representation. I’d feel my way into what was required. Meet the Branch. Maybe get some employment tribunals thrown into the mix. Members were arseholes – I’d find that out soon enough. And I had to watch myself on that floor because there were some dangerous folk out there.
Lovely.
Back at my desk I smiled at handsome. He smiled back. A little diamond earring twinkled in the light from the open window. I commented on the poster and we chatted about the mug. I admired the earring. He asked where I’d come from and I explained. And he told me about his pathway into ‘the union’.
Turns out he worked with my brother. 
Conversation withered with the arrival of a tall striking woman. With her back to handsome she presented me with her smiling happy-mouth and chilly eyes. She was so happy to meet me. It would be fab having another woman in the team. What was my background? Oh yes, she’d heard. Funny me getting the job when I hadn’t done any organising. But never mind she was sure I would be able to get the hang of representation…
She hadn’t finished speaking and I was feeling wrong-footed. Belittled. And I couldn’t understand why. 
…if I needed to know anything I’d just to ask her. She’d been here six years. She knew her way about. Just loved the Branch and they loved her. Always had a good laugh when she went to see them. But then, her background was community activism. And she shared so much background experience with the lay activists…
Feeling offended, I broke through the burble of noise and asked where I could get a coffee.
Handsome grinned a big wide grin and pointedly threw her a look whilst saying he’d show me where the canteen was.
We left the room without looking back.

Sometimes my mother…

All it takes is a slight rise to her eyebrow or an intentional silence when all around are full of praise. 
She is my hairshirt and my best support. My walking, talking conscience. My critical inner (and oh! so outer!) voice.
She does a fine line in what she euphemistically describes ‘constructive criticism’ – really a justification for unbridled ripping apart of your subject… and yet, when I need it most she comes up trumps. Loves me despite the haircut she doesn’t like (patently, silently, with only a ‘well, there’s only two weeks between a bad cut and a good cut‘ type of comment); despite the fact that I had ‘too many‘ children (only the second of which she truly would have sent back when he was a toddler); despite the fact that two undergraduate degrees and a post-grad have bought me nothing but clever public service penury; despite the fact that I never wear colour (but you look so much younger in green); that I shaved my head when I was a punk teenager (ohmigod get away from me – you’re not my daughter); that I defy and challenge.  
I am told by my 18yr old that I do my own version of this to her. But I really don’t believe that at all.
Anyway, three weeks ago mother was called up for jury duty – and the trial began yesterday. She donned her finery and travelled into the High Court to become one of the randomly chosen fifteen. 
She’s taking the duty not to discuss the case very seriously – well, more seriously than I thought she possibly could. So, rather than simply splurge the details all in one go – she drip feeds us tantalising little snippets… ‘two deaths’ ‘under the influence of drugs whilst driving a car’ ‘looked spaced out and fell asleep in court’… Wonderful. 
The defence lawyer is a man I know of (friend of a friend – Scotland’s small). Pity the poor prosecutor whom my mother describes as ‘a bit drippy and useless’ or ‘not very good’ and as an aside ‘I hope you’re better than that’ (no pressure then Mum). Yet she is absolutely absorbed in it. Years of watching Rumpole and Crown Court have prepared her for this moment. 
And though she has a complete intolerance of all things illegal-drug related (part of the indictment apparently), she is taking this necessity of objectivity and ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ very seriously indeed.
With a little bit of luck this accused will avoid the automatic and adverse judgement that us mothers are obviously so prone to…

Small things

Love resides in the small things, the little details. In the bend of an elbow. The surprise vulnerability of a delicate wrist. In the curiously unique pigmentation of iris. In the musicality of word and voice. It resides in the quirks of square palms and bitten nails. It is a hidden in the folds of a shirt or velvety softness of a neck. And in an accidental upturned collar.

Love delights in the gradual revelation of the beloved. It seduces with sudden illumination: the previously familiar and known suddenly become a vehicle of piercing beauty; reminding of how much there is yet to uncover and of how much there is to be grateful for. The years of knowing and discovering become nothing; the future beckoning with promise of that which is yet to be revealed.

Just when I think ‘I know’, I realise that I don’t. That love is indefinable. No pinned butterfly in the collector’s case. Offering no explanations, giving no surety of return, promising nothing.

Rather it revels in unknowingness and demands unconditional surrender. It is the mystery in all of us. Rightfully evading our measure and yet having the full measure of us.

P came with apple pierogi.

P was confused. He’d announced to work colleagues at the call centre that he was now entitled to vote in ‘their’ elections – and they had greeted him with blank stares. The more engaged shrugged. Someone laughed ‘so what?’

P was deflated. He saw that right – won after two years of employed residency – as significant. He’d started to think about who he’d vote for, given the chance. He saw the system as infinitely superior to the Polish one he had left at home.
He revealed the story with a searching look – he wanted me to make him feel better… 
Thing is, for me, thoughts of Poland have always been bound up with Solidarnosc, Lech Walesa, trade union repression and leftist anti-communism. P reminded me that that was all history. My memories were from the 1980s and he laughed that he was insulted by my ‘knowledge’ of Poland.
He asked – with an apology – who I’d vote for in the next elections. Conservatives? Scottish National Party? Labour? Lib Dems? Greens? 
I groaned. Grimaced. Hated being put on the spot – when I’d been wondering just the same thing for at least the last 10 years…
Thing is – I cannot bring myself to vote for the Conservatives (or the Conservative and Unionist Party as they are referred to in most parts of Central West sectarian Scotland). 
Growing up in a semi-skilled household in an old mining/steel community; being a pre-Thatcher child; living through the devastation wrecked by the deliberate mass unemployment of the Thatcher years (and it’s still affecting us); having a father who greeted Thatcher’s ‘St Francis of Assisi’ speech with profanities and a thrown shoe – it’s all a bit of a barrier to voting for what I still think of as ‘that woman’s’ party…
P wanted to know what I thought of the SNP.
I was finding the conversation increasingly uncomfortable. 
In my council housing scheme, the SNP were lovingly referred to as the Scottish Nose-Pickers. Funny how a childish name like that can colour one’s political views… Anyway, can’t vote for them either. Ideological opposition aside – their representatives are singularly annoying. In fact, that’s too tame. I cringe when Nicola and Alex et al appear on telly…
Greens? Nope. Support their aims – but think they are more of a pressure group. (and with that I have insulted many friends and acquaintances).
Lib Dems. Like the Proportional Representation. But they are sooooo wet! So middle-class and moderate. (ditto last para).
Labour? 
Ah. Therein lies the rub. Having been a Labour activist up until 1998 I find the umbilical pull of the party emotionally over-whelming… holding that pencil over the ballot paper I find the Labour candidate’s box draws like a magnet. It is like a dirty, guilty secret. Admitting I still vote Labour (can’t bring myself to say New Labour…). I place the cross and walk away despising myself and my personal history and the exisiting system which means I feel I have no real choice. It would have to be a strongly reasoned argument which overcame the pull of emotion and tradition.
It appalls some that I can still place my vote for them despite Iraq and the Kelly affair and… 
But P? He says it’s the SNP for him (he really didn’t understand the nose-pickers thingy at all). And he explained how Poland and Scotland are spritual twins. Both subjugated by dominant neighbours (he referred to Germany and England). In Poland he was a nationalist. So, in Scotland he would be too.
I am not entirely sure that I understand his ‘nationalism’. And he left me in no doubt that he wasn’t very impressed with my lack.
But we agreed that the apple pierogi were delicious.