A Dalmatian Exploration, Part 2 – Actually There

Psrt of my series, check out part I, if you’re into that kind of thing. You need no knowledge of before to follow this, but it was a fun part to write and I’ve heard good things. This one has also been a blast, so do read on!

Glory and prestige is nothing compared to one good beach

Anout midday some darker clouds had formed over Dubrovnik. At 1:32pm, they burst and it began to rain. We were sheltering in an eclectic bar near to the castle so the rain did not pose an immediate threat to my bird’s vast and lovely locks, which remained straight and thicker than a thesaurus made of porridge. The problem, then, was not so much the rain as what it might mean.

At the port of Dubrovnik, we asked one of the ferryman for the dock of our ship. I must say he told us with minimal fuss but not with so much drama as you might expect of a sailor by the sea. You might expect a bit more of a story, but perhaps he was not that kind of seaman. He did, however, have grim tidings:

The ship this morn did not Her anchor cast
But was marooned, on order of the captain,
Whose wife, an actual woman and not like
His mistress, the sea, had been to augur
That dawn. She reported that though waters
Ne’er were clearer, nor more still, the shower
Of the heavens rendered travel quite absurd.

We consulted our own augurs; the weather reports on our devices. Mine’s said that we may be in for a rough day. While my partner’s said we were in the clear, essentially, beside some gentle droplets about 1pm. I hoped hers was accurate but began forming a backup plan.

In the event of choppy seas we definitely would be best advised to stay out of Dubrovnik. It’s nice but the drink and food prices are more like those of Edinburgh or maybe even London than of somewhere like Prague. It’s pretty odd to have UK or even, I’ve heard, Swiss style prices in a Mediterranean  setting. We would have to find somewhere else in Croatia, preferably within a short distance of Split where we’d catch a later bus on our multi-bus tour. The details I figured we could work out later if and when it became necessary.

The Ferry of Chaos

But it never did. It turns out, her app was the more accurate. The captain’s wife had no complaints about this voyage and so we were good to board. Dubrovnik for Korcula.

It was a pretty different ferry experience than I’m used to. I have been on a few ferries in my life, two that I can remember are one to Arran from Glasgow and the other to Belgium from some southern English port like Hull or something. Arran just took a few hours, and I spent that time moping about the deck and listening to Pete Doherty’s ‘For Lovers’. The Belgium ferry was a bit more active, a lot of running around with high school friends on a history trip, we slept in bunk beds, there was a cabaret act which seemed to consist of one comedian, we were too busy frolicking to pay him any mind. The Korcula ferry was more like a train. It took about three hours. There were a lot of people with big bags.

Overall it was quite comfortable. Not nearly so chaotic as the title of this section suggests. The ferry away from Korcula was worse, about half an hour late. I suppose this is one area in which ferries are nothing like the theatre.

The Island of Korcula

It’s rare that I am ever wholly lost for words. As you can see, I can still find a few to detail my affliction when necessary. With thanks to my gorgeous fiancée, I can thus present you with astounding pictures that do more justice to the island that I might.

The island of Korcula with its main town, also called Korcula, is gorgeous. It is reputed to be the birthplace of Marco Polo, even if his origin is somewhat disputed by scholars. The picture of those windows above are thought to be the windows of his familial home. One piece of evidence that might suggest he was not from the area is the fact that the sea there is so blue and the weather so agreeable. Why leave all that behind to possibly die at the hands of some ruler due to a slip of the tongue? Glory and prestige is nothing compared to one good beach. We found at least two of them.

A crafty panorama of her taking a picture of the sea.

The sea is especially blue in Korcula, that kind of colour you’d see in travel agent windows, back when those were a thing, and would loudly shout “Fuck off! No sea looks like that.” I am quite happy to be wrong on this.

See, the sea at most places with a tourism industry is dredged before the season begins. I saw it in Mallorca when I went there with my dad one January. The sea was dredged, and the whole walk along the seafront was lifted up and replaced. It’s amazing the work people put in to make places look unspoiled. I don’t know how new all the streets are in Korcula, but I can tell you the sea is just blue.

As the sea floor is primarily loose pebbles, the tides throw them around. A rolling stone gathers no moss. A Korculan pebble begets no seaweed. It’s a real delight to the eyes.

The streets of Korcula have this sort of coziness to them. Sure, there are a couple open squares and plazas, but mostly everything is clinging on to the side of a hill for dear life. I can see the appeal of the island, it felt very welcoming.

We stayed in a place my fiancée found on Hostelworld, Rooms Anamarija. We think they have a couple separate buildings. The guy who took care of us was called Mojmir. He picked us up from the port then drove us up the hill. He dropped us off at his mum’s house!

So that was different. Her name was Mila. She didn’t have much English but we communicated as well as we could. Mila was very friendly, she gave us cherry juice and biscuits when we got in, and more cherry juice later. I adore cherry juice. It’s not something you can really find in Scotland, but is truly delicious. Truly, truly scrumptious. Mila liked a Turkish TV series, though we never found out which one.

If you’re looking for an island getaway, I can heartily recommend Korcula. We spent three happy nights there, with an amazing view from the room. I took a couple of pictures.

One dark

And the other bright

Too soon we travelled onwards.

The Voyage Splitwards

So it was back onto the ferry. The three nights of rest and the days of rest and beach going pleased me immensely. As mentioned above, this ferry was half an hour late, but worse things happen at sea.

This leg of the ferry had many more stops. The way to Korcula from Dubrovnik had only one stop, Mljet, but from Korcula there were several. Brac and Hvar. In an interesting piece of news, Hvar has recently started policing tourists far more keenly. Some of the restrictions make a lot of sense, pissing in public is bad and wearing a swimsuit in the old town maybe belies a certain lack of respect. One of the restrictions, eating in public squares, seems a bit far though. I suppose besides tourists there is the other major public nuisance to deal with – pigeons.

We never stopped in Hvar because we were heading to Split for our homeward journey and to see the sights. It is good advice for island hopping partiers, however. Respect the customs of Hvar, don’t piss or sleep in the street and especially not in the same place, or you may end up with some pretty hefty fines. And potentially damp trousers. With all of that taken care of, the bathroom review.

The Toilet Review

The ferry bathrooms were quite peculiar. As the ferry was a sphinx-like cross, a ship with the seats of a plane and the route of a bus, the toilet was as might be expected. A bit small. A bit worn from use. Not of the freshest scent imaginable. But it basically did the trick, even if the hand driers were a bit wanting and awkwardly placed in front of the mirror.

The bathrook of Skver, a restaurant located just off the old town, was modern and clean.

The pizza restaurant we visited had a toilet with one broken light and the hand drier not working, possibly a power cut localised to that one room.

The bathroom of the guesthouse was well-provisioned and quite comfortable.

Overall, I give Korcula bathrooms a solid 7 out of 10 and the ferry bathrooms about a 4.

The writer of this piece is currently on a bus bound for Amsterdam. You read that correctly. A bus. Bound for Amsterdam. It is probably going to be a bit of a trek, but it appears the wifi connection is holding out and the plug socket is working. He hopes he will be allowed to post.

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A Dalmatian Exploration, Part I – There

It was a very big night for me

The writer of this piece is writing a series, or at least insofar as there will be three separate posts that function as one overarching narrative. That sounds like the definition of a series, but the writer is at pains to point out that they shall be somewhat episodic . Read them at your leisure. Respond as feels appropriate.

Looks a touch like the New Forth Crossing, which I’m told has been called ‘Kevin’ after Scottish comedian Kevin Bridges.

Above is a picture of a bridge from a boat. Where is that bridge? What is that boat? Allow me to explain.

So my fiancée and I have lived in Prague for a decent amount of time and haven’t exactly been flush with coastal holidays. We needed the sea. For her part, she is from a land of rivers and lakes. Water is important to her. For me, I feel like I belong in the sea. At the very least sea adjacent. During the first 23 years of my life I saw the sea more times per year than I can count. Scotland is essentially an island. In addition, my family had amazing holidays. The sea has become rarer for me in recent years. The West Highlands of Scotland is famously nowhere near water, and I worked there for 6 months. I’ve been in Prague for a year and a half. Rivers are okay, but give me those watery depths!

It is at this point, my friend, that I feel I have caught your attention enough and can reach out the text to tell you a few things that are coming up. This is a travel article, but not as you might expect it. Instead, I’m delving into what it means to be a person on a bus for a really long time, what different countries’ bathrooms are like, and how to travel authentically while recognising that you are always a tourist to someone. Seatbelts fastened and please keep all arms and legs within the safety lines.

Travelling in Central Europe presents few real challenges. There is not much in the way of borders, the occasional errant passport check. It’s almost always quite affordable getting from point A to point Z. The real bitch is time.

The Prague-Brno road, connecting the two largest cities in the Czech Republic, is almost always slow and blocked. Accidents, roadworks, you name it, that road will find some way to keep you there. It’s why our Hungarian adventure back in April took almost double the time to get there. This time I was pretty sure we were in the clear as we were heading south. The bad news? To Zagreb.

Prague to Zagreb is a trip that’d take you 8 hours by car. It is therefore longer by bus. Why on earth were we taking the bus? Same reason as anyone, really. The price is right. We found a deal that gave us multiple bus trips for a flat rate. Given we had three large buses planned on this trip and another fairly long one later on in the month, we figured it was a good deal.

Being a generally positive person, it begrudges me to say anything too bad about the trip too soon. But here I think I can be honest about the buses and say that so many long buses is not generally a good idea. For all that the bus company offered, plug sockets, wifi, toilets, there was almost always something not working. I am hesitant to mention companies as I’d always prefer to go to them first to complain before naming and shaming them in print, but I will say their name rhymes with Pricks Fuss. Buyer beware.

The Place of Borders

“Get out the bus”

This broke my slumber quite effectively. We had set out fairly early so I was taking in a cheeky wee snooze. Crossing the Czech-Austrian border and the Austrian-Slovenian border there wasn’t an awful lot to see. There were a few big shops, and lots of strip clubs and casinos for some reason even though Austria also seems to allow them, but other than that there was very little to distinguish the switch in country. The road signs changed a little, but it’d be imperceptible to people not paying attention to the road. Slovenia-Croatia was something else though.

“Get out the bus”

That metallic voice from the intercom system, demanding like some dictator over a loudspeaker. “Citizens must carry valid ID at all times!”, “Follow the yellow line”,”Move along, sir”, but this one felt a bit more brutal. As an English teacher I know that more polite verbs, “can”, “could”, and “may”, are a bit more complacated than simple demands, but as a traveller I was quite amazed. Most European land checks are somebody pulling up alongside the bus, coming aboard, and having a wee look at everyone’s passports. Here we were being commanded off the bus, to report to a window, where some guy gave them a proper seeing to.

I figured the Croatians were maybe a bit keen to stop refugees coming in.

So we got off, waved our papers in front of a man in a box, and then were told to stand a little further on by the road. Our bus started to drive. The icy terror that filled us all was tangible. Half the people waiting seemed to tense their shoulders. The bus stopped and we got on again, but it was a streesful few seconds.

We got back to our seats and nestled in. Now we were finally in Croatia! At long last. I had heard good things and was expecting quite a lot. I could hardly wait to see that Adriatic foam below us as we take a cliff side drive down the coast from Zagreb to Dubrovnik, taking in the famously beautiful landscape that really put Dalmatia on the map back when it was part of the Roman Empire, then riven by pirates, the Republic of Ragusa and The Most Serene Republic of Venice…

“Get off the bus”

What the fuck?

“Get off the bus”

Nah, mate. Two passport controls. They made us get out of the bus twice to flash our papers at the guy. It’s not really on. Having just looked it up, Croatia is supposed to be part of the EU and you’d imagine that’d mean easier travel arrangements. I never need to have my passport ogled by a human that much when I’m going into the UK. Unimpressive, but at least it was day time!

The City of Storms

Zagreb, an ancient city dating back to Roman times. Distinctive because of its size and the many beautiful Austro-Hungarian buildings there. At least this is what wikipedia tells me.

Our Zagreb was a very small and quite modern place, the bus station. The overall weather above Central Europe that week was a bit murky and grey in places. In Zagreb there was a downpour. And it continued pouring down. And then it went a bit more.

I’d invite the rain to fill its boots but it filled mine so I guess that’s not really worth discussing. We took only one picture of Zagreb.

Much to my dismay, the storm followed us. It seemed to reach right across the country, chasing us all the way to Dubrovnik. I can tell you that with some accuracy having been kept up all night by the blisteringly bright lightning  strikes.

See, I don’t mind being a bit uncomfortable when I sleep; I can always contort. I don’t mind when it’s loud; I lived up the road from a club, noise is fine. But light is just something else. Even obscured starlight can keep me up. Lightning? That kept me very awake and focused the whole way down. Desperate times, but we move on.

As an extra, I got to know how deep is my love. My fiancée’s head was in my lap and so I held a fart in for 40 minutes until she’d moved.

The Land of Sweat

I noticed the sun rise a few minutes after I think the lightning stopped. I had an eye mask for a few hours which helped somewhat, but could not  fully defend from so many photons. The sun rise was gorgeous, orange and yellow above the dark land, the outline of bus seats and other passengers imparting a shadowy theatre to proceedings. I removed my eye mask.

I guess tired is the way forward. Tired but near blinded by the colours.

Here seems an appropriate time to tell you that we’re relying on my powers of memory and description here. If either is lacking I apologise but I don’t take pictures out of bus windows as it always has some irritating reflections. Just imagine.

The road down the coast was not quite how I imagined it. It was very high. The curves were not so sharp as I might have thought. The sea below was bluer. It seems pretty stupid to build mental pictures of places before you go there, but why not, I did and do.

Something that shocked me was that Bosnia and Herzegovina has a coastline. It shouldn’t be that shocking, really, a lot of countries have a coastline. But when you’re bleary eyed at God knows when, the sun is coming up and you’ve been up most of the night, it sure is peculiar to come across a street sign saying ‘Bosnia and Herzegovina’, I can tell you.

This border check was far better. The woman came onto our bus. She paid that quick attention to detail which shows you that the border guard is a professional. It’s always nice to see someone like that, and especially handy when you are pretty much asleep.

We drove through Bosnia and Herzegovina for what felt like 10 or 15 minutes, maybe. The coastline is apparently 20km so that would make sense. It looks pretty similar to the Croatian one, all things considered. Kind of rugged, a little yellowy to my eyes but that might have been the rising sun’s light. Very filmic. I could imagine horses on this terrain.

Eventually, we wound our way down the hills to Dubrovnik. As we approached the sea I felt a sense of trepidation. I hoped I’d remember how to swim. We weren’t swimming here, of course, and I had been for a swim since the last time I saw the sea, but these kind of strange thoughts occur when you’ve been up all night.

Dubrovnik was cool.

It has some brilliant cliffs.

A couple of alleyways in the old town that feel mysterious but comforting.

Amongst so many other things. Really we didn’t get a brilliant chance to see much of it, only the tourist centre. It must be said though that they are really cashing in on this Game of Thrones thing while it’s hot. It seems every second museum or t-shirt shop was flogging something for that show. It’s a good show, but I get the impression there is a lot more to the place. Sadly, we will need to wait several years till this whole GOT thing has died down and we are substantially richer, hopefully but not necessarily boat rich.

The Toilet Review

I promised you a bit of this and I want to honour it. The bus toilet on the way down to Zagreb was alright as far a short bus toilets go. It smelt like chemicals but it’s to be expected. It’s a hole full of chemicals.

Zagreb’s Central bus station had a really shitty toilet. Low provisions, quite vandalised, a bit dirty smelling. Not really worth spending the money to get through the turnstyle but necessary for the time. When you have to go you have to go.

They put us on a bus from Zagreb to Dubrovnik with no toilet. That suffices to explain that problem. 10 hours with no readily accessible toilet and having to wait for seemingly randomly placed stops. The stops themselves were okay. It’s a very good thing I didn’t drink more water.

The toilets in Dubrovnik were quite acceptable in comparison. They were generally clean, decently provisioned, and had working seats. Something I noticed all throughout Croatia however, why is the hand drier over the sink and in about the middle of the mirror? Totally weird position.

Overall, 2/10 – really suffering from that low toilet access for 10 hours thing. Get your shit together, Croatia.

When not being puerile and inappropriate the writer of this piece enjoys appreciating everyone for being so lovely, and is especially grateful to the planners of this world for facilitating dreams. He is also on zero drugs at present.

What You Learn From Writing Daily

“I want people to feel like it’s ok to create. It’s ok to not be boxed in. I want people to feel like, awesome is possible.” – Kanye West

This month has been a bit of a whirlwind. I have been working every weekday, my friend Cat visited with her girlfriend, and I have been writing daily. Finding any time available, I have written as much as possible and tried to keep up the quality. It all started quite organically, I published for a couple days, then decided to do a week, then decided to do a month. At first it seemed a gigantic ask. But when you split it into little bits it all comes together quite nicely in the end. It seems almost too achievable to be considered a success, but I am proud of what I’ve accomplished.

It took effort. I had to keep myself from sleeping when I’m tired. I’ve had to consciously make the choice to write instead of doing something more distracting. I’ve had to fit this into my regular responsibilities, as a teacher to my students, who must plan and do all the extra paperwork, and as a fiance to my fiancée, who must make sure my end of the housework is upheld. A massive thank you to my fiancée as I almost definitely fell a little short of my end this month. I’ve had to keep my self-esteem up on days when my reading figures were low. I’ve shaken off the flops, I’ve powered through the doubtful ideas, I have pulled out bits of me I thought I never would, and I have blown my trumpet like the loudest troubadour.

So here are the five things I have learned writing every day:

1. There are no angry mobs who will burn down your house for saying what you feel

On the one hand, there definitely are Internet mobs. The level of abuse directed at people for small things is truly abhorrent. The amount of misogynistic and racist shit is ridiculous. I have received some questionable comments, but I’m fortunately shielded from the worst bits by WordPress’s filter.

That all being said, there is no reason to clam up and not let your feelings out just because you are worried about what other people might say. Even coming from a supportive family and with loving friends, I have still kept some things to myself over the years. This month I had to push myself to write everything. I had to relive humiliation and dwell in some past pain to write certain posts, such as my take on Friendship, my love letter to Cigarettes, and my sappy words to my Fiancée .

Nobody has criticised me for any of it. It’s often said that men are socialised to not express emotion, but what I’ve learnt here is that this blockage is in the mind rather than in people at large. Be open. If you can’t be open, be honest.

2. I am not that bad

I mean this as a writer and as a person. Sometimes I’ve had problems with not feeling like I could be loved. This may seem ridiculous given the aforementioned supportive people in my life, but I genuinely had this thing in my brain that said I was not especially lovable. I didn’t even think I was that likeable and was pretty sure I was a horrible person and a poor writer.

Eventually, I came to understand my self a bit better. I started loving myself a bit more and criticising myself a bit less. It’s a struggle, but coming to terms with yourself is a daily challenge. Everyone fucks up, but because we are closer to our own chaos we think it so much worse than everyone else’s.

Writing daily has been an amazing experience. I have come into contact with so much more of myself as I dissect my thoughts and feelings and splayed them all out for the world to see. Maybe one day I’ll look back on it and feel a bit uncomfortable, but that’s okay. I am finally convinced I am not nearly as bad a person as I thought.

Just a tad dramatic and with a touch of Calvinism.

3. Time in the market beats timing the market

That line is from Warren Buffett, and he’s right. To the writer just setting out, it seems a lot more rational to try and strike while the iron is hot, get your timely blows in, then move on to the next thinkpiece. My view is that there is more room for nuance and reason than you’d think.

You can pause. You can wait till the dust has settled before writing about something. In fact, that may often lead to a better result. How can you write accurately right after something has happened? When emotions and running high, the worst parts of your brain can lead you to making some pretty terrible decisions.

In addition, going for timely thinkpieces all the time is a strategy that will lead to creating a bunch of shit that doesn’t outlast the week. There is no expiration date on good writing. The most important thing is to shut up and do it instead of waiting and staying. Find the bright places where boom bands are playing.

4. Poetry doesn’t sell

Writing daily has given me time to stretch out creatively while pushing me to produce and produce and produce some more. In this time, I’ve had to grab things I love and write about them. This includes Dr. Seuss and The Libertines. Both those ideas did sell, people were interested, because they were easy to relate to. We all have favourite writers and favourite musicians.

But some other things you may be interested in are harder to shift. Not everyone likes historical parallels between statues in Prague and statues in Charlottesville. Not everyone digs into Limericks. This is totally fine.

While pro writers may say to kill your darlings, the benefit of a personal blog is that you’re writing mostly for your own pleasure. People can like the stuff or they can dislike it. Your poetry might not sell, but fuck it, it’s YOUR poetry.

Sometimes it’s just nice to get some of it out there.

5. Mums love me

Having paid keen attention to my Facebook likes and who shares my things, I have noticed this incontrovertible fact: mums love me. This includes my mum, my fiancée’s mum, my schoolmates’ mums, amongst others. These are far from the only people reading me but they are an interesting group of ladies who share only one thing in common and that is that they have children. No idea what I have done to earn their interest but I am very happy to bask in their adoration.

If you or anyone else you know has a mum who may like this blog, be sure to send it along to them!

This is what I have learnt by writing every day of August. You are not a bad person and you should feel free to express yourself. There are other things, but these ones will do. Moving forward, I will be looking to write a lot more than I did prior to this month, even if not daily. Let me just leave by saying a massive thank you to everyone who read me this month and I look forward to thrilling you further in the future.

The writer of this piece is looking forward to enjoying a holiday in Croatia and may be somewhat incommunicado for the first week of September

The Hangover

Right, so it’s this post.

Pictured: A classier drink than I was imbibing last night

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

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

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

The aftershock

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love Cats

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

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

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

Wedding Planning

This post is necessarily vague as the writer is only somewhat involved in the wedding planning itself, preferring to content himself with planning for the marriage than the wedding. Furthermore, of the details he does know, he is bound to a strict code of secrecy as spoilers are totally not cool, guys. For more information on the wedding, check back with me in 9 months for my post-ceremony wrap-up.

Normally I’d write that kind of part at the end, but today it felt best to inform you of what you’re getting into. For me, the wedding planning has been extremely simple. There are nevertheless some pretty important things I can say about the process, being involved primarily as a consultant. Before we begin, there’s something you all need to know.

My fiancee’s family is a wedding factory.

That sounds a bit off, but allow me to explain. Her dad is a wedding photographer who personally knows other wedding photographers as well as other players on the local wedding scene. She is from a large family. Her cousins all seem to be, or be dating, people who provide various services for weddings and are willing to do favours for us. In addition, her mum and sister are very good at planning and details, and her other sister is quick to offer solutions.

They are an extremely fast family. Mildly joking here, but when we went on Skype to inform them it was a blast of “congratulations!”, then straight into “okay, when is it, how many people are coming, how much do you want it to cost?” Very useful people to have around, but while my poor parents were still coming to terms with their wee boy hitching himself to someone, her family had halfway planned the thing!

Very useful people to have in a crisis. Or in planning a wedding.

The really unexpected thing for me has actually been how much I’m consulted. It’s some prime sexist bullshit that the wedding day is “her” day and the rest of the days are “his”, really. But I was not expecting to have a near 50-50 involvement in the grander decision-making process. As it turns out, I’ve basically picked the date, part of the entertainment, and some aspects of the food. I’m quite involved with the music, though it’s a team effort, which is good as it balances out my desire to put on some pretty eclectic shit.

They don’t make ’em like that anymore. “Gay Bar” by Electric Six

Our cultures and our personal preferences are going to be represented throughout the service and through our dinner and after party. In addition, our separate clans can come together under the warm umbrella of an open bar. This is generally not the done thing in Scotland. The results will be interesting.

As I mentioned at the start, I am thinking ahead to the marriage itself instead of the wedding. Long term goals have become a recent hobby. However, in being asked my opinion so often about the planning and making several of the decisions, I cannot help but get really rather excited about the event itself. Here is a big party and family gathering which means so much and where we can announce ourselves to the world as a couple. I can hardly wait.

The writer is drinking tea, which he has taken as a new writing ritual, although it tends to get somewhat cold in the time it takes him to write.

Buckle up Buckaroo

“What do you mean you’ve never heard of Buckaroo?”

My fiancée shrugged.

“You’ve got this donkey, right, and you have to stack things on top of his back…”
“We have Jenga?”

Buckaroo is not Jenga. It looks like this.

Majestic

It’s the sort of game you play once or twice when you’re in your mid childhood and then never see it again. At least, that’s what it was to me. But the adverts were everywhere and they got into our collective unconscious. In the UK it became an idiom.

If you’re carrying too much you’re like Buckaroo.

But no, the Americans don’t have it. And this surprised me. After all, it looks like it was inspired by the Wild West. Although some of the boxes look like they’d now reach into cultural appropriation territory, what with the Mexicans in sombreros and ponchos running away from this mad raving donkey. Maybe a little culturally insensitive.

But yeah, just one of these things. Growing up in Scotland I suppose I developed a top-cold-wet bit of an island mentality. With the wind up there and the wide open spaces it was sometimes hard to believe there was a world outside Scotland. It was hard to imagine a world where the weather was pleasant. I could tell TV was fake because it was always sunny. I think this sort of thinking really comes quite often in young people all over the world. We’re not especially thoughtful creatures, in spite of the fact that we are the only creature we know with entire industries based on thinking. Thankfully, people gain a bit of empathy and a bit of world knowledge as they get a bit older, but it’s still possible to get shocked by small things like whether the woman you love and intend on starting a life with has heard of Buckaroo.

It’s just weird.

Like the way she says ‘erbs for herbs. Or oh-RE-gano instead of OreGano. Margarine for a Scot rhymes with submarine. For an American it rhymes with tin. It’s like we’re speaking a different language at times. I get it and I know how some of it happened but it’s just different.

Then again, there are probably hundreds of bits of American culture I don’t get. Perhaps they have a similar game to Buckaroo, or something totally different. I must confess, I only know about a lot of American things because I spend far too much time on the internet.

I knew those hours on forums weren’t a total waste of time

I kind of wonder what type of things I will learn as we go on together. What are those essential but homely bits of American culture that we don’t get shown on TV? The global convergence of our entertainment culture can only express so much. It’ll be interesting to see what comes of us as the Scottish and American bits of our identities overlap. I hope the kids get some Scottish vowel sounds. Those are beautiful. I think I’d prefer my fiancées tonality though as I sound a bit dour sometimes.

Our children will get raised by the good doctors, Who and Seuss. My fiancée may not like tea, but I suspect it’s hereditary so I’ll make sure to provide it as an option for the kids from a young age. We will drink tea and play Buckaroo, but then we’ll also find out what’s the American version of tea and what is the American version of Buckaroo. It’s only fair. Hopefully my fiancée will also manage to understand the complicated rules of Buckaroo without too much explaining.

Confident that his fiancée will not realise he is throwing shade, as she doesn’t know the first thing about Buckaroo, the writer of this piece has become very cocky in his ability to get away with it. So cocky in fact that he has hidden it in plain sight in italic print which draws the eye. If you or anyone else you know knows of the US version of Buckaroo, do get in touch

English(es)

This morning I stumbled upon something amazing. The BBC has a pidgin English section, have a look for yourself. It’s very interesting to read a few of the articles and see if you can work out how the language functions. But there’s always a lot more to it so I invite you to read on as I write a little thinkpiece.

Pidgin languages developed when people wanted to trade but could not communicate using formal language, as they didn’t have equal knowledge. They were missing important words or didn’t have the form. But money finds a way. Instead of not trading they developed a language which blended elements of their languages together. When used in a wider form this ended up changing the way language was spoken, and sometimes even became a ‘creole language’ when it became the native language of pidgin speakers children.

Evidently, West African English has its own unique grammar separate from English and hence they have their own section. It’s extremely interesting as it causes us to question what is English?

I don’t mean this in a whole nebulous “what is art?” kind of way, art is stuff people make, it comes from the word ‘artificial’, let’s move on. I mean how do we decide what is correct language and how do we decide what is incorrect? As an English teacher, this is an essential question.

The fact is that there are so many ways to use English, and there are many separate Englishes. Consider the difference between British and American. These differences arose from separation between the speakers, and because Noah Webster really hated the English (England English, not language English). Interestingly, American English keeps the u in ‘glamour’ because it came to American English via Scots. They drop the u in all other similar French root words because they came via English. These days, the rule in most writing and in most institutions is that either English is fine but keep it consistent. There is only a disagreement between British and American English in memes.

Still, Pidgin English has some detractors and a lot of people have complained about the BBC funding the service with British money. The fact of the matter is though that West Africa is on the up and will probably soon pay the BBC back in full through increased consumption. There’s nothing like respecting somebody’s lingo and voice as a way to get into their heart. It’s a very personal thing. Nigerians have spent year being told they need to speak ‘proper’ English. It must be very liberating to have institutional recognition for how they speak.

The truth is, proper English may not be all it’s cracked up to be. Mark Powell, a writer for the business English textbook In Company, wrote an article called ‘Unnatural Selection’, sadly paywalled, about how in the business world German type English pays dividends. While native speakers tend towards idioms, “butting in”, “talking at cross purposes”, “circling back”, second language speakers tend towards simple constructions which get the most results. Often these come from German-style noun phrases; “one solution is…” “the basic problem is…” “our proposal is…”. These phrases are very easy to understand, and it could be argued that business English is going in the direction of simple and direct communication. Business English is an English German pidgin.

Having read lots of poetry in Scots and Scots English, I can understand other spellings and styles of English a bit easier. It is a real difficulty to use the BBC pidgin service, but I think I will try a bit more. Trying to understand the different ways people use your language is an extremely useful skill. Whether that be their dialect or just how they reflect their mentality in speech.

The writer of his piece is somewhat shocked at the low response rate he got yesterday to what he thought was a banging post but understands this to be a marathon rather than a sprint.

Pigeon English

Changing the Time

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

It swings…

And swings back

And swings again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love Shack

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where the magic happens

Implements and tray

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

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

A subsection of our books

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

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

Eclectic shelf

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Glassware and cups; bought, given, and taken

She has shown me Community and I like it

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maintaining Momentum

“Momentum” by Brian Chambers

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit, from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

Invictus, a tremendous poem to give your day a bit of pep. Today I’m talking to you about momentum; how to gain it and how to keep it. I will be flagrantly abusing scientific concepts because writing about it requires a degree in physics or vast simplification, and I haven’t got five years to spare right now. The point is, and I believe everyone will agree at some level, is that energy is created and used according to some pretty basic rules, but then as humans it is our job to damn all the rules and make our own existence happen.

Newton was a clever chap. He took getting a blow to the head from an apple and turned it into his three laws of mechanics. Most important for my purpose today is the first: an object will stay still or move at a constant speed unless another force changes its direction. So how do you get from being still to being in motion? You need a nudge, something to spur you onto greatness. A call to adventure.

Doing something takes work, and work takes willpower. It is a common problem across humanity that a lot of people do not want to put in any effort and just want the outcome. Many writers these days blame millenials and technology, but those guys are talking-out-their-arse hacks as it’s a repeated pattern throughout history, at least since the printing press made mass media possible. It’s a problem I’ve faced repeatedly. Left to my own devices I tend to atrophy and become a bit too inwardly focused. I always find an excuse not to do something.

As Nietzsche said, a paraphrase here, the greatest lies people tell are lies to themselves. I’d find all kinds of reason not to act and do and get up. I’d blame tiredness from studies or work, or simpy not having enough time, but this is bollocks. You can generally find time unless you are properly maxed out. Even then, it takes an honest appraisal of what’s going on to notice you can make time. Would you be more productive if you didn’t spend so much time on social media/mobile apps/emailing people/or TV? It’s quite possible to cut all these activities down by an hour in total and realise the potential you have for other pursuits.

I have cut several of these activities down heavily and found the time for writing. I think it’s fair to say this has led to some pretty great stuff.

So back to momentum. You gain momentum by starting from a high point, and you get to a high point from a supreme force of will which makes you work in the direction of getting yourself to a high point. In the meantime you have to focus very hard on your goal, while balancing your pursuit out with the need to look after yourself at some level. It’s painful. Here’s my story.

When I left my former job at the wigwams I was exhausted. I’d been putting in 60+ hour weeks as it was The Season, some of the days were especially active. After I left the wigwams, I had the twin shock of a number of friends having left Edinburgh and that rudderless feeling that follows leaving a job with no definite plan. I took a bit of time to myself, did a TEFL program, but then hesitated to find anything next.

Next steps are scary. They involve thrusting yourself into the unknown and seeing what happens. It’s very tempting to take more tentative timid tip toes to your next move. I tried to prepare myself to make a decision, but everything felt pretty pointless. I took a job as a temp waiter, had Winter days without sunlight, and was generally in a pretty bad mood. For me, it all changed by accident. I booked a flight to Prague for too long and it went exceptionally well.

I’ll probably be telling that story forever. It is the albatross around my neck.

It was just the kick up the chutney that I needed to get myself together, finding a job, a flat, and a serious relationship in short order. From this spark came momentum, but I knew this time what needed to happen, and here it is for you.

Keep running.

Don’t let the skateboard that you’ve pushed to the top of the hill go off without you! Ride that bad boy right down the hill and then keep pushing it up the next hill. Chase down the slumps and crest the next summit.

As the good Dr. Seuss said “Unslumping yourself is not easily done”, and sometimes people get caught in a rut they cannot unslump easily. The important thing here is to keep you chin up. Eat some food and remember to breathe. Energy comes from nutrients being broken down and it breaks down more cleanly if you breathe enough.

Building willpower takes effort, as with any skill or muscle, so try smaller tasks until you feel up to the bigger ones. by doing this, you’ll create the will to make the effort, to reach higher and race down the hills, to shoot up the next one.

If you need more tips to self-improvement, I’m hardly exhaustive, you could do no better than this article and “Fuck It” by John C. Parkin.

I will leave you with this. Managing momentum takes effort. It’s hard to build, harder to keep going, and some days you’ll just want to stop. Still, going back to Nietzsche a minute, life is suffering and survival is finding meaning in the suffering. Always love to end it on a happy note.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll;
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.

The writer of this piece writes like he talks and talks like a cunt.