Tuesday, 24 February 2009


For anyone that is curious, I've been quiet for the last few days due to the fact that I've been in Belgium. I shall be returning soon and normal service shall resume presently.

In the mean time, I appear to be struggling with the Dutch language, the language of Fien's half of Belgium, to varying degrees of success. There are some interesting quirks that I've picked up on in my experience, namely that Fien occasionally forgets that I don't understand what everyone is saying and stares at me blankly when I'm desperately silently pleading for some kind of translation.

As it happens, I have picked up a fair amount. I can't really string a sentance together yet, but I can understand a lot more than I used to and I can usually pick up on the subject of a conversation, even if the content still evades me. This however doesn't make it any less un-nerving to hear my name crop up in a wall of foreign verbosity.

The more I stay in Belgium, the more I learn. If anyone is desperate to learn a language, this has to be the way to do it: Try and live in the language. Maybe this time I'll actually convince Fien to talk Dutch at home occassionally.

Additional Notes:

Incidentally, an on the fly translation for cuttlery by a couple of friends we were out with on Saturday came out as "eating gear", which I think is a much better description, even if it did conjour up images of some archaic looking diving equipment.

The project I mentioned is in its final stages. More on that later this week.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Getting on With Things the Easy Way

I find I’m treading the same old ground a little bit here, what with previous discussions, but I really do think I’ve hit on something that’s the key to getting things done.

The trick appears to be to do the thing that you need to do. There’s nothing clever about it, you just start working on the thing that you want to work on until it’s finished. It’s a little bit like getting up in the morning in that if you just get straight up without thinking about it, you have less problems than if you start playing the “just five more minutes” game and putting it off.

As a quick example, yesterday evening I had a small task to finish off for a project that I’m working on for a friend. My plan was to come home, relax a little bit and then start working on it, but instead, I cut out the relaxing bit and just started working on it and it’s clear to see that had I not started immediately, I probably wouldn’t have got it done at all and the evening would have been a complete write off.

There is almost always an easy solution to any problem. If you want to lose weight, the best thing to do is to eat less. If you want to learn something new, then start learning something new. If you want to be more physically fit, start doing some exercise. If you want a new job, look for a new job. It really is as simple as that.

I used to live with someone who would complain about how much work he had to do, but still managed to spend a good two hours avoiding it and complaining. This is a trap we all fall into at some point and he’s not the only one of my friends guilty of it, he was just the best at it. The bottom line has to be that if you have lots of time to complain, you clearly aren’t rushed off your feet.

We all make far too many excuses for ourselves and allow ourselves pitiful reasoning when putting off things we purportedly want to do. Of course, it’s not easy to get around to the solution, it takes willpower and a little bit of extra energy and effort, but the solution itself is easy. I used to go sailing every Sunday and always despised setting up for a session, but once I was actually out on the water, I loved it. This is like everything in life, if you can make the effort to launch yourself into something, you’ll probably enjoy it once you’re actually doing it.

Additional Notes:

It’s funny, the more I talk about being productive, the more I feel like I’m trying to make excuses for myself. I once read that the internet is where you will find the largest number of procrastinators. Blogs are not the safe haven you may think they are. After all, the whole time that I’m discussing productivity, I am not in actual fact being productive.

Now, dynamic moaning is an indication of a busy person. This is where someone is running around constantly babbling and complaining. It is however one of the signs that appear just before an acute nervous breakdown, so it’s certainly not something one should practice.

The actual project that I’ve been working on I’ll mention in more detail when it’s released, needless to say it’s something I’m very excited about and something that has been a huge amount of fun to do. To give you some clues as to what it is not, it is nothing academic, nothing that will further my career as it stands and nothing preachy, just sheer fun.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Slim Pickings

You may have noticed a slight eerie silence that descended on the blog last week. This is because I fell victim to a rapid acting cold that knocked me out for a couple of days and temporarily melted my brain. Hopefully, you won’t be able to catch it from reading the site, so don’t worry. I did actually meet someone once who thought that she could catch a computer virus herself, but I'm assuming she was one of a kind and that I don't really need to make these reassurances to anyone else.

Being ill has been highly destructive to my quest for productivity, but apart from the occasional bout of coughing, I am now much better and have no real excuse for not continuing my daily updating.

I just thought I'd throw that out there to tempt fate.

10 things you could do after you Graduate

Below is a small list of things that you can do with your life once you’ve finished university. All of this is to be taken with the knowledge that I don’t really know what I’m talking about, I haven’t tried half of these things, and I am constantly going through stages of melancholy with regards to my own post-graduation situation, never knowing if I’m doing the right thing anyway. What I’m trying to say is this is not concrete advice, more musings and suggestions. When I am rich powerful successful and 100% happy with life, I’ll get back to you with that actual advice.

“Fund Raising” for a “year”
This is either a means to an end or a desperate attempt to drag yourself at least part way out of debt before doing something else. I knew people at university who really desperately wanted to keep studying full time, but just couldn’t afford it, even with sponsorship and funding, so they worked for a year for the sole purpose of building funds. The only downside to this is that earning money can become incredibly addictive and you might find yourself spending more than you intended to save anyway, so this strategy is probably only really for those who are driven by something specific and those with bucket loads of will power. As far as I know, at least one of the people I knew from university managed to stick out the fund raising for a whole year and successfully earned enough to sustain their further studying.


Temping looks fun to me; you get given a job that lasts for a few days/weeks/months and then get given something new when that job is over. You can be a temp in practically any field you like the look of and there are agencies all over the place. I’m actually tempted to break away from my cosy employment and start temping sometimes. The downsides to temping are of course that it isn’t secure work, there’s no certainty that you won’t have a couple of weeks downtime between contracts, if you’re ill you don’t get paid, the temping agency tends to take a cut of your pay and I don’t know whether this is a downside or not, but the company you’re temping for might try and snap you up and sign you on to a full time contract.

If you’re a decent writer, or a budding photographer, or have some other skill that can be freelanced, you may find flexibility and a certain amount of success doing your own thing for various different people. I know one person who has had some moderate success with freelance technical writing, but she is very good and is focusing on a rather specific niche. I’m also aware of a few sites that people have had a small amount of revenue from as a result of selling photographs, but it’s nothing that you can really live on. The major downside of this appears to be the issue of being self employed; the amount of work you put in is proportionate to what you get out of it, but unfortunately, as a start-up, even working incredibly hard won’t get you very far. I think freelancing is probably something you can only realistically consider if you know that you’re really good at something or if you have a pre-built good reputation.

Self Employment
I’ve already briefly discussed this in a previous post but I’ll summarise briefly. On the plus side, the way to the real heights of success is by working for yourself. You get to be your own boss, set your own hours, work habits and code of conduct. On the negative side, the hours you work have to be all of them if you want to actually survive, there is no security in your job if you fall ill or want to take a holiday and you have to be unbelievably self motivated. Normally, people that become self employed have some sort of work experience first, understanding the industry they are working in or at the very least the pressures of a working week. I know of a couple of people who are self employed and for the most part they seem happy about it, but I know I for one am not ready for this.

A basic job to do whilst you get something better
This is pretty much what I went for. Again, I recently discussed how I don’t know how or why I’m still here after two years, much less if I should be, but I decided that some employment was better than nothing whilst I looked for something more interesting. This is of course right. The one time in my life that I have been completely and utterly down in the dumps was when I was doing absolutely nothing and pretending I was making all the efforts in the world to find work, but be very careful in finding a job just to tie you over; If you lose sight of things, you could find yourself there forever. Whereas this undoubtedly has its merits, it might not be what you really want.

Visit a Recruitment agency
Similar to a basic temporary job, visiting a recruitment agency might give you some ideas and might help you find something you wouldn’t have otherwise thought of. The one major downside of this is that recruitment consultants rarely have your best interests at heart. For every individual they get into employment, they get a rather hefty bonus, so don’t be surprised if you find yourself being bundled into something wholly inappropriate by some inept bonus-crazed recruiter. On the other hand, with this in mind, maybe going into recruitment wouldn’t be a bad idea…

Internship / Graduate Scheme
For those of you with relevant degrees and organisational skills, you could register yourself and get accepted onto some kind of scheme for graduates or an internship with promises of greater things in the future. Any sort of graduate training scheme from a big company will be highly beneficial, with downsides being potentially very long working hours, but if that’s not a problem, then maybe this is worth a shot.

Career path
Maybe you’re one of those people that, sickeningly enough, know what they want to do and have done since they were five years old. If so, you are probably aware of the particular road you need to start trudging down. The major downside to this is probably only that you might feel devastated if you discover half way down that it just isn’t for you. I know this is what will happen to me whenever I try and stick something out for any length of time. Although I’ll make it to the end, I’ll be bored for the last half at least.

More Studying
I wouldn’t do this, but some people really really like what they studied and like studying it even more. If this is you as well, maybe a masters degree isn’t such a bad idea. Sure, it’ll put you further into debt, and the work is much harder than a bachelors, but if you’re a true academic and your heart is in it, then good for you. Really, I’m being a little facetious here, but I know people who have done this and regretted it, and I know people who have done this or are about to do this that will get loads out of it. I think the trick is to not kid yourself into thinking going back to university will solve all of your troubles.

Even More Studying
If you’re really good and popular with your university, you could always apply to do a PHD. Weirdly enough, I can see more point to this than a masters degree. This is really crossing the line into the parallel career path of the academic, and cementing yourself as a leading mind in your field. Sort of. The idea and sentiment is there anyway, and it’s a big step to go from learning and studying a subject, to teaching and researching a subject. I’d never be able to pull this off due to my scatterbrain inconsistency and inability to keep going with anything, but again, for some people this is the perfect choice.

If you have any additional or any better suggestions, I’d love to hear them, if only to actually consider them for myself.

Additional Notes:

At the age of 5, I think I wanted to be an inventor, closely followed by an astronaut, followed by an author. I also remember saying that I “wouldn’t mind going into soliciting”, thinking that was how you said “becoming a lawyer”. Either I was confused or making my very first sarcastic joke about the legal profession.

Monday, 16 February 2009

Film: Surviving a Romantic Comedy

This weekend, I found myself wondering how many couples don’t survive a romantic comedy. If you type “Romantic Comedies build high expectations + Study” into Google, you will be astonished at the number of sources that will tell you that studies have shown that a romantic comedy will ruin you relationships, tarnish your expectations and probably run off with your partner in the process.

I can see how this happens. You picture any romantic comedy that you might have seen, and no matter how cool and clever you are, you will have seen one at some point, and try to imagine the dialogue between a couple immediately after:
- “Wasn’t it sweet when [character] did [disgustingly sweet thing]?”
- “Yeah, I suppose it was.”
- *pause*
- “Why do you never do that sort of thing?”

Whenever something sweet happens in one of these films, you can practically feel the disappointment steaming out of one part of a partnership as the events are so dissonant with people’s personal experiences.

Romantic comedies are incredibly sickly sweet, specifically designed and constructed to tug small strings at the side of your mouth forcing you to smile shamefully, or feel waves of relief when things work out well. They also do just that: they work out well. Everything falls into place, there’s never any real ambiguity and if you can’t see the ending coming within the first few minutes then you’re probably asleep. It is an absolute no-brainer that this level of ease with which the specially-designed-to-be-liked-and-pitied characters trip through their problems builds up highly unrealistic expectations.

I was dragged along to see “He’s Just Not That In To You”, which considering it is a film based on a book based on a line from an episode of Sex and the City, it wasn’t bad, but at the same time it was still a romantic comedy building up unrealistic expectations. The irony here was that for about 90% of the film, it was trying to say that unrealistic expectations are unrealistic. The theme is that people torment themselves by avoiding the obvious truth of somebody not really liking them by making up stupid excuses. I liked this, until it completely phoned it in at the end and flip flopped back to a traditional RomCom ending where everyone lived happily ever after. It was almost as if they had a complete film with the exception of a final scene, and the producers decided that nobody would publish the damn thing unless it had a positive ending and everyone ended up paired off, compromising the rest of the film’s message that it had been building up to moderate levels of success.

The “everyone getting paired off together and being happy” aspect isn’t new. It is in fact an aspect of Shakespearean comedies that all characters, even the little side characters that get hardly any stage time, get paired off in the closing scenes. If you think about any film that purports to be a comedy, not just romantic comedies, this is incredibly common and by now appears to be built in to the genre. It has been taken to a whole new level with romantic comedies as not only does it adhere to this aspect, but the whole story itself builds up to that end. It’s no longer an aspect of the ending, it is the ending. If you take an example of one of the worst offenders at this, “Love Actually”, one of the most annoying titles in the history of film, this appears to be a film entirely crafted on the aspect of building up to happy ending whilst complete eschewing any form of coherent plot. All you have left is a series of character obtaining various different relationships, and the characters are all tenuously connected to each other, which sometimes gives you a cheap thrill at trying to work out how or why they’re in the film in the first place but that's about it. The only real twist in Love Actually is that a couple of the relationships don’t end in a traditionally happy sense, which may be a new trend that’s worming its way into films now, as there’s a similar aspect in “He’s Just Not That In To You”, but it still doesn’t too anything to take the “sickly sweet” subject matter anywhere near the territory of “Edgy”.

What the film did have a lot of is “if [your partner] is doing [something], then it means [something else] is happening” and the something was one of several things that happens in every relationship, and the something else was always something very negative. As Fien and I were leaving the cinema, we agreed that the film could have been more of a relationship killer than people may have realised before going into it, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there are a few slightly perplexed boyfriends and girlfriends finding new reasons to analyse their partner’s behaviour.

I’m not showing a bitter streak here, and if I am, it’s not my intention. I don’t hate these sorts of films. I’d like to, and they aren’t things I go out of my way to see, but when I do find myself watching them I regrettably sometimes enjoy them, even if it is only for a few short laughs. “He’s Just Not That In To You” was faintly depressing in the way it revolved around a host of characters obsessed by who they were or were not in a relationship with, or who they were or were not sleeping with and constantly leaving messages on answer phones saying “call me” in slightly shrill desperate voices and wondering why things weren’t working out like they do in a romantic comedy, which of course they did in the end for the most part. However, at the same time there were some amusing moments, even if some of those amusing moments came from the group of girls in front of us grasping pivotal plot moments just a couple of seconds after they appeared on the screen.

It’s difficult to distance reality from fiction, even cliché ridden seen-it-before-a-million-times fiction, and there will often be a little shred of doubt after having seen a film of this nature that maybe everything that just happened on the screen is accurate and what’s meant to happen. Maybe the makers of these films are trying to help people and warn them not to fall into unfulfilling relationships and maybe I’m barking up completely the wrong tree by complaining; after all, I met my girlfriend through the most improbable and unexpected of ways and we’re for the most part blissfully happy together, so maybe I should be standing on my soap box saying “it’s all true!” but for the time being, I can’t help feeling that too much escapism will make you think you have no choice but to escape.

Additional Notes:

Admittedly the first couple of sources for romantic comedies ruining your life are a blogspot blog, and you should never believe anything you read on a blogspot blog, and the daily mail, so it’s probably best to take that with a bucket load of salt. I do however distinctly remember reading it from somewhere respectable, I just can’t remember where, hence why I was checking google in the first place.

This isn’t a bitter post about how a film destroyed my relationship. Fien and I survived Valentine’s Day quite happily, because Fien is a fantastic girlfriend and I am very lucky. I’m hearing from a lot of friends and colleagues that their day was marred by arguments and in the worst cases, actual break ups. I think a much larger, more bitter and bile fuelled post could be made about the problems of February 14th but I’m not in the mood to write it down this year.

A few of you may remember I mentioned a boycott on Odeon cinemas that I occasionally break because I’m weak willed, making it less of a boycott and more of just a periodic whinge. This was another moment that I broke said boycott, and was once again driven insanely cross by seeing a whole bank of premium seats that sat in the best part of the cinema that were once again empty, because nobody will spend twelve pounds on a cinema ticket. You can’t blame economic crisis, it’s just too expensive. What makes it even worse is that the bank of seats in question easily took up more than half of the cinema, meaning less people were probably in there than wanted to be, and they have to employ an extra person to sit through the whole film guarding the seats in case anyone has the audacity to move onto them once the film starts. ….I’m going to have to leave this here before I start shouting and drawing attention to myself again.

***UPDATE*** War Against the Spellchecker: The grammar checker suggested that the very last sentence should have read “I is going to have to leave……” Apparently Ali G works for Microsoft now.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Should you Stay or Should you Go?

I Bumped into someone that started working here at the same time as me the other day and they were worried about whether they were doing the right thing by staying here and not looking for work somewhere else. I remember when we started working at the office that we both discussed how this was a temporary position for us and we’d only be here for a maximum of six months, and that actually, we’d probably leave before the probationary period of three months was up. This discussion was over two years ago now and we’re both still in the same company.

Is it a good idea to job hop, or is it a good idea to stay in one place for a prolonged period of time? I don’t really know what the answer is, so instead I can only really hypothesize on the advantages and disadvantages.


Looking on the bright side first of all, the longer you work in one place, the more experience you build up. I have learnt a lot more in my job than I would have done had I left after six months. As a fresh graduate, one of the biggest problems you will find yourself up against is that most places want you to have experience in that particular line of work, which is of course ridiculous because as a fresh graduate, chances are you’re not going to have the right experience for anything. If you can build up some sort of transferable skill then that’s a good start. Any working experience is going to be good in the long run.

Not only do you build up experience, but you can also build up a reputation of loyalty. Loyalty in business is a tricky beast as you must remember that nobody is irreplaceable, but being able to show to a prospective employer that you are capable of sticking something out for any length of time is highly beneficial. I’ve heard it said that one of the biggest benefits of going to university in the first place is so that you can show somebody that you’re capable of sticking something out for at least three years.

From a more personal side of things, staying in the same place is comfortable. I wouldn’t be able to do my part time course or my various personal projects if I was constantly being kept on my toes at work, so knowing where I am and where I stand is incredibly helpful. However, this can work against you as well, as some future employers will see this as you not wanting to push yourself, and of course, from a human resources point of view, that’s a massive faux pas.


Following directly on from being comfortable, let’s break in to the negative aspects to staying in one place. First of all there is the risk of stagnation. Staying in one place for a long time probably shows a lack of innovation. Although I’ve previously discussed whether or not this is a good thing, a lot of interviewers would undoubtedly tell you it is a very bad thing. Nobody wants to employ someone who just wants to coast through the week.

There is also a high risk of boredom and depression sinking in if you stay in one place for too long. I frequently catch myself thinking to myself “why am I still here?” and I actually don’t mind my job too much. It’s not exactly making the most of my skills, but I do occasionally have to think. If I were in a job that was just fractionally worse than this, I would very quickly find myself at rock bottom.

Attached to the boredom and depression, you may start thinking that you’re not capable of working anywhere else. Some people find it very difficult to adapt to being the “new guy” again and the longer you’ve been in one place, the very thought of having to learn to do something new can be incredibly daunting, especially if it’s something that requires that much more brain power anyway.

In Closing

I’ll finish on a final time-specific advantage, which will be specific again probably in another twenty years when we face the worst recession in history…again. At the moment, having a job is a bit of a rarity. I’m not denying that some people have hit hard times as a result of the recession and that some companies have genuinely fallen into economic troubles, but I’m betting some companies are using it as an excuse to cut off excess baggage and streamline their workforce a little, so if you have a job that you can keep hold of, it might be best to do so for the time being.

I think this discussion is another one of those annoying “sitting on the fence” moments I have and it’s also clear that I have plenty of excuses as to why I’m staying where I am and have done for so much longer than I intended. The only thing I can really say for certain is that some work is better than no work for purposes of finance and mental health, but that’s about it. Maybe it’s time to move on, but maybe it’s not.

Additional Notes:
I don't know why, and maybe it's just the way my oddball brain works, but whenever someone says the phrase "job hopping" to me, I always imagine one of those penguins with the odd tufts of hair on their heads. I know that they're not actually called job-hopper penguins, but my brain has still made the connection.

Throughout my blog posts you may have noticed an odd inconsistency with spelling between English and American English. I am having a prolonged war with the spell checker bundled with Microsoft office and I think I'm probably losing. The only reason I bring this up is because I have no idea if "hypothosize" is meant to have a "z" in it or not.

I'm going to stop making misinformed remarks about the global economic crisis, or whatever it is they're calling it now. Sooner or later it's going to get me into trouble and I'll find myself talking to somebody who actually knows a few things about economics.

Monday, 9 February 2009

Personal Mythology

Myths and legends have been around since the ancient world. One could possibly argue that it even goes further back than that with cave paintings possibly depicting miniature epics of the trials and tribulations of Neanderthal heroes, but that would be an unconvincing argument. Regardless, we’ve had mythology for as long as we can remember and it is a cornerstone of the human experience. When you say the word “mythology”, most people will instantly think of Hercules and Perseus and the Pegasus and the Minotaur and what have you, but it stretches far beyond that. Not only are there as many sets of mythology as there are ancient cultures, but we still create our own mythology on a daily basis.

From what I can see, myths appear to be created in two different ways. On the one hand you get an organic development, like you see in Ancient Greek mythology, or any ancient world mythology, where all of the events and stories are firmly grounded in a collection of local beliefs that have some sort of common ground. Although there are massive discrepancies between different areas, there is still some sort of common narrative throughout and this eventually gets chronicled after it’s done the rounds at all of the campfires.

The second way in which mythology springs into being is through an artificial creation. Things like the Marvel or DC universe, Middle Earth or even the Star Trek or Star Wars universes are fantastic examples of artificial mythology, although these have grown in ways similar to the organic creation once they’ve been unleashed on the rabid fans. If you disagree with me on this one, you just try spending some time talking to a truly dedicated comic book fan about their favourite universe, and I don’t mean someone like myself that occasionally scares himself with just how much he knows about the X-Men, I mean somebody who eats sleeps breaths and regurgitates the stuff. Regardless, the popularity of these franchises and their expansive and expanding universes is a testament to our reliance on mythology. Clearly not everyone gets into these geeky worlds to the same extent, but it still shows through with other people in a more modern mythology, a mythology that is personal to any group of friends or general collective of people.

Personal myths are classed somewhere in between the organic and the artificial mythologies. Individuals can transcend to the equivalent of a modern day mythological hero through some sort of achievement that later gets embellished and trips out can become enshrined in a fantastical setting of epic bravery and excitement with the right story telling behind it. I attained some sort of legendary status among certain circles at school because an RE teacher repeated some throwaway comment from someone who vaguely knew me stating that I had a photographic memory. My memory is good, I admit, but from that moment on, with certain parts of the school I basically had a heroic memory that could be made into a ballad, if anyone sang ballads any more. The truth is we can’t help but attribute elements of the fantastical to the mundane. Whether it’s personal or collective embellishment, we all create our own little stories that get retold on a regular basis, and the best ones of those go on and circulate in different social groups until you can get a full blown urban myth.

The whole realization of how dependant we are on stories and how much we love to exaggerate things to make them more dramatic makes me wonder how many people actually completely create their personal legends artificially. Matt and I have always joked about there being a god of pool, called Liam, who clearly has granted you favour when you have made a fantastic shot, but is quick to rescind it as evidenced by following shots that are awful or dangerous to those in the immediate area. Liam also always favours the colour red: the colour of winners. All of this is clearly very silly, ridiculous and a joke that has become a running joke for no apparent reason. It also only seems to be Matt and I that find it funny. The point that I’m trying to make is that I’m sure that there are people out there that can take a stupid joke like this and keep it as their own story. With slightly different subject matter, maybe people wholly invent things that have happened to them or things that they have done in a desperate attempt to participate and be involved in something, contributing to the human tapestry of stories that are told.

Everyone loves a good story, but I think it’s more than that. We need our stories and running myths and legends. In hundreds of years from now the best of our bar room bragging may transcend to being recorded in academic debate. The legend of El Stevos who stole a traffic cone doesn’t sound like much now, but who knows how embellished it will become in four hundred years time?

Additional Notes:

Personally I find Greek mythology fascinating. As a comprehensive guide to the whole pantheon of Gods and Goddesses and pretty much all of the stories associated with all the prominent and obscure Greek myths, I would strongly recommend “The Greek Myths” by Robert Graves. It’s fairly easy to read, really quite absorbing and it has a vast amount of academic discussion attached to each of the sections. Also, just to stop you from making an idiot of yourself like I did, Heracles is Hercules. Apparently Hercules is the Romanised way of saying Heracles. If you’re a student of Ancient History little mistakes like that can easily haunt you.

Honestly, RE teachers will believe anything won’t they?

The favour granted and immediately taken away by the god of pool is also known in a different circle of friends as “Gareth Syndrome”, named so after my friend Gareth who frequently suffered from this. This consists of one exceptional and inspirational shot followed by one that breaches even the most lax of health and safety laws. I must admit that the word I find myself saying the most during pool is “sorry”, usually to people that I have just bruised with the cue ball.

Having just re-read this post before throwing it up onto the internet, I realise that the subject matter of this is similar to the theme in a film called “Big Fish”, which is all about personal stories and myths that have become embellished. I would strongly recommend the film, which only occasionally gets a little sappy.

Friday, 6 February 2009

Pointless Prattle: Therapy

Fien suggested today that I’m using this blog as some kind of therapy, opening up a little bit about myself and trying to make some sense of it, building an inner narrative of events and helping myself to understand them.

My initial reaction was “Rubbish! I don’t need therapy” and then I started asking myself why I had such a strong reaction and whether that had anything to do with my childhood...

She’s probably got a point. It’s good, cheap therapy, with an indeterminate amount of people listening and if I don’t like what people say back to me, I can always turn the comments off, so I’d say it’s perfect. I can even build up a little advertising revenue if I draw enough people in with my inane chatter, so much more cost effective than real therapy.

This weeks posts have been:

Film: The Wrestler

A Few Inches of Snow

Learning Curves

Noise Pollution and How to Deal with Noise

Living for a Challenge

Living for a Challenge

A lot of people know whether they are the sort of person that pushes themselves or if they just coast through life. I’m never sure which is better. For interview speak, once you’re sitting in front of an interviewer, I think everyone is someone that likes a challenge and is constantly pushing themselves because we’re told that’s what employers want from us, but some people just aren’t like that. I’m not too sure which is better either. On the one hand, you have someone that’s driving forward and attempting persistent innovation and are constantly on their toes, yet on the other, you have someone that knows their limits and capabilities and will reliably stick to them. The latter obviously sounds a lot more boring, but the problem with innovation and attempting new things is that there is an inherent risk attached to that.

I find I regularly challenge myself and hate just coasting along, but sometimes I end up crippling myself in the process. The challenges I give myself aren’t always reasonable, are frequently things I know I can’t do, and even when they are things I know I can do, I also know that I can’t do them well. It’s fine to say that you want to improve yourself and develop skills or learn new things, but there are some things that we as individuals just aren’t good at and we all naturally have a feel for our own strengths and weaknesses. As an example, I have spent a long time working on various comics, even though I’m not a natural artist. Admittedly, I’m a lot better at it than I was, but I’ll never have quite the same flare that my contemporaries in the same field will have. I seem to deliberately try and do things that I just have very little aptitude for.

I think an intelligent person would challenge themselves in an area that they could truly excel in. Any expert in any field of expertise is probably a person that pushes themselves and at the same time has identified an area that they have a certain amount of natural ability in. I was always criticised when I was younger that I was running the risk of becoming a “jack of all trades and master of none”, and whereas I still prefer the idea of being jack of all trades, I am starting to see how people become true masters.

I’ve mentioned before that people definitely have different levels of tolerance when it comes to failure and the trial and error approach to learning, especially when it starts with a lot of error. I am often very stubborn and don’t give up easily, but I do still get despondent and disillusioned if I don’t make the progress I want to, especially if it’s something I think I should be good at, or assumed I’d already be able to do. For this reason I sometimes suspect that I may be more of a coaster than I would think and again, I’m still not sure which is better. I think in my next interview I will describe myself as reliable and consistent with moments of flare and creativity, because maybe that’s the closest to the truth.

There’s a fantastic line from the Simpsons where Lisa is asked “but I thought you wanted a challenge?” and she replies by saying “Yes, but a challenge I can do!” and I think that’s how I tend to live my life, only occasionally not accurately assessing what I can and can not do.

Additional Notes:

The problem with innovation and attempting new things is that there is an inherent risk attached to that. Anyone that has seen Dragon’s Den will have a better idea of what I mean. Sometimes there’s a very good reason for why something hasn’t been done before.

I’m not trying to make excuses for not being a world class anything. It would be nice to say “I could be amazing, but I’m just not that kind of person” and for people to believe it, but I acknowledge that my general disposition is not the reason for me excelling in any one particular area, that would probably be due to my short sharp bursts of laziness and procrastination. I think my motto for a long time was “Procrastinate now”.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Pointless Prattle: 25 Things

I generally don’t fill in these things, but the specifications for this one were vague enough that I didn’t resent the idea of it. The rules are that you’re supposed to write down 25 random facts about yourself. There’s something else about tagging 25 people that you want to know 25 things about, sending it around the internet and receiving £1,000,000 if you cross your fingers and chant “I do believe in Facebook, I do, I do” But I’m not playing those games, largely because I don’t think there are another 25 people that I will be interested enough in to actually read through the drivel they will inevitably write.

And on that note, here is my drivel.


I am directionally dyslexic frequently muddling my lefts, rights, easts and wests.

The exam that I stressed about the most and was the most frightened of failing was my driving test.

Driving is the one thing that makes me swear profusely.

It took me 10 years to read Lord of the Rings from between the ages of 8 and 18. The only reason I got around to finishing it was because I was desperate to stay at least one book ahead of the films.

I modified the rules of Dungeons and Dragons and used to play it with my friends in the playground when I was about 10 using 3 spherical dice.

I won the Optimist Regatta Fleet National Championship at the age of 10. That was probably the peak of my success in sailing. I am now a fully qualified sailing instructor.

I have self published 3 issues of a comic called Matt3 that I created after trying to fix Matt’s computer and being bowled over by the layers of complexity to his system.

I can’t stand loud noises because they compete with my brain when it’s trying to think.

I can’t stand high temperatures because it makes my brain melt.

I ceased to experience any kind of enthusiasm for my history degree after about a year and a half of starting it. I still wish I’d done something in Computer Sciences.

I frequently wave at security cameras.

I secretly quite enjoy my job. When I don’t enjoy it, I secretly enjoy hating it.

I keep a list of all the stupid things that people write down on the insurance applications that I have to process at work.

Telephones still terrify me, despite having worked in a call centre for 3 months.

Whenever someone is upset, angry or stressed, my first reaction is that it’s my fault.

I have a full blown addiction to starting new things. I always find myself starting new games, books, articles and projects, rarely seeing them through to the end.

I’ve had my watch since I was 8 and I only ever really take it off to sleep.

I’ve had my computer since I was about 10, but I concede it probably isn’t quite the same computer anymore, seeing as the motherboard, the processor, the CD Drive, the hard drive, the keyboard, the monitor and even the case have now been replaced. It is however still the same mouse and I think there’s still the original 56K modem in the back too.

I’ve always wanted to make animated cartoons.

I’m very patient with other people but never with myself. This makes it very risky whenever I want to cook and I’m on my own.

I’ve never wanted to learn how to play the drums, but I’ve always wanted to be instinctively good at it.

I frequently panic and think I’ve got somebody’s name wrong, even if I’ve known them for a really long time.

I started playing computer games at the age of 3, starting on the original Donkey Kong on the Dragon 32.

I nearly applied to do a masters degree in criminal psychology after I finished my degree.

I consider sleep to be a massive waste of time and I really wish I didn’t have to do it.

Additional Notes:

Weirdly enough, whenever I read these things answered by other people, they often also start by saying “I don’t normally do these things, but….”.

Noise Pollution and how to Deal with Noise

As a student, you often find yourself living with people that are very tolerant of background noise and late nights. Sometimes it takes a while to realise that 11PM is actually quite late for most people in the real world and that maybe that isn’t the best time to be doing anything too noisy. I know this, you know this, everyone knows this, but just occasionally we all forget. I was reminded a couple of days ago after butchering a plastic drum kit a little bit later than would be considered civilized.

We are very lucky with our flat in that it is incredibly sound proof. Only certain sounds carry, such as an incessant slightly non-rhythmic tapping. I know that we have only really ever heard the occasional over enthusiastic drum and bass track from downstairs, a clarinet, a dog barking and if it’s really late and really quiet, the bathroom from upstairs. After being pulled up on my inept drumming, I panicked a little and asked around with the other neighbors and it turns out they’ve had the same experiences and no significant sound seems to travel, aside from the family that lives next to the lift and can hear it whirring and clunking away, or at least the people inside swearing in frustration when it frequently breaks down.

The last flat that I lived in was much worse. At this point I was still living a much more student-like existence and Matt and I were regularly only retiring for the evening at 4AM. In this flat, just walking around was enough to incur the wrath of our hapless Italian neighbours downstairs, and beyond midnight, I found myself having to creep around in my socks trying to make as little noise as possible. To an outsider, it must have looked like I had serious mental problems, walking around on tip toes in my own home.

This all really boils down to the adaptation thing again that I find myself talking about a lot. It’s important to remember to be considerate of those around you and you must also remember that people are essentially good, something I’ve also discussed recently, and they will be reasonable. Obviously some people will be rude about demanding you to stop making noise, but I suppose the reason for that is that they’ve probably put up with it for too long in the hope that it might stop and then driven themselves to a breaking point.

If you have too much noise, don’t be scared to mention it and don’t let yourself get angry; most of the time the individual making the noise doesn’t realise how much it will carry and will feel absolutely terrible about having caused an annoyance. The flipside of that is that if you’re making too much noise, be reasonable and apologise and remember that chances are, they won’t be too angry and will be truly relieved if you’re cooperative.

Keeping good relationships with neighbours is essential. Being a student of law, I have seen what people driven to the edge by the people around them can do and try to get away with. On a more basic level, nobody needs the level of stress that you get by having a bad relationship with a practical stranger in close proximity to your living space.

Additional Notes:

Our poor neighbours that live below us I think are quite lucky that we are cooperative. We met them when whilst emptying our bath. The water was in fact disappearing from our bath room and filling their bath in the room below, via their light fittings. Apparently they’d had problems with leaks before and the previous tenants were really dismissive of the whole thing. Despite this, I would have preferred to have met them on slightly better terms.

I think noise is the one thing I get really and truly hung up about. I’m terrified of making too much noise and disrupting people and often get called on it because although I don’t have a loud voice, it is a clear voice that carries further than I imagine. This is great for presentations, or taking a position of command, but is not so great for trying to talk behind somebody’s back. People always used to tell me that I was so nice because I never seemed to say anything bad about anyone. The truth of this was more that I didn’t want to say anything bad about anyone in case they were stood within earshot, which for me, is probably anywhere within a five mile radius.

Weirdly enough, Kris has also heard someone sneezing behind their wall. This made her realise that there is probably a child sleeping inches away from where they sleep. Either that, or we have mice with dust allergies living in the walls.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Link: Generation Crunch

I have been referred to quite a good article about the "Generation Crunch" over at the telegraph. The author makes some good and valid points, such as the problems with doing a masters degree. I particularly like the idea of avoiding paying off a student life altogether:

"Another friend, who was educated by Benedictine monks, receives regular letters from one of the brothers, advising him to join the monastery. "Dear James," the letters start, "the monastery is currently recruiting novices… have you considered giving up the material life and answering God's call to monastic orders?" He replies in the negative, he tells me, but with increasing reluctance. I understand his dilemma. OK, there are a few drawbacks, but since you don't start repaying your student loan until you earn more than £15,000, a life of saintly poverty could be the way forward. "

The full article can be read here. (Telegraph)

Learning Curves

I’ve recently obtained a copy of “Rock Band” for my beautiful and reliable and ever so un-necessary luxury item, the Playstation 3, and have been struck by how quickly and slowly different people take to the same thing and how persistent they are in their efforts.

The game is a simple colour matching rhythm game that taps into the base-line fantasy of being some kind of demi-god of rock and roll on a stage in front of baying fans, giving you a selection of plastic instruments to play to make the experience feel more tactile. I am currently favouring drums, because I’ve always wanted to be good at the drums and this is making me actually believe it’s possible. The thing I’ve noticed is that everyone that plays the game takes a different amount of time to get good at it. It’s not always dependant on actual musical ability or rhythm, but I believe something more about the people themselves.

The whole thing reminds me of when I was learning to drive. I tend to take to things quite quickly and pride myself on being a fast learner, and so I was under the impression that I would be able to get in a car and drive straight away; after all, I’d played plenty of Grand Theft Auto games, so therefore I must have been an advanced driver already. I very quickly got very despondent when I realized I couldn’t separate the functionality of my hands from my feet whilst keeping an eye on traffic at the same time. I didn’t actually crash, but I hit the curb at sixty more than once and visibly winced every time a car came towards me on the other side of the road in the opposite direction.

Other friends of mine learnt to drive very quickly. Even the moronic chimps that inhabited all of my least favourite classes seemed to be able to grasp the nuances of the automobile whereas I was still having a miniature nervous breakdown every time I got to a roundabout. It has become clear that different people learn different things at different speeds but I think it’s more than just learning, I think it’s taking time to adapt as well and the persistence with which one carries on trying. I saw one of my friends who was visiting attempt a drum track thinking it looked easy, which it does, and then fall to pieces in the first few seconds without really putting any consolidation effort into it. If he had put more effort into it, he might have at least learnt a bit more, and the attitude with which we enter certain tasks is undoubtedly going to affect what we get out of them.

It took me a long time to adapt to working life, as I’ve mentioned before, but I’m mostly there now. I know people who are still trying to adapt and I know people that adapted the second that they left university and it’s all down to the natural diversity of the human experience. Whereas my learning and adaptation can take a long meandering route at times, it’ll climb steep inclines at other times, and everyone else is the same.

What I’m trying to say is that it’s important to stay positive. A positive attitude will take you further along a learning curve than a defeatist one, so just be prepared to clench your teeth in first gear for a while and you will get there.

Additional Notes:

I famously don’t like loud noises, which is a bit of a bar to entry to the world of rock and roll, particularly drumming. I’ve already taped some sponge onto the end of the sticks to make it a little more bearable.

It’s curious that I’ve chosen to talk about drumming and driving here. Somebody once told me that drummers make very good drivers and learn how to drive remarkably quickly because they’re used to separating their hands and feet and operating pedals in different ways to achieve different results. The key appears to be to stop thinking. I have experienced a lack of thinking a couple of times whilst driving, where I have suddenly woken up from some sort of day dream to realise I have no recollection of the previous ten minutes.

Another classic trait of David Hing the learner driver was that I couldn’t find the biting point of the clutch, and so stalled on a regular basis. This in itself isn’t unusual, but it lead to me trying to avoid stalling at all costs, which of course meant avoiding actually stopping the car at all costs. My mother and all cars in the immediate area got increasingly scared as I would continue edging very slowly forwards at junctions or red traffic lights. As it happens, I still sometimes involuntarily clench my teeth when launching into first gear for fear of stalling.

Finally, driving isn’t the only thing I didn’t take to straight away. When I was very young, I assumed that I could sail a boat by myself; I’d been taken out in a boat by my father plenty of times and I knew the theory of it (and that should sound familiar considering my attitudes towards my first time in a car) but somehow, it just didn’t take. I very quickly found myself crying in the bottom of the boat spinning around in circles. The really sad thing is, from this, and my experiences with driving, if I ever earned enough money to learn to fly, I’d probably still assume that I could fly straight away; I’ve seen Star Wars plenty of times so I must be an expert pilot…..

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

A Few Inches of Snow

It’s amazing how everything falls to pieces when something unusual happens. The whole of London tends to collapse with just a little bit of snow, as I discovered to my joy yesterday. I was able to have the day off work, because if the HR department can’t make it in, they can’t tell if anyone else has turned up either, and I was able to spend the day doing frivolous things and relaxing with Fien. Of course, I should have been catching up on things on my “to do list”, or writing essays and blog posts, but I didn’t.

Our country seems to do this a lot. A little bit of extreme weather and nobody really knows what to do. Some minor flooding and people panic, some strong crosswinds and the trains start worrying about leaves on the line, a slightly heavier-than-usual rain and people can’t go outside for fear of hurting their heads. You try and get excited about the snow that we had yesterday to anyone from a country that gets snow on a more regular basis and they laugh at your pathetic enthusiasm and relate stories of how their bus network still ran in eighteen inches of snow.

I have found as of yesterday, that I am a bit of a herd animal, in that if everyone else has made an excuse that they can’t do anything because it’s snowing, I do the same. Unlike some people, I could have easily made it in to work yesterday, seeing as I live within walking distance, and failing that I could have certainly done a little private project work at home, but I didn’t because I was content with the national excuse of “it’s snowing, I can’t work today”.

However, all my careful efforts to get things done and to develop a good system of living that I’ve been working on for the last couple of weeks have been undone as of yesterday. This morning I was unable to get up when my alarm went off, I didn’t organize myself with lunch, I’m no longer really motivated to do things, and in short, my whole schedule has been completely thrown off by one day of playing in the snow.

I suppose it’s very easy to get caught up on a national excuse. If everyone else says “I can’t do this” then why bother being the only one that tries? I suppose I’m starting to develop a fear of standing out on some level, but maybe I’m just content to reveal my lazy nature.

In spite of everything, it was a great day yesterday. I still love the snow.

Additional Notes:

Saying how much I love the snow is almost definitely insensitive to some people who have had genuine issues as a result of the snow. Hearing the adventures that my boss had trying to get back into London sounds nightmarish and people having to spend the night in their cars on the M25 can not be too impressed by the whole thing. I know I’m not alone in my enjoyment of the snow though; Regent’s Park was full of people that couldn’t get into work as well.

I have also discovered that Fien has a vicious streak when it comes to snow balls. She'll scoop up a nice ball of fluffy snow, compact it down into a rock-like chunk of ice and then aim it with surprising precision at my neck. In retaliation, I persisted in trying to surprise her with random snow balls, but every single one sailed about two inches over her head without her ever realising.

Monday, 2 February 2009

Out of the Office Auto Reply

Unfortunately, I am unable to get to my blog today as there is too much snow.