Counting in Russian

Well my my doesn’t time fly. The summer’s gone and I’m back at a computer…writing one of the most public private diaries in the world. Good ol’ WordPress.

 

But I digress. I have been learning Russian for the last year-ish-and-a-bit and to be honest I’ve not made much progress. I’ve learnt quite a lot but I’m still at sea when attempting to understand others. I’ve made it my mission to, in the next four months (that is, before the Christman Holiday) I will be able to understand Russian when spoken by others whether on TV or on chance overhearings in public places.

One of my most obvious weaknesses is my unfamiliarity with numbers. I can count, roughly, to twenty and could guess well enough beyond there. This is part of the problem though – can do these things myself…I can’t understand others when they do it. Thus I will be focusing today on learning all the numbers from 1-100.

Loquaciousness – My Love of Words

I haven’t written in a while. This was because I had finished my first year of University and for a good few weeks now I’ve felt like I ought to talk about what my first year at Uni was like but, in all honesty, I feel I’ve said all I need to say on the University front for now at least. I like privacy and I like freedom. What else is there? 

But I was inspired to write about tonight’s topic when I was thinking the other day about my father. I love my father dearly but we’re so alike we repel. Like magnets, as it were. One time we had an argument, an incredibly fierce argument, that ended when we realised we’d been arguing the same side. One of the big differences between me and my dad, though, is our language. My dad is of the mindset that you should use one word in place of three if you can help it, and one syllable in place of many as well. He often mocks me, in jest, for my habit of using big or exotic words or my technical vocabulary. I in turn ridicule him for his inability to communicate clearly when he isn’t giving the conversation his undivided attention. 

But I was thinking about it and I was wondering to myself why I liked using so many words. If I can help it I’ll use a complicated grammatical conjunction in place of two separate sentences and I’ll use plenty of words where one might do – particularly when I’m angry or distressed. When I get angry I get ridiculously formal and will start talking in a mild form of legalese. I came to the conclusion, pondering over my habits, that I use words because I love words. My dad loves numbers – he’s a hobbyist astronomer, a physicist and a graduate engineer. He likes engines and science and technology. I like all those things as well but I don’t understand them nearly as well. I count with my fingers occasionally, for heaven’s sake. 

No – the difference between me and dad is that I like words. I love ’em. I love how they can provoke emotion, how they can form song and sonnet and serenade, how they can inspire great deeds or horrible crimes, how they can frame, portray and shape the mind. Words are our most important faculty – without out highly advanced communication we would be indistinguishable from the other apes. But I also love the sound of words – the phonemes and consonants and vowels. I like how some words form in the mouth and how some play on the ear. I also like discovering the little idiosyncrasies in our speech that defy the actual written, ‘correct’ language we’re all supposed to abide by. I love how around my area we don’t say “I’m going to the shops” but rather “I’m goin’ tuther shops”, how Scotsmen form their ‘Os’, how me and my brother have adopted my father’s strange, Dundonian habit of pronouncing “Stupid” as “Shchoopid“, how my Irish friend says “Alligator” and, perhaps most delightful of all, how Americans pronounce “Little Italy” as “Liddle-liddly”

I have some words I hate to pronounce – words like “Hospitable” and that awful curseword “c*nt”. I am one of those people who don’t like to swear all that much. The intent is very much there but I don’t like saying the words out loud. I think this is because I don’t like the harsh noise of the words – f*ck, c*nt and tw*t. They’re all so unpleasant. I use ‘lesser’ cursewords like ‘bugger’ and ‘damn’ because I much prefer the sound of them – they’re pleasing and amusing to shout out. 

I think this is part of why I love foreign languages and, particularly, Russian. I adore Russian phonology – the Shushes and Zhushes and rolled Rs – and it’s why I love the sound of Russian singing and, thereby, Russian language. Their word for ‘baby’ or ‘toddler’ is малышка – “Malishka”. How lovely and soothing a word. The Hindi word for ‘smiles’ is मुस्कुराहटों – Muskuraahaton. How pleasing a tune – how it bounces along: MUSkooRAhaTON. French has “cœur” meaning ‘heart’ and Spanish has that delightful habit of its older generations pronouncing “España” as “Eshpaña”. Welsh have the soft whistle of “collasant” meaning ‘they lost’ as in the glorious “My Hen Wlad Fy”, the awesome and beautiful national anthem of the Welsh-speaking peoples.

Words and sounds are literal music to my ears. Oftentimes I will rewrite entire sentences to allow for a kind of rhythm to bounce along the words or to allow for a sort of flow in the phonemes. I would not be surprised to discover I have some strange deficiency of the mind which causes me to live my entire life in a sort of obscure poetic meter. I’m a big fan of rap when it allows for words to string together in combinations that had never occurred to me. It’s like how a painting combines colours to make something amazing you’d never seen or thought of before. Rap, poetry, literature and indeed the spoken word itself all allow for the coming together of sounds and ideas into a piece of music. I love words.

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The Screaming Woods – Random Adventures

I haven’t written in a while. I could put it down to having just had two exams and a long period of begrudging revision but the fact is that I spent just as much time goofing off online in my revision as I did in my regular studies so there’s nought but laziness to attribute to the gap between then and now.

This is particularly inexcusable because I’ve had a fair few fun little adventures between then and now. Particularly impressive in its scope and origin is the fated journey to the Screaming Woods – the most haunted place in all of England.

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Sometime in late May my good friend Andy contacted me and suggested we get some lunch. We consider all the options avaliable to us and, after a period of wandering around and finding none of the University food-joints open we opted to contact our good friend Robbie and embark on a short journey to Whitstable, a nearby costal town, to have some fish and chips by the beach. This was the beginnings of a quest for lunch that would end with us driving home in the dark at three in the morning singing cheesy pop songs.

For you see en-route to our little seaside town we passed a mediocre carvery. We begin discussing the idea of having a carvery and suddenly Andy and Robbie are overcome with a desire to eat a roast dinner. We drive around Whitstable for over half an hour looking for some phantom carvery Robbie was sure he’d seen to no avail. We then get lost for ten minutes and end up on a large road heading back into Canterbury. Back at the University of Kent, still hungry and now verging on Six O’Clock – the time at which eating transmutes from lunch to dinner – we call on our friend Jamie to join us in driving down to a local carvery.

At the carvery we encounter a very strange man serving as the meat-carver. Presented with three meats – Gammon, Steak and what appears to be Chicken or perhaps Turkey – me and Andy both request the Turkey. “It’s Chicken!” he grunts. We ask for Chicken. “Turkey!” he gruffly mutters, handing us the suspicious meat. I still don’t know what it was that I ate but I wouldn’t be suprised to find its carver has a restraining order or something. In any case we finish our meals and enjoy each others company. Surely this is the end of our quest for dinner?

But for some reason Jamie drives us home a different route – taking us round the back of the University through some fields. We all suddenly have the brilliant idea of going on an adventure and finding something cool. We drive for quarter of an hour down the road and end in some peculiar car park in the middle of a woods. There I battle with my phone’s 3G in a bid to find the location of the legendary Dering Woods – reported by Robbie to be in the town of Pluckley and one of the most haunted grounds in all of Great Britain. Whilst in that cark park we see a curious white van left open and seemingly abandoned in a manner not unlike a horror film about abduction. Perhaps it was the van of our disturbingly disturbed carvery-chef.

Having found Pluckley on the map we drive through winding country lanes for hours as the clock ticks onto eight and then nine but the sun refuses to set. We find the town of Pluckley and discover it has a bizarre smell. We look around for a few minutes and finally find the fated Dering “Screaming” Woods. The most haunted woods in all of England. Andy and Robbie are wearing flip-flops. What could possibly go wrong.

We walked around that wood, impossibly lost, for many hours. But time passed strangely in those eldritch  forests. For it was only on our panicked return to the car (panicked because we were lost, not panicked because we were being chased by the unliving damned) that the sky finally darkened to what could be considered ‘night’. We were in a literal Twilight Zone – where the passage of time seemed unconcerned with the passing of the sun overhead. Me and Jamie, shod in appropriate footwear, made a detour through a thorny bramble. When Andy and Robbie followed they did so only after we had given up our socks to better protect their feet. Andy spent the rest of the journey complaining about my smelly socks. It wasn’t particularly the kind of dialogue found in a horror film. Nevertheless Robbie was adamant he saw a face in a small cabin adjacent a railway line. Tramp or ghost? Who knows.

The biggest scare of the night – other than the vague anxieties about getting lost or running out of petrol on the way home – came in the form of a pothole. Whilst that makes it sound like the journey was not particularly scary I must express in the clearest terms just how terrifying a pothole it was. It was so large I thought we had driven partially off a cliff-edge or something. The car screamed and the road roared when we passed through it. Andy screamed. It may have been Andy…it could have been Robbie.

What had started out as an earnest search for lunch transformed into a full English roast and a ghost-hunt miles away from home. If that’s not an adventure then I don’t know what is.

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Exploring – Local Wonders and Futher Afield

This week I’ve been meaning to revise. I have an exam on Thursday, for heaven’s sake, I ought to be at least reading a book. It is paramount that I stay in my room despite the utterly glorious week-long Californian paradise-weather we’ve been having and study, study, study. It’s for exactly that reason, then, that I’ve been out of the house this week more than usual.

It’s not just the sun. I don’t normally care much for the sun. I don’t tan. I don’t burn easily either, for that matter, I just get somehow even paler and if I’m not careful my arms get a little itchy from heat-rash but ultimately hot weather does nothing except provoke me to change shirts in the middle of the day. But good weather makes being indoors suck. It’s usually warmer than it is outside – stuffier, too. My laptop, already quite old and prone to overheating, is like a hot water bottle under my hands. My window faces the sun most of the day and so if I dare try and use the computer between 10 in the morning and 2 in the afternoon the sun will glint off the laptop screen and blind me. Good weather makes you feel like you really ought to be outside. It reminds you how much time you spend indoors and it reaffirms the old adage of the agoraphobic, Internet-bound nerd.

This week I’ve been exploring a few places. A friend of mine and his lovely fiancée invited me to explore some woods on the other side of Canterbury and I happily took up the chance to shirk my student responsibilities. We wandered around the gorgeous forest and, like children, explored the local wonders. We watched anthills slowly consume all the debris around them and we watched some strange grub-like creatures bumble about the clovers. We saw a delightful little woodland clearing where the grass was as green as it comes. We found a caterpillar hanging from a high tree branch at head-height in the centre of the path and watched it dance around like one of those acrobats hanging from the ceiling by long silk strips. I was also subject to an explosion of scribbly death when it turned out that the strange, fuzzy black lump by the roadside was animal droppings covered in flies who burst out like shrapnel when I got too close. I also bet my friend he wouldn’t lick an aphid on his arm for a pound just to see if he’d do it. I am now one pound poorer.

Today I went with the same friend (sans fiancée) and walked around the fields behind the university. We found a bunker, presumably from the 1940s, abandoned in the hedgerows. Canterbury is one of the largest cities closest to then-occupied France and was none-too-far from Dover Castle where a lot of the defence against potential Nazi invasion was orchestrated. We discussed the secret plans to defend Britain conjured up by Churchill and the other heads of state in the event of a land invasion of England. There were certain towns, those with historical moats and castle walls, which were planned to destroy the bridges leading across said moats and hold out against the invaders with enough supplies to last five years. 

Standing there, peering into that long-forgotten concrete pillbox, I mused on how terrifyingly close we came to being occupied or at least invaded by the German army back then. Living in Canterbury must have been a stressful thing – so few miles separating its citizens from a French coastline where, I like to imagine, Hitler stood, watching the cliffs of Dover, shaking an impetuous fist. Now the bunker, no longer needed, lies forgotten and overgrown in the hedgerow behind a university where many of the students are German, English, French and from futher afield. 

I’m reading the papers these days and wondering what the big guys sitting in Downing Street or Élysée Palace or the Bundeskanzleramt are going to do about the Eurozone. I’m reading lots of opinions and lots of predictions and I don’t know enough to be able to say here what I really think about all of it but nevertheless when I look at the last century of European history I can’t help but marvel at how far we’ve come. At the start of the century we were baying at each other’s throats, in the middle we were split down the middle and pointing weapons at each other – weapons that could wipe life off the face of the earth several times over. Now some might say we’re baying at each other’s throats again – this time over how much money should be going where and what we’re supposed to be doing as a Eurozone. But when I look at the crumbling bunker in the Canterbury fields I realise that we’re nowhere near the hatred and fear we once held for each other. We’re closer than we’ve ever been before. 

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Football – Caring About Things I Don’t Care About

Football is boring. Maybe not to you – and I’m happy that you enjoy it – but to me it’s indescribably dull. Players are encouraged to fall over at the slightest provocation, the rules allow for mindless passing of the ball back-and-forth to deny the opposition possession (as opposed to the far more entertaining rules of passing in Rugby that make moving forward a necessity) and generally I find it hard to relate to the teams or the supporters or the clubs in any measurable way that might conclude my enjoyment of the sport.

So imagine my sup rise when I find myself watching the Champions’ League Final between Munich and Chelsea this week. Sitting in a bar with good friends whilst slightly-tipsy supporters around us cheer and clap at random intervals to try and break up the monotony of the majority of the game wherein no goals were scored. I kid you not when I say by the pool table opposite us there was a large group of guys who seemed to get ridiculously excited whenever anyone of either side got hold of the ball and/or made an attempt at the goal. They could barely contain their enthusiasm at the penalty shoot-out.

My friends had bet on it being a draw up until it went into extra time. They had fifty pounds in potential winnings and right up until the end, with it being 0-0 throughout, it looked like a done deal. We were bored with the game and chatting between ourselves. Then someone, I forget who and care not to remind myself, scored. Suddenly and transformatively we were fixed on the game. When the other team scored and brought it back up to a tie I actually yelled and pumped my fist in the air. It didn’t take much – it wasn’t even me who had the bet to win, it was my friends – but I was suddenly invested in the game. Right up until the last minute of the game proper I was anxious of every potential kick of the ball that might upset the perfect balance that would ensure my friends their win. 

So I guess I don’t find football all that boring in reality. The passing of the ball between mindless millionaire number one and brainless billionaire number two wasn’t all that tedious once I had some reason to care who won and how. I don’t much care for gambling myself and I doubt I would ever bring myself to put down a sum of money worthy of worrying over if I did. But the anticipation of my friends being jubilantly victorious or frustratingly defeated was enough to excite me and make me want to see the game conclude. 

I’m reminded of whenever my dad and younger brother went to go see the games of our local rugby team – the Northampton Saints. I love watching the saints and rugby’s a great game that I can actually enjoy watching for the sake of watching but my dad and brother are on a whole ‘nother level. They’re season-ticket holders. Diehard fans. They sit in that bit of the stands where everyone’s such a regular face to the point of knowing each other and chatting in the half-time. Whenever dad and brother went to go see a game I would hope for a saints win. Not just because I support the saints but also because I knew that if they lost dad would come back in a foul mood. Dad’s bad mood has a unique way of spreading out and putting me and everyone else in a bad mood as well so it was always in my interests that the saints won

So I suppose the old adage is false – it’s not the taking part that counts : people care about the winning. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing but from what I can tell it’s the real thing

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Where I’ve Been – Something that Scares Me

This week I was making this – a short blog entirely in Russian. I have no idea if the Russian is good – I don’t even know if it’s comprehensible for native speakers without the subtitles on. All I know is that it put me back into my Russian-studying game after a cold had knocked all the motivation out of me and vastly improved my vocabulary. Benny Lewis of Fluentin3months has always maintained that speaking is the number-one priority to learning a language that most bookworms tend to neglect and that we should make videos in our languages to encourage us to get used to both speaking and dealing with an audience.

It also ties in with another big part of my adventure-seeking mentality – doing one thing each day that scares you.

I quote that line directly from the bizarre but inspiring message of the video below.

It’s called Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreenand was adapted into song by Baz Luhrmann from an article written by Mary Schmich back in the 90s. It contains nearly every little piece of advice everyone knows but no-one acts on and can easily work up a man to convince himself to change his life entirely for the few minutes following hearing the song for the first time. Of course this wears off and people sink back into the hum-drum but it’s a good rabble-rouser none the less.

I first heard this song-poem-thing when it was played to us by our head of Sixth Form (a higher level of pre-University education in Britain) for the sole purpose of outfitting us with such advice as is found in the lyrics. Ever since then, though I remember most of the message, there was one line that stuck out to me personally and has come back to me in recent months as I look in my life more and more for adventure. “Do one thing each day that scares you“.

At the start of this year’s Lent I had just discovered that in Lent you don’t have to just give up things you like – you can also take on things you’d like to accomplish. A second New Year’s Resolution, I was told. Regardless of the theological validity of such a notion I decided to put myself into a small “yes-man” situation à la Danny Wallace and accept any and all offers that came my way. I soon discovered that in reality there aren’t all that many amazingly exciting opportunities we let pass by in the first place – my life didn’t change all that profoundly. But I was still thinking about doing one thing each day that scared me and, combined with my search for things to say yes to, I found myself in a situation where though my day-to-day actions were not much changed my attitude was very much altered. I found myself looking at the world around me – looking for things to do and exciting opportunities to take the world up on. I felt like I had opened my eyes, to quote a cliché, and seen for the first time all I could possibly do. I feel healthier for feeling so less constrained by what I was “supposed” to do. Knowing I had the willpower and ability to randomly go running through the streets made deciding to walk down them in a normal and leisurely manner feel like a freedom rather than a societal expectation.

My point, however rambling, is that it’s healthy to realise our potential and it makes your life that much better to just say “to hell with it” and do things. There’s a fad going around young girls in particular at the moment called YOLOYou Only Live Once. It’s a philosophy of sorts that suggests that since we only have one life we should do what we want with it. I agree with the idea but the problem with these YOLOers is that they don’t do anything. They sit there with this wonderful little phrase that says “the world is my oyster – I can do anything and be anything” and then they just end up getting drunk and doing the same thing they do every night. To know that the world is your oyster and the just settle for a cheap hamburger instead is all-too-great a shame. You Only Live Once – do something special.

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The West Wing – Optimism Feels Good

So I’ve not written anything in the past few days. My previous entry would tell you that I had a cold and, being a man with said cold, I immediately contracted what we call “man-flu” and felt very sorry for myself and vastly overexaggerated the severity of my sickness.

In any case my Russian adventure and my less-fun-but-still-interesting attempts at revising for upcoming History exams were put on hold as I found myself far too sick to want to bother working. It’s important to make work fun and it’s a lot easier to do when it’s fun,yes, but it’s difficult to convince yourself to do work in all situations…especially when you’re so eager to give yourself a sicknote and goof off. I spent my evenings (and continue to spend them) plowing through the not-instubtantial bulk of that most wonderful of television series – the West Wing.

The West Wing is a drama about the lives and situations of the President of the United States (Martin Sheen) and his various staffers. It’s sublimely written, politically in-tune and informative, at times hilarious and others tragic and nearly all the time wildly idealistic and far too idealised to be a reality in world politics. 

I was first introduced to West Wing by a wonderful politics (or “political science”) teacher named Doctor Carter. Once a week we would sit down and watch an episode of the show that dealt with the issue or governmental function we were learning about that week. We all came to love the West Wing as a drama just as much as we loved it as a wonderful insight into American politics. I remained enamoured with President Bartlet, American politics and above all the so-very-rare idea that politicians aren’t all evil or out to ruin our lives and that politics isn’t a waste of time.

It’s very popular to think these days that all politicians (but especially the famous ones) are evil, hypocritical, selfish, self-serving, without principles or some fiendish combination thereof. It’s also very hard to argue against that – being as it is so many politicians are out of touch – products of a sheltered system that creates politicians rather than, as it should be, allowing for politicians to rise out of any and all backgrounds as according to their passion in tackling issues personal to them and their constituents. But there are some fundamental truths that many political pragmatists tend to overlook that doom them to be cynics rather than realists.

Firstly it’s very hard to say that most politicians come into the job with dollar signs rolling around where their eyes should be like some fat-cat cartoon. The sheer amount of media exposure, public scrutiny, outright hatred and stress the average politician puts him or herself through is nowhere near the paycheck that they recieve for their work. When you consider the money they could be making in other jobs with nowhere near the same amount of ire drawn from the general public nor the privacy-invading assaults by the media you come to realise the only reason many people come into politics is because they want to make a difference, paycheck be damned. The annual salary of an MP in the House of Commons is £65,000-ish. The average paycheck of a partner in a law firm, a likely alternate line of work for a politician, comes in at around £100,000. The Prime Minster makes just over that at $145,000, true, but the Lord Chief Justice can make nearly $240,000. These are not random high-salary jobs. These are lines of work your average career politician would be well-suited for, to say nothing of business or economy jobs.

Secondly consider just how many politicians you can name. There are 650 MPs as of the 2010 election and there are 535 congressmen and 100 senators in the United States. When you say they are all corrupt, incompetent or out of touch – how many of them are you considering? At least a handful of MPs, certainly, all of whom are likely cabinet ministers or only temporarily on your mind because of whatever latest scandal is rocking the nation. Speaking of cabinet ministers – who are they all? Name them. You might know half of them. These are the people running the country. They are the executive body and I’m willing to bet the average person doesn’t know all of their names. I certainly don’t. Who on earth is Lansley? Never heard of him. Tarring everyone with the same brush is the kind of irritating thing foolish politicians do on a regular basis. To quote a man musing philosophical on the merits of Captain America, “maybe some of them are earnest but uninspiring personalities, maybe some others have made less than inspiring votes lately…but to pin all one’s hopes to an inspiring leader, to hope too hard for a hero, is a mistake. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll take an inspiring leader if we can get one…but in the meantime, simply voting for the people less likely to betray [our] fundamental principles and to make the world a much worse place to live is not just enough: it’s enough to get excited about,”

Finally I find it personally hard to loathe politicians, never mind politics, because I just find it all too damned depressing to think like that. Many of these people, though I admit not all, are putting themselves up to the monumental task of attempting to fix problems beyond the comprehension or scope of the majority of the people in this nation. Whether they are the best people for the job we don’t know – though we should. What matters is that we as a national unit voted them into power and now we wait for them to not make a single mistake. And I don’t say that sarcastically – we earnestly want and require that they not make a single mistake. And these people do this willingly. They actually practically beg for us to chose them to do it and not some other, indistinguishable man in a suit with vague, pandering opinions and a winning smile. 

It feels good to think the best in people. West Wing taught me that. It applies to everything in my life – I find myself happiest when I believe, truly, that humans are fundamentally good, that all our decisions are done with the best of interests in mind. There have been scant few people in history who have been evil for the sake of being evil. Nearly every dictator or murderer in the history of mankind, however deluded, believed they were doing something for the good of mankind and wanted to do something good for mankind. They did it in terrible, horribly incorrect manners that were not at all good but you see my point in that no-one really goes about to deliberately make evil in this world.

And yes – many, many times I am proved wrong. Many times humans do awful things to themselves, one another and the planet. Many times politicians are sleazy wastes of space. Many times decisions are founded on ego and hubris rather than a benevolant commonality. So many times my fundamental belief in the good of humanity is shaken. But still I hold onto it. Why? Because I see so many times the anger and dissapointment in the eyes of cynics, of practical people, of realists and those who have given up on labels altogether. They see the world as an angry, horrible place where people do evil things and the majority of good people are torn down and apart by evil, powerful men with evil, powerful bankrolls. So many times their fundamental philosophies are justified. But they’re never happy to know this. To know that they’re right – that the world is a terrible place or just a moderately dissapointing one – saddens them. To believe in the good of all the things around you is naive and childish and you must be prepared to accept however many times you might be wrong, yes, but when you’re right, when youre fundamental philosphy is justified and you know you’re right – you know the world is a wonderful, beautiful place – nothing beats that. Nothing beats knowing the world is a wonderful place to live in. Optimism just feels good. West Wing taught me that. 

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Illness – Enjoying Being Normal

So today I was planning to write at some point about how some very dear friends of mine are now engaged and how I’ve just got in from an evening hanging out with friends and doing that most important of activities – having a good time. 

The Danish have an utterly awesome word in the shape of “Hyggelig” which, though untranslatable, can be roughly described as the warm, comforting happiness experienced when being with near and dear ones and having a good time. Think long summer evenings relaxing with your closest friends with your favourite drink and a beautiful sunset. 

Unfortunately as I come in from this evening’s hyggelig I come to realise I have a runny nose and a raging cold. I had a headache earlier today and I’ve had a sore, rough throat all day but I didn’t expect it to turn into a cold. As soon as I sat down to write these words my nose began to run and now I sit here with a tissue bunged up my nose feeling very sorry for myself.

I’m reminded in times of illness just how great it is to feel normal. People spend so much of their lives trying to achieve greater highs and greater emotional euphoria but we forget how pleasant it is to wake up and be healthy and functioning until those things are taken away from us. Illness reminds us how great health is. Part of the pain of illness is the impatience to return to that wonderful, tantilisingly-close feeling of normalcy in one’s body and mind. The knowledge that I will wake up tomorrow with a blocked nose and a head stuffy enough to drown me is almost worse than the feeling of my head-cold right now. 

But normalcy is great in other ways, too. For example – tonight’s evening with friends was little more than sitting around, having a meal out together, chatting in a bar and walking around the campus at night chatting and enjoying the warm breeze. There was nothing special, nothing especially notable nor rememberable and certainly nothing exciting or novel. And yet that in itself contributed to the perfectness of the evening – it was just all of us, relaxing and unwinding in each other’s company and enjoying the things we enjoy. 

Being ill is a spanner in the works. It bogs me down with helplessness and fatigue. I was meant to try and get a lot of Russian done today and further progress that linguistic adventure but now I sit here, sneezing and sniffing, having done no work and yet not caring. I just want to go to bed. Misery is me.

And yet from this I know that there will come a day not far from now when I will wake up and my health will be restored. I will be jubilant in my return to normalcy and to productivity. In the meantime, though, all I can do is wait for the cold to leave my body. It always helps, I find, to think of things linearly. Though I am ill now I will not be by this time next week. Though I may be exhausted from climbing this mountain now I know that by tonight I will be tucked up in bed. Though I may be stressing over exams or interviews I know that whatever happens I will not have cause to stress in a day or so. Things that matter now don’t matter later – for better or worse. 

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Adventure – the Battle against Boredom

So here I sit in my little bubble of myself. This small room, my university accommodation, is my little capsule wherein everything is geared towards me and no-one else. It is the only space on earth where I permit myself and where I am permitted by others to do absolutely anything I want and use my time however I wish. It’s almost depressing, then, how many of those hours of absolute freedom are spent on timewasters such as YouTube.

I love YouTube. It has replaced television for me – being of a greater variety and greater cohesion to my own interests than mainstream television networks ever could be. But YouTube, like so much of the internet, is a stopgap – a temporary plug in the space of nothingness that fills the inbetweens of our lives when we have nothing to do. Life is as much as battle against boredom as it is against starvation, disease and other basic needs. Even the most downtrodden of impoverished people still look for brief moments of entertainment – perhaps moreso than the overcomfortable minority of the “first world”. YouTube and Facebook and Twitter and, for the more knowledge-thirsty, Wikipedia – they all exist as plugs in the great big gaping hole of boredom that can envelope our lives when we have no direction or goal at that moment. It’s a drug that tricks your brain into thinking it’s doing something when in actuality there’s very little outwardly that can distinguish a bored person from one browsing the internet. Like the channel-surfers of old, the internet is this generation’s timefiller between work and real fun.

This is my third term of university and at Kent they have the near-infuriating practice of not doing anything in that third of a year. This is infuriating threefold as my family are paying for this waste of a term, I’m meant to be revising for exams for which I am receiving no support or even the scantest of information and finally I am bored. So very, very bored.

Which is why I crave adventure. Anything. Even the minor thrill of meeting a new person or going for a walk. Adventure in all its shades is nothing more than the endless fight back against boredom and ennui. Today the first thing I did after breakfast was walk to the library, find a seat left abandoned amongst the rows of bookcases and sit down. The book nearest my face was a brief history of Islam and I spent a happy near-hour flicking through a biography of Mohammad’s achievements and actions. I might have been sitting in a stuffy, ridiculously-warm-for-the-time-of-year library in drizzly south England, true, but I was also standing amidst the merchant-folk of Mecca as I joined Mohammad in considering ‘Uzza, Lat and Manah all those thousand-so years ago. Adventure is as much of the mind as it is of the body. You don’t need to jump off a cliff or wrestle a baboon to have an enriching experience out of life. 

There is a wonderful program avaliable for Chrome called StayFocused which allowed you to “blacklist” certain sites and assign a universal time limit which counts down for however long you spend on such sites. I’ve not yet been in a situation where my need to work has been strong enough to warrant sticking to a strict diet of time-wasting internet fodder but more and more these past few days I begin to see a more interesting side to the StayFocused ideology – that of forcing me to ween myself off of the internet as a battleground against boredom and into the ‘real’ world where adventure is as unpredictable as it is enriching. Even if it’s just meeting up with friends or admiring a view – humans are built from the ground up, whether you consider yourself creationist, evolutionist or otherwise, to act and react within a real world and not an online database. If you have fun on the internet you don’t necessarily have fun in real life. So go out there. Turn off the computer screen. Have an adventure.

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Leaving Home – The Joys of Solitary Living

These past few weeks I’ve been back living with my family whilst University was shut for easter. Tomorrow (in exactly 12 hours) I’ll be catching a ride back down to Olde Canterbury to wrap up the last, this-time-much shorter term of my first year reading History at the University of Kent.

Having been back for a few weeks I’ve had ample time to think over my two lives – that of the eldest son living at home with siblings and parents in middle-class suburbia and that of the young, fun-seeking university student living on his own in a city full of friends. I acknowledge the comfort and convinience of living in a house where food is ample, leisure is less of a dent in the budget and most commodities are handled by people other than myself but, when I think of the marked difference in my mood here and at university I can safely say I’ve already mentally flown the coop if not yet physically.

Living at home subjects me to less emotional personal space than at university . Also, being family and not housemates, I am more emotionally invested in the behaviour of people at home. Thus I find my mood to be much more affected by outside influences at home than at university and, accordingly, I am much easier put in a foul mood at home than I think is even possible in Kent. The annoying habits of my family cling to me and frustrate me more than the most annoying habits of my most annoying friends ever could. Having experienced the intellectual and emotional maturity of (some, not all) university students it feels like I’ve been hobbled or regressed to return to the bickering of younger siblings or the arguments of family members. 

Living in my little room in the University of Kent I was ablaze with motivation. I began and kept up the practice of writing down each night five things I wished to have accomplished by the same time the following night. Not only that – I put myself to learn a new, interesting word and a new, interesting historical fact each day and for several weeks I kept to this little self-sustaining schedule and became such a productive taskforce that I finished all my essays a week before they were due and spent the final seven days of the term relaxing with friends and enjoying life rather than fixating on words on a screen. I was learning and doing and self-improving almost every day. I picked up a copy of Journey to the Centre of the Earth and read it just because I felt I ought to. In terms of my capacity to improve myself and expand my horizons I felt limitless.

But there is a downside to university – to all universities – and that is the passing of an era. It occured to me then and now that there were so many of my classmates at my leavers’ prom or on results day whom I would very likely never see again. Moreso than that – many of my closest friends have moved to other universities across the British Isles and I see them so little now as compared to before in our schooldays. I have friends in university, true, but there’s nothing to compare to old childhood friends. 

I look now at a picture on my wall. It is of the Pleiades – a cluster of stars hanging in space so very, very far away from us. They burn a bright blue, such is their heat, and it brings to mind a certain physical phenomenon that has long-fascinated me. It is called Blueshift. The idea is that as objects moving towards us at incredibly fast speeds, near the speed of light, the light between us and them begins to become bluer and bluer in colour. The opposite of this is Redshift, where things moving away from us get redder and redder. When we see those wonderful pictures of galaxies and nebula and we see the red and blue colours we can see those that are moving away from us and those that are moving towards us.

The reason I mention this is because it was the first metaphor I thought to use when attempting to explain this sensation of “drifting apart” I notice between myself and former schoolmates. Not my friends, of course, but classmates. At school we were not close by any stretch but we knew each others names and would greet each other in passing. In these weeks I’ve been home I’ve walked past quite a few of my former classmate and we’ve either not acknowledged each other or smiled nervously in a horrid state of not being close enough to even warrant a friendly “hello” anymore but not far enough to warrant ignoring. It was a bizarre moment. I feel when I look at these people I see them as redshifted – moving further and further away from me with each passing moment and with nothing to stop the motion. It does not sadden me, for they were never my friends, but I think it odd that in a few years I will remember so few of their names  and maybe I will have forgotten a face or two. I was never the best with names in the first place – I dread to think how few I will remember down the years. 

But the opposite is also true. There are people out there who are to me blueshifted. They are moving closer to me all the time and with each passing day our friendship grows stronger. Beyond them there are people whom I have not even met yet – people I might not know for dozens of years if not decades – who are gradually nearing me over the course of our lives. Perhaps we will know each other for only a few minutes, perhaps for the rest of our lives. Perhaps we will love, be friends or fight with each other. I don’t know. But they will near me and maybe one day after that they will redshift and move away from me again and I will watch them grow distant and faint. Who can tell. The only fixed points in our lives are the stars above our heads and even they are fleeting in the long run. Things might not last forever – maybe we should appreciate them more whilst they’re here. Living on my own is a joy. Living with my family is something I ought to appreciate whilst I have it. 

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