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.