Midge Ure lied to us all

It’s been quite a long while since I’ve posted anything here. It's strange because when I didn’t know what I was doing with myself and was generally at a fairly low ebb, I felt like I had lots to write about. Now I’m much happier and while I still don’t know where exactly it is that I’m going, I’ve at least realised that the map I was holding was upside down. 

At the tail end of my time in Italy, I was pretty much floundering and as much as I loved my time there and the people who I shared it with, I could happily cut out the last year or so and put it down as a loss. Life doesn’t let us do this, so it’s something that will inform whatever’s next. Having traded in a beautiful country steeped in history and culture for a country which essentially resembles a construction site, it might seem surprising that I’m more content now, but people are strange and so is life. It’s like ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife. Or maybe not.

So, yeah, Kuwait. I really like it; I have a job that I enjoy, have a cat and have managed to bewitch a female with my otherworldly charms. Again, people are strange :)

I’d written most of this post when I’d just got back too, which was nice (I’ve now been back for a week and a half). As part of having a real job I get paid (paid!) holidays. Most of you might take this for granted, but for the first time in close to ten years I’ve not had to spend summer working while others bugger off to more exotic climes. So, what did I do with my time off? Scotland, of course. One of my chums got married so went back for that and after existing for two weeks on a diet that consisted almost exclusively of Guinness and roll-ups, headed off for a few days to Vienna. 

Full disclosure: I didn’t know anything about Austria before going and going there was based on:

-> 50% a desire to go somewhere different, and 

-> 50% hoping I wouldn’t be impressed by it so that in future, if asked I could say: “Vienna? It means nothing to me.” 

Turns out it’s rather nice. There are two realisations that came to me in the my days there though. 1) In the UK we don’t appreciate free entrance to museums as much as we should, definitely maybe because as a nation we don’t go to them because they’re full of old shit and we might have to read something on a TV screen, or God forbid, written on a wall. After all our granddads didn’t fight Hitler so that we had to read. That’s what he would have wanted - he was famously keen on literature and would often have bonfires so that the people could flick through their favourite book of an evening. That’s right, isn’t it?

2) Paying 50 cents to spend a penny is galling and while I guess running local bureaucracy is a loss-maker, damn it it seems like they’ll get rich or die trying.

Anyway, Vienna. It all got off to a bit of a damp squib. For two weeks in Scotland there had barely been a drop of rain, so of course it hosed down for my first 36 hours in Austria. Not to be put off, I slept and punctuated my dozing with lunch in the historic Cafe Central. It was all rather opulent and tasty to boot, despite having to queue in the rain for twenty minutes just to get in. Cold celery soup with apples and walnuts might look like sick but is actually dead good. Follow that with cheese dumplings on an onion and mushroom sauce and you have one sleepy Michael, so my first full day came to a close with a couple of pints and an early night. I know how to live.

The second of my three-day Viennese whirl had me up with the larks, if larks wake up after nine. The weather was much better so I was determined to do some seeing of sights. It turns out that if by sights you mean loads of beautiful old buildings, statues and churches, then you can fill your boots. By the end of the day said boots had steam coming off of them because an app on my phone told me I’d walked seventeen kilometres. 

The day hadn't started all that promisingly after I’d been burned for €7,80 for a double espresso. 

You. Are. Having. A. Giraffe. 

Not to be dismayed, my next port of call was the Freud musemum. “A heavy way to start the day, ja? Vy don’t you lie down and tell me vy you vanted to come here so much?” 

“Well, for one you don’t need that hackneyed accent, man at the ticket counter, and I don’t want to lie down on your couch. Actually, the main reason I’d come was for this.” Annoyingly, they didn’t have it in stock. Before I had made this discovery there was a big long queue and I only really wanted to go to the gift shop. Although I’m a shy and retiring type, had my mum been there she would have led me to the front so I could have gone directly to waste some coin. Why did she pop into my head there?

That wrapped up the morning, and in the afternoon I walked a lot more and defied death. Tell me more about the walking? I hear you stifle through a yawn. Thanks to some top notch learning of gross motor skills that I’d done at an age that meant I was firmly at a similar developmental stage as my peers, I strode around Vienna looking at stuff and trying not get run down by one of the many bicycle ninjas who had apparently been sent to snuff me out like a candle.

As anyone who knows me well will attest, I relish living life to the full. Pushing boundaries of gravity and common sense could well be a rather long-winded middle name of mine, had my parents not taken the safer option of Thomas. With this screaming and clawing at the back of my mind like a terrified child I boldly stepped onto the Weiner Riesenrad (Viennese Ferris Wheel) and relaxed into allowing nineteenth century technology and engineering hoist me 200 feet into the air. Lo and behold, it was actually pretty pleasant and at no point did it feel like the wooden box I was trapped in would crumble and plummet to the unforgiving ground way beneath me.

Another trip to the street food restaurant round the corner from where I was staying and a few pints with my Airbnb host followed, setting me up nicely for my last day.

I’d been told that I had to go and see the Spanish horses in the Hofburg palace so dutifully did so. They do a show at the weekends but this was a Friday and my last day, so I spent an hour watching them train which mostly consisted of them prancing, trotting and side stepping around. Very calming and pretty but an hour of equine exercise was enough for me.

The only piece of classical music I have on my computer is the Blue Danube and so it felt fitting (not to mention easy) to take a cruise looping up a canal and then along the Danube to round off my trip. It felt most relaxing and civilised to pootle along the river, taking photos of stuff and generally relaxing and reflecting. Most of my photos were graffiti-based because of the density of work that’s along the canal, which wasn’t really what I was expecting but was pretty interesting nonetheless. 

And that was about all she wrote for Vienna. I came back to Kuwait for a couple of days to check the cat was still ok and then went away again, this time to Sri Lanka for 10 days. Arriving fashionably late at the party as I’m prone to do (before being asked through a closed front door who had told me about the party), I’ve joined Instagram and while it’s highly unlikely I’ll use it much, I’ll stick some Sri Lankan photos up on that later on. My username’s themichaelnimmo if you’re interested.

New year's resolutions

Hello everyone and happy new year!

This blog is brought to you in no small part because I and my Xbox have been on different continents for much of the last two weeks. I bought it because a) I wanted one and it’s been years since I could afford such an extravagant splurge of money on a toy, and b) worried that I’d get bored in Kuwait, I figured it might help stave off any tedium that presents itself. So far, so successful with relation point b) as my time in the flat here has been humdrum-free, filled as it’s been with me striding across a post-apocalyptic landscape shooting all manner of mutants and scavengers in the legs and faces, all in the comfort of my boxers.

I’d written this post while I was in Scotland and reckoned that I’d try to kick off the year by writing something while I was distraction-free there. I’m back in Kuwait now which feels ok - my liver is certainly thankful - and though in the past I’d always really looked forward to going back to Italy, I’ve not been in Kuwait for long enough to have built up that much of a feeling for the place, really. 

It’s a new year, it’s a new life, and while I wouldn’t say I’m feeling good, I’m pretty happy 2015 has been consigned to history. It narrowly edged 2014 out in a Bad-Off, and as much as Italy is a fantastic place with special people that I’ll always think fondly of, leaving was probably a good idea.  Here’s hoping Kuwait’s an improvement. It was probably because I was really tired after a long day of travelling, but last night it really felt that I’m still quite far from getting away from bad vibrations though. Ho hum.

 

If you clicked on this link at the suggestion of incendiary stuff then pretty much the best I can offer is this: 

To be honest, it’s not likely that you thought you’d get that stuff from me anyway, is it? I reckon only people I know will read this, and by and large I don’t know folk who get their knickers in a twist for scandal. At least the people on Facebook generally don’t, and given that the majority are Italians of whom most are former students, it means that they’re absolutely not in a linguistic position to persevere with or understand this either way.

Fireworks, though, eh? Like the Conservatives relationship to basic human decency, I just don’t get it.

Now to the real meat of this post, or depending on your perspective or diet, the chaffiest part of a very chaffy stick of wheat. In the last few days, probably every newspaper and magazine has run an article about resolutions, in doing so, trapping us in a spiral of misery and in some cases, consumerism. Why so down about it, you may ask? We make grand plans for the new year, stick to them for a couple of weeks and then fall off the bandwagon for one reason or another. Then we feel bad because we reneged on something that we felt would be good for us spiritually or physically, and as base animals, our instinct is to make ourselves feel better through the shortest route available - back to the fags / booze / chocolate / lying about in our own filth at the weekends / delete as appropriate. If you don’t know me that well you can probably tell that I’m fun, fun, fun at parties.

So, rather than resolutions that I know I’ll not be able to stick to unless I get brainwashed by an anti-tobacco minded cult, I’d like 2016 to not be as generally difficult as 2015 was. To do this, I need to realise that what made 2015 difficult was of my doing, which God only knows, I do. Other people will be lined up against the wall when I become emperor of the world anyway, but they weren’t the roots of last year’s malaise. If I can keep that in mind without it looming like a nervous looking elephant hanging over my head in a harness, then it’ll already be a step in the right direction, and I’ll tackle my bizarre hallucinations another day.

The only real thing that I’d like to do is to reduce my smoking to the point that I become a social-smoker. I’m not perfect, but if I could try to extend the time on Earth that I can make imperfect choices for a little longer then that’d be nice. And having a fag with a drink is always a pleasure. Time will tell if I’m able to do it without becoming an alcoholic in order to support that resolution, but I guess living in a dry country is a good way to try.

This would be nice for all our resolutions - don’t try and change the world because it can’t be done - alter, if anything, our mentality - that’s a much better way of making change that can be stuck to. By all means we should try to improve ourselves; I wouldn’t condone standing still and thinking everything was hunky dory. Rather, a small tweak in thinking might hopefully lead to a change in our actions and behaviour, and considering that we’ve buggered the world already, at least our last 100 years here might be a bit pleasanter. 

 

Happy new year! :)

Sacrilegious disillusionment with football

I’ve been thinking a bit lately about football, as one could expect. The difference between this time and the previous twenty-odd years of my interest in the beautiful game is that recently it’s a bit less positive.

As anyone who’s read my book - and if you haven’t, why not? Buy the bloody thing, eh - may remember, I credit Genoa (the football team) or the stadium at least with having made my settling in in Genoa (the city) much easier. This is still the case, and the thought of missing the rest of the season while I’m away is a sad one, not really at all for the football, but more for the friends that I’ve been meeting every two weeks in the pub beforehand for the past seven years. Some people have drifted away from our bacchanalian boozing, others have been drawn to us like we were specially modified beer magnets. With the exception of a couple of folk, it’s always been a pleasure, even if I can’t quite remember everything that we’ve spoken about or done in that time. No idea why.

So no, it’s not the pub/stadium connection that I’m growing disillusioned with. Rather, the energy in the stadium come game time has been getting me down. It was only in the dog days of last season that I was able to put my finger on it: gathering thousands of people with one goal - a goal that they absolutely can’t have any tangible effect on - and then leaving them to watch as the team that they associate with and in many cases considers to be ‘theirs’ doesn’t perform quite as well as they’d like, or feel has been cheated by the opposition. The result is a lot of cursing, grumbling and for want of a more technical expression, bad vibes.

I’m no prude when it comes to language and can often be heard shouting: “I SAY, THAT FELLOW’S A ROTTER AND A SCOUNDREL!” Nor am I a touchy-feely hippy, but I am quite interested in the power, or existence even, of negative and positive energy. Even after games we win, I sometimes find myself going home in an irascible mood. It might be the booze in my system, but of late I’ve come to the conclusion that alcohol just makes me feel glum, not short-tempered. The only thing I can think of which might explain this feeling of irritability is the thousands of other people around me who exist for ninety minutes every other Sunday in a near permanent state of nerves and unrealistically high standards. They get outraged so quickly and over so little it’s like they read British tabloids.

After having come to this conclusion at the end of last season I did consider not renewing my season ticket for this year. As life would have it, I’m not going to be using it anymore anyway, but I did come close to jacking it in. I would have still gone to the pub beforehand for some jars, but would have just headed off home at kick-off. I might have been over-thinking it all a wee bit, but it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been guilty of that. This conclusion, while being a little unpalatable, wouldn’t necessarily be the worst thing though.

Another time I was guilty of wildly over-thinking things was on the multitude of trains I had to sit on as I chugged around Italy in doing the ‘research’ for the book. While the over-thinking had precious little to do with what went into the book, that, and all the travelling and watching teams that I didn’t really care about, took a lot out of me. Whereas before, football had been a twice-monthly treat, in the 2013/14 season it became a weekly chore. There were very few Sundays when I wasn’t able to have a lie in and a lazy morning with her indoors, and very often the matches and my away trips ate into Saturdays too as logistically it’s quite difficult to get to Udine, Cagliari, Catania or Naples in a morning. Christ, it took long enough to get to Bologna, and that’s in the neighbouring region.

All that football-watching was quite exciting at first, as I got to see all the stadia in Serie A and spoke to lots of different folk. After a few months though, as winter blew its way into the stands, my enthusiasm retreated like a snail’s head faced with a perceived predator. The novelty of watching different teams wore off like a Henna tattoo, but despite starting to go through the motions, I kept my head down and finished the year having visited every team.

I’d reached the point that I’d never imagined existed, never mind was possible. I had OD’d on football. Now, as mentioned, the pleasure of watching a match has become as diluted as supermarket lager and leaves the same slightly unpleasant aftertaste.

It’s not just watching football now either, really. At the weekend I was listening to the Everton v Liverpool match, and a twat had tweeted the commentators to say he hoped that Liverpool would lose so Brendan Rodgers would get the sack. And he tweeted that as a Liverpool fan. Of course, as it transpired The Glorious Reds didn’t need to lose for Rodgers to get his P45, but hearing that guy’s tweet was more galling than Everton’s goal. Is that what people think supporting their team is now? Hoping to lose so the manager gets the heave ho? I understand why people wanted him to go, but crossing your fingers so as to lose a derby and then maybe also the manager is, for me at least, an indication of the kind of pillocks who phone in talk radio and post their drivel below the lineon websites. They don’t support the team - I don’t want to be associated with them. Supporting the team seems more and more to entail having watched an endless stream of Youtube videos and knowing the corporate structure of your club. I couldn’t care less who the PR person or the MD is - they don’t play for my team, they just work for the company. Players basically fall into that category too, but as astronomically overpaid as they are, at least they do something on the pitch. 

I think I’m just sick of modern football and almost everything that’s jumped on its bandwagon. This, in terms of realisations, is a low. Uffa. The good news is that soon I’ll be off to a country with a low level of football culture. And no, I don't mean Scotland.


Hello.

In my perusing of the newspaper this week, there were a couple of articles that caught my eye. Or rather, the headiness did but I didn’t follow up my interest by actually reading them. Ever the intrepid, inquisitive investigator, me. The first said that some smokers are genetically predisposed to smoke without health risks. Yay, hopefully that includes me! The second said that tall people are statistically more likely to have cancer in their lives. Boo, curse the gift that allows me to reach things on high shelves!

Oh, to be a stumpy non-smoker! Life would really be looking up then, and not only figuratively, due to the fact that I’d need to constantly crane my neck up to see what was going on.

But anyway. I also went to have a medical in Landan, innit mate. The good news is that after much prodding and extracting of fluids, the results came back positive: I’m still alive. You can imagine my relief. 

It was strange though, I’ve never had a medical before, and so I didn’t really know what to expect. It didn’t start very well either because I managed to get lost in central Landan, innit mate and so arrived in the medical centre with high blood pressure from the mild-stress of thinking that I’d be late. I had literally nothing else to do all day, and having done the tourist thing of wandering along the streets of the dirty old town in an effort to kill a bit of time, there I was going to be late! Thankfully, due to my height, my long legs were able to chew up the distance quite quickly and I rolled in to the waiting room with 5 minutes to spare. Height truly is a gift and (apparently) a curse.

Another curious thing was the part of the exam which involved an old man cupping my testicles. Maybe it’s because I’m a square, but that never happens to me and I wasn’t really expecting it, and certainly not in a park before the actual exam had taken place. The man who popped out from behind a tree assured me that he had been sent by the doctor and that I was in safe hands (literally), so who was I to question him? A really on the ball (again, literally) medical centre, that one.

Boosted by the revelation that I’ll live forever (I’m paraphrasing), the rest of the day was really quite nice, lounging about, getting surprised by confident squirrels and taking loads of photos of basically the same things but from slightly different angles. It’d been years since I’d been there, but had quite a nice wee trip. That said, it was nice to come back to the relative comforts of my flat and bell’Italia. My time may be drawing to a close here, but in the grander scheme, I’ve still got a bit left in the tank. This is great news as there are still so many days that I want to trickle away while I sit about in my pants reading about football.

Speaking of which, 

ciao!


Michael vs Michael

It seems that one of my neighbours had a baby over the summer, as every night its cries echo up the steep cobbled street that lead to my door. Whether or not it’s wailing because of the realisation that its been born into a world where animals are slaughtered so that a toff can put his cock and balls in their mouths, or just because it’s bewildered and confused by its new surroundings, I don’t know, but have my suspicions. Either way, I can empathise with it a little.

As I think I’ve told almost everyone now, I can share it on here too. In a month or so I’ll be leaving Genoa on a jet plane, and don’t know if I’ll be back again. Well, I will be back but most likely just for holidays, but John Denver neglected to include that qualifier in his song. I do hate the idea to go, though.

I wanted to tell most people in person (done), and I’ve booked my hiring-required-medical (done), which, while making me feel like a professional football player, is likely to be significantly less glamorous. Now that’s out the way, it’s starting to feel real. This leaves me with emotions more mixed than if I'd just done a speedball (which future employers should note I have never done). In a way I’m excited for what’s next (Kuwait), and my head tells me that it’s a good move for me, one that will enable me to shed once and for all the chrysalis-like protective crust of my Italian life. As I’ve probably said on here before, I feel like I’ve become a man in Italy, whereas before in Scotland I was just ticking the boxes of adulthood, but still didn’t really know myself or my place in the world. On the latter score I’m still not quite sure, but if you’ll excuse my momentary use of the 3rd person (which you should never do) Michael has learned a lot about Michael, for better or worse, and so (no more 3rd person) when I look back in the future Genoa won’t just be a place I lived in for seven years, but the place where I grew up and actually finally started living. My head tells me that now is the time to move on, to move up and to grow a bit more. 

That’s what my head says. Bad head, giving me difficult things to think about! My heart tells me to stay in Genoa, to stay in the city where I’m happy, to stay with the people I’ve grown quite fond of, and to stay in the job that while not really going anywhere, I like all the same. In the end, my head has won out over my heart on this one. This was fine up until about a week ago when I had other things on my mind, but now that I don’t (kind of), the realisation that I’m leaving is starting to get real. 

The idea of these days being the last days of Genoa has had a big effect on me. I shouldn’t be surprised by this, and if anything I should probably find solace in the fact that I’m feeling down about leaving; after all, if I didn’t like it here I’d be indifferent-going-on-happy about leaving. If I felt like that then it’d follow that I’d be leaving with more of a negative experience than a positive one. Seeing as this absolutely isn’t the case, my blues have a strongly defined silver-lining. That’s what I’ve got to keep on thinking anyway. It’s just that sometimes it’s harder than others*.

 




* that’s what she said (Sorry).

"Isn't hindsight great?", said no one ever

Hello one (and all)

It’s been a while since I posted anything, largely down to three factors: 1) I was busy, 2) I’m always lazy, and 3) I haven’t been in the right frame of mind to spill its contents onto the internet. Having wrested myself out of the sleeper hold of the first two of these restraints I figured that instead of doing things I really should be doing now, I’d write a post. 

The summer flew by like a swallow swooping after its dinner, and I barely even noticed its passage. Being in Kuwait was a great experience and gave some much needed distance from life in Genoa. Now I’m back, albeit fleetingly, filling my days with reading and drinking beer on my balcony. There’s nothing like staying ten weeks in a dry country to give me a thirst!

While sitting on my balcony, I’ve been slipping into the concentric circles of thought that swirl round my brain and thinking about life and decisions we make. Having been lucky enough to have grown fat and weak on the ephemeral plentitude of capitalism, my life has generally been uneventful in the grand scheme of things and, as a result, I have enjoyed many big-decision-free years. Unfortunately it now seems that the last (really only) big decision I made was woefully wrong, but at the time my muddled thinking made it seem like the right one, if not a good one. What a difference a year and a bit makes.

As you may or may not know or be interested, as previously mentioned, I spent the summer in Kuwait teaching English. While revising conditional forms with some students, I asked them if they came into an arbitrarily huge amount of money, what they would do. Their faces met me with a look so blank you could be forgiven for mistaking it for the first page of the book I’m trying to write. The same thing often happens when I ask Italians the same thing. What they’re doing when they’re in meetings or being nagged by their partners, one can only speculate, but it seems that it’s not daydreaming about being somewhere else. The mind boggles as to why not.

I have a detailed plan for exactly what I’ll do in just such an eventuality, which for expediency is tiered depending on the size of the gold heist I carry out. These are the kinds of decisions I like making, because they are all of course entirely hypothetical situations and decisions. When faced with an actual decision, I freeze faster than an Inuit’s testicles on a New Year’s Day swim. Paralysed by the need to make a decision, I torture myself for weeks surrounded by the detritus of my brain and the various possible outcomes.

Without wanting to get even vaguely topical or insightful, is our society getting more slapdash and knee-jerk when it comes to making decisions? Of course, that’s really a rhetorical question, as in no way proving my point I’ve just spent five minutes on my balcony drinking a beer and thinking about it. I think it might be though. Going off of what I remember from high school, the European powers that were dillied and dallied in the run-ups to both the First and Second World Wars. While I don’t think it was just because of political inertia, and with hindsight (what a fantastic thing that is, no one said ever), they probably should have moved earlier, but if my Higher grade C in History taught me anything it was that a) I wasn’t as naturally good at History as I thought I was, and b) appeasement looks like a bad choice now, but at the time was an attempt at stopping more millions of people dying on battlefields. Instead nowadays there’s a sense that politicians are just making the shit they say up on the hoof. 

I think that 24/7 rolling news and immediate Big-Breaking-News!!! alerts on our phones make us less inclined to spend a bit of time when making decisions. Personally, I curse the offspring of whoever had the idea to put adverts on Youtube that you can’t skip, so I’m not immune to the lure of quick fixes and instant gratification either. After all,  if a politician takes their time to make a decision, they are seen to be indecisive. We all want someone with a strong hand on the tiller, but as the majority of politicians these days are suits with changeable smirks, can you have a strong hand if you think the tiller is a bar near Henley? Surely taking an extra day or so and doing a bit of research and speaking to people who are experts would help find a solution that’s better in the long term? Dodgy dossiers and 45-minute claims aside, presumably making informed decisions rather than hopeful punts is the best route to success.

There must be a middle ground between boil in the bag resolutions and the kind of slow cook, tagine-of-torture way I go about deciding things. Technology’s great, but it’d be nice if we hadn’t become quite so addicted to its cheap thrills, myself included. 

There’s a parable I heard years ago from where I don’t remember anymore, about a donkey sitting in the sun. On either side there are piles of food, but both look so deliciously tempting and equidistant that our equine protagonist can’t decide which he’ll eat first. He sits and thinks under the beating sun as the food slowly starts to go bad and he grows weak with hunger and dehydration. Finally, after days of sitting and thinking without coming to a conclusion, as the flies that have started swarming around the food deafen him with their buzzing, he keels over and the last thing he sees before the bugs close in on him too are the piles of food gone bad.

Sometimes I feel like that too, and if you’re thinking that that’s because I’m an ass, then award yourself ten points for wit. I’ve recently had another big decision to make, which has now been made, but largely for factors that are out of my hands. So, I’m leaving Genoa. Ironically, the next step I took, which in theory is a very big one, seemed as simple and natural to me as night following day. I now know that if I’d made that same step sooner, life would be very different and absolutely lovely. It’s not to be though. 

One of my favourite TV programmes is Community, and an episode I particularly enjoy is one that deals with multiple timelines branching off from a roll of a dice. We get to see six alternative paths of time, which is in line with a theory of time and realities. If I’ve understood it right, every decision we make creates a different timeline, all existing at the same time but in different realities. Therefore, all of our decisions, be they big or small, are played out to their conclusion. I like to think that somewhere in one of my timelines I didn’t make the big decision I alluded to a little earlier, but close my eyes and stamp my feet all I like, it’s not this timeline. 

If you don’t like your perception of time and reality to be branchy though, the book I’ve recently (re-)read is One Hundred Years of Solitude, and as Aureliano and Ursula realise, “time wasn’t passing…..  it was turning in a circle”. I like that too, if only for the blind hope that if it doesn’t work out this time, it might the next spin round.

 

Kuwait update two

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Hello everyone / ciao a tutti / as salaam alaikum (I don’t know how you say ‘everyone’ in Arabic)

I thought I’d write a wee post to give an update on Kuwait and other stuff.

So, yeah, Kuwait. It’s pretty hot, but that’s understandable considering it’s July and I’m basically in a desert that’s temporarily made way for a country. As I mentioned last time round, it’s not really what I expected. I had about two weeks before coming here to muse over what it’d be like and staunchly didn’t bother to do any research in that time, so the few preconceptions I had have generally proved to be false. 

I’ve been surprised to notice that it’s not actually too disimilar to Italy for three reasons: 

Just as there are churches everywhere in Italy, here there are more mosques than I’ve had hot dinners. (Subjectively) interestingly, when they build a new area here, after putting in the infrastructure like roads and electricity and water sub stations, next on the list of things to do it seems, is to build a mosque. Only after all that do they get around to building actual houses. Replacing the hourly peel of church bells I hear back ‘home’ in Genoa, here there’s a frequent call to prayer.

In contrast, while religion has slipped into being part of the cultural background a little in Italy, and certainly in Scotland, here’s it’s still very much at the forefront of daily life. While gasping down a cigarette in a blanket of heat last night with one of my colleagues, we spoke about this briefly (only briefly, mind, my insights on the subject were so profound and indisputably right that further conversation on the topic was rendered moot, and like I say, it was hot). British culture’s connection to religion is now largely only in our language. Sure, there are God fearers in the UK, but the hold it had over life has now been relegated to our vernacular and to politicians who think that being religious will help them appeal to the masses, just as they proclaim to support a football team, eat bacon sandwiches or feel ‘bloody lively’ about things. 

When I stub my toe and mutter “Christ”, it’s not because I’m in communion with Him. When politicians (ok, the Tories) go to church it’s because there’s a photo opportunity. Any pretence they have for being religious would seem contradicted by their actions. There’s no amount of praying that’ll save them if there is a heaven unless there’s a tiered layer of the afterlife where they can smoke cigars, look after their Eton chums and hound the not-born-into-wealth lot there too.

Sorry, even thinking about them get’s me bloody lively too. Not like David Cameron though. I actually feel something.

Religion is in our language. If you sneeze and I say “bless you”, I’m not intentionally referencing God. I’m just programmed to say that. It’s as automatic as me listening to sad music after a few sherries, or spuriously spending money when I get paid (I bought a new iPhone the other day).

In Kuwait, while there are almost certainly people whose grip on religion has loosened somewhat, as a culture as a whole it still seems to have a huge value. In Genoa, it doesn’t take long to spy a prostitute in the vicoli on a Sunday morning, if that’s your bag. Men (principally of the old type) can go and get their rocks off and then go and confess immediately after, thus saving their eternal soul for another week. Religion increasingly strikes me as something that people do nowadays in the West. Here, while there are of course those who have a skewed idea of Islam (the suicide bomb here a few weeks ago as an obvious and jarring example), religion is something which is lived. Ramadan’s finished now (Eid mubarak!) but during it my students would extol the virtues of fasting even while they were suffering through another day of not eating, drinking, smoking or having impure thoughts. 

If I put down the ‘big baton of what I think about stuff’, and pick up the ‘big baton of stuff I’ve done’ one for a moment, then I can tell you that last week I tried fasting for a lark. Last Friday, from the moment I woke up (about 10am) till 6.50 in the evening, I didn’t eat, drink or smoke. I can’t say that it put me in touch with a higher power, although the head rush I got with my first cigarette was divine. Most of my colleagues looked at me like I was a lunatic when I told them my intention, and while the jury may still be out on that score, I liked the challenge. Occasionally depriving ourselves of things we like or take for granted is a positive test for all of us in my opinion, and so I was quite chuffed that I managed to do it for a day without cheating. The word hero has been bandied about, but I gracefully and demurely bat it away. It was only for one day after all, and I probably won’t be doing it again.

Dragging us back to the original theme of this post, the second way that Kuwait reminds me a bit about Italy is the driving style of the locals. I’ve yet to be in a car ride here that hasn’t seen a sudden contraction of my sphincter. The way people drive could be described as being free-form and expressionistic, but it could also be described as recklessly bloody awful. Cars zoom past you, cut across you and suddenly jam on the brakes when the Mario Kart driver in front of them does the same thing. They all drive so close to each other on the motorway that if I stretched my neck up a bit I’d be able to see the speedometer of the car in front for confirmation that they were going too fast too. Cue further tensing down below. Thankfully there are almost no motorbikes or scooters, otherwise there’d be a daily massacre on the motorway. I’m not a big fan of sitting in the front passenger seat in Genoa, and that discomfort is multiplied enormously here as my feet instinctively press for where I think the brake pedal might be, had I ever learned how to drive.

The final similarity I’ve noticed is the language. Obviously Arabic looks nothing like Italian, due to it having a different alphabet and sentences starting on the right and working their way to the left. However, once you get past that, a lot of the constructions are reminiscent of Italian, and presumably other Latin-influenced languages. My Kuwaiti students, while being lovely, mangle sentences and concepts just like my Italian students do. They higgledy-piggledyly parachute the same words into sentences as Italians do because they’re thinking in their own language and translating across, while before regaling me with a tale they start by saying ‘it happened that…’, just like Italians do. Who’d have thunk it, eh? I generally get really bored when reading about the etymology and development of languages, but this similarity has piqued my interest a little.

While I wouldn’t like to read a whole entire book about that, it did plant a small seed of an idea in my head last week. Could I live here and learn some Arabic? I have to say, the latter is quite appealing as that’d be a real challenge for me, but after a fair bit of consideration, I don’t think I can leave Genoa. There are too many things that I’d miss. Apart from friends and seven years of memories, it’s not like I have anything tying me to the place. As I’ve said in the past though, Genoa’s where I became a man, which as result means there’s a lot of emotional baggage attached to it. I have considered leaving before, have done so while I’ve been in Kuwait, and will probably do so again in the future, but I just don’t feel like my time there has drawn to a close.

Eels - Not Ready Yet

Getting away from Genoa has been good for me so far this summer and I needed that, but I’m not ready to give up on it just yet. I reserve the right to flip flop on that like Fabien Delph in a pair of Havaianas, but for now, forza Genoa, in both senses.

Update on Kuwait, and no, non je ne regrette rien

Hello all from sunny Kuwait

I’ve been here since Monday, and had thought about writing a post about stuff that’d been on my mind as it’s been a while, plus I figured it might be interesting for you to hear what it’s like here. Obviously events yesterday have changed my feeling about the place a bit, but we’ll get to that.

First of all, yes, it’s hot. Really hot. So hot in fact that I farted the other day and a jet of flame shot out and burned through my trousers. Oops. But it’s not so hot that it’s unbearable. Unlike Italy, it’s a dry heat and an unfailingly flat country, so I’m spared the humidity drenched climbs up and down the hill to my house everyday, which is nice. On top of that, everything is air-conditioned to the max, and people don’t really spend time outside. There’s a noticeable lack of pavement in the residential area I live in, and almost all of my colleagues are a ghostly white colour.

kuwait at iftar

The locals I’ve met (i.e. students and folk in shops) have all been very nice and although I’ve had to be careful what we talk about in class given that it’s Ramadan, my two days of work so far have gone swimmingly. I was a wee bit concerned what they would be like, seeing that it’s my first time in the region and didn’t really know what to expect, but so far so good on that score.

Football is really popular here and there’s a stadium near my work, but unfortunately it’s the close season in Kuwait too. Incredibly, no one has heard of Hibs, so most students have asked if I support Celtic. I’m in the process of educating them.

Speaking of shops, Fridays and Saturdays here are the weekends. So, yesterday (Friday) I and my two colleagues who are also here just for the summer, decided to go to one of the shopping malls centres (everything’s really americanised). We hopped into a taxi and were a few minutes into the ride when the taxi driver asked if we’d heard about the bomb. Uhhhhhhhmmmmmmm, no, what bomb? As you may know by now, 27 people were killed yesterday by a suicide bomb in a mosque downtown. Italians will recognise the gesture I’m  currently making with my upturned hand where I press the tips of my fingers together. Although I never asked Adrian and Francis (the aforementioned colleagues), I assume they both got as sudden a bout of squeaky-bumitis as I did. After a brief confab, it was agreed that we should eschew the Westernised shopping centre and just go home to our apartments. 

We were told by work to stay at home and lay low, so that’s what we did. It was a wee bit tense, as you can imagine, and I started to wonder if coming here was really that great an idea after all. This was the first terrorist attack in Kuwait since 1985 though, and the country is generally considered pretty calm. I’ll be keeping my head down as much as possible for the rest of Ramadan, mind. There already wasn’t much to do here anyway, so I guess I’m going to be watching films and reading books for the foreseeable future.

We sat around in my flat for about five hours, chatting and smoking, and it was nice to have the company. After they’d left I sat and watched a DVD, but half way through it the electricity in the building went off for a few minutes, at which point I switched off my computer, tiptoed up to my bed and eventually fell asleep with a knife on the dresser. Thoroughly spooked.

As it’s Ramadan, eating, drinking, smoking and heavy petting are all off the menu during the day. I’m quite impressed how the Kuwaitis can keep that going, as it must be really difficult to stay awake in my lessons without any fuel in their bodies. The other day I was in a taxi about the time of Iftar (6.50ish - the end of the day’s fasting) and we stopped at traffic lights. A couple of youths approached the car at which point my eyes started to search for the button to lock my door, but as they approached, the driver wound his window down and the urchins gave him bottles of water and figs. They then turned round and went to the next car at the lights and did the same thing. Apparently it’s quite normal for kids to do that during Ramadan, which is both really nice as they don’t ask for money, and a little shaming for me, as I saw them and my mind immediately jumped to a negative conclusion. 

Speaking of negative conceptions, when I was coming over on the plane I read a magazine that had this article, which I found quite interesting. I’d not really considered it before, just as I’d never really considered this part of the world until the last few weeks. An interesting read, even though it would be fairly logical if we had a more diverse view of the region and religion in our news diet.

Anyways, another thing that was on my mind coming over was regret. I’ve had a few. Whether they’ve been what I had to do, I don’t know. I guess at the time they were what I felt was the right move. I don’t think second guessing ourselves does us any good, and so while we might not think that the decisions we made are now the right choices, at the time for one reason or other, they were. For example, I made a choice last year, and by the time that I’d really settled on it as being a bad decision some time later, I found out that I was no longer first choice to the other person. That burns more than the sun here at midday.

It’d be lovely to warble ‘non, je ne regrette rien', but going by the previous sentence, I obviously and unfortunately do. In particular I regret a large chunk of 2014, as evidenced above. I regret decisions made, realisations delayed, and words went unsaid. Unfortunately, I can regret and regret with all my heart and it won’t change anything. The idea of non, je ne regrette rien doesn’t suit me. I like sad books, sad music and sad films, and feel drawn to fictional tragedies. These are not filled with people with unblemished pasts, gaily skipping through meadows to hoots of laughter. I want to be happy more than I want to be almost anything, but I find comfort in sadness and melancholy. Edith Piaf would pretty much be the perfect singer in that regard, come to think of it. 

Rather than non, je ne regrette rien, what seems a little healthier is ‘amor fati’, which translates as ‘love of one’s fate’. Rather than insisting that it’s all good and you actually wanted to get arrested/dumped/sacked/whatever, we should accept what happens. It’s not necessarily being happy about it, but instead acknowledging that it did happen. We’re here because of the steps we’ve taken in life, so if we deny those steps then we wouldn’t be where we are. And hopefully that’s a good place. I’m not quite there yet mentally, but I hope it’s just round the corner, inshallah. I find that maybe I think and regret too much, or at least get stuck in a loop of self-flagellation, but it seems that that’s how I’m wired. If I tried to kid myself then I wouldn’t be honest with myself. After all, as Frank Sinatra sang:


 “what is a man, what has he got? 

  If not himself, then he has naught.”

Seven years in

Today (today being the 3rd of June) marks my seventh anniversary of landing in Italy. And my, how those years have alternated between flying and dragging! When I think back about the various escapades and hi jinx that have happened, some feel like they were only yesterday (admittedly, mostly only the things that happened yesterday), while others seem to have happened years ago. Time isn’t linear, which makes more sense to me in this case than if I try to understand the actual nature of time, and so as a result, or not, some things stand out brighter in my mind than others. 

The things that stick out often don’t have any particularly importance. The old woman who looked at me seven years ago as I was standing in a bus stop in Molassana and shouted ‘sciopero, sciopero’ could be my landlady for all I know, but I remember that episode quite clearly. It was, after all, the first time someone here had fixed me with a look and shouted at me, though not the last time. That was the day I learned a) what ‘sciopero’ meant (strike), and b) just how far Molassana is away from the centre of Genoa when you have to walk under a baking June sun.

I could recite to you word for word the passive aggressive bitchy note that my upstairs neighbour left stuck to my door a couple of years ago, as well as the day and the meal (February 14th, a red-peppery pasta sauce) I was cooking that prompted her to suspect I was cooking unnecessarily smelly food. 

Neither of these things have any great relevance to today; I don’t go to Molassana anymore, and the neighbour upstairs is still an arse and basically an unhappy person, but I don’t speak to her so that’s ok. 

I’ve tried to veer away from the old format of my blog, which was mostly pish and the gibberish wanderings of my brain. This new blog has mostly been slightly more controlled wanderings of my brain, which hopefully haven’t been pish. I know, I know - plus ça change! Today though, given the anniversary, I figured I’d see if I can’t find some kind of character development through my time here.

So, after seven years in the bel paese, what have I learned?

I’m both proud and embarrassed to say that my English has both improved, and at least recently, started to atrophy. I know that that isn’t maybe a glowing endorsement of my language skills, considering that English teaching keeps me in the caviar, cocaine and champagne to which I’ve become accustomed, but it is true.

When I first arrived, I could speak English of course, but why I said ‘I went’ rather than ‘I have gone’ wasn’t crystal clear in my mind. Now it absolutely is, and I switch into auto-pilot when a student makes a mistake and I have to explain where they went wrong, and how to avoid similar mistakes in future. In this sense my English has improved, to the extent that I now notice mistakes that friends back in Scotland make. It didn’t take long for me to understand that they don’t appreciate the (free, I should add!!) error identification and correction I offered them in the pub, but I guess some people are never happy.

On the other hand though, my English is contemporaneously slipping away like so many few girls. Since before Christmas the group of native English speaking people who I see regularly has contracted to the extent that, excluding myself (and a little too frequently at that), I don’t speak English to anyone (students don’t count), and even though I can regale myself with fantastical stories, I have the nagging feeling that I’ve heard them all before. I’m quite happy to speak to folk in Italian, so this isn’t intended to be a long-winded cry for help and friendship, but sometimes, and particularly since the turn of the year, it would have been nice to speak to an empathetic mother tongue English speaker - some things are just better explained in your native language. 

This has had the effect that under the heading of ‘things I’ve learned’, I can confidently put ‘words in Italian’. When I arrived, I knew not a jot, where as now I know quite a lot. I arrived maybe knowing three simple things, whereas now I even understand when a singer sings. I could barely string together a rhyme, but now I find myself doing it, well, quite a lot, really. Without wanting to show off (although given that you’re reading my blog on my website which I made primarily to poorly publicise my book, it’d seem that I want people to be aware of me), I reckon my Italian’s not too bad. To give an indication of the gazelle-sized leap I’ve made: when I first arrived, I thought ‘ciao’ only meant goodbye. How wrong I was - it also means hello! OMG. This didn’t save me from the first few demoralising days when I thought that everyone spontaneously and immediately decided to head off after being introduced to me. Sad face.

That’s quite a simple thing to have developed in seven years, of course. Really, the biggest change I’ve noticed in myself is that I’ve grown up. I now think that the seven-year-ago-me probably wouldn’t be very engaging company anymore. Not that I’m particularly captivating now, it’s just that back then my brain was full of cotton wool and I didn’t really think about stuff. I knew what I knew and didn’t understand most things, and ambled along in that way for a good few years. I fear I hurt a couple of people, and generally played the textbook mid-twenties boy.

A few years ago, however, perhaps brought on by co-habitation with a human female, I started to grow up and become an adult rather than the photocopy of a person that I had been before. Like an immature, awkward chrysalis bursting free from the protective elongated embrace of adolescence, I turned into a slightly more mature, awkward adult human. Finally, I think about things in a reflective rather than instinctive way, though with dismay I realise the kicker that now the mistakes I make are adult-sized rather than kid-sized. It may be the case that I think about some things too much, but while I try to whittle this down into the Goldilocks zone of churning over things, I think it’s better to think too much rather than too little. This is the principal change I see in myself.

I’m not going to bore you with any mistakes I’ve made here and now, but suffice to say that the last year erred on the shite side of things. However, through its shiteness, I hope I’ve learned an important lesson. It’s true, it’d be nice for important lessons to be visible before the mistakes that spawn them are made, but that doesn’t seem to be how life works out. Therefore, and despite being warned about it beforehand, I needed my mistake to simultaneously slap me in the face and kick me up the arse for me to appreciate it and take it on board. A good kick up the arse can be a helpful thing every so often, and so while it was, and at times continues to be, hard to see the silver lining, it is there - it just takes a bit of mental squinting to find it.

While I’m happy to give well-meaning advice, I’m not one for accepting it. After all, no one else can be right when I’m a genius and know everything! In that respect I haven’t changed one iota, but hopefully I will, though time will tell if I develop a receptivity in that regard. Fingers crossed, eh.

I have of course also written a book, which I’m rather pleased with, even if I’m sick of the sight and sound of it now. I’m sure that in five years or so I’ll look back on the whole process fondly, but just now it’s still a bit too recent to be anything more than a reminder of a massive amount of work (not my favourite thing, that) and a monopolisation of my brain when I could really have been thinking about other stuff.

To bring this crashing towards something that resembles a conclusion, these years have unoriginally been the best of times and the worst of times. I’m dead happy that I came here, even if I feel like it’s maybe drawing to a close. I don’t have any plan for what’s next, but the itch to spread my wings a bit more is getting stronger. Hopefully I can keep on growing as a person, and as a person who knows what a mistake looks like as it appears on the horizon. Even then, the experiences, for good or bad, that I’ve had here have made me the person I am today, and so - to (almost) quote Galway Kinnell - the only thing I can trust in is time. After all, hasn’t it carried me everywhere, up to now?

A short story

Pretty much what the title suggests. This is my first short story (although it's much longer than I'd anticipated) in a loooooooooooooooong time, I hope it's not utter pants. :)

 

A long time ago, in a timeline that had branched off from ours many years before humanity started to eat itself, there lived a young man, called B. Despite his name, B had a good imagination, so much so that he often lived in his head. However, what he shared his brain space with didn't always make for good company. After living a relatively normal childhood, he decided that he needed an adventure and set off for Pastures New. He didn’t know what he would find, or indeed even the language that he would hear there, but life had got a bit stale for him in the land of his birth.

Upon his arrival in Pastures New, it took him a while to acclimatise. Every day an angry sphere launched itself into the sky, replacing the slate grey clouds that had menaced his childhood. Apart from that, everything else seemed seemed quite normal. Up was what he understood to be up, and down likewise. Over time he noticed with concern that left was increasingly moving to where he thought the right was, while what he considered Right frequently turned out to be Wrong.

But stumble along B must, so stumble along B did, instructing the swarthy locals about the magic of his homeland and regaling them with tales of days as dark as nights, and summer nights as cold as winter days. With time he learned their language (called Lingo) and settled into a lifestyle that would be euphorically described by his compatriots as ‘awrait’.

For some time, perhaps intoxicated by the adventure of his new life, and despite the nagging boredom he felt in repeating the same stories, B was content. Happy was a big concept for him, and was something that he didn’t strive for. To be clear, he wasn’t a masochist or a misery-merchant, but rather, happiness, in his opinion, was as fickle as the wind and as an emotion couldn’t be relied upon. Contentedness on the other hand suggested to him a state of wellbeing that transcended the moment, and was something that was made up of a number of constituent factors. So, for some time B considered himself to be content. This was good.

However, even though he had got to grips with Lingo and had seemed to have been accepted by the diminutive locals, something was lacking. In communicating with them, he could explain how he felt and what he wanted, but he missed the connection of speaking to someone from his homeland. Someone who would understand his mentality and his outlook on life. It wasn’t that his people and those he found himself surrounded by were so unalike, it was just that they had slightly different perspectives on things. People from Pastures New’s favourite jokes were frequently crude, and poor B suffered from flatulence, which for a while made him feel like the butt of many of their jokes. It took months for him to understand that they were laughing at the entirely natural bodily process of expelled gas that he inadvertently produced, rather than at him. This lack of cultural awareness stung him, though, and he retreated into his shell a little.

One evening while he was walking near his home, he heard singing coming from a nearby tree. In the tree he saw a majestic bird sitting atop an empty nest. Its song was beautiful and sad, and something held B there to watch the bird as it would in turn preen its feathers and then sing for what seemed like months, but couldn’t possibly have been because by the time he eventually arrived home later that evening, it was still that evening, only later. Even though he had only seen that bird once, he decided to call it Coso, as with a name he figured that it became more tangible than without.

That night B couldn’t sleep; the sad, lilting song of the bird seemingly reverberating in his room. He was sure that the bird had wanted to tell him something; that if he could just grasp the meaning of what the bird had sung, he might be able to sleep in peace. Of course, this didn’t make sense - the bird was simply singing, and it seemed sad to B because he projected sadness onto the notes, but at the time, and for a long time afterwards, he couldn’t see this. So instead, he was followed by a doomed yearning to understand that bird’s song. While the outside world fell quiet as people went to bed, his nights remained sleepless, filled with birdsong. 

Weeks passed. Every day he would go back to that same tree, full of hope of hearing the majestic bird and its beautiful sad song. Every day he turned around disappointed and headed home. Months passed, and he still couldn’t decipher the song’s meaning. Sleeplessness stubbornly stuck to him, and he started to feel as if he was fraying around the edges like a flag being tugged, slapped and blown by a relentless wind.

It was in this state of mind that one day he made a decision. If the bird wouldn’t come back to him to reveal its secret, he would look for another one and keep it at home. Just as other people filled a void with expensive toys or new lovers, he would replace what he yearned for with an equivalent.  

Three weeks after this decision, B found what he was looking for. Hingmy, as he would call it, was of a similar breed of bird, but whereas Coso had bright green feathers streaked through with a dash of yellow, Hingmy was pure green, which depending on the light could be as bright as dewy grass in spring, or as deep and rich as the needles of a mountain spruce. Hingmy sang less, and with less apparent urgency than Coso, but was nonetheless sweet. Coso’s song still lived in the murky silt of B’s mind, so he didn’t particularly notice Hingmy’s reluctance to sing at first.

Over time, however, Hingmy became more and more central to his daily life. Its company, as much as it was, gave B a great deal of pleasure. Although he at first thought that he wouldn’t be able to forget its predecessor’s beautiful sad song, with time this slipped back into the recesses of his memory. For the first time in what seemed like a lifetime, B found that sleep would creep up on him and envelop him in its comforting cradle.

In this way, life continued. In this way, B found himself once more feeling content. In the evening he would sit with Hingmy by the window, where they would both gaze out at the world. He would be lost in thoughts, or otherwise blabbering away as if he were sitting with a person, while she (he’d started to think of her as a she rather than an it) would sing. She had started to sing more often, or at least he thought she had, though he couldn’t be sure because although Coso’s song was by now just an echo of a memory, for so long it had consumed so much of his mind that he could never be sure how much Hingmy had actually sung before.

Hingmy’s singing was comforting. It was beautiful, just as Coso’s had been, but it didn’t seem to have the same tinge of sadness to it. In many ways it was similar, but even within the similarity he could sense a difference. It was neither a good nor a bad difference, but was just that: different. She would start singing when he fell silent, and so in this odd way, he felt almost like they were having a conversation. He would tell her about his day and what was on his mind, while he imagined she did the same through her song. The fact that they didn’t understand each other wasn’t important - it was that they were communicating. This gave him a great sense of calm, so much so that he began rushing home to maximise their time together, at the same time starting to slip out of contact with his human friends, almost without noticing. Everything he needed, or felt he needed was at home.

He was always careful to keep his window closed, for fear of Hingmy flying away. She was after all a wild animal, and as domesticated as she might have been, and as content as she seemed to be perched beside him in the evenings, he couldn’t countenance the thought of her succumbing to some instinct and flying through the open window.

Beyond contentment, B started to feel happy. Rather than an amalgamation of parts that when added together equalled contentment, with Hingmy he felt happy. His previous reluctance for happiness, and his fear that it was nothing more than a passing emotion, ebbed away. Whereas before he had thought of happiness as being akin to a cloud, and therefore something ephemeral, now he felt that happiness was rather more like a cloudless summer’s day, whose warmth and light would bathe him in its glory. Of course, clouds might muster on the horizon, but they were passing inconveniences; shadows that might suggest doom, but which were really just temporary events that would sooner or later make way once again for a clear azure sky.

One of the these clouds, although at the time it didn’t seem to him as such, was how Hingmy reacted when they sat by the window and she saw other birds outside. She would become agitated and her singing raised up a notch. It seemed to B to be insistent, to be curious, to be shot through with a hint of sadness. This perceived sadness of Hingmy’s started to weigh on B. It brought back memories of Coso, and how desperate he had been to understand her secret song. Thinking in that direction made him feel guilty about Hingmy. What was she, if not an attempt to recapture the memory of Coso? Furthermore, while Coso was free, in his effort to find her meaning, he had made a prisoner of Hingmy. She was after all, a wild animal. He deprived her of her natural habitat so that he could enjoy her for himself, worried that if he opened the window for her she might not come back to him. These thoughts threatened the brilliant summer’s day of his mind, despite the change in perspective he’d only recently had. He could sense banks of clouds massing just where the visible became the invisible, like an invading barbarian army ready to blot out the happiness he had found.

Over the next few months B’s mood deteriorated. He would no longer rush home to sit with Hingmy at the window. When he arrived, she would still sing her enchanting song, but whereas it once brought a warmth to B’s heart, now it made him feel guilty and uncomfortable. He would still sit with her and tell her about his day, but doing so made him feel like a wretch. While his mouth formed words, his brain circled around and around on itself. He knew what he had to do. He didn’t want to do it, but he knew he had to all the same. Oh, for the bliss of ignorance!

So it was, that one day before leaving in the morning, B left his window open. He only discovered this when he arrived home later that day, and couldn’t for the life of him remember having done it. Was it an accident, or did his subconscious instruct him to do it? It was a question that he couldn’t answer, and even if he could, it wouldn’t have changed the fact: Hingmy had taken her chance and had flown away.

B spiralled. Not at first, however, as in the days immediately afterwards he found consolation in telling himself that he had done the right thing, whether it had been deliberate or not. Even if he hadn’t meant to leave the window open, the right result had been reached. This rationale shielded him from the sadness and solitude that had taken up residence in his house. The friends that he’d disconnected from were still friends, but a distance had built up between them, a gulf that couldn't be described.

He started going back to the park where he had first heard Coso, but by now she was long since gone. Other birds sang, but their songs were simplistic, two-note calls to other birds. They sang from habit, from memory, from evolutionary necessity. None of them sang for the love of singing and communication as Coso and Hingmy had seemed to him to do. These elementary songs would ring in his head just as the sad, beautiful song of Coso once had, but in an altogether less welcome way. They both echoed in his brain; but while Coso and Hingmy’s reverberated like that of church bell being rung to celebrate a wedding, these new songs were instead the insistent echo of a tinnitus sufferer.

Only in his dreams did the noise stop. Only in his dreams was he able to escape the song that tormented him, that reminded him of what he had let fly free. In his waking hours he could explain it away to himself; that he had done the right thing; but all of these explanations, all these justifications and salves were accompanied by the juvenile chattering song of the birds in the park. 

In his dreams, B would be by his window. Sometimes Hingmy would be beside him, closed inside as she had been for what seemed like so long. Sometimes she would be sitting on the window sill outside, looking in on him. Sometimes she couldn’t be seen at all. In all of these dreams though, she could be heard. Through her song she would tell him where she was (though he could never remember where when he woke up), and what she was doing now that she had flown away. He would in turn tell her what he had been doing, and explain to her what he had been thinking before she had left. He was rarely able to find the right words, as somewhere between his brain and his mouth there was a disconnect, despite having thought it through more times than he could count.

These dreams didn’t help B’s mood. Although he didn’t want to forget Hingmy, just as he hadn’t wanted to forget Coso, a part of him still wished that he could. She wasn’t in his life anymore, but clung to his memory like seaweed to a wet leg. If he could have reached inside his mind and plucked her out, he probably would have. Only ‘probably’, because despite the irony of her being a bird which had flown away, she was the last thing in his life that made him feel grounded. She was only a bird, but he felt that she was more than that, and had certainly played a bigger role than that to him.

So, all of these thoughts and the incessant singing of the birds in the park (he had stopped going there many months before, but their songs remained) swirled round B’s mind like a whirlpool. He could sense himself slipping closer to the centre, but didn’t know what to expect there. Its strength and darkness scared him, but he felt as powerless as a leaf in a gale. All he could do was to keep his head above water for as long as he could manage.

Then, one evening while he was sitting by the window surrounded by a thick pall of silence and smoke, a thought dawned on him: He had projected sadness onto Coso’s song. He had searched for her to no avail, and just when he was starting to give up hope, he had found Hingmy. She hadn’t replaced Coso, because they weren’t the same - while he could replace his socks because they were all more or less identical objects, he couldn’t hope to replace a living breathing entity with another. Rather than mourning the loss of these birds before trying to find a like-for-like replacement, he should be happy for what he found with each of them. Coso had sung so beautifully that it had haunted him and started him on the journey to Hingmy. With her he had felt more than just content; he had felt happy. As fantastic as it would have been to have felt that way forever, he knew that clouds would have appeared on the horizon from time to time. Happiness could always win through though. Maybe not anytime soon, but eventually it should. He mustn’t look for those birds anymore, nor search for what they made him feel. By looking for a copy of the past, he would never grow as a person, nor be able to find true happiness again - just as a photograph of a photograph has a lower resolution, so a copy of a past love or experience makes for an inferior version. They wouldn’t leave him, and they shouldn’t. 

That night B dreamt that he was an ant that had fallen into a kitchen sink. The water around and below pulled at him, and he spiralled and swirled towards the centre. He sped ever closer to the darkness in the middle of the whirlpool, always closer, always closer, but never quite there. He wasn’t afraid now, he was just…… waiting. Then, all of a sudden as if a hand had grabbed his feet and yanked him down, and with a deafening SLUUUUURP he was finally pulled under and into the darkness.

……

He opened his eyes to bright sunlight. Blinking, he slowly started to see that he was somewhere strangely familiar. He had definitely been here before - he recognised the horizon, the layout, the features, but he couldn’t put his finger on where exactly he was. He saw people walking around, and one person looking up at him standing still. As B looked closer he could see it was himself - B was looking at B. What a strange dream, he thought. He shouted out to himself, and almost fell over in shock. When he shouted, it wasn’t a human voice that came out but a bird’s call! He looked down at his body and saw that he had wings, feathers and two feet that gripped an empty nest on a branch. What a strange dream! 

He tried to shout again - and again no comprehensible words came out of where his mouth should have been (he had a beak!). Himself in human form continued to look up at his bird dream form. This seemed familiar to B. He’d been here before, of course he had - the bird his human form was looking at was Coso. He shouted out again that Coso was him, but again, no words came out. What a strange dream.

Without really knowing why (this was after all just a dream, he told himself), he shouted to human B that he shouldn’t worry about bird B’s song. That he should look for Hingmy, but not worry too much about the right thing to do. Above all, he shouted that just as Coso had come and gone like a spring shower, so Hingmy would only be a temporary part of his life as most things were destined to be, and that he should enjoy her company while he could. He called out that nothing lasted forever and that he should enjoy things while they did - he had to live in the moment rather in his head (had this not have been a dream, B might have seen the irony of him telling himself in a dream not to live in his head so much). He shouted at his still impassively watching human self that Hingmy wouldn't eclipse Coso because memories are rarely blotted out by newer experiences, but rather that she would be different and that he should revel in this difference. His mind had more than one page - rather than trying to cram everything together and therefore constantly overwriting old experiences, life was made up of different pages and chapters, each deserving of their own space and bearing their own importance. He shouted that life was a chain of experiences, some good, some bad, some relevant, others less so, but that he should try to take something from all of them. He shouted until he couldn’t shout anymore, even though he knew that what his brain was formulating was actually coming out of his beak as bird song. He remembered that this song had seemed at the time to be sad, but now he knew that it wasn’t - it contained sadness, as so many things do, but it was a call to life and to accept everything that happened in it.

Exhausted, bird B looked at human B. After what seemed like an eternity of silence between the two of them, but may have only been a second, B felt the weight that had been on his mind ever since Hingmy left had been blown away, as if all his woe and self-questioning had simply been a feather all along. After one last look down at his human self from all those months ago, B stretched out his wings and jumped off the branch. The lightness he felt took his breath away. He swooped upwards, wheeled to the left and climbed high into the sky. 

He felt so free; he felt so light. This didn’t feel like a dream. He soared higher and higher, the wind rippling through his feathers, until he was just a speck, then even the speck disappeared into the clear azure sky.

Karma police, arrest this man.

‘Ello ‘ello ‘ello

A couple of weeks ago, a student of mine somewhat unprompted asked if I believed in karma. I’d never really thought about it before very much, and made for a welcome break of him asking if I’d heard Fabri Fibra’s new song. 

It got me thinking though, and while he was working through exercises, I stared out of his window at the sea and thought it over some to give him an answer more satisfying than “I don’t know”.

At the end, I arrived at a no. Karma, if we consider it to be a mystical system of creating a form of balance in the universe, would need to, at least in my eyes, have a governing body: a divine figure or figures who would decide how, where and when to mete out justice or parity. The belief in this would be a step away from believing in a God, which I don’t, or at least don’t think, I believe in. We can never be sure, as we are infinitesimally insignificant to everything except ourselves. There may well be some kind of energy in the universe that could be described as godlike, but to portray it as the smiling white man that used to be on my granny’s calendars is simply us grasping for meaning in something which we can’t possibly understand and hedging it in a familiar form. If there is such an energy, for us to try to comprehend it would be like trying to explain the internet to a dog.

So, I don’t see how karma could exist as a universal equaliser. Bad things happen to good people, and good things happen to bad people. Bad things happen to people who haven’t had time to be bad, for example the two babies on the GermanWings flight, or the child migrants who die in the Mediterranean.

People can find respite in the idea that when they take a knock, good times may just be around the corner. Equally, that people who wrong us will get their comeuppance. This idea, as I’ve already said, doesn’t make much sense if we actually think about it. It does, however, help us to avoid the realisation that we are, as previously noted, insignificant dots living on a chaotic rock in a constantly expanding universe whose size boggles the mind.

Is there an animal karma? If there were a karmic system for humans, presumably there would also be one for animals too. If you just snorted and think that’s ridiculous, surely that would be an indication of our arrogance; that we consider ourselves the master species, and therefore karma could only apply to us. We’re superior to dogs because we have opposable thumbs. We can keep all manner of animals in zoos to satisfy our curiosity. We’re trying to keep pandas alive, even though, millennia ago, they wandered into a cul-de-sac of doom when they were instead looking for bamboo and not having much sex. This must mean we bested them all in the evolutionary olympics. But dogs have a much stronger sense of smell and hearing than us, bats see through sound (try navigating around an unfamiliar room at night with the lights off), and arctic squirrels brains’ lose synapses when they hibernate only to see them grow back in the spring. We’re bullies in charting our achievements - measuring ourselves against others using the scale that suits us.

Even in the last two hundred years or so we’ve changed physically. Since 1850, the average Dutch male has increased by twenty centimetres, while the average American only by 6cm. This is unlikely to be evolutionary in the Darwinian sense, as the height of someone in the Netherlands is unlikely to help them escape much danger (thus increasing the likelihood of them reaching sexual maturity and reproducing). Plus of course, evolution moves at a glacial pace. The spurt in average height in the Netherlands is shown by a study which revealed that the most fertile men were 7cm above the average height, while the least fertile were an itsy-bitsy 14cm shorter than the average. Why this is happening in the Netherlands and not elsewhere is another question and would seem to come down to subjectivity, so like stuff off the top shelf, the stumpier Dutch just can’t get it.

One of my favourite words that I never use is ‘Rubenesque’. It hails from the time of Ruben, and means plump and sensuous, given that the ideal of female beauty at the time had more meat on her bones than the emaciated image we’re confronted with today.

Over the years, we (Western Europeans, at least) have changed our aesthetic tastes so that our women are slimmer and our men taller. We still hang onto the idea that karma will make everything alright though.

Everything changes but hope, as Gary Barlow scribbled in an early writing session. It’s just a shame that not a lot of words rhyme with hope. Pope, soap, cope, trope…. ehm….. periscope….. it’s probably better he went with ‘you’ in the end. But anyway, karma is basically just a convenient rationale to paper over the cracks of chaos in otherwise comprehensible lives.

My idea of karma is based on our behaviour with other people. If we’re nice to people (scratch that, not even necessarily nice, just civil will do), then social pressure makes it more difficult for them to be unpleasant with us. This might be a particularly British attitude like queuing, but the social contract dictates that unreasonable behaviour draws attention, which is undesirable. Put it this way, if you’re nice, other people are more likely to be nice to you. If you’re a dick, it’s easier for people to be a dick to you. I don’t believe in auras and that hippy-dippy stuff, but I do believe that our behaviour helps mould other peoples attitudes when they’re around us. You know the stuff; crossed arms suggests defensiveness which can be picked up on subconsciously and maintained during conversation. Raised voices aren’t necessarily markers of tempers already lost, but can act as catalysts for losing ones rag.

If you drive quickly without a great deal of care, then you’re probably going to be involved in more fender benders than a careful driver. It’s not karma getting you back, it’s your behaviour, sorry. If you’ve cheated on someone before, it’s probably not karma if you yourself then get cheated on - rather you’ve not made particularly good choices in terms of partners and/or your treatment of them. It’s not karma, it’s the decisions you make, sorry. You get the idea. 

Tragedies will continue to happen. Scumbags will win the lottery. Hibs will go on defiantly not winning the Scottish Cup. It’s not karma; it’s horrible, incomprehensible, cruel chaotic chance. Luck, both for good or bad exists. These are things which are outside of our control. But the things that we can have an impact on aren’t subject to the vagaries of karma either. Karma’s the bogeyman that exists because of the way we interact and treat each other. There are no karma police, we do it to ourselves. Or for those less au fait with Radiohead, as the expression goes, you reap what you sow.

Caught in a trap

Hello again.

I don’t, or rather, didn’t have anything profoundly revelatory to tell you today, but instead forced myself to start writing this. I got as far as that last sentence before staring out the window into the darkness of the night for a good 10 minutes or so too, so clearly the words just weren’t coming.

Writing is something that needs to be kept at until you find something to say. Of course, even the most introverted people have something to say, even if it’s in the form of a barely discernible mumble. Importantly, when I say ‘something to say’, I don’t mean any old thing. The internet has given people free reign to open their mouths and brains and let their thoughts come gushing out like a broken waste water pipe. I really don’t think that I’m special or anything (although did I tell you I’ve written and self-published a book?), but I am of the opinion that occasionally the things I write aren’t total pish. Is that self-deluding? A quick glance at the comments left below posts would suggest that, no it isn’t. Or at least that my parents (being they the ones who commented) are at the very least waiting to see me in person before delivering a critical takedown.

Something to say can sometimes prove problematic for me, though. For the last few weeks I’d found myself stuck in a weird rut. Rather than one thing in particular triggering it, it was more a combination of things that got me a bit down, all but one of which don’t need to be discussed here. Weirdly, one of those things, and one which really affected me during this time of Charlie Brown looking-at-my-shoes-while-walking, was the death of someone with whom I have absolutely zero connection to. 

Harris Wittels was a US comedian and writer who had been in a few episodes of the excellent Parks and Recreation, and who I’d heard interviewed on Pete Holmes’ podcast (also excellent). In this interview from a few months ago, he talked very bluntly and openly about his heroin addiction. The way he spoke about it, and the way he told how he was repeatedly conned by dealers in an LA park when he was trying to score was amusing, but also of course immensely sad. He spoke about how he’d adapted his life to work around the edges of his addiction, and subsequently of trying to get clean. Unfortunately a few weeks ago he was found dead, most probably of an overdose (after reading the initial report of his death I’ve made a point of not trying to find out anymore about it - like I say, it really got to me).

Sure, he was funny, but so was Robin Williams, undoubtedly more so, but while I felt sorry for him and his family when he took his life, it didn’t really bother me that much. I can’t really put into words what it was about Harris Wittels’ death that stuck with me either. I know that doesn’t make for a great blogpost. Sorry about that.

I didn’t know him, and barely and only recently knew of him, but RIP Harris.

 

In my rut I’d written a couple of blogposts, but as I always do, I waited a couple of days to re-read them and let the ideas percolate a bit in my head to see if I was happy with what I’d written. As neither of them have appeared up here, I clearly wasn’t. It'd be nice if others waited a moment before writing stuff, but it seems that these days folk are worried that they’ll be forgotten and left to drift out into the cold dark vacuum of the internet if they don’t continuously blabber on about something or other. I’m not yearning for a return to the stone age, but it’d be nice if people would just stop and breathe sometimes. 

I think I get why people have a tendency to overshare on Facebook though. It gives them a feeing that they’re not alone, and that’s hunky dory - it’s not nice to feel alone. However, because of the immediacy of the internet, it can lead to things being written that are maybe best left unsaid. I'm guilty of that too sometimes. Of course, at the time I justify this to myself as it being something that needs to be said, just as, I assume, other people do too. The benefit of hindsight is a bastarding thing.

I know, I know, "you grumble that people share too much, and yet here you are writing on your blog", but I don't believe that anything I'm saying is too inflammatory or navel-gazing. If I did, I wouldn't write it. For me, at least, this is a way of thinking out loud things that I don't normally speak to friends about for one reason or another. 

Anyway, something to say is one of those things that occasionally escapes me. Particularly when in the company of a group of people who I don’t know particularly well, I just kind of clam up and stand about like a knob. As far as I can rationalise it, it’s made up of a dash of speaking in Italian in front of strangers and worrying that I’ll make an embarrassing mistake, with a soupçon of thinking that I’ll not really have anything of value to add to the conversation, thrown in for good measure. It’s somewhat annoying, but I know what I’m like so I try not to let it bother me that much now. A leopard can’t change its spots, just as much as I can’t change my awkward silent lurking on the edges of social groups. 

When I think about what I was like the many moons ago that I came to live in Italy, the change I see in myself is huge. Back then I was a clueless young oik who didn’t really think about stuff, and now, well now I’m seven years older. I think I’ve grown up quite a bit, and these days only sporadically dream about getting back into Games Workshop (true story, I used to dream about that reasonably often). Who knows, I may eventually grow out of the self-conscious living in my head, but that might take a bit. Neuroses are hard to unwire.

In the meantime, now that I’m out of my funky loop, things are a lot brighter. The sun has come back to Italian shores, and without wanting to tempt fate, it seems that Spring has sprung. I was dead busy at work last week which took my mind off stuff and got me up early in the mornings, and both of these things seemed to help. I often remind myself that wasting energy trying to change things that exist out of my control with my willpower alone is about as useful as a chocolate teapot, and I still can’t even move a pencil across a table with my mental concentration. The only thing that I, and we in general can do, is try to find happiness in the moment. Now is the only time that we can have a real effect on, and while it can be difficult to forget this, it’s worth trying to remember. That’s what I tell myself, at least.

After all, there are bigger fish to fry. In an effort to put off writing this (which is daft, as writing this was entirely voluntary), I started reading about the threat that volcanoes pose to humanity. If I should be worried about anything, I’d say that those would be the things to lose some sleep over.

On the bright side of things though, if there is a super volcano eruption that wipes out a lot of mankind and I somehow survive it, there’ll at least be fewer people for me to feel awkward around. Every (ash) cloud, and all that, eh?

Golden years

Hello one and all

Being an expat can be a strange existence. I both am and am not aware of the popular culture (or what occasionally stands for it these days) which is ostensibly also mine. The stuff that I am aware of is what I read about in the newspaper, which means I get a managed slice of what’s going on.

Anyone who has studied journalism, like what I done, will know that which news source you read has an effect on both what ‘news’ you read, and what angle they take on said story. There’s frequently an agenda. Sometimes it can be seen through subtle wording, in other cases it can be basic ignoring of particular stories. This is particularly the case in print. See the Telegraph’s reporting of the HSBC scandal, and other newspapers gleeful piling in of it as an example. We’re lucky in Britain to have relatively balanced TV news, although as many people in Scotland will know, the coverage of the Referendum last year was not always quite as impartial as it really could have been. Nick Robinson, I’m talking about you.

Ultimately, newspapers exist to sell copies/advertising. If you thought they were to spread the news, put your hand up and then give yourself a slap for your naivety.

This isn’t new, or news. Sadly, most of the press has been like this since the days when your parents didn’t need to lock their front doors, and there were apple trees for as far as the eye could see (maybe that’s why they didn’t need to lock the door - they lived in an enormous orchard). Children respected their elders and would play outside from sun up to sun down. You could buy a house for £5 and a bag of Marathon bars. Yes, it really was that long ago.

This is all very different to the Broken Britain that confronts me now in the newspaper. Now it’s all increasing inequality in society, obese knife-wielding children and tumbleweed strewn high streets. Britain has, in the seven years since I left, devolved into a real life version of the Warriors. I half expect when I go back in summer to see, post-election, Nigel Farage’s gurning face being beamed onto the moon to scare asylum seekers into returning to their hell-hole former homes.

To save us from this grim depiction of modern times, British TV is clogged up with reality TV and gameshows. A gentle kneading together of these two has allowed, what the Farage household would presumably like to see (lovely Strudels too), rise to the top of the TV ratings - The Great British Bake-Off. I appreciate that almost everyone will already know about this, but its quintessential slice of a distant Britain (England), full of bunting and Carry-On innuendo about soggy bottoms is the sickly subject of today’s blog - nostalgia.

While being entirely harmless (the TV programme), something about it seems to hark back to a simpler time for everyone, unless you were black, Irish or a dog. Truly, golden times (except for the aforementioned minorities and all the other ones too). To be honest, the dogs probably didn’t think life was all that rough though….. ok, I’ll get my coat.

Everyone seems to have a different concept of golden years, frequently connected to their childhood or adolescence, which would suggest that there has never been a golden time, because it morphs depending on the observer. For my dad it probably would have been in the black and white days of the late 60’s/early 70’s. For his dad, many years before that.

When I think of my golden years, I think of football after school, relatively few fat classmates and a belief that Oasis were revolutionary. I had just got over a long term relationship with Games Workshop’s bewitching hordes, and revelled in the sensation of friendships with real people. It was verily a golden age of jumpers for goalposts, innocence and Smirnoff Ice.

It can’t have been all rosy, however. Some bad stuff certainly happened, while, considering I grew up in Scotland, my memories of summer are suspiciously short of days spent inside watching raindrops streaming down the windows. 

Our brains can be funny like this. Memories and the truth of what happened in the past can sometimes play hard to get. And just like playing hard to get, there’s a point where it becomes too much. You can try your best, but at some point what’s real and what isn’t becomes too clouded to be sure about anything. For example, I can’t remember the voice of a friend of mine who died years ago. A lot of time has passed, and now I don’t think about it all that much, but still, a part of me thinks that not remembering his voice is a betrayal of his memory in some way. The odd snapshot of him aside, he’s fading from my mind. Beyond a few glimpses (often the most banal) through the clouds in my brain, he’s slipping away, and even if I concentrate, I can’t be sure that it was him who said or did this or that. It’s not so much that my memory fa la finta difficile as da ricordare diventa sempre più difficile.

This has been relatively prominent in the news lately - Brian Williams, the anchor of NBC’s news in the States ‘misremembering’ his arrival in Iraq in 2003. Equally, Hilary Clinton had difficulty accurately remembering her arrival in Bosnia in the 90’s. What makes them misremember and subsequently ‘misspeak’, as they bullshit, I would say is different from the lack of clarity when it comes to my undoubtedly rainy summers as a nipper. Their status’ would be improved if they were portrayed as all action adventurers, and while Williams is currently being allowed to spend time at home by his employers, the bullets of criticism of Clinton seemed to bounce off her like the bullets that weren’t flying when she landed and was greeted by a wee girl holding a poem.

It’s remembering a past different from the reality; the rose-tinted glasses that we wear, that I wanted to write about here. It all came to mind with, you guessed it, football. You thought you’d get away with reading one of my blogs without me mentioning football? Ha, how quaintly naive!

A lot of football fans here in Italy get all misty eyed when they think about English football in the 70’s and 80’s. Golden years when men were men, terraces were affordable riots of colour and passion, and the game was purer. Money hadn’t slithered its manipulative tentacles into the game yet, so winning the FA Cup was more important than coming 4th. The trip to Wembley for the Final would be a day to remember, either through tears of joy, or of pain, but either way, a memory to keep and store in our hearts until the day we died alongside that of our first love. Teams with ‘respectable’ supports are lionised - and without having done any real research, I reckon there are more West Ham and Millwall fans in Italy than there are in London. This is football. This is England. 

This is wrong. Bearing in mind that I was born in ’83, I wasn’t there, but having read a lot about it, people seem to forget that while many great players turned out in England in the 70’s and 80’s, British football was a savage, inhospitable place full of tragedy. Bananas getting thrown at black players. Streams of piss running down the stairs at Wembley because there were so few toilets that most people just turned around where they stood when they needed to go. The disasters at Ibrox, Bradford and Hillsborough. These disasters weren’t caused by hooliganism, but they were exacerbated by the unfit conditions that fans were crowded into. What’s glorious about all that?

I get that it’s nice to remember the past as some kind of ideal time. It’d be cool to have been alive in the late 60’s in the States and have the chance to go to Woodstock or live in northern California with all the peace, love, drugs and music. Still, Vietnam was raging, the Cold War was threatening mutually assured destruction, and the Summer of Love might as well have been Scottish, given how brief it turned out to be.

When we think about the past, we often just remember the good times. Reminiscing wistfully about Woodstock, but not remembering Altamont. It’s our brain’s natural defence system. It tries to protect us by filtering out most of the bad, and while that’s appreciated, I can’t help but feel that it hinders us a bit too. If we go through life thinking that the past was better than it actually was, then does this not make it more difficult to enjoy the present?

People who are more intelligent than me have done research into nostalgia, and while it’s a pretty hard phenomenon to pin down, they generally seem to think it’s positive. From improving your mood though to providing existential meaning, it seems that nostalgia can help us.

I understand the attraction of it - nostalgia is a comfortable blanket to wrap ourselves in. The warm memories of the past can help us forget about the cold realities of the present. But, as with most things, it’s a fine line to skitter along. Just like the news, we can’t trust it - if we wrap ourselves up too tightly in nostalgia, we can’t see anything around us. If we unquestioningly swallow what we’re told, we’ll lose sight of what the truth is. As with all things in life, it needs perspective. It’s pleasing to remember good times, but we also need te recognise that they didn’t exist in a vacuum. If we unblinkingly accept what we’re told/remember, then we’ll become blinded by the fog of misinformation that settles around us. By thinking critically, we can shine a light through this mist and hopefully see the truth beyond. In this way we can free ourselves of the tyranny of nostalgia, and hopefully, enjoy our lives more, and live them better.


Good times, bad times

Hola mes amigos! 

As you can see, I still haven’t learned Spanish. However, I’m apparently not one for learning lessons anyway, so not to worry (about my Spanish, at least).

The past couple of weeks have been strange. One day good, another bad, my mood’s been as changeable as a chameleon touring a Jackson Pollock exhibition. I try not to let things bother me, and generally that does the trick - I (like to) think that I’m usually quite zen, and that much like a duck, I let things run off me. 

Not that this works all the time, but what doesn’t kill me will only make me more powerful than you can possibly imagine. It’s something that I had to learn to tell myself when I was travelling around Italy watching football matches (oh, you didn’t know that I’d done that? Where have you been? Buy. The. Book.). I’d either miss a connecting train, come close to it, or kick myself when I didn’t have the courage to approach strangers in pubs to ask them for interviews. I realised that I could flagellate myself all I cared, but ultimately, most things were and are, out of my hands. If the train didn't arrive on time, I could kick and scream and gnash my teeth all I wanted, but the train wouldn’t move any faster. In fact, it often seemed as if the bastard would start to slow while I nervously refreshed, refreshed and refreshed again the train tracker app.

Being too shy to speak to strangers was, of course, something that was under my control, and slowly but surely, it got easier. Still, introducing myself to new English speakers is already daunting enough - doing so in a second language is another kettle of fish entirely.

As I say, though, there’s no good crying over spilt milk. One thing that missing trains and waiting in stations offered was time to think about Things and Stuff. In this respect, I was my own worst enemy, but Stuff’s another story that’s best not told. One Thing that I spent a bit of time thinking about was pessimism and optimism. 

So, when someone the other day suggested I was a pessimist, I was ready. See, I don’t think I’m pessimistic. Nor am I optimistic. I consider myself more of a nihilist; the fence-sitting companion to my agnosticism. I don’t think that the glass is either half full or half empty. It can’t be - if it were then you wouldn’t be drinking anything, but rather just staring at a glass. At some point, logically, the glass is full (yay! Good times!). Then at some other point it’ll inevitably be empty (noooo! Despair!). When it’s empty, you can choose to refill it (hallelujah!) or leave it (gah, the pub’s shut!). 

Nothing is good all the time. Days grow dark. Limbs get weary. Eyes grow dim. To dwell on this state would be bad (I’m not necessarily one for taking my own advice, mind, I do have a playlist on iTunes called ‘Music to wallow to’). If we did wallow forever, we’d miss the smell of the first coffee of the morning, or the sunrise that preceded it.

Equally, and logically, though, nothing is bad all the time. Summer will arrive (apologies to Scottish friends/family - I’m not trying to rub it in). Children are born. You fall in love again. Every cloud has a silver lining, as they say. And it’s only because of the dark cloud that we see the light dancing behind it.

Again, though, to my mind, always seeing the positive in things isn’t necessarily good for us. Somethings are just, well, shit. We’re too insignificant in the grand scheme of the cosmos to think that there’s always going to be an equaliser, a reason, a new day. 

When I was younger, one of my friends died in an accident. My granny, who was witheringly religious, told me shortly after that it was a Good Thing and that he’d gone to a better place. She was raised to believe that God has a plan for all of us. If He does, He’s a bit of a tool, as presumably in His great wisdom He would have seen the effect of His masterplan on my friend’s family, those who knew him and those who were also in the accident. Like I say, somethings are just crap. There’s no reason, no plan. Was it Plato who said: “Shit happens”?

So, some things are good, some things are bad, some can be redeemed and some can’t. This is life. Unless in the most dire circumstances, we all face a choice - to accept or to deny. What happened, happened. We can choose to try to get on with life, or not, and sink into the (admittedly) rather warm embrace of self-pity, wallowing and wine. 

I said earlier that my moods have been a bit topsy-turvy. Equally, so my thinking can change - I am after all human and haven’t got around to writing my ideas in stone yet. Indeed, I dare say that if something bad happened to a loved one I might temporarily forget this hippy-dippy nonsense. However, at least for now, I happen to be of the mind that most things that I do don’t have any great effect on people outside of my immediate circle, or the way that their lives will run. I try to remember that the glass, like Schrodinger’s cat, can be a wee bit full, a wee bit empty, or maybe a wee bit of both. What’s important is to enjoy the last drops of it, as much or as little as that may be. 

Barring some revelation, I’m not going to change the direction of humanity. If, as is postulated, there are more people alive now than in the sum total of all of history, then clearly, one of us can’t make all that much difference unless they’re in a position of immense power or influence. We are all insignificant. 

That doesn’t mean we aren’t beautiful in our own ways, or that we can’t squeeze as much of the juice out of life as possible (unless it’s a lemon and you think that if life gives you lemons, you get bitter). 

We’re not here for long, and so we have to find our little corners of happiness. At the same time, no man is an island unless he’s Madagascar, so we also have to bear in mind the feelings of others. 

Basically, what I’m trying to say is this: be nice to other people. We can’t control or influence most things in life, but we do have power over our own behaviour and attitude. An act of kindness can make a big difference to other people’s days, while an act of indifference or ignorance can have an equally negative effect. Ultimately, either way, whatever you, I or anyone else does doesn’t matter all that much. Much of life is out of our hands, and one day we’ll all have gone to dust and memories, until even the memories of us disappear. What good would anger or general unpleasantness have achieved us then? 

Probably not a lot, however the world will still continue to turn, and trains, in whichever future form they take, will carry on being late.

Peace, love and buy my book. Or don’t, it’s up to you.

:)

Why my book won't be available on Amazon

Bonjour mes amis!

As you’re reading this, I’m back in the loving warmth and relentlessly freezing, driving rain of Scotland. Two weeks of punishing relaxing and blissful drinking await, and while not having a particularly difficult life, I feel I deserve it. That was the plan anyway. You can’t always get what you want.

I’m not here to tell you about my holiday plans though. No, rather, I’m very happy to say that as of now, my book, ‘Around Serie A in 20 Days’, is available to download as an iBook! 

Why are you still reading this? Why haven’t you clicked over to buy it immediately?! DO IT!! CLICK HERE!!!

Thanks for just having bought my book. It’s really very kind. I know that you’re keen to get on with reading it, but like a pint of Guinness or estranged heirs of millionaires and their inheritance, good things come to those who wait.

But, yeah, so I wrote a book. A book about Italian football, sure, but a book nonetheless. Despite it being my child, and so I would say this, wouldn’t I, I’m really rather proud of it and think it’s maybe the most beautiful book of all time about the 2013/14 Serie A season, and is clearly better than its peers. While they’re figuratively picking their noses like two-year olds, mine is angrily daubing bedsheets with paint ready to hold up at the next match at a teenage-level. Get in! Or ‘Out!’, depending on the message on said bed sheet.

I digress. I’m very happy to have finished everything, and while it’s only available on iBooks just now, pretty soon I’ll be able to hold it in my arms, like a proud father. That is to say, as of the middle of January you’ll also be able to order the physical copy from here. Think of it as a second Christmas, if you will.

First up though, there’s the e-version. A couple of people asked if they’d be able to get it on their Kindle. The answer now, as then, is both yes and no. I’m afraid that the way that Amazon do business (paying minimal tax, treating employees poorly, and generally leading to the closure of many traditional ‘physical’ shops) doesn’t sit very well with me. I appreciate that having said that my book is available on iBooks, and therefore Apple, is a little contradictory here. However, I heard on Pete Holmes’ podcast, who was in turn citing someone else’s idea, that people should have at most, three ethical principles (extra to and beyond general ethical behaviour, of course - resisting the urge for murder shouldn’t be classed as one of these Three Things). Three aren’t theoretically too difficult to manage in life, but more than this and we can start to tie ourselves in knots.

My three things are taken, and Amazon is one of those. I try not to think about what my iPhone entails for the people who make them in China, but like smoking, eating meat or going to Gregg’s, I choose the path of deliberate self-delusion. I should point out that I don’t go to Gregg’s or eat meat (not mutually exclusive, I’m afraid) - but the point stands - if we thought rationally about how that steak arrived at your plate, what cigarettes did to us, or what went into sausage rolls, most people wouldn’t touch them. And rightly so. But we switch off the rational part of our brains so as to enjoy the moment. The electromagnetic radiation that my iPhone emits may have fried the part of my brain that deals with rationality, which would be convenient, as then it wouldn’t really be my fault. But then again, that’d only work if I used my iPhone as an actual phone - how quaintly archaic that’d be! That’s a bit of a cop out, though. I know what I’m doing - I just choose not to think about it.

Anyway. Amazon. My book will not be available to buy from Amazon, either as an ebook, or as a physical copy. It will, however, (once I reformat it) be available in a format that is readable on Kindles. I’m having a bit of my cake and eating it, I know, but my way of thinking is that:

  1. I like cake, and
  2. No-one in their right mind is going to buy a Kindle with the sole intention of reading my book on it. Therefore, I’m not contributing any money to Amazon. 

This helps me sleep much easier at night, and all the more content if my belly is full of cake.

 

 

.....And then there was a blog post.

And so here we are. The curtains twitch, then slowly draw apart. The house lights go up, and…… well, not a lot. No matter how theatrically I could try to couch this, you’re still just reading my blog. 

But wait! You’re reading my blog on my new website! Huzzah! Jazz hands!

It’d be a stretch of the imagination to suggest that the process of making this was in any way exciting, let alone dramatic. If a TV camera had filmed me in the last weeks they would have caught a good (bad) many hours of me staring at a computer screen, cursing at varying volumes, and nipping to the balcony to get some fresh air. Ad nauseum. Following the tried and testing format of most other reality TV programmes then, really.

You’re not here to read about reality TV programmes though. The internet is already full of critical takedowns of them, written by folk with a much better pedigree in watching people slag each other  off and eating kangaroo genitalia. I don’t have a TV, and so me writing about anything on the box would be like the last few series of Lost - utterly pointless (like I say, I don’t have a TV, so my references are a bit old).

Rather, this blog will be about…… I don’t really know. Something. Previous blogs I’ve had tended to ramble on a bit and be a bit bloated, but after having read the previous paragraphs you will of course understand that I’ve since left those days behind. 

There shall be no particular theme to the blog posts I write. Some will be long. They may be irregularly posted. They might all be shite. While the former two possibilities are pretty objective, the latter is clearly subjective. If it happens to be the case that you don’t like what you’re reading, then I’m sorry. 

I find reading BTL comments on newspaper articles curiously addictive. All the more so when they’re about subjects I feel strongly about. I don’t know why I do this to myself, as much of the time, the posters can be split into two camps: the first are those who agree with the article and say pretty much that. Everyone agreeing and patting themselves on the back. Gosh, aren’t wee like-minded souls bright? Aren’t we enlightened? Well done us. 

As bland and borderline sycophantic as they are, they’re preferable to the second lot: the scrotes. Why read an article, create a user account and then post a comment calling someone else a knob (or words to that effect)? Why deliberately wind people up? What part of life is so sad for them that they need to find validation or kicks in being a twat?

Example: I see an article about cats. I like cats (my mum thinks that my recent idea of getting one for myself screams loneliness. She’s a pillar of strength). “I’ll read about cats”, I think to myself. “After all, it’s not an article about chihuahuas - they’re ugly little rat-things. I wouldn’t like to read about them. But cats? Yes please.”  And yet at the end of the article, someone’s logged on and posted a message saying that they hate cats. Why? And I don’t mean why hate cats - like doing what you feel or quoting New Edition songs, that’s your prerogative - but why tell a group of feline fans that you don’t like the abyssinian* of their eye? 

Like a eunuch, I just don’t get it.

Still though, the siren call of reading BTL comments drags me down. It’s like crack - dead moreish. It’s plainly not healthy. And while getting involved seems harmless enough at the start, pretty soon your friends are shunning you and people start crossing the road when they see your crazy-eyed stare in the street. And that’s just the crack. Commenting BTL is, of course, much worse. 

Veering back to the point, if you don’t like what you’re reading, please, take a moment, maybe watch a video of cats (Oh my god, look at them!!) on Youtube, then think about responding. I’d really like people to leave comments and get involved with the site, but to be honest, I have a hard enough time liking myself sometimes anyway, without MrCommonSenseUK telling me I’m a tosser. 

Essentially, please, read and comment, but bear Wheaton’s Law in mind (and not only here - it’s a solid rule for life whether on the internet or, you know, in reality): “Don’t be a dick.”

Thanks for your time.

*other breeds of cat are available.