Sunday, 30 March 2014

The UN, comedy, and a delicate feeling

I am dressed, today, as I feel: red, blue, and black. I feel like a bruise. I stayed up until closing time last night, which was 4am, and then I went and had some more drinks until 5am. Then I started the walk home. How far is 50 blocks, really? I thought. It'll take me half an hour at most.

It took me an hour and a half.

But we've jumped to the end. Let's start from the beginning, and the breakfast that I faced consisting of:

  • three plate-sized pancakes
  • three rashers of bacon
  • a sausage
  • scrambled egg
It was large enough that we needed two plates for it. I've not had a two-plate breakfast before. It's absurd and wonderful. This massive breakfast was to set us up for a fairly important trip:

Slaying a dragon that is also a rocket. Sound awesome? It was.
We headed downtown for a tour of the UN and learnt about the various organs within the UN, its roles, its missions worldwide and its history. The tour took in the Security Council chamber (ahhhhhhhh!)

Look familiar?

 and culminated in the gift shop, where there was a UN-stamped podium. So we did what political students would do in that situation and did our best to look like leaders of grand nations. 

Pulled off in excellent fashion by (l-r) Lynda Houston, Lucas Svoboda, and Sará Csapó
Following the tour, we were given a briefing by two inspiring people working to end sexual violence in conflict. This is an absolutely fascinating topic, and one I should like to dedicate space, time, and great thought to - but it's also not a whole lot of fun, so I'll probably write it up somewhere else. For the moment it suffices to say that they gave us great advice for getting into the UN after we graduate, and I've now got a whole lot of new things to apply for.

On the way out, we passed the elevator banks that go up the 38th level - the office of the Secretary General - and before we could pass a security guard who had clearly been born of an unholy union of bank vault and grizzly bear held up an imperious hand. We stopped, naturally, because this man's upper arm was about as thick as my torso and his gun was the kind of gun that kills a lot of people very quickly.

As we paused, a small, smiling Asian man swept up, smiled, waved, said hi, and then went into the elevator. The whole episode took about ten seconds, and left several of us genuinely shaking.

All of this, of course, is a long and roundabout way of explaining how 22 smartphone-holding politically-inclined digital natives managed to meet Mr Ban-Ki Moon, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, and not take a single picture. 

After this, the group broke up and explored New York. For me and a few others, that meant MoMA, as it's free after 4 on Fridays. The top level was my absolute favourite: if you are a fan of modern art then I absolutely cannot stress enough that you should go there. Since it was free, the building was jam-packed, and the multiplicity of tongues was a magical moment by itself. There are unfortunately no pictures from MoMA: I have a deep and abiding "thing" against people who go to art galleries with a Pokémon mentality, just chasing around the place taking photos of everything and not actually looking at it.

I'm a snob. I'll admit it.

There were, however, hundreds of wonderful pieces. If you're in New York, go. It's wonderful.

After that highbrow culture, I felt in need of something a little more base. Wandering through Times Square, I was accosted and given the most charming combination of hard- and soft-sell I've ever experienced. This person was clearly an absolute pro, because while I haggled her down, I left with the distinction impression I'd lost out on the deal somewhere - and I was right. The seller hadn't mentioned the two-drink limit, and the drinks were not cheap. Not cheap at all.

That being said, when the price for a bottle of beer and a Long Island Iced Tea is the same, you'd have to be a total chump not to go for the Long Island - especially in the US, where the measures are the ones you use in your house. They're large, and they're not really "measured."

The show itself was fantastic: seeing 6 new comics and only finding one asinine and unfunny is an absolute win in my book, and the cherry on the cake was the MC who took absolutely no shit from a sexist Canadian. It was a thing of absolute beauty. It might have been the second Long Island (seriously, the thing was so strong it fought me on the way down) but after the show I managed to chat to her for half an hour and essentially just fangirled: anyone on stage kicking ass and ripping up gender stereotypes is my idea of awesome. I gave her a hug.

This country is clearly affecting me.

On my way home I dropped into an Irish bar where I got chatting to people. I was planning on one drink: I would like that made clear right now, right at the beginning.

As a consequence I will never know why we finished the night with two skittlebombs each before heading back to a hotel room, emptying the mini-bar, and then the party breaking up before I took it upon myself to walk 50 blocks home.

I knew, on a drunk level, that a block is approximately an eighth of a mile, and that 50 blocks is therefore approximately 50/8 = 6.25 miles. What we see here is the difference between knowing and understanding; I knew I would be walking 7.5 miles. I did not really understand just how incredibly far that actually is at 5am.

All together now: I am not a smart man.

It's pretty far.

Especially when you wait at every set of lights because one of your new "friends" told you about the way New York cops love to fine tourists who jaywalk.

Especially when you take a detour through Central Park and realise at night, trees all look exactly the same.

Especially when you realise you are only approximately certain of where your hostel is and the only people you can ask at this time are the kind of people who are either a) just as drunk as you or b) up to nefarious acts, because there's not really any other reason to be strolling around at 5am.

But, as I am sure you're all glad to hear, I made it back. I lived to drunkenly meander through Central Park another day.

This has been an epic blog, but it makes up for Saturday's lack (because Saturday was essentially me clutching my head and being very sad). I hope you enjoyed and I shall be back before long with some more updates.

P.S: It's Mother's Day in the UK, so if your mother's still around please speak to her. If she's not, then my thoughts are with you today of all days.

Love you Mum. I wouldn't be here, I wouldn't be anywhere, without you.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

I'm in New York, New York: the best place in the world for stammerers and amnesiacs

We made it across the ocean like the cousins of our colonial forebears, although we admittedly did it in gigantic flying buses and not in ships and our food was a pretty delicious continental breakfast followed by chicken in tarragon sauce for lunch and a Chicago-style vegetable pizza as a "light snack" before landing.

Oh America, I fell in love with you when you called a pizza a "light snack".

The flights and connecting flights all flowed smoothly and as a result there is nothing particularly exciting to remark on there, save for three things:

  1. The Wolverine is an absolutely excruciatingly bad film
  2. The Family is a lot of fun but kind of lacks chemistry
  3. Doctor Strangelove (French title: Docteur Folamour) is still one of the best, quotable, generally well-acted movies in film history.
Also: it is entirely possible to score a free gin and tonic through mild-to-serious-flirtation with the fantastically camp air hosts. I know you don't come to this blog for travel tips but there's a free one nonetheless.

Getting from JFK Airport to the hostel, however, proved to be just a touch more tricky. For a start, unlike civilised cities like Paris and London, there are no signs to indicate the next train nor is there any sign to indicate in which direction the next train is travelling. Instead, trains hove into view and you take a risk. Elena - my travelling buddy - and I took a train that we thought was going North and, well.

You can see where this is going.

In any case, we recovered and got up to 103rd and Central Park. I saw Central Park. I genuinely can't overstate what a totally weird experience it is to be familiar with this part of Western film and comic book culture almost from birth and then to actually, really see it. It's bizarre.

In any case, we made our way to the location indicated on our maps and the stood about like puzzled tourists. There should be some sort of flag, we said to each other, listening to the snap-snap of fabric behind us. A big flag that said "American International Hostel". Snap-snap, went the fabric.

Yeah. The flag was behind us.

We're all going to Chipotle now so...

Update: we're back from Chipotle and we have MASSES O' FOOD. We had the fastest food ever: the food zipped along a production line so fast that I was still ordering when the lady at the other end was asking for payment. The Doctor could learn a thing or two from Chipotle.

The look of love

From back: "I can do it", "I shouldn't have done it", "I've nearly done it", "GET IN MAH BELLY."

The look of...I don't know what that is.
So we're all now massively well fed and there's apparently a comedy show tonight. I don't know if I'll make it but I know I'm keen for my bed so I'll be signing off here.

TTFN all. More to come tomorrow, no doubt.

Day 1: 5am feelings of dread and dreadful excitement



Right. I'm semi-human now. Almost human. Coffee is helping, and a plate of massively overpriced eggs, bacon and toast should complete the transformation from rising ape to falling angel.

I'm writing from Aberdeen Airport, where my first flight of the day will take off. There is an absolutely hateful child running about with apparently unlimited energy: quite frankly when I feel like this there's no need to ram it home by being filled with the immortal spirit of Youth.

There's not much else to add for the moment. There will likely be an update from Heathrow and, if I have not gone completely loopy from jetlag, another from the hostel in New York City.

Til then: here we are. And here's my grub. Pip-pip.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Paralysis at the last moment

I am, as ever, struck by the last minute terror of having everything to do and not enough time in which to do it, to whit:

  • I must finish an essay (although it's only two hundred words more and quite frankly the conclusion essentially writes itself: "I was really trying to make this book fit the argument I'm proposing and clearly it doesn't; please give me marks for recognising that.")
  • I must pack. I am leaving for the US in (hahahahahahohgoodlord) 30 hours or so. However, there is a caveat and I shall talk about it later.
  • I must prep things for the ascas
  • I must do some filming (if you would like to help me film something with the reward of eternal love and gratitude and work in any sector aside from hospitality, please get in touch!)
  • I must get my applications in because apparently summer internships do not award themselves based on people who really, really want them but don't like application forms for their uncreative and systematic approach to human beings, who are creative and asystematic
  • I must ring bank and phone company to tell them I'll be leaving the country.
But let's talk about the US, and the way that Barack has totally blackballed me from his party mansion in D.C. Yup, I'm going halfway across the world to see this:

More like the Cream House, amiright?
...except probably from further away. And surrounded by the other people who either failed their security checks or didn't get them done in time. I am severely annoyed that I am in either of these two groups.

No, I'm not going to tell you which I'm in. You know me. You can guess.

What else is new? I suppose there's the fact that The Woman and I are now on speaking terms, which is a relief because I'd rather not lose a friend like that. I suppose there's also the fact that I've almost finished an essay and it is - this should not be a feeling I experience in Junior Honours, but - the first essay I have finished in good time and am genuinely proud of. Honestly. The referencing is gorgeous, the argument is solid and balanced, and I have quotes. And it's in French. (That bit's an extra bonus: I like being able to write in French.)

I mean my bags aren't packed and I've spent an hour helping a friend with romantic entanglements and in the group that I moderate I've had to go all tyrannical to remove a couple of people who truly believe in "reverse racism" and, well.

It's been a stressful damn day.

Still, all things considered and viewed from the other side: I helped a friend, I preserved a safe space for non-believers and I discovered that people halfway across the world appreciate the work I do.

Plus I learnt about potential exciting internships at +British Council and I'm going to be getting on those the minute I touch back down.

The next month is doubtlessly going to make or break me. Getting the fear a little.

But only a little.

Friday, 21 March 2014

The Elections Are Over

We have a new executive committee, I have had 6 hours sleep, and I'm facing a half-written essay with my mind on one thing, and one thing only. Food. I am starving, but I can't bring myself to heat up food and put it in the hole I breathe out of.

We're quite gross, us human beings, when you think about it.

But elections are over, so let's focus on that before we lose our thread and realise we're just fleshy bags of mostly-water held up by a framework of bones. Elections are over! And we have a shiny new Sabb team with a few faces from the old guard.

The experience over the past few days has been something quite astonishing, because it turns out that people are actually curious about all this democracy. Over 2,000 votes were cast, or one in seven students: a result that's really very, very exciting. I spoke to so many people and did not get a single blow-off or mean comment. People who love me have said that's because I'm good with people. Personally I am loathe to trust anyone who says they love me, because most of those people have seen me early in the morning and even I struggle to love myself at that hour - but there it is. Let us leave it as a moot point and accept that either I am good with people or people are generally good and democratic and inclined to give people a chance if they stop them in the street. I hope it's the latter over the former, to be quite honest.

She did it! V did it! And I helped.
(Not to choose the socks. That one's all on her)

The campaign with which I was helping, themed around Rosie the Riveter, saw Veronika elected to the position in which you see her above. There were tears and roars at the announcement, but unfortunately had to skip the ensuing party - which I feel I can safely assume was legendary - to make sure I got some work done before the USA trip, which is a fairly frightening five days away. My agenda between now and then is, thankfully, almost empty: gods bless reading week. I've still to pack and, quite possibly, buy a new suit - and new shoes - after all, what sort of savage only takes one suit across the pond?

In any case, the work plods on. I am about a third through an essay, which is a massive improvement on the last time I did an essay (if you imagine me at 5am shaking because of a massive caffeine overdose and feverishly writing then you have (a) an excellent imagination and (b) an exact image of me writing my last essay.) I'm helped in this regard by the fact that I really enjoy the subject: the course is well structured and the lectures are fascinating. The reading is fun too: the end of Monsieur Vénus is the kind of twist Dahl would have considered inspired.

If, by the way, you didn't know Roald Dahl wrote fantastically twisted stories then I urge you to read Tales of the Unexpected at once. That the man had a gloriously bizarre imagination is evidenced in his "children's" books (though, let us remember, that an awful lot of awful people get their very unpleasant comeuppances in them....) but it's in these tales that his imagination really explores some darker places.

Look, we're getting off topic again.

The point is that my life is actually flowing along quite nicely. I am proud of the work I've done with Veronika, I am excited beyond all reasonable measure about the incredible sabbatical team next year, and I'm going to New York New York in six days.

And The Woman is still alive, which is reassuring.

Life is good. And hey, we raised £2m for cancer research! Let's kick cancer with our naked/made up faces. I've done and donated. I hope everyone reading this has done so too.

If only all charity was this easy. And made me look so good.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Many spontaneity. Such luck.

Things other than blogging I should be doing right now:

  • Prepping an essay, topic: "Discuss the representation of the body in Mistriss Henley" as I will need to hand it in at least a day early.
  • Ringing round various hotels and conference centres to ascertain prices for a grand, black-tie event in May. It's going to be cheap...right?
  • Learning approximately 100 new cocktails
  • Learning five new words in Russian
  • Tidying my flat
  • Reading the frankly spine-busting pile of books about French secularism I have accumulated
  • Reading the impossibly thick book on the same that is its own pile
  • Re-reading The Great Gatsby and annotating the life out of it
  • Preparing exercises on further trigonometry (ie doing them)
  • And other things which I have, for the moment, forgotten - but will no doubt spring up on me half an hour before their due date.
Things I am actually doing:
  • Looking at doge memes
  • Blogging
  • Seriously considering taking a nap.
  • The Internet. It speaks the truth. In a Pythian sort of way.
The thing is, there is much new in my life and all of it seems so dull compared to last year - I genuinely think I'm never going to get over the time I spent there. Everything will be compared to it. It is the ultimate in awful breakups, when you never quite get over the other person and everything reminds you of them. Food - is that a baguette I smell? Sights - was that a glimpse of a beret worn non-ironically? And sounds - my head now pivots so quickly when I hear spoken French that my eyes roll the opposite way as inertia takes over. If you can't picture it, don't worry - Walt Disney could. And did.

"Et moi, je lui ai dit...mon dieu, qu'est ce qui t'est arrivé ?!"
However, to take my mind off that French love, I'm going transatlantic for a short fling with a country I only recently left - those fifty United States of America. More specifically, I'm going with the Politics and IR society, and we're going at the end of the month - on the 27th. This is why I need to submit that essay a day early; I'll be somewhere over the ocean at hand-in time. Once Stateside, we've an interesting itinerary with a lot of free time - so I think introducing my classmates to The Book of Mormon or Matilda, if it's still running, might be an excellent idea. 

The itinerary includes a tour around the UN and watching a game at +Columbia University (and hopefully chatting to professors about postgraduate possibilities!), and then we're off to DC to have a tour around +The White House and the Pentagon and various other internationally renowned buildings. Plus more free time. I am disgustingly excited. Friends of mine on politics/IR courses are threatening that they shan't be my friends much longer if I open one more conversation with... 
So the Capitol building, is that where the President lives? Oh, never mind. I'll just ask on the tour.
...or something similar.

I am a good friend. Honest.

Tickets are booked, thanks to the voucher I got from +American Airlines for being a good sport and giving up my seat coming back from Chicago, and all is in readiness. Now I just need to make back the money, which will hopefully be a little easier now that I have a job at TGI Friday's. The whole process was surreally easy; I dropped in and asked if there were vacancies, someone took my CV, and then a second later I was chatting to the GM. The next day I came in for what they call an "On Job Experience" - essentially a trial shift - and was offered the job on the spot. I signed my contract today and got my training book. (Nerd alert).

I'm actually really excited about this because it reminds me a little of Revolution, which has (to date) the best training program I've ever experienced - really well structured and with good supervision and coaching.  In addition everyone on the bar seems wicked and the floor staff seem to have fun all the time, so I cannot wait to get stuck into the cocktails. Unfortunately I can't share them with you here -

Those are some serious legal words, but you can understand why - can't have people nicking recipes.

- so you'll just have to come in and try them.

Since TGI Friday's started in New York, I'm actually planning to see if I can blag my way onto the bar where it all started - and interestingly, the company actually has an internal social network, so I'm hoping to connect with the staff over there beforehand. Hopefully then I can jump on for some photos and Anglo-American high-fives and collaboration. It's going to happen people. Let's do this. Hashtag getJonathanonthebarinNYC

All joking aside, I'm really excited about this new job and the energy everyone has, and I can't wait to feed into it.

Alright, enough soppiness. I have a job, I have good friends (to whom I'm not always a great friend, so - sorry), I have ten thousand projects to keep me busy and I have you, mostly anonymous 100-odd people who read this weird ramblings. I am incredibly lucky. Plus, soon there'll be ASCAs and then...the world.

Oh, and why's it called the Pentagon? Ah, you know what? I'll ask on the tour.