I could make all kinds of excuses for my recent lengthyish absence, but I think what it comes down to is that my work has taken to sending me on a weekly basis to Nuneaton. This is like being sent to Coventry, only significantly more depressing- especially when you know your day there is going to be spent poring over excel spreadsheets, and debating in agonising detail the intricacies of the invoicing procedures for the shipment of flanges to Burton-on-Trent. Every Tuesday I am getting up at some unearthly hour (I try not to look too closely at the alarm clock, but it is definitely begins with a '5') and sneak out into the deserted, grey streets to stand on Platform Two of Levenshulme station with the same ragtag collection of shiftworkers, insomniacs, and extreme trainspotters, looking down the line to catch the headlights of the 6:25 for Crewe beaming through the early morning mist. Just two hours later (for some reason the train connections between south Manchester and sleepy Warwickshire commuter towns are positively space-age) me and an equally shell-shocked colleague are stepping off a Virgin Pendolino and into the giant Asda behind Nuneaton train station, where we avail ourselves of strong coffee and try to remember what the hell we are doing in the East Midlands at a time when we might normally just be thinking about leaving the house.
The next few hours typically do nothing to dispel the nauseating feeling of being part of a remake of Groundhog Day, inexplicably set in the bowels of a flange factory in Warwickshire. We spend six hours having exactly the same meeting as last time, then a fifteen minute taxi journey being lectured by an overweight Coventry City supporter on Nuneaton and Bedworth Borough Council's speed-camera policy, and how it amounts to an open vendetta on hard-working, slightly overweight Coventry City fans who drive taxis. Back at the station my colleague lights a Lucky Strike, and at the same moment a Virgin Pendolino whooshes into the station and straight out again at 325mph, putting his cigarette out and sending us scattering backwards against the platform walls. Three minutes later our own train turns up- my colleague spends most of the journey back studying the main section of The Independent from cover to cover, while I make a show of leafing through the review section, while really concentrating on gazing out of the window at sights I don't normally get to feast on during the course of a working day, such as a field full of cows, and the main stand of Crewe Alexandra FC.
I know- it all sounds just hopelessly exotic. But this high living comes at a price, which is that the rest of the week is more or less shot to hell. As soon as I come home on Tuesday night I have to go straight out my five-a-side game (the five-a-side game I have spent most of the journey back organising through a series of increasing frantic text messages), so I get little rest... and on Wednesday I am practically useless back at my desk, and certainly in no fit state to deal with the mountain of emails that has built up during my forced exile in Warwickshire. During Thursday I manage to effect some sort of transition back into life as I know it, so by Friday am feeling more or less grounded again- but of course Friday is no sort of day to embark on anything resembling serious work, so I spend too much time gazing out of the window at the four-lane urban motorway, pining nostalgically for fields full of cows, Crewe Alexandra and the review section of The Independent. The weekend cannot come too soon- and then, of course, on Monday I get another invite to a meeting in Nuneaton, and it all starts over again.
So- I think what I am trying to say is, please bear with me during these testing times. This Groundhog Day existence (only of course, with the part of Andi McDowell taken by a series of overweight Coventry City- supporting cab drivers with a grudge against society) has to end sometime, and then we will be back on an even keel. Until, then, I will try and get here as often as possible, and certainly more than once every two weeks, which is just unacceptable isn't it, especially while Mike Troubled Diva has herocially taken himself up on the challenge of updating every single day for a month. All very impressive I'm sure, but could he do it while being sent to Nuneaton every Tuesday at the crack of dawn? Could any of us? Well you are all welcome to try, but don't say I didn't warn you. This is not a life for the faint-hearted, I'll have you know.