Sunday, 25 April 2010

On 3, Being the Magic Number

Firstly, thank you Gnetch for giving me the opportunity to talk about myself, something I enjoy rather a lot - and as you tagged me I don't have to worry about sounding self-obsessed. Good work!

"Me in 3s."

Three names I go by:

1. Tom, being my name and all.

2. Thumbo, after my thumb swelled up to twice its normal size on a road trip in Italy.

3. Thomas, used exclusively by my mother when she's ashamed of me, or by colleagues trying to annoy me. Don't call me it. Ever. I don't like it.

Three jobs I've had:

1. International Sales Assistant @ a children's book publisher - my present job.

2. Conversation Assistant in an English language school in Italy - talking crap and getting paid, good times.

3. Service Improvement Officer @ council housing office - it sounds so much more important than it was. It involved taking complaints and filling in surveys. Sound fun? Didn't think so.

Three places I have lived:

1. Upminster - the end of the District Line

2. Cagliari - the capital of Sardinia

3. Royal Leamington Spa - the year that passed in a drunken haze

Three fave drinks:

1. A nice cold pint of Stella Artois. I know, I should be ashamed. But deep down I'm not.

2. Black coffee. I can't function without it.

3. Sparkling water - the perfect hangover cure.

Three TV shows I watch:

1. Shameless.

2. Waterloo Road. I love it. I bloody love it.

3. True Blood

Three places I've been:

1. Athens, Greece - a birthday present from N (seeing the Acropolis has always been on my to-do list.)

2. Rome, Italy - we missed the last train and slept on benches near St Peter's Square.

3. Paris, France - I went with work last October. Felt very important getting the Eurostar from St Pancras, thank God it didn't break down that time, I don't think I would have handled the situation very well. (How Old World am I? I have to broaden my horizons methinks)

Three places I would like to visit:

1. Norway - to see the Northern Lights (Also on my to-do list - Alexandra if you have any tips you have to let me know!)

2. Tokyo

3. Cape Town, to see where N grew up.

Three favorite retro TV shows:

1. Only Fools & Horses

2. Cheers

3. Fawlty Towers

Three favorite dishes:

1. Salmon & Asparagus

2. Mussels Marinara

3. Profiteroles.

Three things I'm looking forward to:

1. January 2013, when I will finally be able to relax safe in the knowledge that the world did not end in 2012.

2. Payday...this month has dragged itself out long enough.

3. Seeing the Northern Lights!

Three people I'm tagging:

1. Alexandra @ Friends & Crocodiles

2. Patti @ For When My Head Gets Full (maybe one for a Friday fill-in?!)

3. Kisekae @ Diary Of a Doll

On Political Apathy

A Political Pile-up

Firstly, I promise I will never write about politics ever again - it's not something I fully understand but humour me, just this once...

I'm going to admit something. Something I'm ashamed of. I've never voted, despite being eligible for nearly ten years. Elections - general, local and European - have passed by without me batting an eyelid.
I think this is partly because I've never taken the time to read about politics, or to really think about it for that matter, and assumed that no vote is better than a misinformed one. Had I familiarised myself with the parties and their arguments, I may have been able to motivate myself to vote. In truth, I suppose it was laziness.

My laziness was caused, in part, by a belief that one single vote can't really make a difference. When the press and media are throwing their weight behind the various candidates, flinging sleaze and scandal at one another like a giant political food fight, who's going to hear me over that? That's who the political parties want on side - I'm just a drop in the ocean compared to that.

I have also read (another) very interesting article today which mentions a group of politically engaged women, actively and successfully campaigning against the slave trade in the 1830s, who had little interest in acquiring the vote for themselves. "They took it for granted that politics was a game played by prosperous men for their own interests". I cannot stress how relevant I think this is today. I think this is the principal cause of my political apathy. I've considered politicians a class unto themselves - they've recently demonstrated how ridiculously out of touch they are with the rest of the population, and how fantastically good they are looking after themselves. In my opinion, it's not surprising that so many people feel completely detached from politics, as insular and behind-closed-doors as the British system is. It's like walking past a party you're not invited to - you can see people having fun, but you can't join in.

However, this isn't a rant about the system - this time round I actually feel slightly optimistic. I do plan to vote this year, and I do sense things changing. Perhaps I'm being naive. Perhaps this is what most people feel when they turn 18 and vote for the first time, but for the first time in my life I find myself interested in politics. It's taken a recession, the expenses scandal and a cloud of volcanic ash but the political animal inside me has finally woken up. I don't believe I'll make a difference, but I'm going to give it a shot - at least then I'll have a right to moan, even if it doesn't go my way.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Just Finished: The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

Last night I awoke from a dream about being stuck in a lift convinced that there was something spooky in my room. There wasn't, I don't think, but I was stuck half way between being asleep and being awake. This happens to me quite often - earlier in the week I convinced myself that the moon was moving to a different point in the sky each time I shut my eyes. I realise now that I didn't just shut my eyes, I fell asleep for ages then woke up again and so the moon had actually moved. Yes, I had had a drink. But alcohol was not what made me think my room was haunted - that was Sarah Waters' fault.

The Little Stranger is set after World War 2, in Warwickshire (which is where I went to university, incidentally). It follows a doctor who, over the course of the book, becomes close to the upper class family who live in a big, old house. Yes - I see what you're thinking - a big, old house, a's been done. But this is a very clever book. Firstly because it moves incredibly slowly without being boring. It's a long old read before even a whisper of paranormal activity. What's even better is the books commentary of social change in the postwar years - the rise of the middle class, the decline of the aristocracy, even woman's rights. It was evidently a tumultuous time, and Waters captures in a really vivid, detailed way.

And it is spooky. Very spooky. It's like the only sort of horror film I'll watch: one where you don't see what's scaring you or what people are running from - the monster is in your imagination and you can only see its traces. Take Signs for example - brilliant film, until you see the shit alien costume and find out it's scared of water. Describing just enough, but leaving the rest to the imagination is the best way, in my humble opinion, of really scaring the b'jesus out of someone. And that's what this book does. Anything that wriggles its way into your subconcious so that you wake up thinking there's a dead Edwardian child in your room must be pretty effective.

Next up: Mao's Last Dancer by Li Cunxin...not something I'd normally choose (it's an autobiography for a start, which I've never been into) but I've joined N's book first one. Eeek.

PS Well done FFC for holding out against the mighty Hamburg...COYW!

Sunday, 18 April 2010

On Eyjafjallajokull

Image taken 17th April 2010 at Putney Bridge

And so it continues. The invisible cloud of ash from Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajokull is still hovering menancingly over the British Isles and most of northern Europe. Along with the upcoming general election, this is what more or less dominates UK news at the moment.

A colleague received an email from a supplier in the far east on Friday, urging her to 'pay extra attention when driving through the ash.' Of course we explained that it wasn't quite Dante's Peak in King's Cross, but I can see why she'd think it was, the amount we've gone on about it [myself included]. Perhaps this is due to our lack of volcanoes and fault lines, coupled with the obvious fact that there's only so often that drizzle can be newsworthy, that we've seized this opportunity to be dramatic. The vast majority of Eyjafjallajokull's column inches are dedicated to the thousands of stranded travellers dotted across the globe - something that for them is obviously incredibly inconvenient, and in some cases maybe even financially crippling - but the Ash Cloud of Doom has not stopped there.

Hundreds of people in Iceland were evacuated from their homes. Airlines may be forced to make people redundant should they be grounded much longer. The lack of air travel has meant flower exporters in Kenya are losing obscene amounts of money. This is what really got me. This is what I would never have considered; the fact that a volcano way up in northern Europe can effect the business dealings of someone in Kenya's a bit mental.

It's crazy how the world exists day-to-day on such tight deadlines - how a few days without aeroplanes can have such a huge ripple effect. Another example: According to this ever so interesting article, in 1783 another Icelandic volcano erupted. The clouds of ash and dust were so thick that crops failed throughout northern Europe. This poor harvest was one of the catalysts of the French revolution! Crazy shit. That volcano changed the world. All of this is so weird if you think about it. All of it. The whole business has made the world seem so much smaller to me. I know that if I wanted to go on holiday tomorrow it would take me a bloody long time, but it's the exposure of the delicate supply chains and the speed at which things unravel as soon as one link is broken that makes everything seem less far away. It's like dominoes on a global scale. I'm probably making no sense; if anything I should feel more isolated, but I don't think I've ever felt more connected to the rest of the world.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

On The Saga Continuing (And TbR Foreseeing His Doom)

No really, I actually am going to keep talking about this. At the risk of making myself sound totally insane, my battle with the Why-Won't-You-Die-Pod is far from over. After my drastic actions last weekend, we had one day of good music together. One fine day. The next day my head phones broke (He did it! The Pod! It was him!). The day after that I developed an eye twitch like the one I referred to, in jest, in my previous post! I think that settles it - there are no other explanations - my I-Pod is possessed by something far more powerful than I. I admit defeat.

FYI the eye twitch has since subsided. I get it sometimes when I'm really tired...does anyone else or is it just me? I tried to find a quick fix online but my search was in vain, all I found was a website telling me to do the following:

a) Cut down on caffeine
b) Don't get stressed at work
c) Reduce my alcohol intake.

Now, these are silly things to say and I'll tell you why. If I were to follow option a), b) would become considerably more difficult and c) would probably be impossible as I'd drink (c) to cope with the stress (b). I can't really turn b) off, but I know that coffee and alcohol are important in keeping my work life as stress-free as possible. I could, and probably should, do c), but I'll wait until next Tuesday, because I have planned a night out at which I simply must drink. Oh, and Thursday. I'll start Friday.

From the initial disappointment surrounding my lost battle with the Pod, I move on to another: the Icelandic volcano. I completely understand why the airports have closed and I for one wouldn't want to risk flying; my sole disappointment is that I didn't read the newspaper article in full, and so spent most of Tuesday hoping to see a giant cloud of ash in the distance, looming over the tower blocks, perhaps even floating past my 5th floor window. I now realise that it's far too high for my twitchy eye to see, but it would have been something to tell the grandchildren had it happened my way.

And finally, the prediction of my doom. I had a dream. A dream of what I believe to have been the End of the World. It started in my living room. I looked out of the window and saw five shooting stars. I said, "Oooh! Look at those shooting stars!" Then they crashed to earth (for anyone with any knowledge of the county of Essex, I'd say they landed somewhere around West Horndon). Panic ensued. I woke the house and noticed a horse in the garden (completely random and unrelated, but I have to stick to the vision as it happened lest a detail I miss is important). The back garden was all of a sudden consumed by flame and thick black smoke. We rushed downstairs, jumped in the car and made our way straight for the mushroom cloud (of ash!) at the point of impact. WE WERE GOING TO SEE THE METEORITES THAT SET OUR HOUSE ON FIRE. And we were all quite excited. It felt like a holiday ("We'll go to the zoo, and the beach. And we mustn't forget the epicentre of the apocalypse!"). This is where my vision ends. I wonder if it should be analysed? What does it mean? Why am I dreaming of such terrifying situations? Why did the good clan TbR head into the eye of the storm? Are we hurtling towards disaster? And where did that effing horse come from?! So many questions, so little sense.

Have a great weekend everyone!


[Please note that I am not, in fact, completely mad and don't really believe that my IPod is out to get me, nor that I have any measure of prophetic ability. I promise I'm not a complete loon.]

Sunday, 11 April 2010

On TbR & The Why-Won't-You-Die-Pod

Ladies and gentlemen, please be introduced to my arch-nemesis; the Why-Won't-You-Die-Pod. We've been locked in a battle for supremacy for a while, and only now can I see the light at the end of the tunnel.

I fell in love with the little red I-Pod Nano at first sight. I took it home and introduced it to a range of music so eclectic it blew the little Pod's mind. Perhaps I should have been more careful, adding a few songs at a time rather than drowning it in tunage for (alas!) less than a month later it was in a bad way. I took it to the Apple Store where a kindly young fellow (who N fancied, incidentally) took the little Pod 'into the back' to fix it. Now, I'm not sure what happened 'in the back' but something definitely went awry for the I-Pod I received was not the same one I gave in! It did have the same scratches from my keys, my grubby fingerprints on the screen and that same piece of receipt wedged into the headphone socket. It was physically the same machine - but something had changed.

I've since come to the conclusion that while 'in the back', the little Pod was possessed by some kind of evil Pod spirit, which altered its personality in such a way that we no longer saw eye to eye. It would turn itself off in my pocket, purposely choose songs I didn't really like OVER and OVER, and run away and hide when I turned my back. All of a sudden my least favourite songs appeared in three or four different guises in My Music folder, with just one letter, number or space different between them. I couldn't escape them. They played ALL THE TIME. My thumb ached with the skipping of tracks. Why-Won't-You-Die-Pod nearly had me defeated.

But no! I'm too clever for it! I have spent the WHOLE WEEKEND sorting out My Music folder.

There has been a veritable cull of songs - I've been really quite ruthless. I've arranged them into alphabetical order (by artist) and ensured that all duplicates are deleted. The folder is perfection - a monument to my tidying skills. I've also uninstalled and reinstalled I-Tunes. And, finally, I RESTORED THE EVIL POD TO FACTORY SETTINGS. Mwah ha ha! I'm hoping this will cure its evil ways and return it to the perfect Pod I had before - before the strops, and the unscheduled song changes and the running away. Back to the good old days...

However...I am now worried for my sanity. Perhaps it has beaten me after all...I mean I've just lost a whole I really feel proud of that? Perhaps this was what it wanted all make me make me compromise my good nature by taking such reckless action...why...why you little...

Have a good week everyone!

*mad eye twitch*

Friday, 9 April 2010

On Centaurs Only Being Able To Use Wheelchair Accessible Stations

Oh hello sweet, sweet bed! How my heart has yearned for your warm embrace today! I have been suffering you see. Suffering with a hangover. Despite being snowed under at work, I couldn't really do anything this morning except feel sorry for myself (which I do very well). Last night, you see, saw a reunion of sorts.

There were once three friends who started a quiz team in a pub that was due to close down. Every Monday night they would meet, chat, drink and ponder over ridiculously difficult trivia questions. This continued for months; the team grew week after week, new teams formed as offshoots, it was a golden age of hushed conferring, booze-fuelled banter and Tuesday morning headaches. Then tragedy struck (I used the term tragedy in the loosest possible sense). Two of the three decided to return to the world of higher education, leaving poor TbR at home alone! Without them, his quiz attendance fizzled out - the weekly quiz was cancelled and he returned no more to pub in question (though it is still open, a year on, with more customers than ever apparently - I'm taking credit for that).

But they're home for Easter so a few of us headed to the pub for a catch-up drink last night. I arrived late, fashionably, having nipped out for a couple after work, and the banter commenced. Now, I don't want you to think that I don't have any other friends, I do. Honest. But this is a group where conversation wanders into uniquely unpredictable places. Take this excerpt, from last night's meeting, for instance:

D: "Can you imagine having hands where your feet are? Do you think that would work?"
T: "Like a chimp? They have elongated toes."
S: "I don't think it would work - would you be able to stand up straight?"
D: "I don't think so. I'd probably prefer hooves anyway, like Mr Tumnus."
TBR: "Mr Tumnus was a faun though. I'd prefer horse's hooves to goat's hooves."
D: "True. But again, I'm not sure you'd be able to stand up straight."
T: "What about a centaur then? Have all four legs. You'd be really fast then."
D: "True."
TBR: "It would be a logistical nightmare though. I mean if centaurs did exist, their ability to travel would be quite limited - they couldn't get the tube, for example."
S: "No - especially in rush hour."
TBR: "Not just that - what about stairs? I think you'd just have to say 'Sorry, centaurs, but you can only use wheelchair accessible stations."
T: "They'd be alright on the Jubilee Line - 18 of 28 stations are wheelchair accessible.*"

And this is what I miss - the ability to get lost in a conversation about absolute crap and forget how it started. I shall have to make the most of their return - nights out with the Former Quiz Team of Dreams are guaranteed to be good ones.

In other news, I saw the parrots again this evening. Down my road this time. Exciting stuff.

Happy Friday to you all and enjoy the weekend, I'm off to bed!


*I have checked this and it's incorrect. Poor effort.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

On Spring

And so, winter draws to a close. Despite being an avowed winterphile, I am quite pleased - if only because these new blue skies are a bit different to the grey ones I've got used to.

I have also noticed people looking just a bit happier. Is it just because we've had 2 days off work? I'd say no. In fact, I can sense a definite shift in the public mood. Yesterday was sunny, but it was also freezing; nevertheless I saw a couple of beer gardens full to bursting. At Craven Cottage (Fulham vs Wigan - we won 2-1!) the weather varied wildly between April showers and April sunshine and the usual suspects who have season tickets near mine seemed somewhat less arsey than usual. And I don't think it was because we were playing particularly well. N, however, pointed out that even though we won, he didn't feel particularly happy. This leads me to believe that spring may not make people happy. Perhaps, instead, daffodils release a kind of emotional sedative that just keeps people in a fair-to-middling mood.

Whatever the reason, it's affecting me too; on my way home on Thursday someone wheeled a suitcase over my foot at Kings Cross. He apologised, and rather than respond with a grunt or a glare I said 'don't worry!' with a silly grin on my face. What now? That's not like me. Or is it just unlike WINTER ME? I find myself looking at grass verges and thinking how nice it will be to sit on the grass in the sun. Again, unlike me - I normally run for the shadows. I'm not sure what to make of all this gaiety. I think I may wear a face mask tomorrow - if I manage to maintain a bad mood, there may be some truth in my daffodil theory. If I still feel happy, I'll have no choice to conclude that my initial suspicion was correct, that spring makes people happy, despite the weather still being pretty rubbish.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Just Finished: The Amnesia Clinic by James Scudamore

Set in Ecuador in the 1990s, The Amnesia Clinic follows two fifteen year old boys who couldn't be more different. Anti, the narrator, is a British expat - pale, unattractive and prone to asthma attacks. Fabian is the good-looking, athletic and popular Ecuadorian who takes Anti under his wing. One thing they do share, and what forms the basis of their friendship, is a talent for storytelling; both the boys, Fabian's uncle and a host of other characters are seen using imagination to embellish the reality of what's happened to them. In Fabian's case, it's the death of his mother and father. As his mother's body was never found, Fabian concocts a series of barely plausible possibilities explaining how she survived and where she is now - something that Anti later encourages by suggesting she's a patient in an invented Amnesia Clinic on the coast. This leads to a trip across Ecuador to a fishing village that's not on the map; a trip that ends with a bang.

The storytelling theme is recurrent throughout; many characters have opportunities to go off on their own tangent and it's largely up to you decide whether the narrator is reliable, or whether it's complete bollocks. I think everyone's felt, at one point or another, disappointed with the reality in which they find themselves, and longed for something more interesting to be injected into their daily lives. The Amnesia Clinic follows Anti and Fabian at a time in life when the imagination begins to fail - when what is becomes more important than what could be. It's a coming of age story about leaving childhod fancies behind, and learning to accept life how it is - no matter how grim it seems.

The final twist is the icing on the cake - I wish I could go into it more but I don't want to ruin it for anyone. Suffice it to say that it realigns your perspective on the events and characters you've been reading about, just when you think you know what happened.

I've never been to Ecuador, nor South America for that matter, so I'm not sure how good Scudamore's descriptions are - but in my mind it certainly evoked the colour, passion and confusion that I imagine to exist there. This is a good read - it took a while to get into, and I wasn't always sure what to believe but I think it's very cleverly written. Scudamore's characters manipulate your opinion of them with their stories and keep you guessing until the end. This means you can't really trust any of them, and instead wonder what the reality is, beneath the stories and lies.

Next up: The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters