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!

“Only Anarchists Are Pretty”

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As a city of hills, forged by volcanoes then gouged by glaciers, Edinburgh has a lot of pubs that are in part basements. It was in one of these tavern caverns, 6 years ago, that I met somebody who is very important in my life. In fact, if I were to piece together my life of the past 6 years, her role would be central. It all kind of revolves around her.

Her name is Roisin. She writes a blog about her life, about who she is and what she does. She’s very inspiring. Warm, kind, and very funny, with an anxious edge. She also has an ability of seeing the best in people and staying in touch. One of my favourite people.

Like many of the best parts of my life, she came into it by accident. I had been working at a call centre in Edinburgh. The work was a bit gruelling, full of constant rejection as people hate unsolicited calls. At this call centre, I met a guy called Dash. Dash had this brilliant talent of always going on his break at the same time as other people. This, in an industry where you never really got to decide when you are busy for 20 minutes, is a skill worth cultivating.

One day, he took his break at the same time as me. We talked about general things, creativity, punk, and life in the city. He told me that he went to punk gigs and we became friends on Facebook, and in life. Dash always let me know when there was something on and if it would be good to go. In total, though, I only ended up going to about 2 shows with him. He told me that this band he liked, World/Inferno Friendship Society, was playing in Edinburgh.

After watching a video on YouTube for the song “Only Anarchists Are Pretty”, I thought they seemed like something else. The music was very different, a mix of jazz, blues, punk, ska, and klezmer. The show had a 9-piece band. The song was okay, not the best thing I’d ever heard but very good, it was the energy of the video that got me. It was a live performance. The lead singer, Jack Terricloth, and the band seemed to be having a lot of fun. The crowd was wild. I thought I’d give it a shot.

I never got around to buying a ticket. Instead, Dash gave me his as he was offered a cheap flight to India. I resolved to go to the show by myself and make friends. The band all dressed quite formally, like they were from the 1920s, so I dressed in suit. In a suit.

I arrived early, as one does at a punk show, and actually met Jack himself. He was eating a burger. He said it was among the best he’d had in Europe. After our conversation he asked me if I had any recommendations and, knowing only one song, I blurted out “Only Anarchists Are Pretty”. He thought for a minute as I don’t think it was on their set list and he said he’d see what he could do.

Fast forward to the show about to start, everyone filed into the underground concert room. About half of them were well-dressed in suits and the rest came as they were. I got talking to this girl with lovely wide eyes and what I remembered strangely as large teeth. I have since realised  they aren’t that big. Probably good for her vegan diet. Her name was Roisin.

The music started and we jumped and danced about like crazy. Not knowing the words to any other song, I couldn’t join in with the shout singing all around me, but appreciated the energy. It got to the end of the show, my son not played, and I figured Jack had forgotten. I was very wrong;  it was the encore! I sang, shouted, jumped about. Got sweaty in my suit, probably ruined a shirt. And it was glorious.

I bought a vinyl record of their album Red-Eyed Soul. Had to run to a cash line but made it back just as the merch guys were closing up and before Roisin left. We exchanged details for Facebook.

We stayed in touch, even after she discovered we had “Like, nothing in common”, and lived in different cities. At one point I started writing a musical, never got very far but it was fun to think about, which she offered to produce.

Later, she introduced me to Cat. Cat swaggered into my life in leather and smoking Marlboro, the height of confidence and cool. Cat and I ended up living together before she moved back home. I visited her at her family’s home in the West Highlands several times, which introduced me to the wigwam campsite in which I’d eventually work.

After the wigwams I did my TEFL and eventually accidentallly moved to Prague .

To recap
– Met Dash
– Went to punk gig with Dash’s ticket
– Met Roisin
– Became Pals
– Met Cat
– Learnt about the wigwams
– Worked at the wigwams for fat stacks of cash
– Used said fat stacks to move to Prague

All these people, then, are extremely important to me and I’m so glad to have met them. I hope they are all aware of the transformative impact they had on me, and I’m extremely thankful for their friendship.

In addition, “Only Anarchists Are Pretty” is now a very important song to me, and you should give the live version a listen/watch! You never know how different your life may end up after it.

Friendship

This post is inspired by a post I saw on Medium by Mark Greene about the importance of male friendship. It is a stunningly good read.

February, 2016, before I move to Prague. I run around town to see my friends who I might not see again till the April of that year at the earliest and maybe longer. At the same time, I’ve been cultivating a new friendship with a work colleague named Violeta. It turns out, she knows an old school friend of mine, Dan M, who I’d fallen distant with and acquired “beef” with – I’m good at two things, writing and grudges. One night, I run into her with some of her pals, one of whom was Mona, and crowbar myself into a Super Bowl party, and also to a gig for Dan’s band.

The band was cool. If Vampire Weekend was a fruity Merlot, these guys were a full-bodied Malbec. They had a cowbell. Dan had improved at guitar since I knew him and he’d already looked like a real up and comer. Afterwards we went to a pub, where I chatted innocently with Dan about where we’d been and done, then Mona came up to us:

“Have you guys settled your beef yet?”

“We have beef?!” Dan asked, with an audible interrobang (?!).

It makes sense. Truth is, people just grow distant in and after high school. Some people more than others because they move schools or cities. I always felt our separation started sooner, at high school, as we were developing into different people, free from our shared primary school history. We’d stopped playing badminton together, which I was great at. We played rugby together for a time, which I was a lot worse at. We started hanging around with different crowds. When he left, it just felt par for the course (incidentally, he was a bit better at golf).

Bits and pieces of these things led to me becoming a bit bitter towards him. It’s much easier as a guy in high school, it seems, to get bitter and angry than it does to get a bit sad. There’s almost definitely something about social conditioning in that. It’s far too easy to become bitter and angry toward a person than to feel any sort of sorrow at no longer seeing them.

It makes you pine for days lost. Building forest hideouts. Skateboarding up the leisure centre – so glad I nailed the kickflip, shame a van took that particular ability away. Building fires. Running through woods. Running around badminton courts. There is quite a lot of building and running in these particular memories.

All that came flooding back. We talked through my “beef”. And then the night continued. We kept drinking. And I remembered why we were friends. We were friends for a reason back in the day and we just clicked back into it. We’d both grown and changed and experienced so much more, but at a basic almost subconscious level we had stayed the same.


Unlike Mark Greene in the link above, losing touch with my friends has not resulted in tragedy. In this, the Scottish experience is different from the American experience. It is important though to remember our friends from time to time.

Greene’s article made me reach out to my friends. Because friends are important for your health and wellbeing. Many people “ghost” their friends because they hide behind a self-affected veneer of supreme cool. This is the modern age’s main problem. We let worthwhile and valuable friendships to atrophy as we’re always in pursuit of the new. While chasing new things is great fun, I implore you to think back in your past.

Who has gone missing? Why are they not there? How can you stay in touch and let them know they are worth it?

Reach out to people. Build your own community and support network. One activity a week, one social event, is all it takes. You can always make friends and there are very few times when you can’t make a friendship stronger.


Friends are about far more than numbers on a webpage. Friends are there when you’re let down. They are a hot line to who you are and were. They stick by you when times are tough. Let me tell you a story about one such friend.

My dad’s friend Ian, who he met while he was tending bar in Greece, was one of the warmest and most exuberant people you could ever meet.  They saw each other loads, went walking, drinking, and boating together. Our family and his family went on holiday together. They had become friends by slinging insults at each other across a bar, and their friendship lasted over 30 years.

Everyone was to wear colour at the cremation. At Ian’s funeral there were three speeches. They were well-delivered and brilliantly written and spoke of someone that I wish I’d gotten to know better. I knew he was kind and funny but I had had no idea about his commitment to friendship. The service took place in a room that could probably fit about a hundred and fifty or more people and it was overflowing.

See, in a time of no Facebook and having to badger your parents to use the one phone in the house, Ian had stayed friends with people from every part of his school life. He had attended multiple schools as his dad was in the army. He wrote letters. Into his adult life he stayed in touch with people, he maintained and built friendships that would last. He had this way of melting everyone’s inhibitions and opening people up.

I think everyone could benefit from being like that. Identifying the people who you want to stay with or who have been important to you, and then sticking with them.

Festive Seasons

Winter is a very popular time for celebrations, but I have a particular date of note in December – this one. On the 16th of December, 2004, I did not die.

To a lot of people, that’s no big news. Indeed, everyone over 12 has the accomplishment of not dying on that day 12 years ago. But not all of them were involved in, and I quote from my personal statement for entry to the University of Edinburgh: “an altercation with a van, which necessitated a 3-month stay in hospital”.

So, the story. 12-year old boy, fresh, new at high school, clever but a bit reckless, crosses the street behind a school bus. Standard practice, really. He and every other school goer went behind the bus at round about the same time. That day, he didn’t look quite hard enough, was standing too far to the left, and was struck by a white Ford Transit van.

That 12-year old was me. Got quite broken up over that. My left leg has the gnarliest scar you are ever likely to see in person. My right hand was somehow ripped in two – straight through the life line as a palmist would tell you, probably a bad omen but let’s shelve that for now. Add to that a stable fracture to the hip and an unspecified amount of brain damage – which hasn’t affected my ability to learn, process new information, or otherwise succeed in the slightest – yet I am totally fine.

it so funny how life takes turns like these. The true victims were my family, who had to sit around in anxiety hoping for some positive change in my condition. I do not envy them those 13 days of coma plus the months, even years, of worry about the rest of my condition. They are amazing people. This goes to my brother, who hardly let me lift a finger to get myself a glass of water in the first few months when I came home. It goes to my dad, who visited every night to bring me Frazzles bacon crisps and play chess with me. It goes to my mum, who was at my bedside every single day I was in hospital.

To finish, just a couple quick reminders. First, always cross the road safely as not everybody is as lucky to make such a perfect recovery a day I did. Second, make sure you let those you care about know you love them, a day you can never know when it’s too late. The worst that can come of telling people you love them is that the world will be a slightly better place for having more love in it.

Here’s to Vanniversary 12! Now over half a life away…

 

 

To the Lost, From Those That Remain; Or, Why Prague

So here’s a story, well-told, often repeated, containing a Lie and a Truth. For more detail, consult my first entry on this blog. 23 year old misses his friend, books a trip to see her, wine turns 5 days into 2 months. He gets a job, he gets a girlfriend, he joins a community, he embraces the culture with it’s plentiful meat, dark humour, and warm below the surface people. 2 months turns to 7, seasons change, and here I am with a fortnight’s worth of luggage seeing very good wear.It’s a good story, one I’m happy to tell, mostly True, fits my image well. It’s missing something.

No regular person or even an extraordinary one as I pretend to be sometimes would ever make that jump without something else motivating them, pushing them, or else driving them. As I have said elsewhere, in several places, teaching doesn’t exactly create fat stacks of wealth and prestige. It doesn’t by itself create greater freedom, there are still bosses and there are still customers even if the personal relations differ greatly. It doesn’t fulfil a person’s wildest dreams, though I have been exceptionally lucky/very deft in making good friend and occasionally wise choices. No.

This is the reason, the real, overriding, reason that I came to Prague.

A new story. A boy, recently finished university, out in the Big Bad Real World, making money, making networks, making some form of cobbled together life of drink and companionship, missing something important. Changes jobs to get out of his home city. It draws him back. Irrevocably. But something has changed, in the city, in him, hard to say. It does not feel like a home. It feels like a haunted house.

For the four years of university he had made friends and acquaintances, had the prestige of studying in one of Scotland’s top academic institutions, and had the pleasure of a fine setting and fine folks. At the beginning of every year, effervescent, adolescent joy at meeting people from around the world, a continual influx of new people to love. Every 3 – 6 months though, well, the tide goes out as well as comes in.

They leave. They always leave. The boy never realised such things though they happened all the time. Wrapped up in the moment, the eventual parting always seemed so far off and the company always seemed so worth it. But, see, they left. And he remained.

Part of them stayed. In memory. Every corner, every bar, every alley, every nightclub, every walk, in every part of the centre. Ghosts. Scores, hundreds, even. I couldn’t handle it. Each street became like that square on Monopoly you dread because it signifies the loss of everything. That one Orange property that some tactician has filled with hotels. Every street bore a flat that I recalled, and the recollections grew too many and too difficult. The first was hard enough. My Ex’s street, jutting like a dagger through the Heart of Newington.

Others followed, in varying intensity and character, and by 23 years old with all the uni pals gone and a new clutch of them, made through a Norwegian, going off to do their thing I’d had enough. I needed out.

So I got out, but I may never truly escape. I realise now that I’m back in a similar uni situation. English teachers are by nature rolling stones. Tide goes out as well as the tide comes in. Already the group recedes. The girl I came to see moved home. Others move abroad as the East is where the money is. Some find different opportunities. It’s easier now as there isn’t a time limit I just keep forgetting about, the outflows and influx comes at different times.

Still, I fear the eventual half life. That point where I can see the switch so clearly and memories again flood everywhere. The tide comes in and the tide goes out. One day the same will be true for all.

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggity-Jig

Home is a weird idea. Is it where your heart is or where your hat is? If it’s the latter, my home is in a warehouse in Edinburgh, and if the former, it is located somewhere in he centre mass of my chest right now, beating at a bit above 80bpm or so. But I digress.

Below is the view outside my folk’s place in Edinburgh before we left for Prague.

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For me, it was a return trip. Prague, the place where I have made a new life, full of friends and opportunities and a girlfriend. For my parents, though, Prague was some foreign mystical place that had captivated their imagination since the time before I was born. They had wanted to honeymoon here but had been deterred by Communism. Just another thing that regime stopped. They were full of excitement, but I think a little apprehension at what circumstance they might find their son living in.

All in all, I think they were pleasantly surprised. They found a city which is modern yet old, beautiful yet industrious. At first, I believe they were suspicious of the relatively low prices of the food and drink. These suspicions were quelled once I showed them the wonderful culinary delights of the place.

A day of wandering aimlessly, a day of visiting castles, and a day of art.

The aimless wandering took us to some Czech food. Lokal. My favourite place for Czech food as it is frequented by Czech people themselves. Good and authentic stuff, but I get them impression my mum didn’t quite understand the menu, or the size of the gram weight. She ordered a chef specialty and a main course. We ended up with a big slice of fried cheese, a bunch of sausages, a goulash, some rice in a soup like thing, and another main which I can’t quite remember. Enough for one other person! Oh well, I was hungry. Hot cheese and cold beer, though, has its issues.

We dined at their hotel that night. My girlfriend joined us there, but was aware of how overpriced it all was, as was I. Such is the fate of those who eat on Vaclavske Namesti. From that point on, I decided to take more action. We would only go to places where I knew they would get good value and the best quality.

The next day, my parents and I went to Prague Castle. We tried to go early to beat the crowds, but to no avail. The narrow alleys inside the castle walls were full with the human mass, every second or third step was to the side to avoid some group or other who closed ranks to avoid being separated.

After a decent walk around there, then down Malo Strana and into the Church of St Nicolas, I decided we should check out the far quieter Vysehrad – which used to be a castle but is now more of a stately garden.

The views there are immense.

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A little bit hard to capture a panorama that shows the enormity, as it is properly panoramic but I did my best, switching to a smaller frame when I saw another opportunity.

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At Vysehrad, there is a door which allows you to see down the Vltava. See, everyone is so focused on the castle they forget about the nature* that surrounds the city. There are some really green parts of the city if you only get to high ground and try to observe them.

A great day of castle visiting lead us into an evening of 10 koruna beers in Vinohrady, followed by a dinner at a Vietnamese near Namesti Miru, and sangria in Zizkov. It was fun showing off these parts of the city as they are a bit distinct and separate from the standard tourist trail. It also gave me a chance to show off the city at its best, the prettiness of Namesti Miru, the tastiness of the Vietnamese restaurants here, and the eclectic architecture of Zizkov (looking at you, creepy babies on a tower).

We finished their trip off with a day of going to two art museums, the modern one in Holesovice is especially amazing,

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Otto Dix pic

and then a night at Letna beer garden. On the way, we also got Trdelniks with ice cream rolls (available at a place near Hotel Clementium for all you salivating guests).

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Ice cream is already a game changer for the traditional Trdelniks, but add freshly made ice cream with fruit of your choice and we’re dealing with a whole new animal. I will say though, it’s kind of big and extremely sweet for one person so may be best to eat with a partner.

All over, it was a great trip. We went to some of my favourite places, and did some of my favourite things, and I got to see a bunch of art too. Normally, I wouldn’t pay for a gallery unless I knew it had something I wanted in there, but when you are bankrolled by visitors it is unresistible. I will close with this, thanks mum and dad for your continued support, your love, and for your visit.

 

*to my editors: I am aware this does not read correctly, but it’s a common Czech error which I think is lovely and poetic and here is used as a stylistic choice.

Wedding Bells

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So the reason I am back in Edinburgh briefly: my friend Daniel, whom I have known since we were 6 years old or so, is celebrating his marriage to Ella. They have known each other for several years, spending much of the time in different countries, but have lived together for at least the past year – calemdeical details slip the mind sometimes. I like the story of how they know each other and came together, a tale of how cheap international flights can facilitate a greater range of love than ever possible, and how travel can make strong relationships.

Yesterday, they held in drinks reception on the fifth floor, about as tall as most Edinburgh buildings are allowed to get as they have some rule about buildings not being taller then the castle. While there, I snapped the panorama you can see above. I had planned to write about the differences in architecture between Edinburgh and Prague, Edinburgh rougher and more challenging while Prague looks like a cake, but now I have another idea.

last night as the reception was ending, we were standing on the balcony overlooking the other side when Dan went around with a box. In this box were cigars. I helped myself. It began to rain and the cadre of international partygoers ducked under the lip of the roof to enjoy their cigars in dryness. I, however, had no seen good rain in a while!

I stood right in the middle of the balcony and drenched for a while, while puffing on a cigar. Certainly a very different experience.

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I missed the drenching of our grey land. Nothing quite like it. Though Prague does have lightening storms, so there is something to be said for that. And I keep sleep past 5 in e morning there. And the cars don’t move too slow to move out the way but quick enough to do some harm (they reduced inner city speeds to 20mph in Edinburgh and it seems really slow). All things considered, I am fairly excited to getting back.

DNR

Yesterday, I went to a lavish banquet dinner for my friend’s sister’s birthday at the Dome. The Dome has a gorgeous interior, very grand, all gilded and painted, but Inhad no camera with me so you’ll have to imagine it. It was an excellent night, the wine was filled and refilled, and the conversation flowed well. Then again, I forgot my main rule at banquet dinners.

Do. Not. Refill.

I have no idea how much I had because I rarely finished a glass before the waiter came round and topped me up. Don’t get me wrong, it was lovely, but it definitely messed me up. Still, looking good an only vaguely like a Renaissance Jesus painting.

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Very pretty, right?

So, some more thoughts on Edinburgh and it’s difference from Prague. I must say I have definitely come to appreciate Scottish office staff. Having recently visited a Czech office building to have a ticket replaced, I now realise that as annoying as our offices are, they at least work pretty hard to make sure you get what you want as quickly and easily as possible. Czech offices seem Kafkaesque.

You get there. You ask a person where to go. He tells you somewhere. You end up getting a new card for no reason only to then be told by the original guy you have to go to a different office and he quotes an unrelated price. You try and find out what your card is for but nobody can tell you. You turn into a giant insect. The walls fade. You get sent to another building but then get arrested and charged double the quoted price for no reason. Maybe they just hate giant insects and Kafka references.

Their offices are intractable. The corridors are winding, evening offensive to sight and strange smelling, the waiting rooms are full of beeping and they have an electronic number calling system which is not always sequential, everything is unduly long and feels terrible. By comparison, offices in Scotland are very gentle. The difference is no where more visible than the airport. Edinburgh is very light touch. They know what they are doing, they are obviously pretty attentive, but they don’t feel the need to grope you so hard it’s like a medical exam. You can get a free all body massage on the continent if you walk through a metal detector wearing a watch.

So glad that I have nothing official to do on this visit, though. So many of them end up putting you on the phone, and voice recognition operators are like a cruel joke to Scottish people. Shit. Just remembered I have to call an office and they use one of those.

So this weekend, as a special treat, expect daily updates from me. Today, I give you my get home treat…

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