Tag: Darlington

Novelling across the pond.

(Borrowing Carl’s computer today – mine is being employed to show Octonauts for a sleepy Miranda. Carl’s laptop is “lefthanded” in the sense that the scroll bar is on the left hand side. It is highly irritating!)

I was in Regina this time last year. This is pure craziness. This time last year we were camped in the Turgeon youth hostel, microwaving oatmeal, drinking unmentionable coffee out of the vending machine, bathing Miri in the sink and watching endless hours of The Food Network on the ancient TV there. It was cold and I learned the hard way what a joke of a business Kave Haz was, I wrote this blog, went on CBC radio, and I wandered round and round Regina on the hunt for another coffee job. I also tried to involve myself in the local Nanowrimo ([inter]National Novel Writing Month) effort, and although I spectacularly failed to make it to any of the write-ins last year, I did write my 50,000 word novel inside 30 days. 14 of those days I was in Regina, 16 in Darlington. (well actually, at least one day was spent on the plane, and a lot of writing can get done on a 15 hr flight when the in-flight movie is Twilight!!)

This year I am failing quite badly, currently 6000 words behind target and seeing no practical way of catching up any time soon. Nanowrimo is the kind of annual event that is somehow bittersweet now.  It marks the passing of another year and I can’t help reflecting on all that has happened since the last Nanowrimo. I hear all the adventures of my novelling friends back home – they are all putting me to shame with their word counts any way, but I really miss them all with their daftness: plot bunnies, Chelle the Unstoppable Literary Cyborg, novelling hats, motivational coffees, the efforts to stop Chris writing about zombies, and N’Oscars planning. This year, they all did an epic sponsored 24 hour  non-stop write-in raising money for the Blood Bikes service (still taking donations, HERE). I am so proud of them all for such a mammoth, mad effort and I am sorry that I couldn’t join in. Insane as the event sounds, I would have loved to have attempted it with that crew to egg me on. But at the same time, it was all held in my old cafe, and what happened with that place still hurts and upsets me a great deal.

So,  this year I am determined to keep up with my novel from here in Regina. I even got in the Metro paper about it, unwittingly! The first write-in I attended was in the midst of the worst hangover I’ve ever had in this country; we had a belated Halloween party involving costumes and play dates for Miri and manymanymany bottles of home brewed beer and kicking out the last guest at 4.45am. Hooray for Coffee!

Tamara and I at Halloween. Tam is also novelling!

The Regina nano-ers are numerous but very much centred around the university, so I have been attending the downtown and weekend write ins, but I have yet to summon the energy to find a bus in the snow to the university on Wednesday evenings. Nevertheless, I have met some fantastic people through it already and I’m looking forward to what is promising to be a suitably silly Thank God It’s Over party. Someone is knitting us prizes, apparently.

A few of the Regina Nanowrimo crew, all studiously avoiding the camera.

There are also several others hand writing their novels. I am hand writing again, because a notebook can be secreted into my bag so I can write in obscure moments wherever I am, which is not something you can do with a laptop. The downsides are, it’s slower and counting your words is an arse. I take an average of 200 words a page, given the size of my writing!

My novel. And yes, that is a coffee stain on it.

Winter has set in now, there is considerably more snow now than this time last year. According to the radio, today is was -12C but “feels like -23C” because of the wind chill. I know it will get a great deal colder than this yet, and we should start measuring snow in feet not inches, – yes, everybody warns us – but I feel we are adapting well so far. We’ve invested in Proper Snow Boots and a shovel, and are enjoying it all! This much snow is still exciting for us winter-starved British. Miranda loves stomping in snow, but at the moment it comes up to her chest! We could lose her in the drifts in the back garden quite easily….

Playing in the snow.

However, the cold is only an excuse to wear even more silly Novelling Hats, and as long as I can still trudge to Atlantis coffee shop for the write-ins, I can sit and write in the warm drinking a huge amount of hot coffee, and delay coming back home in the cold by another 500 words or so….


The British are invading!!!

Run for the hills!!

(they’re quite a long way away, mind,)

Very very happy and excited tonight!!

Firstly, the Parents are visiting for a week or so, and arrive tomorrow evening!!! This is going to be fun, I’m looking forward to seeing them anyway, and I kinda get to show off My New Home to them finally! I assume they will spoil MIranda rotten as always and she deserves that 🙂 Plus they are hiring a car here, so we can all use the opportunity to explore Regina a bit more, further afield than Cathedral village and the downtown areas I can comfortably walk to! We may even get out to see the Burrowing Owls in Moose Jaw. Miri likes Owls.

As the flights were so expensive (as always), the parents are opting to stay with me rather than in a B&B, so I’ve unfolded the futon/sofa thing. I can’t imagine it’s going to be too comfy, however. I have also cleaned the apartment thoroughly. I seemingly have a constant battle with dirt – the wooden floor seems to need sweeping all the time. This is why I like carpets – they hide the Toddler-Ick much better. I can pretty much guarantee that M. um will say the place smells of ferrets though, – even though my poor fuzzies are 3000 miles away!! Anyway, this place is now unnervingly tidy and I don’t like it.

Buuuuuuuut, the BEST EVER NEWS is……………. CARL GOT A JOB HERE IN REGINA!!!!!!!!!!!!!

He had an interview over the phone for a GIS specialist job last week, and they cruelly made him wait a week for an answer – but they called him back tonight (despite time difference!) and offered it to him!! Weeeeeeee!!! So not only a job out here, but a job that he’s actually trained for and should enjoy too. Pretty decent salary as well!! (More than he was earning in Darlington, certainly). Unfortunately he can’t just jump on a plane, as he still has to sell the house and give notice at work and so on, but hopefully it will be a case of weeks, not months now. CANNOT WAIT!! I miss him so much, and it’s not been easy looking after Miri on my own either. She needs her Daddy too. And I hate to think of him stuck in Darlo on his own, knowing that he hates it there too. 😦 But it won’t be for much longer!! Soooooooooo proud of him!

As he says online, “epic win!!!!”

An open letter to Mr. Cameron

Today I was told a decision had been made on my application for Job Seekers Allowance. Apparently,  I am “not eligible” for job seekers allowance, even though I am not working at present, and I am looking for work  I was told  I can’t get income based JSA because my husband earns a few hundred pounds a year over the threshold.  I cannot get contributions-based JSA either because my Class 2 contributions from self-employment “are not included” and prior to that I was living off a tax-free university research grant since Oct 2007.

I can’t get any tax credits because I’m not working at the moment.

I can’t get any housing benefit cos we’ve got a mortgage.We would love to sell our house and move to a less economically deprived area with more opportunities, but due to the new policies of lenders demanding a deposit of at least 10%, no one can afford to buy our house. Even if we do find a buyer, we are very very close to being in negative equity now anyway.

I can’t get a job because the few jobs that are available are all minimum wage which won’t cover the costs of putting my 18-month old daughter in childcare. Even my “jobs advisor” admitted that there are few opportunities in this area at the moment. This is the grim North-East, Mr Cameron, I feel I have to remind you of this area’s existence. Life does exist outside the M25, but it is telling that there are virtually no Conservative MPs here. I am fairly confident that neither you nor your government have any idea of what life is like here.

So, apparently my husband is supposed to support himself, me, our daughter, our mortgage and all our various debts out of his (public sector) salary, AND pay tax which goes to support everyone else in that jobs centre EXCEPT his wife.

For my part, I have only ever signed on the dole for three weeks before, in the last ten years. I worked pretty much the entire time I was at university in Durham, I once worked three jobs at once on top of my MA degree, I STILL couldn’t find a good job after that so I went back to do a PhD. After that, there are now even fewer jobs than there were before i started it, so I started my own business. I worked over 50 hours a week, paid myself nothing for a year and eventually had to give it up because I could no longer live off thin air. I have a BA, an MA and a PhD. I speak another language fluently. And I have three years experience setting up and running my own business. I am NOT unemployable, nor am I lazy, stupid or a scrounger.

As the spouse of a millionairess and leader of the party which did the least badly in the last election – (I cannot give you credit for actually winning and being elected – you didn’t and you weren’t), – I have to accept that you represent me and as such, you should be able to advise me on this situation. What exactly am I supposed to do? And what else I could have done differently to make myself more eligible for help?

This is just yet another example of your government’s unthinking ineptitude, and your apparent total disregard to how your policies actually affect ordinary people. As is evident if you bother to read the rest of this blog. I have applied for a job in Canada and we are doing everything we can to move over there. I honestly loathe this country now, I do not feel I can bring my daughter up in the UK with such gross inequality, such a laughable failure for a social services system and the shame of having you and your government as our alledged representatives.

I look forward to your response.

Dull Darlo

Feeling very low at the moment. My brain refused to turn off last night for worrying about things and feeling a bit cast out – I spent the day in the cafe, and it was great to catch up with everybody and cheer on Michelle for her book signing, but at the same time I felt so sad that the place is not mine any more. It has changed so much and so fast (a sign that Jo is doing damn well I guess) that it is as if my existence there, and all my work, everything I built up, has been erased already. I know this isn’t really the case but at 3am it really upsets me.

I’ve handed in my PhD, so that is over with too. Everything is winding itself up: the cafe, university, even the year! I am really looking forward to Christmas this year, but right now I just want things to Hurry Up and Happen. This last few weeks of being eye-wateringly broke and hanging around in Darlington with even less to keep me sane than usual is slowly sapping the life out of me.

I can’t wait to get out of here

Away from dog turds, used condoms and broken glass on the pavement

Away from people who shout at you and spit and throw things just because you dress a bit different

Away from over-budget roundabouts built at the expense of cycle paths

Away from seven police call-outs in a year

Away from idiots asking your neighbours to borrow a crowbar to help them steal your bike

Away from those who help themselves to toddlers’ piggy banks

Away from selfish,short-sighted xenophobic foreign policy, austerity-for-all-but-the-rich economic mismanagement, and Call-Me-Dave CamerWrong

To where the boarded-up window and empty shop ratio isn’t so high

Where childcare costs do not exceed your monthly salary

Where is is not socially acceptable to keep a HORSE on an allotment.

Where half an inch of snow does not cause total infrastructure meltdown

Where people do not feel the need to tuck their tracksuit bottoms into their socks, even when its -20C outside

I can’t wait.

Homeward Bound… temporarily!

Long post alert! It’s been a while. Today I am also thankful for my ability to touch type: the laptop is perched on my knee in the car as Carl drives us back to Darlington, but it is five o’clock and completely dark, so I can;t actually see the keyboard at all. I think I am doing remarkably well, considering. Miranda is wailing miserably in the back. She slept for just under an hour of the journey, scoffed two chocolate bars and a bottle of milk and is now plain bored and frustrated at being strapped in for four hours. Methinks she is going to have to get used to this pretty quickly. Canadians do not think of “four hours” as a long distance at all…. (erm, not that an hour is a measure of distance really… you know what I mean!)

Anyway, I had quite a good flight back. I eventually changed the date because of all the strikes and industrial action at home, supposedly on the day I was due to arrive into London Heathrow. The idea of no staff at Heathrow, no underground running in London, and no trains running anywhere, all the schools closing because of no teachers… etc, was a bit inconvenient, but then, that was the whole point. This is what happens if you piss off a very large proportion of the working population, Mr Cameron! Those that can, leave. Those stuck here will and should cause you as much disruption, inconvenience and embarrassment as they possibly can. As my friend put it, “If people are willing to sacrifice a day’s pay now to attempt to stop them losing far more than that in the future, then good luck to them!” – well actually, he put it far less politely than that, but I appreciate the sentiment. Anyhoo, Air Canada graciously allowed you to change your flight free of charge if you were flying into London on 30th, so I changed it so I flew out the next day. This took me one hour and thirty seven minutes on hold to the airline, fortunately on a toll free number, because it seems everyone else had the same idea.  Consequently it turned out that Heathrow experienced virtually no delays whatsoever, with people reporting it was actually quieter and quicker than normal. DOH!!

The new flight involved flying via Toronto rather than Calgary, and seemed quicker and easier all round – possibly as a result of not having Miri and the pushchair with me. I bought yet another “Regina” pen at the souvenir shop in Regina airport having used up the last one in my Nanowrimo effort, and then waited for the flight to Toronto. During the wait and listening to all the other flight calls, I learned that you can fly direct from Regina to Cancun, Mexico!! FANTASTIC!! This means whenever I get the urge to bugger off to Latin America again (which happens on a two-yearly basis at least, and is actually a medical necessity, if recognised only by me), I DON’T HAVE TO GO VIA THE STATES!!!! This is fabulous news. My experiences with Air Canada only highlight again the ridiculousness of attempting to fly through the USA: neither in Regina nor Toronto did I have to remove my shoes to go through security checks, they didn’t treat you like dirt anywhere in fact they were all very polite and helpful. No one raised an eyebrow at anything in my hand luggage, not even the unmarked foil packet containing white powder, or aromatic sealed bag with “organic produce” in it. (Miri’s formula milk powder and a bag of coffee beans, respectively). They scanned me, but not with the new potentially dangerous scanners, and for once I didn’t set any buzzers off anywhere. I did NOT have to pay $10 for a visa to spend 3 hours in Toronto during my stopover and my bag made its way from one plane to the other without me seeing it, let alone lugging it through immigration and back again like I’ve had to do in Miami so often, for no apparent reason. There was also free wifi throughout the airport. I say again, watch and learn, America!

I got myself some dinner in Toronto, doing the sitting-alone-at-an-airport-bar-whilst-stupidly-tired-and-people-watching thing that is an essential part of any trip. This time I got to overhear the first lot of French Canadian men I’ve come across. They were speaking in French, but the Quebec accent is so, so much easier to understand than French from France. A business trip, I assumed, judging by the suits, the three iphones, 2 blackberries and a posh laptop on the table with them. National stereotypes were abound. One was in a grey polo neck, another had a very metrosexual leather manbag. Another had a silk scarf on indoors. Now assuming my grasp of French isn’t too embarrassingly inept, they were quite obviously talking about women. Monsieur Poloneck said something along the lines of ” Ma femme vit ici et mes vies d’amie ici” or, “my wife lives here” (patting his heart) “and my girlfriend lives in here” and pats his iPhone. Oh my, how awfully French.

Met a girl on the plane who was travelling from some obscure part of Ontario to Bangladesh, only the poor woman couldn’t afford to go the sensible way round the globe over Russia, because the flights were too expensive. Instead, she was going from Toronto to London, to Kuwait City, and finally to Bangladesh, which was over 20 hours in the air and then stopovers as well. She has my deepest sympathies!

After a quick catch up with birthday girl Hils and D, and a snooze, the Parents arrived with Miranda to collect me from London. Miri was so sweet – she missed me and just clung on to me, limpet-like as soon as she saw me!! So I’ve been at the parents’ house for the past few days until Carl appeared to take us all home again. Once I’d got over the initial jetlag, it was wonderful to see Miri and Carl again, we put the Christmas tree up and went to a local Christmas fair and got festive properly – haven’t really had a chance yet. I explained all the 13th Avenue Coffee House news and got all excited! I now officially have a full contract with number of hours and key responsibilities and so on, which is far more confidence boosting. But unfortunately, we went to the Service Canada office on my last day, just to see if I could get my LMO transferred to a new company. Since the point of an LMO is to identify a skills shortage in the area and allow an immigrant to be employed to fill it, I had hoped it would be relatively straight forward. It is essentiually the same job and in the same city, just with more trustworthy employers so the skills shortage it identified is still there. However, Service Canada insist that 13th Ave must complete a brand new LMO anyway. GAH. To be fair, they were sympathetic to my situation, but there wasn;t really much they could do since the LMOs are all dealt with in Vancouver anyway. Most have said that my epic 12 week and 5 day wait was exceptionally long though, and I do think 13th Av have put together a better application anyway, so hopefully it shouldn’t take that long again! They need me to start in January though, so its in their interest to push and push and harrass Service Canada as much as possible.

Anyway, that is the positives – I do feel a lot more comfortable about 13th Av, I think I am really going to enjoy it there and the owners are genuinely lovely. The business has been established for years too, which is reassuring, plus I think I’ll get a lot more freedom to at least put forward my ideas there. However, assuming all goes well with the LMO, the January Start thing is headache inducing and stressful I have no problem with going over in January, but Carl does. He is waiting on a voluntary redundancy scheme at work, which means, if he is accepted for it, they will give him quite a generous pay out. However, it is all on their terms, and the payout won’t happen til September 2012!!!! aaaaargh. We’ve also got to sell the house and sort out everything with that and shipping our stuff and so on. Now, the redundancy money would sort us out properly – pay off our existing debts and overdrafts, and get us the down payment for a new house in Canada. But, at the moment there are no guarantees he’s even going to get it, and he won’t hear til February. If he is accepted, we;ve got the problem of him having to work there until September and what do we do in that nine months?? It would mean me going over alone, Carl working at his job in the UK, and keeping the house (and of course, paying the mortgage, council tax, insurance, everything) on that place, while I paid for a one-bed place in Canada at the same time. And Miranda would either have to be in nursary in Regina (which my salary wouldn’t cover) or at nursary here with Carl, (where we would no doubt have to fight tooth and nail with the benefits office to get any help with the extortionate costs of that) and either way she would be without one parent, and I do not think that is good for anyone. She missed us just in a week! I know I couldn’t cope on my own without Carl AND without her, in a strange town where I barely know anyone. But then, we couldn’t all live off my salary in Canada anyway, The only realistic way we could all go over together is if Carl got a job there too – but then, if he accepted it, we’d have to forgo the redundancy money and be left sending money back to the UK to pay off overdrafts and credit cards and so on. GAH!!!

I decided with all this buzzing round my head,  I just didn;t have the mental energy to rush home to Depressing Darlington yesterday and go to the Nanowrimo N’Oscars party in the evening, partly because Jo held it at my – well, THE cafe, which brings up a whole new emotional bag of worms at the moment. Unfortunately Carl and I started trying to discuss all the above until 2am which eventually turned into snivelling, snotty emotional wreckage with no resolution. I really really want this, but at what cost?


End games…

I haven’t got the energy to write properly about the town that has been my home for over seven years, and I do want to write properly and do it justice. I have met some amazing people here and made lifelong friends, I started two businesses here, I’ve learned so much and grown here. This is where Miranda was born. These things will stay with me forever.

But at the same time I have had some truly horrible experiences here, most of which I have had a lot of trouble getting over and recovering from. Few things have been easy, and I keep thinking, everything I’ve achieved in the past few years, I’ve achieved despite being in Darlington. It all feels like a constant fight, against a place that saps the spirit and destroys the soul. I have had enough of fighting; I’ve got nothing to prove to anyone here, and so it is time to move on.

For comic relief, here is what The Idler, (the people who brought you “Crap Towns”) make of Darlington:


Those who communicate in grunts and sniffs revel happily in the squalid surroundings. There is a night club called ‘Mardi Gras’ where squaddies from miles around congregate to chase fat single mums and stamp on peoples’ heads. A small town with small minds, I challenge anyone to put ‘darlo’ in a positive light.

– Rob Black

On a more poignant note, this is one of my favourite songs of all time, which I feel is very appropriate.