All posts by death and the penguin

Ro Daniels: Who Are You?

I’ve been writing this blog regularly for a few months now, and an attentive reader has probably built up some kind of picture of the girl behind the keyboard.

For those who don’t take careful notes every time I post anything, I thought I’d try and sum myself up. Give you a bit of context and that. However, as anyone who’s ever tried to write a CV knows, describing yourself in a couple of paragraphs is a pretty colossal task.

Where do you even begin?

Then, in bed last night, I remembered something – an event which, I think, tells you absolutely everything you need to know about Ro Daniels (ie yours truly).

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Artist’s depiction of me.

It was March. I was living with a Russian host family in St Petersburg, and the weather was testing my physical endurance: it was -25 out with wind chill. The streets were slathered in sheet ice; walking to the bus was treacherous; standing outside was suicidal.

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I let myself into the flat, frozen stiff from the two minute walk from the bus stop, draped in piles of clothes, eyeballs feeling more solid than normal. I felt like my legs, covered in a mere two pairs of trousers, had been skinned with a blunt knife.

The flat was mercifully warm and there was a delicious smell coming from the kitchen. My host mum, an angel constantly concerned that I didn’t eat enough, offered me a bowl of soup.

We sat at the kitchen table together, she drinking a cup of coffee, me hunched over my soup so the steam melted my frozen eyebrows. We chatted about the weather, about politics (a delicate topic that I always tried to avoid), about Russian books she thought I should read. I felt perfectly at home, and the soup and conversation warmed my heart and tummy.

Then, I saw it. In the soup. A spider. Quite a big spider, meaty. Legs curled up like a fist. And, dear reader, here comes the part of the story that tells you about me.

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Reader, I ate the spider.

Not only did I eat the spider, I didn’t even think for a second about what I could do to avoid it. Like, I could have politely said, “Zoya, there’s a spider in my soup.” Or I could have just, I don’t know, not eaten the fucking spider. I could’ve left it in the bowl, or delicately picked it out when Zoya, my host mum, was looking at her phone.

No, it never occured to me for a second that there was another option; as soon as I saw the spider I accepted my fate, and my fate was to dine on insects rather than experience a, at the very worst, slightly embarrassing situation.

I hope you feel like you know me better now. I am Ro, eater of spiders.

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– This list will make you uncomfortable

 

  • Stains on library books

 

  • Sitting down on a warm tram seat

 

  • Crusty matter stuck between the tines of a fork

 

  • A tissue that’s gone through the washing machine

 

  • Other people’s feet

 

  • Bird poo

 

  • When people put speech marks instead of apostrophes

 

  • When the landline rings

 

  • Gunk in the plughole

eeeeeeeeeeeeeuuuurrrghhhh

Milestone

To celebrate this, my 100th post on the Bland Blog, I’d like to share a video with you.

This is genuine footage of me going down an escalator.

Footage.

#realjokes

Haiku of the Week

Huge TVs on wheels,

Copying out of textbooks.

Substitute teachers.

Gastropub 20 Pip

The first stop on what is sure to be a long journey to find a pub I can call home was Gastropub 20 Pip, a narrow bar on Náměstí Míru boasting an impressive twenty beers on draught.

The word “gastropub” fills me with terror, as does the idea of having to choose between too many similar-sounding options, but, not having had a single pint in the 24 hours I’d been in Czechia, I swallowed my fear and headed in. After all, being sober in Prague after 6pm is practically a criminal offence.

The bar decor is inspired by typical Czech pubs – green walls, dark paneling and furniture – but updated to make the space bright and airy; plus, though the pub is narrow, it’s set over two levels and giant windows stop the place from feeling as stuffy as archetypal Czech beer halls.

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This beer was acceptably tasty.

It’s probably worth mentioning at this point that my exploration of Czech pubs is as much motivated by a desire to practise my language skills as it by a dependency on alcohol, so I’m keen to avoid places that seem too touristy or where English is spoken more than Czech.

With that in mind, I headed to the bar and attempted to engage in cheerful banter with the bartender.

In her defence, she humoured me as much as she could: when it was obvious from my accented Czech that I was a foreigner, she asked if I’d rather speak English. I clumsily declined, saying I needed to work on my Czech, and, to her credit, she continued to deal with me in Czech, despite the fact that she clearly spoke my language better than I spoke hers.

She also helped me navigate the frankly excessively long menu, picking out a couple of dark beers she recommended and giving me a taste of each. Once I’d paid, I felt too awkward to sit at the tiny bar so I took my pint upstairs and sat down by the window to mull things over.

The beer itself, Albrecht-Marion, a 5.9% ABV Irish Stout, was decent. I’d describe it as “fine” or “alright.”

The setup of tables was definitely more gastro- than -pub, and, perhaps for this reason, there wasn’t a great sense of camaraderie in the bar; it definitely wasn’t the sort of place you’d strike up a conversation with your neighbour.

As you might have noticed, I’m quite firmly set against the concept of gastropubs. It’s not that I think they should be wiped from the face of the earth; I just find the idea of them a little troublesome. I like my pubs to be beer-focused, maybe with some light snacks thrown in as an afterthought. Introducing cutlery into the mix doesn’t help anyone.

Overall, whilst I left 20 Pip feeling that I’d found a slightly-better-than-average place to take visiting relatives, I knew in my bones that this first pub in my Prague Saga was decidedly not a place I could call my own. Impressive beer mat collection aside, it was actually pretty nondescript – it felt pretty mainstream, offensively inoffensive, and definitely not a local.

I award Gastropub 20 Pip two sodden beer mats and a fork with crusty bits on the tines.

The hunt continues…

Another Cautionary Tale

This story takes place in Blinders, a bar in St Petersburg that I wrote an incredibly soppy blog about yesterday.

The month was April; the canals had just thawed and I had swapped my thick winter jacket for my very slightly thinner spring fleece. I was, predictably, in the pub, tasting the newest pint they had on draught. It was called Raskolnikov, and it was the second best beer I’d ever tasted.

“Oof,” I said.

I was keen to make conversation with Lyosha, the barman, and to practise my Russian, so I wasn’t content to leave it at that. “That’s really nice.” I realised I could stretch my Russian a little further, so I added, “That’s very tasty.”

“Yeah,” he said. He and I were the only people in the bar. I fiddled with my receipt and started folding a crane. Lyosha rearranged some glasses.

“It really is very… nice,” I said, failing to think of a third synonym. I decided to draw on this native Russian’s experience: “Lyosha,” I said, “what do you call it when something is, really, just very, very tasty?”

“Oh,” he said, “we can say it’s ахуенно [akh-oo-yen-a]. If it’s really good.”

“Cool!” I said. “Well, this beer is ахуенно!”

Lyosha laughed heartily; I was thrilled: making Russians laugh was a personal goal of mine, and not one that I achieved that often – with the exception of at my expense, when my accent crossed the line from bad to egregious. Another customer came in; they spoke in Russian too quickly for me to understand, but soon after a friend joined me and we got to talking.

“How’s the beer?” he asked.

“Ахуенно!”

I kept describing my pint as such, and my enthusiasm was met by smiles every time. This is a great word, I thought to myself. People love it.

I went to university in high spirits the next day: yesterday had been so unexpectedly full of smiles and people asking how much I liked my beer that my spirits were soaring. My teacher, seeing my uncharacteristically bright expression, asked me how my evening was. I was keen to use this fabulous word, to replicate the great reception it’d received the night before.

I replied cheerily, “Well, it was simply ахуенно!”

My teacher’s face dropped. “…Rosie,” she said, “where did you hear that word?”

“In a bar,” I replied, bemused. This wasn’t the response I was used to.

“Rosie, please, don’t talk that way,” she said.

Later, in Blinders, I told Lyosha what had happened, tone full of confusion and wide-eyed with innocence. He burst out laughing, called his friend over and had me repeat the story.

“You told me it meant good!!” I said, watching both men wipe tears from their eyes.

“It does,” he said, “but it’s not the kind of thing you say to your teacher.”

[After careful etymological study, my friends and I have concluded that the closest English translation to ахуенно is the rather charming cuntastic. Remembering saying that to my seventy year old Russian teacher will stay with me to my death bed.]

From that moment until the day I left Russia in June, Lyosha introduced me to friends, and, indeed, strangers, as the girl who said ахуенно to her teacher. The story was met with singular hilarity and disbelief.

Anyway, this is a cautionary tale to anyone who, like me, is stupid enough not to attach context to the words you learn in bars.

Have an ахуенный day, dear readers!

Other Ways To End Emails

Use with caution.

 

  • Unkind regards,

 

  • [Sent from my Nintendo 3DS]

 

  • Good luck with that,

 

  • Forever yours,

 

  • Humbly,

 

  • Yours frankly, (after a brutal message)

 

  • Don’t feel pressured to stay in touch,

 

  • Not yours,

 

  • All’s well that ends well,

 

  • Stay distant,

Rosie

The Hunt for a Local

– or: Why It’s Legitimate For Me to Spend 20% of My Money on Beer –

All the photos in this post (and, indeed, most of my other posts) were taken by the very talented TestExplosion.

Recently (read: four days ago) I moved to Prague. Typically disorganised and, if I do say so, almost wilfully scatty, I’d not sorted a job or a place to live before I flew out; the only foreplanning I’d done involved booking a mildly well-reviewed hostel for a week and spending hours getting the font on my CV just right.

As you can imagine, the lack of forethought, combined with my frankly mizerný grasp of the Czech language, as well as general heartbreak about leaving St Petersburg, has left me feeling pretty tiny in a big world. Add to that a less than ideal hostel situation and incredibly hot weather (which, as we all know, makes me grumpy), and you’ve got a Ro feeling like the last Smartie in the tube of Smarties.

What I need is a home away from home. A local.

Thanks to incredibly good fortune and a friend well into craft beer and places where you can smoke indoors, my local in St Petersburg was, and I don’t want to overstate this, heaven on earth. After four months of regular visits and God knows how many roubles, Blinders Bottleshop really did feel like a second home.

Honestly, it felt like my first home, with my actual bedroom taking second place and the café that made incredible pasta a close third.

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World’s drunkest family portrait

We were on ты terms with the barmen (read: tu, tú, ty, Du), they let us stay way past closing, didn’t complain when we (read: I) left origami cranes all over the bar. At a certain point, they told us that if we ever wanted to drink before opening, we should just knock on the shutters until someone let us in.

My happiest memories of St Petersburg, almost without exception, happened in that small, dark, slightly cramped and beer-smelling room. A great deal of my Russian language skills are thanks to the exposure to authentic (and, sometimes, extremely colourful) Russian I got chatting to locals and visitors.

What makes it all the more spectacular is how welcome we foreign students felt in Blinders – and, as a group, we couldn’t be more foreign: gay, black, pink hair… In a lot of parts of Petersburg, we were singularly out of place; but at Blinders we were accepted and welcomed. Honestly, I tear up thinking about it.

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And that’s what I want here, too. A place where misfits of all descriptions can go, enjoy an incredible pint, and talk for hours about absolutely nothing.

It’s a tall order, sure. I’m searching for somewhere to rival my favourite place on earth but, by God, I swear I’ll find somewhere, even if I have to try every pub in Prague…

Music in the Year 2079

Photo by Chris LeBoutillier on Pexels.com
Artist’s depiction of a boat and some chimneys

It’s the year 2079. The sun, filtered through sheets of atmospheric pollution, is a purple orb in a sky full of drones of all sizes. Politicians are debating automatron labour laws in a fully holographic House of Commons; the House of Lords, stubbornly refusing to keep up with technological as well as social advancements, remains anachronistically analogue. Following a democratic process previously unseen in the animal kingdom, owls have voted to adopt a diurnal lifestyle, a choice which has serious and far-reaching consequences too complicated to go into in this blog. You, reading this, have only just got round to clearing out that drawer.

Music is just as important to our grandoffspring as it is to us – on the newly built Waterloo & Upper Atmosphere line, it’s rare to see a single commuter without headphones in (or, to be more precise, without inner ear audio implants switched on). Let’s explore the world of 2079-era music together.

Hacks will tell you that the music of the future will be IDM-style, coding-based sequences of beeps and bloops, that music students will turn in their assessed compositions in the form of sheets and sheets of binary. Not to be rude, or to denigrate my fine comrades-in-arms dedicated to the art of clairvoyance, but that’s filthy lie and I will not stand for it any longer.

Photo by Sabrina Gelbart on Pexels.com
“Bleep bloop, what a banger,” said no one ever.

I’m here to tell you (and, believe me, I’ve looked at the data) that, far from synths, it’ll be the bassoon that rules the roost in the year 2079. That’s right, the humble bassoon, in the present day constrained to medieval reenactments and post-ironic bands, is gonna make a comeback in a big way.

Sure, as our society becomes more and more dependent on technology and coding replaces English on the GCSE syllabus, it might be tempting to imagine that music will follow suit. Yet life does so rarely follow such predictable trends. I’m here to tell you, with as much certainty as anyone could possibly have on the subject, that bassoons will be all the rage in 2079.

Bassoon covers of ’00s hits will hit the market in 2074, and before you know it, bassoonists from Upper Perthshire to Greater St Agnes will be jamming to ‘Sexy Back’. Indeed, the most talented bassoon masters will be hailed as this generation’s greatest artists, their names etched into plaques and hung on disused post boxes in their hometowns.

You know how the sexiest boy in your geography class at school used to play ‘Wonderwall’ on his imitation Fender in the corner at every party? In 2079 nothing will have changed – except it’ll be Shania Twain’s ‘That Don’t Impress Me Much’ instead of the Gallaghers and he’ll be tooting not strumming on your heartstrings.

On the other hand, and this might surprise you, visual arts will go the robotic route. Paintings of the most attractive canning machines and drone mechanisms will be rendered in 1s and 0s and hung in the National Portrait Gallery.

It’s a funny old world.

Haiku of the Week

Supposedly full

of antioxidants, miss

me with that green tea.