Friday, 25 July 2014

A pretty good day

A second blog in as many days can only be for a very special reason, and I have two to celebrate.

Actually, three - in a move sure to disappoint a Disney employee of my acquaintance I'm happy to say I am not engaged in any way. There was apparently some confusion yesterday, but fingers are still free of rings and knees have not recently been rested upon.

On to exciting news: I have a start date for my internship and it's August 4th which is, oh shit, 9 freaking days away. I've a mountain of paperwork to read and sign and I plan on doing significant research into the area in which I'll be working. I'll also be keeping fairly tight-lipped about what I do but I cannot wait. I'll be home for a month, and I'll be working in London, and I'm going to get paid to do something I love - honestly, I could not be more excited.

And then, once I get back, I'll have another job!

Memes are the last refuge of a scoundrel - Samuel Johnson.
That'll bring me to a total of four part time jobs. That seems like a lot, especially when half of them aren't paid. On the other hand, I love them. It's hard to let go of things you love but apparently that's what you're supposed to do, which seems counter-intuitive to me - but who am I to argue with the wisdom of a thousand years?

The other job is the very exciting Student Ambassador job I talked about yesterday, and it looks like it's going to be an amazing opportunity to get stuck into some seriously meaty projects. There might be a budget. There will be things at the end of it, and there may also be filming and social media and brochures and multi-faceted-brochures and yikes, I'm so damn excited I might explode.

Plus: there's the minimum wage campaign to get cracking on - I got some great research and support only yesterday from a charity that's should help me start producing materials and generating research teams. Hopefully. Fingers crossed, etc.

Anyway: folks living in London who read this blog - approximately sixty, according to my analytics - where should I go? What's new and hip? What's worth seeing in the theatre?

Give me a shout on twitter: @jonodrew.

This is getting habitual

I used to be able to produce blogs at reasonable times. No more. Now it's whenever I get some spare time, which is inevitably after Beastie goes to bed and I'm left feeling like The Worst Boyfriend Ever.

Especially when she makes me cute little gifts like this. Wait, annex?
So a brief rundown then: a friend got engaged, I had a job interview, I may possibly have a start date for H+K and I've managed to lose over twenty hours of my life to a video game.

That may or may not be why this blog is so late.

The job interview was the one I mentioned in the last blog: the Year Abroad/Exchange Ambassador. It sounds fantastic, and seems to be right up my street, but I'm really not sure how the interview went. Time will tell; I hope to find early next week. Still, I got to talk ideas with interesting people and get more interview experience, which is always helpful. Going over answers after is absolutely awful though, so Beastie and I had a coffee. Well, I had coffee. She had cherry cola, which was probably a better choice since it's been ferociously hot today. The sky is as blue and empty as the sea, which is to say it's full of vicious creatures with fins and teeth that you simply cannot see.

I spoke to a contact at H+K and might have a start date - I know I've already said that above but there's not an awful lot more to be said at the moment. It's all rather up in the air but when I know you'll know. I mean you'll know when I get round to writing it. We don't yet share a mind-meld.

Not yet.

I'm playing Assassin's Creed III a lot and it's enjoyable; the settings are huge and wide-open but the cities feel a little small. The previous two games were set in the Crusades (so the Middle East) and Renaissance Italy which did not lack for tall pointy buildings which inspired awe and were absolutely gorgeous to run all over. You'll notice that the games have been steadily moving West; whether that's intentional or not is up for debate but it is more than a little frustrating to be moved back to the US. Where are the Chinese assassins? The Indian? The Mongol? The Egyptians? Think about how gorgeous it would be to scramble around St. Petersburg at the time of the Revolution! Instead it's the American Revolution, and the new version - Unity - is the French Revolution. Please, +Ubisoft, let's get out of Europe.

(Don't get me started on female characters. That would be the absolute end of me.)

If you don't know about the series that was a bit meaningless, so here's an awesome video of people dressing like characters in the game and running about Paris.

Otherwise? Life rolls on. Work is work, and it's not terrible, though one of the guys I started with is already about to move on to bigger and better things. He's off to London to become a film star - no, really - so it'll be a massive blow because he's a fantastic guy. 

On the other, movie star, London...I can see why he's going.

I suppose it's because I've been playing a relatively open-world game, but it's an uncomfortable feeling knowing that unlike non-playable characters in a video game people aren't always going to be there, waiting for me to escape what's pursuing me and grab a chance to talk. Unsettling, the way the world reminds you in a thousand ways that you are not its centre. I could probably do with remembering that more often.

Or, you know. Keep running madly in the wrong direction. It's worked out fine so far...

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Sunday: foggy, with more than a hint of garlic

It's been a very, very lazy Sunday. That's despite a 6-hour shift at work; I still got up at 8, made vanilla pancakes (which came out way too flat, as I didn't account for the vanilla extract) and strawberries with some epicly strong coffee and still had time to fart about for a good while. Work was frenetic; plenty of people bringing their kids in for a lovely little family movie - on which note if you have small infants that you need to entertain for whatever reason, do please go with Mr Peabody and Sherman; it's got plenty of decent jokes that parents will get but is equally full of kid jokes.

Please, please, please don't go and see Pudsey: The Movie. It is the most painful, most awful, most horrible movie I've seen in a long time. If nobody sees it perhaps it'll stop being shown and I can finally, happily, stop listening to the aggressively horrible end-credits song. Just hearing the first bar gives me cold sweats. Hideous.

In any case, after that mad-cap day (in which I saw the end of Dawn of the Planet of The Apes no less than three times, which has probably spoiled the movie for me forever) I came home to find that Beastie had prepped 60 cloves of garlic for dinner. Dinner this evening, friends and followers, was roast chicken with the aforementioned 60 cloves of garlic, carrot smash, roast potatoes, mangetout and warm tiger bread with some of those cloves squished into a garlicky paste. All of this with an excellent bottle of fitou and charming conversation which mostly revolved around the taste of human.

Pork or human? Doesn't matter. All tastes the same.
Also: it turns out I have not the first damn clue how to carve a chicken. It is the worst damn thing to carve because it's so tiny. Pork is easy. Beef is easy. Lamb is easy-ish, because they all come in massive great lumps that you can just slice away at. Compared to those beautiful, succulent meats, a chicken is the equivalent of threading a needle held by a 6 year old. In a darkened cinema, watching Pudsey: The Movie and trying not to chew your own ears off to stop the horrible noise.

Anyway: that much food means an awful lot of cooking, so here's what happens when you let me loose in your kitchen to cook Sunday lunch:

Pictured left to right: chicken, plates, casserole dish, 3 leftover potatoes wondering what they ever did wrong and the only part of Beastie that doesn't burst into sulfuric flames when photographed.
I can almost see how keen Mother is to have me back.

I've got the day off tomorrow, but I've also got wardrobes and a television screen coming so I'm going to set them up and then play Assassin's Creed for about ten hours. I've not played in literally two years, so ten hours may turn into ten days without a shower. If nobody's heard from me by next weekend, send help.

By the by, if you thought I was over-exaggerating about Pudsey: The Movie then I welcome you to sit all the way through the video below. All the way. Don't move, don't switch tabs or programs. Just stay here, focussed on this waste of bandwidth, film, talent, oxygen and electricity.

The torture starts at 0:23. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Sisyphean tasks

There are many things that feel Sisyphean. The struggle to master a language; for example. There is always one more word you don't know, a structure that seems just out of tongue's reach. Even with a perfect vocabulary there's cadence to master; the rising and falling tones of a joke or a sarcastic riposte. Language learning never really ends, which to a perfectionist like me is about the worst damn thing in the world.

Forming a cogent opinion about Palestine and Israel is a similar experience. You have to drill back in time all the way to the creation of Israel, and then you realise you actually have to understand the reasons for the creation of that state, and then you have to really understand the competing factions and desires as that new state struggled from the womb and started screaming and thrashing and biting. But then, of course, you have to understand the Palestinian position, and ask yourself who has the greater right to live. And then you have to work out who started this idiotic, deadly war that's killing people with the eager glee that has characterised (and still characterises) religious war since there was gods of earth and sky and sun and moon.

In short, these are the kinds of tasks that remind us of the endless battle faced by Sisyphus, pushing a boulder up a mountain only to be thwarted at the last minute. We face the very epitome of uphill battles, because this is a situation that evolves and changes in real-time. It is also an issue on which most people have taken a side and will defend it until their death, and these people are probably not going to be convinced either way because, to be honest, it's far too bloody complicated.

It's a bit harder to struggle through and keep an open mind, especially when children are killed and teenagers are kidnapped on their way home and burned alive. The first casualty of all wars is the humanity of both sides, because when the day comes that the death of children is met with a shrugged apology, it's about time to question whether the price you pay for victory is too great when it is your soul.

That being said, it's probably worth struggling on. After all, a Sisyphean task is hardly worthy of the name if you give up. Sisyphus didn't. Neither should we.

News at Midnight

Alright, I've just bashed out a blog about a conflict and that'll be coming out in about 8 hours, but in the meantime here's a wee update about my life for people who like that sort of thing.

I have an interview for an absolutely amazing job, so I am crossing everything. It's the position of Study Abroad Ambassador, which I'm so excited to even be shortlisted for. I wrote for a year on my year abroad, I did a whole lot of stuff, and that blog is still getting hits which is the weirdest. If you'd like to add to those hits then please, head on over here for the first post or here for the best bits. The interview is on Thursday, so I'll try to write a little thing about how I felt it went. It means more social media-ing, so hopefully there'll be a blog I can completely geek out on. Google Analytics is my rediscovered love right now, so there'll be filters and goals and so much data for tables and graphs and wow.

I need a minute just to calm down.

Dissertation is crawling along: my introduction is fully drafted but, according to Beastie, dramatic. Dramatic? Moi? Surely not. Nobody who knows me could say with a straight face that I am dramatic.

Alright quiet.

Anyway. Today has been an enjoyable day punctuated by enormous amounts of stress, and that's glorious because the stress is punctuating, rather than continual, and that's glorious. Soon it'll be unending, but for's just irregular. Joyful.

Plus, tomorrow we're going to buy a wardrobe so Beastie can move in properly, and possibly the cheapest TV we can find so I can procrastinate with Assasin's Creed, and it seems I'm becoming a grown-up. And I know I keep saying that, and I think it's true every time, because actually I don't think we're ever properly grown up. I'm confident we're all just blagging it, and some of us are doing better than others, but I'm blagging it with someone exceptional so that'll do me just grand until the next grown-up moment comes along.

Speaking of which, when should I start applying to Masters programmes? And should I (unlike The Woman) assume I'm going to get a glorious first, and just put that on every application? And then just blag it when I inevitably don't?

So in short: interview, wardrobe, Xbox, Masters, growing up and blagging the whole damn thing.

If you have any answers to my burning questions then please get in touch however you'd like; email me, tweet me, comment below, send me a message on Facebook or etch your glorious response onto a sheet of bronze and bury it at a crossroads. I will find it. I will find you.

(Sorry. I'm still crazy into +Jeffrey Cranor's Welcome to Nightvale and it's leaking into my writing. It's also leaking out of my fridge. I might be storing it incorrectly.)

Wednesday, 16 July 2014


Such news, such news!

So up first: a while back, I badgered you on and on (and on, and on, and on) to click on a link. Apparently a few people did and, while I have absolutely no idea if it contributed in any way, thank you so much if you did because I actually won it! If you'd like to read it (and let's be honest, why would you not want to read it?) you can click here. (Last time I'll ever plug it, promise.)

I won an internship in an incredible and exciting firm in London and I'm still a bit surprised. I'm incredibly pleased and excited of course, but now I'm just itching to know when I can start - if only because carriage all the way down to London is going to cost me some serious pennies, and the sooner I can book it the fewer pennies it will cost.

Fun fact: these are worth more as scrap than their face value!
And yet we keep making them. Glorious.
And then? And then it will be London for four weeks. I cannot express my excitement: I am a child on Christmas Eve whose birthday also falls on Christmas Day and is also flying to New York in Concorde to experience Christmas and birthday all over again.

Whew. Convoluted but I'm sure you'll agree it was totally worth it.

My other job chugs along quite nicely and my dissertation is slowly taking shape, that shape being a vast and looming behemoth growing and spinning and writhing out of all control. I now have to face up to the fact that I have been attacking this from an entirely Euro-centric view, which is lovely but would be a very valid criticism and one that I could potentially deflect if I tackle it now - so it's time to look at Iran and Turkey for alternate views of secularism to see if we can perhaps fit that model to the French.

I'm also realising that it's going to be impossible to cover all the bases in this paper, so it'll essentially be entirely hypothetical followed by a crushing "Well, this is all very nice, but it won't happen in a month of Sundays so essentially this has been a total waste of 8,000 words with no practical, real-world applications. However, I clearly understand that so could I have high mark please?"

Dammit Mr Ball! Sorry, Professor. Professor Ball.
Other things that are new? There was a reshuffle in the UK Government, and there are now five women in Cabinet instead of three which is excellent news for progress and also terrible news for progress, because on the one hand women in unrepresented areas is a huge positive while women who believe in capital punishment and voted against equal marriage is less positive for progress.

Something to struggle with. Luckily we can all unite in hatred of the Daily Mail, the contemptuous rag of a newspaper which today had a double page spread on what it charmingly called "The Downing Street Catwalk," because who the fuck cares what these women think or their careers when we can judge their clothes, hair, age, wrinkles, and OH YE GODS WOULD YOU STOP.

The word "catwalk" is also a stinky little word which brings up other words like "catty" and "catfight". These women are people and while I am not going to be going for a beer with Pritti "Bring back hanging" Patel or hanging out with Nicky "Gays aren't equal" Morgan, the reduction of these politicians and working women to clothes-horses and objects is creepy and shit.

Also Michael Gove got booted from Education, which has pleased...well, everyone, it seems, but mostly teachers according to this +BuzzFeed article.

Palestine and Israel are still killing the hell out of each other, although since Israel's got superior everything the first Israeli casualty was yesterday, when Palestinian fatalities were at 109. It's an incredibly complex and brutal struggle, but it got even worse when a video of Israelis apparently watching the bombing of Gaza with popcorn.

Yeah, I know. You were wondering how it could get worse too. Isn't it nice when people surprise you?

All told it's been a pretty hard week in the world, and everywhere that's not here. So I'm just incredibly thankful that I've won this competition, and that I get to go and learn from some of the best. If I keep going at this rate I might be able to effect change by the time I'm, ooh...35?

Ten years away. There's time. Besides, someone recommended an excellent Masters programme at the other end of the country. I've always wondered what it's like in the West Country...

Thursday, 10 July 2014

An inability to sleep

I am once again cursed by an inability to sleep. I lie down, roasting hot, and wait for my brain to switch off. It doesn't do that. It keeps going. It is a Duracel bunny doing laps in my skull, and that's a tough thing to sleep with.

Squeak squeak squeak.
And so of course to pass the time I'm looking for things to enlighten or amuse me, and I'm drinking hot chocolate because obviously something hot will help me cool down. And so I have, in short order -

  • watched a +CrashCourse video on Rorsach, Freud, Neo-Freudians and other half-remembered things of A-level psychology,
  • read and written up a plan to implement analytics in email correspondence for a potential new freelance client
  • played half a game of chess with someone halfway across the world
  • and read about 70 pages of Confessions of a Sociopath, which is a difficult read purely because the author is a sociopath and therefore boringly self-aggrandising. If she lets a paragraph go past without mentioning her staggering wit, intelligence, etc etc it's a wasted paragraph.
That being said, it's an interesting read. Sociopaths are fascinating creatures who should probably be exterminated, since they live in a world free of consequences, recrimination, and guilt. They are only useful humans in a world which values cut-throat attitudes and an utterly uncaring attitude to others, which is true only of a capitalist worldview which views companies as people and people as resources.

Ah. That's the world we live in. Damn.

I went to see Derren Brown last night, and it was exceptional. I mean it was just as exceptional as the last time I saw it, and I'm still no closer to working out the tricks that I couldn't work out last time - and I'm also still no closer to getting my books signed. It's getting to the point where I'm considering camping out by the theatre with a pen and a Thermos flask.

I won't, because that is a very weird thing to do, but I also wouldn't be lying if I said the thought hadn't crossed my mind. However, I am going to say that if you get a chance do, absolutely and definitively, go and see it. It's glorious, and I'd love to tell you all about it. I seem to have forgotten most of it though. I think there was something with a shark. Or a bit of a shark. And there was a game of chess with a dark hooded figure who seemed to be simultaneously there and not-there, like a veil made of lead.

Skinny, too.

Anyway. It's probably not important.

My new job is still fun but my throat is still sore, and I could do with a whole lot less of that. Still, I've opened up a couple of times and organising the day's plan and stuff is enjoyable. Sweating through my shirt as we frantically sweep up popcorn and rescue discarded packaging from all over the place is less fun, but it's mindless and repetitive and it's actually pretty pleasant to shut off the brain for a bit and just do work.

Speaking of which, I should really give this sleep thing another try. Just lie there and try not to be aware of the fact that for several hours I will be completely unconscious while my mind plays randomly edited together footage of faces I've glimpsed juxtaposed with impossible scenarios, all of which will seem as vividly real as this blog while in this state of being.

Meanwhile my limbs will tense, my organs will slow, and my bones will get slightly heavier.

In short, I'm off to skate perilously close to death but not actually fall into the icy water, because (among other things) I've based several decisions on the assumption that I'll wake into this reality again tomorrow, and it would be a shame if they were all for nothing.

Of course this assumes that this reality is the real one, and I'm not dreaming this one, because while it's an entertaining thought that would require that there exist a reality where what I'm doing is utterly nonsensical.

...he says, signing off at past 3am while half-watching a Senate debate in Australia where a man called Lazarus has just spoken so who knows. It's entirely possible I'm in a dream.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Up again

Today I've had another massive blast of enthusiasm and energy. It's a little unsettling, how it comes and goes, but it's come and I'm making the most of it before it goes.

So I'm writing something for the first council of the year, and it requires some help from legally minded folks and/or people who know people. And people who know economics. Essentially, I need a lot of help crafting something that we can work on for the rest of the year, and it's going to be something that I strongly suspect is going to cause problems.

On the other hand, nothing's ever gained before it's ventured, so here's the plan: let's make the minimum wage in Scotland £9 an hour. Actually, let's make the minimum wage in the entirety of the UK £9. Let's do it everywhere. Let's start reducing the massive, massive difference in wages between the 1% and the 99%. Let's create a whole new middle class.

Now, everyone who studied economics and believes in the free market is frothing violently at the mouth at this point, because traditional economics says that if labour becomes more expensive, demand for it will go down. This is because labour is a lot like bread, and if bread got more expensive we'd all cut down on toast.

Only labour's not really like bread. Companies need labour to work, and to keep working at peak efficiency they need (presumably) the same amount of labour they currently employ. An increase in the cost of this labour will increase the wage cost, which will reduce the company's profits. That's not an awful thing all round, if the company's CEO is earning a multiple that's 350 times the lowest paid wage-earner, but more of a problem if it's a boutique store owned by one person employing two people.

Here's the thing though - if everyone's got more money, everyone spends more money. Low-income earners typically spend far more than they save, and more spending is great for the economy. Especially because it means companies are producing more than ever, and that means they need to take on more staff.

That's not a bad thing.

And what's more important is that paying people such a low wage makes them desperate. It doesn't make them want to work for you - they always have an eye out for another better job, one that pays maybe ten pence more - because ten pence per hour more is three pounds fifty more a week, is fourteen pounds more a month, is one hundred and fifty-eight pounds per year. And that's not very much, but it'll do for now.

If your employees aren't worrying every minute about paying their bills, they're not going to come in even when they're ill. That's got to be better for your company.

If your employees are earning more money from you, then they could well spend it with you. And if they don't, their friends will. Remember, every one of your workers is wealthier now, and they're moving the money around. The more it moves the more wealth it generates. The worst thing to happen to money is being stuck in a bank account; it begs to be spent.

I am under absolutely no illusion that in the short term this is going to be a hard sell, but I'm also fairly certain that it's possible. If it's possible in America, a country far to the right of Scotland, then it absolutely must be possible here.

This is not a call for an overhaul of the system: capitalism is the best way of producing goods, of creating competition, and basically just employing people. But unbounded, unfettered capitalism has resulted in what we have right now: a minority hoovering up the last few crumbs that were allowed to fall from their table.

Let us have capitalism. But the free market is an illusion; there is no magic spell in it. The invisible hand is so invisible as to be immaterial; no, let us have capitalism for the people. Let us have capitalism that works for the advancement of all, not the few.

This campaign will need voices and it will need data. If you'd like to contribute my anonymously telling your story or taking part in a survey, please let me know - you can get hold of me through any of the links on the right.