See The Little Goblin – Anatomy of a House Party

9 Apr

(I am still hugely hungover from last night, so this will have to do)

Went to a house party
Drank whisky and Blue Charge out of a flourescent green plastic martini glass
Immediately played Ring of Fire with a tumbler of same
At some point, drank all the whisky
Climbed halfway out of the bathroom window to broadcast my thoughts at the people below
Met a person I used to go to school with – he was in the year below me – and took great delight in rubbing his bald head every time he said anything
Was asked if I’d go to bed with one of my female friends, offered my approval – was then declined
Introduced myself to a man I’d already been introduced to and made sweeping judgements about the Tory party, stag weekends, and (oddly enough) plumbing, all of which fortunately he agreed with
Drank whatever was in the fountain
Used an incredibly long straw to hijack the drinks of whoever was around – and it worked
Joined two of the straws together to make a limbo stick and had to stand there holding the damn thing for about twenty minutes while everyone had a go
Made assurances to people I’d never met before that I would attend the events they were holding in the next month – I didn’t take their names or numbers and will most likely never meet them again
Put a cardboard box on my head and went “aaaaaagh”
Commented on the headgear of a perfect stranger and discussed it with him for about half an hour – it was a baseball cap with pictures of Marvel characters on it
Wandered through the house, eventually going up to the top bedroom and discovering one of my hosts asleep, whereupon a sheaf of papers caught my eye and I sat down on his bed to read an 11-page short story. When he woke up to quite reasonably demand what I was doing, I told him exactly what I thought of his fiction – I believe I compared it to William Faulkner – and we talked about why his teacher didn’t like it and whether or not he would attempt to publish. This was at about four in the morning
Attempted to start a game of Ring of Fire with three people
Played Twister with myself
Called one of my long-suffering friends and asked her, with apparent sincerity, exactly what time we’d be going to see the film we’d booked tickets for, who was going, whether one of her female friends was going, and what the odds were that I’d be able to have sex with this person
Went to bed

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BLODA: On Being Late to the Bandwagon

6 Apr

At no point have I ever really given a shit about the rules of any Internet-based writing challenge, be it Script Frenzy, NaNoWriMo, or Blog Every Day In Whatever Month You Damn Well Please,  so I won’t begin this post by apologizing for missing the previous five days. I feel, rather, that I should apologize for allowing this blog to undergo something of a fallow season right after I claimed, in a panicked and long-winded post, that I would attempt to write something at least every week and that I would probably let you all see the results. I can’t in good conscience claim to have written much of anything within the past month or so – not because I’m so busy every day that I simply can’t spare twenty consecutive minutes to sit down and churn out a few hundred words for my own amusement, but because of pure apathy and lack of confidence. Well, no more. I’m home for Easter and I have about a month to play games, drink myself foolish, eat my parents’ food and essentially tit around pointlessly, so I’ll be damned if I can’t shit out a poxy blog post every day for a week. Even if they’re as short as this.

Totally Attainable Dreams: The List

2 Feb

It seems pretty stupid to to begin worrying, a few months before your twenty-second birthday, that you might be getting Old.

I admit that this is a problem I’ve had for a while – I really didn’t want to turn twenty, for example, because for some reason the nebulous wall of teenagerdom was something I could hide behind in order to avoid thinking about entering My Twenties, the decade of Getting Off Your Arse and Making Something Of Yourself, Goddammit. I rationalised my eighteenth and nineteenth years – mostly spent drinking, joining and qutting and rejoining university courses, and lying to my parents about looking for work – by simply thinking “Hey, this is what teenagers do. They tit around and enjoy themselves and disregard anything that seems like hard graft, because they can. What do they have to worry about, after all? They’re young”.

Now, having moved out of my parents’ house to follow a course I’m actually going to complete, I’m beginning to realise that I may have wasted a little bit too much time back then. Sure, twenty-two isn’t old (unless you’re talking to teenagers, who’ll tell you with a sad grin that the coffin is already being carved) but I really did spend the latter years of my teenage life doing pretty much nothing. Other people were taking driving lessons and perfecting their musical skills and winning acclaim for their athletic ability/artistic vision/knack for making tiny plastic replicas of sweets and selling them off as quirky jewelry, while I was sitting in my room, cultivating various pointless addictions and attempting to learn to write (something I quite clearly haven’t achieved yet).

That fact hit me at five o’clock this morning as I stared at the ceiling, waiting fruitlessly for sleep to arrive. (This little problem isn’t what’s causing my insomnia, by the way: lack of sleep is a bitch, but it does allow you a lot of time to examine the immediate surroundings of your bed while internally berating yourself for being pretty much useless.) Fortunately, pretentious liberal help was at hand in the form of NPR’s This American Life podcast, which I had started downloading about a year before in the middle of my Grab Every Podcast Available Online phase, one of my many fun but time-wasting pursuits. The show, dated 16.08.2010, had a story about a woman who, as a child, had dreamed of becoming a superhero, and decided at an early age to write a list of all the skills she’d need to become an ass-kicking, stunt-driving, crime-fighting Amazon. By the time she was twenty-one, she’d mastered a double-handful of impressive skills, including firearms training, evasive driving, wilderness survival, knife-throwing, hostage negotiation, several martial arts, and how to fly a helicopter without killing yourself and others in the process. (That’s just the stuff I can remember off the top of my head; there are at least ten more.) In between being a badass and pre-emptively crushing my dreams, she’d completed high school, a Bachelor’s degree in Geopolitics, and a Master’s in same, and was looking around for PHD courses. I’ll just remind you: she’s TWENTY-ONE at this stage. She eventually becomes an agent for a top international private detective agency, and one assumes she now spends most of her time flitting around the world wearing catsuits and kicking Colombian druglords in the knackers.

Naturally, on hearing about such a triumphant collection of achievements, I started comparing my own list of talents. They came to:

  • Reads quite fast
  • Can cook own meals
  • Can drink slightly above weight class
  • Small carbon footprint (can’t drive)
  • Friend to the animals
  • Doesn’t make much noise

Clearly, changes had to be made. Unfortunately, I spent my childhood being a child, so I don’t have the kind of time that Zhora (that’s the woman’s name; yes, like the dancing assassin from Blade Runner) had to complete a list of tasks. On the plus side, my list is a touch less ambitious then hers. I gave myself a time-limit, just to make things more interesting (by which I mean, interesting at all). From the handy Notes archive on my phone:

Things To Do Before January 1st, 2012

1. Get into the habit of writing regularly, once a week at the bare minimum.

This is the one I think I’ll have the most trouble with, because of my (probably quite obvious by this point) lack of motivation. People who want to pursue a career in writing are told, time and time again, that the only way to make yourself into a writer is to WRITE, as often as you can, and it doesn’t matter if what you write is utter shit, because writing isn’t really a natural talent: it has to be honed through intense practice. I’m going to try to write something, long or short, fictional or not, every day. If I think it’s at all funny or entertaining, you might even see it here in these hallowed (dusty) pages.

2. Learn a language to a basic level of competence (Italian, maybe, or Spanish)

This one might seem like the hardest on the list, but I was always quite good at learning languages. I’ve got a good memory for vocab, and I don’t find pronunciation as much of a problem as some people do. I already know a tiny bit of Spanish and, let’s face it, Italian and Spanish are the same language, so hopefully I’ll be able to get pretty far with this one. (Allow me a little bit of arrogance, alright? It’s been a tough day. Excuse me while I dab the sweat from my brow with an exquisite lace kerchief.)

3. Take up some form of offensive pursuit (boxing/aikido/karate – join a society?)

I want to learn some form of fighting skill for two reasons – one, it’ll keep me fit on a regular basis, and two – well, it’ll be fucking cool. There’s no arguing with it. Ha-cha, etc.

4. Take driving lessons.

Come on. A blind monkey with one leg can probably do this. He might not get very far, but the point stands.

5. Learn to play an instrument to a basic level, and don’t immediately be disheartened when it turns out it’s hard.

I’ve tried to learn various instruments over the years – guitar, keyboard, uh, tuba – and I’ve always gotten bored with them almost instantly. I know that everyone’s crap when they first start out and that making a godawful tuneless racket is par for the course in the first month or so, but it always frustrated me that I couldn’t even pluck out a simple tune when other people make it look so effortless. Hopefully I’ll be able to restrain my raging ego and stick at it until I can tap out a rousing rendition of “Mary Had A Little Lamb” on some kind of washboard.

Readers (all fourteen of you): Do me a favour and interrogate me through comments at various points in the year about how these goals are going. I’d hate to look through the archives in a couple of years and discover this sad little post that I’d evidently forgotten all about within a week. Sound fair? Good. I’ll see you in a few days.

(Unless I forget.)

Frenemy of the State

10 Oct

I have this friend who I hate, and…

Hmm. I hate to get bogged down in semantics so early on, but the above statement is not strictly true. She’s not really my friend, and I don’t really hate her. My dislike of this girl runs at various times from ‘vague’ to ‘prickly’, but mostly it’s a low-grade irritation that spikes occasionally – for example, when I’m in the kitchen washing the dishes in blessed silence and she detects my presence, walks out of her room (which is divided from the kitchen by a single wall which is apparently made from papier-mache), stands right next to me and attempts to begin a full-blown Small Talk Marathon. Or when I get stuck in the lift with her, or when she uses every space on the hob in making her dinner when all I want to do is heat up a bowl of damn soup, and…

I digress, once again. Perhaps it’s best to fully introduce this character before I can accurately describe how much I can’t stand her.

She is

  • Nineteen years old
    Recently arrived in the country
    Portuguese
    Capable of talking for approximately six hours on the trot without running out of ideas or becoming bored
    Incapable of being persuaded that any of her opinions are wrong

and she likes

  • Anime
    Arthurian legends
    J-Pop
    Chatting amiably (about herself)
    Complaining (about everything else)

and she dislikes

  • British food
  • British weather
  • British television
  • British films
  • British customs
  • Drinking
  • Any meal that does not involve vegetables or salmon fried in milk and served with fusili
  • Comedy
  • Western music
  • Letting other people talk
  • Mess or disorder of any kind
  • Loud noises after 11
  • Anyone who likes any of the things listed above

and I’m living with her in a student flat in my first year of university.

Honestly.

If you have ever met me in real life, you’ll understand how much this kind of person would grate on me. And grate she does, with apparently no idea that she’s doing it.

She doesn’t understand how British customs work, or why anyone would want to live the way British people do. She doesn’t understand why people watch TV so much, or why people get drunk, or why people eat unhealthy foods. She doesn’t see any need for the news, sports, politics, books that aren’t about fictional monarchs, and music that does not come from Japan (with one notable exception, about which more later). Despite her dislike of all things British, she considers herself to be a worldly and culturally sensitive individual, and is studying (God save us) International Relations, which is apprently part of the university’s new “Ideas Written on The Back of a Packet of Tabs at Four in the Morning” initiative. Her status as any kind of cultural mediator is somewhat in dispute, given the fact that if you refute or question any one of her opinions, she’ll cut you off with a “Yeah, but…” and immediately repeat her original point or segue into a completely irrelevant one. She is as irritating to me as it is possible to be without being actively leprous or one of the landed gentry.

Now, I’m sure that if I was a neurotic neat-freak with a bizarre attitude to other people’s lives and a case of OCD you could block out the sun with, I’d get along with her just fine. But her interests and mine clash in a way that almost seems purposefully designed to prove the most aggravation with the least contact. Take tonight, for example. It’s a Saturday, my two best friends are ill and I have about fifteen quid to my name, so I look up the local cinema’s website and see that they’re showing Scott Pilgrim vs. The World at 22:55. Perfect. Not so early that I’m bored when I get back, and not so late that I’ll have to battle through the endless hordes of drunk people on their way home from the clubs. I shuffle off to the cinema and enjoy two hours of Edgar Wright’s best work. In the last ten years, I’ve only seen one movie multiple times at the cinema, and Scott Pilgrim is it. I’m a fan of the original graphic novels, Edgar Wright is a great director, the movie is dripping with indie rock, pop-culture and eighties beat-em-up references: it’s a perfect storm. The film was awesome the first time, and awesome the second time. I wandered back up the street to my building and congratulated myself on catching it one last time before it leaves the cinemas.

After an hour or two, I hear the flat entrance open and close, and I’m struck with the traditional feeling of dread mixed with anger: It had really better not be her, otherwise I’ll…

It was her. She flounced in with a cheery “Hiii!” and began to busy herself pointlessly around the kitchen, as is her wont. Unfortunately, she’d caught me just as I was making a cup of tea (the cunning little shit) so I had to wait around for at least a minute. The silence was growing deeper, and I know how much she loves pointless conversation, so I threw her a bone (I’m not a complete bastard, after all) and asked her where she’d been.

“Oh, I just went to the cinema with some friends.”

“What did you see?”

“Scott Pilgrim vs. The World?”

Oh, please no. Don’t tell me she’s going to constantly turn up in the places I like to go.

“What? Really? Which cinema did you go to?”

“The one in the Light.” The same one I went to. Fuck.

“You went to the showing at five to eleven?”

She frowned.

“Yeah, why?”

“I was in that showing.”

She got unnecessarily excited about this.

“SHIT! What, seriously, like… SHIT! Oh WOW!”

She began to laugh uproariously. Maybe I’m just not astute enough, or maybe her comedic mind is more finely tuned than mine, but the situation did not seem overly hilarious.

“I didn’t see you! Where were you?”

“In the middle.”

“Oh! I was in the back, with all my friends. That’s where the best seats are, in the back.”

Right. “So what did you think of it?”

“Well, I’m going to download the soundtrack, because a couple of songs were really good…”

I’m taken aback. She likes music that doesn’t come from wanky Japanese animations? Maybe there’s some hope for her yet.

“…but I hated the movie.”

Oh.

In retrospect, I shouldn’t have been surprised. She is my polar opposite; if she can’t catch any of the Anglophonic pop-culture references and hates American films, video games, and laughter, then obviously she’d hate the movie. I fight the urge to break her neck and continue with my excruciatingly in-depth interrogation.

“Really?”

“Some of the lines were really funny and the music was good, but the rest was the worst shit ever. It made me want to bang my head against the wall.”

There are so many things I could have said at this point, like

Really? I could do that for you, if you like. Here, come stand against the fridge and wait while I fetch the iron

or

Well, you’re foreign and you hate mirth, so I suppose you probably didn’t catch the point of it

or

Indeed? It’s hilarious to British people. Maybe you’re not as internationally knowledgeable as you thought you were, eh?

or

Could you do me a huge favour and leave the room before I eviscerate you for being so fucking arrogant?

Maybe that last one was a bit harsh. In the end, I decided on:

“Well, it’s very Canadian, so maybe you didn’t pick up on some of the humour.”

“Yeah, but… well, maybe.”

The conversation stopped there. She left to go to her room, and I retired to mine with my cuppa to consider the many discrete ways in which I hate her guts.

Hopefully at some point she’ll get sick of the rest of us having fun all the damn time and move to a different floor. Or maybe she’ll drop out and find another country to irrationally despise, or maybe…

Well, I can’t see me getting to July without blowing up at her at least once. Here’s my question, beloved audience: how might I make her existence tolerable for the rest of the school year? Answers on a postcard, kids.

-J

leedsblorg

16 Sep

Day One
Song stuck in head: I Think You Know – Julia Nunes
Foreign people met: Four

Here follows a quick and mostly unenlightening precis of the first day, filled in on paper at various points in the day. Skim at your leisure – it gets a little bit more intense later (when the italics end). You’ve been warned.

Boring journey – got lost in little country town, pub advertised “Chateaubriand for two: The Ultimate Beef Experience”. Another pub up the road: The Dog and Gun. Yorkshire, motherfuckers.

Got all my stuff packed and in the room, except for my goddamned beer fridge. Must find some way to sneak it back in later on.
Had lunch at Brown’s. Was fairly rubbish. Mussels took ages to eat. Next time: Nando’s.

Family went. No tears – they’re probably glad to get rid of me. Spent an hour or two in the room, unpacking shit and sitting around. Eventually I went to get a cup of tea, and found two people in the kitchen.

First neighbour(s) met: Amy and Boyfriend (Steve?). Both Mancs, but Steve (or whatever) supports the Toon. Get in, lad. Amy was supposed to be in the Nursing halls but got shifted for reasons unknown. They immediately left to go bowling.  Bye, guys. (n.b.: She’s actually called Katie. Well done, you moron).

Texted around, got on Facebook, Interneted about for a bit. Second neighbour met: Shin (or Chin, or something). Very possibly Chinese. Apparently he’s the hall warden for this floor, but the letter says we just have one warden, and he didn’t know there was a common room. (There had better fucking well be a common room). Vaguely suspicious, but seems friendly enough. Ran into a few problems in the conversation (my accent, his grasp of the language). Seemed a little too interested in what was in my room. Possibly a wrang ‘un. Possibly just Chinese. Will investigate later.

Got a little bit suspicious of that Chinese guy. Rang the fam and asked what they thought – sister smells a rat. If he didn’t know where the common room was (assuming there is one), and he claimed to have a job that doesn’t exist, and he didn’t ask about whether or not I’ve been doing okay or any warden-type stuff, and he seemed to stand a little bit too close to me (maybe that’s just me being weird), then the little shit’s up to something.

About to head downstairs and see what’s what. Nobody seems to know what they’re talking about (fucking student labour, harrumph etc.) Hopefully something’s going on downstairs. There really better had be a common room.

Went down and spoke to the security guy. He said he’d check the CCTV.

Never heard back from him. Good job, too, because it turns out… well.

I was busy stalking around the floor, waiting for something to occur, when something occurred. A knock on the door revealed two girls with stacks of posters, who asked if they could put one in the kitchen. The posters turned out to be for an Opal-only bar crawl. They were selling tickets, and I readily handed over six of my best pounds for one, when who should walk in but my newest neighbour?

This Is Deeply Embarassing, Because I Spent the Majority of the Afternoon with This Girl, and I Have No Idea What Her Name Is. She’s from Portugal, and her English is great, and she can fucking well use it, as you’ll hear about imminently. After making a few introductions, we decided to knock on doors and see who was around so we could all have dinner together. Turns out our Chinese friend, who I was still mildly cautious of, was the only other person on the floor at that moment. We all duly head into the kitchen and sit down in front of the TV, intending to have a cup of tea and a chat and then make something for dinner. The first two steps went fine. In fact, I think you could say that the first step went better than any of us thought it ever could.

Basically, we sat and talked for six hours. Well, that’s not quite accurate: Portuguese Girl sat and talked, I occasionally joined in and spat out a few lines, and Chin sat quietly, owlishly analyzing the whole conversation and inserting a couple of choice comments here and there. It seems that the whole “Chin is a nutcase” thing was a misunderstanding on my part: when he introduced himself to me that afternoon, he’d said “Hello. I’m the resident in room D.” My brain, addled from stress and hunger, immediately tacked the word warden into the sentence and began to bubble over with fresh paranoia-brew. It seems that Chin is nothing more than an archetypal Chinese student – quiet, unfamiliar with the West, smiley but easily confused. (I say “seems”. He may turn out to be a thief. He may turn out to be a murderer or a backstreet abortionist or a Flashdance enthusiast. It’s still far too early to tell with these people. Despite that, “seems” can go a fair way.)

Portuguese Girl (I must find out her name) expounded on a great number of subjects – the various foibles of the bizarrely corrupt Portuguese school system where peer pressure is such that the class loners get lower grades for being so, the systems of institutionalised hazing in Portuguese colleges, the weight and quality of Portuguese books compared to British ones, the four channels that Portuguese terrestrial TV is blessed with, the complications of the registration system at Leeds Uni, her many and varied interests (Arthurian legends, pre-industrial towns, health foods, not watching TV, Japanese cartoons and teetotalism, among a thousand other things), the various fast food restaurants in Leeds and how they’re all bad in various ways. We listened to her horror stories, finished off her sentences, inspected three of her books (all novels concerning the various legends of King Arthur – she’s obsessed) and had a long discussion about the relative merits of rubbing alcohol. By the time the conversation wound down, it was half ten.

To put it in the only way I can, I never noticed I was fucking starving until I noticed I was fucking starving. They both got their coats and we headed off into the city centre. We noted landmarks, tried to remember where shops were for the morning inventory, and marvelled at the sheer number of fucking Subways in this city – they’re more numerous than Greggs in Newcastle, and I’m not lying – on the way down to the train station, where Portuguese Girl said there was a Marks and Spencers where we (she) might be able to get healthy food. Predictably, it was shut. Nevertheless, we found a nearby Subway (that is to say, we turned around and there were about twenty of them) and irritated the cashier with our extensive and prolonged orders. Portuguese Girl insisted on the veggie slice – a hunk of brownish tofu-looking material with green and red flecks studded randomly in it – and Chin asked, in halting English (bless him) for salmon, without first looking at the menu to see if it was listed. It wasn’t. He then asked what the one fish-based item was, and apparently had never heard of tuna but decided he wanted it, and then he didn’t quite understand the process or concept of heating up a sandwich. In this midst of this multinational confusion strode a large, cheerful Leeds native, who, upon hearing that one of us was Portuguese and one of us was Chinese, proceeded to give several helpful tips on the pronounciation of the word “tomato”. We then got into a cheerily impromptu and quickfire discussion of American English, the religious nutcase in America who organised Burn the Koran Day, empire building (British vs. Portuguese), the exact location of Chin’s town, terrorism and Iraq. As the automatic mediator of this conversation, I was appealed to by both sides – Portuguese Girl with logic and historical argument, and Big Friendly Leeds Guy with good old British stubbornness and rhetoric. After about twenty minutes of lively but good-natured debate, a queue started to form in front of us and BFLG announced that he had to go home and eat his sandwich. He shook my hand and Chin’s, then gave PG a hug and the European side-face-air-kiss-thing. I remembered thinking “Jesus, I hope they’re all like that”, as we trailed back up through a huge upward-curving shopping street that reminded me hugely of Wenceslas Square in Prague, and back to Opal through the quiet streets.

Quick summary of the rest: Got back, partly watched American Beauty. Funnier than I thought. The blond girl, whose name is in fact Katie, and her boyfriend turned up, slightly drunk but nice and talkative. At about half one, after a good twenty minutes of introductory conversation, I bid the kids goodnight (all of them are twenty – ha!) and leapt off to bed. I’ve spent an hour writing this. I’m still knackered. More tomorrow, yeah?

Day Two
Song stuck in head: Horchata – Vampire Weekend
Plates smashed: One

Fuck today. Wait ’til you hear about tomorrow.

Day Three
Song stuck in head: Kiss with a Fist – Florence and the Machine
Posters bought: Three

This is going to be a long week.

I long for the day that the two empty flats on 25 get filled up. And please, God, make them two British people, or even an Australian or a Canadian or, and I’m serious about this, an American. Really. I would gladly tolerate anything the next year can throw at me as long as I don’t get any more foreigners foisted on me.

I feel pretty bad saying that, but they’re both starting to grate on me now. The language barrier and the cultural gap are both too large to allow any meaningful interaction. PG (whose name I still haven’t learned – I’m too scared to ask) and Chin are both nice people, don’t get me wrong. But they’re just too, well, foreign, and they want to do absolutely everything as a group. The social stuff I can understand, but I really don’t need to walk around with them all morning while they try to find a Carphone Warehouse… I can tell this paragraph is going to descend into formless ranting very soon, so here’s a quick list of details and grievances:

PG has a great many irritating little habits, but by far the most prominent one is that she talks too goddamn much. You cannot spend five minutes with the girl without having your ears bashed with Portuguese cultural characteristics, lists of shops she’s been to and shops she might have to go to again, fast food places she doesn’t like, and English customs she deems ‘weird’. Every minute is an endless stream of garbled criticism and pointless outpouring. I wouldn’t mind it so much if she could actually hold a conversation, but it appears that in PG’s verbal symphony, hers is the only voice that counts. Every comment or point you make is answered with a vaguely enthusiastic “Yeaaah…”, followed by a thirty-minute oral exposition on whatever else seems to pop into her head. Between her and Chin, the Man of Few Words and Fewer Grammatical Rules, my chances for decent conversation are incredibly limited. I’ve been living in Leeds for about two days, and I haven’t spoken at length with a single local person yet. There’s barely anyone in Opal 3, either, so I’m basically fucked for social interaction until the other freshers arrive. That’s on Saturday. Today is Tuesday. Give me strength.

While PG says far too much, Chin says basically nothing, and when he does eventually pipe up, it’s with some deranged question to which I have no response. The questions are all about stuff he should have figured out before coming here, about banks and student registration and technology. Today he asked me a question that was basically unintelligible but had the word ‘Playstation’ nestled somewhere in it. I said “What, you want to know where to buy a Playstation?” He adopted the pained, confused expression he always puts on whenever something is asked of him. “Aaah… yes?”

I explained that various shops, like HMV and Game, sell Playstations and that he could go out and get one any time. “Aaah… no. I mean, ahhh… where I… re-gis-terr my Playstation?”

I stared at him. The question completely threw me. Did he already have one from China? Do all immigrants have to register their electronics, or is just Chinese people? Who the hell would he be ‘registering’ it with, and why? Above all, why was he asking me?

It turns out that his Visa application had told him to register certain items when he first came here. Christ knows why he was asking a British person a question based on the finer points of the People’s Republic’s immigration process, but now that I think about it, this reflects a general aura of incompetence that surrounds these people. Now, I understand that immigrating to a new country is big and scary and has many problems, and you can’t possibly prepare for absolutely every one you might come across. But it seems like neither of them have even done basic preparatory research on how student life goes, not to mention the normal activities attendant in British life. Neither of them know how the banks here work. Neither of them know exactly which events they want to go to, and which ones they have to go to. Chin seems convinced that his classes start tomorrow, though it’s not even Fresher’s Week yet and none of the lecturers are back. Neither of them seem to know the basic mechanics of crossing roads and navigating streets – it took us all of twenty minutes to walk to the university this morning. Alone, it would have taken me five.

Neither of them can cook, either – and food represents a whole new universe of obstacles. Chin has no clue whatsoever about Western food – he doesn’t know what anything is, he doesn’t know how much it’s supposed to cost, and most importantly, he doesn’t know what he likes. He brought a rice cooker and a set of huge knives, but since he doesn’t know how to cook, I’m not sure exactly what he thought he’d do with them once he arrived. Perhaps the most irritating thing is his habit of using the word ‘cooks’. Whenever food is mentioned, he’ll say “So we get the… cooks and we… make dee-ner?” God only knows what he thinks ‘cooks’ means. He could mean ingredients, he could mean kitchen equipment, he could mean recipes. He may think that Opal 3 has a hidden cadre of personal chefs, for all I know. When the awful day arrives that we have to try to make something in the kitchen together, maybe I’ll find out.
PG is another story altogether. She may be the fussiest person in the history of gastronomy. She won’t eat English food, or any food that looks like it may have an ounce of fat in it. She hardly eats sugar. She detests meat, and carbs, as usual, are the enemy. So far I’ve seen her eat a veggie slice from Subway, a bowl of cereal, a tuna sandwich and a plate of sushi, which she complained about on two fronts – firstly because it didn’t come with chopsticks, which is apparently a grave sin, and secondly because it was spicy.

Spicy.

In a desperate attempt to shake them off in town today, I’d told them in advance that I had a (fictional) lunch date planned with a friend who was only partly based on a real person. PG seems to think that we should do every damn thing together, so she suggested that first we should go to Kirkgate market to buy some fresh food. After meandering uselessly around the place for twenty minutes, staring at stalls and not buying anything despite my constant attempts at persuasion (I felt like an Arab trader in an old Disney move: “Observe these beauteous plums! Truly, they are the king of all fruits. No? Then perhaps some oranges, flawless and juicy globes of… no? Some spinach, kale and beansprouts, for a vegetarian stir-fry that kings might envy? Really? Nothing at all? Not even a poxy grape? Oh, for fuck’s sake”), we reached the end of the market and hung around uselessly. I had gotten to the end of my tether at this point, and said I had to go and meet my “friend” but that I’d come back later to pick up some vittles and we’d split the cost of a meal (which I would have to prepare). It’s now half-four, and the market closes at five. I have absolutely no intention of going back there today. I wouldn’t even know what to buy if I did – I know exactly how to make a meal to my own tastes, but between My Body Is A Temple With Armed Guards And Rotweillers Girl and Er Ah What Ees Haym Sarnd-wheech Guy, I doubt there’s a recipe in the world that caters to all of us. In any case, I’m planning to slope off to a free film showing at the Union at six, which should kill about three hours before I have to sneak back in and avoid my live-in parasites. I wonder what excuse I’ll have to pull out of my arse. Something about sudden forgotten appointments with imaginary friends, I suppose. Bring me some Anglophones!

13 Days

30 Aug

until I leave behind my family and my friends and my city and everything I’ve grown up with. Thirteen days until I get a new life.

Things I have to do:

  • Get onto the finance people and see if I can get a single fucking fragment of sense out of them
  • Buy bedding, clothes, books, cutlery, kitchenware, and a thousand other things that are apparently essential
  • Find out exactly when Fresher’s Week ends and my classes start
  • Inform all the companies who send me constant, loving missives about new current account options and exciting contact lens offers that I’m not actually living at the house to which they’re sending all the mail that I don’t read, and that if they continue I will have to get out of my chair, take a bus to their headquarters and kill them all with a stick
  • Get rid of all the crap that’s been occupying space in my room for the last nine years
  • Buy a ton of new crap that will occupy space in my (depressingly) significantly larger student accomodation
  • Contemplate the fact that I am neither nervous nor scared about any of this
  • Say goodbye to all the people that can’t come with me, and to the best goddamned dog in the entire world
  • Get into a car with my family
  • Leave the only city I know
  • Drive
  • Arrive
  • Watch the car drive away
  • Go it alone

Commerce, Red in Tooth and Claw and Handbag

24 Jun

Recently I’ve been trawling various local shopping centres looking for jobs, and I’ve noticed how infuriating it is for an individual to navigate a mall without being accosted by the various pricks who spend most of their time there. Seeing as I’m beginning to recognise the most common archetypes, I’ve decided to compile a small series of biological field notes in the style of certain irritating travel magazines for rich people. You know, the ones that have platinum-blonde Trustafarian airport-rats smeared all over the cover, staring down smugly at you to remind you that they are pointlessly wealthy and you are not. Fuckers. Without further stalling, I give you:

The Top Five Dangerous Commercial Fauna (Mall Edition)
by Connor Smarm

The plastic jungle that is the modern shopping centre holds many dangers and has no shortage of ravenous predators, eager to feast on unwitting explorers. To give you a chance of surviving, Blonde Bast Travel Magazine has a few tips on how to identify and protect yourself against five of the most deadly creatures you’re likely to encounter in the malls of the United Kingdom.

5 – Geriatricum velocitus, the Mobility Pensioner
This apex predator skulks around malls across the country, crawling slowly through the commercial wastes in search of prey. This cunning behaviour disguises its true celerity – when the Mobility Pensioner spies a worthy target, it quickly reacts and runs its prey over with a burst of murderous speed. Prey animals have little or no time to defend themselves from this unusual assault, but the constant whiiiiiine of the Pensioner’s conveyance makes it easy to avoid. They’re deadly even at range, however, and can spit a stream of liquid vitriol with pinpoint accuracy from fifteen metres. Fortunately, as dangerous as the Pensioner is, they despise each other’s company and tend to travel alone, or in groups of not more than three (referred to as shambles). The Pensioner has many weaknesses, but particularly despises Heat magazine and shies away from the burning touch of the periodical, so be sure to keep a copy on you in times of possible danger.

4 – Charverii myrmidius magnus, the Greater Charver Swarm
The typical Charver Swarm averages three to six individuals and is usually harmless, if a little intimidating, and easily ignored. Recently, however, truly monstrous packs of up to twenty drooling, venomous morons have been spotted. The Greater Charver Swarm moves quickly through the mall’s most populous areas and is commonly seen around food courts, cinemas, and branches of Soccer Sports. Consuming anything it passes, the Swarm is one of the mall’s most awe-inspiring predators, and has been known to drive off multiple Mobility Pensioners and countless bands of Indie Cindies with little effort. Their collective consciousness, however, spreads their already limited intellect over a wide area, which makes them easy to trick and avoid. A popular method of deterrence is to lead the Swarm into the path of a roving herd of Dire Goths – usually both creatures cancel each other out.

3 – Cynthia indica, the Indie Cindy
Squads of Indie Cindies are easily spotted from their bright stockings, luminous LiveStrong bands and multicoloured hair. Hair colour seems to indicate status in Cindy society – the alpha female usually sports the colour pink somewhere in her bouffant, while betas are blonde and omegas run the gamut from black to (in some truly bizarre cases) undyed. Largely herbivorous for reasons of weight and style, the Indie Cindy is a loud and superficially gregarious creature, which announces its presence to all and sundry with its banal chatter and constant mating cries of ‘Omigod. Omigod.’ True to form, though, colourful animals are usually poisonous, and the Cindy is no different – they use their sharp tongues and aptitude for scorn to deliver a payload of venom strong enough to make a fully-grown Flash Harry skulk away, licking his wounds. Truly unlucky explorers may run into up to ten of these creatures at once, in an inseparable social clan (or scene). They’re mostly peaceable and docile animals, though, and they have their weaknesses: Indie Cindies are easily hypnotized by flannel shirts and half-fringes, and will stand around giggling to themselves long enough to allow hassled explorers to make good their escape.

2 – Maternum perambulus, the Pram Mam
One of the most frustrating aspects of the art of modern mall exploration is the difficulty of moving quickly due to obstacles, both topographical and biological. The queen of biological obstacles is the slow-moving and slow-witted Pram Mam. They’re irritating individually, but the full extent of their psychological lethality only becomes apparent when they gather in large groups. Pram Mams tend to travel in horizontal lines to facilitate the flow of communication, and they’re usually far too mired in both the current conversation and their own self-righteousness to notice anything as irrelevant as, say, another large crowd of people. Sizeable collections (or covens) of Pram Mams can cause utter havoc in busy centres, when whole corridors can be blocked, and customer flow disrupted irrevocably. The Pram Mam’s insipid egotism and sanctimoniousness protects her from all criticism – she’s got a baby with her, she shouldn’t have to get out of the way of anyone else, they’re in her way, she’s continuing the species, for God’s sake, what exactly have you done this morning, did you carry a baby around for nine months with no reward, did you, hmmm? Didn’t think so. It’s unfortunate that, like a rogue weather system, the Pram Mam’s passing has to be simply ridden out, tolerated until they all catch the same bus home, leaving the people of the mall with freedom to move (and blocking the entire front aisle of the 602, to the endless irritation of bus commuters). Occasionally, though, the one creature that has any authority over Pram Mams appears from nowhere to bully the entire coven into moving. Seeing as these creatures are a natural agglomeration of Pram Mams (and Dads, and Kids), they can be infinitely more irritating and dangerous than even the most vicious coven…

1 – Grater familias, the Family Out Shopping
These deviant blobs of inhumanity are among the most dangerous predators in the world of retail exploration. Consisting of sanctimonious and grating Mams, aggressive and swaggering Dads, and any number of infuriating, screaming, noisy Kids, the Family Out Shopping presents an immediate problem to the lone explorer. The Family will not get out of your way. The Family will take up the whole aisle and stop you from getting anywhere. The Family will completely ignore your presence unless you come within two feet of any one member, in which case you may be subjected to anything from a dirty look to an obnoxious rebuke concerning your proximity, speed, appearance, sexuality or specific purpose in the universe. The source of the Family’s aggression lies in each member’s deep-seated hatred for one other – the Mam just wants to look at some clothes for a while, not for ages, maybe just for six hours, but she knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Dad will flatly refuse to spend his money on her unnecessary potential purchase of a ninety-eighth pair of high heels, despite the fact that she has plenty of her own money. The Mam, therefore, is responsible for the ‘snappy and sulky’ persona in the Family. The Dad’s boundless and petty anger stems from a great many circumstances: he’s just come from work, the place is packed, it’s too hot, people are really weird these days, the kids are hyperactive, the wife keeps dragging him into clothes shops and trying to prise his wallet from his vice-like grip, he’s hungry, he’s tired, the football’s on – any of these distinct variables can build up to transform the Dad into a stomping, steaming, blood-red conduit of rage, ensuring that the ‘angry and self-righteous’ part of the Family’s mandate is taken care of. Finally, as many as six Kids will be present, and may be in various moods according to their own unpredictable whims – they can be angry, sullen, overexcited, hungry, attention-seeking or simply immature, but whatever the mood, you can rest assured that all of them will be making an ear-splitting and deeply aggravating noise whilst revolving uncontrollably around their parents like retarded electrons. One of the most pertinent clues as to what a Family will do next lies in geography: the Mam will alternate from power-walking past shops she doesn’t find interesting to standing stock-still at the window of some fashion boutique and hanging around until forced to leave, either by the Dad’s impatience or by the sudden disappearance of one of the Kids. The Dad will mainly stay in the middle of the group, having reverted to his sullen childhood self, consigned to following the woman he’s affiliated with for hours on end and feeling pretty damn sorry for himself in the process. However, he may linger for up to half an hour outside the window of a travel agent or hardware store, and cannot ordinarily be shifted by anything less than earth-moving equipment. It’s the Kids, however, that are the most unpredictable in this regard, and it is generally them that will give you the most trouble on your journey. Being Kids, they are motivated completely by their own needs and, if not constantly watched, will wander around through the sea of legs going wherever the hell they feel like without watching where they’re walking. Often, as you’re being carried to your destination by a strong current of consumers, a wayward Kid will wander directly into your path at a random angle and may even stop, perhaps because they’ve come across an invisible castle guarded by a dragon, or perhaps because they simply wanted to stand and stare at the ceiling for a bit. In any case, you can’t travel to either side to dodge the Kid, because the rest of the Family is blocking the aisle. You can’t ask the Kid to get out of the way, because it is a Kid, and will either ignore you or attempt to gnaw one of your legs off. You certainly can’t go anywhere near the child for fear of attack by raging, overprotective parents, and contrary to your most fervent wishes, you cannot simply take a shotgun and kill them all due to several irksome legal constraints. The only real way to combat a Family Out Shopping is to bring your own older, more experienced family to the mall to protect you, although if you perform this strategy too many times, your status as a free agent will be erased, and you will be dragged inexorably into the bounds of a new, hellish Family Out Shopping. Any explorer who finds himself in this situation should bite down on one of our new deluxe Sui-Caps immediately (details and pricing on page 193).