Sunday, 27 April 2014

My ongoing quest to do everything there is to do

I have been a little busy this past week, and so the blog has been void of content. You have for that my sincere apologies. I wrote an opine piece about David Cameron, which I may put up here so you can enjoy/disagree violently with me; I checked a dissertation about International Human Rights Law and am currently doing the same for one about women educators in the field of science which is awesome; I am editing two videos and drafting a script; I have been elected VP Employability at AUSA, which means I can start roaring about workers' rights, sexual harassment in the workplace, discrimination and nobody can tell me to shut up about it (cos it's my job now) and I have watched a lot of West Wing and reignited my desire to go into political science and communications, a Masters in which at LSE costs only...£17,880.

Spare a dollar?
I'm slowly getting better at work; remembering the cocktails is something that would come quicker if I sat down and learned them for even half an hour a day, but quite frankly I'm struggling to find half an hour a day to eat, shave, or do a shi-

-take mushroom risotto. You thought I was going to be crude there. Shame on you.

So for now it's muscle memory and constant revisions by looking in the book, though I've now got down daiquiris, long islands, Haymarkets, slushes in a variety of eye-watering colours and milkshakes, which I struggled with because I can't associate them with any feeling other than being quite ill. Oh, and frozen champagne bellinis, despite the fact they're not on the menu, because I'm a good friend.

I ran into the Woman the other day, who was carting a snowman around. An odd scene, I suppose, but it's always nice to see her as she drifts, comet-like, across my galaxy. Soon she'll be out of mine and I strongly suspect other people will stare as she brightens their sky.

Dinosaurs of the 21st century, at this point I recommend you read up on your history.

That was a metaphor. This may aid you in working it out. Or not.

My current university writing assignment (just to completely change the subject) is a synthèse, a sort of amalgamation of several articles with a specific brief. That brief is to present a neutral point of view on the "new family," the destruction of the so-called nuclear family. Writing neutral articles is something I need practice with because I am not very good at it; I like positions. If I had to write from the idiotic point of view that somehow gay parents are destroying society I would need a long shower afterwards, but I could do it. This neutrality is a bit trickier.

Money has been troubling me lately, but I think what's really troubling me is the lack of certainty about future events. For example, if I get one of the internships I've applied for over the summer then I should have some pennies to rub together, and won't need any money at all from the maintenance loan I get - which means in theory I have more money per month now.

But if I don't, and am instead living at my parent's house eating lactose-free ice cream and crying, then I'll need some money. Mostly because lactose-free ice cream is really fucking expensive.

So I need to know, internships that I've applied to! If not, it'll be a bar job, and I'm only just getting the hang of this one. I'll need to start hiring myself out as an events cocktail bartender: I'll come to your house if you're having a party, make some smashing cocktails, steal some food from your fridge and disappear into the night (to wait for the bus).

And of all the places, one has done something awful: I think they've put a little counter on my entry, to show how many people have seen/read it. There's no info about it at all on the site, so I'd like to try an experiment: please click here and then comment below that you have. That way, we'll see if it goes up when you read it. If it doesn't, then it's going up when +Hill+Knowlton Strategies UK staff only are reading it, and that's terrifying by itself. If not...then I suppose it's good other people are reading it.

Currently: 16. Oh yeahhhhh.

I think that's pretty much it. For the moment at least; my timetable fills up but luckily (sort of) some space is being created because a few of my lovely students are leaving me: exams are fast approaching and once they're done, it's likely I shall not be needed any more. They will move on, and there's no doubt I'll move on, but it's a shame. You come into their lives, and they come into yours, and you change each other and then drift off again.

That's true of friends, and it's true of the Woman, and it's true of all the individuals one meets - and having all these extra things to do means I can make an extra difference, and so I'm trying to make it more positive. People have pointed out recently that I can be a little negative and difficult to get along with, so: here's to being a better person.

And more patient. But not much.

Friday, 18 April 2014

The Longest Time

I've not blogged in twelve days, and I feel weird about that. In my defence, I've been absolutely rammed with work. I've made applications to several internships, including one at Aberdeen University, one at the Students Association, and three in London (one of which I've already been rejected from).

I've also made inquiries into new jobs. I don't know what it is, but since coming back from France I feel completely and utterly dissatisfied with bar work. It seems a little snobby - and I say that coming from the bar scene in Aberdeen, where hipster moustaches and braces are as much a part of the uniform as an apron and a shaker.

But having worked in an office, in a chair all day, taking lunch when I wanted and not needing to wash my hands every two minutes I am finding the return to bar work...a bit of a shock to the system. In addition, I've not worn a suit to work in weeks now. Weeks. My body has no idea what's hit it. It's crying out for silk ties, for waistcoats, for shined shoes.

On the other hand, these internships will require suits. And, with any luck, so will my new job: I'm really excited to tell you I've a group assessment next week for John Lewis, so with any luck I should be back to suits (and, more importantly, geeking out in a big way because it's in Electronics!) very soon.

Good lord, what else is going on?

I'm getting my new lens in the next couple of days, I ordered two books from Waterstones with a birthday gift certificate (on Economics and Rhetoric, since I know you're interested) and I'm working til 1am tonight before going out to do video interviews with the population of Aberdeen at 9am tomorrow.

And I'm reviewing a dissertation which was written by a person smarter than me by orders of magnitude. Seriously, half the damn thing is in Latin and the other half is in abbreviations. And the last half is just really smart.

I've also almost finished my manifestos but, of course, need actual people to actually sign things, and as exams inch closer my students holler for more of my time (which I am very glad to give, because these kids are amazing.)

So that's what's going on in my life. How about you?

Sunday, 6 April 2014

The Last Supper

My last supper in the US was a sandwich and 4 bottles of beer. Not the ideal sign off, but it's been an expensive trip. I've so many photos, and so much video footage - I foresee a lot of editing in my immediate future and I'm really excited about that: not merely because it'll be useful experience and an addition to my portfolio, but because it's a chance to review some really exciting, really interesting responses to three simple questions. 
  1. What has been your best experience?
  2. Have you learnt anything, and are you going to take anything back to Aberdeen?
  3. If you could sum up the trip in one word, just one, what would it be?
I can't wait to put this video together. These are intelligent, articulate people, and their responses might surprise you. Or they might not. Let's wait and see.

It's almost 3am, and I realise that in this land of hidden tax, and unpaid interns, and massive, widespread poverty and homelessness - I don't want to leave. These are inspirational people. This is a land that calls, that screams to me so much more than France ever did. France is where people retire to. New York - well, it takes only a look out of the window to realise that this is where people live.

I think I might be back. So lock up your daughters.

And your sons.

Alternatively let them make their own decisions, and avoid locking anyone up. It's a bit creepy.

Friday, 4 April 2014

Arlington Cemetery

This trip took place after a visit to the Department of Defense's headquarters, the Pentagon. However, it deserves its own entry, because it's quite important and there are a few things I'd like to say about it.

Arlington Cemetery is a place of total calm and tranquility, and it was interrupted only once by a contemptuous pair in a car who harangued members of my group for walking slowly through a cemetery. Were I nobler I'd hope they found the peace they were so desperately seeking, but since I am not a noble man I hope they take to heart the brief lecture I gave them about the cemetery being for quiet reflection and not assholes in cars.

I hope so. Their language suggested probably not.

But the point is that apart from this tiny breach, there was absolute peace. There was, everywhere, the sense of vast, total anti-noise. It's an idea that Pratchett offers in his satirical Discworld books; a bell that tolls silences, a kind of anti-noise that simply swallows sound. That's what this place was. Rows and rows and rows of headstones with trees dotted throughout.

It's not a dead place. Perhaps it's the weather, but cemeteries in Scotland feel dead. They are entirely, absolutely, a place for dead bodies. Perhaps it's the sheer size of it, and the lovely blue skies, and the tweeting of birds. Perhaps if I visited in the dead of winter I'd see it as more dead, but there is just so much space that I can't imagine it. It feels more like the estate of a grand house or an ancient family with an odd taste in landscaping than a place where over 400,000 men and women are buried.

That's because it is, and I highly recommend checking out the informative and well-constructed Arlington Cemetery website. In the meantime, though, we continue on. It's at this point that my pictures will start to become more sparse: my lens, with a near-perfect sense of timing, died. It has worked well for 6 years, but unfortunately all good things must end. Donations for a new lens are gratefully received and can probably be offered in return for writings.

I digress, and I apologise, but actually getting round to talking about this place is really quite difficult. There are a lot of dead people. You can't even fathom that number. 400,000? Suppose you walked by every single grave and spent a minute, just a minute, contemplating the life of the person buried there. And supposing that you didn't eat, or drink, or sleep: you just walked the line and thought. It would take you 278 days. It would take you two thirds of a year.

There are so many, so many, fallen servicemen and servicewomen. And this, the man at the information desk told us with no little pride, is the largest hallowed area in the United States. As one walks around the grounds, and indeed around Washington D.C., it is hard to find monuments to peace. There are monuments to war, and to those who died in them, but peace is hard to find. This is a country that elevates its soldiers to the status of heroes, of martyrs, of demi-gods - but only when they're dead.

We kept moving through, with these markers on every side, in every direction, until we arrived at the marker for the most-loved President. Here, as under the Arc de Triomph marking the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, there is an eternal flame. On that bright April day, it was almost invisible. Behind it, looking out over acres and acres of graves, were some choice quotes.

We took a picture. It's what you do, when you go places, but for me as I looked along the line and saw the people that I know I will continue to see as they ascend to lofty positions there was another dimension. Standing before the flame that marks the last resting place of President John F. Kennedy, it seemed to be our own little flame. We are not dead. We are fiercely alive. Here is proof that once we were here, and we saw, and we remembered.

The fallen are many, but as we face crisis now in Crimea, as we face once again a Russian power that seems to be intent on expanding, on invading, on possessing; it is good and right and proper to visit the places where we see what happens when the world goes to war.

I said earlier that there are no memorials to peace. This is not that, but perhaps it is a reminder of the price of peace. That price is too high.

One last thought: I said that it would take 400,000 minutes to walk the rows of the dead. Now consider that every day, that walk increases by about half an hour. Let us not rush to make it longer still.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Some disappointments and an early night

Quite frankly, even I'm ashamed of myself, but it's half past eight and I am going to go to sleep immediately after writing this blog. The others are out enjoying empty Japanese orchestra but I have had 6 hours sleep in two days. Besides, I couldn't carry a tune in a bucket, as some of my nearest and dearest will happily attest.

However: I am utterly packed and ready to go tomorrow and I'm going to sleep for ten hours, which is just about the best thing in the world right now. Recapping my day very briefly: I wrote, I headed out, I spoke some French with a woman from Mali who owns a boulangerie, and I went into a cathedral.

I am - and once again those close to me will attest to this - an atheist. I don't belong in churches or cathedrals, and yet you will read on the pages of this blog hundreds of words about cathedrals. I am an absolute sucker for them. Blame my upbringing. I don't know what it is, but there's something about them, so with no further ado I present the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, and the statue outside it which seems to feature your brain on acid.

The views from the sides are, though strange, not too terrifying. I mean fine, there's a lot more giraffes than one normally sees with angels but hey, maybe the artist likes giraffes. He finds their necks graceful and their tongues indicative of peace with the world. I don't know. And sure, there's a face on either side who's clearly been smoking something illegal and relaxing and yes, okay, the whole scene is taking place on a crab but quite frankly there aren't enough crustaceans in religious art, so I'm all for it. Then you get a little closer and things get...peculiar.

For example: who's this figure whose head is literally hanging by a thread? One assumes it's Satan, but you can't tell much from the sculpture: just that he got his head inexpertly hacked off by a psychopathic angel. How do I know he's psychopathic? Because look at his face as he cuddles the giraffe.

I mean he really, really likes that giraffe. The fingers, like Satan's, are very long - look at how they're wrapped around the hilt of the sword. Either his pectorals are popping like crazy or those are his ribs, but in either case it just feels a little unhealthy. You certainly can't fault the design, or the dedication to detail - those feathers, for example, are absolutely exquisite. It's just that clearly there's a lot of emotion and expression in this sculpture, and one of those emotions seems to be passing between the angel and the giraffe. In a...forbidden...sort of way. You know?
At last...we can be together now.

I don't know. Maybe I'm just projecting.

The cathedral was absolutely gorgeous, and there were phoenix hanging from the ceiling. Not real phoenix, obviously: there's no evidence they existed apart from some writings thousands of years ago and it's not like that's sufficient evidence to believe in anything at all.

That being said, they were gorgeous. The cathedral, too, was incredible - a gothic masterpiece in a city that wasn't even around for the Goths. Was I full of culture? Not quite.

So after the cathedral, what next? Naturally, I went to the Natural History Museum which is, in essence, a shrine to Teddy Roosevelt.

(It should be noted that there isn't a whole lot wrong with that; the man was pretty epic. It's just a bit...startling.)

In any case, the atrium was full of wise words from the man himself and enormous dinosaur skeletons, and this set the tone for the rest of the bony exhibits. It was something of a struggle to get all the way round: there's a lot to see and I didn't manage it all. I did see something which convinced me that perhaps there was, once, a Satan-shaped monster. Behold:

Alright, this has taken three days. That's how tired I am. I hope you enjoyed it nonetheless.