“Peace At Last”

Date of writing: 02/07/2015

I shall begin by apologising for the recent hiatus in my hieroglyphics, which was in no small part a result of my unfortunate accommodation situation, as previously described. I am very easily distracted, and require very little prompting for procrastination. A flickering screen will take away my attention quite easily, and when I am already in discomfort from having to write resting on a tray on the top bunk above an incorrigible interruption inducer such as Dave, the effect is amplified.   Lack of good quality sleep (see: Hypocoprolalia) is also a motivation drain. About a month ago, I began a post describing some physical aspects of this place in detail, but I have decided it is best to leapfrog that for now and give you an update on some of the things I’ve been doing.

The more astute among you may have noted the tentative past tense in my first sentence, and made the connection with the title of this post. In such case I congratulate your cognitive capacity – I’ll set you a crossword clue later. But indeed, I’m now sitting in the comfort of a relatively spacious cell, which I have all to myself. I’ve fallen on my feet somewhat, and managed to land in one of a handful of coveted cells on this wing in which it’s not possible to touch two opposing walls at the same time. It’s strange what becomes a luxury. This cell also has the novelty of being on two levels because of a quirk in the plumbing design.

A seven-foot-square area by the door contains my bed, a small lockable cupboard that doubles as a television stand, and the reasonably sized table on which I’m currently (and comfortably) resting my writing pad. Extravagantly, the ceiling height here is over nine feet, which helps to add to the feeling of space.   Two small, central steps bring me about a foot above the ground to a ‘pub stage’ area a little over five feet deep to the window. This space contains the sink and toilet, as well as two fairly well-sized cupboard/wardrobe things. I’m almost spoilt for storage space. My window faces roughly west, and looking out over the exercise yard now, I can see pylons silhouetted on the horizon against the last orange glow of the sunset.

My first evening in this suite brought a fine view of the near-conjunction of Venus and Jupiter, reminding me of the good fortune I had in seeing February’s Venus-Mars conjunction from HMP Different.   Although I’m not a believer in astrological portent, I’m enjoying the continued serendipity of my astronomical observation opportunities this year. Aside from the astronomy, my view of the otherwise drab, enclosed, and industrial-looking yard is much improved by the very wide range of flowers and shrubs in the long, raised beds that run down the middle of the crumbling tarmac.   This display is almost entirely down to the daily attentions of The Dutchman, who voluntarily tends the beds as a substitute for his horticultural profession. The yard is also frequented by many birds, including crows and jackdaws, and the wood pigeons that have a nest in a small cypress tree.   Occasionally, along with the more common kestrels and buzzards, red kites can be seen soaring above the nearby fields.

But enough descriptive deviation – I promised to tell you of my recent exploits here at HMP Arbitrary. Not unexpectedly, I fairly quickly became entangled in the musical workings of the chapel, joining the choir and the Catholic music group.   In contrast to HMP Different, here we are blessed with almost a surfeit of musical talent. There, I was the one-eyed man, and in the absence of any better options, I chose and led much of the music myself. Now, I’m in a group with a professional pianist (who’s also sickeningly talented at pretty much every other instrument he cares to pick up), two violinists, a bassist, and a second guitarist, with others (of admittedly variable quality) practically queuing to join in. There’s another group that plays in the general Christian services, and we also have a fine organist leading the choir.

Supporting all this talent, we have an almost absurd amount of sound equipment, easily valued in five figures. The main chapel has a high-quality dedicated 32-channel mixing desk complete with a rack of other sundry sound gear. In the store cupboard, we have monitors, speakers, microphones (both wired and wireless), effects units, amplifiers, scores of cables, a programmable LED stage lighting system, and instruments coming out of our ears, including both an acoustic and a full electronic drum kit. Then there’s a secondary 24-channel mixing desk in a flight case for special occasions. I could go on. There are plenty of gig venues with a capacity well in excess of our 90 chapel seats that are far less well equipped.

Once again, the more astute (and indeed grammatically aware) among you might have noted the uses of the first person plural pronoun and possessive determiner in the previous paragraph. My senses of possession and belonging stem from my new job as a Chapel Orderly, for which the Revd Jane invited me to apply, having got to know me a little through my musical involvement. Thus it is that I have the joy of curating all of this miscellaneous equipment, although that forms only part of what is proving to be a pretty good job. I get to meet a lot of people, and in addition to the music, my days in the pleasantly light and airy spaces of the chapel are filled with such agreeably mundane tasks as cleaning and vacuuming, rearranging chairs, making endless cups of tea and coffee, and washing up large numbers of mugs. So far I’ve eaten Guru Arjan-Dev curry with the Sikhs, solstice strawberries with the Pagans, and I look forward to whatever Eid will bring for the Muslims. I’ve once again been very lucky to fall into what is probably one of the best jobs in the prison. It sure beats making sandbags anyway (which, sadly, is a genuine option).

I’ve been getting involved in a number of ancillary activities here too, in particular mostly associated with the Education Department. After much back-and-forth, I eventually managed to arrange taking my iGCSE English Literature exam, although having not really done much revision, I fear I may be disappointed with the grade. I also took a short course in understanding cryptic crosswords, hosted by a wonderfully eccentric gentleman of the lilac-suit-and-bow-tie variety. Thus I set you my first attempt at writing a cryptic clue: Run before excited nomad becomes erratic (6). No prizes, I’m afraid. I’m currently near the end of a singing/songwriting course of sorts, which has seen me singing with a rapper while providing rhythm on the guitar (think Coolio featuring LV, only less obese), helping Boris turn a obscure spiritual tract into a plausible song, and harmonising with a fairly talented transgender singer/songwriter on a song that strongly resembles something from a Disney cartoon. That’s not to mention engaging my own creativity to indulge in my love of major sevenths.

So, I‘ve been keeping myself busy. Much as this place can be Arbitrary, it does seem to have a number of good points. For one thing, I have to confess the food could be a lot worse. But anyway, now that I’ve started once again to build up the usual network of useful prisoners (and indeed staff) who can get things or nudge the right people to subvert the creaking bureaucracy, I’m beginning to feel a little more at home. I’m getting the hang of what I can and can’t get away with, and establishing which staff are humans and which are actually mechanoids.   Of course, everything is much easier with space to think, and as I sit here listening to a quiet broken only by the swish of distant car tyres, I’m very grateful to have some peace at last.