Cooking; Rough and Smoothed

Regular readers may know my love of food, typified by my Magical Listicle Tours and my sappy fiancée piece. It’s not all cakes and going to restaurants, though.

In keeping with my part lifestyle, part philosophy, part travel, part whatever, blog – today I want to give you some of the hints and tricks that keep me in fine form. There is no magic, here, just some particular tastes. Home cooked food is one of those things that belongs in everyone’s priority lists. The value of cooking your own food is incalculable. It can be great for fostering friendships and building loving relationships. So here are a few of my favourites, with links to where I got them, or how I developed them.

it’s important to remember when dealing with all these recipes to make them your own. If you really love garlic, multiply it. Got a sweet tooth, bang in more sugar. If you’ve got a craving for salt, by all means, don’t let me or the recipes stop you. You are the master of your own plate!

Shakshuka

The link above goes to Smitten Kitchen, a wonderful food blog with tons of recipes. Here’s one I’ve made and which has become part of my repertoire. Shakshuka is amazing and all it takes is oil, onion, garlic, a tin of tomatoes, some spices (cumin and paprika), and eggs. The link above tells you a fuller method than this, and they suggest parsely and feta cheese to put on top. This dish was prepared minimally using the items listed above though and was delicious. Adding at least a teaspoon of sugar to the tomatoes is probably a good idea as tinned tomatoes sometimes lack that crucial pop.

It takes about 20 minutes. Definitely something for lovers or singles looking to impress their date by cooking. It is vegetarian but not vegan. The sauce itself is lovely though and I’m sure creative vegans can make it work.

Coq au Vin

Know what? I’m not going to sugarcoat this one with food photography. This dish is chicken and red wine. It’s amazing how a French name can make terrifying what is actually pretty pedestrian and essentially peasant food. This one is butter, shallots, garlic, bacon, thyme, mushrooms, wine, chicken stock, balsamic vinegar, chicken on the bone cut up into 8 pieces, parsley and black pepper.

But you know what it actually is? Chicken and wine. The other stuff is extra. The recipe they give in the above link is delicious and I recommend you follow it, but don’t sweat the parsley. It tastes great otherwise.

This is an example of one of those dishes which is within the grasp of everyone as it is just throwing stuff together in a pot in the vaguely right order. The only thing it really needs is time. (1hr)

The recipe calls for good wine, but I’m almost certain that’s a con. Save the good wine for drinking and just toss in a full-bodied Bulgarian merlot, or something red with undertones. No need to throw the baby away with the bath water.

This one is good for families, probably better for those with adult children instead of actual babies, but I don’t think cooked wine has much of an impact as far as alcohol goes. It won’t exactly get your kids half cut. In addition, also a great dish to impress that special someone on a special or normal night.

Romance has never been so easy. Chicken + Wine = Delicious.

My Tomato Sauce

So here’s something original. Before I begin, full credit goes to my mum for introducing this to me, my brother for giving me a couple pro-pointers, and the Edinburgh friends who gave me constructive feedback behind my back that all my cooking tastes the same. Believe me, if you could make something like this you’d probably also get obsessed. And so we begin.

Requirements
– Tinned tomato, chopped or peeled depends on preference
– Salt and Pepper to taste
– Sugar, two teaspoons
– Oregano, probably a couple teaspoons.
– Cumin for earthiness, probably a teaspoon
– Paprika for fire, probably a teaspoon and a half
– Garlic, as much as you can bear, crushed.
– An onion, mid-sized chopped small is good.
– Vinegar, a few drops.
– Balsamic vinegar, a few fewer drops

You may have noticed that this is the least precise recipe in the world. Truth be told, this recipe has a history and needs to be learned and personalised. Sometimes you’ll eat with a spice addict, looking at you Kari, add a couple blasts of chilli powder. Some people don’t like garlic, and you’ll need to chop it smaller or take it out entirely. Some people can’t stand the earthiness of cumin so you need to use it sparingly.

The point is, I can’t tell the future. I tend to freepour all of the above ingredients from their powdered sachets, minus the garlic and onions which I chop then fry. It’s all to taste, because life is to taste.

Cleaning Up

I hate cleaning up, but sometimes it’s necessary. It’s good manners for the eater to clean up for the cook. So, this is an acknowledgements section to all the people who’ve given me their skills, and whom I could not attribute above. My dad for his mean omlettes, strongly advise everyone to learn omlettes as they are very quick, easy, and nutritious. My dear friend Cat for her butterfly chicken recipe, essentially you butterfly chicken (chop it along the middle and open it), cram it with cheese, then close it. Roisin for telling me some of the tips to veganise dishes (not veganised here as I don’t know all the ingredients). And my fiancée (with two e’s) who cooks at least half of the meals and smiles approvingly at the other half.

 

How to Make Goals That Stick

Today I want to talk to you about goals. It’s not exactly my best skill. I’m more of an improvisational on the fly, off the wall kind of guy. For a long time, I figured things happened to me, I just went with it and it worked. Then I noticed that that was a fairly passive way to interpret my life. True, I have many advantages that cannot be ignored. I’m from a good family and we didn’t have major money worries throughout s good bit of my life. Yeah I was hit by a van when I was young but I’m mercifully totally fine. Still, even with these advantages and luck some part of the success I’ve gained is probably down to my actions. I put that down to setting mid-term goals and sticking to them. Here is how you do it, in three five steps. Following that, find my own story of how well I’ve kept to my plans.

1. Make a specific target, make sure it’s reasonable and possible
2. Set your timeline. Six months is good for most tasks.
3. Check it halfway through. If possible, try and overperform since if you are two-thirds done at the half you are golden.
4. Find some way of remembering it. My last set of aims are pretty memorable, as you will see below, but if it’s more abstract make a note or visualise it in some way.
5. Be prepared to work towards it as nothing comes totally free of effort.

I took the photo above on the 29th of December last year. Coming back from my parents’ house I realised I had a few decisions to make. My goal setting is based upon having a general idea of what I want to be the case in six months, then narrowing it down to specifics. There were three major questions. Where was I going to live? How would I convince my girlfriend to marry me? What was I going to do for money? I knew she loved me because she’d been saying it for a few months at this point. I also knew I loved her, I’d been saying it about the same amount of time plus a couple months because I’m impetuous like that. With cards like these, it could either be a matter of time or it’d need a little massaging. I’m good at massaging.

So I set some goals in my head. I’d ideally like to live with her. Fortunately, we’d been talking sbout this before we separated for Christmas with our families. It would take some time to find a flat in the city. It has a very quick rentals market, but half of them are for ‘next week’ or ‘ASAP’. We talked and decided we’d take our time. She would leave her place as she had to give a month’s notice, while I’d never met my landlord and had no contract so we felt there was a possibility to hang around for a while in case we didn’t find the right place. I made myself available to visit as many places as possible, leaving my evenings free for flat viewings. It took a while to find the right place but eventually we managed it and gave my landlord a very short notice period. He kept the deposit.

Oh well, you win some and you lose some.

My other idea was that I wanted a ring on my girlfriend’s finger within 6 months. There was a challenge to this which was outwith my control as she had said she didn’t want a total surprise proposal. She had to give me permission. It’s a quite rotten trick as it limited my scope for dumb romantic gestures, but it was a blessing that I expected when I did ask she would say yes in all but the most appalling conditions. I left her stewing for several months after she gave me permission, partially because good rings are expensive and partially because I wanted it to be a little bit surprising. In the end I used a placeholder ring. We’re millenials. We’re broke and we’re killing diamonds. Part of my current 6 month plan is to get the funds together for the proper ring. We shall see. I am good at plans.

Which brings me onto the third question. What was I to do for money? My first option, and the one that I’d prefer, was to continue as I was. I adore teaching English as a foreign language but a major money earner it ain’t. Unless you go to China or some select countries in South East Asia, I hear Vietnam is a gold mine, but I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t want me to leave her for months just to pay for her ring and our subsequent wedding. I have looked at building a schedule with more high earning classes and fewer cancelling time wasters, but it isn’t perfect. What I’m saying here is that this goal has thus far not been met because I haven’t adequately prepared myself to meet it.

This is another problem of goals and why so many people have trouble with them. Goals are great, but what if you’re happy where you are in one area? For six months I’ve struggled to reconcile my need for money with my income stream. Make no mistake, I’m a lot more comfortable this year than I was last year. Basics are covered with a bit left over for special extras, but weddings are not just special extras like a weekend in Hungary or a holiday to Croatia. (I understand if that sounds petulant. For reference, I live in continental Europe and buses cost next to nothing).

And so I have a choice to make on how to answer the money issue. There are opportunities in Prague that may prove fruitful but I will have to actually go out and seek them. I must do this without sentimentality. I must set a specific target, and probably a monthly one would help too, and throw almost everything at it. Potentially I will need to sacrifice something I like a lot in order to be with someone I love much more. As many plans as I may make, it seems an inescapable truth of life that we have to privilege some wants over others. I will always privilege her.

Feeling a little sappy and afraid he’s giving too much away, the writer of this piece is concerned that chatting so often about his fiancée may mean he runs low on killer lines for his vows. Thankfully, he’s evidently a sexy hotbed of ideas as he’s now on day 16 and post 18 of his 31 day post-every-day-of-the-month challenge. Do forgive the bragging, but here is a goal I set myself and I’m so far doing it exceptionally well. Do follow and tell me how you keep goals, it’s lonely on this soapbox!

Tastes Like a Cigarette Should

 

I’ve picked up a lot in my storied life. Some knowledge of foreign languages, a taste for good wine, and a bit of a cigarette enthusiasm. Which is to say that I both believe I am horribly addicted and that it is within reasonable limits and under control. All at the same time knowing that no medical authority on this planet would recommend inhaling a burning plant. Of all the burning plants in the world though, tobacco is definitely my favourite. Simultaneously my most hated.

The origin story for this habit isn’t so complicated or difficult. I saw some people doing it and thought it was ridiculous. Some people offered me one and it tasted horrible. Later on I tried others and they got better. I was pretty sure I could control it, being a man of will. Turns out, it’s a nasty little thing and it kind of works its way into the deeper recesses of your brain if you aren’t careful.

Sometimes I feel a cigarette voice in my head. It pleads and bargains for more when I’ve tried to quit. Just one more. It also shouts down my desire to stop sometimes. You just bought a pack! It’s not very logical and sometimes isn’t very focused but what did you expect, Ritalin brain? I’ll get on with the origin story.

Eventually, friends got tired of just giving them to me whenever. I had started asking instead of just being offered. And then I was cut off.

It makes sense, cigarettes are expensive. As with so many other products, too, they are undergoing “shrinkflation”. What you’re getting gets smaller but the price stays the same. It’s the natural intersection of marketing and rising production costs. People have a limit to how much they’ll pay for something, so in order to reach that limit, products get worse. At any rate, the cigarette makers and shops have all the power here as you can’t exactly haggle for cigarettes. This left me in a delicate situation.

My choice was pretty stark. To smoke or not to smoke. See, the difference between 0 and 1 is infinite. This is true in mathematics and in smoking. The difference between 0 and 1 cigarettes is far larger than the difference between 2 and 20.

Still, I bought a packet. I figured I was different.

This is the crazy thing about people who smoke: we can find so many justifications and reasons not to be bothered about it. Enough people have grandparents who smoked for 90 years and then got hit by a bus to permanently raise the life expectancy a good bit. Truth be told, I think we’re all terror-fatigued. We’ve been taught about it at school, there are loads of adverts in all kinds of different settings, the prices have always gone up, there’re warning labels on packets, it’s banned indoors, and we’re consistently told it’s the worst thing and we’re horrible people for doing it. There’s a reason cool people in movies still smoke: it is the pinnacle of not caring. Maybe people need to reevaluate their choices, and policy makers need to rethink how to reach everyone. Selling the “cigarettes are super heroin” campaign doesn’t work when people who smoke are good at justifying and reasoning away all the issues. At any rate, current plans to cut down on people smoking have been moderately successful but are struggling to reach below 20%. Part of the reason is that those 20% think they are irredeemable.

Truth is, there are various thoughts on how real addiction is. The way I see it, it is totally fightable. It is not a disease, it is a personality flaw. Once you notice that you regain some agency. People who’ve done it all their lives find the strength to quit. I’ve found that I do care a bit too much to keep it up. I’m not like a cool guy in a movie. I’m not one of the different people who live to a hundred years old on rare steak and sniffing whiteboard pens. Chances are good that I’m just as fragile as 99% of the rest of this planet and therefore I made a deal.

The cigarette voice keeps it down and stops shouting and whimpering and I throw it the occasional. I always preferred it more as a social thing anyway. Sometimes you just need a good excuse to go outside and get a few minutes away from everything. Sometimes it’s good to get away from a 15-person conversation and break off to chat with a couple of people. The negotiation with the cigarette voice has been difficult and fraught with breaches. At least I know that I’ve beaten it down to about 1 or 2 a day on average. With the occasional ‘extinction burst’ where I get a whole pack and tan it in an evening.

I’ve tried to be honest here. Truth is, cigarette smoking is this crazy thing that I think everyone who does it hates, loves, and hates in equal measure. That’s definitely how I feel about it. On the one hand, it made me get out more and got me into loads of conversations I’d never have had otherwise, on the other I have sometimes spent a ridiculous amount of my monthly earnings on it with no lasting effect. It is the definition of consumptive. It’s good that it gives me something to do in my free time, everybody needs an occupation, but it’s bad because I could be doing almost anything more productive with the time. It’s nice that it provides milestones of the passing day: wake up, cigarette, breakfast, cigarette, going to work, cigarette, at work for four hours before coffee break, cigarette, back to work until lunch, cigarette, finish day, cigarette, pub with the colleagues, cigarette cigarette cigarette cigarette, home, cigarette, dinner, cigarette, sex, cigarette, Netflix, cigarette. On the other hand that’s an insane way to measure time, and that’s on a below average day. It’s terrible, it’s great, it’s terrible.

In conclusion, the writer of this piece cannot be held accountable for any desire to try tobacco. In fact I’d say it’s a pretty bad idea, hence why I’m cutting down and fairly happy with the result. Then again, can non-smokers try not being dicks about it because it’s really very unhelpful when you make out like having one of them ever will make you into some kind of degenerate. Nothing has that much power unless you give it that much power and claiming it has some insane amount of power makes it seem irresistible. It’s my dirty little occasional habit. It’s kind of gross yet kind of sexy but mostly awful.

Just to reiterate the message we all must stick to with my own flair: If you don’t smoke; don’t start. If you do it occasionally; probably best to keep it limited. If you smoke hundreds a day; hope you have fun with it but maybe eat some fruit from time to time.

Seriously, apparently eating carrots stops lung cancer. Maybe take it with a pinch of salt.

“Don’t Look Back Into the Sun”

Everybody has, or should have, a band that they follow. For me, that band is The Libertines. Started in London in 1997 by Carl Barat and Pete Doherty, they are a world apart from me. When they started out, I was probably in the least rock n roll environment possible, primary school. Still, discovering a band later on doesn’t discount the passion you can feel for them and now, if the platform allows, permit me to explain a little about why I follow them.

The main reason from the start was the music. “Don’t Look Back Into the Sun” is a banger. At under 3 minutes it doesn’t overstay its welcome. It comes in quiet, finishes with a sound like the band is falling to pieces, and throughout it has that simple but effective riff that gets me every time. The lyrics are different too. It’s like a conversation between the two frontmen. This theme continues throughout their careers. Every solo song I’ve heard by either of them, which are hard to find as they are all squirrelled away on lots of different singles, sounds like they are talking to themselves.

Consider The Babyshambles, Doherty’s split. All of their songs have lost the happy shimmer that was The Libertines. It echoes a time in Doherty’s life when things were not going well, he was in and out of rehab, a popular target of the tabloids, who almost certainly would have treated him like Amy Winehouse if he went. Anyway, Doherty’s performance in the Babyshambles is a lot rougher and less like he’s having a good time. He suffered to make those songs. It’s part of what makes them great. Nobody trusted him in a big budget recording studio so he made Down in Albion in a mate’s flat. It’s a scrappy album, but full of emotional highs and lows. From there onwards here’s a general upward trajectory in the professional production of Doherty’s music, but a bit of a decline as far as raw feeling goes.

It makes sense, raw feeling hurts. You can hear it in Doherty’s voice. Even later

Carl Barat’s work I’m a lot less familiar with. I heard his solo album, Carl Barat, and I’d say it’s a good album but not my absolute favourite out of everything he’s done because the Libertines exist. Anyway, it all sounds like a series of breakup songs, and justifications for breakup songs. I first heard it when I started going out with my first long term girlfriend and I’m pretty sure it made the breakup harder. Cheers, Carl. I needed that.

Undeniably though, the best thing the Libertines did was split up, as it made so many more projects happen. The next best thing they did was get back together, because it made “Heart of the Matter” happen. This song and its accompanying video are perfect for people who’ve followed this band. It shows them at their fucked up best, at each other’s throats, while a peanut-crunching crowd looks on and finds it hilarious. It’s a superb tune, got a brilliant message, and is very rewarding. Definitely give it a shifty.

But there’s something needs to be said about The Libertines and associated acts work. It’s all got this beautiful interplay about life meaning a lot and life meaning nothing. Their whole catalogue is so diverse that it could easily be about just having fun and dicking around, Barat incidentally wrote a tune in Get Him To the Greek, “Gang of Lust”. Getting back to the start, because what’s more pointless or fulfilling than a circle, “Don’t Look Back Into The Sun” is a call to remember the past but not to fixate on it. Acknowledge it happened and appreciate the fun reminders but move on, let go, and find a new source of heat and life.

Fed up with life and the way things were going, the writer of this piece is seriously considering shifting blogging sites as WordPress has been dicking him around a bit. Hopefully the tech guys can see to it and this will just stay as a historic reminder.


Still writing daily and amazed that he just did 600 words on the Libertines with no formal musical knowledge of mention of Pete Doherty’s poetry knowledge, the writer can be found on Twitter @FjDhorn

Feedback

Recently, people have had nice things to say about me. Some of these are cosmetic things, hair and clothes and the like. Some of them are about my writing, which fairly tickles me as I always assume I’m not that good as I just kind of sit down and throw out whatever comes to mind before massaging it into a better order. Some of the feedback I’ve been getting lately has been about how good a friend or partner I am. This last category means the most to me.

But I’m not just writing about the good today. Good feedback is nice, but it’s not always the most essential and formative stuff. Pressure makes diamonds. Negative responses are valuable as they let you know what other people don’t like, and will often lead you to fixing it. Generally this makes both sides happier.

And so I try to improve still, every now and then when a constructive comment comes in and it’s worth responding to. I figured a long time ago that I wasn’t perfect and that there was room for improvement in various areas. Some of it still stings though. Some people like to cut, then they like to throw a bit of salt at it.

Sometimes it feels like people don’t give feedback for genuine reasons of wanting to help out. Sometimes people are just negotiating hard and being destructive to bring down the price. Sometimes people have unrealistic standards. Sometimes they don’t realise that paying a small amount of money for something doesn’t entitle them to make a human person feel bad. People who work in retail or any other service I’m sure will relate. So what should be done about these people?

For a start, I propose that managers actually tell their staff when they think customers are unreasonable. I have been blessed with mostly good managers so this hasn’t been a huge problem for me, but I could definitely see feedback being used as an excuse to not pay someone enough. In addition, everyone could benefit from reading the book Fuck It by John C. Parkin. It’s a synthesis of Eastern and Western philosophy, which preaches the phrase ‘fuck it’ as the ultimate mantra for handling situations and dealing with stress. It’s a fantastic read for a philosophical underpinnings to the phrase.

Learning to say “fuck it” to life’s little irritants has made me a generally cooler person. I spend a lot less time fighting the stupid fights in my head. There are far more valuable things to think about without getting caught up on petty things.

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One final note on which to leave you. A former manager of mine was a very capable fellow. He had a brilliant way to slowing everything down, normally with the single word “Oh?”, followed by some non-verbal communication (hmms and ahhs), before finishing up with a “Right…”, and providing his solution. This is much more instructive when you watch it up close.

Anyway, I knew what was happening because I saw him do it multiple times a day. But to each individual who saw him he probably gave the impression of a uniquely focused and interested man. This semblance of caring very deeply and being very focused about a customer’s problem is probably the right one, provided you can come up with a solution at the end instead of just humming.

This manager had a brilliant expression on this topic: “Feedback is a gift;” and then when the begrieved parties  were out of earshot, “it can be accepted or rejected”.

 Constantly feeling like he’s bitten off more than he can chew, the writer wrote this piece on his day off and therefore naked.

Prague Pride

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Pretty sure the above photo is from last year. Today it was overcast. The temperature was good though. Especially because the Prague Pride march involves many people dressed in clothes which are not good when it’s hot. I’d hate to be one of the leather guys in Summer.

This year I was with 4 people, my fiancée, and my friends Teddy, Siti and Jen. I wore a dress and pearls and looked very fancy and quite fabulous. For me this now just seems like a standard thing to do but I imagine this could do with some explanation.

From a youngish perhaps teenage age I have been pretty jealous about the variety of women’s clothing. It seems they put men in some strict box-shaped attire, primarily white, black and grey. Ladies meanwhile get to walk about in a huge variety of materials, cuts, and colours. At some point or other I just decided to fuck the universe, care a lot less about what everyone thought about it, and start wearing skirts and dresses from time to time.

That’s basically it. The clothes look good and feel nice. There’s a huge range of people living outside the typical gender setup. This goes from people without a gender to people with multiple genders that they switch between. Personally, I identify best with genderfuck. This is a great concept which involves playing around with what gender is in the first place by over exaggerating it. So I dress pretty but talk in a deeper voice than normal.

Of course, that’s just one other aspect of my character, and unfortunately not one I can generally express in my day to day life. You might have seen me rally against professionalism in previous posts and here is the same argument. Professionalism is an irritating concept that prizes conforming to some strict standards over individuality. People are expected to only be themselves in their free time. Any deviation is treated as something perverse and wrong. This is a horrible way to manage society.

This pushes people into fitting into moulds that they can’t fit into, it puts extra stress and pressure on people when they can’t conform. The only possible benefit of conformity that I can see is some sort of tribal identification method, where you can tell instantly if somebody is going to steal your food by what they are wearing. In the current world we’re living in stealing food is at an all time low. And so I hate narrow professionalism. Dress codes are horrible. Let a guy wear a skirt. Instead the only clothing choice most guys are permitted is what colour of tie they will wear. Patterns are often considered an aberration if they are too vibrant.

So that’s my take on Pride. I like it as a chance to see a lot of openminded people dress in ways that please them instead of their everyday uniforms. I could have addressed a few other things, like how lots of huge companies had rainbow coloured advertising, or what my own sexuality means to me* but instead I chose to talk  about gender and professionalism and fucking them both.

Happy Prague Pride Eveybody!

*It doesn’t take an intellectual to get that I’m bisexual, banging tune.

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My Brother

In life there are important people. Some are gained along the way, like my fiancée or the many fabulous people I’ve met in Prague and at university. Some fall into your life because of school or where you lived and they stick there, like my mate Sam or my friend Dan B. Some you were literally born from and of. And then there are the people you were born before and after. Today’s bonus entry is about the final category.

Coming into the world three years before me, my brother is someone I respect. He has seniority. He carries himself with a great amount of authority. He likes things his way. As kids we didn’t see eye to eye on every issue so that led to some scraps. He generally got the better of me but I was happy with a few of the good punches I landed. And the time I put soap on his toothbrush because he was annoying me. Still, for all the fighting, which I actually really enjoyed, and some of the insults we traded, we always cared for each other.

He always pushed me as a child and into my teenage years. He challenged me. If he couldn’t beat a level on the PlayStation then I read the instructions and had great fun getting past it. I think I had more patience. We often worked together on the different levels and used the 2 player mode a lot. He was generally player 1, seniority wins out. It might seem shallow to spend so much time focusing on video games, but they were a large part of childhood and our relationship.

We hung out with each other a lot, skateboarding up the flowerbeds at the end of the street, in Scouts, stick fighting. It was a good childhood. We were almost always together. He was what made it a good childhood.

See my great fear is loneliness. I hate being by myself for long periods of time. A bit is fine and I don’t even need to talk to people, but having other people in the room is good. Any time we weren’t in school or seeing our friends we were together. For 17 years we were near inseparable.

Time fucks us all. We grew up and he started working as a chef. I was in high school and then university and we didn’t get to see each other much. I love how he always made time for me, though. Every week we had a pint together at the Bank Hotel. I regret that I didn’t reach out more at the time and he had to do more of the heavy lifting as far as organising this went.

Eventually he got tired of the chef life. Long hours, angry people, hot kitchens, low pay as he was salaried and the hours almost always outpaced what he was paid for. He did something brave. He took a chance and jacked his job in to go and see what Barcelona had to offer. While there he made a bunch of friends, ended up sleeping on the floor of one of them, and eventually fell in love with her. They now live on the other side of the planet.

So I don’t see him much these days. We’re bad at Skype and I think we both hate it a bit. It hurts that he’s away and seeing him is rare, but I’m glad he’s following his path in life and that he’s made good choices.

If there’s one other thing that can be said about him it’s that he is the best damn brother someone could hope for. He made me a better person, I grew tougher, funnier, and more confident because of him. He doesn’t always show it but he cares a shitton about people . He flew across the world for my mum’s big celebration recently, just because he knew it’d be a good thing.

So that’s my brother in a nutshell. He cares, he makes jokes, he knows what he wants and he goes for it. He’s also got some annoying self-defence technique that I always seem to fall for and need to find some way of disarming before I next see him.

I love my brother.

And have a good birthday, ya old bastard.

 

Strange Parallels

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If there’s one major advantage to travelling it is that it exposes you to different cultures and different experiences. Were it not for the fact I accidentally travelled to the Czech Republic, I would have likely never seen the topic of day’s post. I have discovered an abnormal similarity between two films. The above happy children’s movie about a guy everyone thinks is The Special, who isn’t, and who overturns tyrannical rule with the help of a team, and the following:

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I promise you I’m going somewhere with this

A 1991 Czech film about an engineer who starts working at a factory and finds it full of corruption and nonsense. A “Musical of Totalitarianism”.

How? What scrambled thoughts could lead to this conclusion? Observe.

In this film clip, the main character, an engineer, a career about developing new ideas and putting them together, visits the factory bar. The DJ plays an epic song, a mainstay of Czech music, where the lyrics are “Je to fajn” – it is fine, it’s all good buddy. Relax, do your work and smoke your cigarette. While in this film clip, “Everything is Awesome” – everything is fine, it’s cool man. Relax, listen to your repetitive mind-numbing and very catchy pop music and drink your overpriced coffee.

These songs function as the central points of the films. The Lego Movie is about the lead character realising everything is NOT awesome while Kour (smoke), a lot darker in tone, makes it pretty clear throughout how messed up it all is.

Here I will have to freely confess my inability to properly dive into this topic. I have seen both films only once, Lego on Boxing Day last year and Kour at Zizkovsiska during film night. I must also admit that I have some difficulties finding anything in English about Czech films. Comparing its IMDb page to The Lego Movie’s further shows the difference in material to work with. Also, not speaking Czech, I have some issues understanding all the nuances. But here’s is what I have so far.

Both films are fundamentally about work and society. They are about doing your job while being bossed around by shadowy figures, and they are about the distraction that we all have, music. It’s interesting that in both films neither of the main characters save the day alone. In Kour the main character nearly becomes the victim of the corrupt factory managers until he is saved by the other factory workers shouting “It is worth it!” and storming the big meeting. In The Lego Movie the lead was never “the Special” and can only win with the help of everyone else.

It’s an enlightening process watching both films as they show so much about the types of life people live. They also show a way out through the collective action of saying no. Change is possible and you have to be the one to make it. The message of both the films is revolutionary.

When not watching Czech films or consuming media, the writer of this piece likes to write copiously and is trying to write posts of about 500 words a day every day of this month. Today’s entry is a little short, but since a picture is worth a thousand words and there are two of them this piece is far beyond that, without even accounting for the fact that videos are made of 25 pictures a second and each of the above videos was over a minute long. Today I have written a load of words about a tricky subject and I implore you to watch both those films. 20 days left!

The Three O’Clock Cuddle

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I’m a sentimental young fool, as well as a bit of a traditionalist. As long as the tradition makes sense and especially if it’s one of my own. With this in mind, here is today’s story.

“Can all available members of staff please meet on the 2nd floor for the three o’clock huddle?”

Little did that member of staff at that branch of Boots on Edinburgh’s Princes Street know, they had achieved immortality. I had gone out on an errand with my friends Beth and Cat. Thanks to my poor hearing and the tannoy system, I misheard ‘huddle’ – a word from sports which means ‘to form a close group to discuss tactics’ – as ‘cuddle’. Businesses love using sports images. They all sound so declarative. They talk about ‘ball park figures’, ‘hit it out of the park’, ‘down for the count’, and such things. And so it happened that the three o’clock huddle became the three o’clock cuddle.

I embraced Cat and Beth in turn, to their bewildered looks.

“Didn’t you hear the man? It’s time for the three o’clock cuddle!”

They told me the guy said huddle, but I heard what I heard. The idea was planted. A quick wee entry on my calendar, changed the setting to repeat every day, and that was that. Every day at three o’clock I’d try and cuddle someone.

The effect was… interesting. Some people were right into it and loved the sound of it. A few preferred to say ‘hug’ instead of cuddle. This, to my ear, sounds less sincere so I’m quite hardline on the name. Some traditions are important. Commit to the cuddle. When it’s possible I prefer to cuddle the straightest, most stoic looking men. They tend to need the affection the most and though they are slow to get involved, they do come to appreciate it. It’s a fun quirk and is perfectly harmless. I try to make sure people, are at least somewhat on board with it first.

It started as a very inclusive tradition. It was originally anyone, anywhere, as long as it was three PM. Unfortunately, I had to roll this back. Eventually I got a job and it was deemed ‘unprofessional’ – a horrible word that to me means robots, the blank eyed stare of an automaton. In addition, some people were quite anti. In the past I thought those were people who just needed it the most but I eventually became aware that you can’t reach everyone all the time.

It was a hard lesson. Finding out, as a fairly extroverted people-pleasing person, that you can’t reach them all. It hurt. I thought that if we were free of the narrow confines that everyone seems committed to, we could all become fellow creatures. We could all cuddle and get over the nonsense that divides us. Compromise is a horrible truth of this world, but sometimes it’s necessary. I’d hate to cause unnecessary discomfort.

Whenever possible I still do it. It may not be marked in my phone, but it’s marked on my heart. My commitment to my love of all, even if some people suck a bit. Cuddles can unite us far more than they can divide us. And, you know what?, I just like cuddling people.

So spread the love. If it’s ever three and you see I’ve forgotten, come surprise me. If you see someone else who looks like they need it, go and shock them. Making the world a bit uncomfortable for a minute is well worth the gain in comfort and love that you and everyone else will feel.

Please cuddle responsibly.

10th day and still going strong, I aim to finish 21 more of these on different topics. Stay with me!

The Shower Principle

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Do you brush your teeth in the shower? I formerly did, but had to stop as somebody I lived with complained about the mess. It’s good anyway because showering should be showering and brushing teeth should be brushing teeth. Then again, sometimes a strange thing can happen when you do something mundane.

I was brushing my teeth when an idea hit me. Then another. And another. Of the first two ideas, one is thus far unwritten and the other is a hotter take than the nuclear war Trump may be escalating towards. I may well not write this hot take, but we’ll see what the demand is like. The third of these ideas was about how I came up with so many ideas while doing something basic.

From the cursory research, it appears the Shower Principle is an episode of 30 Rock. That would explain where I got it as I love that show. The principe is simple; doing something which requires no thought or effort is a great time to come up with new ideas as it allows different parts of your brain to work. It enables your higher processing centres to creatively solve a problem. It’s essentially a eureka moment that comes out of nowhere, a bolt from the blue. One minute you’re  brushing your teeth, and the next minute you’re running through to the living room with toothpaste froth pouring out the corners of your mouth as you scrabble for a pen to write them all down. They flow fast.

The Shower Principle is quite hard to verify scientifically, mostly because it sounds like bullshit. How can showering transform a person into an ideal problem solver? Well, perhaps it doesn’t work for everybody. Maybe you need to have the right type of thinking to initiate it. Think about Newton lying against a tree reading and thinking about science. The famous apple comes down and bonks him on the head. So he develops gravity and the laws of movement based on this one apple, in one of the most intricate revenge tales ever.

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How do you like them apples?

It’s a nice story, and it sounds like a variation of the Shower Principle, but it does kind of rely on Newton knowing enough  to get him started in the first place, He was already open to the idea that the universe could be measured and verified and he just needed a question to try and answer.

“Why do apples hate me?”

These eureka moments when you are doing nothing are a great fantasy, but the thing to remember is that there is a lot of boring work first. I have written things for ages, in diaries and word documents, for university, and all such,  but it is only recently that I began publishing them in good amounts. That work was a necessary step. Now the challenge comes in opening myself to possibilities. I’m so glad some of these come while brushing my teeth. Oral hygiene is important.

So, today’s message, today’s story: open yourself to finding ideas in weird places. You never know what might just fall into your lap. If you write, grand, think often, write down all your ideas, develop them. If you’re a musician, listen to the sounds around you and see if any of them tickle your fancy. If you’re a photographer you are probably already used to using the world as your paint palette but do this more. If you do something else, take all of this analogy and apply it to your individual pursuit. If you open yourself to thinking you will be very happy with the result.

Part pretentious and part delusional, the author of this particular piece is currently writing a new item every day of this month and right now is writing entirely in the third-person. It’s a blast.