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.

 

“Oh, The Places You’ll Go!”

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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.

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And the next page!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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My Fiancée (With Two E’s)

Look at your life. Now look at mine.

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Now look back at your life. And then look at mine.

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Sadly, your life isn’t mine, but it could be like mine. Look at my plate.

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They are cookies. They are heart shaped and they were delicious. Look away. Now look back.

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THE COOKIES ARE NOW PANCAKES!

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Rainbow Cakes symbolise our covenant

Okay, I’ll stop that before it becomes too exhausted. The point is, my fiancée bakes and she bakes really well. I remember the first time I tasted a thing she baked and I decided then and there that I would marry her as the surest way to corner the lucrative market that is her cake. I wanted to be at the business end of every cake. I wanted to help/hinder the creation of every one. To taste the very cream of life!

My tongue makes good choices.

In the time we have been together I have grown so much as a person. Around about this time last year I lost the lot in two phases. My phone, wallet, and metro pass on the first occasion and my passport, dignity, and glasses on the second. I had a couple difficult run ins with the transport police and had to pay fines out of my already sparse money. It was an extremely hard time and it made me reevaluate my drinking and the choices I made in keener detail.

Between the two phases of loss, my fiancée went to visit her friends in Italy. I was very near the point of humiliatingly begging my parents to get me home as I clearly wasn’t ready for adult life, even in my mid-20s. I had felt like some kind of horrible, unlovable, wreckage of a human. When I told her I’d lost more things I expected she’d turn on me like I deserved. She did something unexpected. She gave me a new wallet.

It turns out while she was in Italy she had walked past some leather merchant, which sounds like an old fashioned name for a boxer or a dirty joke, and she’d seen a wallet and thought of me. She told me she loved me and would help me get through it. I believed her, and we did it. Together.

Why do people decide to become partners in this world? There are 7 billion folk on the planet and many cultures have this concept of “the one” – the single most important  provider of all warmth, comfort and companionship. What’s with there being 7 billion people, it’s incredibly unlikely there is only 1 person you can be with. It’s telling that many people find their true love within 40 miles or so. Twice the distance equals half the trade, I suppose. Instead, I look at my relationship as a choice.

It was an exceptional choice that I chose to talk to her at the bar that night when there about 16 other people I could have started talking to. In a city of a million people, she is the one who consistently brightens my day. She laughs and cringes at my jokes in equal measure. Our music tastes are similar enough to work without either of us getting defenestration fantasies. We are good at dividing responsibility at looking after our house. She accepts me for who I am, all the weird quirks and foilbles.

It will be an absolute pleasure to spend my life with her. Together we’ll see more of the world and fill our own book of love together. I have ideas already but I will change and adapt to fit the situation as required. As long as she is there, I will do it gladly. I have tasted of the cream of life, and I want more from her. Forever.

Below find a selection of the type of cakes she bakes and which will surely lead to a tense kilt test on the day before the wedding.

 

 

 

via Daily Prompt: Partner

“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.

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!

 

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.

Like Pulling Teeth

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“Good morning, campers!”

Grunt. That guy in the corner fucking grunted. His mate sniggered after it too. Okay, so it’s gonna be one of those fucking days.

Keep it together, it’s only an hour long class. Still, with cunts like this 5 minutes can feel like a week. My normally placid and cool nature, my inner still reflecting pool, suddenly becomes a volcanic mouth of fury, and I bubble over – but only a little bit. It’s all about that customer service angle, these days.

I’ve got my materials. An article, 4 activities, a target for what they’re getting taught this week. I could’ve been put off by this whole not-giving-two-shits attitude that they showed in their first two weeks but here we are. Roll on week three! (Consider shifting to start, maybe not exciting enough?)

I was feeling in a properly good mood before I came in and all. Breakfast was decent, ham and eggs, and I got a seat on both the tram and the metro. The continent is great for having all this public transport but it’s a shame there’s hardly ever enough seats. There’s always loads of seats on the buses back home. Probably because everybody drives.

Time to stop fantasising and get into the moment. I try and break their impassive stony faces with a bit of high energy joking around. Got to be part kids’ entertainer these days to really break through.

“C’mon, c’mon!” I cajole, clapping twice like some mad clown cunt, “Wakey, wakey!”

Still nothing. Maybe the faintest glimmer of a smile in the corner of one eye. That one glimmer is my only fucking hope in this room and I hope I say the right things to nurture it. If at least somebody leaves the room cheery then it’s job well done. Cheery people tend to learn a bit more. They also, most importantly, give the least negative feedback to HQ. It’d be fine if I’d done something wrong or if they just said we didn’t fit as people, but I can tell these guys aren’t like that. These are the types of contemptible fuckers who would find some small chink in my armour, some time I wasn’t the most happy, smiley, cheery, japing motherfucker on the planet, or some time I was two minutes late, or some time I said I had to look something up because I’m not omnipotent. They expect an awful lot from us. And sometimes give nothing back.

I begin, as you’re always told to, at the start. I lead in with something basic to butter them up, get their verbal centres working, in tune, alive, here. An open question.

I get stares. The type of taxidermist animal stares like you’d get from some stupid cunting weasel who stood in the road a bit too long before getting obliterated by a lorry. Miraculously, its eyes and vacant look survived, multiplied, and are now populating the faces and expressions of everyone in the room. That glimmer from the corner of one eye is gone. I repeat myself a couple times – nice and slowly like, really gentle in case maybe their ears were too plugged up or it was too early. The silence continues. It is brutal.

A girl whispers to her neighbour, who giggles. Some cunt looks at his phone. Another guy is sleeping in the corner. It’s not even mid-afternoon but all these guys look like they’re half dead. It feels like I’m about to join them.

It’s as though I’ve been impaled, some swift, sharp, shard, right up the jacksy. Or maybe rather stunned with some sort of dart, then pickled in spite and misery, and hung on the wall, with some Latin inscription that says “Incompetent Teacher” underneath, still breathing, mouth wired shut to quieten my complaints.

We get through the first part of the lesson, an activity designed to take two minutes, in about 20 minutes. The next part is supposed to take 20 and could well take 200 if it scales up at the same rate. What a horrible day, it starts to rain outside and I hear the crack of a distant thunderstorm. The wind rises.

Moving swiftly on to the next part, I start explaining the rules of the next exercise. They aren’t interested. Two of them are picking at each other’s fingernails, one is doodling in a jotter, one guy is making an attempt at looking interested. So shines a good deed in a weary world. Shame this world is intractable, unchangeable. There’s nothing else that can be done at this stage. This is a fixed point in time and space. Even if there’s a maelstrom of indignity flying around it in my head. I turn towards the culprits.

It’d be too easy to just blame myself. After all, I’m supposed to be Mr Teacher, Mr In-Charge. It’d be far easier to blame the students for their laziness and their self-affected “too cool to try” attitude. It’s a shame mediocrity is looked at as cool. Nah, I put the blame where it belongs, with whoever decided that I and them should be in the same room, staring at some activity which is too hard for half of them, too easy for the other half, and with no personal input permitted from me. It is a riddle who thought this would work, but it’s just a game of extraction from some HR department or some marketer somewhere who saw the chance for a quick buck selling an education and duping some people who aren’t allowed to choose but are just told it’s important that they do it. Add paperwork on top of that and it’s no wonder educators are running for the hills and starting resistance movements.

After the interminably paced class winds down to its final death throes, I extract signatures after some pointed pointing and diagrams, then I jog on to a new adventure. A train ride takes me away from the smog and the din and the indecipherable wailing of the man on the street – I hope he gets help, whatever the matter is – and into the countryside.

It’s opener there
In the wide, open air.

Out there, I find my guys. The watermen. They’ve known each other for years and are actually at the same skill level. For these guys, I can put my skills to use. Anger subsides and abates. It is peaceful. The storm cloud broke over another part of the city. And we clink glass.

Why You Should Be More Cynical

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Using a Polish gnome for my headline image because, why not, pictures equal more views on the internet. Still, they are delivering news just as I am delivering opinion.

I’ve seen a major problem with the way people read and write about things on the internet. The vast majority of people like to find things they disagree with then share it with a wee pointless comment about how much they disagree. The problem is best illustrated by a gif.

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People walk into these clickbait, anger merchant, think pieces get temporarily infuriated, then go in to walk into another one. They share them, bitch to their friends about how unjust the world is, and the cycle continues. The cycle spreads. The anger cycle.

The cycle starts with demand – people want something to read to keep them occupied for a few minutes. This demand is filled by a small pool of content mill writers, who are essentially some starving artist writers who need the small amount of money they’ll get paid to churn out shit. The easiest money, I’m told, comes from attacking feminists. From a demographic perspective, feminists are primarily women, who tend to be more social creatures than men, hence more connected on social networks, and as the ideology demands societal change feminists are always “on” and ready to fight things. Writers are often paid by click and could probably troll feminists into paying their rent and heating bill for the month. Literally feeding the trolls.

Stop a minute when you read a thing and consider what the author’s intention might be, and then scrap any thoughts that it could have anything to do with their principles and resolve that they probably want money. A friend one time advised me when I was going to write a story to first think “Where are they standing?”. You must also ask this question of every writer and every piece of art that angers you.

As an additional example, consider “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams. The song is fairly catchy, but it seems mostly known for the lyrics. Lyrics which are fairly par for the genre. Instead, it became known, in some circles, as one of the most misogynistic and sexist things to have ever been recorded. The upshot fo all this? It was the topic of countless thinkpieces and comments and parodies. It was pushed frequently by different people. Even sharing a thing negatively is still a share. Why would you want to increase the number of times something you hate exists?

Be more cynical. Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams sat down and devised lyrics that sounded a bit off colour and sexualising. They still weren’t half as explicit as some people. Didn’t you notice they filled their music video with hashtags? It’s blatant advertising, and it pisses me off as much as it makes me laugh that people fell for it. The negative reaction if anything just galvanised support for the song. The various student unions publicly making sure everyone knew they weren’t playing it and making statements instead of, you know, just not playing it, reeks of people trying to look like they’re doing something against the moral outrage. It all built momentum and publicity and assisted the song to becoming the party song of that Summer.

(I preferred “Get Lucky”, myself, so that’s another reason I’ve written about this.)

As it stands, I don’t have a solution for you. None seems to spring immediately to mind. Being prepared to ignore more things could help, but every horror movie and every genocide starts with people ignoring things. In retrospect, it is always easier to identify the causes to the effects, it’s easy to recognise when something should have been done. It’s much much harder to decide something isn’t worth it. All the same, I’d encourage all my activist friends and those who find themselves getting angry to follow this advice:

Be more cynical. Follow the money. Don’t Buy It. Sharing anything means you agree with it and endorse it. Sharing something is an encouragement to the writer and an encouragement to the opinion. A good rule of thumb is to instead look for something saying the opposite and share that instead. If you plant more angry seeds, you’ll get an evil tree. Evil trees bear vicious fruit and vicious fruit bears more angry seeds. That is the cycle, and I implore you to break it.

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