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!

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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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!

Summer and the Gripes of Wrath

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Prague, for all it’s charms and loveliness, has one major problem. It is too damn hot. At least, for about 2 weeks of the year. Those weeks are hellish and the discomfort is compounded by a couple other factors. It has become my least favourite time, which is a shame as it formally ranked high.

The air gets extremely stuffy. The city is nowhere near the sea. It’s famously landlocked. There is a river, but it does not precipitate enough to offset the stifling air. Occasionally, some clouds do get through, and a crack of lightening liberates the rain. The weather gets nice for a couple days but then builds to another damnable heat. It is woefully oppressive.

Another factor that make this season horrible is the fact that some days half of my students cancel. For some reason, it’s always the middle guys. This leaves me in an awkward situation. There isn’t always time to go home. Sometimes there are no classes to plan for. Cafes cost money. Alcohol is inadvisable before work and more than one makes the weather even harder to weather. Cancelled classes often equal a loss of revenue at a later date. It’s no wonder so many people go off to do Summer camps and such, but I rarely think that far ahead.

Owing to the fact that I came here accidentally for two months in Winter/Spring, I do not have a lot of Summer clothes from back home. New clothes often seem a bit of a waste to me. After all, they will only be unwearable come Autumn. A new pair of shorts has proven an extremely necessary investment. Last year I just wore the same ones all the time. It was a bit manky (a handy Scottish word that means disgusting). Other than that, in the past year I have only bought or received new pants and socks. I overheat constantly. Every day I run around this hot hot city in clothes optimised for 12 – 22 degrees, when it’s more often 27+. People from really hot places scoff, but I’d almost always rather be too cold than too hot.

The biggest gripe though has got to be the fact that this season makes me insanely nostalgic. Young Summers were so much more fun. From 8 till about 19 or so I went to Mallorca nearly every year with my folks. I got to swim in the sea and eat too much food, and a crazy amount of ice cream. I’m surprised my teeth survived the sweetness. I must stop a second and thank them once again in print for doing that for me. As well, I need to send out good vibes to the Bonanca boys who always showed us a slice of a relaxed life. Besides the holidays were my rural adventures up on Dan’s farm, running about woods and such. There was my time in the Scouts going to camps. There was skateboarding and music festivals.

And so here are my gripes about Summer summed up as well as I can. It is too damn hot. Being hot is no good when you don’t have ice cream. Hot weather is not cuddling weather. I miss Mallorca and the sea. I haven’t touched the Mediterranean in 5 years at least. What Summer is when you grow up a bit is too much work and discomfort and an inability to sleep right. My planned early Autumn holiday in Croatia cannot come soon enough.

Grumpy at heat but nevertheless continuing to bear my soul, including the angrier, more annoyed bits, every day of this month.

Magical Listicle Tour 3 – Breakfast

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The third of these short guides to places in Prague is about the most important meal of the day – breakfast. While researching this topic through conversations with locals, I have discovered that small and sweet breakfasts tend to be the order of the day for Czechs. This explains the many bakeries in the city. If I were to take a wild stab in the dark at the reasons for this, I would guess that it may have something to do with the fact that under Communism there wasn’t a lot of cane sugar and coffee. Instead, there were substitutes for both. After the Velvet Revolution liberated the country, everyone had a sugar rush and developed a sweet tooth.

It’s not a perfect explanation, but it’ll do for the purposes of this article.

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Christmas Breakfast in Scotland, prepared by my dad

Personally, I prefer bigger breakfasts with a lot of meat, some fruit, and a bit of variety. For this reason full Scottish breakfasts, like full English but bigger and with added haggis and square sausage, are my favourite. I am also partial to American style breakfasts as they tend to have a good mix of sweet things and meat. I decided to try out a few places in Prague, both sweet and savoury.

Donuter Donuts (Prague 3, Zizkov, near Husinecka tram stop)

 

For starters, a sweet breakfast.  Located at the lower end of Zizkov going along the main tram route, this one is hard to miss. If you’re ever hankering for a donut, they are open daily from 8am till 10pm. As necessary for a donut shop, they have coffee.

A good call if you’re looking for something pleasant to start the day.

Mikro Farma (Prague 3, Vinohrady, Namesti Jiriho z Podebrad)

 

Now, this is what I’m talking about! Mikro Farma is one of my favourite restaurants in Prague. It won its way into my heart with a steak sandwich in my last guide and it delivers on breakfast too!

The place is a deli/farm shop and everything tastes like it has been made specially for you. The homemade bread was perfect. In a country where most bread is brown and fairly tough, at Mikro Farma it is white and soft. My breakfast came with bacon, sausage, tomato, beans and eggs. For some reason, good bacon is hard to come by in the Czech Republic. Mikro Farma delivers.

My fiancée had a breakfast sandwich which was presented in a newspaper wrap. Normally I’d think that a little hipsterish, but because the place is amazing we can forgive them a little showmanship.

Cafe Savoy (Prague 5, Mala Strana, Near Ujezd tram stop)

 

This breakfast was something else entirely. My parents were in town and so my fiancée and I took them here as it seemed other worldly. Here is the ceiling.

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This place is ornate but not so much as to be crass. Instead it belies the simple elegance of the 1920s, when the First Czechoslovakian Republic was booming. This breakfast was magical.

Hardly keeping to my character at all, I stretched out and ordered a French breakfast. Meat, potatoes, and eggs. But that is not all.

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French toast in a sizzling hot pan topped with seasonal fruit.

This place is a bit above the price range of a local salary for an everyday expense, but would be quite fitting for a special occasion. The price is more than made up for in the service, which is efficient, a little courtly, and with a small touch of pageantry to it. Below find other pictures of other breakfasts.


So Prague can definitely do breakfast. Not listed here because I can’t find the pictures but very worthy of a mention is the Las Adelitas (Prague 3, Vinohrady, Lucemburska) Weekend breakfast menu. I had a breakfast burrito there and was delighted. My fiancée had pancakes. I found a picture just now.

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So, thet’s me now written something every day for a week. I have a bunch more ideas so intend to carry on. Let’s make this a month, people!

How to Be Happy

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It’s Sunday and I’m lying in bed, relaxing after yesterday’s excitement. It has given me a moment to think about happiness. The picture above is of Gordon’s place, Zizkovsiska, which I miss horribly as it’s closed for the Summer. I was always happy there. Great movies, soup, and music. It must be said that it isn’t always the most comfortable place, but that’s good as comfort breeds laziness.

I’ve talked before about my laziness and how I’m working against it, today I will give you what I think is the main reason for it.


 

“Are you happy here?” My Dad asked me one night at my parents old house. I’d been staying there for the Summer since the uni was closed.

My dad gets me so I knew I could be honest.

“I’m more comfortable, but not fully happy.”

To my reasoning, comfort and happiness, while not in opposition to each other, are not directly related. They are neither friends or enemies, they just have different interests.

Eating enough makes you comfortable, but not happy. The happiness of food is in its novelty or its context, how you got said food and why you’re eating. This is why, in my mind, though we have more material items in our life than ever and fewer of us are hungry as a percentage than ever, we still suffer historic highs of depression, anxiety, and concomitant suicide.

We have gotten to a point of human history where we can produce so much for so many people, but it doesn’t fulfill us. It can’t. Stuff is just stuff. And stuff is not happiness. The happiest places in the world are not necessarily the richest. Instead, happy places tend to result from a different understanding of how the world works, and this is it.

Stuff does not equal happiness. Comfort isn’t even the most important defining issue. Happiness comes from a sense of purpose, a sense of achievement, and a sense of community.


In my new life here, I have seldom found myself comfortable. Talking to strangers in a language they are not totally familiar with is hard. Travelling between classes on crowded metros is hard. The weather here is difficult, cold Winters and blistering Summers. On top of that, many of the little things are different from the stuff I grew up with. Light switches flick up instead of down. Toilet locks go from vertical to horizontal instead of the opposite. Add to the this the language difference and the sheer terror when you encounter somebody you need something important from who doesn’t speak your language, and does not seem interested in finding a mutual level of understanding, and you get pretty uncomfortable pretty quickly.

But have I been happy? Fuck, yes.

The people are grand and most things are not so difficult as they might seem from my description above. I’ve got the sense of community from my friends and the places I go, and I’m getting my sense of purpose continually reaffirmed when my students get a little noticeably better. It feels good to be living independently and to be engaged. Both of these are achievements, as it isn’t easy keeping someone interested when you mess up like I do from time to time, and the Czech wage and rent inflation makes housing here a challenge.

I’m even beginning to get a little comfortable. Light switches make sense now. I don’t need to double check every bathroom lock so I can shut the door with confidence. I understand a bit of the language and can get by in most situations with my miming powers. The weather is still a pain, but in the absence of sci fi tech that will keep it at a constant of 20C with decent humidity and a gentle breeze there’s nothing I can do.

To sum up, happiness takes a lot more effort than comfort. It takes time and you have to foster a community and find a purpose. It’s very worth it though, as when you get past the pointless distractions you uncover how much capacity the human soul has for pleasure and for love.

 

Why I Write

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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!

 

Happy Haircuts!

A woman who cuts her hair is about to change her life – Coco Chanel

How right Coco Chanel is about everything. Except politics, but we’re not doing that today, let’s focus on the hair! As a rule of thumb, I get my hair cut about twice a year. Not too often, but a lot more than I go to the dentist because normally my teeth feel and look okay but my hair turns into a bit of a mess with neglect. Barber shops used to also do teeth and limb amputation  so it feels reasonable. Hair is much more transformative. With a few snips of their scissors the barber can turn you from a badly kept bush into a less badly kept bush. This can be massively important for improving your confidence, as well as the ventilation of heat from the head.

Of that last part I need a lot. My brain works something furious. It also makes me look less big headed while being especially insufferable. I’m in a silly, yet emotionally honest mood, so let’s get cracking!

As a child I used to be a bit scared of haircuts. What was I thinking? There could be nothing less threatening than a far larger person wielding scissors right next to your ears. But as with most childhood things, I got over it. My mum always told me to stay still so the barber didn’t cut me up, and I obeyed with a special respect for the guy with the sharpened steel. I used to get particularly bewildered by the language they spoke. I had no idea what they meant when they said different numbers, nor what they meant when they said verbs such as “thinned” or “layered”. Perhaps I’m just basic but it was pretty trying. It took me 2 or 3 years at university to figure out how to get what I wanted.

Oddly, it was far easier here, in beautiful Prague.

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The sun was shining as I walked down a couple streets to my early morning appointment with the hairdresser. Doing stuff at the beginning of the day makes a lot more sense to me as it frees up the rest of the daylight hours. Time for things like blogging. And coming up with bad puns to trick my fiancée with. I had wondered how I’d communicate with the barber. After all, I’m already pretty mediocre at hair talk and my Czech hair talk must be substantially worse. But here was a stroke of genius from my darling fiancée (I really like that word, I’m not trying to be soppy but ‘fiancée’ has a lovely ring to it) – bring a picture. So armed with a picture of myself at one of the windier parts of Ireland, I did battle with my childhood dislike of hair talk and my immigrant ignorance of Czech.

Before I talk you through the process, it is worth describing the place a little – should you, dear reader, require a man’s haircut in Prague. The barber shop is called ‘Barber Street’. It is in Žižkov on a street called Vlkova, behind Seifertova near that big church. It is the only barber on the street to my knowledge. The inside smells lightly of hair product mingled with water from the spray. The barbers are immaculate, extremely well presented with very tight hair and cool clothes. There is a waiting room with two sofas. They have boxing gloves on the walls, as befits a bastion of manhood like a barbers shop. There’s a small dog running all around the inside of the place, not small like a yorkie or jack rusell, I mean small like a reasonably sized shoe – very cute. It only has four chairs and it seems like they only have two people working at a time so if you’re looking to get something done it’s best to book ahead.

My hair is kind of hard to do. It’s pretty thick. It gets quite curly at the ends when it’s long. My head is covered with scars – from a combination of being hit by a van (details therein), and a couple of extraordinarily stupid things, like diving a little too sharply into the shallow end of a swimming pool. All this taken into account, it’s probably pretty understandable why I’m careful about who I choose to cut my hair. But it needed to happen. My parents are visiting very soon.

My barber, Vlad, got to work with not much talk needed. I showed him the picture, explained that I washed my hair recently, and was be-caped and in the chair quick as a whippet – another dog which is larger than the little one I mentioned above. Cutting down the sides took him about half an hour. As I said earlier, it’s quite thick. I was glad he spent so much time on it as it was clear he was paying close attention to the details. It took about 15 minutes to cut the top down a bit – I prefer it longer on top as it gives me more I can do. 10 minute for finishing touches, dusting the ends with a buzzer and what have you. All in all, a very decent amount of time to spend cutting one person’s hair. Roughly £15 or $20 as long as the exchange rates haven’t gone mental this morning. I tipped a bit as well.

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Enough hair to lose a very small dog in

i have to say I’m very happy with the result. After all, a haircut is how you change this lecherous looking scoundrel:

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Into this closely cut professional:

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That being said, I do love and miss my long locks whenever I get them cut. In the next few months, I’ll have to sit and have a wee think about how I want to look on my wedding day. What ill-advised hairstyle will I pick for my future children to laugh at and my great grandchildren to gaze at in hoary contemplation as they ponder from whence they’ve come? In the end, a haircut is not just a transformation into a new woman or man, but an essential mark of what type of person you want to be seen as or remembered for in that particular moment of time.

Magical Listicle Tour II – Food

The second of our Magical Listicle Tours involves eating. My fiancée and I (more on that later) have a tradition on Thursdays of going out to eat. It’s a good way of doing something different every week as well as showing our love for each other by paying on different weeks. Here are some of our favourites!

Kredenc (Husinecka)

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Ahhh, steak! Steak is good, as any meat eater will tell you. This place has amazing steak at a pretty affordable price (more if they get your bill wrong!). Located in the fashionable, if with a rough reputation, Zizkov, this restaurant offers a number of different steak options and a decent selection of drinks. The staff are friendly and it’s perfect for nice occasions.

Nebeská Vuné (Lipanska)

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This is one of those Chinese restaurants that has decided to advertise itself using pictures of the food. That might not sound like a compliment, and it isn’t, but the food was actually really quite good. More than passable and actually pretty delicious. This restaurant gets bonus points primarily because this was the first place we went as an engaged couple.

We’ve known each other for a little over a year and have been going out about that long, the engagement story is not as romantic as you might expect a person of my flowery character,   but definitely fit the relationship. Having decided I was going to propose and having wracked my brain for a good time and place to do it, I figured before our weekly dinner was as good a time as any, and I wanted to put a ring on it, stat. No waiting about. I came in from work and she was waiting for me. A simple “Hi honey, I’m home”, a mock dickaround with my shoes, and then a race through to the room. I told her she was the best thing that’d happened to me, and asked her if she wanted to make me the luckiest man in the world. She said yes, then I told her she’d made an awful mistake!

It was a good night. We ate spring rolls.

Mikro Farma (Jiriho z Podebrad)

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This a butcher/deli/farm shop in the city. It’s a cool place, located in the gorgeous Vinohrady. It’s also a great place to get steak sandwiches. Another option is to pick meat from behind the counter and ask them to cook it. I got a little jealous of our fellow patrons that night as they had something that looked truly delicious. It’s always a good place that can make you jealous of somebody else’s food while you’re enjoying something out of this world.

Thien Long 1 (Lipanska)

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There are many amazing Vietnamese restaurants in Prague, why would I choose this one, you ask? The honest fact is, because it’s closest to where I live.

That being said, as with most Vietnamese restaurants in Prague, it’s delicious and affordable. It’s an interesting piece of history related to Communism that Prague has so many of these restaurants. I am told by people better in the know than me that it’s a result of exchange trips. Vietnamese people came to the Czech Republic as one Communist nation to another and enjoyed if so much that many of them stayed. They are a fairly substantial part of the city now, and more Vietnamese people have followed.

The result is that there are many great restaurants in the city. And one part of the city is called Little Hanoi.

Little Mexico (Lipanska)

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Mexican food is one of my favourite types. The combination of flavours, savoury guac, spicy chilli, the carbs of corn tortillas. This place has been an excellent find. They make a variety of tacos there, the soft kind as opposed to the hard shell. The quality of the place has made it a regular stopping point. They also serve Horchata and Jarritos, so it’s good if you want something non-alcoholic to go with your food. They have five levels of spice. The lowest is not spicy and the highest is the spiciest. My fiancée goes for 2 and I go for 4. I’m excited for my brother’s upcoming visit as he will probably go for 5 and it’ll give me a chance to see if it blows my head off. 4 is already almost eye-watering.

Zizkovsiska (Husitska)

This one is a bit of a sneaky addition to the list, and will probably feature in it several times, as it only occasionally does food. It is however included because it is one of my favourite places in Prague for anything.

They do events throughout the week, from Czech film on Monday through to Sunday Soup. Sunday Soup is the focus here. It’s a jam session of many very talented musicians – and I occasionally shout lyrics from behind the microphone. In addition, they make soup and it can be had for the extremely modest price of 50 crowns (about £1.60 if the currency level holds and approximately $2 for yanks). Largely the soup is vegetarian too, so people aren’t left out.

The food is great, the atmosphere is nice, they have beautiful pictures by local artists on the walls as it’s a gallery, and the staff are extremely friendly. In particular, the manager is somebody that everybody in Prague should get to know as he knows more about the city and what’s going on in the creative scene than probably about anyone, and where to get cool stuff for your flat.

Unfortunately, the soup is off for Summer, but the last one is this weekend (the 2nd of July), so get on it, Prague people!

 

So, there are a few of the places I like to eat and one really, really cool place to hang out. Subscribe for more updates or just check back periodically as I’m in the mood to write these days.