Thursday, December 24, 2009

One Bout of Insomnia Until Christmas!

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Little snippets of me on Christmas Eve!

So I've been keeping up with at least one of my pre-emptive resolutions for 2010, the one to be a better friend and actually meet up with people in person rather than sporadically sending them stuff on Facebook. I:

- Stayed over at the Uni Physios' place on Thursday night -- during which London had its first day of proper snow (whee!) I see them so very little when I used to see them almost every day for two years, plus they're among the best going-out buddies I have! As in bona fide clubbing and just drinking on the South Bank of the Thames until we end up laughing like crazy people. All my friends are awesome to hang out with, but most of them are more the hang-out-indoors-and-drink types. If you have neither social milieu in your repertoire, you're pretty quickly ditched. Unless you're particularly funny/sweet/awesome.

- Hung out with other uni friends on Saturday and Sunday -- most of whom I do admittedly see at least once/twice a week, but a couple of whom popped into town especially (for MS's birthday on Saturday and Christmas dinner on Sunday. LB really outdid himself this time, especially considering how many people came to drain his kitchen. Incredible.)

- Popped on the train to Birmingham where I spent the latter half of Monday and most of Tuesday with peeps from my China experience. Considering how for months I spent literally every day with these guys (and others with whom I've lost contact with even more profoundly) even to the point of sharing an uberbed* with, to now see them some three times a year is ridiculous. Sure, we reside in different parts of the UK and have our own lives to contend with, but to drop a level of friendship as it were in such a manner is still something of a strange occurrence in my mind.



Birmingham had its own German market (do they have a particular monopoly on Christmas cuisine of which that I was not aware?) Very cold (the snow was worse in London, cars held up in traffic, people falling over left right and centre) but the bratwurst and kirschwein (I've been converted, much better than Gluhwein) was warm and the lights were so pretty!






Also they had £2.50 ($5) margheritas. London bar prices suck. They were cheaper than the beers!


*think four singles pushed together. A strange time when sleeping over became the norm and taking a bikecab back to my own, admittedly better-air-conditioned flat was out of the ordinary. I miss bikecabs and the wind rushing through my hair. Any attempt to implement such a scheme in London would probably result in death though 

- Met up with a couple of school friends in the pub today albeit, briefly.
- And for a few others I didn't get to properly chillax with (I hate that I use that word now) I drove around and dropped cards and cookies off on Friday. Will definitely see them soon though, probably after New Year's to be honest.

Each experience involved offloading of cookies (hey, you know these weren't the only ones I made! There were other batches!) I think they were a success, though it would be a more substantial present if I actually made the cupcakes to go with them as well. Maybe I should get some assistance next time. Also heavily involved was mulled wine. I probably would not drink it by choice any other time of year (similar to how I will only drink red wine when politeness requires or with dinner) but while its around, mmm. Cinnamon-y.


Other random thoughts:
- I like trains when it's a lengthy journey. In fact, I like all long voyages - there's a certain childlike excitement I get from the sensation of stepping on a vehicle on one area and alighting in a completely different locale. Planes are cooler (no-one can deny this, if only because, again, the child in me loves passport stamps) but the whole pressure and smell of aeroplanes leave me slightly ill-at-ease the whole time. Coaches can be tolerable with friends but too long and you get arse-ache from the chairs and I can't read on coaches/cars without feeling queasy after a while. But trains... amazing. If nothing else, trains have the massive windows which I've always perceived as giant picture frames in which the pictures move (very quickly!) from one wonderful landscape to another. Once you have left the factories and concrete jungle of the cities. While I was travelling to and from Birmingham this was emphasised by the coat of undisturbed white snow coating the rolling hills and rows of trees like a blanket.
- Finally watched Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance" video today. So very strange. Also every time I see a Lady Gaga video, I can't help but think though she'd blatantly be into really weird stuff and probably scare seven shades of the proverbial out of me, she'd probably be amazing in bed. If she took off her weird hats and stuff.
- I listened to the Band Aid song a few days ago. "Do They Know It's Christmas?" I know it's a deliberate and blatant in your face musical tearjerker, like the videos they show at Children in Need events (those ACTUALLY make me want to cry sometimes, and I'm not really a crier. Something about children in distress really upsets me) but I should really make a point to listen to the lyrics more closely. For all the minor things that threaten to 'ruin' the Christmas experience, like arguments over turkey preparation or squabbles over who gets the remote, people around the world, Africa being the main example, have it a heck of a lot worse than I do. There are probably people within a mile of me that have it a lot better than me, and many who have it a lot worse. The grass is greener and all that. But this is not what Christmas should be about - we should be appreciating the time spent with family, the food, the telly, the (general) sense of well-being that rests on people at this time. And for those fortunate enough not to be struck by family tragedy around this time, suck it up and enjoy the privileges that we are lucky enough to have the benefit of. This last applies very much to me in particular, I am no hypocrite!
- "There won't be snow in Africa this Christmas-time" - cheap, terrible segue. Sorry. Wishing for snow and the possibility of a white Christmas is as much a part of the time as mince pies and stuffing, but we rarely do think about the reality of the situation do we? We forget that after the initial staring out the windows, the oohs and aahs and the snowball fights comes the traffic jams and most importantly the hazardous ice gauntlets that the snow kindly leaves in its wake! I had to walk in the road today just to keep my neck intact so icy were the pavements! Humbug. I still think snow is pretty awesome on balance though!
- This time tomorrow, it's Christmas! It took the aftermath of the cookie distribution to really hit me, as I couldn't make it to any carol services this year!


Merry Christmas, my happy little bunch of readers :D
I must apologise for the all over the place nature of my last post for a while (probably) but it IS 5.30 in t'morning.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Cookie Epilogue and other thoughts

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From a mass of ingredients to warm lumps that occupy my oven, to decorated cookies of awesomeness that occupy my fridge



As great of a journey as that was, if I never see/make/taste/burn/distribute another cookie for at least a week, it'll be too soon. In the interests of comprehensive backstory and decreased confusion, I have been and still am at the mercy of the economic-depression-fuelled-unemployment monster. And it's Christmas, not that the television and high-street shops haven't made you aware of that since after the summer solstice. So, went my scattered thought-process, how to distribute pressies amongst my chums this holiday period? While I might not be the most financially-blessed person of late, what I do have is a bunch of time of my hands, hence the cookies.

But what was a wonderful child-like adventure back on Wednesday soon became a delirious blur of butter, chocolate and sugar. I made enough cookies for 7 presents. That meant 5 batches of cookies, which equals, no jokes, about 5kilos of ingredients. Pre cooking. And hours, hours of baking. I'm getting wartime flashbacks! And with my vague efforts at being presentable, I refused to give out any cookies that were sunken in/broken. Those ended up in my belly. And spoon-licking is less fun the fifth time around!

It was worth it though. There's a sense of achievement to be had from making that many edible and arguably presentable items and everyone who tasted them claimed they were awesome (whether or they thought it in reality is something I shall not dwell upon!) It must be how craftsmen and carpenters feel! Only less sweat-of-brow-from-effort and more sweat-of-brow-from-oven-heat. Nonetheless. No more. The rest of the people who aren't getting financially-evaluated presents are getting cupcakes. Only Miss Dot has put up ANOTHER awesome sounding cupcake idea, so which one to choose?

Miscellaneous thoughts that strike me on this vanilla-extracted-aftermath:
- why is it I've been giving out so much sound advice these past couple of weeks? It has been occurring to me, and not for the first time, that I'm much better at giving advice than taking my own. Maybe I should meet myself. But that would require a Back to the Future type time paradox. Wouldn't that be strange/mentally-scarring/awesome?
- Christmas in less than a week! Bring on the over-eating, awkward family moments and bad television! (If they don't show two of "Miracle of 34th Street", "Jingle All the Way" and "Love Actually" I will be bitterly disappointed.)
- I'm grateful for the new followers/people who take the time to comment on the blog. It's not the reason why I wrote it, it was born as a diary for me, but I won't say it isn't nice to know people are reading it!
- I feel bad at the ghetto-abuse given to Imogen Heap, but I can't stop listening to this song




- Every holiday season is gold for festive card makers/cake makers/shops isn't it? At least in England, many national chains expected to make a loss this quarter are nonetheless expected to make a profit for this season.
- I liked mulled wine. Mmm.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Diary of a Good Day

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So today I'm going to try and put you through the sensations of my day. Bear with me folks. Warning: will be very self indulgent today.


10am -  Wake up in the morning. (Shh, employed people. I would probably prefer switching shoes with you, but while I have late morning opps I'm going to milk them :p)


This song is playing on the radio. Some would call that a good omen, plus Walkin' on Sunshine is overplayed and overrated as a morning song. And I had a great night's sleep too, which for me is a great rarity: in fact I managed precisely 0 hours of sleep the night previously which might lend itself to the previous fact. And explain why I started typing this at 4.30am.

10:15am - Check e-mail and jobsites. Awesome, a job I have been waiting for a while has opened up with an opportunity! I will not jinx it by mentioning any details, but I am psyched about this! Apply as soon as possible.

10:20am - Open the curtains. It's SNOWING!

Yes, it won't last beyond 4-ish, and yes, it also makes it nose-pinchingly, Jack-Frost-nipping-at-your-toes-ly cold outside, but my thinking is, if it's going to be annoying cold outside, it may as well bring some snow along with it.

For some inexplicable and probably juvenile reason, this fact amplifies my sense of well-being and puts a massive grin on my face. Unabashedly wide. Think baby who's just had jangling keys in front of his face.



11am - Finish up job e-mails etc and refuse to besmirch a day that gives off such good vibes by giving it job-hunting allocated time. Goodness knows I've had enough of that stress these past few days to deserve a day off (or so I convince myself). Get hit by pang of conscience nonetheless and tidy up room, sort out paper waste for shredding and recycling. The radio still persists in pumping out corkers, including Christmas songs that don't make me want to throttle a reindeer.

11.30 -  Head out to Postal sorting-office to pick up package that didn't clear customs without requiring a charge. (Minor grumble grumble) But it's the package my brother and I ordered from Threadless! All is forgiven. Their T-shirts rock. But given that I am coated in a thin layer of barely settling snow, perhaps the climate is not quite suitable yet. Hmmm. Also, losing sensation in ears, but they still function enough to hear the Blue Oyster Cult from my iPod. Aw my loyal friend. Certainly you have so little space that I have had to uncheck half my iTunes, you are black and white and are older than all my pairs of shoes, but you have stuck by me stubbornly and stoically. I am thankful for you.


12pm - Stop by supermarket to pick up baking supplies. What better a day to make a dent on the cookies and gingerbread cupcakes I intend to give as presents this year? (Check out the blog recipes, they're brilliant! And thanks to Sarah and 'Miss Dot' for discovering them for me.)

12.45pm - Get home with supplies. Hmmm, that's quite a lot of stuff. Slightly daunted as I have not baked for about 3 years. But how hard can it be?

1pm - Not that hard! It's basically stirring things in very big bowls. It's actually even quite fun, and my iTunes playlist of Christmas songs are even making me feel fairly festive!

1.30pm - Ok, a LOT of stirring. Perhaps my fault for putting the butter in the fridge instinctively. Microwaving it still left lumps. As did (more accurately) my impatience.

2pm - Put in first batch of cookies. (Cupcakes can wait for another day.) Schoolboy error one: put blobs of batter on the baking paper too close together. How will this end?

2.01pm - I wait for cookies to turn from, let's face it, scatological lumps, into edible deliciousness. Already the house smells nice, and the spoon of batter I'm licking while watching lunchtime repeats of Friends tastes good. Bodes well! Pang of realisation. Baking, listening to Christmas songs and watching Friends in the middle of the day? Where are my testicles, again? Shrug, and continue to lick the spoon.

2.07pm - Ah. This is how the error will manifest itself. It what looks like many chocolate amoeba tried to merge and mate with each other. Still smells nice though, and easily salvaged by one table knife and surgeon-like (ha!) abilities.

2.30pm - Cookies left to cool, I decide I don't need a real lunch. It will suffice for this moment in time to 'test' some of my cookies and watch the Gilmore Girls. Hmm, cookies are warm and awesome. Hmmm, I love Lorelai Gilmore, Rory is a bit too prissy at the moment.

Again, where is my Y-chromosome? Glad I'm playing football tomorrow.  Also resolve to over-imbibe beer. And possibly find some DIY to do. Ahem.

5pm - Feeling foolish at having wasted 'good day' in front of telly, return to kitchen. Forgot to buy chocolate/chocolate chips for decoration (incidentally, definitely the most fun part. You melt the chocolate in a sandwich bag, cut a small hole in the corner and go all Julia Child on that bad boy!)

5.05pm - Phone rings and it is potential employer (not the one I applied for in the morning). Asks me how I am, and genuinely today can say I feel wonderful. And yourself?

5.15pm - He is still asking me questions. Is this a phone interview? Aren't they meant to warn you when you have a phone interview?

5.30pm - Still asking questions. Definitely a phone interview. Any other time, I would be slightly nervy: interviews bring out the worst in me, but today I am high on joy and Christmas. I am bulletproof.

5.32pm - "So what do [company name] do, as far as you know?" Panic. Slight panic? No, significant panic. Bumble like Hugh Grant (why do I sound more posh when I'm nervous and/or on the telephone. People tell me I have a phone voice. Not important! Focus on matter in hand!)Aha, my laptop is open. Google to the rescue! Maintain composure though. Smell the cookies! Also, it is for a job I applied for. Not a career. Would not be the end of the world. Salvage interview. I think. I don't care, I still smell cookies! Plus it's nice to actually a get a reply of any sort from a company, make a pleasant change from the usual stony silence the other dozens of companies have thus far given me.

6-something pm - parents return from work. Offer them cookies like a child first thing after school. "Stephen, these actually really taste delicious!" Glad at the praise, hesistant reaction to the emphasis on "actually". Humph.

The rest is immaterial family standard fare. They went out to dinner with other parental types and I bought more baking supplies (including about chocolate for decoration and about 6 packs of butter. Checkout lady presumably presumed it was my New Year's Resolution to double my weight) and watched TV. Gotta love Spooks. It's like the British lower-budget cousin of 24. Quiet night in preparation for long weekend ahead.


Ooh, and saw another advert for Sherlock Holmes. This film had better be amazing or I will be bitterly disappointed and be even more convince that Guy Ritchie hit his prime way too early. Apart from RockNRolla. That was pretty good.














Fin.

p.s. DISCLAIMER: author is not actually a 10-year-old girl.
p.p.s. If you stuck through this post all the way to this point, bless your little cotton socks and I hope you feel this good every day :D
p.p.p.s. Seriously, but seriously think about checking this site out. A weekly shrine to brilliant beautiful films, and what a great bunch she has lined up! So in love with this blog.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Everyone has a story to tell

8

 Certainly an adage commonly spouted by travel writers and cheesy journalists, but every so often you meet someone who reminds you that cliches have become so for a reason. Everyone has a story, and if you're lucky, you'll meet someone with an epic one.

More often than not, this will be someone you meet travelling. After all, the type of places that world voyagers tend to frequent are not as different (for the most part, most of us are not pathfinders or trailblazers) as you might think, and will depend on travel guides and previous recommendations. Like the time I met a Portuguese law lecturer in Thailand who was teaching in Macau. Or the investment banker who chucked it all in to travel the world for three years on his belated quest to 'find himself'. If you've been travelling, you know the types. But not every great 'I met this bloke' anecdote has to begin with a pretentious, "While I was backpacking across Western Europe..." (Get this reference without googling it and win a high-five from me!) I find it infinitely more special when you meet someone with an awesome back-story on the bus. Or a park bench. Or, if you're really lucky, a launderette.

Now, the thing about London (central London mostly) is that although it's filled with some of the most amazing people you'll ever meet, between those people, taking up space and consuming oxygen, are a bunch of complete twats. For every 'Good morning' cheerily piped into your caffeine-and-sleep-deprived face first thing in the morning, is a snarled 'get out of the way and look where you're going'. I like to believe that on a weekend, or even just at the evening, in their own element, these people are charming and generous individuals. But catch them at King's Cross station at 8.30 in the morning and they become brooding ogres. Cerberus guarding the gates of Hades. You keep an eye out, walk fast (at London speed. Londoners and, from what I've heard, New York-ers will know exactly what I'm talking about), don't obstruct public walkways or exits and you never ever talk to a stranger who doesn't address you first.

OK, slight hyperbole there. But as we are, with our Yuppie/Generation Y/Smart-phone culture, everyone's listening to their mp3 players, or reading their copy of Twilight, or burying their faces into their Daily Express. Just go on the Tube (the London subway system) at peak commuting hours to see what I'm talking about. God forbid we interact with each other, aside from the socially acceptable "Excuse me. I'm getting off here." And I'll admit I'm just as guilty. I will be that one in the corner listening to my iPod, oblivious to the sounds of world around me.

But London isn't always that bad. At other times, if you look approachable enough you might just encounter that elusive sight: someone smiling at you. That's your in. These are nice people who will give you the time of day, and should you engage them in conversation you can have a nice chinwag. Just don't chase them down the street if they're walking away already. Unless they're hot.

On a night bus I encountered a Turkish couple who upped and moved their life to London because they thought it looked pretty in films. While sitting on a bench in Covent Garden, I had a nice chat with a French girl doing a masters degree who had spent a year interning at a think-tank in Basra. In a launderette just today (it's far too cold in London these days to even think about drying clothes outside or to sap precious heat from the radiators by clothing them in your heavy and damp apparel) I met an Indian man who had pretty much mirrored my trip across South West China, just twelve years before. Uncanny.

So break that most ridiculous of city taboos. Just say hi to someone, test them out with a smile, break out of your bubble of isolation and silence. Because that might just lead to the best half hour of your day.


How about you guys? Have you met anyone just in the street who had a story to tell you?

"Describe yourself in 200 words."

3

 [A poem I wrote a few years ago, pissed off with job applications, and fished up today. Because some angst just comes back to haunt you.]


How does one express their essence,
Their being,
In a box?
If a picture is to represent a thousand words
Are you restricting me
To a fragment of a photograph?

I resent your games,
I resent your inhumanity
I despise its necessity
I mourn my compliance.

Does this mark the beginning of my spiritual death?
Am I to henceforth put across my thoughts to a word limit?
Will my ideas be similarly censored?
My inquisitive nature, stunted?
My wonderment, cast aside?

I shall seek refuge in the ideas of others,
In the poems in which I once found possibility,
And the music which gave me hope.
I shall hope that I shall maintain the capacity to dream,
To protect the part of myself that sets me apart,
I am not the sum of my grades,
Nor the text on my curriculum vitae.
I am the life I have led,
And the life I have yet to.
This you shall never know,
This I shall hang onto.

Within this box, I present my current thoughts.
And wonder how anyone can sum up their lives in the same number of words.
This I yearn to write but dare not.
I am conforming.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Postsecret.com

6

PostSecret: Confessions on Life, Death and God from Frank Warren on Vimeo.

How much do you want to hug everyone in this video? Also, I don't care if you're a girl or a guy, if the bit at the 4-minute mark doesn't melt your heart, you're dead inside.

http://www.obsessed-with-the-internet-why-why-why.com

6
If you clicked that hoping for a website, I pat you on your head, silly monkey :) No, rather this is another journey of self-discovery, on the e-path to e-nlightment. So that last one doesn't really work. Shush.

What's the first step you're meant to take when you're a member of [Insert-deplorable-vice-here] Anonymous? Oh yes. I'm Stephen and I'm obsessed with the Internet. It's true.

Exhibit 1:
So I go to the cinema, laugh/cry/feel uplifted, have drinks with mates/rip film apart/place film on pedestal, return home and what is my first instinct? Check Imdb. (This is the part where you chant 'freak' at me.) I mean, nary an hour or two will have passed since the film ended and yet, I want to know the 'trivia'. The 'goofs'. And if I or my friends were undecided on the judgment of the film I might also pop over to RottenTomatoes to see what critics have had to say. A similar process may occur once I have finished a book.

Exhibit 2:
Yesterday, the power went out on my block. Only for fifteen minutes or so mind you, but still. Power cut. My first thought? Not make sure the alarm doesn't run out of battery charge and set itself off at 2am. Not worry that the freezer might soon become home to a cornucopia of thawed out meat and melted ice cream. But rather oh no, now I can't send that e-mail I wanted to send! Shocking. By the time I'd located the torches etc and convinced myself the e-mail could wait 'til the next day, the power came back on. And quite honestly and very tragically, I let out a genuine and audible sigh of relief. Then went on Facebook.

Exhibit 3:

I use the internet for 90% of my life. I will now Wikipedia something rather than asking someone else. I will go upstairs to Google a restaurant's phone number when chances are I have it scribbled down somewhere in my Filofax. In my bag. Next to my foot. I use sites like Wikipedia and Google as everyday verbs! Slay me now. And though I will never need to know this in life, I also looked up the etymology of the word "wean". 16th Century and Germanic in origin I'll have you know.

Exhibit 4:

Also, as the internet has become like an extension of myself, I use it to emulate my mental let's-clumsily-and-randomly-jump-from-topic-to-topic style of thought. (Not just when I'm not sleeping! Like now.) I went to Imdb to check out a quotation from "The History Boys" that made me thoughtful a few days ago. In a strange Six-Degrees-of-Kevin-Bacon (incidentally I rock at that game) manner I managed to end up playing Samorost. Via Youtube and Rocketboom.



Now I have no intention of taking drastic measures, or weaning myself off the internet anytime soon. I mean, I still have a regular social life and talk to 'real people' in person more than on Facebook. And goodness knows that for every two (don't lie. say ten) pointless things I do on the internet, I do something productive. Like send off hideously long job applications to companies that don't want me. But if Y2K had been real, I would probably be a very different person today.

Ahem. [Scurries off to Wikipedia the Y2K bug.]


p.s.
- In other news, my first article for FrequencyMagazine (an online music magazine) has been put up. Whoo! Check it out
- Sorry for getting all link-tastic. I'm not being sponsored by any of these websites (more's the pity)!
- Based almost solely on "Gavin and Stacey", I love Welsh people.
- I can't sing, but I'm seriously thinking about putting "Audition for X Factor" on my Bucket List. (Still a work in progress)
- Do I abuse parentheses and hyphens?

Friday, December 11, 2009

Youtube makes me smile.

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So I like Glee! Shut up.

I mean, the stories are ridiculous, and I deplore the use of auto-tune. But the ensemble songs are just freaking awesome. And I pretty much love Lea Michele and her voice. Certainly she's not the hottie in the 'conventional' sense, but she is pretty and that voice! Mmmm.



Haha, could easily have been me some twenty-years ago! My parents still whip out the old home-videos of me singing as an ickle one when they have visitors for prime humiliation. Missing teeth and all.



Geek tastic.



This lass is just hilarious.

I am London

4

I am Nelson's Column, the 50-metre tribute of a nation of great military action and historical worth, overlooking Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, the City, my domain. Surveyor of the people, symbol of the people.

I am the urine ridden underside of the great bridges, the smell of the desperation of the homeless, the cardboard cities of the hopeless.

I am the optimism, the modernity, the integration, the mangoes sold by first generation immigrants at the height of winter by the sides of the roads. The camaraderie, the joy, the group of school children pouring onto the streets after seeing Wicked.

I am the small-minded, the indifferent, the cynics, the people that deliberately bump your shoulder as you walk along the crowded streets at rush hour offering barely a grunt of acknowledgement as they scurry to or from the great Square Mile rat-race. Who knows? Who cares?

I am the stoicism, the bravery, the commuter travelling after 7/7 to oh-so-Britishly stick two fingers up at the terrorists, the last bastion of chivalry as the drunken and lost maiden cannot find her cab at night. I am the person who opens the door for you. I am the charity volunteers. I am the "Bless you" after you sneeze on the bus.

I am the survivor of the Great Fire, the Blitz, the terrorists bombings, the faint memory of a past that was not so shining and flawless.

I am the London of Love Actually.

I am the London of Sweeney Todd.

I am the last Tube, the organically alive, pleasantly tipsy and squawking post-bar crowd, the laughter, the Johnny Cash tribute busker singing Ring of Fire in your ear as you go home on the Northern Line.

I am the last night bus, the post-club crowd, the drunken, the rowdy, the retching, the reeking of McDonalds, the litter, the smell of too long a period without a shower.

I am the raw energy of youth, the 2012 Olympics, the football in Hyde Park, the joggers at Regent's Park, the arts students on Carnaby Street looking for inspiration, the galleries, the open air events, the Old Vic theatre, the National Theatre, the Globe theatre.

I am the pessimistic nay-sayer, continually poo-pooing the downfall of the great nation, the tax payer, the scribe of grumpy and lonesome Letters to the Editor, the abandoned, the forgotten.


I am the contradictory, beautiful, terrible city that gets under your skin.
I am home.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

"Reading magazines and counting sheep to pass the time away"

7

Ah... Feeder. Anyhow, that's the opening lyric to their song Insomnia, and incidentally, this is the first picture that appears when you type insomnia into Google images. Creepy, n'est-ce pas? Not tired, you?

I've been in bed for about 3 hours and still my mind refuses to shutdown and let me sleep. So after fishing up the ol' Macbook and draining the news websites, my Google Reader and BBC Radio 4 of stimulation I decided to be terribly ADD and look up famous people who are/were insomniacs.  And type up my findings self indulgently in a manner that distinctly resembles tripe. I won't edit it though. Maybe it will be vaguely funny in the morning. That, or depressing. In conducting internet research, it amused me how each list felt compelled to think of synonyms for insomnia to avoid repetition. According to their lexicon, I currently have difficulty sleeping as other people would, refer to my failure to enjoy a good night sleep, suffer terribly from the insomnia, and have the ability to sleep during only four or even less hours at night. Also, while Google might render up a number of websites offering such lists, they all seem to have rehashed essentially the same thing. Lazy!

As a result I refuse to produce another copy of this list. Though I did come across a few strange remedies they used. Mark Twain, staying at his friend's house, felt the need for fresh air so threw a pillow through a window, which seemed to do the trick. He later found out the 'window' was a glass bookcase. Groucho Marx used to call strangers up in the middle of night and insult them. Hmmm... Best not. Besides I have no idea what my voice sounds like right now. Probably like a snotty growl more than anything else.

Know who else was an insomniac? Charles Dickens. What the dickens? What the deuce? Stewie Griffin. Peter Griffin. Peter O' Toole. Tool Time. Tim Allen. Woody Allen. Annie Hall. Rebecca Hall. Vicky Christina Barcelona. Gaudi. Gaudy. Ugly. Grim. Bleak. Hard Times. Charles Dickens. Ahah, we come full circle.

It's nearly 5:19. 5:19 is the name of a song by Matt Wertz. If you type in Matt Wertz at Googlism, the funniest response is "matt wertz is an animal and thats fo shizel i drove 2 hours". That makes a bunch of sense to me. If I drove 2 hours I could be in Birmingham. England, not Alabama. The population of Birmingham Alabama is estimated at around 229,000. The population of Birmingham, England is over 1,000,000. I'm going to Birmingham in a fortnight. In French, a fortnight is quinze jours if I remember correctly. How boring is that? But quotidien looks and sounds a lot better than daily. And it can mean newspaper.

Why is no one else awake at this time...?

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Lists - All the cool kids are making them

1
Because I can, and because I like to think of myself as sometimes wry and dry of wit, I'm going to make a list of reasons why I am going to make lists this week:

1. Because as well as being composed of a number of other deficiencies, I am short of attention span. Fast to be enthused by something but almost as fast to ditch something newer, shinier or prettier.

Case in point. A few weeks ago, I read 4 books in a week ("Nocturnes" - K Ishiguro, "To the Lighthouse" - V Woolf, "Kitchen" - B Yoshimoto, "Brick Lane" - M Ali. Just in case you're interested and they're all bloody good books.) This week I have started three and completed zero. Not because they're unworthy books, in fact I'm sure they're wonderful reads, but sometimes when you're reading about white whales, you decide instead you want to read the Gandhi book that's sat on your friend's bookshelf, then a couple of days later decide that Sherlock Holmes might be more fun.

See what I mean? Tangent. Anyhow, lists might get my array of rapid and unfocused thoughts into a semblance of order, and subsequently magically convert me into a semblance of an organised homo sapien.


2. Because Santa Claus is. Mariah Carey just said. "He's making a list, he's checking it twice." Then he's coming into town. I wonder if Santa would care for a gingerbread latte with me, since he'll be in town, and they're delicious.






3. Because of late I've been reminded of the concept of Bucket Lists and their variants. Like the Morgan Freeman film. Like my friend who wants to take me bungee jumping in February. And this Nicole lass (check her out, she's got a pretty good one here). I have suspected I coast along life when left to my own devices, but no longer! Time for change! I'm not sure whether to make a Life/Bucket List or a mini To-Do-In-2010 List. Maybe both?

4. Because I'm listening to "My Year in Lists" by Los Campesinos.

5. Because I'm a product of the accelerated, constantly bombarded with information from a plethora of sources and media, rarely stationary and consistently curious state of society at the moment. Generation whY? if you will. 

6. Because of "The Twelve Days of Christmas"?

Chicken Soup for the Soul (Youtube edition)

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So had a bad day today, everyone's allowed 'em, right? And when it's too cold and rainy to go out outside again and risk antagonising the snot monster that threatens your very sinuses, hit the YouTube!



Sure I'm about five times the target demographic but this song cheers me up!



And this kitten video. I fear for my testicles.



At least this one contains a real human man!



Josh Groban is actually a pretty funny guy, who knew?

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Upper Cut to G7

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So last night I went to one of the more random events I have attended for quite some time: chessboxing. Yes, you read that correctly.




It's exactly how it sounds, a sport where the... erm... fighters? Players? The two men undergo 8 rounds of alternately chess and full-contact boxing (though ultimately they work on a point system, knock-outs, apparently, are comparatively rare). You win the bout by inducing checkmate or on a technical knockout in boxing. If there is a draw at chess, either via the game itself or if there is a comparative deadlock situation and both players agree to forego the chess  in round 7, it comes down to the boxing. Confusing, no? You soon pick it up, indeed HR and I did by observation and irritating the people around us with questions.

Which leads me neatly on the next curio of the event: the audience. Now, having absolutely no exposure to this game at all previously, I half expected the observers to be either massive, built-like brickhouses and/or grossly obese, tight T-shirt wearing boxing fans or shy retiring bespectacled chess fanatics. As it stood, while there were people who fit this description present, it was more like any pub in suburban London. Middle-class, mostly older than us, almost exclusively Caucasian and almost all as baffled as we were. One could conclude that they had heard about it in the Guardian, Time Out magazine or some other publication, more accustomed to reviewing the latest performance at the Royal Albert Hall. Rather amusingly there was also a better male/female ratio than you would expect at a boxing bout or chess match(!) This lent an air of not taking this terribly seriously: we were here to see community theatre, not Hatton-Mayweather or... a chess match. As such I actually enjoyed the evening.

Through circumstance, we had to miss the first bout and about half of the second, and I spent a chunk of that at the bar, so I took it as a chance to try and understand the game. Pretty standard boxing, and more mundane chess - ended in a checkmate that seemed inevitable. We spent a lot of the time gently mocking the whole situation we found ourselves in - people paying money to support friends (presumably) or watch a game which confused them but they thought might make an interesting enough anecdote at their next wine and cheese party. (I don't know where HR got the idea but I agreed purely on the premise that something that different would be a great sight to behold.) The level of professionalism held by the venue didn't really help. Unfortunately the picture above is misleading - I didn't have the foresight to bring a camera with me, perhaps tempered by the hope that I would be in a cramped dingy underground venue (it was dingy and sub-terrain!) surrounded by massive boxing fans baying for blood. This was no national level event. Not for these chessboxers would there be sponsored chessboxing tables. No, instead we got (presumably magnetic) standard chessboard rested on a folding table (likely previously use to prop up someone's G&T while watching Newsnight), and a bloke hiding in the dark with a laptop mapping out the moves while the screen cut out every so often. And perhaps key to the hilarity is that HR and I found ourselves in the venue that we used to frequent on the unofficially but somehow widely known underage indie-rock drinking nights when we were wee slips of 15 and I thought that Stella Artois was the great beer of beer connoisseurs (nowadays I know it better as the chav-ish beer of pot-bellied wifebeaters). I actually let out a ha!  of amusement and reminiscence when they played the Libertines over the speaker system during the break. On the plus side, I enjoyed the ticket - simplistic, but somewhat stylistically akin to the old school boxing matches.


Also the between-matches entertainer was actually mental. A skinny black man in a pruple velvet suit and feathered top hat busting out 70s dance moves (I was fairly appreciative) and terrible cover songs, who either came from a circus background, novelty pubs or a reformed busker/tramp at our estimation.


The second bout we watched was infinitely more exciting. There was Sasha from Berlin and Daniel from Pamplona, who actually looked the part, unlike the previous two, one of whom was built spryly like a sprinter, and the winner who very much looked like a chess player rather than a boxer. The chess was tense, for spells the crowd was convinced that one or the other would win, and indeed there would always be one with one minute less on their chess clock (there is an allotted 12 mins total over the rounds) so there was the possibility one would run out the clock. As it was, there was a very level playing field in Round 7, exactly the same pieces on the board, both protecting themselves well to the point of risking repetition. To my, and everyone else's relief, they elected for the chess draw and instead to settle it in the boxing ring. When the folding table and chairs were packed away. The boxing side of things was much more interesting. Throughout, Sasha was more technically proficient, better footwork, more combinations, but had a rubbish guard. The Pamplona fighter, in contrast, had zero footwork, but more passion, instead satisfying himself with swinging admittedly solid hooks at his German opponent. What with Sasha's lack of ferocity (for the most part, there were spells for each where it got tense) and Daniel's lack of style or technique, neither would have made it as pure boxers. However, the game was called on points and the facts that Pamplona landed more blows and genuinely put on more effort and a better show led to his declaration as winner.

The third match was a massive disappointment in more than one sense of the word. The first chessboxer they brought on was a massive Pole from Warsaw with the encouraging nickname of 'the Wardrobe'. Then, they bring on a ludicrously obese man 'the Red Kite' who looks more like a lardier version of the man who taught me driving. The chess was mundane, nothing at all happened, then: the boxing. Which was worse. I had hoped that:
- Firstly, the chessboxing bouts were structured like all fighting tournaments, in which as you move along the fightcards, you get the better matches. Indeed the second one we saw was much more entertaining than the first.
- Secondly, that the Red Kite would put up more of a fight! Certainly he was built more like a boxing glove than a wardrobe, but you get overweight boxers who are a bit past their prime and retain the ability to throw a beast of a punch. Foolish me - there's overweight, then there's so rotund that I was glad the folding chairs were made out of metal.
The Red Kite turned out to be a chessboxing fraud. Not only was his guard and footwork terrible,  he didn't throw a single decent punch and kept tripping over his feet and falling backward. He threw in the towel (better than he threw punches!) midway through the round. What a disappointment and anticlimax!

I learned three things  as I walked out of the memory-ridden club while the punters danced around in the vacated ring like a wedding crowd at 10pm: Chessboxing is funny; I never want to watch a chess match; in chessboxing, the touch-move rule is as sacred as the offside rule.



Random thoughts you leave you with:

- If you idly flick through the 'Next Blogs' on Blogger, probably at least 70% of them are dedicated to newborns or newlyweds.
- Still digging Mumford and Sons. They have the same old time, almost minstrel-esque storytelling style to their music without losing the feeling of the contemporary, which is why I prefer them to the Fleet Foxes. Not that FF aren't worthy of a crate of praise in their own right.
- They've started showing Live at the Apollo again. Whoo! I wonder if I'll turn up in the audience shots...
- Took another photo through blearly eyes this morning because I happened to wake up grossly early entirely unintentionally. I'm putting it up because I love the colour of the sky but disappointingly the foreground is too light to be a convincing silhouette but too dark to be a proper feature. Boo.


- The weather has finally caught up with me and my nose is starting to emulate the Trevi Fountain. Double Boo. I can but hope I get fully better in time for next week, I can't be ill when there's so much stuff to be done!

A Christmas Mix CD from me to you!

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"Blast this Christmas music! It's joyful and triumphant."

In my personal quest not to emulate Grinch this holiday period I have compiled a Christmas Mix CD also, inspired by Emily Jane. It's rather more chilled out than her indie offering, with an eclectic mix of peaks and troughs, covers and originals, oldies and contemporaries, perfectly timed to JUST burn onto a CD. If you like it, link back to this post and spread the joy! And if you are made particularly particularly cheery by any of the songs, do consider buying some of their other stuff, I have no compunctions whatsoever about recommending any and all of these artists highly.

Merry Christmas guys!

Ho ho ho!

-----

1) Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! - Frank Sinatra
2) Fairytale of New York - KT Tunstall
3) Last Christmas - Jimmy Eat World
4) 2000 Miles - KT Tunstall
5) Winter Wonderland - Kate Havenik
6) Silent Night (A Capella) - Boyz II Men
7) All I Want For Christmas Is You - Mariah Carey
8) Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town - Mariah Carey
9) Carol of the Bells - The Bird and the Bee
10) Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) - Death Cab for Cutie
11) Maybe This Christmas - Ron Sexsmith
12) Christmas Song - Catherine Feeny
13) Christmas - Leona Naess
14) Merry Xmas Everybody - Rooney
15) Mistletoe - Colbie Caillat
16) Frosty the Snowman - Fiona Apple
17) It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year - Andy Williams
18) Sleigh Ride - KT Tunstall
19) God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen - Bright Eyes
20) Driving Home for Christmas - Chris Rea
21) I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas - Bing Crosby
22) Happy Xmas (War is Over) - The Fray
23) Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas - Frank Sinatra

[Recommended track order]

Friday, December 04, 2009

Christmas Music

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I'm going to be hugely lazy and instead today link you to a wonderful indie mixed CD I found on Emily Jane's blog. As I said to her in my embarrassingly gushy comment, I am a huge fans of the traditional Christmas songs covered in a different way. Songs often tend to lose their charm when you hear them in every major shop and TV advertisement. This way you get the Christmas feeling with a twist that keeps you involved. Not that there's anything wrong with the 'classics'


Mariah Carey - All I Want For Christmas Is You

Ah, for the days when Mariah Carey was sweet. Great song - I defy you to hear this and not sing and/or dance! It's Christmas! You can't have at me for liking the saccharine chunks of festivity! :D

EJ has inspired to perhaps compile a Mix CD of my own for friends and all two of my readers :P Keep a lookout! And until next time, I don't want a lot for Christmas....

Media Overload

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So for the past few months I have been unemployed. That's right, just another casualty of the economic downturn, not that I enjoy making excuses for myself nor dwelling on that fact. Now, I have days where I'm exceedingly pro active in applying for every job that might conceivably take me; and others, like today and the latter section of yesterday, where the only useful thing I do is try out recipes (see below) and spend the rest of the day immersing myself in media to the point where I might conceivably need a monocle (I may just have seen an advertisement for Monopoly). So here's what I've been interested in of late in between applying for scores of jobs and twiddling my thumbs waiting to here back from said institutions:

Scrubs

This is my cue to request you all imagine the melancholy piano cue music they use for poignant or otherwise sad moments on the show. The hardcore fans will know what I mean - duh duh du-duh duh duh duh duh... etc. I was underwhelmed by the first two offerings of the new season (now in its 9th), despite expecting very little. In a bid to retain the fiercely loyal fanbase of seasons past, they have retained JD, Turk, Dr's Cox and Kelso, and Denise, that grumpy (yet strangely attractive) blonde doctor from the past season, albeit in diminished roles. Zach Braff, back to in order to aid the transition, is as quirky as ever but now a father and very much meant to be a role model for the new intake (indeed, the "Scrubs" title screen has a sub byline of "Med School" underneath) is now just vaguely pathetic and immature rather than endearing. Blink-and-you'll-miss them cameos from Elliot, the Janitor and the Todd raise smiles in the first episode before they vanish back into the night. The hospital has now changed building also, further adding to the detachment from the previous structure. There are three main new characters in the med student intake, a cocky son-of-major-sponsor Cole, dark and Cox-ian former med school drop out Drew, and in the starring role, Lucy, who would have done perfectly well as a back up character formerly but I currently have doubts whether she will be able to carry the show as JD did in the past. I like the character and the actress (Kerry Bishe) in a pretty and dorky ingenue role which seems rather cynically to be a blend of JD and Elliot, with the former's strange outbursts and need for a role model (enter previous JD) and the latter's latent insecurity. But her daydreams are not as wacky nor well themed as JD's and there is only so far sweetly smiling will carry you. I have loved this programme from the outset so I will continue to give it a chance, but based on initial opinion and the fact that the show was already on a downward slope before JD 'left', I am thinking that perhaps they should consider stopping the dead-horse-flogging. Seriously. Even Friends knew when to end on a high note, and they were infinitely more inventive with their scenarios and old fashioned situation comedy.

Augmented Reality

I might be a few weeks late to the party on this revelation but this is the future of media I reckon! The talented bunch at Rocketboom.com did a pretty good explanation that I can probably not improve upon.



The bottom line is that camera-enabled computers, laptops and smartphones will soon be able to have a whole new slew of features, such as slideshows, enhanced maps, and probably even games with minimal new software. The easiest and most comprehensive the general public could try out if one is particularly interested in this concept is the 'Virtual Echo' over at the official website for the TV programme Dollhouse (on its deathbed currently *sniff sniff*). You print out a logo on a piece of paper which enables you to play around with an admittedly not very interactive display of Echo's personas, but you can move the screen around a lot and for a half minute it feels thrillingly (and geekily) like you're Tom Cruise in Minority Report.

 My Sassy Girl

This is a 2001 Korean romcom flick with a slight twist, based on a hugely popular Korean online romantic blog. Think an older Asian cousin of (500) Days of Summer (who says analogies have to make sense?) This has achieved massive cult and box office success in South East Asia, which is how I know of it despite it being all but unknown over here. I initially resisted for that exact reason. It's a very popular romcom, and those generally have a tendency to make me feel not unlike someone shoved a caramelised rainbow down my throat. But in its Asian setting, its unabashed kooky nature. Given the current reception of (500) Days, this film was a while ahead of its time, and the script is clever enough to keep it engaging over its lengthy run time. Certainly, this film has its flaws: the setpieces feeling forced and incredible (the Girl's script ideas and the soldier scene in the middle partily springing to mind), the comedy can sometimes be very Asian (huge dependence on slapstick and social awkwardness to the extent that some may wrinkle their noses) and the story arc jumps to and fro so much it might give you plot-whiplash. But the central relationship is played sublimely, the comic timings are on beat and such as they are, there exist some very clever (if a tad predictable for romcom cynics like myself) plot devices. I would definitely recommend it, and doubly if you're Asian and/or a romcom fan.

For IMDB addicts - My Sassy Girl
and those who want a second (very worthy) opinion - JapanCinema review

p.s. I hear universally that the 2008 remake with Elisha Cuthbert is a wash out. Beware.

The law/human rights gone wrong?

'A 66-year-old church elder convicted of indecently assaulting a child will not be sent to jail because his obesity means his health is "precarious"'


Where do we draw the line?


Source: BBC News

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

World AIDS day - fight AIDS in Africa

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It's a great cause, look it up. It's our responsibility as dwellers in the privileged half of the world.

Ten on Tuesday

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So in my quest for gimicky reasons to write, I stumbled upon this "Ten on Tuesday" on Stephany's blog. In a nutshell, it's quite simply answering ten questions. And it's still technically Tuesday in America! Here goes:

1. What was the last concert you’ve been to?
I was lucky enough to catch Muse at the O2 a few weeks ago. For those of you not aware of this, the Millenium Dome built for the millenium in London nearly a decade ago was transformed into the O2 centre (sponsored by the O2 phone network) with an arena, a cinema, a club and many restaurants. I hadn't actually been to the arena in the O2 before and was surprised how it was smaller than I'd imagined, then remembering it was indoors as PART of the dome structure, confounded by how much they'd actually managed to fit in.

Muse was, as expected, awesome. They never disappoint, and this time had raising platforms to add to their usual laser show and screen projection tricks. The latter were particularly impressive, one looking like a man slowly drowning artistically (trust me on this oxymoronic point :P) while the band rocked out. Now, I'm not much of a fan of the new album as compared to the previous offerings, but still, it works pretty well live, and they had enough of the old favourites to keep me jumping!

2. Is it easy to make you cry?
No. But the things that DO make me cry are pretty strange. "Big Fish" the film makes me cry happy tears. Seeing/living a traumatic event won't make me cry, but talking about it afterward might, at least in the past. I haven't cried for a long time now.

3. Do you ever feel like people underestimate you?
Underestimate me at first, yes. While sometimes I suspect I don't give the most impressive and standout first impression, I believe I make a very good second/third one.

4. Name 7 completely random things that you like:
Goodie! Lists! :D

Sunrises - They can make any sky better, and give a wonderful tinge to any plain landscape or horizon. also they make clouds look like blank canvasses rather than harbingers of bad weather.


Random acts of kindness - Wherever possible, I like to think the best of people in general. Don't get me wrong, I don't have a pair of rose-tinted glasses welded to my face and I know there are some genuine bastards out there. But seeing acts of kindness in the outside world, with the proviso that they must take place between strangers and be more substantial and less to-be-expected than opening a door, make me smile inside and keep off the slow and winding path into dark misanthropy.


Hugs - Who doesn't like a good hug? I like good hugs, and so, I hear, I give good hugs. Mmm...


Singing  - I can't sing, but if I could I'd be failing as a professional singer at this very moment! Karaoke is awesome, and Guitar Hero has become a whole lot better since they introduced the mics :P


Acoustic covers of songs - Quite a large part of me enjoys a good harmony, a neat and unusual cadence, a prudent key change. Hearing a song stripped down to its musical roots without the layering on of production, relying only on the musicians and their indomitable spirit makes most songs sound more passionate to me.


Smiles - Smiling makes everyone look nicer, more approachble and endears themselves to me. People should smile more.


Discovering a really good book - Life can be dreary at times and a good book allows us to live a variety of experiences vicariously.


5. What’s your favorite reality TV show and why?
Like Stephany, I love So You Think You Can Dance? The dances (for the most part) amazing, they have brought on some amazing choreographers, and dancers are FIT :P Not the most manly of favourites, but shush, I like it. I don't generally care for reality TV though.

6. What is your favorite hair care product?
*Rolls eyes* The shower?

7. What’s your favorite song at the moment?
  This bad boy. "Maybe this Christmas" by Ron Sexsmith. (Take the time now to laugh the name.... bit more... now let's continue) I only just got back into the Christmas songs today, being advent and all that, and I realised I have a fair amount of festive tunes on my iTunes! This is an oldie but goodie, one of my top-rated Christmas songs.

8. What’s the number one thing on your Christmas wishlist?
An iPhone? Other than that, I'm lucky enough to not really want anything with any great longing. Winning the lottery might be a nice idea.

9. Have you ever lost your cell phone?
 On the day of my 18th birthday,  I left my mobile phone in the changing room at Gap. When I realised and returned to check if it was there, I found out some honest soul had handed it back in. Wonderful.


10. Did you attack the hordes of shoppers for Black Friday?
I guess the equivalent would be the Boxing Day sales? Only braved it once of my own volition and I suspect a few times trailing alongside my parents when I was a wee boy.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

"Winter Song"

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So, December 1st. I guess that means it is officially not too early to put up trees and listen to Christmas songs!


Here's a gem of a Christmas song. "Mistletoe" by Colbie Caillat.

I have it as part of the "The Hotel Cafe present Winter Songs" album. I believe it's quite a few years old, but still brilliant. The singers (all female, I'm not sure if that's purely coincidental) each bring a little of themselves with varying success to make this more than a mere karaoke pop compilation. Unlike this. Miley Cyrus? Really? If you look at the previous CDs in the Very Special Christmas albums, it'll make you shake your head and yearn for the past :D Far be it from me to question the current musical zeitgeist, but methinks the music industry were scraping the barrel a bit here! Get the Winter Songs album instead. Cover it in fake snow, make an event out of it.

Sunrises (and sunsets) can make anything look awesome.










Just... don't zoom in too much. I took the photo in a hurry, the birds were flying at quite a speedy pace, and I was keen to get them in the shot!

So, I had a brief affair with the shiny mistress that is Tumblr. I was tempted by the prospect of easier, less labour intensive blogging. I was courted by the shiny colours and giant icons. But while there is a certain novelty to be held in 2 click blogging, and for certain things, such as photographers, perhaps it is a better vehicle. But rather like Twitter it is too myopic and lacking in depth. And more importantly, it is not as geared or aimed at the bloggers, that is, the people who write down thoughts and aspirations, rather than reblogging cool links. While I might be more suited to Tumblr with my dedication and blogging longevity, I wish to be a blogger. And Blogger the site allows me to read and surround myself with real bloggers as an incentive, and incentivisation is what I need if I am to develop my writing, etc. Ironically I am very aware I am writing in a less than succinct manner, but this will happen if you inadvertently and for no reason whatsoever pull an all-nighter. That's right! I did it again.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

It's been a long time

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Not written since May?! Really? Ludicrous.

Will seriously have to get back on the writing, tomorrow if possible! In the meantime, here's a pretty scenic picture with colours.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

"What Can I Say"

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Can you tell that I love clouds and sunsets? The song today is from Brandi Carlile, whom I believed I've bigged-up before, but still, most definitely worth a look-in. Feeling a little bit under the weather today (may have had a bearing on the picture) and not feeling particularly verbose so just a short one.

=> Links you should check out:

Days With My Father: A beautiful and touching photojournal from a son about his father in the last, but glorious, days of his life.

JapanCinema.net: a blog reviewing Japanese films (duh) This guy actually knows what he's talking about, and is nice enough to include clips you can check out if the review whets your appetite.

=> Would it be flippant to say I'm bored with swine flu? Don't get me wrong, my condolences go out to those who have lost friends or family to this ailment, but for people to be afraid to leave the house for that reason outside of Mexico... is that really proportionate? There's nothing that makes me take something less seriously than having it shoved in my face and it fast becoming a cliche.

=> When running in the bright sunshine at 2pm, wearing a dark long-sleeved T-shirt is not advisable.

=> French accents on women are just mmm...

=> I need to leave the country and soon. I'm getting more than a slight twinge of ennui with London, especially when the weather's grey and gloomy. It's actually pretty nice when it's sunny and you're in the park.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

"Part of Your World"

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Obviously the song of the post is from, ahem, the Little Mermaid. Because anyone who still has a soul loves the classic Disney movies!

For some reason I'm in a rather cutesy mood so dug up this picture of a random Chinese baby from last year. Adorable, huh? This little one resides near the famous Longsheng rice terraces in the Guangxi province. The rice terraces (which we nearly didn't get to visit due to the horrific winter in the region) are in an area comprising a few rice terrace regions and villages full of locals dressed like the women in the background. The baby, obviously had no idea what I was trying to do, so her(?) older sister whirled her around to face my camera and then proceeded to hide. You can still see her glove if you look hard enough!

Hmm, is it a little tragic to be dwelling on the past? I'm not really, just nothing I'm doing these days renders up such photogenic picture opportunities...

Thoughts for today:
- Further to my ponderings about the diversity of the world... presumably at one point, if you believe in Pangaea and the migration of the peoples and all that, we were one large community that spread out. So, presumably, as a social and intelligent species, we at one point spoke the same language? (This is pure personal conjecture, I'm fully prepared to accept that I could be 95% wrong!) Which makes it all the more fascinating that the languages are as starkly differing and sounding as, say, Italian and Tagalog. Amazing.

When people ask you the hypothetical question, if you could have any power, talent, wish, etc. I've always thought, while it may not be the *most* intelligent use of a wish, you could do a lot worse than requesting the ability to speak and understand all the languages on the planet. And what language sounds the best? At present, I'm rather partial to the sound of French, but scouring the world for the perfect accent would be a very pleasurable, if lengthy, quest indeed!

- So, I'm trying to start running again. I had a brief foray into it pre Christmas, which was pretty much starting from scratch, and was surprised how comparatively quickly it improves as long as you do it regularly. Of course since then I have done precious little exercise at all, so have a lot of unfitness and excess mass to work off first! Pretty much starting from scratch all over again, but with high aspirations. I figure it's all a matter of motivation, so I intend to attend organised training runs, for example, Niketown in Oxford Circus organise some. I had to miss one this week because a class overran but went on a short circuit with F.H. anyhow, and was just terrible. I'm going to have to put in a lot of work if I want to improve at a reasonable rate! Hopefully I'll set myself an attainable goal soon: something to work towards.

- Have just discovered more MAJOR gaps in the Spotify catalogue, but also a few gems. My gem for today was discovering the Muse HAARP album, which was a live recording of the Wembley gigs in June 2007, one of which I went to. Score!

- With a slight pang of regret, I have realised over the past few days that I have been guilty of one of those sins I thought I would never have committed: judging a book by its cover. Though I do not necessarily place too much weight on first impressions, I do so with the first few meetings and then extrapolate and deign to think I KNOW that person. Poppiecock. I do have fairly good instincts about people, but I have found a couple of instances of being wrong of late, and for that I must readjust my faith in that ability.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

"Simple As It Should Be"

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I thought I borrow an idea from (oh the shame of it) One Tree Hill, where I pilfer some talented songwriter's title of a song to sum up the content that follows. "Simple as it should be" is a brilliantly chilled-out song by Tristan Prettyman on her album "twentythree". No prizes for guessing her age when she wrote it! With the rise of Spotify, there should be a way to link people so that they can hear the song I'm talking about; wouldn't that be absolutely marvellous?

While I'm on this point, I'm going to briefly wax lyrical about the benefits of Spotify. Now, the interface is far from perfect, and I've not yet been driven to abandon iTunes but what is wonderful about Spotify is that, as long as you do not seek something too obscure (more's the pity really!) then you can try out entire albums and major sections of the back catalogues of artists to whom you've not listened before. I don't mind telling you that I will have to have heard at least three songs from an album and liked them before I consider buying it for real, as opposed to downloading a singular song. Now I can hear it all! I've had Spotify since before the day it became massive in London (the Londonpaper, the free newspaper given out in the afternoons, had a big feature on it the next day!) so, probably a few weeks, but already I've bought two albums off the back of Spotify which I otherwise might not have. Ok, I'm not being paid for this so I'll stop now!

The picture, by the way, is another from about a year ago, from Wenchang, Hainan island again. Wenchang is in the North East of the island just in case you're interested, and a very mini town! I say mini, it's probably as complex a town as Birmingham in terms of roads, but just smaller and more Chinese (go figure). I went to visit a couple of friends, so in that way it was nice, but I can imagine getting very bored with the place very quickly. Anyway, this photo is one I took leaning over their balcony while the sun was setting and I liked the look of the clouds.

My wonderment of the day is at the uniqueness of the human race. Now, there are some six billion of us homo sapiens wondering around the planet. With that many people, you'd think, surely, that there's be some overlap? Someone, somewhere, must be pretty much a dead ringer for you and act in a very similar manner? Not so: if it were to be the case, we would presumably have heard about it by now.

If nothing else, we have a range of countries! Over 200 if I'm right! And races! In a geeky child-like way, I'm quite excited by the fact that even when I'm sleep, there's someone across the world living their life, speaking a completely different language and maybe even wondering about other people in the world too. Even the phenomenon of different languages is pretty cool in itself. I might explore this wonderful idea at a later date, but for now, it will suffice for me to state that it is excellent.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Another last year photo and flash back

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A photo from around this time last year, Haikou, China. This is one of the classes I was teaching English to, all of which were 50-something children in number! A daunting prospect, and making it a little harder than expected to keep attention and discipline going, but undoubtedly fulfilling. For the most part, I was accompanied by their original English teachers (that is, native Chinese teachers who learnt English in school and teachers' college). Now, I never understood why they paid the Gap year scheme what was likely a ridiculous sum of money for our services. Fair enough, they want to utilise native English speakers but when the level of English being taught was so basic, their level of English, which was passable at least in my opinion, they would have been more than adequate. When you're teaching them how to say "mango" and "banana" in some of the younger classes, sometimes you can't but wonder if bringing in overpriced native English speakers is overkill.

But some of the classes were unbelievably cute! Little chubby faces and kiddy voices. I also found that the cute ones tended to be the cleverer ones too, or maybe I was just blinded by adorable face. From my observation, the teachers were almost always amazingly friendly, helpful and definitely hideously underpaid. One must take into account the exchange rates and the price of living in that area of China but nonetheless, for the time they put in, some of them while raising children... I felt sorry for them, especially having got to know them and their good hearts. The classrooms were freakin' huge as well. The smaller females teachers incapable of projecting their voices or yelling had little microphone and speaker headsets they used to help. I found it absolutely necessary at times to actually walk around the classroom to ensure that I met all of their eyes, especially when kids at the back were being noisy. They also got very excited when games or points were involved, so I used that fact to keep them involved, adding a competitive angle to half the class so that they remained keen, especially the classes just before or after breaktimes.

Couple of random facts:
- Apparently teaching English is considered a woman's teaching role, in a profession already deemed to be quite feminine, the male teachers more customarily teaching PE or kung fu.
- One of the less friendly teachers introduced me as "Miss Gao" (translation into Mandarin) so many times I couldn't be bothered to interject and correct her after a point. The children like to yell you name and wave at you when you walk through the playground to go home so for ages I had some 120 kids yelling out "Miss Gao" on my way around. That was... weird.
- Being of Chinese heritage but not actually from a 'Chinese' country or with the ability to speak Mandarin was unbelievable to them. One of the cuter questions I got asked to me during my first week was whether I used chopsticks or a knife and fork to eat my food. Bless.

One's essence in writing

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We may never be fully able to walk a mile in someone else's shoes, or know what life is like for them, especially if we don't know them personally, but I think blogging as good as it'll get without being bilaterally personal.

I like the idea of Twitter and initially found it very interesting, but now wonder about its real place in a social networking market including the likes of Facebook. If blogging is like reading someone's diary, Facebook is like leafing through their letters or wallet and Twitter is like poking them every half hour or so and asking "what're you thinking?" Ideally, the way it works is that you check it very regularly throughout the day and you can see what your friends and 'friends' are thinking without actually having to ask. It is the status bar on social networking sites given a free rein to go nuts. It is social networking for those with short attention spans. Who really has the time to check it really often if they're not a student/self-employed or have a really IT-based job? For me personally I don't like that fact that you can't really keep up with it by checking it once or twice a day unlike other forms of media. Have more than a dozen friends who are active on twitter and it soon becomes nigh on impossible. The idea is great, but in practice maybe not the thing for me.

But blogging is so much more free. It gives the writers a blank canvas to work with, and no word restriction. And as said, it is pretty much a diary, or at least as much of a diary as the writers like to share with the world. With all that freedom, people do make the most of it, either with a regular flow of short articles, like a very fleshed out Twitter, or less regular longer posts. Either way, it does resemble a diary, and it is so much easier for readers to map out their thoughts chronologically.

Now for me, I'm rather lazy. Once I get typing it comes out, but it's taking that push to start writing. Also my life is only interesting at times, and for the most part can be rather repetitive and mundane, at least from an outsider's point of view. But nonetheless I do like reading those of others, and by doing so, getting to know people with lives different from my own. It's interesting, maybe a tad voyeuristic, but what aspect of social networking isn't these days?

Thursday, April 09, 2009

I really am the most terrible procrastinator

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Exactly what it says on the tin. Let me give you an example of precisely how lazy I am. I have had, since Monday morning, a list on my desk of 7 tasks I need to do, of varying difficulty. I have since then completed precisely half of one. Disgusting isn't it? I have managed in the meantime to watch an entire season of Skins (don't regret that), read the beginnings of two *different* John Grisham books (not as inspiring as I had thought it would be), and spend probably two hours a day on Facebook (*do* regret that. in hindsight I wonder how that's even possibly, the vast majority of my friends are working or doing something interesting/constructive with their lives so there's not that much to monitor!) Despite it now being 2am, I will force myself to do at least 3 of the tasks before bed. After having typed out my thoughts of the day.

- The lives of the kids in Skins are GRIM. Sure they have fun, and they have each other, but sometimes, in fact, a lot of the time it's pretty dark. Now, obviously it's fictional, but as with all the best television programmes (not that I'm particularly classifying it as such for now) there's more than a sliver of truth to be found.
My kudos of the day goes out to psychologists and in particular those for young people. They, more than 'grown ups', I would imagine, feel every lacking element with an acuteness greater than their older counterparts. Whether or not due to melodrama and hyperbole, nonetheless to them, troubled youths around the country are living their own little hells, and with fewer options available to them than to adults. They can't escape, find jobs and move out, clinging on to every outlet they have with the tenacity as they would a liferaft at sea. I won't fool myself into thinking I'll care this much even this time tomorrow, but whenever I remind myself, or find myself in an opportunity to help, I will. Maybe if and when I do become a teacher in later life.

- This time last year I was still in China, though it feels like a shorter time ago. Every day was itself a mini adventure, and I was still enjoying the sensation of meeting and discovering the lives of new people. Although I am not pro active enough to seek this on a current basis, when I am forced into the situation, I really enjoy it. I yearn for that experience and look forward to when I am in a position to replicate it.

- Of particular interest to me, surprisingly to me as well, is the news that Coca Cola has bought a minority share in innocent (lower case intentional) drinks. Now if I seek the silver lining, it's merely a part of the corporate system, a minority share, and will help raise the profile and circulation of these healthier drinks. But I will feel regret if the hand of Coca Cola moves to influencing innocent's perhaps overly cutesy but undoubtedly honourable business plan and mourn the loss of another free spirit in an increasing cynical and bottom-line orientated market economy.