Bland Stuff

Ocean

I generally try and avoid infecting my blog with my pretentious and derivative taste in poetry – I prefer to keep bland-blog.com pure satire-cum-thoughtsaboutpigeons – but I’ve had this in my head for a few days now, and I think it’s lovely.

Ocean. Ocean, 
get up. The most beautiful part of your body 
is where it’s headed. & remember, 
loneliness is still time spent 
with the world. Here’s 
the room with everyone in it. 
Your dead friends passing 
through you like wind 
through a wind chime. 

Ocean Vuong

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Bland Stuff

A Debate

Reasons to knitReasons to knot
– Creative hobbies are good for the soul
– Being in touch with wool (& synthetic substitutes) is character building
– Fluff
– Repetitive action is calming
– The capacity to make socks
will make you an invaluable member of any tribe should the apocalypse come  
– The courage to take pointy things on aeroplanes is enviable
– Good excuse to watch TV a lot
– Finally a hobby that doesn’t involve letters*
– You probably come from a long line of knitters
– You are bad at it
– Family and friends do not always appreciate being given itchy accessories
– Fluff
– Wool (& synthetic substitutes) are surprisingly spenny
– Outcome can be terrifying**
– Effectively a waste of time and sheep resources
– Bamboo or metal needles????
– Not a big fan of silent ‘k’s

*My other hobbies are blogging, learning languages, and competitive Scrabble.

**This idea is based on the true story of when I knitted my niece a teddy and was forbidden from giving it to her because it was so nightmarish

Bland Stuff

TOP THINGS I’VE SEEN PIGEONS DOING

Although they’ve been called rats of the sky and dusty disaster doves, pigeons have a special place in my heart. I love the way that they, like the humble canal, represent a marriage of urban and natural elements – they’re creatures and they poo outside (which, despite my friends’ protests, is certainly natural), but they also live in concrete and eat KFC – decidedly urban pursuits.

In my long career of Looking at Pigeons, I’ve spotted them doing some pretty funky shit. Here are my favourites:

  • Washing their bottoms in Chap Fountain
  • Fighting on the windowsill
  • Browsing at a farmers’ market
  • Sitting in the elephant enclosure at Chester Zoo
  • Hopping on one leg
  • Sitting next to the elephant enclosure at Chester Zoo, seemingly watching the elephants
  • Standing next to other birds eg ducks, flamingoes etc
  • Scaring me (on purpose?)

Never change, pigeons.

Bland Stuff

In Defence of Being a Terrible Cook

I’m a bad cook, and that’s an understatement. Everything I cook turns out monstrous. Not like, my soup is bland, but more like – my soup has three eyes and it’s out to get you. I can barely boil an egg without birthing a godforsaken creature hell-bent on destroying civilisation – and one of the greatest things about no longer cooking meat is that my recent Frankensteins have had a little less punch than the ones made out of actual flesh.

I have a beautiful flat equipped a mighty fridge, a kitchen island so big it’s practically a peninsula, and a gas oven – but I carefully schedule my visitors to arrive between mealtimes.

“Sure,” I say, “Let’s hang out. I’m free from 2pm until 6.30.” Like a humanist vampire, I go to great lengths to save innocent people from myself.

That said, being almost unable to nourish yourself isn’t all bad. Take, for example, the following significant benefits.

  • It’s healthier.

Because if everything I eat is going to taste shit, it might as well be rich in iron.

  • You save money.

“But Rosie,” I hear you protest, “surely being unable to eat at home means you spend  more money on food out!”

Ah, my naive friend, you are forgetting one important point: I am incredibly cheap. Eating out often, whilst delightful and nutritious, goes against the very fabric of my being. Each forkful of restaurant food, no matter how delicious, would taste of the same thing: money I could’ve spent on beer.

As it is, my terrible, awful, no-good food helps me save money for two reasons. Firstly, I only ever have to provide food for one person, because no one who’s seen the slop on my dinner plate would ever willingly sit at my table. No matter how much a person loves me, they will stop at poisoning themselves to make me happy. Moreover, people who love me, whilst stopping short of ingesting my food, occasionally take pity on me and bring me real sustenance: breads, hearty soups, fishless sushi. That kind of thing.

  • It’s character building.

Because nothing strengthens the resolve like staring down six litres of just edible tofu casserole. 

beanbag chair

Simple joys

I’d been struggling to see the sunshine in life, but for the last few days I’ve felt glorious: positive, full of life, and with a healthy appetite for fun (and, also, for food).

It’s one of the unfortunate truths in life that the principles of mindfulness are much easier to follow when you’re feeling good than they are when you’re down – when you really need them. I’m writing this list of stuff I enjoy, partially because (as you, dear reader, already know) I’m an actual saint, and partially because I think having a public, concrete reminder of them will help me out next time I need an injection of sunshine.

Anyway, here’s some blessed stuff.


Doing your weekly shop

Maybe I just don’t get out enough, but the rush I get from doing my food shop is exhilarating. I love food, I like cooking, and I enjoy fluorescent lights. A trip to my local Albert is a joy and a pleasure.


Noticing creatures

Most commonly, dogs and squirrels. Given the season, most other creatures have hibernated or emigrated, but the other day I did see a hedgehog (the gentleman pictured is for illustrative purposes only) and once, when I was living in Petersburg, I saw a woman holding a ferret. 

Seeing animals brings me great joy. I think because I’m so happy I get to wear clothes and live in a house.


Leaves

Truly, the feathers of trees.

Prague is an exceptionally leafy city, and I think this, along with the beer (of course), contributes to a generally high standard of living.


Treating yourself

This one is tricky because the way I take care of myself is usually based on food and/or spending loads of money. I’m concerned about my waistline and my wallet, so I’m trying to find pleasure in free stuff, like walking the long way home or going to bed a little bit earlier.


Listening to new music

I’m a particular fan of music that people I love have recommended.


Throwing stuff away

No one needs that many clothes!


Car boot sales

Now you’ve got rid of all that shit, you need more shit.


Abandoned buildings


Learning new words

Not just fun foreign words, but also English words, like ossicle or pellicule.


Wearing mismatched clothes

One of my favourite games is, “How many colours can I fit on my body?” and it’s a game I play every damn day.

and, last but not least,

Getting a tattoo

My parents might not love it, but it really does rejuvenate you to get something you love on your skin forever.

Bland Stuff · Gripes

Pros and Cons of Morning Shifts: a Discussion

I’m not a morning person. Like, not at all. It takes me four alarms and two coffees to get going, and even then I’m bleary-eyed and croaky-voiced. I had to turn down a ludicrously well-paid job as a breakfast waitress because I knew I wouldn’t be able to hack the early starts – there was no way I’d be turning up to that job appropriately bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Honestly, I also reject any kind of job which requires me to wear black and white, especially since the shoes I’d panic bought for the interview were a little too small and shredded my feet like a cheese grater.

Illustrative picture of breakfast

I just don’t flourish in those kinds of conditions.

Then again, I’m not too sore about it: there’s something I mistrust about people who can function normally at 5am, and if they start claiming it’s the best time of the day, I actively avoid them and their seditious lies. Let’s be honest: no one likes that one person who rocks up to a 9am lecture looking like bluebirds made their bed. Have some decency and look how we feel – like you left most of your brain on your pillow.

That said, I’m not really a night owl either. Come 9 o’clock, I’ll either be settling in to my knitting (on a particularly active day) or snuggling into my pillows (if I missed my traditional 2 o’clock nap). 

Maybe it comes from my constant compulsion to complain about everything, or maybe there really is something wrong with my circadian cycles, but I do seem to spend 80% of the hours I’m awake wishing I weren’t. I’m beginning to realise that I’m neither a night person nor a morning person; in fact, sometimes I doubt that I’m a person at all.

Illustrative workplace photo

The day before yesterday was a special day for me: it was my last shift at what I consider my first “proper” job – I was working as a receptionist in one of Prague’s largest hostels. The job was largely composed of telling people where the lift was, explaining that we use crowns not euros, and directing people to the nearest, largest seller of cheap Pilsner. (Hint: in Prague, the nearest, largest, cheapest pub is always very near, large, and cheap.)

After a childhood and adolescence full of carefree frolicking and pointless study, the realities of having to “get up” and “do things” hit me pretty hard. That said, despite what I consider a congenital allergy to productivity, I like to think I overcame my natural barriers and came to be a valued and useful receptionist. I don’t normally toot my own trumpet, preferring others to toot it for me, but I think that towards the end of my tenure I became a decent receptionist, particularly if the alternative was No Receptionist.

My last shift was also one of the first morning shifts I’d ever done, and it was quite a departure from my typical afternoon shift. My normal working day at Plus Prague Hotel & Hostel ran from three in the afternoon until eleven at night, although my general idiocy usually meant I was still trying to balance my till at midnight. You can imagine, then, the sheer pain I went through to get myself to work eight hours earlier than usual. It was an upsetting and deeply disorientating experience.

On the other hand, I will say this for morning shifts: you finish early. I was shocked and delighted to ride the tram home in the light. It was a revelation to get back to my neighbourhood before all the shops closed. Imagine – I could buy bread! I could get food that wasn’t from the 24 hour Mexican with its nightmarish mixture of coriander and gloopy salsa.

In order to collect my thoughts about the whole experience, I’ve decided to compile a +/- list.

Plus Prague Hotel and Hostel morning shift – plusesPlus Prague Hotel and Hostel morning shift – minuses
– Looking at the people on the tram at 6am
– Frost on the window of the tram
– Breakfast (free)
– Finished work at 3pm
– Relaxed shift, so managed to read a chapter of my book
– No need to call the police
– Got to speak Russian 
– Got to speak French
-Being reminded that mornings exist
– Tram was cold
-Breakfast (not that nice)
-Tired, so went to bed at 8pm
-Favourite character died
– Did have to reset the fire alarm
– Got addressed as ‘girl’, as in, “Tell me, girl, how do I get to the centre?”
– Spoke French very badly (namely, with regards to the subjunctive)

Overall, then, a mixed bag. Farewell Plus Prague Hotel and Hostel, I hardly knew ye – that’s why I always sent people to the wrong rooms.

advice · Bland Stuff

Teaching Pronunciation

As those of you who obsessively note down details about me will know, I’m living in Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, at the moment. In order to make money and fill my days, I’m splitting my time between teaching English, working on a reception, translating, and (this is what eats up the most hours but brings in the least $) Sitting and Looking at Walls.

(Sometimes I wonder whether I publish too many personal details about myself on the Internet, but then I remember that a) most of my readers are related to me and b) no one cares.) 

(this is where I live)
Possibly not Prague’s most famous sight, but my favourite.

Whilst all of my different occupations are challenging in their own way, teaching English is certainly the hardest. For one thing, I never realised how much I rely on idiom and cultural reference to get my point across; for another, although I consider myself relatively fluent in English, being considered an expert on it is a bit of a stretch. Here’s an example: I just spent a few minutes saying 

“Expert on English? Expert in English?”

out loud, trying to decide which one sounded more natural. 

(Eventually, frustrated and exhausted, I googled it. According to a site called Learner’s Dictionary, they’re interchangeable, so all that vacillation was time well spent.)

To give you an example of my dubious English expertise, let me tell you about an advanced class I taught last week: we were talking about spelling, and we did a spelling test with some of those bastardish English words. The words were played on an audio track, so I decided to throw my hat into the ring and try my hand at spelling alongside the students. The results were… not ideal.

delicious and nutritious, but hard to spell

OK, I did do better than anyone in the class, but I didn’t get them all right. And, like, I’m a teacher. An English teacher.

But I digress.

Even though I do think I’m not the sharpest tutor in the mixed metaphor about tutors, I will say this for myself: I try really hard. As I would say to my mother, “I’m really trying.” And as she would hilariously reply, “Yes, you are very trying.”

One of the things I find most rewarding is when I bring something to classes that I think most other teachers wouldn’t have thought of – when I spice up the classroom with a little of my signature blandness, as it were. 

Here’s an example: last week my advanced classes were looking at San Junipero, the episode of Black Mirror. The episode (spoilers ahead) deals heavily with the topic of euthanasia, a term I assumed my students wouldn’t know because I myself didn’t learn it until I was in Sixth Form, and it’s not usually included in language syllabuses. 

To my surprise, however, the meaning of the word didn’t bother anyone: it turns out that the Czech translation is a cognate, both words having come from the same root.

What did flummox my students, though, was the pronunciation. After all, it doesn’t really sound a lot like it looks.

Then I remembered: youth in Asia.

but… mainly young people in Asia?

Thanks, Ali G. Just another victory for Sacha Baron Cohen.

future

Memories in the Year 2079

Gif of me in Sixth Form #goodtimes

brass bell

The year is 2079. All church bells have been replaced with loudspeakers playing the Nokia ringtone. Forty per cent of all human interaction is carried out through shimmering holographic mirror-type things. Mascots at football games are now completely automated. #MeToo is still trending: it turns out perverts exist in the future too. The Queen, despite controversy, still insists on being aboard the first manned mission to Venus – she’ll be launched into the cosmos just as soon as scientists can invent a space suit big enough to accommodate her tiara.

Even today, nostalgia is a big part of popular culture: how else do you explain my generation’s fascination with bow ties and vinyls? Everyone loves thinking about the good old days, even if the days in question were a) long gone before we were even born and b) actually not that good. (I’m all for a nineties’ revival, as long as we limit it to fashion and not, say, presidential perjury and whatever the deal with OJ Simpson was. (Sorry, guys, I was born in ’96. The nineties are pretty much outside of my cultural consciousness.)) With that in mind, just imagine how much more nostalgic our great great great great great grandniblings will be. After all, they’ll have, like, sixty one extra years to look back on.

However, just as I reject my parents’ style of reminiscing (looking through the eight billion pics on the family PC), so too will our descendents dismiss our beloved custom of Throwback Thursday.

Instead, the youth of tomorrow will rely on microchips to store their most treasured memories. These chips will be swapped round a parties, and the memories stored on them will be delivered in such an immersive way that no one will be completely sure whether they’re remembering something they’ve really experienced, or just something their mate has uploaded.

For this reason, the concept of privacy, already thrown into doubt by eg Zuckerberg and the NSA, will be obsolete.

 

beanbag chair

Things You Can Only See When You Slow Down

– or –

On a more serious note

246919014_416118

I started this blog about a year ago, largely out of kindness to my loved ones, who’d been the only outlet for my terrible humour for far too long. Inflicting myself on the general public instead, while bad for society as a whole, seemed like the best way to keep my relationships with my friends and family intact.

 

img-20170827-wa0015
Just some of the people liberated from my sense of humour by this blog

 

A lot’s happened since then – I went on my year abroad, spent time in Brno and Petersburg, decided to take a year out from uni, and moved to Prague to find my fortune (update: as yet, unfound).

20180920_154646
Jerry the cat digging my yellow top

Geography aside, it’s been a big year for my personal growth: I got a couple of tattoos, discovered beer and techno music, fell in love a bunch of times, came out as bi, and stopped wearing natural colours.

This year, whilst dramatic and at times frightening, and – especially in the last few months – not without its low moments, has been by far the best of my life. Even the rough moments have been mitigated by more long-lasting wellbeing and contentment than I can remember having.

I’ve never talked about serious stuff on this blog, partially because I wanted to try my hand at being genuinely funny and partially because I know that the readership is largely made up of people who know me personally – and that makes it weird. Lately, though, I’ve been really craving a platform for more well-rounded self-expression – I suppose that’s why I’ve not posted anything for so many months: because I really haven’t been feeling all that funny.

blue moon

I’m trying to keep moving forwards in terms of mental wellbeing, and I feel like this could be a good forum to work through some stuff. In particular, I’m spectacularly bad at remembering techniques to lift my mood, even the ones that’ve helped me before.

The title of this post, and the page where I’m going to post links to mental health/mindfulness blogs, comes from a book by the Korean monk and professor Haemin Sunim.

cover

The book is a compilation of Sunim’s thoughts about modern life and advice he’s given on social media, at mindfulness events, and to his university students.

It’s a lovely book, both because of the written content and the beautiful illustrations that accompany it. One of the things that stuck with me so strongly was the idea that our mindset shapes the way we see the world – that’s why, when you’re feeling rushed, the whole world seems to move and breakneck speed, but when you’re relaxed, everything is much more chill.

There were times in Sixth Form when I did genuinely feel like the world was a grim and unforgiving place. I’m sure that objectively good things must have happened to me then, but all I remember are the bad marks or dirty looks, or the day the canteen ran out of coffee.

It works the other way, too: I particularly remember a couple of times in St Petersburg when I arrived at the stop at the same time as the bus did, or got to the crossing just as the green man appeared, I thought to myself, with a warm feeling, “That’s just how my life is at the moment.” Even though I surely had as many experiences with unlucky timing as I did with perfect timing, I only really noticed when things went perfectly – I guess because everything else was going so well, it was easy to perceive of the world as a pattern designed to make me comfortable.

I’d been introduced to the concept of mindfulness before, by teachers at sixth form and counsellors/therapists, but the concept never seemed particularly powerful to me, and, honestly, I never put a lot of stock in it.

Even that idea which I found so powerful, that one’s mindset dictates the filter through which we perceive everything, would’ve seemed insensitive and reductive to me. What you’re saying, I’d have thought, is that the world seems depressing because I’m depressed.

That’s one of the frustrating things about mindfulness: it’s so simple that when you’re in crisis, it just sounds like platitudes. Once the world starts to brighten a bit, then you can take more active steps that’ll help you out.

pink sun

Maybe that’s why Sunim’s book appeals to me now – because you can’t employ mindfulness techniques when you’re at your worst, but when you’re somewhere a little better, you can be more open to them. Nowadays, even when I’m in a pretty bad place, a combination of medication and perspective helps me recognise that it’s not a permanent state. butterflu

That said, a big reason why I enjoyed this book so much is the way I got it. A couple of weeks ago, I was visited in Prague by a close friend of mine. Oll’s visit was preceded by the roughest time I’ve had for a while – I’d been feeling self-destructive in a way I hadn’t for a while. Oliver and I met in St Petersburg, when we were on our semester abroad there, and after that he’d returned to uni in St Andrews whilst I’d moved to Prague on leave from my university studies.

Knowing I was going through a tricky spell (I’m aware I use a bouquet of euphemisms to refer to depressive periods, but the real words are too scary), Ollie’d brought me, along with his infectious joie de vivre, a gift of five books individually wrapped in yellow paper.

“Unwrap them when you’re feeling good,” he said, “and then you can have them to look forward to.”

He gave me a sixth book, which was unwrapped. This one wasn’t from him, but from a friend of his, Rachel. Although Rachel and I’d never actually met face to face, nor, at that time, even texted each other, I felt like I knew her from what Oll had told me – she featured in a lot of his stories, either as a regular at his coffee shop, another person dancing at the raves he and his friends organised in St Andrews pubs, or, most often, as a good mate to have a pint with.

It turned out the feeling of knowing each other through Oliver was mutual. Rachel had gone to the bookshop with him when he went to buy my gifts, and she’d got me one too. I was honestly shocked by the gesture – even before I’d taken the book out of the bag, I was composing thank you notes and plotting ways to by her a pint.

The book she’d bought was, you guessed it, Things You Can Only See When You Slow Down. (After all that build up, it would’ve been really weird to reveal that she’d got me a Mr. Man).

Still overwhelmed by the generosity of a person who was, technically, a stranger, I opened the book where it had been marked with a sticker:

 

you are neither your feelings

Remember that you are neither your feelings nor the story your mind tells about you to make sense of them. You are the vast silence that knows of their emergence and their disappearance.

Rachel didn’t just get me the book: she marked specific passages she thought I’d find helpful. Honestly, I’m still disbelieving of how kind that is. Like – this girl has never met me, at all.

Despite Sunim’s suggestion to read his book slowly, with many pauses, I ate the whole thing in one night as Oll worked on his philosophy essay. There are parts of it, perhaps because I’m still struggling significantly with my mood, that I simply couldn’t understand; but the whole thing was written in this singular tone of calmness. I felt soothed by Sunim’s tranquil words, and Rachel’s generosity.

I know it’s a book I’m going to revisit multiple times over my life – I’ve already reread it once – and I wanted to share it, and the, frankly, remarkable story of how I got it, with you.

When life disappoints, rest a while.

 

Bland Stuff

Reasons I’ve Got Coffee in My Shoes

There are a lot of unexplained mysteries in the world: the Bermuda Triangle, crop circles, tofu, and the Mary Celeste, to name but a few. Sure, everyone’s got their own pet theories – and some confident souls clutching scientific equations, previously undiscovered historical documents, or curds made from coagulated soy milk might insist they’ve stumbled across the answer – but we’re still all basically in the dark about these intriguing enigmas.

Not that anyone minds too much: there’s something delightful about an enigma. It’s just human nature to be drawn in by riddles – how else can you explain the popularity of murder mystery parties, or those shit jokes in Christmas crackers?

silhouette of a man during sunset
This is a stock photo I found by searching for “mystery”

To add to the expected head-scratchers, something both mysterious and inexplicable happened to me when I got home from work yesterday.

Let me set the scene: it was half past eleven, GMT+1. It was a crisp night, and I’d just navigated my way across a Prague heaving with the usual Saturday night crowd (ie mostly stag and hen does intoxicated by a mixture of a excitement, b cheap beer, c cheap absinthe, and d a little bit more beer). I was exhausted from a dramatic and challenging shift at the hostel.

20180911_175528
This is the only picture of myself at work I have. Note the impressive 8.3 rating.

(The boiler had broken down and, as the closest thing to a Czech speaker on shift at the time, I’d been dispatched to the heating room to be remotely guided through the resetting process by the maintenance guy. (Phone conversations are so stressful that it took me a good five minutes to understand he was telling me to push the giant red button.) Also, a group of lads had been caught smoking out the window, and I’d accidentally given someone $50 worth of change rather than 50€ (ie grossly shortchanging them). But I digress.)

I got home, so exhausted from boiler/currency exchange drama that I could barely find the strength to put the kettle on. Little did I know that I was wearing this generation’s Loch Ness Monster on my feet (in terms of mysteriousness, not smell and/or plausible imaginariness); and yet – when I took my shoes off, there it was: a whole bunch of ground coffee.

How can I be sure it was coffee grounds and not, say, dirt or generic brown dust? Because, thanks, I think, to my extreme tiredness, I didn’t hesitate to smell the mysterious stuff, and recognised the aroma of everyone’s favourite socially acceptable addictive substance.

What the actual (sorry, Mum) fuck? Sure, I drink a lot of coffee and I’m pretty clumsy, but I’ve never spilt a drink so badly that it’s ended up in powder form in my shoe. This was something else.

Invigorated by the mystery (and, maybe, by the delayed effect of caffeine entering my bloodstream via the ankle), I fixed myself a steaming mug of Horlicks, installed myself at the kitchen table and, equipped with pencil and extra large receipt, made the following list of theories.

Perhaps I

  • jostled someone transporting stolen coffee on the metro;
  • fell victim to a good-natured prank at work;
  • developed the ability to secrete coffee powder through the heel;
  • unknowingly walked through a coffee spillage somewhere between the tram stop and my home;
  • was on the receiving end of the mild revenge of the customer I short-changed;
  • unknowingly had my shoe stolen by some looters to use as a receptacle for their liberated coffee – on completing the job, they returned the shoe, plus some spare grounds, to my flat via the cat flap;
  • fell victim to a mean-spirited prank at work;
  • or, and this is a long shot, spilt coffee grounds when I was making a coffee this morning.

We’ll never know what really happened, of course. Surely heads will be scratched over this particular mystery for years to come.