Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Looks like rain

5
Sometimes it just comes as if from nowhere,
The rain.
Both a translucent veil falling over the window of our vision,
And an equaliser in the truest sense of the word.

It caught him by surprise.
Standing by the bus stop,
Tapping his toe gently,
Waiting for a bus destined to arrive late.

The rainfall hits him,
He doesn't move,
Only shifts his head upward in a look of acknowledgement.
Like seeing an old acquaintance in the street,
Unexpected but inevitable.
Nor does he shift a mere three steps to avoid it,
He shuns the cover offered by the shelter.
Instead he accepts the rain, embraces it.

The young couple sitting on the bench in the shelter look at him,
Curious and bemused.
They will later
(In the sanctuary of their studio flat)
Wonder over his motivation.
Is he taking the rain like a mild purgatory,
Feeling the echoing needles of water hit his head,
Like judgmental spears of penance?
Is he letting the waves of precipitation wash over him,
Cleansing him literally and metaphysically?

There is a look on his face.
Not fear, not beseeching self-pity,
Not anger.
Yet no smile on his mouth,
Nor wistful nostalgia in his eyes.
Grey as the clouds from whence comes
The rain.

The couple will wonder,
Look, gauge and analyse the lines on his face.
But it's like they're outside,
Looking into his perplex cubicle of isolation.
"The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation."



Friday, July 23, 2010

Break my rusty cage and run

7

Trapped. 
By the pressures of work, 
By the demands of society,
By the cruel necessity of money,
By relationships going nowhere fast. 
Each one another bar in a moment that
Seems determined to bind and constrict,
Not embrace and bless us, nor enfold us 
In serendipity and boundary-less fortune.
"Like a cat in a bag / waiting to drown"
No, not so morose, yet not so detached. 
A bird maybe, gazing from imprisonment.
Chirping wistfully at the expanse of world
Commencing from not even two feet away.
Cruelly somehow allowing vision of all yet
Access to little. Cursed cage of restriction!


Yet might this cage not be a rusty one? Why not test those hinges... bend those bars....?


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

"That which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet"

2
It has long been a feature of mythology and science fiction that many a creature can be weakened by the knowledge or speaking aloud of its name. The idea that the name holds a mystic power, almost like a spell.

"You have me at a disadvantage"
"He doesn't even know my name"
"Creature, I name you... Carrionite!" (Ahem, that's just for you, EJ!)

A name can help us find someone, can spark conversation, can condemn someone. Can be spat out in spite or murmured in a verbal caressing wonder. Can define someone, describe something in wonderful rounded tones or harsh consonant sounds, represent hope and optimistic plans. But surely the by far the most beautiful uses of names is for people...


What is in a name?

Maybe we don't think of it as control. Maybe we think of as a new connections created. What is life if not the people in it?


Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Wales and Paul Anka

5
Now, I know I've not been writing very much. And I keep making excuses for it, so I may as open with a few more:
- I'm a lazy bugger
- I've been busy/going out nigh on every night/watching a LOT of television on a varying scale from awesome (The Wire) to oh-god-why-do-I-watch-this-again? (Smallville).
- Lastly, and most importantly, I'm been finding myself disappointingly devoid of inspiration.

It happens, and so easily and smoothly if you let it. You pass up plans due to work exhaustion. You depart from a party because you have work the next day. All too simply, work and 'life' (that which we live to earn money: that most fickle of mistresses) get in the way. For this reason, sometimes it's nice to get away, even if it is just for a weekend; to have that time with your friends in the middle of nowhere, with nothing but time, alcohol and companionship; with bracing fresh air and a night sky refreshingly devoid of pollution and instead sprinkled with a thousand twinkling stars. A weekend away in Wales a couple of weeks back could not have come at a better time for me. Work was beginning to pile on, making me ever more jaded and lethargic on a daily basis. Quite simply I needed the time away. No reports, no spreadsheets, no e-mail.



Now this isn't to say that Wales is a back-end country with nothing going for it. Cardiff and Swansea are amazing cities with a fair degree of urban life. But we rented out a 14-man cottage near Cwmyoy, basically in the middle of nowhere. An epic cottage with a sound system that could select any or all of the rooms in the house, a massive kitchen with a long rustic wooden table and an Aga oven. And we loved it. As a city boy born and bred, when I take a holiday or short break, I have only a limited amount of appreciation and awe for buildings, especially those similar to ones I have previously seen.

Rather I take greater pleasure in seeing mountains, lakes, wildlife. In other words, everything one doesn't habitually see when working within London's 'Square Mile'. We heard no sirens, we had no internet (both a blessing and a curse given my addiction to it, and the dependence on it) and even very little mobile phone reception. Instead under the circumstances we had little else to do but just sit, talk, drink and enjoy each other's company: it was great. We did take a couple of mini hikes up the hills (we WERE near the Brecon Beacons after all) and a road trip to Brecon proper which basically ended up being a pub lunch and a quick walk around, but this didn't bother any of use too deeply.



Instead we drank, we played poker, we listened to a variety random CDs including this beauty which I bought immediately I returned to London: "Rock Swings" by Paul Anka. It blew my tiny mind! A dozen or so pop and rock songs covered by this retro crooner (and favourite of the Gilmore Girls, ahem), and maybe it was the Captain Morgan talking, but I really got a kick out of it!
I also got a kick out of the highly indecent and boundary-crossing banter with which I shall not besmirch your gentle eyes :)


When I was dropped off back home on the drizzly Monday evening, physically drained despite having guiltily slept in the car ride back (so much for being good road trip company!) I felt for the first time in several days the unfamiliar sensation of solitude. However the lingering undertone was one of having broken free of the 9-5 box. The reminder of possibility was enough for me. All it takes is a couple of hours' drive, a trunk full of alcohol and a handful of thoroughly decent people.



Play me out, Paul.

"Frank said it / I did it my way"

Friday, May 14, 2010

The one where I run out of things to say

4
I never thought the day would come! But like a drained well, a closed tap or (oh damn you, self-fulfilling prophecy) another water-related metaphor, I want to write, I YEARN to write and nothing flows out.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to pretend I’m a particularly masterful wit of our generation. Half the time when I blather on, it’s about things that mean nothing to 70% of people, and 70% of the time I have to explain to half my verbal victims that about which I’m talking because I assume people are in my head and will instantly get my pop culture references, a la Gilmore Girls (huh, I never quite finished that series). But even with that blunderbuss method of speaking, every so often I’d make an interesting point, amusing story or something just so abstract in its content that it would be entertaining. Skip forward to the present day and almost like a war veteran (slightly hyperbolic, yes, but the book I’m currently working on is Charlotte Gray) I find myself more often than not stunned to monosyllables when people ask me questions, though somehow I retain the ability to be a good question-asker and listener. I guess I had to find my role in social situations somewhere else, right?

Not for me though, is the excuse of war. No comrades dying, nor being snatched from England’s green and pleasant lands, nor futility of the human condition exposed (though I still think one of the rings of hell contains the London Underground at rush hour). Instead the causational trigger for my reversion to a more silent movie-style approach to life is merely having started full-time, non-contract employment. Now while it is true that I rarely see any value in the work I do (every time I check the prices for the reports we write, my mind boggles) but it would be remiss for me to blame that for the manner in which I speak, surely? Never mind that I sink hours into Excel spreadsheets, and then pie charts based on data within those spreadsheets and then paragraphs of mindless text analysing the pie charts based on Excel spreadsheet data. Never mind that I can feel my mind slowly but surely devolving into merely organic mess that fills the space between my ears. Never mind that in my vigorous attempts to have things to get me through the day, I find myself literally every night in a pub or playing at working out in the gym until my stomach protests at lack of supper, leaving knackered every day, albeit of my own accord.

No man has a right to use such trivialities as an excuse for becoming more and more boring as days go on, but I certainly do. I hope this slump is merely that, a slump, but at present the future looks bleak and particular devoid of interesting anecdotes. Though of late I have:

Seen She & Him live in concert: It felt a little alien going to a concert where half the audience was justifiably sitting (I hate it when people sit down with their arms crossed at rock concerts) and just swaying. But I really enjoyed it, and fell deeper in love with Zooey Deschanel. So freaking adorable.

Finally bought 120 film for my new Diana F+ camera: though I had to resort to Amazon. The pictures better be as darn funky as I hope or that camera will end up gathering dust on my shelf. I never ever thought I’d shake my metaphorical fist at digital photography.

Nearly finished Charlotte Gray: incidentally a great book. Picked it up because I really enjoyed Birdsong and was told it was in the same vein. To extent it is, it encompasses the same wheelhouse of ‘real people in the backdrop of war’ rather than war itself, and Charlotte Gray and a few other protagonists are portrayed wonderfully. Though I don’t get quite the same magical wistfulness that Birdsong gave me, despite the grittiness of the setting.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Like riding a bike..

7


It happens so easily.

You fall in line with the crowd, mindlessly treading water as you merely try to survive the rush hour.
The current irresistibly compels you along and you, ears plugged into your iPod, succumb to its direction.
Walk on the left side of this barrier.
The office walls close in, your very world wanes claustrophobically and it seems a curtain falls on your horizon.
Clock in. Clock out. Bill your hours.
How many spreadsheets can a man tabulate, before you can call him a drone?

Does this have to be the way? Why can one not regain their creativity? Relishing the beauty of their everyday life in the unexpected nooks of the city, reading books instead of rehashed free daily newspapers, attending concerts and not training seminars. How hard can it be to be the salmon, ever struggling upstream?

How did that phrase about bikes go again?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Blossoms

6
First look at this



So you'll understand why I'm posting this:




Because finding your tranquility is sometimes just as easy as walking through your back garden. Thank goodness for Spring. It's hard to feel stressed or irritated at the increasingly monotone nature of working life when your friends are funny, the sun is shining and the greyness of the city is alleviated by the colour thrown about your day-to-day, like so many islands in the sea or oases in the desert.


Sorry I've been so lazy/overwhelmed/tired and thanks to those who haven't given up on me (you know who you are, AH and EW). Proper writing to follow as soon as I can kick myself up the arse hard enough.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

I love juxtapositions

9
I love it when there's a ukelele in a rock band.

I love it when a child is the best thing in a predominantly adult play.

I love it when you find a Japanese park in the middle of the very English West London.

I love it when someone is actual civil and helpful during rush hour traffic.

I love it when you hear a French accent pierce the severe halls of the British Museum.

I love it when you hear a Maths graduate wax lyrical about the subtle joys of Erik Satie.

I love it when you find a blooming flower in the midst of concrete and litter.

I love it when an old person uses Twitter.

I love it when you see your teacher/boss/parent drunk. 



The little things in life that challenge your expectations, that shatter your prejudices, that remind you that you don't know everything about the world.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Mind the Gap

7
“Mind the gap… The next train will arrive in 3 minutes."

The tannoy rings, devoid of either excitement or resentment. A deadpan voice revealing nothing. The afternoon rush hour. The grey Tube platform where one is surrounded by paradoxically crowded solitude.

After an equally mechanical series of beeping, a departing train sends a ripple of air along the platform, temporarily suspending in mid-air anything that isn't weighty or strapped down and fluttering them about like so many manic marionettes: Coat straps. Abandoned leaflets (Free trial of... !) Her hair.

It almost resembles like a slow motion scene from a romantic comedy, her hair moving like a brown silk wave, at the same time random and enticingly arranged. She is looking away, the profile of her chin the only teasing aspect available to me, and standing to close to the edge of the platform there is no better vantage point that avoids the universally implied social contract to not be a creepy pervert. Deciding that the train of thought borders on pathetic, my hand reaches inside my jacket pocket and fishes out my worn copy of Chekhov plays and flicks to my bookmark midway through the Cherry Orchard. Mere seconds after, the object of my observation reaches into her bag and takes out a book of her own.


As she does, she turns toward the opposite platform, displaying an adorable button nose and deep brown eyes that even from afar seems to hold a glint of mischief. As with the dozens of others on the platform, her delicately small mouth is locked in a semi-frown of weary focus. Overall I find the face very pleasing, with a slightly elfin cute look that I find so captivating and distracting. My attention is drawn to the book in her hand, worrying slightly as it is a black hardback about the size of the Twilight books that are seemingly breeding in bookshops across the country. If it turns out to be "New Moon" the magic would dissipate, an electric moment evaporating to leave the mediocre uneventful commute home that otherwise occupies that hour. An inward sigh of relief: it is Anna Karenina. I smile slightly, gently approving her choice of travelling literature.  


She must spot this out of the corner of her eye, and looks up slightly but not completely so that she is slightly peering through the swept aside fringe of her dark chocolate hair (Lent clearly cannot end too soon). The pragmatist in me finds this amusing, the romantic in me finds this fantastically endearing. She in turn looks at my book then back up at me and returns a smile. It appears to me that the dim lighting increases slightly, a deeper orange glow almost like springtime rays of sunlight beating down making the building swell and sharpen in the most optimistic way. Two book lovers with a brief connection across the concrete concourse.

Yet scruples and convention states neither of us step toward each other, no moves are made to start a conversation in such a situation. The divide of mere feet might as well be miles. Out of earshot: out of access. The leftmost edge of my peripheral vision, unwilling to break the elusive gaze, spies a pair of headlights and my feet feel a faint but growing rumbling in the platform. Still the look is held, holding until she seemingly realises with a jolt that the Tube carriages thunder toward us are for her homeward bound journey. She takes a few steps toward me (a mere few taken on my part would have taken us to handshake proximity) and boards the vessel.

The doors close with a cutting finality. For all its wheezing and lethargic action, the doors sliding shut recollecting a steam press I saw as a youth, slamming together with a clunk of finality, putting to an abrupt end any potential precursor to a meeting. Our eyes meet once more through the scratched and smoggy windows (as the train chugs its way past me on its initially slow and almost taunting warm-up run) before she averts her gaze. Is it embarrassment? Is it coyness?

And with that, as suddenly as I had started to fall for her, the tube gathers speed and leaves the station.

"Next train will arrive in 2 minutes."

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Pursuit of Happiness

5
(First off the bat, how surprised are you that I was irritated by the typo in the Will Smith movie title to which I am now reacting? It's not even relevant to the story!)

Did you know that Paulo Coelho (aka 'him wot wrote that Alchemist book') has a blog? Sure he's not one of my favourite writers, nor would he be on my top ten writer/blogger wishlist (No. 1 - Oscar Wilde; no. 2 - Gabriel Garcia Marquez; no. 3 Bret Easton Ellis... don't make me go on...) but the fact remains that the man's got mad wordsmithing killz and so I was very intrigued to stumble across it. Check it out.

Anyhow, the post that set me back on the on/off path that has been blogging is his latest post, provocatively monikered "Joy is like sex". Huh. After my mind, which has been pretty darn filthy of late, allowed me to silent chortle while wondering if the 'like' was superfluous and extend the metaphor in both puerile and semi-intellectual manners (was so tempted to write some these up!) I read it and it smacked me right in the mind hole. I won't attempt to paraphrase the whole lot in any detail, I don't want to do Senor Coelho any injustice and I want you all to read it, but the crux of it is this: "Joy is like sex – it begins and ends." In this case, 'joy' being happiness. The state of being happy.

Quite honestly, this is not a concept of which I had previously thought. I honestly struggle with trying to 'find happiness'. Don't get me wrong, this isn't a prologue to a suicide letter, but rather just one of the many mini-crises I undertake every so often. Maybe that's the point, and why the blog post spoke so much to me. I think about it every so often: interspersed with what I had previously classified to myself as flights of fancy or distractions. My bids to be entirely selfless for extended periods of time ended in frustration, my admittedly docile attempts to be hedonistic lose steam a lot faster (the latter feels rather less comfortable than the first). My interests make me dive to the deep end of obsession then want to get out of the pool mere minutes later. I wonder 'why?' so very often I'm surprised still find the time to live my life. And more often than not I lose interest in a perfectly wonderful girl a few dates into a relationship (in a lot less terrible way than it sounds, hopefully y'all know me a little better than that by now).

But perhaps that's OK. Not for everyone is that blissful nirvana that puts a permanent grin on their face for years until they pass away, no less joyful than the decade before. Perhaps not for me is the deep-set satisfaction of having a raison d'etre to sink my teeth into. No, instead for now I shall satisfy myself in the knowledge that I am not alone is this seemingly futile search for the elusive lifetime of happiness, and keep on searching. Keep hopping along the stepping stones of pleasant conversation, shelter under the boughs of family and friends and find solace in the sunsets and beauties that the world occasionally tosses my way.

Che sera sera.




p.s. I've missed writing! Yeah, sure I might 'write reports' for a living now (they're treating me with kid gloves though and not giving my much to do, I feel like I'm going to claw my eyes out with boredom sometimes!) but it is nothing like the joy I get from writing what I want, when I want, just for me. I'm going to write more these days, if only as cathartic relief and another rope to the lifeboat of happiness. Thanks for the kick up the arse, ALH! x

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Cool stuff wot I bought

8
Because I bought this stuff and reckon they're all pretty nifty in their own way, because I'm suffering from a severe case of writer's block, because I wanted to try out the camera on my phone and because I wanted to show that not everyone agrees with the Oxford comma.

Books! Oh so pretty books! Because I'm tragically behind on Chekhov reading (I've only read Uncle Vanya! For shame...) I found this Collected Plays in one of those quaint little second bookshops that somehow still subsist off Shaftesbury Avenue. When they're in good condition I quite enjoy the idea of second hand books: knowing that someone's read and loved that book before gives me a sense of continuity. This is the same reason I like giving people great books as presents. Besides, based on the publishing notes and the handwritten note in the front (I also love that too!) this book is older than my parents. Weird.

And yeah, I had no idea before I wandered into HMV like a lost puppy that Tim Burton had published a book! Not a book per se so much as a dark twisted collection of short children's stories and pictures. Think twisted.... hit Quentin Blake? Think darker.... hit Roald Dahl? Darker still... Love it.

 Y Tu Mama Tambien, which I named checked a while back as a cheery film, is still worth a namecheck. It's one of those films that documents an experience

And the other one? Because if you have an ounce of fun/childishness/hair gel left in you, you love 80s movies. I bought this mainly for Ferris - RIP John Hughes.


Have I bigged up Kina Grannis yet? If not, check her out if you like Colbie Caillat et al, wonderful acoustic singer from California. You can almost hear the sunshine in her voice.

The other one is a collection of Schubert pieces transcribed for piano by composers including Liszt! For someone who had these names forced upon them during classical music training, this is music geek heaven!


And also this. Needs no intro, the blaggers' guide to Art!



I think I do retail therapy pretty well, hmmm? Apparently better than I write at 4 in the morning. Hope you're all doing well, you beautiful people!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Thnks Fr Th Mmrs*

12
I've been insanely busy for the past week or so, averaging more than an interview a day, blowing my meagre money on people's birthdays and drunkenly falling asleep and leaving my phone on the night bus. Yup, I'm that cool.

During one of said interviews, I was given 30 minutes and an article to précis and add my own thoughts and 'commercial awareness' (one of those very management-speak phrases for 'actually reads the newspaper and isn't a socially-retarded hermit').  Not to be too immodest but I find those sorts of things fairly simple which meant after triple-checking what I had written I had some 15 minutes to play with, and after texting someone with plans to meet for lunch after, I ended up idly flipping through my old texts. This being my replacement phone due to aforementioned Sambuca aftermath, these were very old texts, ones I had received during my China trips in 2008.

This was a very surreal experience: I am not often prone to such self-indulgent delving into reminiscent revelry, least of all during an interview, but I was running at least mostly on caffeine and this was the final stage of the interview at any rate. But there were enclosed in those texts plans to meet up at our old haunts, texts from a short term flame, emotional outbursts from my homesick counterparts.

For a brief moment, if only a couple of minutes, I was back there. I wasn't a bored suit in a pokey conference room in central London, I was a fish out of water experiencing southern China.

As I mentioned at the top, I have been attending shedload of interviews, which brings as part and parcel of the process a shedload of questions about myself and my past. Now, I am not one of those interview machines: you know the type, the type of people who wouldn't get ripped into by Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross (can you tell I finally got around to watching the Oscars?), the type of people who get coffee and steak knives. I'm very realistic about my shortcomings and hesitate to emphasise my meagre strengths. So whether or not they find my honesty refreshing or endearing I told them that in real terms I am something of a blank canvas career-wise, having been in no role for longer than four months, only a handful of letters to my name and the ability to manipulate words. Which is fine, I have been through four years of higher education and taken a year out.

Some would find it depressing that at the age of twenty-three I have condensed my life into a curriculum vitae, that it so readily fits into two sides of A4. But that is not all I have been doing with my life. If by some misfortune (knock on wood a thousand times over!) my life was to end tomorrow that would not be what I remember. I would remember the people, the sensations and most importantly the memories. The time I literally laughed so hard I fell off a bar stool. That time my friend slipped over the same bit of banana peel thrice in one day. The book I read on the beach that almost drove me to tears. Sitting on a balcony with an ex as the sun rose on a morning after. A laughter of hundreds of children. Sweating with hundreds of others at a massive outdoor Muse concert.

I have not made it much of a secret that for a while now I've been hitting my quarter life, post-grad crisis stage. When you hit a wall in that x-year-plan you set for yourself it is all too easy to question things, the reasons why, the very existentialist crisis that has plagued greater minds than mine for centuries. (FYI, try a bit of Kierkegaard, it'll blow your mind hole. Screw the more depressing guys.)

To be flippant, minimalist and peppy, maybe this is the big 'Why?' The pursuit of great memories, and the creation of those instances for you and your loved ones. The creation of a flipbook of life-defining moments that exist like a imprint on our souls and that have lead us to where we are today. Not just the 'Kodak moments' mind you, 2-D photography can be manufactured, heck, make great friends with James Cameron and WETA and you might even be able to swing it in 3-D (oh yes, I'm all current and whatnot) but the memories, laden with the way the moments made you feel. If the human soul exists, intangible as it is, surely it is expressed in empathy and emotions, enhancing our experience of the present beyond recordable media and colouring our recollection of the past.

So I implore you (and myself) not to get too caught up in the long term. Obviously as mature adults it is important to always have one eye on the future, but this should not be at the risk of the present. A life not enjoyed and lived is one diminished and wasted. What will you remember when you think back on what you have done?


*Because my mind inexplicably turns phrases (all the time) and goes on tangents, when I thought of this concept, I thought of this song and the post title. And because in a really perverse way I find some of Fall Out Boy's stuff pretty catchy.

Also I'll try to write better soon when I'm not running on fumes but it's been a while since I have written 'for me'!

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Rice Bags

8
The thing about rice bags (beside being an ever-so-slightly race appropriate metaphor)  is that they're designed to be tough. I mean, these bad boys aren't terribly thick but they have to carry kilos of rice, withstand being lugged and chucked around onto vans, off vans, onto forklifts. Because they're tough, your less well-equipped martial arts schools fill them to the brim and use them to train kids to punch. Rocky used slabs of meat, these kiddie-winks use rice.

The rice, with its sheer numbers, provides a reactionary force to the blow, resistance to whatever circumstantial abuse the bag might be subjected. But the rice has nowhere to go, and eventually the punches take their toll on the bag which has to be replaced before it bursts.

Maybe we're like these bags. Maybe the rice is our history, our abilities, the nitty gritty of life in which we surround ourselves like blankets. Maybe the bags (are they flax? are they plastic?) themselves are the tenacity and natural human resilience on which our race relies. And maybe, sometimes the punches start to take their toll and the bag starts to fray and lose its structural integrity.

You have one of those days. Every passerby seems irrationally filled with resentment. These days start to pile up.
thud
Your friends are distressed. You try to help them, they say you are, but the words sound hollow in your throat. Actions are required, not cliched platitudes.
thud
That job you'd been waiting for and could almost touch with your grasping fingers gets back to you three weeks later to tell you the position is no longer available, not because you're not good enough, but because sometimes life just sucks that way.
Thud
You return to the hospital which you thought and hoped you'd left for good just over a year ago. The fear, as if lying in wait, returns. The colour co-ordinated wards and the pictures of pandas, rainbows and dolphins designed to lift spirits do nothing to distract you from the waiting. The pacing. The worrying.
Thud.
Surrounded by people but still the solitude and darkness flows around you, playfully swiping at your limbs.
Thud.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

A Date with Destiny

12
There's something you should know about me, if you didn't already: I analyse everything. That's why I can't fall asleep at night, think about cave paintings when I'm walking in the rain and think about the back stories of strangers on the bus. Everything and anything. But a recurring inner discussion that I have is that of destiny, fate and parallel timelines.

First of all, perhaps on semantics alone, destiny and fate are not the same thing, though they are often used interchangeably. (Much like jealousy and envy. Look it up if you're as pedantic as me!) Destiny dictates a event that is predetermined or the power behind this predetermination. Fate, rather more pessimistically, is a course of events that must happen or the agency that dictates this, often with negative connotations of death and ill fortune. Yup, pretty much semantics with an upbeat/downbeat twist. On my understanding, destiny means that we will hit certain events in the future but the present up until those points is still in flux. Fate means that everything is laid out in advance and we are just along for the ride. Think car ride vs train journey.

But the key and shared element, that of predetermination, is what fascinates me. Is this a valid concept, or just the bread and butter of New Age-ists,  lovesick people, films of varying quality and Lost? Some people like to believe in this to cheer them up when life has kicked them in the nether regions. It can be reassuring to know that something better is coming along in the future or that there is no way a certain chain of events could have been avoided. There's a certain easing of stress in the laissez-faire, che sera sera way of living that can be a positive thing, avoiding overthinking the future and focusing on the present that can lead to a double-edged lifestyle of hedonism/being ill-prepared.

For my part, I don't overly like these concepts. I'm not going to poo-pooh these theories out of hand, I have no proof either way and have done no rationalising beyond my recurring by idle thoughts on the matter. But I'm somewhat hesitant to believe in Fate as it completely belittles the significance of our free will, something which separates our souls from our primal instincts. I only wish I could cite some Jungian principles at you at this point, but suffice it to say, I value this aspect of our psyches very highly. There is a slight degree of leeway when it comes to Destiny that I could get on board with: the idea that the while the ending is written, the journey that takes us there is still up to us. As it said in the closing line of La Haine, "L'important c'est pas la chute, c'est l'atterissage".

And if the future isn't written in the stars, if Fate does not dictate all of our paths in minute detail, what about the little decisions that make all the difference in how our lives map out? What if I had never left the house early that day and missed my bus to the airport? What if I had chosen a different university and met a completely different set of people? What if I have taken a different route to the station and bumped into a different person? (Think the Butterfly Effect. The concept rooted in Chaos Theory not the terrible Ashton Kutcher vehicle.) Fate answers all these questions with a simple and somewhat belligerent "You wouldn't have. You were always going to do what you did." Tell me that isn't a little grim. Destiny on the other hand, is a lot more glass-half-full. The feather in the cap of romantics everywhere (pleeeurgh at Serendipity, hurrah at Love in the Time of Cholera) it is endlessly more positive. But then we go onto parallel timelines and/or the inherent paradoxes behind time travel and the effects of our decisions. And then, unless you're an expert in quantum mechanics, this is the point where you stop or just go insane.


Even LOST gets confused about this: doesn't this just blow your mindhole? 

A film that handles this well is Sliding Doors. Very British (yay!), very cheesy and romantic, but it makes pretty good use of the concept and contains elements of my random musings above.

What do you think about Fate and Destiny? Do you believe in it?



And now to completely destroy any iota of respectability behind my reasoning, here's some cheesy 80's-esque pop music, the only good thing in this entire movie (is Drew Barrymore just a massive film jinx post-ET?) I thought of it purely for the line "A twist of fate makes life worthwhile..."

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Guest Blogging!

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For today and the remaining Sundays of Lent, I'll be contributing to the exquisitely crafted "Katrina & The King". Check out today's 'Simple Sunday'.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Maybe

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Maybe it's the sun disappearing over the horizon long before the time of day at which I used to enjoy sitting in the park to just immerse myself and feel a part of nature.

Maybe it's the biting winter air, so charming when you have a pleasant destination to reach but an all but literal slap in the face when you have nowhere.

Maybe it's the inability to catch a break of late.

Maybe it's the slow but sure loss of my smile, apparently one of my defining features.

Maybe it's the draining quality of putting on a brave face constantly.

Maybe it's the dull constant weight on my chest that won't go away no matter how many beautiful films I see or magnificent pieces of literature in which I attempt to hide myself.

Maybe it's the sensation of bitter solitude despite the smiling faces and sympathetic words of wonderful friends.

Maybe it's the fact that though I know in the back of my mind that this cloud will pass and drop its silver lining at my feet any time now, I wish it would hurry the fuck up.

Maybe it's a culmination of the above and me being a whiny bitch today that makes me feel like this:

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Send me to Costa Rica!

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This is an entry for a trip to Costa Rica, supplied for gratis by Nomadic Matt and Gap Adventures, details here. Yes, I found and wrote about it in literally the eleventh hour, but use the link to write an entry yourself if your timeline allows!

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“Why do you want this trip, and what do you hope to get out of it?”


I would venture that on this Earth there are few more breathtaking sights than the sun rising over Ayers Rock in central Australia. Even the backdrop, an all but obscured horizon seems almost designed to perfectly foil the world-famous rock formation with its beautiful blended colours. When the rising or setting sun hits Ayers Rock, it causes a change in colour over time so that the Rock hits a thousand shades of colours including a dark chocolate brown, a desert sand yellow and an almost throbbing deep orange.

The sun has a magical power over every place in every country: despite being a constant, an equaliser in the most worldwide sense of the word, the images and sensations it brings people will vary dramatically depending on the season and scenery. It is this variety, this ineffable sense of being on a completely different world just from the shimmering, optimistic touch of the sun over the jungle, mountains or even an urban skyline that makes life so extraordinarily versatile for those willing to seek it. I have seen the sun illuminate Ayers Rock, the green valleys of Iceland, the peaks of China's Tiger Leaping Gorge, and the glittering Lake Geneva. I have been awestruck time and time again by the beauty of natural wonders all around the world and am a better and more open person for it.

But for all this I have never been to Central America, nor ever seen a sunrise over the tropical rainforests or beaches in that part of the world. After the (literally) half of 2008 I spent out of my beloved UK, I have not left Europe and finding my life somewhat stale now for far too long a time, a breathtaking and idyllic change of scenery might be just what I need. I hunger for the change of people, the reminder that the world is much larger than just London (as much as I love it), the re-awakening of my travel bug and for living life to the fullest as an inhabitant of a wonderful and varied planet rather than a drone in the corporate life I seem destined to join.

I need and want this experience to shake up my life while I am still young, not tied down and uncynical, to take a thousand more colourful photos and see just what Costa Rica has to offer. I would relish the exotic array of flora and fauna, drown myself in the luscious Arabica coffee and bask in the wonderful culture so different to my own. I hope to immerse myself in a world thousands of miles from England, write and share wonderful blog posts about how the experience moves me in a way I have not previously known and rediscover the majesty of a waking up to an entirely new sunrise.

Dear iPod

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Dear iPod,


 For some five years now you have been my faithful companion. Though many a coloured, more intricate and more capable replacement has made a play for my attention and your spot in my inside left pocket, I have not succumbed. Rain or shine, smoothly or skipping, charged or not, you are my iPod.

You were by my side in different countries, during a thousand different sunsets and sunrises and amplifying the greatest moments and my widest smiles. But you were also a comforter in my most painful pangs of solitude, spells of heartache and tumultuous of times.

You are the creator of memories, the transcender of time and location, the background to parties. You have been a conversation starter, an ice breaker, a teaching aid. Breaker of writer's block, never-ending source of inspiration, morale boosters during long runs and losing hockey games.

Oh, holder of playlists, master of songs, vessel of emotions - you provided me with music all these years, so now I write this ode to you, my electronic friend. I pay no need to the fact that you are scratched here, there and everywhere. I don't care that your 18gigs have long since been woefully inadequate. And yes, you seem to have a wonderful knack of witnessing the destruction of more set of earphones that I can even recall. But this is my meagre understated 'thank you' for sticking by my side.

You're in my Top-Rated. (Sorry I couldn't resist!)


Yours in years of gratitude,
Stephen




------------

Things that have caught my eye of late:
- Brilliant post on book nerds by Lauren Leto
- Stephen Fry being a genius mac-daddy on QI here
- A decent guitar tab to "Here Comes The Sun"
- A short and simplistic game with a brilliant and overly saccharine concept?

Monday, February 08, 2010

Story Time

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Going to throw out an abstract idea that I came upon while walking in the rain the other day:


Every person has a great story to tell/is living a wonderful story/is hoping or working towards an ideal story in their head.

Think about it. There are many things that make homo sapiens unique from other creatures. Opposable thumbs, use of advanced tools, but I think the most wonderful (if intangible) difference is the soul and intelligence to tell stories and pass them along. Now let's not get into arguments about animals, primates etc. I think they have souls and varying levels of intelligence, and for all we know, they tell each other stories. But not nearly to the same extent.

Ponder if you will, the Lascaux Cave Paintings. These bad boys are apparently some 17,000 years old. Yes, most people are more interested in the controversy over the dots and dashes (star patterns or hunting tally) but for my purposes, I want you to take a peek at the hunting pictures.

Firstly, note how awesome they are considering the age! Much better artistically than I could probably ever do even though I have millenia of wonderful art I have been exposed to since then.

But also, do you think the cavemen thought "You know what, Bam Bam, I'm going to draw a deer today. Just because our cave walls look a bit boring and drab. I'm going to give it a makeover"? I expect not. Either they wanted to chronicle their exploits for later cavepeople to read or express themselves artistically. In any event: sharing their story for later generations.


I suppose we then moved to vocal story-telling traditions to spread news and important stories, no thanks to the more empirical thinkers such as Plato trying to kill these traditions! Then the handwritten manuscripts, then the printing press and so forth. This is secondary school history, I don't have to tell you this. But the net effect remains the same. Man throughout the course of civilisation has sought to record stories (history) for posterity and future generations.

Most key to this ramble is that this exists now, in oh-so-many forms. People telling stories over coffee, parents reading bedtime stories to their children, and the millions of books that now may or may not be evolving into e-books and the soft-copy children of the Amazon Kindle and the iPad. The desire for most individuals to be in long term relationships could be interpreted as the need to have someone with whom to share one's life story. The desire to make something of one's life: a craving to leave behind a legacy that will last beyond the point where the individual deceases. A story that will endure and be worth telling in the future. Most demonstrably, personal bloggers as a phenomenon are the most directly indicative of people who desire to tell stories to a wider audience.

What do you think?

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Oscar Nominations and other such trifles

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So the Oscar nominations are up HERE and how did I find out? From Twitter of all places. Disappointed in the news for not breaking this news to me sooner.
No great surprises really, all the characteristic tell-tale signs are there, for that, read:

- The box office smash nominated in every possibly relevant category (Avatar)
- The worthy, more critically lauded film that will end up undeservedly and bitterly disappointed (The Hurt Locker)
- The underdog that might surprise everyone and steal the show with its unassuming grace (Up in the Air! Go Best Film, Reitman, Clooney, Kendrick/Farmiga! Run with it!)
- The film that will be rewarded because of its renown (Avatar)
- The breakout acting nom's that will get everyone to stand up and cheer (Sidibe/Precious, Meryl Streep*/Julie&Julia, Mulligan/AnEducation, Waltz/InglouriousBasterds, Bridges/CrazyHeart**, Freeman/Invictus)
- The recognised film that I don't agree with (controversially, I didn't love Inglorious Basterds as much as everyone else!)
- The animated film that will only win 'Best Animated Film' and a technical award despite being (deservedly?) nom'd in a bunch of bona fide categories (Up - firmly taking up Wall-E's mantle)
- Films cruelly omitted by Oscar (Moon?! 500 Days of Summer?!)***
- Films reminding me that I haven't seen nearly enough good films this past year (Precious, A Serious Man, An Education, ANY of the foreign film nom's)
- The clear front runner as it currently stands (Avatar)

NBs
1) I did actually enjoy Avatar, but not as much as Oscar would have me believe. (See Slumdog Millionaire last year)
2) I may again be showing some "Up in the Air" bias but you will not get me to retract it!
3) I am pleased that there is a lot of variety in the nominations this year though to give the AMPAS credit where it is due.
4) *Because it feels weird not giving Meryl Streep her full name. If nothing else she's earned THAT!
5) **Oscar LOVES giving a long overdue award. See Scorsese, 2007.
6) *** For more emotional responses (can you believe it?) check HERE

p.s. I've FINALLY started my Shakesp-year project! (Ahem proper title still in the pipeline.) Tumblr account HERE and will be started up soon. First step: The Tempest.
p.p.s. Because I've been terribly remiss and not blogged for ages there have been a few occurrences that I've not written about! In brief: Nation, the Pratchett-adapted play; South Bank second hand book stalls for the first visit in ages; being booked in for three interviews (count it!); working on another A-Z; figuring out Google Wave and actually making use of it!
p.p.p.s. Oh Nation counts as one of my twelve plays, right? I also plan to see another one in the next two weeks. Yes it's all grossly delayed but it feels to weird not completely abandoning my New Year's Resolutions.
p.p.p.p.s. Last FM is rocking my socks this week.
p.p.p.p.p.s. So is BBC Radio on the iPlayer
p.p.p.p.p.p.s So is the 'pirate' language function on Facebook.
p.p.p.p.p.p.p.s. Too. Many. Bullet points. I may actually have ADD.


Okay, enough about me. What did you make of the Oscar nominations?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

My First Guest Blogging Post!

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Wahey! The fantastic Novelista Barista has posted my guest post on when I went to China in 2008. Read it here and support me and her wonderful blog.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A-Z of Cinematic Uplifting

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So, some scientists have deemed this day, the last Monday of January to be the most depressing day of the year. Which makes sense if you think about it: all the holiday spirit has run out for sure, the cold/rain/ice/early sunsets set people on edge and it's another manic Monday after all.

But why, say I, do we give in to the scientists? After all, they all laughed at Christopher Columbus, when he said the world was round. In a similar fashion, being still in the residue glow of "Up in the Air" (I have told every man, woman, child and vaguely intelligent-looking sentient creature how much I love that film) I sat there like a geek and compiled this. My (drumroll please) A - Z of films that will make you happy/inspired/proud to be alive/at the least not regretting you watched these films. Lights!

Amelie - A classic bit of J-P Jeunet, you will believe one person can find and cause a disproportionate amount of happiness for the world around her. Plus how can you hate any film that includes an orgasm montage?!
Big Fish - One of my all time favourite movies. Guarantees soul cleansing tears of pure joy unless you're dead inside. The shining happy heart of Tim Burton movies. (Honourable mentions: Billy Elliot/Bucket List.)
Casablanca - Just an indescribably wonderful film, the characters are brilliantly portrayed with character nuances in all the right places. Bogart is intense yet vulnerable, Bergman just defies you not to fall in love with her. Beautiful. This film has its rep for a reason.
Die Hard - "Yippee Kay Yay...." All the blokes know what I'm talking about. Everyman adventure spectacle. Plus Chandler, Joey and Ross love it.
Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind - Quirky to a fault (come on, Charlie Kaufman wrote it, duh) but so endearing. An ingeniously cast pair in Kate Winslet and Jim Carrey.
Forrest Gump - Because life IS like a box of chocolates. Tom Hanks + Robbie Zemeckis, was this ever going to be anything other than genius? A rollercoaster ride through Forrest's life, you'll laugh and cry with him.
Garden State - Zach Braff penned, this is heartfelt, understated and cathartic. I expect many people have felt like the ironically-monikered Largeman, and for them, this is the anecdote that may skew their points of view back to the positive.
Happy Feet - Happy penguins. Dancing penguins. Dancing penguins to disco covers. Wake the heck up and SMILE!
It's a Wonderful Life - As Christmassy as turkey, crackers and passing out after dinner, James Stewart uses his guy-next-door to heartbreaking, lifechanging and soul-raising effect. A festive must. Capra + Stewart earn their keep once more as a partnership.
Jerry Maguire - It'll have you at "hello". Like so many films on this list, you go through the terrible crushing lows, but the high at the end is completely worth it. Tom Cruise in one of his best performances, and Cuba Gooding Jr at his Oscar winning best! Plus one of the few films where Renee Zellweger actually endears herself to me.
(To) Kill a Mockingbird - Not as completely happy as some of the others, but one of the greatest films I have seen, and certainly one of the best law-related films I have seen. Wonderful book, wonderful film. I would highly recommend both, if only to restore your faith in humanity, democracy, brotherhood and the law.
Lion King - Hamlet +  Disney at its best + Hans Zimmer + Elton John. If you have a soul you'll love this film. Everything the light touches will be your kingdom. (Honourable mentions: Lost in Translation/Love Actually)
Mary Poppins - A very British film busting through the adverse effects of the stiff upper lip and 'children should be seen and not heard' tradition. Julie Andrews is a wonderful triple-threat and Dick Van Dyke is chirpy and addictive, despite the abysmal cock-er-ney accent!
(My) Neighbour Totoro - All the charm and childlike wonder of Disney with a quirky Japanese twist. I love the Studio Ghibli films and if you like Disney and broadening your horizons, I daresay you will love this too!
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest - Jack Nicholson and his kooky supporting cast make this adaptation an acting tour de force, fully bringing out all the charm and character traits from the book. No matter the ending, the scenes of the asylum inmates finding their confidence again under McMurphy's anarchic approach will bring many a smile to your face.
Princess Mononoke - another, more famous contribution from Studio Ghibli. Rather more adult than Totoro, but no less impacting, wonderfully rendered and captivating.
Quantum of Solace - Ugh. I needed a 'Q' ok? Maybe this isn't the best example (Casino Royale/Goldeneye/Dr No would be better) but James Bond films overall are just massive example of high-octane action! Like Die Hard, a vicarious trip through macho ubermensch victory!
Return of the King (Lord of the Rings) - I personally prefer 'Fellowship' but this makes the list as the completion of this epic journey, a thank-you for sitting through 10-12 hours of sheer slog through Middle Earth for which we receive you get the mother of film pay offs. More battles than you can shake Anduril at, all the characters' stories get tied up suitably and perfectly, and thus ends with no small degree of satisfaction and emotion one of the best film trilogies we'll ever see.
Singin' in the Rain - An all-singing, all-dancing fun-filled journey through the things that make this genre of film great. One of my favourite 'cheer up!' films, and now I pass this along to y'all. (Honourable mentions: Shawshank Redemption/Sound of Music/Slumdog Millionaire)
The Truman Show - Again, Jim Carrey? Who'da thunk it? Dulling his comedic side to make him more genuinely vulnerable and universally loved, set to a wonderful Phillip Glass soundtrack, another journey through an everyman's life that will have you rooting for Truman every single step of the way.
Up in the Air - Understated but outrageous beautiful in its own way, this film reminds us that it's never too late to make the dramatic life change to help yourselves and those around you and that reaching and falling short is better than setting your sights lower. (Honourable mention: UP!)
Vanilla Sky - Though I actually prefer the hispanic original (Abre Los Ojos) this return to the Crowe-Cruise partnership again reaps wonderful results. Think the Truman Show with a more philosophical and askew approach. If nothing else you can look at Penelope Cruz and the brilliant cinematography.
Wall-E - For a film where the main protagonists are robots and the first half hour includes not a word of dialogue, there is a huge amount of emotional content here. Wall-E himself is clumsy and ditsy, but his zest for life, even among the refuse of the husk of Earth, is infectious and through his tribulations and triumphs, your heart dips and soars with 'his'.
X-men - The only 'X' that came to mind! This film and Spiderman show how comic book movies should be made, the perfect blend of geekiness, SFX and personal backstory makes this film perfectly enjoyable, and less depressing than its superior sequel and travesty of a third-parter.
Y Tu Mama Tambien - A coming of age Mexican film with a great soundtrack and an even better cast. Exploring the end of boyhood and skirting on sexual tensions, this film isn't groundbreaking, but one of those films and sucks you along in the fervour of its swirling colours and lifestyle and you'll go along gladly, with a massive grin on your face all the way.
Zorro (Mask of) - 'Z'? You think of one. Ahem. Unabashedly popcorn, the Californian setting with Antonio Banderas (for the laydeez), Catherine Zeta Jones (for the fellas) and Anthony Hopkins (for those grumble about young upstart actors), this adventure makes you feel like a child sitting too close to the telly :D

p.s. Give me a break. It's hard to find things for Q, X and Z, darnit!
p.p.s. You totally saw it, didn't you? I was bound to mention Up in the Air.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Dealing with Mediocrity

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As you may be aware, Jim Cameron's epic blue-skinned opus has sent thousands into a depression tailspin. Honestly, just Google "Avatar depression" and look at the page of stories that comes up. Heck overexcited journos  have even dubbed it a syndrome. CNN has a more balanced account here.


 In a nutshell, people having watched the beautifully rendered colourful paradise of Avatar's Pandora for hours (anyone else spend the latter half of te duration quietly squirming in their seat?) returned to their concrete jungle existences and were upset by how drab their real lives were in comparison. Who are we to stay if it's irrationality or the sterling work of their CGI artists (I usually consider them technicians, but here I think you can forgive my variation) that has led to this? And I will only slightly judge people for this reaction. It was a pretty bloody beautiful film, one like Finding Nemo, Raging Bull and Big Fish before it where nearly every frame of that movie is aesthetically pleasing enough to hang as artwork in and of itself.

And heck, I was 'suffering' with a mild case of the life-is-mediocre/shoula-woulda-coulda/I-am-but-an-insignificant-ant thoughts today. Let me elaborate:
- I wake up to my CD alarm playing music from Mumford and Sons. Those guys are freaking geniuses: like Fleet Foxes, recalling a time of cheery folk sounds, perhaps even uber-British traditions of minstrels telling stories through the ever-beautiful medium of song.
- Completed and sent off a profile of Franz Schubert I had to submit for a media internship I have applied for (bit of a career about face but sounds amazing and there's no better time for it). Again, massive overachiever! By my age (23) the guy had already composed the whismsical Trout Quintet, 6 spectacular symphonies and literally tens of thousands of bars of amazing Romantic-period music. Melodic genius.
- Read "A Hundred Years of Solitude" on the tube in (I refuse to abandon this masterpiece for my Shakespeare quest, I will merely push it back a few weeks when I have completed it) - again, Gabriel Garcia Marquez? Deservedly garnering a high reputation, his beautiful wordsmithing ("...she found herself upset by gusts of bad humour and she tried to get rid of the shadows that were begining to wrap her in a straitjacket of cobwebs") and creation of the magical realism style of fictionwon him the Nobel Prize for literature. Literary Colombiano genius.
- In the evening, I was lucky enough to win tickets to an HD screening of "Jaws". I don't need to wax lyrical about Spielberg's tour-de-force, but needless to say, a handful of the screened shots in silhouettes most notably, the intense level of performances by the three principal actors and the expert handling of the scenes and cinematography are more than enough anyone awe-struck. Movie genius.
- Watched highlights of the Golden Globes when I got home. Now I haven't seen most of the films being awarded for Drama prizes ("Up in the Air" and "Precious" for example have just been released over here, definitely intend on watching the former, possibly even tomorrow) but from nearly all accounts and the reverence they were held in is enough to convince me that I will all but certainly love these films and definitely respect their craft. And they showed clips of Avatar, enough to give a less cynical mind a syndrome? :p Modern day geniuses.

Surrounded by proof of such brilliance in the course of literally one day, how is one to cope? During periods of inactivity (read walking home, insomnia-racked bedtime, answering the call of nature) I am prone, I suspect more than most, to rapid, anxious and bordering on frenetic wonderments on the meaning of life, life on Earth, my part in this huge cycle and most importantly personal introspection. And the cold hard truth that hit me again and again harder than the cold hard gust of the not-yet- Spring winds is that try as I might, chances are exceedingly high, all but that I will not reach those dizzy heights, or aiming lower, achieve any filmic, music or literary opus that will be revered and remembered after I'm worm food. And this realisation is an unwelcome pang in the soul that keeps returning. Now I'm not a panicky type of guy (for the most part) so I don't freak out, tear off my clothes and hair and run shrieking through the streets of the London. The other side of my constantly-in-devil's-advocate-mode-consciousness fights back and calms me down.

And it is those arguments and resolution that I will leave you with now (say whaaat? He's finally finishing up?)

- Adjust your expectations - yes, unless you're lucky enough to live in the foothills of the Alps, next to the Great Lakes or in the shadow of one of the world's great mountains, chances are the horizons of your daily life is nowhere near as beautiful, idyllic, dare I say it, perfect as Pandora. But we have to get over it. And screw it, if you know where to look, chances are your world has just as much beauty in an entirely different way. It is the great photographers and artists of the world that know where to find these types of scenes. Don't just envy them, emulate them, learn how they see the world and if you want to combat 'Avatar Depression Syndrome' get the heck out of your house and open your eyes. The screening of Jaws I went to today was held in the London Aquarium on London's South Bank (PR stunt and alos pretty surreal/freaky/childishly AWESOME to be watching the film while 2 feet away is a tank full of sharks. Little baby ones that could just about rid you of your hand) and the walk there and back reminds me as always how much I love walking along the Thames at night. London, when it's quietened down, filled with the semi-hushed and reverential people also in love with this city, even sexier when they're expressing it in accents, and lit by colourful lights is just a pleasure. With sights such as the one on the right (only prettier and NOT from a cameraphone's POV) who could say otherwise?
- Never stop striving - Yes, for most of us, in the scheme of things we will not achieve long-standing greatness. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't give it a bloody good go! To bastardise a perfectly good saying, Pandora wasn't built in a day. No, it was built in years and years, and with a team of likely hundreds of hugely talented artists, visionaries and organisers. Epic films, books and music albums often take years to write and many failed attempts to reach that book. Even Spielberg (sorry, Stevie, love your work, honestly massive fan, but I'm using you to inspire here, ok?) hit 1941 and Hook on his way to Jaws, Close Encounters and Schindler's List. Sure, on balance he was one of the greatest film directors we'll ever see, but everyone makes mistakes. And we cannot allow these setbacks to define us, to hold us back. It is how we deal with adversity, the manner in which we pick ourselves up and carry on that makes us great within ourselves. Shout out to Lance Armstrong here! Be realistic, but don't stop believing. Hold on to that fee-ee-ee-eeeeeling. (Ps, congrats, Glee!)
- Seek glory in the little things - Friends, family, the unique and heartmelting sound of a baby laughing, being someone's first kiss, being someone's last kiss, that promotion you've worked your butt off for, completing the marathon, wiping someone's tears, pulling back a friend from the brink, appreciating the achievement of others, helping someone in need, seeing something truly beautiful, witnessing/being that random act of kindness that brightens up mediocre days, teaching a child to grow, hitting that home run. Love.
- LIVE. Don't sit at home moping. Don't wonder what could have been. When you're on your deathbed (*knock on wood* YEARS and YEARS from now!) let your last thought be "I never achieved this" or heaven forbid "If only I had done that". When that white light hits you, may your final breath be "I enriched my life. I bettered lives of those I love. I improved the life of the people around me. I tried my damnedest to the best I could and I'm proud of what I've done."


(Wow. I've just been typing non-stop to the point where my knuckles are feeling abused. My knuckles, what the heck? Anyhow I hope I made some sense and said some interesting things.)

Sunday, January 17, 2010

How many words IS a picture worth?

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I return from the pub, with my ears rendered pink from either the cold air (snow's gone, chilling winter breeze has not) or the cheap pints of generic beer, and a hankering to write something down. Anything. Read others' blog posts. Decide all are on a superior level/on a topic I know little about. Google "blog post inspiration" (geek alert). Find THIS WEBSITE, complete with amazing ideas ("Host a Carnival") and just plain grim ones ("Write your own Epitaph"). Settle upon "put iTunes on shuffle and say what a random song reminds you of".

But that's pretty pedestrian, so as a variant, I scrolled around my iPhoto on random and decided to type what I can about the first photo I laid my cursor on with my eyes shut. This one:



Now watch me type about this photo until I run out of words. Or (more likely) before the beer high runs out and I just want to sleep/watch Peep Show until tiredness bitchslaps me onto the bed. Chances are I'll make a liar out of Fred R Barnard.

Firstly, I'm rather glad this picture came out of my oh-so-logical photo-picking process. While there are many photos of which I am more proud of, there are also a myriad more that I would probably have just ignored and not put up here. Like the picture of the pavement a mere couple of page scrolls up.
Secondly, this was taken during this leg of my Gap Year. Rubbish blog post though, it was just my lazy copy and paste from a Facebook message. Now I'll stop padding and start describing.

This is the view from a bridge overlooking the main river that runs through in Guilin, Guangxi province, south China. Though you couldn't tell from this photo, February 2008 was at the time the worst winter China had seen for some 50 years. Initially my little group of culture-shocked young'uns (so alien a situation to be in, where I was the oldest and most mature! Pity these kids people. Pity and fear for them) and I had intended to fly into Guangzhou first before making our way up the South West but changed our flights to arrive in Guilin instead. Mere days before we had been advised that the airport was crippled by snow (think England two weeks ago), that flights were sporadic and that people were sleeping in the airport trying to get transportation in or out. We learned this was the case from fellow travellers later on. So on balance I think we made the right decision!

The city of Guilin itself is very modern, to the point of feeling rather artificial. The main road through the city is highly modern, stone paved, very wide and exceedingly clean. Unlike some parts of China, people actually use the rubbish bins! One suspects cynically (and probably accurately) that all is catered specifically for a tourist crowd. Indeed the main features of Guilin are its proximity to other popular locations, its two bus/train stations and the province's airport. Yet the shops are irrefutably Chinese. The stalls selling lamps, stamps, prints and other paraphenalia are clean and look newly built, where you would expect and hope for signs of use, quaint indicators of tradition and loving patches of repair.

The photo itself is from an unfortunate section of the river from an anecdotal point of view. Further down the river are the famed 'Two Pagodas', publicised in all the travel guides and subject of many of the city's postcards. What they don't tell you is that they, like the rest of Guilin, look distinctly younger than 10 years old, either newly built or ruthlessly reconstructed. Continue along the other side of the bridge and you hit a section where the banks have small stone sculpture or elaborate murals on the walls, again very recent but very beautiful to look at, and very Chinese. Photogenic insertions for the cameras of tourists no doubt, but this only slightly detracts from their elegance.

The bright colours result from the combination of my desire to experiment with my camera's light settings (water + bright lights + little movement = pretty pictures, don't you know) and the slightly garish garden lights placed along the riverbank. Even the riverbanks have wide stone pavements, which make them ideal for strolling along but again, having sought a more 'genuine' experience, this was disappointing. In the background is a brightly lit building, I suspect from a commercial district, being as it is surrounded by other such buildings. You can see for yourself how clinically perfect the trees look, how symmetrically trimmed the shrubberies, how clean the pathways are and even the street vendor looks like his equipment was newly issued. All in all, Guilin is a beautiful place, but beautiful in the sense of a well designed new car rather than the rustic snapshot of China we had desired, though we were to be later satisfied on that later on that trip.


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And there we have it folks. Again, you'll forgive the lack of editing, the waffly and cliched writing and the self-indulgence. It also appears to me that I haven't spent much time talking about the actual photo. I'm not sure this post will survive the night and suspect I'll put it out of its misery tomorrow in the cold light of day. Night night!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Haiti, Charity and Twitter

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Seven years ago, I was studying GCSE history. Many facts remain from that year, but only one terrible quote made it verbatim through the minefield of my scrambled memories since then. In 1938, Neville Chamberlain made a statement that will forever tarnish his memory. In reference to Nazi Germany invading Czechoslovakia, he claimed, "How horrible, fantastic, incredible it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas-masks here because of a quarrel in a far away country between people of whom we know nothing." And as horrific a concept as that was, isolationism was the way in those days. People were still scarred by memories of the Great War and reluctant to repeat such atrocities for a foreign country. Heck, modern historians cite the isolationist approach America took in those days (though of course now they are arguably the largest national provider of foreign aid, sending 6000 military troops to Haiti for instance).

Don't worry, I'm going somewhere with this. Nowadays, such an isolationist attitude can no longer reasonably exist. We have countries built partially on the backs of immigrants now, with telephones and computers and link them back to their homeland. We have international news stations and the internet blasting us with information (let's not get into an argument about media bias just right now) from around the world. It is increasingly impossible for a modern and informed inhabitant of Earth to not know about the major goings-on halfway around the world. The increasing success of charities like the Red Cross and Band/Live Aid can be attributed in no small part to the advertisements and TV shorts of suffering, starving and suffering children from Africa and other Third World or developing countries. Emotional blackmail, yes, but entirely understandable in a media culture where things must needs be sensationalist to be heard.

Images like these (Not for the easily distressed). It would take a heart of steel-reinforced stone to not be even slightly moved by the images we see on our screens. And so we reach the modern day. The 7.0 Richter disaster hit Haiti not 48 hours ago and awareness of this issue is already widespread. Definitely more so than if this had occurred even a year ago. And the most unlikely purveyor of the news? Twitter. The interwebz are indeed aflame with the tweets of thousands, which means an unprecedented number of people exposed to this news, pictures and the ways in which they can help. Say a thousand people tell our their friends, who twitter their friends, etc. Before you know it, a million people are made aware. Plug in the search term "Haiti" now and your results page will be filled with tweets on the news from the last half minute. The admittedly ADD viral nature of Twitter is nevertheless not to be underestimated.

And if everyone exposed to the news gives but a paltry sum, it'd be a massive help. Hannah wrote an hugely enlightening blog post HERE (thanks HK) about how Haiti was hugely underprivileged before the earthquake. Obviously now their need is greater than ever. There is a national scheme in America, where you can give $10 by texting HAITI to 90999. I encourage Brits and other non-Americans to check out similar schemes HERE. After all what is $10 (£6.50)? Two cups of Starbucks? Three beers in London? Lend your thoughts, prayers and currency to the cause people, it's enough to break your heart.

In the strangest of moods

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Another set of bullet points today, my friends:
Feel free to leave as honest a set of criticisms on the previous two posts. As ever, inspired by Birdykin's archives and the influx of creativity from Alex at Kind of That Girl, I just wanted to get something down. Almost entirely unedited (spelling and punctuation of course, you should know how fastidious am I with these) they will be raw but maybe it's better that way.

Finally went to see Avatar this evening. I meant to see it last week but ended up frolicking in the snow instead. Frolicking sounds like I'm a lamb or a 1950s child. Ended up having japes in the snow. That's hardly better. Anyhow, I really enjoyed Avatar. Certainly it was very long, mediocre and unimaginative in its writing and as cliched a collection of dialogue as you could ever ask for. But the sheer creativity of the colours, the creatures, even the foliage was just breathtaking. I'm sceptical about how much of that can be attributed to the frankly irritating pair of Joe 90-esque 3D glasses we have to wear, but nonetheless, a three-hour-stretch well spent I feel. Goodness knows I love films with a good sense of colour, spectacle and cinematography.

Being a TV Geek, I'm:
-  Underwhelmed with the amateurish, almost cover-version-feel of the British version of So You Think You Can Dance
- Underwhelmed with the return of Hustle
- Happy but underwhelmed at the return of Chuck
- Excited by the imminent comeback of 24
- Hopeful about the sudden spike in quality of Scrubs
- Ditto but to a lower key with respects to Heroes
- Still remembering the 100th episode of How I Met Your Mother, complete with musical finale
- Missing Glee and Dr Who (David Tennant era)
Wow that's a lot of TV-linkage.

It snowed again today, but not enough for snow days but enough to make it annoying, slippery and vaguely dangerous. I'm over it now.

If I have any sway over any of you whatsoever, donate some money to Oxfam/Unicef/the MSFs/other NGOs that will help the situation in Haiti. Only what you can spare. Thank you.