Sunday, 9 September 2012

Ich Bin Ein Berlinner

Brief highlights of our first week of backpacking excitement back in April/May 2012.  We started in Berlin, as you may have worked out from the title of the post.

Day 1 – A man called Harry shouts at me to take a picture of the Reichstag, so I do.  Apparently I am more suggestible than I thought.

It looks different in Call of Duty.

Day 2 – See a lot of gammy sculptures in the Bode Museum, and try not to cry at the Holocaust Memorial.  Later on we eat doughnuts and watch Lewis in German.  It turns out neither of us speaks German.

St Vitus in a teapot. Why is he in a teapot? That's not important right now.

Day 3 – successfully relocate from hotel in Lichtenberg to a hostel on the outskirts of Berlin.  It is decorated in lime green and populated by 15 year olds who are all very excited about the prospect of karaoke later on.  We get the hell out of there, and end up spending most of the day at the zoo. I liked the baby ocelot.

NB - this is not the baby ocelot.

Day 4 – get a phone call from the Edinburgh International Film Festival asking if I can come in for a job interview. I can’t, obviously.  I eat an enormous cake and fall into a butter coma instead.  This is the best way to experience the many museums and galleries of Berlin.

In the interests of scale, Knitted Fifth Doctor is about 5cm tall.

Day 5 – spend several hours at the Topographyof Terror, which is an amazingly thorough account of everything that happened in the Second World War – it sheds light on the actions of members of the Nazi party you haven’t necessarily heard of and is fascinatingly horrible.  We also visit Checkpoint Charlie and the Stasi Museum, because we are interested in history even if the many hipster schoolchildren cluttering up the place aren't.

Day 6 – visit the East Side Gallery, the longest remaining stretch of the Berlin Wall, before heading off to Warsaw.  The non-gallery side is covered in crudely drawn cocks and declarations of love for Justin Bieber (the wall, not Warsaw).  That’s modern society for you.

Captain Tact's contribution to the Bieber Fever

Obviously we did a lot more than this during our time in Berlin, but if I told you everything I'd have to kill you - or at the very least take a fortnight off work to put it all together.  But one final thing I would like to share is this photograph from a book shop.  Yes, we visited lots of book shops even though we couldn't read any of the contents.  You wish you were as cool as us.  Anyway, we were rewarded with this, presumably invented in much the same way as Peter Andre's definition of the word 'Insania'.  Fear not, for this year's NaNoWriMo I'll be all over it like a flannel.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Backpacking Adventures

In April/May 2012, Captain Tact and I went on a backpacking adventure around bits of Europe that are not the UK.  I didn't blog about it then because I felt that spending too much time on the internet would detract from the experience, but I did write a lot when we were away.  LONGHAND.  In a NOTEBOOK.  How archaic. 

Anyway I've been looking through said notebook and I thought I might painstakingly transcribe some of the contents for the benefit of the internet.  You're welcome. 

Item 1:

Wasp tried to eat my goulash.
What a prick.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Moving House

It's been predominantly good (with a smattering of less good) but now it's time to watch classic Doctor Who in a living room elsewhere - yes, I have just moved house.  People have been asking whether I'll miss the flat after three years there.  I have penned a letter to the place in response.

Dear Flat,

Thanks for the brinners, the Lord of the Rings drinking games, the nights of nintendo and the random booze box afterparties. Thanks for seeing me through the end of the libbiray times and into a fabulous new career in freelance journalism with a heavy side order of temping. Thanks for not falling down during Snowmageddon (although it seemed like touch and go for a while) and thanks for giving me shelter to complete 12 Books in 12 Months.

(I could have done it all without you, but as it goes I didn't.  So cheers.)

Goodbye fragile windows whose panes are held in mostly by mould because the landlord refuses to replace them even though it’d add significant value to the property.

Goodbye sloping floors that are slowly and inexorably tipping towards the Water of Leith - no amount of flood prevention will stop that subsidence now.

Goodbye number 8 bus, you unreliable sod (don’t think I didn’t see you drive right past that unfortunate tourist in the pissing rain last week).
Goodbye neighbour who still blanks me after three years (unless you meet me on the communal stair, but even then you stare awkwardly at those battered trainers rather than look me in the eye).

Goodbye fridge with your broken seal and tendency to freeze anything with the audacity to get nudged towards the back (you've destroyed so much perfectly good mayonnaise, you heartless robot).

Goodbye man across the hall who communicates mainly by post-it notes and likes to spend Friday nights lovingly painting the skirting boards wearing a nifty head torch.
Goodbye hole with wires hanging out where the buzzer used to be back in about 2010.

Goodbye constant redelivery fees because the postie couldn’t access the building to deliver anything larger than a red ‘sorry you were out’ card.

Goodbye paranoid lady downstairs who thinks junkies will invade if we leave the front door ajar for even a second.

Goodbye invisible junkies masquerading as innocent passers-by.

Goodbye army of overweight daschunds owned by assorted little old ladies with too many hats.
Goodbye 10pm ice cream runs to the garage.

Goodbye, proximity to the Botanic Gardens (I hope the baby moorhen grows up big and strong).
Goodbye Tanfield gable end, with your gorgeous autumn ivy.

Goodbye daily walk past bridesmaids dress shop (although I’ll be back to check your window displays, you crazy geniuses).

I hope it all works out for you, that you get a new fridge and sealant on the roof and that one day the landlord deigns to replace the windows.  May you bring your new tenants the same highs and lows you brought us in our time together. 

I think it would be best if we didn't see each other again for a while - I need some time to heal, and I'm sure you do too - but maybe in a few months or a year or a decade we could meet up for a coffee and talk about the old times.  Maybe.

So long, and thanks for all the Bumrod.


Thursday, 28 June 2012

A Whole Lotta Thwartin'

I've been having one of those weeks where life seems to be conspiring against me, and this week - as is the fashion in this day and age - I tweeted about it rather than getting on and doing something proactive.

My tweet said 'The thing where you think everything is sorted and then BAM, it isn't. Again. Seriously world, enough thwarting already.'

So far, so banal, but then someone tweeted back saying "There's a whole lotta thwartin' goin' on these days. Makes a good rock song tho."  I concur, and so I decided to have a bash at some lyrics for said song.  It's a work in progress, but this is for you, @LillyLyle.

Spoken (in the style of Ferlin Husky):

This is a song for anyone who ever have one of those weeks where
Things just didn’t seem to go your way.

Sung (also in the style of Ferlin Husky)

There’s a whole lotta thwartin’ goin’ awn
And I don’t know what to do
There’s water pourin’ through the roof n’
I’m pretty sure I failed an interview
(although I ain’t heard back yet,
 so I guess no news..
is good neeeews)
(Oooh – oohs...)

Ah’m movin’ house - or that’s the plan
But stuff keeps going wrong.
My sister’s boyfriend’s van is broke
And so I wrote this song, yeah
There’s a whole lotta thwartin’, goin’ awn.

White van men charged me 90 pounds
To drive ma stuff ‘cross town
I helped them in torrential rain
It nearly made me drown, oh
There’s a whole lotta thwartin’, goin’ awn.

Every plan I try to make
To help ma life go smooth
Is thwarted by an unseen foe
Who wants me not to move!
The milk’s gone off, my new shoes hurt
I think I’ve got a cold
My muscles ache, I broke a glass
I’m feeling really old, yeah
There’s a whole lotta thwartin’ goin’ awn.

And so the lesson I have learned
I’d like to tell to you
Life’s a thwarter, you’ll get burned
Unless you find a way
To struggle throoo – ou – ooo – ough.

(Mine’s gin).

Friday, 15 June 2012

Before the rooster crows you will deny me three times…

Do you ever go to a comedy gig and listen in mild horror as the comedian picks on audience members?  Does it make you hunker down in your seat like a small animal whose main defence mechanism when a hungry bird of prey/tiger/human turns up is to HIDE NOW?

A lot of people endeavour to sit in the middle or towards the back of gigs to make sure this won’t happen to them.  Sometimes it’s out of shyness, or perhaps because you think your answers won’t be very interesting, but let’s be honest – the main issue is that most people don’t like being made fun of.  It’s one of those things that is amusing mainly when it’s happening to someone else.

As you may have guessed I was at a comedy gig this week, and I got asked what I do.  The gig in question was Bright Club at The Stand in Edinburgh, where a load of academics try their hand at stand up.  The audience is therefore filled with people who have PHDs, or at least degrees in difficult subjects like science and maths.  Not that arts degrees aren’t difficult, exactly, but they do essentially involve reading lots of books and telling people what you thought of them with an air of authority – or that’s my experience. 

Anyway the compere at this comedy gig full of people who work much harder at university than I ever did was asking what people studied.  He’d come across a gang of neuroscientists, a couple of mathematicians, my brother (who is studying psychology), and one writer who hasn’t been published yet.  Then there was me.

“Are you a student as well?” he asked.  (I wasn’t even at the front; I was hiding behind a linguistics student who appeared on stage later as well.)  Curses, I thought, I’m not that brainy or anything, I work in an office - not a subject ripe for comedy (remember The Office has a) been done and b) wouldn’t really work as a stand-up routine). 

“I… work,” quoth I, and it turned out he was able to use that anyway – “These people work too ya know! Just because they’re students doesn’t mean they don’t work hard!” – so fair play to him, he's a seasoned pro.

But I was thinking about it afterwards, and wondering why I didn’t say I was a writer.  Now, obviously he’d already had one writer and duly taken the mick out of her for not being published yet and whatever – but ultimately it is what I do, I have been known to earn money from it, and being a temp is not really a career (unless I was as good at it as Donna Noble, but frankly who is).

I’ve concluded it might be because I’m in a bit of a slump.  I’ve had a few writing-related rejections recently – nothing too crushing, don’t get out the world’s smallest violin just yet (anyway it goes with the territory) – and epically failed to regain any semblance of writing routine since March.  I’ve missed several deadlines for submissions and performance opportunities lately and I’ve not finished anything in ages.  On returning from our epic backpacking adventure I promptly started a new temp job with more hours than the old one, started preparing to move house at the end of this month and began working on promotion for Homespun UK.

Essentially life has been getting in my way, so maybe I have been more of a temp than a writer.  This is a problem that needs to be rectified – probably through discipline and sheer force of will.  My gut reaction should not be to tell people, even comedians, that I’m an office temp instead of a journalist or a writer or an editor or a media officer.  I do all of those things and temp on the side, god damn it.  If people are going to take the mick out of me it should at least be for the right reasons.

So, identity crisis over – bring on the hours of hard work on top of a full time office job for no guaranteed reward.

Bright Club is really good by the way, you should totally go.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Bookmark This

As discussed in a previous post I am now heading off for a bit, but I have scheduled a load of stuff on the 12 Books blog to keep you entertained. The timetable is as follows:

Monday April 23rd – Interview with Sian Bevan about Electric Tales storytelling and comedy night in Edinburgh

Wednesday April 25th – Why I Write by John Steele

Friday April 27th – April’s Pictonaut Challenge

Monday April 30th – Fanfiction, a brief introduction by Seneska

Wednesday May 2nd – The Book Blogger interviews #1 Roof Beam Reader

Friday May 4th – How to Say Thank You Part 1 by Tracey S. Rosenberg

Monday May 7th – How to Say Thank You Part 2 by Tracey S. Rosenberg

Wednesday May 9th – The Book Blogger interviews #2 Tolstoy is my Cat

Friday May 11th – Interview with Laura from Write in for Writing’s Sake

Monday May 14th – The Politics of Book Buying by Lyndsay Wheble)

Wednesday May 16th – The Book Blogger Interviews #3 Rob Around Books

Friday May 18th – Feminism in Romantic Fiction (or lack thereof) by Rose McConnachie

Monday May 21st – Young, single and free of Venereal Disease? You too could be a romantic hero... by Rose McConnachie

Wednesday May 23rd – The Book Blogger Interviews #4 The Lit Bitch

Tuesday, 3 April 2012


I wrote a story for a competition on IdeasTap which had to be on the theme 'Heart'. It didn't win, which is kind of my thing, so I thought I'd stick it up here. Enjoy...

The Lady's Long Lost Love

“Oh, Dunstable,” she sighed, tracing a long tendril of golden chest fuzz with a coiffed fingernail, “let us make sweet love one last time before you leave on your perilous quest.”

“Enid,” he responded dramatically, “my dear sweet Enid, I cannot. You know I am an advocate of the moral high ground, and thus I must refuse to ravish your milky white bosoms, your tender kneecaps or your softly undulating clavicle until you consent to be my wife once and for all.”

She felt dizzy at the sternness of this ultimatum, even though she had heard it a hundred times before.

“You know I can never be your wife,” she wept, large salty tears rolling down her ample cheeks and glistening like rainbow crystals of cubic zirconia, “I vowed to my sweetheart I should never wed another, though he has long been lost and probably buried at sea.”

Dunstable frowned, his ordinarily perky moustache drooping like a sad horseshoe.

“You think he might still be alive?”

“They never recovered the body,” she whispered, her eyes aglaze with moisture as the magic of hindsight transported her back to the night of that fateful promise, and a man who was never coming back to her.

Enid pulled her pink fleecy negligee closer, shoulders shoogly at the memory of the day she received word he was missing. It had been so long – almost eighteen months – she had nearly forgotten the particulars of his freckly aspect. Of course at the time she had been plunged into black despair but then, little by little, days had begun to get brighter, until she fell headlong into Dunstable’s dependable embrace.

Dunstable knew she was riding the horns of a most furious dilemma, for whilst she truly loved him she could not break her promise to the brave childhood sweetheart who would always hold a place in her heart, just down from the aorta.

“I’m sorry my love,” he told her, full of regret, “I should not have asked you again. It was totes inapropes.”

“No,” she said with a weak smile, “it’s only natural you should feel this way. I know how men love weddings and commitment.”

“I do dream about the smell of ruffles and the flash of sweet pea in my bouquet most every night,” he agreed, “but as long as you are in my arms, I am content.”

He moved to embrace her once again, when all at once the door was thrown completely open.

“Not so fast,” said a booming voice the colour of coffee.

“Who are you?” Enid asked, even though she already knew.

“It is I, Johnny Sailorington, your long lost sweetheart!”

The owner of the voice stepped into the room. Dunstable and Enid stared at him in dismay and wonderment. The long lost Sailorington cut a dashing figure in his baseball cap and floral cravat, but gosh darn it why could he not have remained lost at sea? Now everything was quite ruined.

“Oh Johnny, where have you been all this time?” Enid asked, moving towards her erstwhile sweetheart as though propelled by a force akin to gravity, only it radiated sideways out of his belt rather than up from the ground. “I felt sure you must be dead and buried at sea, and as you know the psychic intuition of a lady is rarely wrong.”

Johnny Sailorington sighed, a deep and manly sound, and paced to the window to look out over the grey ocean. Unfortunately the sea was on the other side of the building, so he had to content himself with staring at a supermarket car park.

“Your feminine intuition was not actually far wrong,” he confessed, gazing heroically at a paper bag fluttering across the concrete outside. Crumbs of pastry scattered artistically from a hole in the side like some kind of metaphor, which all three silently agreed was oddly beautiful.

“After I went to make my fortune as a ship’s makeup artist, our vessel was captured by fierce environmental campaigners. They mistakenly thought we were evil scientists bent on creating a new strain of über tuna using bits of old whale, rather than the honest and upstanding members of the music industry we truly were.”

“So that is why there were news reports claiming the latest Pop Factor tour was a lot more highbrow than previous years,” Enid murmured.

“Indeed. The evil scientists went in our place, and forced everyone to carry out practical chemistry experiments in front of a pyrotechnic display instead of dancing and singing songs.”

“How horrible.”

“Yes. Meanwhile the environmental campaigners locked us in a metal storage container. When we finally escaped, we found all our singers had applied to go to university to learn more about science.”

“It must have been a terrible blow,” Dunstable said sympathetically.

“A little part of my soul died that day,” Johnny Sailorington confirmed. “The only thing that kept me going was the thought of returning home to my one true love – ” His voice caught on the back of his throat – “but I see now she is false. Oh, sweet Emily, how could you wrong me so?”

“I’m not Emily,” said Enid, “I’m Enid.”

Johnny Sailorington stopped staring at the car park and took her face in his hands.

“Enid?” he said. Then, “oh, I remember you from the Christmas party! You used to step out with Johnny Taylorington from Accounts. I’m sorry for your loss.”

“My loss?” she wobbled, face filling with tears again.

“Why yes,” said Johnny Sailorington, “haven’t you heard? He married the captain of the green lot and absconded to live in a Cornish commune. Terrible business. Anyway, if you don’t mind, I’ll be off to find my Emily.”

The lovers watched him leave, a great weight lifting from their shoulders.

“Enid,” Dunstable said, “dear, sweet Enid. Now will you consent to be my bride?”

She smiled at him and took his hand in hers.

“Dunstable,” she whispered in a voice thick with love, “I think I will.”

Friday, 23 March 2012

Walking to Azerbaijan

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you may be aware that I am very much pro the Eurovision Song Contest. Last year I live blogged it, and this year I had thought I would be in Eastern Europe for it – but it turns out the final is being held on May 26, two days after our triumphant return.

Before I checked the dates, however, I did have a bit of a look round Google Maps to see how feasible it would be to detour from our planned route (Germany – Poland – Czech Republic – Slovakia – Austria – Hungary – Croatia – Slovenia – Italy) to Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan and home of Eurovision 2012. Not very, as it turns out – Azerbaijan is a bit out of the way.

In fact, if you were to walk it from my flat in Edinburgh (because that’s something you would do), it’d take 34 days and 9 hours – assuming you walk at the pace of Google Maps (which gives you about 20-25 minutes to do a mile).

The directions are pretty extensive, although as we all know they are bound to have missed out countless mini roundabouts and pedestrian areas. Still, they do warn that the directions are in beta, and to be fair to them 3, 347 miles is a pretty large area to cover. Possibly my favourite thing is that they also warn: “Use caution – this route may be missing sidewalks or pedestrian paths.”

There aren’t any pavements on the North Sea, then?! What an outrage! I shall be writing to my MP.

I jest, of course – Google Maps knows the average person cannot walk on water. Instead they advise you to saunter down from Edinburgh to Newcastle and get a ferry to Ijmuiden, although presumably you can pace up and down the deck if you really want to keep moving. After that it’s a simple case of walking up through the Netherlands and across the top of Germany till you get to Kiel, from whence you take another ferry to Lithuania before a brisk march down through Belarus, Ukraine, part of Russia and Georgia. Then bob’s your uncle, you’re crossing the border into Azerbaijan before you can say ‘are we there yet?’

Rather brilliantly, the directions are full of things like ‘Turn right, Entering Russia.’ This is nice because it makes it sound really simple, when in actual fact the parts of Russia they are suggesting you traverse are flagged up on the Foreign Office website as amber for ‘advise against all but essential travel’, due to issues including terrorism and the political situation. Somehow I don’t think a pilgrimage in support of Englebert Humperdinck counts as essential.

Which brings me on to another point about this year’s contest; namely, was it somehow influenced by Eddie Izzard? Until recently Definite Article was my only reference point for Azerbaijan, whilst Dress to Kill provided my only knowledge about Englebert Humperdinck. Now he is representing us there, several years later. Coincidence? I think not…

Monday, 12 March 2012

Why Social Media is Good For the Mind

“I need you to read this and tell me what happened,” says my sister, thrusting a copy of Haruki Murakami’s A Wild Sheep Chase into my hands, “I don’t think it made sense. Although it might actually be the middle of three, which would explain it…”

Once Upon a Time I would have balked at this request.

“You want me to deliberately read a series Out Of Order?” I would have shrieked in a dramatic mixture of caps lock and italics, “What kind of MONSTER do you think I AM???!!!11”

On this occasion though, I shrug and acquiesce – not because my instinct did not tell me to read Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball, 1973 first (turns out the book is the last of the set), but because I have become accustomed to reading things backwards.

“But why?” you probably aren’t bothering to shout.

The answer, dear reader, is social networking.

For those who don’t know (people based in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland where the internet is regarded as black magic; and the population of China*), sites like the Facebook and the Twitter work in real time. This means that when you log in you get the most recent messages people have posted and have to work backwards to find out what everyone’s complaining about / laughing at / watching on TV. It’s sort of like being the star of your very own slightly banal detective story.

Almost everyone has had a go at social networking even if they can’t see the point of it (and indeed I realized - as I was contemplating changing to the new Facebook timeline yesterday - that I've been using that site for about seven years) - so it stands to reason this way of taking in information would begin to filter through to other walks of life like some kind of insidious metaphor. It seems only logical that as more people sign up, human perception of time and compulsion to do things in a particular order will break down ever further.

“Whaddya mean, 1, 2, 3?” we will shout at the generation of children born to us in a future where Twitter is implanted into our retinas like a nightmare Charlie Brooker had once, “this isn’t the Stone Age! What’s the matter with 3, 2, RT 2, OMG RT 2, 1?”

In this future, book series are read backwards as standard, government advice suggests Lost only be viewed from the final episode of series eighty seven, and government legislation ensures Monopoly starts with everyone bankrupt and in jail.

It may sound strange and frightening now, but by and large I think all of this is A Good Thing. Reading backwards is great exercise for the brain and helps us empathise with our dyslexic cousins, who read everything out of order all the time and are more creative human beings as a result.

Furthermore, it turns out reading Murakami the wrong way round only makes him more interesting and this is how I shall approach IQ84. To find out how that goes, join me on Twitter… (@periwinklewine)

*this is an hilarious joke at the expense of Chinese governmental restrictions which include a Facebook ban, but actually they have their own versions of these sites so it probably doesn’t apply there at all.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Toilet Wisdom

There are two kinds of drunken girls in toilets.

One is the weeper, generally crying about some sort of relationship stress (although it’s not always that, of course). She is an immutable fact of any night out. It doesn’t matter if she’s with you or if you’ve never seen her in your life, because as soon as you see the running mascara and hear that familiar hiccough of ‘what did I do to deserve this?’ you are immediately there by her side, knee deep in empathy.

This is because the second type of drunk girls in toilets are the wisest and kindest people in all the world.

“If he isn’t treating you like the PRINCESS you are,” my first toilet mentor told me through a haze of Jack Daniels and Jaegermeister, “he isn’t worth it.”

The fact she was wearing a tutu and sitting in the sink didn’t seem strange, and neither did my total lack of inhibition at telling a complete stranger about the problems in my love life. I tearfully agreed with her that I was a princess and my boyfriend was a fool as he was apparently blind to this clear and incontrovertible fact.

The other side of the coin - much as I hate to admit it - is that I was pissed and emotional, and perhaps not behaving entirely fairly towards him.

The position of toilet soothsayer is one of great power, and with great power comes the opportunity to live vicariously through others, and to give them advice based on approximately no knowledge of their situation.

“Get rid of him/her!” Toilet Girl decrees, “look at the state of you [ she means the tears and snot of abject misery rather than the inebriation ] , and where is this person that claims to be your one true love? Not here, faithfully by your side, but out there, in Da Club, blissfully unaware of your unhappiness - or worse, dismissing it as time of the month, or too much gin! Up with this you must not put!”

The trouble is, alcohol consumption throws up all sorts of underlying madness and robs you of the ability to discuss it sensibly with your partner, whilst simultaneously encouraging you to shout wildly about it in public places. Toilet wisdom does not consider such extenuating circumstances. Someone should conduct research into the number of couples that call it a day after garbled conversations between apparent kindred spirits in grotty nightclub loos.

Because I don’t spend a lot of time hanging round the men’s loos, I’m unsure if there’s a male equivalent of this fairy godmother lurking round the urinals. In my experience drunken men don’t cry as much as drunken women, so maybe they don’t need one. Or maybe their toilet guy says exactly the same thing as our toilet girl.

The last time Captain Tact came in from a booze soaked evening, he informed me I have eyes like sprouts (“with mould in the middle for the pupil”), which I understood from the delivery was meant to be complimentary. Perhaps there was a bloke in the sink saying, “for goodness sake treat her like the princess she is! Get home and deliver some vegetable-based compliments before it’s too late!”

It was a nice sentiment, however oddly phrased – and ultimately that’s what the average Toilet Mentor is trying to achieve too. She wants you to feel better about yourself and if that means ditching the person you’re with, so be it.

However, it may be worth remembering that sometimes, the person sitting in the sink of a nightclub toilet is just as addled as you.

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

How To Write Headlines

All news should be Yahoo news.

I only have a yahoo email account because I needed it to join Flickr, otherwise I might never have discovered the joy of Yahoo news. However, had I only known the quality of headlines the home page provided (not to mention the shockingly bad spam filters – the other week I won the Irish, Spanish and African lotteries within 24 hours of one another. Yes, the one African lottery. Because there aren’t more than fifty countries there) I would have signed up years ago.

But what has prompted me to write in praise of Yahoo news on this particular day? I’m glad you asked. It can only be the headline:

Flatworms Key to Immortality?

‘Of course not,’ you might think, but there again… it’s a headline you can’t not click.

Even though you know that this is going to be some scientific research in a university somewhere (Dr Aziz Aboobaker in Nottingham, as it happens), the moments between reading and clicking the link are magnificent in their potential.

How do they know flatworms are the key to immortality? Have the authorities uncovered an old man in a hole somewhere who thinks its 1203 and has eaten nothing but worms for centuries? And how do you test immortality, anyway? Stand someone in a bucket of worms and wait?

For me, the headline conjures up an image of a flatworm with the accent and acting prowess of Christopher Lambert in Highlander.

“Och, Docteur Aziz,” it says dramatically, “you know there can only be weun. Hoots.”

In my mind, the doctor is played by an as yet undecided Scottish actor (although if I could cast anyone at all it would be the late great Gerard Kelly, who did a fantastic villain as you’ll know if you ever saw him in Brookside) hell bent on discovering the secret of eternal life through any means necessary.

He has dedicated his life to the cause of immortality but is gradually descending deeper into madness as the secret eludes him. The film of his life starts out with the young doctor playing in the garden and finding Christopher Lambert worm, whom he decides to keep as a pet. As the film progresses we realise this young doctor was not Aziz at all, but his grandfather or great grandfather, who pass down Christopher Lambert worm through the ages. He never seems to get any older.

Aziz becomes interested in science exclusively because he wants to find out the secret of the ever youthful flatworm, but after getting his doctorate and a research position at a university, things begin to spiral out of control. Later scenes in the film include him taking a bath of flatworms, and he would also eat them in increasingly brutal and gory ways.

The Christopher Lambert worm tries to stop him from continuing his worm murders, but to no avail. Aziz kills the Christopher Lambert worm but is then distraught when he realises if the worm could be killed, it is not immortal after all. He goes on to die alone in a hovel on a hill in Italy at the age of 106, surrounded by worm related paraphernalia.

At which point the camera cuts to Christopher Lambert worm, alive and living on a beach somewhere.

You have to admit, this film has basically everything. No bearing on the actual article, of course, but even so.

And that, Dear Reader, is why I like Yahoo News.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

So Unlike The Home Life of Our Own Dear Queen

Our boiler is broken again. Well, it is a day ending in ‘y’.

Said boiler had some sort of identity crisis on Tuesday and we have been without hot water ever since. A wee man came to fix it, which involved replacing a valve and a pump - that provided a basin of lukewarm water on Wednesday afternoon, but then it seems a different part of the machine took the huff, 'cause it promptly stopped working again. Cold showers and copious amounts of deodorant all round, then.

However, this situation has at least taught me something about our washing machine (there’s never a dull moment in my life, I’m sure you’ll agree).

You see, the questionable quality of all our white goods (fridge seal broken since we moved in, fire hazard toaster, had to buy our own freezer because the landlord doesn’t deem it a necessary commodity) meant we were not optimistic our washing machine would prove modern enough to have its own water-heating element. After conducting predominantly fruitless internet research throughout the week, today I ran a wash to see. It turns out the machine does in fact heat the water itself, which is very exciting, so now I do at least have clean clothes.

Of course, there is no quick way to dry said clothes (a tumble drier? You’re having a laugh) as we have no heating. This wouldn’t be so bad if I had any dry and clean undercrackers, but of course I do not – an issue which also makes it slightly more difficult to take up my friend’s kind offer of a shower at her house, 2 miles across town. What seems a pleasant forty-minute walk under ordinary circumstances seems to take on a hellish chafing aspect when completed in wet or already used necessaries.

I am therefore faced with a choice of using a hairdryer to render my laundry wearable, which will take ages and use a silly amount of electricity, or being brave and having my second ice cold shower of the week. The last cold shower did make my hair feel quite soft... but it also made me want to die inside.

The esteemed Captain Tact feels particularly resentful because this is the sort of thing that’s meant to happen to students, not responsible tax paying adults like us. Surely we are not meant to be at the mercy of other people any longer? But apparently we can’t get someone in ourselves because technically the landlord has fulfilled his contractual obligation to send someone (even if it is someone who failed to fix it and failed to come back yesterday morning as promised). Supposedly this means that if we get another guy in (one who actually sorts it out) we have to pay for it (on a Saturday, which willnae be cheap).

Of course I realise there are worse things going on in the world today, and one week without hot water is but a blip on the radar which will be forgotten in due course. But for crying out loud, one of our flatmates has absconded to Glasgow so she can have a shower there! Is this really what adult life in the decadent west is supposed to be like?! I say no. The revolution starts here.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

How to Cope With Short Term Contracts

At the end of March, my current temp contract ends. Having been in the same place for a year (“I’m taking the ‘temp’ out of temporary,” I joked to my peers and oh, how we laughed), I’m a little bit on edge about what I'll do to pay the rent next. Still no joy making enough cash from pitching articles to go full time self-employed, you will be amazed to learn, and when Captain Tact signed up to my agency recently they said they’d probably be able to find him a few hours here and there, but there’s not a vast amount of stuff about and for goodness sake don’t rely on them.

The papers continue in a similar vein, which is a little insensitive given the people who have the most time to read the papers are the unemployed, nicking free wifi from outside Britain’s cafes. The Guardian is probably the worst for this – they keep conducting case studies that actually make me want to cry. The constant commentary on unemployment figures (still pretty high, who knew) is enough to strike fear into the heart of any human and I am terrified by the prospect of joining their ranks once more.

So what is my solution to impending employment tragedy? Well, I am going to leave the country. That’ll show ‘em.

As regular readers may already know, I’m not one of your London based journos whose parents can bankroll them to intern unpaid at a broadsheet for as long as it takes for someone to give ‘em a column; I’m a freelance/office temp in Scotland who struggles to get commissioning editors to reply to the most basic of queries (frinstance ‘do you accept work from freelances, Y/N?’). This means that when I say I’m leaving the country I don’t mean in order to travel around the world for a year, to spend some time writing my new book in America, or even to TEFL for a few months in Asia. Instead, my many months of scrimping and saving equate to having almost enough cash to go backpacking around mainland Europe. For a month.

Still, whilst it might not measure up in terms of distance to the travels of my friends and family (who have variously TEFLd in Thailand, Chile and China, volunteered with animals in Honduras/South Africa and orphans in Sri Lanka, not to mention worked their way round Oz, New Zealand and Canada), it’s likely to be the most exciting thing I’ve ever done. My gap year, lest we forget, was spent working for the council whilst I tried (and failed) to get work as a hack in exotic Dundee.

Captain Tact has been prevailed upon to come too, and assures me he’s looking forward to four weeks of sleeping on trains to avoid paying for hostels, walking everywhere by day to avoid paying for transport, and reading the same book four times to avoid paying extra money for the privilege of taking two books on a Ryanair flight to Berlin. It is the sort of once in a lifetime trip dreams are made of, I’m sure you will agree. I don’t know why all those pesky JSA claimants don’t just save up for an austerity gap month too.*

In the mean time, though, I will keep perusing the job adverts and crying quietly to myself. Hooray!

*other than the fact that if you tried to save up for it whilst on JSA it’d take you about twenty years.