Saturday, 2 July 2011

and so begins the drifter's summer

I'm currently in Leeds working and drifting between various friends' houses.

Our student house tenancy ended on June 30th, and since then I've had (and for the next few days will have) no fixed residence. Some may argue this situation is less than ideal, and in ways I'd be inclined to agree; the constant planning of where I'll be tomorrow / next week, which stuff I need with me, where the rest of my stuff will be stored, etc, is more stressful than I originally imagined but it's definitely manageable for the time I'm required to do it.

I'm grateful that the time I'm required to do it is short, though; it's probably not a realistically sustainable lifestyle.


It's been two nights so far, the first of which was spent Couchsurfing after a local student accepted my short-notice plea for a bed somewhere in Leeds. Couchsurfing in a city you're familiar with is a weird notion; part of the idea is the cultural exchange, learning about a new place through someone who lives there, and so arriving at my hosts house with at least equal knowledge of the city subtracted somewhat from the usual dynamic. Instead of discussing local history and landmarks, we discussed last week's Apprentice and debated whether animal charities should be allowed to exist (my viewpoint is yes, they should).

The second night was spent staying with a friend in his new student house. This was when I realised that the hardest part of the 'drifter' lifestyle was being a burden on those around you. I like to think in this case, my staying with him doesn't pose a particular problem; we get on well, it's been a while since we've chilled together, and I was able to lend a hand moving stuff between his house from last year and his house for this year. There's definitely potential for gaining a reputation as a bum though, which is something I want to avoid at all costs.

Luckily I've got plans for travel between July 10th and 15th, so on those days I'll be camping / hostelling around Scotland with a good friend of mine. After that I'll be taking up temporary room-mate status with another good friend who's moving up to his Leeds accommodation for parts of the Summer. Then I'm probably off travelling again (America / Canada this time) for most of August, and moving into a house of my very own in early September, so the short-term drifting is nearly at an end.

Friday, 17 June 2011

PHAT bass

just left Leeds house for the last time as a proper resident. I will return at the end of this month, but primarily in a cleaning capacity. my departure was marked by the bringing down of Emily's awesome speakers, and the playing of a selection of bass heavy music. various cooked frozen treats were also provided by George.

it's a weird feeling for two reasons, firstly the 'end of an era' thing, but secondly the underpinning 'I'll be back next week' thing, which I've already mentioned. I think the fact that we'll be there for cleaning purposes next time removes part of the finality but there's definitely a sense of limbo.

anyway, I just boarded the train home. it was a close shave though (this seems to be a recurring theme with everything I do; maybe my subconscious likes a challenge / the sense of adventure?). the ticket office were unable to issue me with a cycle reservation (I'm traveling home with my bike so that Alex and I may cycle from his house to Glastonbury next week). I was only vaguely aware of the possibility that I'd require a cycle pass, so luckily I was able to maintain my composure successfully enough to convince Farooq, the conductor, to let me on.

now I'm listening to Darwin Deez (standard), realising the omission of any fun activities in the items I've packed in my hand luggage, and wondering why the attractive lady opposite me, who's ticket says she should be in the seat next to me, is, in fact, opposite me.



I'm currently toying with the idea of a redesign of this blog; new layout, some way of separating the good posts (travel) from the filler (most of the other stuff), and various other little things.

So excuse the lack of decent posts lately, but keep an eye out for some in the near future!

Wednesday, 8 June 2011


budgeting and time tracking (keeping a diary / making to-do lists etC) are both useful tools, and I've benefited from both. but the fact that I have to do these things sometimes annoys me, and it's hard to tell why.

I feel that if I didn't, I'd be less efficient / productive than I am now, (and my house mates will tell you that even now I could improve on both counts!) but doing so makes me wonder whether I'd be unable to function without the things, which isn't a nice feeling (i.e. the realisation that I'm relying on books and lists to be a functional human being).

obviously it's hard to remember every appointment / errand / social engagement without any kind of help which is definitely a 'pro' for writing stuff down, but at the same time referring to a book a lot and having to write everything down for fear of forgetting is a 'con'.

this is a rant. obviously something I need to think about a bit more before blogging properly :p

Monday, 6 June 2011

tidy room, tidy mind

and my extension: tidy mind, hard to find

the difference between 'maintenance' and 'expansion' was bought to my attention today by Sebastian Marshall, whose blog I may have mentioned before. It's an interesting distinction, one that I believe I've got close to identifying myself before but, as with a lot of things, hearing the information elsewhere can make it clearer.

the difference is this: maintenance tasks are things that keep you at the level of operation you're currently at; things like hygiene, keeping your work / living areas tidy / eating, etc. expansive tasks are things that help you move forward, so networking, enterprising, making new connections, etc.

keeping a balance between the two can be hard, and I think it's something I've had trouble with before. when you spend too much time on maintenance, there's less time for expansion, and although a 50/50 balance is unrealistic with the two, a better balance than what I'm guessing my average is can be achieved. keeping my room tidy is something that I'm pathetically bad at, and when it's messy I lose things and it's not as nice a space to be in. when it's tidy it's a nice space where I can be productive. this realisation should make me want to keep it tidy at all times, right? and I do want to. but I don't do it. why? who knows.

(I'm writing this as I think it. these aren't rhetorical questions so any answers would be appreciated :p )

Sebastian Marshall also wrote the following, which I thought was a really good quote:

"Things are never perfect. Acknowledge things as they are, always. Discontent and despair don’t serve you. When bad feelings come over you, acknowledge them and dismiss them. Thinking, reflection, and self-control reigns. Keep building. Win."

Thursday, 2 June 2011

"there is nothing in this world you can't do"

that's a nice quote, isn't it? it's adapted from a line in Amrita by Banana Yoshimoto, which I'm currently reading. in its original context the 'you' is replaced with 'he', and the 'he' to which she refers is a young child, deemed lucky by his peers because there is "nothing in the world he can't do".

a lovely sentiment. children do indeed have their whole lives (or at least, 80-90% of what's left of their whole lives) ahead of them, and, given encouragement, they can achieve anything. however, the masked suggestion that adults do not have the same 'luck', and have limitations imposed on them as to what things in this world they can do, is completely bunk.

I've been reading a lot recently about visualisation, and the belief that when you want something hard enough, the universe will conspire to help you achieve it (a friend of mine wrote this on his present to me for my 16th birthday and the power of the quote didn't hit me until recently). as it stands, I'm not sure whether I believe the universe will go out of its way to make your desires come true, but I definitely think there's something to be said for a positive mindset, and the belief that your desires can be realised.

good feelings fuel good feelings. when your mind is focused on a goal, you take action to make that goal happen (action that can be conscious or otherwise). when these steps towards the goal are taken, you get a morale boost which perpetuates the focus and good feelings, leading to more steps to be taken towards the goal. ad infinitum

(this also got me thinking about how one can recognise these small steps taken towards a goal; all too often it feels like progress is not being made, and this can have the opposite effect (even if progress is being made!), but this is for another post.)

so for now, listen to Banana when she says that "there is nothing in this world [you] can't do", because it's true :)

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

always have something to look forward to

I find this remarkable. by having something in the near future to look forward to (anything from a cup of coffee when you get in from work to a round-the-world holiday), you can:

  • ease boredom (daydreaming about coffee's tantalising aroma)
  • stimulate productivity ("I better pop to the shop on the way home to buy coffee!)
  • bring a smile to your face (man, I love coffee :))
  • evoke gratitude (my life is eventful and fun)

so, make a plan!

p.s. I don't have time to proofread / edit this at the moment and I'm aware it doesn't flow too well ;D

Saturday, 28 May 2011

the first idea

I can tell this is going to be useful; I'm struggling to remember the first idea that needs to be reinforced after being written down initially (only 15 minutes ago), without looking at it.

it's something about TV.

I looked.

something along the lines of "entropy is the normal state for a mind to be in, TV offers quick, easy and constant distraction from this entropy which is why it's so easy to spend hours watching low-grade TV. so: don't watch low-grade TV. find something more productive to distract from the entropy."

obviously TV is good sometimes. if there's a show/series I particularly enjoy I'll watch it, and, as I said, enjoy it. spending 6 hours in front of game shows and DIY programs however is something to be avoided (not that I do it in the first place).

hopefully I'll remember this next time I'm bored and lean for the remote.

I got out of the bath for this

got hit by a million ideas whilst I was reading and bathing. all potentially productivity enhancing ideas, all easy to implement. the kind of ideas I have sometimes, write down somewhere, think about for a few moments until they naturally slip away into the chaos that is a mind, then never look at again.

one of the ideas that just hit me, however, is going to stop this from happening in the future. it will maximise the gain from the otherwise quickly forgotten ideas. and it's so simple:

"once it's written down, either blog it, tell someone about it, put it on a post-it on the wall, or something similar"

so essentially: reinforce it by doing something else beyond the initial writing it down.


Saturday, 21 May 2011

that's what she said

"You have been banned for the following reason:
No reason was specified.

Date the ban will be lifted:

I was only trying to contribute to online discussion regarding sheds, JEEZ.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

my thoughts

oh my God, ideas are coming, things are happening here.

okay, okay.

what would you say, yeah, if I told you I had a plan...

"it can't be done. you're crazy."

what would you say Roy? Roy's passed out.

okay, I need a felt tipped pen, and some paper.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011


don't be like stairs by letting people walk all over you to move themselves upwards

don't be like mimes: make sure you're heard as well as seen

Monday, 16 May 2011

summer's here

so term finished for me a week ago.

I managed to pick the exact modules as not to have any exams this semester (or indeed this year) and as a result the coursework deadline (May 9) marked the end of my involvement with academia until September.


now, while my housemates stress about exams, revision (or lack thereof), and deadlines, I sit in the smugly contented knowledge that I'm done. the smugly, slightly bored, contented knowledge perhaps...

to the extent that the highlight of my day (until the recent 'friendship sofa' revival and Frosty Jack's consumption) was cleaning the living room. (that's a lie - the highlight was tied between the following: watching 'Wifeswap USA', playing 'Portal 2', making and eating delicious pizza.)

but still, it's a weird feeling. knowing that theoretically I could just sit on my arse until September 21 with no ramifications whatsoever. I could, literally, play video games and eat junk food for ~140 days and not suffer any penalties as a result.

why the fuck did my 360 have to break.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Planning a stag

I wrote this for work but it didn't get used. The images didn't come out properly and the formatting of the 'where' section is a bit off as a result. Please ignore this and pretend the empty boxes are pretty pictures of the cities mentioned instead ;D

Putting together a stag celebration:

Marriage is a huge commitment. If you choose the traditional vows, you are agreeing to stay with the person you love for the rest of your life, through good times and bad, through sickness and health. It is understandable, then, that a tradition has developed allowing both soon-to-be-weds one last night of freedom before tying the knot.

But few people realise that stag nights are a huge commitment too. If you’ve been chosen for the traditional role of best man, you are obliged to offer uninterrupted assistance and support the groom in the lead up to, and indeed during, his special day, as well as being expected to throw him an absolutely epic party to celebrate his last night of freedom. It is lucky, then, that this informative guide has been developed to run you through the Five Ws (and One H) of how to plan the perfect stag night.

Why have a stag night?

Do you really need a reason beyond it being an excuse to go out, and have fun with the lads?! If yes, here’s two more:

It’s manly: The terms “stag” and “buck”, both meaning male deer, pertain to the masculine qualities of the leader of the herd (i.e. the groom). Just as a male deer competes for mates through physical challenges with other members of the herd, the groom’s masculine qualities are challenged through excessive drinking, immature behaviour, and maybe even encounters with scantily clad females.

It’s traditional, although there is much speculation to how the tradition developed. Some historians have traced the stag night’s origins to ancient Sparta, where it is thought that Spartan soldiers would hold a feast and make merry before the wedding of their comrades. With such historic roots, we can safely assume this is a tried and tested method.

What happens on a stag night?

While alternatives are available, Wikipedia says of stag nights that “getting drunk and participating in stag activities is now the norm”. A plethora of packages are available on the internet, offering everything from organised pub crawls, to Go Karting, to paintball, to Kalashnikov shooting, to white water rafting. There is also a growing trend to extend the stag night to a stag weekend, and take it abroad. With all these options to consider, how do you go about narrowing it down?

Find out what’s on offer: Get a pen and some paper, type “stag night activities” into Google, and make a list of those that look fun / interesting / cheap. Bear in mind that this is a group affair; try to avoid tailoring activities to much to your own interests and think about what the group will enjoy.

Find out what others have done: There’s no need to plan this alone. Asking people who have previously organised or participated in stag celebrations for advice could be a good idea: Friends and trendy co-workers are a safe bet, random members of the public and parents probably not so much. Add any especially good suggestions to your list.

Find out what the stag wants: This is perhaps the most important aspect of planning the stag party. If the stag doesn’t enjoy himself, it’s likely that other members of the party won’t either. It’s also likely that your inability to throw a good party will be the butt of jokes for years to come (and nobody wants that). Once you’ve prepared a comprehensive list of what’s on offer with prices, and analysis of the pros and cons of each, sit down with the stag and find out his thoughts and preferences. Remember this is his party, so don’t be disheartened if he rejects all your ideas and insists on the tacky ones you wrote off at the first opportunity.

Where should the stag night take place?

The UK has plenty of thriving cities that are very stag friendly. Places that kept cropping up in top 10 lists for stag locations include London, Leeds, Newcastle, Bournemouth, Brighton, Edinburgh and Dublin. However, thanks to the increase in cheap flights from budget airlines, Continental Europe is becoming a popular choice for stag parties. With 45 countries available (51 if you count the 6 we share with Asia), each with its own cultural and social specialities, taking your stag event abroad is seriously worth considering. Below are three stag friendly European capitals, with concise guides as to what’s on offer:

Amsterdam, The Netherlands:


Famous for bicycles, coffeeshops (one word) and its tolerant attitudes.

Why go? Amsterdam is famous for it’s relaxed attitudes to many things that are taboo elsewhere.

Rough prices (in Euro): Hostel pppn ~20-25 single, ~55-80 double.

3 course meal ~20-30.

Pint ~5.

Budapest, Hungary:


Famous for thermal baths, paprika and its beauty.

Why go? Budapest is a beautiful city that offers everything from culture to a vibrant nightlife.

Rough prices (in Hungarian Forint): Hostel pppn ~4800-5000 single, ~10000-16500 double.

3 course meal ~4500-5500.

Pint ~600.

Prague, Czech Republic:

Famous for Prague Castle, nightlife, and its history.

Why go? Prague is cheap, varied and great fun. A perfect backdrop for a weekend of shenanigans.

Rough prices (in Czech Crowns): Hostel pppn ~285-430 single, ~1100-1500 double.

3 course meal ~285-400.

Pint ~50.

When choosing a location, consider the budget: You’ll want to make sure that the stag’s entourage can afford to come. When you send out the invites (see the Who section), include some information about what’s planned and how much it’s likely to cost. It may help to overestimate slightly because it’s better to have money left over at the end than to run out half way through!

The transport: Logistics are an important part of planning, and it’s vital that transport is organised for everybody, for the whole trip. If you’re catching a train or bus from a terminus or a plane from an airport, make sure you have transport to take you to there. Get your pen and paper out again, and write down the journey from start to finish with times, route / flight numbers, and any other information you may find useful. Print out any tickets in duplicate so that you can give everyone theirs and keep a backup copy behind just in case.

The fun potential: Try to find a location that everyone will enjoy, and that offers the activities you and the stag settled on back in the What section. The internet will help you find out what’s available, or if you’re feeling particularly resourceful, get some guidebooks out of the local library

When should the stag party take place?

Timing the stag festivities is a fine procedure. Allowing a day or two for everyone to recover from their monstrous hangovers is an obvious courtesy, but also consider other factors. For example, after the banterous hijinks that occurred on the stag, the groom may appreciate a couple of weeks to let his eyebrows / hair / dignity grow back in time for his special day.

Leave time to plan and prepare: As a general rule, the longer you spend planning, the better the results. Make sure you give yourself ample time to write up lists of activities, finalise the guest list, compare and book travel and accommodation, hassle members of the party for cash, and pack your bag. You know best how organised and efficient you are as a planner, so set yourself a time frame. Then double it just to be sure.

Leave time to make changes: Sadly, things can go wrong. Flying? Volcanic ash, adverse weather, engine failures and numerous other factors may interfere with your plans. Taking public transport? Watch out for road closures, traffic jams and strike action. Try and leave a buffer period so that if something untoward happens, you can organise a makeshift alternative with minimum stress.

Leave time to recover: This was mentioned in the introduction to this section, but I really feel it should be reiterated.

Who should be involved?

This can be tricky. An ideal stag group should compromise a select few of the stag’s closest friends, but when he’s such a popular guy, how do you know who his favourites are? And how do you go about not offending those who aren’t invited?

Let the stag decide: One of the easiest ways to avoid misunderstandings and conflict, is to pass the responsibility to someone else. Tell the stag to choose between 8 and 14 of his chums, emphasising that they should all get on and should all enjoy activities similar in nature to those you discussed previously (in the What section). Skim his selection for any discrepancies, and when you’re sure it all adds up, send out the invites.

Let the invitees consider the invite: Don’t hassle everyone immediately after they receive the invitations. Carving a weekend out of their schedule to abandon their responsibilities in favour of partying with the guys probably requires some negotiation with their loved ones, so give them a week or two to get it sorted. If you follow the advice in the When section, waiting for these responses shouldn’t be an issue.

Let them get on with it: Once the guest list is confirmed and invites have been sent, considered and responded to, you can turn your mind to other things. If the attendees have any issues they can come to you, so don’t spend any time worrying unnecessarily about whether they’ll get on, whether they’ll enjoy themselves, or whatever else. Ultimately they’re all friends with the stag, and someone as cool as him will have rigorous selection criteria when making friends to weed out any undesirables.

Hot tips:

And now for the final section, a selection of tips that didn’t fit too well anywhere else (apologies if you were expecting “how” to follow the Five Ws):

  • Get personalised T-shirts for the group! Not only will you look really cool, but it’ll be easier to keep track of each other.
  • Set up a beer fund: If everyone gives you a tenner, you’ll have a generous amount with which to buy the stag’s drinks.
  • Use price comparison websites when booking travel: SkyScanner is good for flights, HostelWorld is good for hostels.
  • Print brief itineraries to give to members of the party: this makes it easier to find each other if something goes wrong.
  • Print “get-me-home” cards for everyone, with their name, the address of the hostel, and your phone number: this means if they’re unable to find their way home after a night out, they won’t be stranded in a foreign city.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Bike to Berlin

I wrote this originally as a new page on my blog but have since decided that I don't like the page thing.

March 13th

50 mile training ride

The first training ride I've been able to go on; they're normally on Wednesdays (when I have lectures) or Saturdays (when I have work).

It was supposed to set off at 10.30, but only me and one other cyclist (Kate) were there on time. After a few minutes spent speculating as to whether we'd missed the ride and/or we should set off by ourselves, others arrived. The proposed route was Leeds > Otley > Ilkley > Bolton Abbey, and back. Around 25 miles each way. See below for a rough representation:

View Larger Map

Because the group was mixed ability, we stopped every couple of miles to rest / let people catch up. This prevented a solid pace but it was quite nice to have the rest.

We ate lunch at Bolton Abbey café, or some similarly named establishment, rested for ~30 minutes, then set off again for home.

It was a lot quicker getting back. A different route was taken from Otley > Leeds to avoid cycling up a GIANT hill we cycled down on the way.

Points of interest on the ride included:

  • A couple having a "steamy Sunday" in a car in a lay-by

  • An ostrich

  • A sheep with a bad leg (aww)

  • A sign warning motorists to watch out for "Golfers Crossing"

  • Some stunning vistas

Bring on the next ride!

Tuesday, 8 March 2011


too many:
missed lectures
missed shifts at work
things on my bedroom floor
things in my laundry basket
essay words unwritten
pounds spent

not enough:
obeyed alarms
course reading done
loads of laundry

from now on, more of the latter less of the former


fun had:
98% of time at uni since September

maintain this

Monday, 14 February 2011

«Réponds à nos questions, McDonald’s, ou Ronald mourra!»

I felt like a change with today's French lesson, and so decided to attempt to translate a French news article into English.

The above image stuck out, and led to the selection of «Réponds à nos questions, McDonald's, ou Ronald mourra!» as the article for translation.

With the help of Google Translate (required much less than expected!) I produced the following:

times are hard for Finnish Big Mac fans. Their favourite mascot, a big statue of a smiling clown, Ronald McDonald, was kidnapped last week, then threadented to be executed by a group of activists fighting against junk food. The police conducted the investigation.

The kidnapping was on 31st January 2011, in a McDonalds restaurant situated in the center of the capital Helsinki. The gang who call themselves 'the army of liberation of food' --- repair the statue of Ronald

During the first hours after the kidnapping, people did not --- the disappearance of the station. But the day after, the gang launched a video where the threat is made clear: if Ronald doesn't respont to questions on the quality of the food from its restuarants before 11th February, they will decapitate.

Two other videos have been released on the internet at the beginning of february by the FLA. In the first , the gang ---. In the second, --- "why are we not transparent on the industrial processes, the first contents and additives used in your products? How much of tons of no recyclable waste do you produce chaque année? Have you illegal immegrants among your employees?

These videos have been watched by over 300,000 international customers in a few days. ---

"---" indicates where a sensible translation could not be offered, except for the last "---", which indicates that I could no longer be bothered :3

Obviously my translation doesn't read as well as the English version of the original article; sentence components aren't in the most sensible order, colloquial phrases haven't been noticed properly, etc etc, but upon reflection, the technique worked fairly well.

It led me to learn the days and months, for example.

This then led me to learn the words for 'next' and 'last' and combine them with temporal descriptors to make such phrases as 'last week', 'next year' etc.

Then I learned some location describing words ('dans', 'sur') and some sequential words ('durant', 'avant').

Now I'm about to figure out some question words. So far I have 'oú', 'comment' and 'porquoi', which I believe are 'where', 'how' and 'why' respectively. (Although I also saw 'combien' translated as how; not sure a) whether that's correct or b) what it means!)

Friday, 11 February 2011

ballet in Vienna

I'm trying to think of a relatively short story from my travels that I can recall entirely from memory. My first attempt was of the journey to and first few hours in Berlin, but apparently even that was too complex to commit to writing without referring to notes, photographs and other such material.

Hopefully this account, of a failed trip to the opera, will be more successful.

Although even now I realise I won't be able to remember the name of the ballet we saw.. *sigh*


Vienna is perhaps one of Europe's most culturally regarded cities. Mozart spent most of his life there, as have several other famous composers. There are numerous cathedrals dotted about the place. The White Horses are famous too although I can't remember why. Something about art.

With all this pressure to experience and appreciate culture, He'll and I decided it was time to make up for the unsuccessful opera trip in Budapest, and see an opera. We consulted our Couchsurf hosts and discovered that Vienna has at least two opera houses; one traditional and located in the city centre, the other more modern and located a short walk from where we were staying.

Aforementioned pressure led us to the traditional venue, as it fitted more closely with our preconceptions (or at least my preconceptions) of what opera should be like; people in fancy suits and dresses, plush red carpets, balconies, etc.

So we donned our smartest travel attire (casual shirt with jeans for me!) and headed into Vienna proper.

The opera house is a grand building, located near an art gallery and fairly close to the Horse Riding School (whose official name I can't recall..?). It is also surrounded by people dressed as Mozart trying to flog exorbitantly priced tickets to naïve tourists. No phoney Mozart was to trick me and Hel, though: we went straight to the queue for late release standing tickets 8-)

~45 minutes later, after reading and eavesdropping on a synopsis by someone else in the queue, we parted with €4 each for tickets to 'Onegin'.

We were yet to discover that 'Onegin' was in fact a ballet. (Also, note that I managed to remember the name after all!)

The show didn't start for a while so we sat in a hugely fancy quasi-restaurant (after claiming our position in the standing pen) and drank tiny expensive coffee while observing the clearly richer-and-more-successful-than-us patrons going about their pre-ballet business.

Then the show started. I was still vaguely bummed about our planned opera being replaced with inherently unmanly ballet, so it took me a while to get into it, but once I accepted dance as a method of storytelling / expression, it was amazing.

Like, really amazing.

The physical demands on the dancers are obviously intense, but watching them, you wouldn't know it. The elegance and ease with which they conduct themselves is captivating in itself, and then you have Tchaikovsky's (I think) music on top of that. It was awesome.

I'm not going to tell the story of the ballet on here, as it's not really relevant to the post, but you should check it out.

After the show we discussed how good it was over street-procured pizza.

Goooood night.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

On change

For those of you awaiting requests (it's cool being able to say that :D) please excuse this non-travel-related post: I worried that it might slip from my mind if it wasn't recorded fairly soon.

Also, excuse any spelling mistakes / shoddy formatting: blogging from a phone is less than ideal :p


I was thinking today about a) whether it's possible to change ingrained personality attributes and if so, b) how this can be achieved.

The issue I'll use for demonstrative purposes is shyness, because a) I('ve) experience(d) it, and b) from what I can tell, it's an attribute that lots of people find undesirable (whether in themselves or others).

A friend of mine introduced me to the concept of 'reframing', which is taking a situation and altering it to your benefit. The situation he used to demonstrate was arguing with a partner; something nobody wants to happen but ends up happening nonetheless. If not handled correctly it can descend into a shitflinging match leaving both parties feeling unnecessarily bad afterwards.

If 'reframed' though, it can be quickly resolved with little hard feeling. The argumentative mindset is directed at an issue, not the other person, and this is the most important thing to consider. In a 'traditional' format argument, the other participant(s) become 'conduits' of the issue, and you end up attacking them rather than the issue. This is when it ends badly.

From what I understand, reframing the 'traditional' argument involves acknowledging the issue (thereby relieving hostility associated with not 'understanding', 'caring', 'listening' or whatever else), tackling it together, and devoting the energy that would have otherwise been spent arguing to resolving the issue.

(I'm not trying to market this as a new theory by the way, just writing about it to strengthen my own understanding and clarify what I mean.)

Thinking about reframing in this context made me wonder whether it can be used elsewhere, and more specifically in the context I mentioned at the start of this post. I found that it works if applied through changing elements in an extended metaphor, as follows:

Metaphor 1: A model to ease understanding

A puppy needs to be toilet trained to prevent it 'emptying' itself on the carpet. At first you monitor the puppy's behaviour, identify when it's about to empty, and take it outside accordingly. It then empties, and you praise the correctly positioned emptying with a treat / game / fuss. The praise acts as positive reinforcement, and, over time, leads to the puppy emptying itself outside of its own accord.

Metaphor 2: Applied to reducing shyness

A person needs to overcome shyness to enhance their enjoyment of social situations. At first they monitor their behaviour, identify when shyness is about to strike, and consciously make efforts to reduce it by taking deep breaths / counting to 10 / whatever suits them. The social situation then unfolds successfully, acting as positive reinforcement, and, over time, leads to the shyness being reduced of its 'own' accord.

Obviously presenting something as a metaphor and applying it in real terms are two very different things, but what can be said is that both metaphors share the following:

  • identifying when the issue is about to take affect is part of the process
  • acknowledging this and taking action is part of the process also
  • through positive reinforcement, behaviours become more firmly established

It also seems to me that exploring something like this could have huge benefits and, as long as it's used well, relatively minimal downsides.

(There's a tiny bit more I want to write but my fingers hurt from Blackberry typing so I'll add it later ;) )

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

a reflection

Note: Though the tone of this post isn't necessarily positive ( :p ), it doesn't contradict yesterday's post! Just something that crossed my mind today and I thought worthy of thinking about.

"Your problem isn't that you make bad choices, it's that you identify the good choice and then intentionally do the opposite"

Particularly observant Scrubs-watching readers among you may recognise the above quote; said of Dr Cox by his therapist in the episode 'His Story'.

Seems to me to be an undesirable trait.

The worst thing about undesirable traits, though, is when you recognise them in others (in this case, a fictional character), make efforts not to let them manifest in your own behaviour, then later catch yourself doing them:

I had the opportunity to enter a travel writing competition recently. It came to my attention in November, and the deadline was yesterday (31st January). Writing, and specifically travel writing, are interests of mine - to the point of having been considered as 'career' options in the future. Yet despite this, despite writing two separate plans, formulating a basic structure and fleshing out with photographs to support the planned text, I managed to have only a thousand words (out of five thousand) written on the night before the deadline, and managed to persuade myself to postpone the submission of my entry until this time next year.

The issue here is twofold; firstly, there was ample time between November and the end of January to write the piece. There was also time to have it proof read two or three times, make necessary changes, leave it for a few days, then read it one last time with a more removed mindset, as a final screen for errors.

But instead it didn't get done.

Secondly, that I persuaded myself it would be 'easier' not to do something important to me. This is such a pointless and irritating thought process, and it's the one I'm most keen to rid myself of. I don't know if anyone's encountered it before? An example could be knowing that you have an appointment in half an hour, and that it takes twenty minutes to get there. The ten minutes between are spent thinking about reasons not to go to the appointment, even though there is no intention in the first place not to go.

It's hard to explain, and impossible to justify. There really is no reason for it to happen, and as I said before, it's the thought process I'm keenest to rid myself of.

If anyone has ideas of how to do so it'd be interesting to discuss them!

it's a beautiful day, so mannequin away

I'm feeling good about February, and indeed about life in general from this point onwards. (Not that life before this point has not been to my liking, of course.)

It feels like a lot of knowledge I've picked up recently, whether from friends, blogs, books or experiences, are coming together in a good way.

The thought of a 'milestone' date with regards to changes in attitude / habits / lifestyle isn't something I think is vital, but one seems to have arrived today, February 1st, nonetheless.

As well as being the date chosen by myself to embark on the 'rejection challenge' (Google it if you're interested; I haven't figured out how to post links from my Blackberry yet)*, I've also just received an email informing me that my application to be a 'giver' on World Book Night has been succesful, and I will be receiving 50 free copies of 'Cloud Atlas', a fantastic book, to distribute accordingly.


So keep checking this space. Hopefully I'll be able to share some interesting insights / amusing stories over the coming month.

*Edited 1/2/11: added link

Saturday, 29 January 2011

twenty nine: books on the go

Read classic books by email. One page at a time.

Came across the onesmallpage app on Sebastian Marshall's blog today. The creator advertised it as a way of reading more if you find it hard to find time to read (although he worded more eloquently than that!)

I subscribed to Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, and have just received and read the first ten pages. Seems like a great idea to me, especially as the email is readable on my phone's screen.

Yet to see whether five pages a day works as an amount, but I see no reasons why it wouldn't.

The selection of books available is impressive also.

Friday, 28 January 2011

twenty eight: second post about French

This morning's post was about various aspects of the immersion technique for language learning.

This evening's post is about the more 'traditional' textbook and audio technique, which I am also using.

The following is what I'm able to write after completing chapter one of this book:

bonjour, je m'appelle Chris. et vous? j'ai vingt ans. vous avez quel age? quelle est votre profession?

un deux trois quatre cinq six sept huit neuf dix onze douze treize quatorze quinze seize dix-sept dix huit dix neuf vingt, trente, quarante, cinquante, soixante.

j'habite á Leeds, en Angleterre. oú habitez vous? je suis anglais / britannique. je suis né á Maidstone, en Angleterre / Britain. quelle est vous nationalité?

Ça va? bien. Tres bien. Je suis bien. Pas trés bien. comme ci comme ca.
hello, my name is Chris. and you? I am twenty years. How old are you? what is your profession?

one two three four five six seven eight nine ten eleven twelve thirteen fourteen fifteen sixteen seventeen eighteen nineteen twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, sixty.

I live in Leeds, England. Where do you live? I'm English / British. I was born in Maidstone, England / Britain. What is your nationality?

Okay? well. Very good. I'm fine. Not very well. so-so

twenty eight: first post about French

I'm listening to some French radio on my Blackberry. A technique I've read a lot about with language learning is immersion: AJATT is a blog/website encouraging total immersion in Japanese language through using only items with Japanese packaging, watching only Japanese television, conversing only in Japanese and so on. Obviously this approach, while potentially hugely valuable, isn't compatible with all lifestyles. Nonetheless, aspects of it interested me enough to consider methods of learning a language I may not have used otherwise.

One of these methods being the use of foreign radio.

Despite understanding <90% of what is being said, it's interesting to hear what sounds are prominent in the language. There aren't many strong consonant sounds, for example. Some words I've picked up sound different when spoken by French natives. Others I've seen written sound different to how I'd expect them to. It's also good to hear where emphasis is used and trying to identify where words begin and end. (This is native conversational French rather than textbook-accompanying-CD dumbed down French, remember.)

Another benefit of this technique is the music. The programme I just listened to was a presenter talking to a youngish sounding guy, their conversation being occasionally punctuated by live music by, as far as I could tell, aforementioned youngish man. The format worked really well, and the songs were good. (Although unfortunately I didn't get the guy's name..)

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

eighteen: zodiac overhaul

So, there's a new zodiac sign. According to some sources. I'm not sure if it's official yet. I'm not sure who has the authority to make it official, either. Or what they plan to do considering some cultures (one example being Hindus) already have a zodiac that differs from the possibly-former Western 12 sign system.

Regardless, it makes you think. If the zodiacal tenets of astrology are true, and personality characteristics can be attributed to the position of the Sun at your birth, some people, whose birthdays fall into different zodiac signs under the new system, will be expected to overhaul their personality to conform.

I imagine this isn't such an easy thing to do..?

Also, I realise that other things have parts to play in astrology. Houses, angles and the zodiac are all consulted to determine a person's horoscope, so perhaps only a third of one's personality will need to be changed?

Who knows. This is entirely speculative, I just wanted to write something.

Monday, 10 January 2011

ten: this weekend

My watch's little loop-strap that holds the main strap in place broke, and the general consensus seems to be that little loop-straps are quite hard to fix. What a mare.

On a more interesting and prose-worthy note, we moved house on eight. Step dad enlisted the help of one of his employees and their son, Mum enlisted the help of her neice and her son (me), and with the combined efforts of everyone mentioned we moved the contents of our old house into two transit vans to be transported to our new house. (Three loads per transit were required (three return trips.))

A motivational fish and chip lunch was provided, or saveloy and chips / battered sausage and chips if preferred. The petrol garage had one litre bottles of Pepsi Max for a mere sixty five pence, so we bought three of those, along with two smaller yet more expensive bottles of Fanta, and a milkshake for cousin (Mum's neice).

At fiveish, Step dad, employee, employee's son and cousin left. Cousin had a party to go to, employee's son had to be home, and Step dad and employee decided to move some furniture from somewhere else that evening rather than postponing it 'til a new day. This left me, Mum and bro (who had recently returned from Mama's) in the new house.

The evening consisted of a Mediterranean supper (smoked salmon, olives, stuffed peppers, bread, and crisps), unpacking, moving and sorting contents of boxes, bro trying on an assortment of fancy dress items, and once bro had gone to bed, several games of Boggle. (I love Boggle.) Step dad returned around midnight, then I went to bed because I was knackered.

Nine was fairly uneventful: Grandma came down to help tidy, we chatted briefly, then she, mum and bro dropped me off at the station for my journey back to Leeds. In Leeds there was pizza, Planet of the Apes, banter, and Scrabble.

This blog post marks the start of a busy week. I have three pieces of coursework due in on fourteen, only one of which has been started. (Not out of laziness; the software required to complete the coursework is only available on a handful of computers. All of which are in one computer lab in a building which was locked over the holidays.)

That being said, please excuse any delays that may occur in ma bloggin'.

Friday, 7 January 2011

seven: kanji (七: 漢字)

Tomorrow (day eight) I'm going to resume my self-study of kanji, with the help of flashcard program 'Anki'. Ten new kanji per day with a one-day-per-fortnight slackness-buffer and seven days already passed gives me time to encounter three thousand, three hundred and twenty new kanji this year.

Not such a shoddy amount.

バイバイ for now!

Thursday, 6 January 2011

six: twice in one day

The title doesn't refer to the fact that this is my second blog post today, although that's a nice touch I thought.

What it does refer to is something my Mum and I have noticed: sometimes the number of things that happen twice in a short time period increases by such an amount that it's hard to chalk it up to coincidence. These aren't things like seeing a bus by the way, if that happens twice in one day we're quite capable of understanding why - an example of something that would be considered odd is waking up and remembering a TV show you used to watch but haven't seen for ages, then throughout the course of the day either a) seeing it on TV b) overhearing a stranger's conversation where the show is mentioned or c) something similar.

There probably is a logical explanation for such occurrences. Perhaps the program was mentioned on the news or on the radio the previous day and you don't remember hearing it outside of your subconscious? This could also explain why strangers are talking about it; they saw / heard the previous day's mention too.

Still, it's odd. Especially because, as I said, the number of such 'twice in one days' seems to periodically increase by a large amount in a short time. I've had two over the last week, for example. On January 2nd I was curious about Gerry Rafferty - the singer/songwriter most famous for 'Baker Street - and so read his Wikipedia page, then, on January 5th, I saw in the newspaper that he'd passed away on the 4th. Before January 2nd I hadn't given him a second thought for a long time.

There's a second incident I'd like to write about but unfortunately, and perhaps anticlimactically, I've forgotten what it is..


six: mostly three

Three was a good day. Aaron, his friend Y and I went to London with the primary objective of acquiring tickets to Bill Bailey's 'sellout' Dandelion Mind tour, with the secondary objective of 'have fun' leading us to the Science Museum's interactive Launchpad exhibit.

We'd tried previously to order tickets via several agencies but as 'sellout' implies, all seats for all shows were sold out. We decided there were definitely still tickets available if we asked nicely though, and so went to the theatre in question in the early afternoon to ask nicely.

"13 standing tickets will go on sale at 7pm for £12.50 each"

Taking into account queueing time for buying tickets, we had around 3 hours to tackle our secondary objective; acquisition of sustanence was first on the schedule, in the form of a footlong sub of the day with salad and チポト dressing.

After redecorating part of the tube carriage with チポト and olives, we quasi-surfaced at South Kensington. 'Quasi' because a tunnel runs underground from the station to the Science Museum's entrance so you hardly have to go above ground.

We started with a quick look around a new (and possibly temporary) Psychoanalysis exhibit, featuring a sculpture made out of penises and a cabinet full of everyday objects with a sound recording explaining common Psychoanalytical assocations with these objects. Items in question included high heeled shoes, diazepam, razorblades and a model Lamborghini. (Maybe not 'everday', in retrospect.)

The Launchpad was our main destination though, and we arrived there with just over an hour to play (/learn). We learned about the properties of liquids of varying viscosity. We learned about electrolysis via a simulated rocket launch. We learned about polarized lenses by watching water freeze (and I asked a question which the Explainer hadn't been asked before!). We learned about the use of kinetic energy as a means of generating electricity. And of course, the Big Machine (formerly the Grain Machine) taught us about pulleys, levers and various other mechanisms. We then gave an Explainer, Pete, an ear bashing about the nature of pulleys and conservation of energy before going to watch the Rocket Show.

The Rocket Show's intended demographic is KS1 aged children, but adults are encouraged to participate as well. We sat at the back for fear of blocking kids' views, then made immature comments and ate custard creams while hydrogen filled balloons were set on fire and kids pushed each other around on chairs to demonstrate Newton's laws. Interesting stuff.

We then returned to the theatre, got our tickets for Bill Bailey (woo!) and had a quick snack at an unnecessarily far away Caffe Nero before returning once more to the theatre for the show.

And what a show it was.

Despite ~20 minutes of below-Bill-Bailey-standard jokes around stock topics (politics, current affairs etc), he quickly gained form and kept the audience laughing consistently throughout. Topics covered included Australian slang, advert jingles, Christian art, French interpretations of 80s classic rock, German interpretations of pop music, and much more. (I won't go into too much detail because a) it's effort and b) you can buy the show on DVD which I heartily recommend!)

Mum, bro and I had lunch at home then went shopping on four. We spoke about their recent cruise; it sounds incredible. There was a climbing wall, a surfing simulator, a theater, a shopping mall and a mini-golf course aboard the boat. We listened to Foo Fighters' Greatest Hits in the car to the shops, then I spent £22 on underwear.

I spent half of five travelling, half at work, and the other half watching TV with Emily and Tom; the only 2 house mates currently back in the house.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

two: food

I made pancakes yesterday.

Aaron came over, we were both hungry, and so decided upon pancakes as a cheap, easy, fun and delicious food option. 110g of flour, 2 eggs, 200ml of milk, 50g butter and a pinch of salt later, the mixture was ready for frying. (I'm not sure if you actually 'fry' pancake mix - there's probably a special technical term for the method of heating which pancakes enjoy, although considering the combination of adding the mix to hot oil and me not knowing this special term, 'frying' will suffice.)

You may have heard the adage 'the first pancake is always shit!', or perhaps you may not. It may be a family thing. Either way though, it's usually accurate: inexplicably, the first pancake turns into an overcooked yet somehow still soggy lump of gelatinous browny-beige gloop, fit only for consumption for a household pet or, failing that, a bin.

You can imagine the feeling of pride I experienced then, when yesterday's first pancake emerged from it's brief fling with heated vegetable oil as a nicely rounded, well adjusted sheet of batter, more than fit for human consumption. (It was a surprisingly good batch throughout, actually: Aaron and I made a few pancakes each and there were no lost causes.)

I discovered a good new savoury pancake filling too: cheddar, chorizo and chopped chillies.

My granddad also delivered a cache of leftover party food from his new year's celebration yesterday afternoon, consisting of most of a chicken, a tray of prawn vol-au-vents, some sausages, some chorizo, a selection of Asian themed nibbles, french loaf, half a Christmas pudding, most of a raspberry meringue, and a box of Thornton's chocolates. This was obviously way too much for one person to eat, so some friends came over to help me through it (while also watching a Bill Bailey DVD, playing Xbox, and generally socialising.)

'twas a good evening! :)

Saturday, 1 January 2011

one: reflections

Sometimes it's all too easy to get wrapped up fretting about the things you're supposed to be doing that you forget to celebrate the things you have already done.

When this happens you deny yourself a morale boost which, while small, would have had several benefits: a sense of achievement; a brief distraction from upcoming goals; a feeling that you're on track. It goes back to Skinner's ideas of reinforcement from behavioural psychology: to increase the likelihood of a behaviour, that behaviour should be rewarded, i.e. to increase the likelihood of achieving what you want to achieve, you should reward yourself for the things you've already done.

I spent a lot of time in Autumn worrying about various things. Worrying about not hitting it off with people on my course, about keeping up with my friends abroad who are too far away to see often, about other such things that aren't interesting and so I shalln't mention, but basically, I neglected to take into account that I'd just moved into a house with a friend I met abroad and his existing friends from uni, all of whom are awesome people and all of whom I'd say I hit it off with. And that I'd transferred to the uni in question after some pretty big decisions on my part, and had been accepted despite not originally getting the grades because they deemed my application worthy.

I'm not trying to be smug here, by the way. Sorry if it sounds like it. I'm just trying to reiterate that it's definitely worth remembering to give yourself a pat on the back for the things you do. Think about how you achieved your goals, and the further implications of the achievements also.

It has a bigger impact than you may imagine.

All the best for 2011, y'all!