Gainful Employment – Too Little Lettuce

Today was my first day working at Subway.

Well, I say working. It’s a summer job.

Well, I say job. I was on a trial day. 

Well, I say day. It was two hours.

In complete honesty I did two hour’s work roughly approximate to what I would be doing were I employed by the almighty, all-benevolent Subway franchise. 

I’ve come upon that unhappy point in every person’s life where they realise money is both desirable and fleeting. My lifestyle is hardly lavish and in actuality I tend to be far too concerned with the idea of spending money to be much of a spendthrift. However being at university generates additional costs that I must meet and make good on. Hence employment.

I don’t have any particular soft spot for Subway. They are the only “fast food” place I would willingly step foot in but I wouldn’t call myself a fan nor an addict. I’m happy to report, though, that seeing the workings behind the shopfront has not damaged my willingness to eat their food.

The thing I found strangest about standing on the wrong side of that ranked-up plethora of meats and salads was how I was actually less stressed than when I’m the customer. When I go into a shop that requires input from me beyond “I’ll have this” I tend to freak out. I suddenly need to make decisions and I’m immediately made aware of the queue behind me and the bored, impatient look hiding behind the friendly eyes of the guy making my food and that’s exactly when I forget what I wanted or how to talk to people in a declarative, clear, non-mumbly intelligible manner. 

“Hello, sir! What would you like?”

“Uh, the…uh…mumgblle,”

“The what, sorry?”

“Fleumble”

I have no idea why but this only happens in customer situations. Even though I’m well aware of the consumer mentality of our society which demands our shop people be malleable and eternally agreeable in order to appease us I still live in constant dread of somehow being an incompetent customer and wasting everyone’s time. When I stand in queues for the local corner shop I spend a good part of the queue recounting my loose change over and over again to make sure I definately have enough money. I’m well aware that if I didn’t have the correct change (despite counting five times and praying the queue would slow down so I could recount a sixth) the person would say “I need such-and-such more,” and I’d look a tad silly. However there’s no way you can remind me of this in the queue leading up the checkout. No. I’m adamant that the ferocious monster on the other side of the counter will glance snidely at my proffered pennies and snort in a booming, daemonic tone “Wretched mortal! Thou hast coinage too little! Thou’st offended me!” and then they’d backhand me and I’d go to jail.

Subway’s even worse. I have to chose the bread and the meat and whether I’d like it toasted or not or with cheese or not or half or a footlong and then “What salad would you like?” Ack! They must have every vegetable on the planet here! Which ones do I pick to ensure the subway artist won’t bite off my head? It’s like the letters-on-the-floor puzzle of Indiana Jones and the Last Cruasade. If I pick gerkin the sneeze-guard will grow teeth and eat me and I’ll be turned into slices of bacon for the next unwitting customer. 

So it was my relief when suddenly the decision is put into the other guy’s hands. All I have to do is correctly and quickly relay his decisions and pick the right sauce. I was slow, true, and I didn’t know where anything was and I tended to be too scant in my application of lettuce but it didn’t matter because I didn’t have to worry about which things to pick! It was bliss. Now I know why Subway people always look so happy when you enter their building. “Thank God!” they think, “I hadn’t the foggiest what I was doing. Now this customer will tell me exactly what to do!

I get a phonecall (or don’t) in a few weeks. This appears to be the only job in my hometown and if I don’t get it I have no idea what I’ll do for money for the summer. Seriously. I signed up for a job-searching site which contained a cookie which occasionally filled adspace on the internet with job postings from said site. Northampton (my hometown) had one job – a door to door salesman in the town ten miles away from my house. The ad is meant to rotate between all the possible jobs in your area. Thusly it sadly and pitifully spun around on the spot showing the same miserable excuse for employment over and over again like the one wrinkly apple left in the fruitbowl because it’s still edible but not desirable enough to have been eaten yet. Northampton – the wrinkly apple of English job prospects.

Also there’s an absolutely wonderful BBC documentary called After Life all about the sciences of decay and mould and decomposition and it’s wonderfully interesting and yes I’m aware being fascinated by rotting things is a little creepy. But rotting things are fascinating – it’s why I follow Piers Morgan’s career. Ho!

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Discovering Things and Losing Them

You see this man? His name is Ivan Rebroff and yes, he looked like that ALL THE TIME.

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I can’t help but wonder if that hat is actually his hair. Perish the thought.

I mention him and his fantastic choice in headgear because I only discovered him today. He’s a German singer (born Hans-Rolf Rippert) who claimed Russian descent and made a name for himself singing foreign songs – particularly French and Russian – as well as playing the part in Fiddler on the Roof that sung “If I were a Rich Man (diddle-diddle-diddle)” and he’s particularly famous firstly for his bizarre Russianesque fashion sense and also his incredible singing range. The average human can reach one-and-a-half whole octaves if he or she pushes themselves. A trained singer can hit two octaves reliably. Good opera singers can hit three octaves (but their parts often don’t go much beyond two octaves anyway). Mr. Rebroff, however, could sing four and a half octaves. That’s all the way from a Bass register up to Soprano. The guy was insane.

What makes this guy more amazing is that I’d never heard of him before. Many of you might read this and roll your eyes. The guy’s a legend! I hear you cry. Well – I’d never heard of him and now I’ve been listening to his amazing voice all evening whilst going about my online business. I was looking at Russian songs on youtube when I found him. I started learning Russian because I loved the sound of Russian and its beautiful singing so this guy was right up my alley.

But then when I checked his Wikipedia page to find out who the hell he was I found that he had died in early 2008. I can’t say I wasn’t suprised – the guy looked fairly old in the videos I’d seen of him that looked to have been filmed in the eighties or something. But I experienced that all-too-odd feeling you only really get with famous people. Famous people have that knack of hanging around after they’ve died – you can still see their faces and their words all over the place. So it can be odd when someone seems to be alive – they’re singing and speaking on videos you watch and writing on pages you look at – and then you find out they’ve been dead for nearly half a decade. You realise all you’ve ever known about that person and all you can ever hope to know is just a shadow – a footprint left in the soil.

Part of my love for History is the thrill of imaging “being there“. The idea that, years later when people are studying those events in classrooms or whispering of them with awe in hushed places, you can sit back and say “I remember it. I was there“. This can range from revolutions to raves, concerts to calamities. We all remember where we were when 9/11 came around – we all remember those historical moments we were part of, however small. But then there are the ones we miss. Things like the Egyptian Revolution which one of my dearest friends was caught right in the middle of. It can’t be said I would have enjoyed being in that enviornment but at the same time imagine being there as history was made. That’s something special.

Which is why as I look on the imprint Ivan Rebroff has left on planet earth I’m reminded of all the important things around us that one day won’t be here anymore. I have a sudden urge to attend a Stephen Hawking lecture just so I can say I saw the man with my own eyes. He was “supposed” to die in his twenties. He’s seventy now. Even without his condition he’s fairly old and one day he won’t be with us anymore. One day the Queen will die – one day they’ll actually close off Machu Picchu for good (the soil erosion is damaging the ruins, after all). We need to see these things and so much more before they go.

This sounds morbid but actually it’s quite the opposite. We need to live. We need to see as many places, do as many things, meet as many people and be part of as many events as humanly possible. Have as many adventures as you can as many times as you can. Because they only come round once. Because you only come round once.

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Chance Encounters – Sticky People

By nature of humans being social creatures living all together in huge communities we often happen upon people we’ve never met before. Most of the time we meet for a few seconds, a minute maybe, before ricocheting off away from each other back into the crowd – never to see nor recognise each other ever again. Sometimes, though, people stick

Last night I was on a language-learning forum with regards to my earlier post about the Russian Language. I had written a post not dissimilar to the one on here concerning my succesful conversation with Vladimir – another one of those random encounters in life – and I was browsing the front page in a bored daze. 

The website in question, one of my favourite language-learning communities created by my favourite language-learner, Benny Lewis, has a chat function. Think Facebook Chat and you’re not far off. Any user online can instigate a conversation with any other user online. I looked at the chat and saw two people were on. One was a chap I knew but hadn’t talked to. The other was a peculiar name – clearly not their own but rather a handle – and beyond that little name I had no idea who this person was, where he or she was from, what languages (if any) they were learning or if they had any desire to speak to me.

It was the smallest adventure I could possibly have. It was the littlest thing I could have done. I don’t know who this person is, how they might better my life and how I could possibly better theirs. The fear of the unknown. I clicked.

But even so – clicking on that name on a whim and engaging the delightful stranger on the other end has already opened doors for me. You see, it turns out she’s Russian. What’s more – she’s a Russian who has already helped friends learn Russian in exchange for having her English improved. We had a little chat, nothing major, and then I said goodbye and we parted ways. No biggie, right? Well, she was one of those people who stick. I get a message through today on the very same forum from her. She proffers up a suggestion of a two-hour English-Russian skype language exchange. I have taken her up on said suggestion.

I am reminded of two of my closest friends at University. Neither were housemates of mine in the typical first-year situation in England of sharing University accomodation with fellow students. Both of them were friends brought in from the outside that I met through association and thereafter stuck to me. 

What’s the point of my ramblings in nostalgia? Well the “people who stick” analogy bears a very important lesson. You see – connections are made when people stick. Ergo, should one wish to make connetions – be adhesive.

Go out, meet people, do as much as possible. Try everything. Throw yourself against metaphorical walls. See what sticks

You never know – you might have fun.

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Russian or Bust – Learning a Language Online.

I have a confession to make. I’m quite a language junkie. I become as obsessed about learning a new langauge as others obsess over the newest fashion or phone or film coming out. I’m sitting happy with whatever I’ve committed myself to learn and then suddenly Swedish seems so appealing or maybe I could learn Old English… 

The result of this unhealthy addiction to learning how to say as many things to as many human beings as possible means that I never get very far in my languages. If you were to ask me I would say that I could speak Hindi but if you put me in a room with a native speaker I’d be absolutely baffled by whatever came out of their mouth. It’s a terrible state of affairs.

At the moment I’ve committed myself (insofar as I can commit to langauges) to Russian. I adore Russian. Я люблю русский язык. I could eat, sleep and drink Russian. I love Russian music especially. The Red Army Choir almost makes up for the fear of thermonuclear war that hung over the latter half of the entire 20th century in my mind. Almost.

So when I want to learn Russian I know to learn from the mistakes of the past. I need to speak to people. As many people as possible. I also need to stop speaking English. Whenever I find myself with a Russian I’ll spit out a dozen or so phrases I’m comfortable with saying and I’ll flip straight back into English thereafter before I even realise it. 

Tonight I had a delightful conversation with a chap named Vladamir in Belgorod Oblast, Russia. How did I do this? Through the wonders of SharedTalk, Rosetta Stone’s online language exchange. You can text chat and voice chat with a multitude of speakers in most languages around the globe all eager to meet up with you and practice their English.

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This does of course mean part of your conversation will be in English but it does mean, to look optimistically, that part of your conversation will be in the language you want to learn. These aren’t just people in the street who don’t care for your fumblings and confusions – these are fellow language-learners who understand your plight and want to help you just as much as they want you to help them. It’s a perfect enviornment and fosters a great learning atmosphere. I highly reccomend it to anyone out there looking to practice a foreign language. 

Одного языка никогда недостаточно!

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The Adventure Begins

Hello. My name is Alasdair Lawrence and by nature I’m an extremely hesitant sort of chap.

Why do I tell you this? Because it’s taken me the better part of a day to sit down, create a blog and write these words you’re reading. Not, however, because I was planning out my big introduction with a script and research or anything as excusable. No – I was sitting in front of the screen. Staring. Waiting for some spark of divine genius to wash over me and provoke me to write the first 100 words that would secure me fame, success and a readership that would match the Bible. Faced with such fantasies rattling around my head it’s not surprising that any combination of words I could spill out onto the web felt insufficient for the task at hand.

And then I thought about my blog’s name. Pioneer of Pixels. It came from a witty little turn of phrase I made up one day long ago and it seemed fitting for an endevour such as a blog. But when I thought about it – it hit me. I wasn’t here to make millions or change the world. I’m a pioneer – an adventurer. I’m trailblazing into the unknown, both in the wide world and on the wide web. It’s a personal adventure. The places and things I’m “pioneering” have been done before. Thousands of times, too. But the point is that I’ve never done it before. I’m a pioneer of the personal, just as we all should be.

This is a blog. Blog, of course, comes from a funny old contraction of sorts. Originally it meant “Web Log” – a place where one could log their experiences. A diary for the whole world to read. So that’s what this is – I’m going to have as many adventures as I can and, at the end of the day, I’m going to sit down and say “Dear Diary…”

Here’s to good memories,

PioneerOfPixels

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