Autumn Almanac

In which The Author is decidedly seasonally affected

(Written Pickled Pepper, Aberdare, 22 October, 1.00-2.30pm)

It’s been a bad week, as Steve Punt and Hugh Dennis would say. In fact, it’s been a fucking diabolical week, all in all – and it’s still only Thursday lunchtime. On Monday, I was seriously tempted to take the day back to the manufacturer and ask for an exchange. Now, I think I want a whole new week instead, as this one just doesn’t come up to snuff.
On Monday, I’d mislaid my lecture timetable, and I couldn’t log into the online timetable (again) to check the start time of the Creative Writing workshop. In the back of my mind, I was convinced that it started at 2pm, so I caught the early train to make sure I was in Treforest in good time. While I was on the way through the campus, I rang Waterstones to see whether my copy of the set book for Creative Writing had turned up, sixteen days after I first ordered it. Fortunately I spoke to Gareth B-D, who said he’d chase it up for me and leave a voicemail for me when he found out the state of play. I really don’t want to speculate about what would have happen if I’d spoken to one of the new temps instead.
I hung up and went to the library ‘Learning Resources Centre’ to see if I could at least borrow a copy in time for the workshop. According to the online stock catalogue, there was one copy available for loan. But it certainly wasn’t on the shelf. I scoured the stacks for a few minutes before giving up and heading for Blackwell’s.
It’s been nearly twenty years since I’ve had to pay full whack for a book. Even though it’s only £6.95, I still resented the fact that Waterstones had fucked up the order. It doesn’t even look as though the ordered copy will arrive in time for me to buy it on my discount, and then return it in mint condition to Blackwell’s, along with my receipt for the first copy, and get a refund.
Armed with my book, I made my way to the lecture room and sat outside, waiting for the others to arrive. Samantha J., our Erasmus student from North Carolina, came along a few minutes later and we started chatting. Inside the classroom, the other group was in full swing, and I kept glancing at my phone to check the time. Naomi and Danielle always tend to turn up early, but by 1.50 there was no sign of them.
Samantha and I talked for a while longer, until I remarked that the others were late. She checked her watch, and said it was only 2.15. The workshop didn’t start till 3.00. Annoyed with myself rather than angry, I asked Samantha if she fancied a coffee. She declined, so I made my way to the coffee shop and fired up the Netbook. I put a sarcastic status update on Facebook, then checked my emails.
There was one from Jenny, of all people. She’d added a comment to my blog a little while ago, and I’d emailed her out of politeness, as she said she hoped I’d get back in touch with her. Nearly a week had passed without a word – suddenly she was back on-grid again. She suggested meeting up on Wednesday evening, and I said that suited me too. It was the first decent thing that had happened all day.
I got out my phone and decided it was time to record my own voicemail message, in case Gareth called while I was in the workshop. I worked my way through the menu, and eventually got a recorded message telling me that I didn’t have a voicemail box. I dialed the Virgin helpline number and after negotiating another pre-recorded menu, finally got to speak to a human being. I explained my problem, and mentioned that I’d swapped my SIM card into a different handset. The guy at the other end said he’d reset my voicemail features for me. All I needed to do was switch the phone off, leave it for a while, and switch it back on. Then I’d be able to set up my mailbox. As I’d be busy for the next two hours, that suited me fine. I thanked him and headed back to the lecture room.
Within a minute or so of arriving, Catherine M. announced that we’d be spending the next two hours dealing with Modern Poetry. I’m not a huge fan of poetry anyway, but I find the modern stuff wilfully obscure at best, and totally impenetrable at worst. The thought of having to write my own modern poem was the most depressing prospect I’ve faced on the course so far. I put on a brave face and played around with a few ideas about ‘drowning’ without any real interest or enthusiasm. I was glad to get out of the place a few minutes early, just in time to get the train home.
On the way from the lecture, I switched my phone on, keyed in the PIN – and buggered it up three times. With the handset locked, there was nothing I could do without the unlocking code. I headed to the bar and bought a glass of Coke so I could sit down and access the Virgin website on the Netbook. I soon had my phone unlocked, so I put another update on Facebook and finished my drink in good time to get the next train back to Aberdare.
On the way to the station, I checked my voicemail again. It still wasn’t set up properly. Once again, I phoned the helpline and spoke to a different chap, who assured me that the reset request was in the system, but that it might take a couple of hours to process. I told him that I’d already waited over two hours, and he advised me to check again later.
When I got back to Aberdare I called into the Conway. Sally H. had some clothes dye for me, which she was going to leave in the pub for me to collect. Needless to say, she’d forgotten it. I had one pint there and got the bus to Trecynon. I went to the Welsh Harp, but I wasn’t in a very sociable mood so I didn’t stay long. I went home, watched an episode of NCIS on DVD, and went to bed.
Tuesday didn’t start much better. I caught an early train again, and decided to try and check out the shuttle bus to the Glyntaff campus. There’d been heavy showers all morning and I didn’t fancy getting drenched on the walk across. I’ve managed to catch it from Glyntaff to Treforest a couple of times, but I’ve never been able to find its departure point on the return leg. I decided it was easier to ask, so I enquired at the main reception desk. The lady there told me that it went from the mini-roundabout near the coffee shop – which was where I’d waited for ages on two previous occasions without any sign of it.
The rain was holding off, so I walked over to the other campus and arrived at the rearranged lecture theatre with a few minutes to spare. It was locked up and in darkness. I rang Sammy H., and she said there’d been an announcement on the intranet the previous night. Apparently the 11.00 lecture was now going to be at noon; the noon tutorial was cancelled, and we’d be in the original lecture theatre anyway.
I went to the coffee shop, logged onto the Internet and did the crossword online while I killed time. On the off-chance I tried my voicemail again, but there was still no voicemail box set up. I phoned Virgin for the third time and again went through the menus and options before speaking to a very pleasant lady. I explained the situation again, and she said she’d check with one of the technical team and see what was happening. She asked me to try again after the lecture, and said she’d call me back at 2.00 to talk me through the next step. I thanked her, hung up, and went in to learn some more about Forensic Anthropology.
When we came out of the building at 1.00 the rain was hammering down. I was in no real rush to be anywhere. Rob C. and one of his pals were on their way down from Cambridgeshire, and we were planning to meet up for a beer or two. I didn’t know what time he’d arrive in Cardiff, so I just decided to catch the first train that came along.
I was tempted to wait for the shuttle bus as usual, but instead I asked Siân D. if she could drop me off at the station on her way to the main road. She said it would probably be easier to drop me outside Pontypridd Station, as it was on her way, and I agreed.
Siân put £10 into the car parking ticket machine, and her ticket was validated as normal. Then she waited for her change. One of the other people sheltering under the eaves pointed out a tiny piece of text on the display which said NO CHANGE AVAILABLE. Siân pressed the intercom switch and explained what had happened to the guy at the other end. He said she’d have to collect her change from the Security building on the Treforest campus. She ended up driving to Treforest anyway, while I had to show her where to go. The security guys didn’t have change themselves, so one of the guys had to pay out of his own pocket and write an IOU for the tin – Siân didn’t have any other cash on her. She dropped me outside the station and I had a few minutes to wait until the train arrived.
I was starting to text Rob when he rang me. He said he’d arranged to meet Yasmine in the Rummer Tavern at about 2.30, so I said I’d make my way there. It was the first thing that had gone according to plan for nearly two days.
Rob, Yasmine, Gareth B-D and I had a good catch-up over a couple of beers. Rob’s promised me a bottle of his home-made cider mead when it’s ready. It sounds like lethal stuff. While we were chatting, my phone rang. It was the lady from Virgin Mobile, asking me to check my voicemail. I did – and it was finally ready to go. Suddenly Tuesday seemed to be compensating for all the crap of Monday.
At about 5.00 everyone drifted off to get ready for the evening’s football-watching in the pub. I was heading down High Street towards the station when a familiar voice called across the road. Jeff T. was waiting for his bus on the opposite side, so I crossed the road and we had a good chat until his bus arrived. After talking to so many of the past and present Waterstones crew, I knew I’d made the right decision when I walked away at the end of May.
I decided to have another pint in Kitty Flynn’s, in spite of Jeff and Yasmine’s misgivings about the place. Jeff, in particular, had told me that it was full of smackheads and troublemakers. I walked in and had a quick look around. There were the usual evening regulars by the bar, a group of students on the table in the middle, and Amy’s pretty sister Lorna standing behind the bar. She seemed genuinely pleased to see me, so I bought a pint and sat by the window. Their free wifi works without any messing about, so I logged into Facebook and posted yet another status update.
Jenny and I had been texting sporadically while I was in Cardiff. She seemed keen to meet up again, and I was looking forward to it as well. I decided to check my emails, and as I was doing that, Jenny signed into Messenger. We chatted online for ages, just like we had before things went belly-up in the spring, and arranged to meet each other on Wednesday evening. When the battery ran flat, I packed up my stuff and caught the train back to Aberdare. Sally had remembered the clothes dye, so I stayed there for a drink before heading home.
You can all guess what happened next. I met Shanara in the Welsh Harp for a quick drink after she finished work yesterday, before relocating to the Cross Inn to wait for Jenny. And waited … And waited …
At about 10.15 I texted her to let her know I was going home. I could have gone to the Cambrian and taken part in the quiz, instead of sitting in the Cross Inn on my own.
First thing this morning Jenny texted me, asking what time I was finishing today, and offering to meet me for a drink when she finished work. I was furious with her. I just texted back saying I’d made other plans.
A few minutes later, she texted again, asking me to let her know when I’d be free to meet up. I sent a reply just before I went into my Pychology seminar this morning.
Here’s a better idea: If we bump into each other on the off-chance, we’ll go 4 coffee. There’s no point trying 2 arrange anything as you NEVER EVER turn up. It wouldn’t have taken u 10 secs 2 text & cancel last night – instead, I was in pub like Billy No Mates again! I really don’t think u deserve time of day tbh, totally pissed off with your prickteasing contempt 4 me now.
She texted back, protesting innocence again, and claiming that she’d been too tired to come out last night. Fair enough – I know what it’s like to get home after a long day in work and just crash out. But I’ve never been too tired to send a text, no matter how knackered I am. I’ve told her not to bother contacting me again. If she does, I’ll just block her on all fronts. I’m too old and too cynical to be pissed around by fucked-up little girls any more. I’m surrounded by cute students every day. Why should I chase around after the sexual equivalent of a bag of chips, when I’ve got all the world’s delicacies on the menu?
It might have been fantastic with Jenny. Alternatively it might have been worse than the worst of Sam and Gema combined – we’ll never know. In a parallel universe, she and I are going to be out on the town tonight, enjoying each other’s company, having a laugh, and quite possibly engaged in some serious pre-bondage-related flirtation.
But not in this one. And that’s Quantum Mechanics for you!

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