Early grave

My workplace has seen several crises in the last few months, all of which directly affect me. One of them was particularly bad, but I am unable to discuss with anyone outside the organization until the lawyers are done drafting the official statement to go public with.

I went in to the office today, to better deal with one of the other less serious problems that I discovered yesterday. I vented with my boss a bit — and then felt bad, because his load is much worse than mine, and I am unable to help him much, because he does not share much with me. Although I know he appreciates me as an employee, I suspect he does not actually like me personally and tries to avoid dealing with me as much as possible. So our relationship is very tense right now.

My bus home from downtown Seattle was almost empty and I was able to enjoy a podcast. I got off near a waterfront pub for an impromptu pint of cider. The pub is nice and quiet inside but there is plenty to see outside. A nice overcast day over Puget Sound.

It has been one of those days when I really question the wisdom of living a healthy lifestyle. An early grave seems like a pretty good idea, if you ask me.

Hence the cider. Cheers!

Normal Saturday

Washington State lifted all COVID-19 restrictions on June 30. So for the last two weekends, my Seattle neighborhood has largely reopened for business. And I have been most happy to resume my Saturday visit to a taproom. It has actually been open for several months under capacity and social distancing restrictions, but that meant limited seating at tables for four. And as I am usually a party of one, I don’t feel comfortable taking up a table by myself. But now, the stools are back at the bar and along the perimeter shelves — and I have been able to take up my favorite perch from where I can see the whole bar area, the TV, and the street outside.

Social distancing was actually hard on us parties of one because so much casual seating was done away with in order to provide adequately spaced tables for groups.

The last time I was in this pub, before the COVID-19 shutdown of March 2020, I was waiting on the results of my autism diagnosis. So last weekend was my first back in my old routine since the diagnosis.

Nothing has changed. I still feel like I don’t quite fit in — that I will never be one of the regulars. But I am no longer going to let that spoil the experience. Every once in a while, I do manage to have an enjoyable conversation with a stranger. I don’t think that will happen today. But I have my phone — so can pass the time blogging.

Incomparable treat

After several weeks of abstaining from wine, I have discovered some kombucha drinks that are an acceptable substitute. The best is fermented from lemongrass, ginger and cane sugar. It has none of the usual vinegary sharpness, despite having much less added sugar; and it has a nice delicate carbonation, more like a sparkling wine than soda pop. And I have found a few others that I like.

This is nice, because I was not looking to stop drinking altogether — at least not yet. But I did want to break the habit of drinking wine three to four nights a week. A can of wine on Friday is something nice to look forward to at the end of the work week — but I really do not need to be having it on other days.

I do not know why I can be so stubborn with alcohol. I have no chemical dependency, so experience no withdrawal. I have no social life to navigate without alcohol. I am not a sports fan and so never face the pressure of watching a big game at a party where the beer is flowing. And even though pubs have reopened where I live, visiting one is hardly a relaxed matter. Social distancing and capacity limits have resulted in seating being concentrated on tables for four people. The perches that once accommodated loners (stools along ledges, window nooks, to say nothing of the bar itself) have not yet returned. Even before the pandemic closures, I often had disappointing experiences at pubs and wondered why I insisted on going.

But I do think that alcohol has been a convenient way to get a break from myself for a few hours — whether that be a break from my autistic self, my depressed self, my anxious self, or any other part of myself I am not too fond of at the moment. And it worked very well when I was younger and my life was simpler.

I do love the taste and texture of wine. And I do miss it when I give it up. As a treat, nothing else compares!! But drinking it several nights a week makes it much less of a treat — which is why I wanted to break this habit.

Time well spent

There was a time I headed out each day with only what would fit in the pockets of my coat (in winter) or a small bag (in summer). That amounted to not much more than wallet, keys, cellphone, lip balm and a piece of facial tissue. If I went to a coffee shop, I had no book to read or notebook to write in. This was when laptops weighed as much as eight pounds and before coffee shops had WiFi — and before cellphones were smart. So I would sit and drink coffee and do nothing for the most part. If someone had discarded a newspaper I might pick it up and read.

If I was at a seat in the window, I watched the world outside. If I was near the counter, I watched the staff work and enjoyed the sounds of grinding beans and steaming milk. I eavesdropped on conversations and occasionally took part in one myself. And I did the same thing in pubs when I went for a pint if there was not the distraction of sports on TV. And not once did I ever feel I was wasting time.

Sometime in the last fifteen years I got the idea that time in coffee shops and pubs should be put to some productive use: read a novel; write a short story; write a blog; do some artwork; learn a new skill; write some code; build an application; or at least scroll through Twitter or explore some place with Google Earth. So I started carrying more items with me: books, notebooks, art supplies, e-reader, laptop, iPad — and I had a smartphone to fall back on. So, I always had something to do in a coffee shop or pub — something to make it appear less obvious that I was really just there for a social experience, even it amounted to nothing more than people-watching and eavesdropping. And I also needed to carry a larger bag.

But the Covid-19 restrictions ended my coffee shop/pub habit. I still go out for coffee, but seating is limited inside and weather is not always cooperative for doing anything outside other than simply drinking the coffee. Only recently have my favorite pubs resumed serving customers on premises and most of the seating is on wobbly folding chairs and tables outside.

When the first lockdown started a year ago, I quickly realized I could downsize to a smaller bag. Coffee shops were not filling reusable cups, so that was one less thing to carry with me. Supermarkets were not bagging groceries in reusable bags. Ditto. I was doing all my work at home so there was no need to carry a laptop. It was really nice to carry a smaller bag again.

Now that things are starting to open up, I have decided to revisit my old habit of doing nothing over coffee or a pint. This week I found one of my favorite pubs quiet as I was walking by — so I took the opportunity to enjoy a pint at a table in the window that was fully wide open. I had my phone with me, so I could have amused myself with it, but I let it stay in my bag. I was obviously alone and at a loose end. But I decided not to care about being judged in any way. I was enjoying a rather delicious cider while watching the world outside and inside. I did not produce anything. I did not learn anything. I did not improve myself in any way. I just enjoyed some time out out in the world amongst people.

Sometimes you just need to give yourself permission.

Finding Minnie Caldwell…or a Snug

Minnie Caldwell (left) with Ena Sharples in the Rovers Return Inn

As pubs go, the Rovers Return Inn would probably never top of my list of desirable watering holes. It hardly qualifies as a dive bar — but it probably qualifies as a “boozer”. However, if it happened to be just down the street and I was a little old lady who likes to get out the house, I would probably end up there.

For want of other entertainment lately, I have been watching old episodes of Coronation Street on YouTube. I started out with random episodes from 1973-1976, and I’m now working my way through a set from 1977. I left the UK in 1983 and have no idea of the trajectory the show has taken since then. But watching these old episodes, many of which I remember watching as a youngster, I am struck by many things:

  • It’s really funny. Not like a sitcom is deliberately funny. But peppered with really funny comebacks and one-liners and general conversational humor.
  • Much of the acting is superb
  • Most of the characters are very well cast and highly believable
  • However, and this observation should not be taken as approval: there are no people of color amongst the cast, although there are sometimes people of color in the Rovers, e.g. a couple at a table or some guys playing darts. So, Coronation Street was OK with people of color being visible in the background — but not yet ready for people of color to have an active part. I would hope this has since changed.
  • In many scenes in the Rovers, different generations are represented, from young Gail Potter and Suzy Birchall up through the Langtons and the Bishops and to the old folks in the Snug.

The last point has made me think about my expectations for old age.

I love the Minnie Caldwell character. Despite the sweet smile, she could be quite cheeky. And her life, as portrayed, has some appeal for me. She supplemented her state pension by taking in lodgers. This is the one aspect of her life that I would not welcome because I can not handle responsibility. I would have to be one of the lodgers. But otherwise, I can see myself being happy as Minnie Caldwell: pottering around in the morning and feeding the cat; making tea for someone stopping by; having some pilchards on toast for lunch; and then going down to the Rovers for a bottle of milk stout and a gossip with Ena in the Snug.

The Snug is a nice idea: a seating area with access to the horseshoe-shaped bar for service but separated from the main room by a partition with a door. It allows you to be connected with the action of the whole space but without being overwhelmed by it. You can enjoy overhearing Bet Lynch winding up a customer; or Elsie Howard having a row with Rita Littlewood; or Billy Walker throwing someone out — but from a safe distance.

I am not yet 60 (58) and I am already finding most bars to be hostile places, especially when alone. I do not know where the Minnie Caldwells of today go when they fancy a beer and a chat with friends.

Maybe no one else aspires to be Minnie Caldwell. Just me.