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.