The Centre of Light – Signal Festival 2017

Going to write two of these things as there are so many photographs of light shows and I want to do them justice. Catch part II, maybe tomorrow or something

IMG_2163

“Constrained Surface” – Ryochi Kurokawa

One of the most fun things about city life is the sheer variety of events. The week just past was Signal Festival 2017. The Signal Festival is an annual exhibition of art installations, all of which are centred around their use of light and sound.

My fiancée and I were actually shushed during the above display, which was funny as the sound was primarily a type of industrial-ambient, the clanking of chains and the sound of a nut being thrown into a metal bucket. Eerie stuff. It’s somewhat like asking somebody to be quiet because you can’t hear the rain on the window.

IMG_2179

“#glass” – Tets Ohnarib

Before anyone gets to thinking I’ve become conscious of marketing, that hashtag was part of the title of this piece – I do my research.

It’s a really cool concept. So the two pillars look like they have shattered and spilled all over the ground, but the breakage defies physics. After all, it wouldn’t break in a full circle, that’s crazy talk. In addition, the pillars are still intact. It made me reflect on how things are not always as they might appear.

That’s the power of misdirection.

And the point of misdirection is normally stage magic. And what could be more magical than your audience becoming the performers?

This piece, “Heardt” by Anna Feyrerová, Bára Anna Stejskalová, Richard Dobřichovský and Tomáš Bukáček, performs precisely that. A piano connected to the lights to create different patterns based on the music played. Anyone could sit in the piano and create the show, though it seems most people who tried had at least some skill when we were there.

They also weren’t that drunk because, and this will surely shock some Prague people, did you know we can no longer buy drink in Prague 1 after 10pm? What is this, Scotland? I tell you, this city is changing. Not necessarily for the better.

Anyway, here’s a idea of me dancing with two tins at the “Beyond” (Playmodes) exhibit in Old Town Square.

You know how I like to tell a story, well what’s the story here? The story is that the true story is the light show you find along the way. Like, check this out –

IMG_2195

Prague Castle from across the Vltava

And to conclude, the festival is really cool, sadly a little short, and my bird likes expensive tins, but more on that next time.

The writer of this piece is a fan of art and light and hopes that he brightened your day.

Advertisements

A Love Story – What you learn from paperwork

In our increasingly global world it’s easier than ever for people to fall in love, regardless the colour of their passport. In the past it feels like a lot of these relationships would have been merely sexual, but it is stunningly common to find someone who isn’t from your country. I am one of three Scots that I knew in their 20s in a long term relationship with a non-Scot they met in another country. It’s brilliant, but it does present a challenge – borders.

And not just borders. The men and women who police borders.

Strangely, borders don’t come up in many love stories. I hear love story and I think dramatic death. It’s weird because if anything borders are far sadder. Imagine being stuck behind a basically invisible line, the person you love on the other side, and not being able to embrace or kiss them. With death, it’s just over. With borders you coninue living, but separate. It’s brutal, and it’s been the case for millennia.

Today is a nice time to live, relatively. It’s easier than ever to be with people you want to. It’s not always amazingly quick and it’s rarely totally simple, but with a few strokes of a pen you can be together. Treaty of Westphalia, be damned.

What this means, though, is that you have to do a lot of paperwork. Sometimes it’s in a foreign language, but I imagine it’d also be a bit of a pain to do in your own. It often involves going to several offices and waiting behind a different interminable queue of sweaty, irritated people in every one. It almost always has the impassive face of an office worker at the end. She sees hundreds of cases a day, from a thousand different tired faces, and she doesn’t like to bend very much.

All this paperwork has made me realise two contradictory thing. First of all, a form cannot express everything about a relationship. How could I explain to them that they should let my fiancée stay in Europe because I love it when she sings The Proclaimers in the kitchen and it’d please me greatly if she kept doing it?

These forms are obviously made to protect the border from being crossed by people they don’t trust to have good intentions or whom may become burdensome on social service skills or whatever, but at some point they realised they had to let people in love be together or lose some of their humanity, but if the form cannot encapsulate such information then how can they tell anybody is really in love and is justified in having one by such precepts? I’m sure less than reputable characters are willing to dive into the morass of bureaucracy. It’s a problem and it’s why borders are policed so heavily. People will do dangerous things to get into or out of some places.

Secondly, however, and in total contradiction, the process proves I love her. It’s quite apparent I love her. I am willing to do the paperwork. I can wait in the queues. I can go to offices staffed by Ukrainians and demand updated forms of a contract to prove we are together. I can be very persistent and light fires under bureaucrats to keep the process moving because I know she has a time limit so I also have a time limit as we are sharing our life and if these office sloths don’t stamp a little quicker it’s not just their time and not just my time but our time they are wasting.

Paperwork signifies commitment, and it teaches you to be true in your choices as well as your signatures. You don’t want to have to do more than you have to.

The writer of this piece is bristling with italics and has decided to itch them out on the end here for catharsis.

The Hangover

Right, so it’s this post.

Pictured: A classier drink than I was imbibing last night

The Czech Republic has many great traditions. They terrify children in December and eat fish for Christmas dinner, which probably terrifies the fish, who live in the bathtub for several days before they are cooked. Their love day is the 1st of May and you’re supposed to kiss your love under a blooming tree. I did not this year because I was hungover. Today I saw a sign advertising “burčak” – young wine.

The young wine season is late August, September, and early November. You can find out more about it here. It’s a very exciting time of year as the drink is delicious. It tends to be a low ABV, about 4%, but it still has active yeast in it and so it gets more alcoholic in your belly. You are supposed to drink as much burcak as you have blood in your body, 5 litres, over the season. It can lead to some rough mornings.

Another tradition, more local than national, is sangria night at Bukowskis. Every Tuesday ladies can go and get free pitchers of sangria. They are not supposed to give it to men, but my fiancée loves me. Still, I also bought my own drinks last night to allay suspicions. Simply red, nothing fancy, it’s from a box. Still, the wine was better than the sangria, oakier, fuller body, and much better scent. Then again, you may have noticed I’m avoiding the massive element in the room – the huge elephant in the tomb.

The aftershock

Because, really, what’s is life but one long sesh punctuated by hiccups and hangovers? In the words of Jack Donaghy, “Men need alcohol. It’s the first thing every civilization makes, along with weapons and shelters to enjoy prostitutes.” I just had to look up what came first, domesticated dogs or alcohol. It may be a tie, about 10000 BC being an estimate for both. Man’s best friends. Fundamental though it may be, I worry.

I worry sometimes because my hangovers are particularly vile. It’s like my body wants to get away from my brain. It wants to sweat, piss, shit, and vomit. My thoughts go to funny places and I can’t control them. Some days I can’t stomach anything and can’t eat till the evening.

If I can’t fit in my kilt before I get married, I will ask for two litres of wheat beer, 48 hours, and 0 questions.

It makes me hate absolutely everything. Myself, people around me, the world. I’m not good to be around when I’m hungover. My demanding and angry side is given full reign.I often shout “cuddles or get the fuck out!” if I’m disturbed while in my pain. I repeat it if they don’t make a choice quickly and without fuss.

I really want the cuddles, by the way. So if I ever shout that at you, now you know. I want somebody to hold my body together.

Today was especially bad because I had to go to a government office. Government offices are uniformly terrible everywhere. Especially the ones which are designed for foreigners. It seems like it’s the government department that countries are least fond of supporting. There were loads of people and the office had only just opened. Compounding this stress is the fact that the workers in the foreign department only speak Czech. I understand this is the Czech Republic, but you’d think they’d have at least some other language skills given their job is almost entirely dealing with non-Czechs. Fortunately, I had a lovely freelance visa agent named Jitka Peterkova helping me, so I just sat dumbly while contemplating the meaning of suffering and she did all the talking, occasionally she handed me a bit of paper to sign. Additionally, she also got there early to get a ticket so we got in and out really quickly.

Love Cats

The best cure I’ve noticed for it was suggested to me by my mate Sam. He instructed me one morning to go to the kitchen and drink water. Lots of water. So much water you feel your stomach could burst. And then some more. This trick has worked for me a couple of times but it is by no means perfect. In fact, sometimes it just gives me more water to violently expel, more fuel for the fire.

I’m less worried about my overall drinking these days as I pretty much have it under control. I’m drinking roughly a third as much as I was at the same time last year, cheap bevy is great but dangerous. So I’m forgiving myself today. I don’t hate myself. My rage is conserved for slow walkers and standees on the wrong side of escalators. This hangover has been a timely reminder that I need to be careful. Sitting around and hating everything might be a good hobby for a philosopher looking to prove nihilism, but it is not conducive to a well lived life.

On the periphery between life and death, the writer likes long walks by the River Lethe and the Water of Leith. One is good to remember and the other to forget. Once the post hangover gloom has been vanquished by the breaking sun of recovery, the writer also likes writing imagery.

Changing the Time

History and memory are vital, interesting, and important. With all the talk of statues in the news thanks to the recent fight in Charlottesville, VA I want to the tell you a story about one such statue in Prague: the metronome in Letna Park. The metronome in Letna Park swings back and forth counting the seconds, symbolising the time lost to Communism. Long may it swing and remind people of the horrors of the dictatorships the city suffered in the mid-20th century. The story is far grander, however.

It swings…

And swings back

And swings again

See, that metronome was built in 1991 on top of the massive stone plinth, which had been intended for another statue – a giant statue of Stalin standing in front of some Communist archetypes.

Stalin standing in front of a worker, mother, farmer, and soldier

Locals called it ‘the meat queue’, due to the food shortages in the city after the war.

The statue was the result of a strong personality cult for Stalin. The cult was strong in Prague, with believers occupying several positions in government. They renamed a major street Stalinova, Stalin’s Street. They wanted to build the biggest statue of Stalin in the world, and they did. It weighed 17000 tonnes. It also took 800 kilograms of explosives to destroy.

In 1962, on orders from Moscow, the statue was taken down. Locals gathered to watch the rubble taken through the streets. One story says one of his ears became a bathtub.

Nikita Kuschev, Stalin’s replacement, had been very quick to condemn Stalin once he died. Kruschev made a speech in 1956, three years after Stalin’s death, where he said they had to change their approach to Communism and leadership. The Communists instituted a massive shift in how their country was run, a shift which included taking down some of the statues.

Stalinova in Prague was renamed Vinohradska, which to my untrained ear is ‘Wine Castle Street’. Far preferable to Stalin Street. Imagine hating a guy so much that you mashed a couple nouns together and added street to the end of it rather than kept his name on it. It’s be like having ‘Fan Sofa Street’.

So in light of recent events, what can we learn from the Communists here? Sometimes you don’t have to remember history through the lens of hundreds of statues or of particularly big statues. Sometimes you can remember history with plaques, artistic statues such as Prague’s metronome, or by picking street names that are less controversial – people have to live there, how would you like to live on Cunt Street?

It’s a fairly basic ask from those against the statues. Perhaps a better solution is to put up a sign beneath the statue with a list of pros and cons about the person, so people can actually have a debate about them and do some research. Still, sometimes you need to revise parts of your history. You can still remember things, and I hope you do. That we have grandfathers and remember more of our past is one of the key differences between humans and the other great apes. Maybe it is more important to remember the things that were true in the past which should be changed today instead of getting stuck in a rut, deifying stone or copper impressions of some dead guy.

The writer of this piece is probably preaching to the converted, and would now like everyone to turn to page 4 in their hymn book.

Love Shack

Besides food, a place to stay is the most important human need. On top of this, it needs to be more than just a place to sleep. It’s  not just important to have a place that feels like it’s yours; it is vital. It’s egocentric, but so much of the world is extensions of us as people. The way a person dresses is a physical embodiment of how they want to be seen. A person’s body language is their soul expressing itself through form. And a home reflects how a person wants to be in their free time, and how they want to live. Where you live, then, is an important choice. How do you want to live and how do you make it happen? Today I want to tell you what home means to me.

A painting from a Slovak artist, Gregor Dalecky, that I feel an affinity with

2015 was a truly insane year for me. I switched jobs three times and changed where I was living 5 times. In none of the places I lived was it possible to change much. I could move my stuff in, but the basic amenities were not mine to change. The cutlery belonged to the owner of the place. Most of the glasses and cups were not mine. The plates were all basic. For a time, I lived in my parent’s house, but I felt like more of a guest there. It isn’t my childhood home, since they have moved into the city, so I basically had the guest room there. It’s a room for their many friends and visiting family members. It was fine, but not mine.

My parent’s house is only a home insofar as my parents are there and I love them very much.

The year after was all change. My first two months in Prague I slept wherever I could, hostels, Roisin’s, Teddy’s, my fiancée’s (pre-relationship). Dossing around, practically homeless, but with the kindness of new found friends to house me. It took a while to find a place to stay and rent, but I got there eventually. It was alright but nothing special. A place to kip, listen to music late at night without disturbing anyone, and accrue mess. Everything was from IKEA. The kitchen was a bit of a nightmare as it had no window and even less counter space. I have no idea how that is legal. Kitchens need windows. When my fiancée agreed we should look for a place, it was my main demand: a kitchen with a window.

Finding a place was a challenge as the rental market is a bit weird, but when we eventually found a partially furnished flat in the centre of our favourite area with a window in the kitchen, we snapped it up.

Our kitchen window – Toaster from Tesco, Kettle from my mate Damien’s girlfriend Hanicka, Vase from Butler’s (a gift I got my fiancée), Candles from Tiger

We had a house, but how to make it a home? We had to make it colourful and beautiful and comfortable.

Our sofa, a bit beat up and second-hand but very cosy

“A house that does not have one comfy chair in it is soulless” – May
Sarton

A home needs to feel comfortable and secure. It’s also important to have a way to separate yourself from the other people you live with. For though I love my fiancée very much, and she concurs, it is of critical importance that we have more than one place to sit. It was her idea that we should go for a sofa, and she found it on one of Prague’s buy/sell/trade groups.

Let me tell you, I know moving furniture. I have previously been a furniture delivery assistant and I have dealt with moving a sofa on spiral staircases before. Prague has hard twists. It was a good thing we asked The Little Van That Can man, Scott, to help us out. He’d moved this type of thing before and knew how to take it to bits in the right way to get it around corners. Still, there was a three story climb as there is no lift.

Ahh well, I am no stranger to slightly uncomfortable shoulders.

What’s nice about making a flat together is that we’ve both had ideas and have made suggestions. We don’t disagree on much because her taste and vision is very good. One area which is particularly nice is the kitchenware.

Where the magic happens

Implements and tray

Over a month before we decided we’d move in together I remember when she mentioned the cool knives she saw. At first I thought that a knife was a knife and as long as it was sharp I was happy. Then she showed them to me and I was especially happy. Why not have useful things that also look good? They are also very easy to spot in a sink if they ever get mixed in with the rest of the dishes. We haven’t found much use for the tray, but it’s cheerful so it’ll do.

“A home without books is a home without a soul” – Marcus Tullius Cicero

A subsection of our books

We both travelled here and hence don’t have many books. We both really like books however so have done our best to own at least a few. Real books are valuable because they have a whole other feeling to them than the e variant. While I rarely remember much prose anyway as I find it less memorable than poetry, I remember it even less when it is in ebook format. The books in the top left hand corner are my Dr. Seuss library, a modest collection but I began collecting later in life and Dr. Seuss is kind of pricey in the UK. In the top right, you can see two Slovakian books about bears. My fiancée is a collector of Slovakian books about bears. On the bottom shelf, there is an eclectic shelf of cook books, Lanark by Alasdair Gray, Franz Kafka’s collected works, How to Manage Your Slaves, and an Alien Encyclopaedia. We found that last one in a book shop in Edinburgh and she wanted it because she loves The X-Files.

Furthermore, that same tower has part of our souvenir collection.

Eclectic shelf

Collecting souvenirs is apparently controversial, as a lot of people think it’s not “real travelling” if you take anything back to remember it. This article very convincingly argues otherwise. We like to find things when we travel. They are cool reminders where we’ve been. In the above linked article there are some tips for how to find good souvenirs.

On that shelf, we have some Russian dolls, a wee Hungarian man, a couple of postcards and This is Prague, a book on the city’s history. Each of these objects is special, my fiancée spent time in Russia, we visited Hungary together, and our wedding invites are on postcards. Prague is where we met and live. This city will always be special to us, why not take things to remember it by? Why not display them here while we live here? We’re expanding our own personal history.

Making our flat together has been a wonderful opportunity to work together. We have shared responsibility for collecting and paying for items, even if I’ve done more of the physical lifting and she’s done more of the metaphorical lifting by finding them. We’re sharing a vision of what kind of life we want and what we are willing to do to get it. My wedding proposal may not have been the most planned or most romantic, but it was extremely honest. I proposed in our flat. The flat we built together. I told her I love her and want to continue building this life together.

The writer of this piece is, despite popular belief to the contrary, neither a puppy nor a cutie. His face is steely, as are his abs, and his eyes have a cool blue-green thing happening which completes the look.

Please find below pictures of other cool things we have. It hurts me that I couldn’t write about all our cool wall art and the meaning behind every object, but such is life. If you have any questions don’t be afraid to ask!

 

Cork collection, dated. Spare keys, a vase, and a picture frame with Czechoslovakian stamps 

Glassware and cups; bought, given, and taken

She has shown me Community and I like it

A ladder that we thought was a real ladder but makes equally good display shelves

‘Hlavni Nadrazi’ by Lukos Hey, he’s a good guy

Left to right, 1950s Russian theatre poster, a painting bought on Charles Bridge

A picture frame that looks like a theatre, made by my friend Cat as an engagement gift. Fairy lights bought by my parents also in shot.

Vintage Russian ‘days’ posters (“First day of school” “First day or holiday” etc.)

A fridge, looking homely with photographs, magnets, and a painting by my fiancée’s niece

Prague Pride

IMG_1829

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.

IMG_1830

“Oh, The Places You’ll Go!”

IMG_1817

You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself
any direction you choose
You’re on your own. And you know what you know.
And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.

Today I come to you with a trip, my love for Dr. Seuss, and a valuable life lesson from Oh, the Places You’ll Go!. It was his final work and one of his best-selling as it is a firm favourite as a graduation present. From beginning to end, the book thrills and delights. Even when I first read it at the age of 20 I could tell it was something special, something beyond ‘just’ a kid’s book. It is a tale of life. It follows an unnamed character as they adventure, and it is honest. It has the bad times as well as the good. For me, today was one of the good ones.

We, myself, my fiancée, and my friends Tom, Ray, and Yana, went to Czech Switzerland. At first I thought this might be a joke name, something slangy and self-deprecating. Even as a former visitor of the Scottish Highlands I will say it surprised me with how good it was. It had impressive vistas, a verdant forest, and more large rock formations than you could shake a decent sized stick at. The trip all started when Ray and Tom discussed it and sent word around. Never one to pass up a good day trip, I eagerly went for it.

I had been getting stressed. The heat of the city, the mugginess of the oppressive air, and the occasional existential question. A trip to the wilderness was needed. Why could I find not relaxation in the city, you ask? I will let the good doctor explain.

image

And the next page!

image

And this is why I love Dr. Seuss. He uses the right amount of space to express things. “It’s opener there in the wide open air”, indeed!

Some stress relief on a moderate hike seemed a capital idea.

The crew was made up of other English teachers. About half were American, two from Scotland, and a Russian. All of them are here for different reasons, but I tend not to discuss why other people are here. It hits me as too personal a question, even if I know someone well. They are an interesting crowd. The first thing to know about Ray is that’s he’s giant, and the next is that he’s very warm and personable. Tom hits me like a father-in-waiting, at that cool sepia toned photo stage of life that all our dads went through, when they were just cool dudes and not fathers.  Still tells a million dad jokes, though. Yana hits me as one of the most inquisitive people I’ve ever met. She must have asked me 50 questions, mostly about things or people I hate. I like talking and hate quite a lot so there were no specific problems here.

On the train here we talked shop and life. As we were leaving the greater city area, I took out my copy of Dr. Seuss and started reading. This developed into a round, each person saying a page. Poor Yana got stuck with darker pages almost every time. On the dark pages, the story gets a little sad as Dr. Seuss essentially says, “You know what kid? Life may suck and get bumpy from time to time. You might not be good at everything, but with the right attitude and mindset, you’ll go far.” It’s a valuable lesson for kids and for adults.

image

This was the last page Yana read to us on her round. It is my favourite page in the book. To me, it says that even if you aren’t the best, you should push yourself and see what you manage. Most of the time the result is good and you might end up like this guy.

image

Pulling a damn mountain with a smile on your face like it’s no issue. We made it up the hill in good time and look at the sights from the top. The Doctor was right, it is certainly open.

IMG_1815

The trip itself was not difficult and end to end it all went well. Still, there’s a brilliant sense of accomplishment that I think we all feel when we do something big on a weekend. It was also a brilliant antidote to the difficulty of city life. In a way, it was a perfect encapsulation of Dr. Seuss’s main point; life has its challenges and difficulties but if you keep on going you have a good chance of doing something amazing. As I go forward in my attempt to write something new every day this month, this lesson will surely be of use.


Extra words: We saw this big rock on our climb. It was so big that everyone had put sticks next to it to hold it up.

IMG_1819

Each of these sticks alone stands little chance of stopping the stone from falling, but with the collective effort of enough people they can hold back the tide. Here was my addition.

IMG_1818

 

Why I Write

IMG_1798

Insert cock-related pun 

“You’ve got to tell them a story”

Thst’s the short answer. The one that burns in my head and cuts through the narrative of adverts read, conversations had, and activities done. You’ve got to tell them a story. Just a story. One that grabs people by the lapels and shouts “Read of this and tell me I’m good!“. There’s also an element of pleasure in the result.

There’s that wee hit of dopamine; the feeling of having done something, of making something new. It might be derivative. It might exist already in some other form,  but this one is mine.

Even this post exists already in some form or other, out there somewhere, by other people. But this one is mine. You’ve got to tell them a story.

Stephen King in On Writing describes the act of reading and writing a story as telepathy. The writer creates something and the reader formulates it in their head. Picture a lamp. Everyone will come up with a different lamp, but the important thing is that a lamp now exists for a time in your head. King put the lamp in me. I have transmitted that lamp to you.

I picture quite a plush lamp, with a lampshade made of fabric that feels hairy or like it’s made of fur. It is a living lamp. It is brown and has textured lace on the sides and encircling the top of the shade and its bottom. It is fringed. I believe this lamp comes from memory, it existed in my paternal grandparents’ house, I think. Maybe it is still out there somewhere, or perhaps it was thrown out as the feeling of the shade was a little disconcerting. It scared me when I was young. It was like a monster’s mouth and I thought it would bite if my hand lingered on its hair.

As you can see, writers often write about things they have seen. “Write what you know”, as the adage goes. The keystone of realism. Sometimes it’s dialled down but more often it’s dialled up. For me though, it’s all about the story.

You’ve got to tell them a story. To pick the fractured and separated pieces of experience, the thoughts and the feelings of times long since past and gone, and put them together in a new form. There is nothing new under the sun, but sometimes it can be ordered differently. It is said that poetry is the right words in the right order. Or it’s the right words in the wrong order if you don’t like poetic grammar.

The main problem with writing what you know for most writers is that they know very little. Many writers don’t work. Some shy away from the company of others. Some of them seldom live, merely survive on small bits of gratitude. Some of us are indolent, lazy and not liable to do anything unless we have a deadline, a hanging sword above our heads. This was me for a long time, but I’m getting better. I got my parents work ethic, partially, and I like to work. I love conversation, in fact, it’s where I make my best poetry (often forgotten later). The vast majority of my written and posted things here are travel related (admittedly, my beautiful fiancée spurs me to travel more and does a lot of the lifting as far as planning goes – I am grateful for that, thanks love!).

For me, writing is alchemy. You’ve got to tell them a story. You’ve got to take basic elements and ingredients and turn them into gold. Spin phrases, add details, remember sensations which are too easily forgotten. You’ve got to pick the right words and put them in the write order. You’ve got to sequence events. You’ve got to tell them a story.

There are many things I’m bad at; remembering names, rugby, writing regularly. There are a few things I’m okay, not masterful, at; making friends, keeping in touch with people, being open and vulnerable about feelings. And there are a few things I’m great at; humour, maintaining eye contact, turning the common lead (Pb) of life to the gold (Au) of a story.

My name is Fraser Horn. I’m kind of a writer. And it pleases me.

Trying to do some daily writing and publishing for a week or so to get over my indolence. Watch this space and let me know how I’m doing! As I said earlier, I partly do this for the small hits of dopamine I get from views. That hurt to write but is totally true. So go on, punk, make my day!

 

Accents – “Where d’you come from?”

Take a minute and think about goulash.

IMG_1767

Goulash is a type of stew they make in Hungary and seemingly every Slavic country. In Hungarian it is written gulyás, from some root word that has to do with cattle-herders as the story goes. Thanks to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, or just close trade links, the recipe and variants became popular around Central and Eastern Europe. As it exists in numerous places, it has numerous spellings, each reflecting a different emphasis and sound.

Why am I talking about goulash? Because this is an example of a word that has travelled and taken on new expression in a different language family. Incidentally, it is also one of the meals I ate when my parents were in town recently and they inspired this post.

My parents’ visit was a lot of fun and it gave flight to my accent again. Though my dad says I haven’t got a very strong accent, and he might be right – Irvine Welsh I ain’t -it was liberating to drop the English language teacher voice. It’s my least favourite part of teaching, having to change such an intimate part of me, my voice, in order to be of most use to people who are not ready for it. Even a light Scottish accent may be a bit much for people at A2 (Pre-int) on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (try saying that while half-cut). But I can speak freely with my family.

i would like to be able to speak the same around my fiancée. She is into it and knows how it flows and sounds already. But I code switch too often and rarely switch back. Normally, in professional environments in Scotland, I would be able to speak “properly” during the working day and switch to my rougher accent in the pub. Here, I can’t go back so easily.

See, I noticed something about the logic of language and I can show you with a self-written joke for students.

Why does the English language have articles (a, an, and the)?

shrugs

It’s because you’re foreign and we hate you

Huge laughs!

Of course, we don’t really hate second language speakers of English, but all the best jokes are surprising.

Anyway, it’s absolutely the case that English grammar is just a messed up way to show who is part of the ‘in’ crowd and who is part of the ‘out’ group. The way we form our sentences in a strict word order, the fact we have 86 prepositions (in, out, on, above, etc.), the irregular verbs, and the weird pronunciation are just some of the problems for the second language speaker.

For these reasons, it is often instantly recognisable if someone is a second language speaker. For a start, people, who have learned other languages in their own country will have pronunciation like their teacher, often a non-native speaker of English. Even if they learned from a native teacher, that will often be only an hour or two a week and most of their conversation practice will be with other non-native speakers. *

What is the effect of recognising somebody is a non-native speaker? It seems to me like it turns foreign people into ‘others’. People get a little defensive and territorial about language because they fear someone else has come to take their goulash. How can a second language speaker escape this? By putting on an accent.

By putting on an accent it looks here like I’m saying to act one. It is far better to develop one, to consciously take pronunciations you like.

For I think I can notice in my own voice and manner where I come from. I’ve got my Scottish vowel sounds, sounds which will never vanish and for that I’m thankful, but I have increasingly anglicised and americafied consonants. My life has had a ton of different people in it and because many of them were from different areas, primarily American, I have had to soften it in places.

It was that or have people repeatedly misunderstand me with varying levels of politeness in their response. It has been a struggle and it goes on as even my softer level still sometimes invites criticism. If a person misunderstands even your first syllable they will often turn off trying to understand the rest of your sentence. It sucks when people make you feel like an imbecile for speaking the language like your forebears, friends and relatives.

For a long time it made me angry when people didn’t even appear to try. But now I realise I more often have to meet them halfway. People aren’t mindreaders and I fancy if you say something in a way they’d never expect it to be said, they’ll abandon any hopes of comprehension.

Still, it was good to see my parents and speak the same language in the same old accent. It’s exhausting having to put on a neater voice and change to fit other people’s understanding.

*I’m pretty certain every language is like this. Between language families the change is greatest. The jump from English to Czech is greater (Germanic to Slavic) than the jump from Ukrainian to Czech (both Slavic). Between these families there is both a difference in words and a difference in how they fit together. Czech can be confusing as all the words seem to change their ending all the time depending on the situation and it isn’t too great a change too from asking for a cigarette to demanding their entire pack with just a small change in tone and word ending.

Almost Autumn

Ever been walking on a staircase in the dark and misjudge the number of stairs, your foot flailing in empty space? Such bumps are a necessary step in the revolution of the world.

I have nearly witnessed all 4 seasons of Prague. Having arrived in February, I grabbed Winter by the tail and saw the roofs lined with snow which fell in great clumps onto the street. Spring popped up quickly and was gone in an instant, replaced by Summer’s fires. Autumn feels a second Spring, cutting with a new found rain and colder air. At least the clothes I arrived with are now suitable attire.

The foliage is still green, but the leaves are turning. By next month it may be something to really write about and by the month after that they will all be dead. Funny how seasons still surprise me in my advanced age.

The city’s energy has become somewhat lethargic after the heat of August, but it has woken with a new calmer vibration. This marrow deep resonance reaffirms the wisdom of former choices and suggests delights are to follow.

Besides the chill and the damp, Autumn also brings my old frenemy – darkness.

And darkness beings with it richer scenes to study the interplay of architecture and society. Buildings that would be abhorrent in other circumstances take on a new life here, mingled as they are with past structures.

The ticking of the traffic lights beckoning one to wait continues, but it is no longer a stupid tune of my own devising. It is a harsh logic.

All in all, the adventure of life continues. Make sure to make the most of it, and stop once in a while to take it all in.


Nest month I intend to write and publish one short story a day, make sure to stay up to date as it happens!