Introducing an Exciting New Button in the Menu Bar!

If you read my blogs on the WordPress reader or subscribe to my endless emails, you won’t be aware how much effort I put into making my website (click here) look as swanky as possible. Sure, I’m not saying that the hours I spend clicking on slightly different shades of orange ever convert into user enjoyment, but at least it keeps me busy.

If you’re one of the few people who visits the real site, you’ll know that the menu bar is a veritable litany of titillating headings: About, Little Tragedies, The Year 2079… A well-placed click up there will take you deep into the archives of the bland blog, articles organised by theme for your convenience.

Well, today a new addition has made its way onto that lofty list: Prague Pubs.

Whilst this category probably needs no more explanation than I’m in Prague and I like a good pub, stay tuned for a long, emotional spiel about why I think pubs are so important and, indeed, integral to the foundation of a happy life.

I’m British and I live in Czechia; appreciation of a good pub is in my bones.

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Haiku of the Week

Anagrams and sums,

Dictionary innuendo.

Fucking love Countdown.

How to Stay Healthy When You Don’t Have Regular Access to Fresh Vegetables

-or:-

My First Three Months in Russia: a Culinary Journey

I just got home from the second leg of my year abroad, an invigorating semester-long stint in St Petersburg. Whilst I can honestly say the past four months have been the best of my life, winter in Russia wasn’t without its challenges – for example, the problem of not being able to go outside without feeling like your skin was being peeled off. I also spent a decent amount of time weighing up whether my eyeballs would ice over before the bus finally turned up.

Russia’s not exactly considered a culinary capital – and for good reason. In a place where the ground is frozen solid four months out of the year, access to fresh food is patchy at best and laughable at worst. There were times, in deepest March, when I would Google pictures of salad Niçoise to remind myself that green, leafy stuff did still exist. I still remember the first time I walked into a Dixies, the ubiquitous discount supermarket, and wondered why someone had left so many festering snakes where the courgettes should have been.

Consequently, not wishing to succumb to rickets like so many of my peers, I had to develop a few new habits. Every day is a learning day, as my French teacher used to say, and in Russia I had 125 days to learn how to photosynthesise for nutrition like an aspidistra.

Vitamin supplements

bunch of white oval medication tablets and white medication capsules
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

This might seem obvious. If your diet isn’t providing you with enough of those oh-so-crucial letters, shop-bought alternatives can give your immune system a boost.

The one problem with this logical, well-thought-out scheme is that it didn’t occur to me until the 11th of June, exactly four days before I was due to return to Europe, land of plentiful vegetables. At that point it seemed like putting myself through a potentially harrowing experience – trying to negotiate a handover of Vitamin C at an аптека – would be needlessly degrading.

All in all, I have only two regrets about my stay in Petersburg: not getting my hands on industrially-produced wellbeing sooner, and cheerfully repeating swear words I’d heard in bars to my scandalised teachers.

 

Avoid Instagram

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Your friends are your enemies. Their over-edited pictures of a Thai raw salad will poison you with jealousy.

Lie in the sun

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Photo by Marek Levak on Pexels.com

I wasn’t in Russia long enough for this to pay off, but I’m pretty sure photosynthesis is 80% persistence. What I’m saying is that I reckon if you lie in the grass long enough you’ll start converting sunlight into food. I’m not a scientist, though, so proceed with caution.

Столовая, столовая, столовая

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Photo by Negative Space on Pexels.com

Those runes are the Russian word for dining room. Cities and towns across Russia are full of these – the format is pretty much the same as school canteens, with dinner ladies, sneeze guards, and certain disappointment if you arrive after the lunch rush. The main difference between a столовая and the refectory at my secondary school is that the former requires slightly more apologetic pointing and a lot more unrecognisable dishes.

It’s not fine dining, sure, but there aren’t many other places you can go fill your tummy for under 200 roubles (~£2). What’s more, whilst you may not always love what you’re eating, a столовая is bound to have, as well as the obligatory buckwheat and cutlet, some vegetable dishes on offer – most commonly, vinaigrette, Greek salad, and a bunch of different kinds of coleslaw.

Plus, if you happen to be able to find, as I did, a vegetarian столовая, your vegetable intake is bound to increase tenfold. I lost a lot of weight when I first came to Petersburg (mostly through shivering and mistrusting meat products) but when I found Samadeva, the so-called philosophical cafe on Kazanskaya, I gained it all back and then some. When it’s -25° out, you really can’t beat a plate of beans, spinach and mash.

Tinned peas are your friend

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Tinned peas never look this good.

Up to now, you thought tin peas were what children were given as a punishment. These days you see them as the heroes they are.

The most dismal meal I ever made was half a tin of peas, boiled in their own juice, with one potato thrown in for bulk. I had no other food in and, looking outside, I knew I would perish before I reached the nearest supermarket, so I made do, hunkering over my ersatz soup and wishing I’d chosen a degree that would’ve meant me spending summers in France.

Redefine your conception of fruit

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Last resort, OK, but if you really, really concentrate and try very hard, you can just about trick yourself into believing that green tea counts as one of your five-a-day.

If you’re dedicated enough, you can convince yourself that beer counts too.

Haiku of the Week

Thanks for your letter,

Sent through the post, to confirm

I’ve gone paperless.

What your favourite Arctic Monkeys album says about you

The north of England’s finest indie quartet and hair gel visionaries, the Arctic Monkeys, recently released their sixth album to mixed reviews. Fans and critics alike were bemused by the new direction Alex Turner, the band’s frontman, had taken the band, and ticket prices for the upcoming tour raised eyebrows and lowered spirits.

However, like any self-respecting student of Sheffield University, I’m an unquestioning fan of AM. Knowing all the words to Fluorescent Adolescent is practically an admissions requirement here, and every Sheffield student has had at least a couple of nights out hearing nothing but Turner’s rapidly diminishing Sheff accent.

I spend so much time around Arctic Monkeys fans that I’ve developed an uncanny ability to predict someone’s personality based on their favourite album. Here are the headlines, in chronological order.

Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not

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You

  • call things wank;
  • appreciate a good Spoons and are disgusted by a sub-par one;
  • love it when people don’t understand your accent;
  • don’t know the difference between a flat white and a latte;
  • used to get into minor trouble at school;
  • eventually turned it around and now have a scholarship;
  • go for knackered Converse but tracky bottoms tucked in socks are a step too far;
  • don’t understand what people see in goats cheese.

 

Favourite Worst Nightmare

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You

  • think up nicknames for your friends based on puns of their names;
  • eventually forget their real names;
  • tell people too much about how your exes were in bed;
  • are genuinely very witty;
  • refuse to engage in any kind of political conversation;
  • get misty-eyed and start talking about Love when you’ve had a few;
  • used to drink gin – since it became trendy and expensive you’ve reverted to cider.

 

Humbug

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You

  • are the intense/edgy one in the group;
  • are into the Beat generation;
  • struggle to take anyone seriously if they say they’ve never read Howl or heard of William S. Burrows;
  • think Locke is genius;
  • never eat three square meals a day – you either live off one (1) grape or eat five feasts in three hours;
  • make too-intense eye contact;
  • secretly love Orange is the New Black.

 

Suck it and See

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You

  • think the White Album is the best Beatles album;
  • only watch films by first-time directors;
  • quite recently started spending loads of money on grooming sets: razors with polished handles, combs, artisan hair gunk, and locally-sourced shoe polish;
  • find random word generators and malapropisms endlessly funny;
  • filled your phone with vocab games and apps that let you know where the closest espresso is at all times.

 

AM

am

You

  • have a cactus in a really expensive pot on your kitchen windowsill;
  • lost your regional accent the same morning you got an offer to study history or literature at a southern university;
  • cleaned up your look after you got sick of your mum calling you “shabby chic”;
  • go to Glastonbury every year and stay in a yurt;
  • only buy stuff if it’s bespoke and/or artisanal.

 

Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino

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You

  • post stories on Instagram of David Bowie street art;
  • are experimenting with retro facial hair;
  • don’t realise how much said facial hair makes you look like your dad in the 70s;
  • constantly insist there’s art/music in everything, even a receptionist answering calls;
  • refuse to listen to a DJ if they are using flash drives instead of vinyls;
  • dance like someone is watching.

What your coffee drink of choice says about you

Café culture has become incredibly popular in the last twenty years. In university towns you can barely move for internet-enabled, sandwich-serving places for students to sit in for hours on end, heads bent over a particularly nasty equation or essay, making a single cup of filter coffee last the entire day.

I spend so much time in cafes, both alone and with friends, that I’ve started to notice trends amongst coffee drinkers.

Here’s my rundown of what your Starbucks order says about you…


Espresso

One thing they always say about you, you know your beans. Through the sweat of your brow and at the expense of your personal finances, you’ve developed a taste for coffee so refined that you’re constrained to drinking only the very best blends and roasts.

You’re a walking encyclopedia of trendy cafés and the first thing you do on moving to a new city is get yourself acquainted with the coffee scene; your friends come to you for advice on where to go for first dates, second dates, middle dates, breakups, tearful reunions, and, should the occasion arise, revelations about pregnancy. You’ve got a specific place in mind for each of these situations.

The thing that annoys you about espressos is the very thing that you most love: their potency.

A strong coffee means a short coffee.

Cappuccino drinkers can sit for hours working on their screenplays, hashing out complex plots and focussing on characterisation and motifs; but you only ever manage to bash out a couple of lines of dialogue before you’ve drained your cup and started getting the evil eye from the proprietors. Until you can figure out how to make a 40g drink last you more than establishing shots, your genre-defining oeuvre is sadly under-worked.


Latte

The taste of coffee doesn’t actually do a lot for you – you just like the event. Similarly, you don’t really get the appeal of alcohol but you’ll have a glass or two of rosé when you go to a bar with your mates. If all pubs and cafés evaporated overnight, the only thing you’d miss would be the moments spent with friends; you’d just as happily sit in someone’s living room with a mug of tepid water.

Consequently, you never drink coffee when you’re not in a caf with the gang, and you’d never have more than two a day or get one after three o’clock; at home you prefer green tea. You might add a slice of lemon if you’re feeling particularly outrageous.


Americano

You’re basically the same as an espresso drinker, but with less commitment and specialised knowledge. You’d rather not go Costa but you would if there were no other options within walking distance.

Also, your screenplay is more developed since each of your coffees lasts three times as long as an espresso.


Filter Coffee

You’re after quantity, not quality, in coffee as in everything. You buy your rice in 20kg sacks from the Chinese supermarket and your freezer is full of shit you don’t really like but bought in bulk because it was on offer. You’d much rather a Toby Carvery-style Sunday roast that clocks in at over three times your recommended saturated fat intake than a 500-calorie one from a well-rated country pub. You buy your notebooks from the indoor market and judge people for wasting money on stationery from Paperchase. You steal sugar packets.

Your favourite cafés are the kinds where they offer free refills and no one looks at you weirdly when you help yourself to your sixth steaming mug of joe.

You’ve tried other iterations of coffee before, just to see what’s out there, but every kind, whether it’s been jazzed up with milk or expensive syrups, has the same basic taste to you – the taste of costing more than it’s worth.


 

Hot Chocolate

Fuck the haters.

(Sorry, Mum.)

You know what makes you happy and you pursue it, even if it separates you from the It crowd. People might raise their eyebrows when you order a tall glass of chocolate and pay through the nose for marshmallows, but it’s worth it for how goddamn tasty stuff covered in whipped cream is.

Cafe etiquette aside, you’re a home bird. You prefer nights in to nights out and you’re secure in yourself to be unashamed about that; your friends have come to accept that you might not come to the pub because you’ve got your cosy socks on. The only time you ever questioned your choices was when, exhausted from a long day of tending to your pot plant, you fell asleep in front of the Great British Sewing Bee.


Capuccino

You appreciate the finer things in life, but you’re unpretentious about it. In other words, you can taste the difference between the £7 bottle of wine with an actual cork and the unlabeled £2.99 carton, but you don’t make me feel bad for bringing the latter to your dinner party.


Yorkshire Tea

Basically, you think being too alert is risky. You’ve observed the way your friends get all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed after a coffee, and you mistrust this. If God had wanted us to feel awake, you think to yourself, He wouldn’t have made mornings so rough.

Your palate is so refined that you can identify tea brands blindfolded; you frequently do so at parties to the dubious approval of friends. You think green/herbal/decaf tea is not just a waste of time, but also somehow fundamentally harmful to the very fabric of British society.

Haiku of the Week

Politeness dictates

I drink this milky disgrace.

Tea at yours is grim.

How to cope with the grossest season of them all

When you start learning a language, the first two years of oral lessons are spent responding to surprisingly formulaic questions about your opinion – they’re always to do with some inoffensive, general topic that everyone relates to somehow. At school it was usually about uniform or homework; in first year we graduated to the lofty heights of “Do you prefer living in the countryside or the city?

The idea is that this helps you start forming full sentences and expressing yourself in your target language. The content of your reply is irrelevant; it’s about responding using new language structures or vocab, and, of course, understanding the question in the first place.

The reason I bring this up is that a decade of language tuition has exposed me to dangerously high levels of this kind of opinion question. As a result, I’ve spent more time than the average person seriously considering whether, for example, I prefer walking or going on the bus, or if I believe homework should be outlawed.

So far no one outside of the classroom has bothered to ask me about my thoughts on E-readers, but you can be sure that I’ll be prepared when they do; my Spanish A-Level speaking exam means I’ve memorised an entire speil weighing up the environmental benefits vs the smell of real paper.

Basically I’m trying to justify why I’m so opinionated about so much pointless bullshit. It’s not [just] that I’m an arsehole, it’s for my degree.

What’s your favourite time of year,” asked my Russian teacher at the start of my first year oral, “and why?

I didn’t even hesitate. “Winter!” I said. I mispronounced the word, but she got what I meant.

You don’t like summer?” she asked.

No!” I replied. Had my language skills been better, I would’ve gone into a whole thing about how I hate bright lights and hot weather and how I’m most comfortable bundled up in acres of woolly jumper, but I’d only been doing Russian for a semester so I was constrained to stumble through, “I do not like summer at all.”

Summer is bullshit. It’s a struggle every single year.

It’s weird, considering how much I moan about it, that I always seem to forget how it grim it is over winter. Every May I’m surprised again by how gross room temperature feels, how much it unnerves me when the air doesn’t hurt your face a little.

In my twenty-one summer-hating years, I’ve developed a few strategies to get through this, the worst period of the year. I know it’s a little late, but hopefully this will help make the remaining terrible months at least somewhat bearable.

Drink hot drinks

If you think this sounds like bullshit, you’d be right – but it’s true. Drinking a hot drink when you’re already overheating helps encourage your body to cool itself down. Somewhat counter-intuitively, a tall glass of ice water is one of the worst things you could pick to cool you down on a hot day.*

*The number one worst thing is boiling oil. That crosses the line into too hot.

Get your hands on sunglasses

The bigger the better. I’m a firm believer that with sunglasses, acreage is the most important thing. Take a look at these bad boys:

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When I’m wearing these the sun doesn’t even come close to touching me.

Think like a bat

If the daytime is too hot, do the logical thing and avoid the sun at all costs. Become a night watchman, set your alarm for 6pm, reject sunlight. This strategy does mean you’ll lose most of your friends and have to spend a decent chunk of your salary on vitamin D supplements, but at least you’ll retain your ghostly, white pallour.

Incidentally, in St Petersburg, where I’m based at the time of writing, this isn’t such a ludicrous idea. I mean, it’s still pretty stupid, but at least we have White Nights here, which is when the sun never really sets and you get insane scenes like the one below. This picture was taken at midnight.

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Ignore the fireworks

Be creative

If you’re anything like me, your two favourite hobbies are eating and complaining.

The trouble with being in physical discomfort for a quarter of the year is that people start tuning out your grievances – there’s only so many times you can flop down next to your mate and moan, “It’s too hot,” before they’ll stop hearing you. As far as I see it, there’s only one way to avoid this – and that’s to graft. Get yourself to a desk, a pad of paper and a biro and brainstorm new, improved ways to express the idea that it’s warm and you’re angry about it.

With this specific kind of complaining, there’s a delicate balance to be struck: you need to convey the deterioration of your body without being so graphic and making people think about your sweaty pits in too much detail.

One of my current favourites is to say that my organs are sweating. It’s pretty grim; it tells the listener how fed up I am; and you don’t imagine anything too offensively awful when I roll up and skrike, “Maaaaaaaaaate, my brain is sweating.”

Earth Shattering Stuff I’ve Learnt This Year

Year abroad is all about growth. It’s about expanding your horizons and stepping out of your comfort zone. With that in mind, here’s a list of just some of the most mind-blowing stuff I’ve learnt this year.

  1. Parmesan isn’t vegetarian;
  2. The evidence for menstrual synchrony is shaky at best;
  3. Tom Cruise is older than my dad;
  4. What flea markets are;
  5. Why flea markets are called that;
  6. Calling people “love” isn’t appreciated outside of the North of England; and
  7. Sour cream improves literally everything it’s added to.

There you go. Every day is a learning day!

What your blood type says about you

No matter how old you are, you’re always growing and changing. At secondary school a teacher of mine once put it, “We’re all always in a process of self-actualisation,” and once I’d got home and Googled what self-actualisation means I couldn’t agree more.

How, though, can we possibly self-actualise if we don’t know ourselves? The first step anyone wishing to make a change must take is to get to know themselves.

It’s only through understanding who we are as people, through recognising both our strengths and our weaknesses, that we can continue to grow.

What follows is the first in a series of blogs intended to help you know yourself – and I mean really know yourself.

This time, we’re gonna explore the effect your blood type has on your character.

It might surprise you to learn that some cultures consider a baby’s blood type in a similar way to how we see the zodiac, believing that certain blood types have dominant traits and so on. In these countries, the Sunday papers’ weekly horoscope comes with a free finger pricker and ABO testing kit so you can find out your blood type as you enjoy the crossword.

“What?!” I hear you scoff. “As if the configuration of antibodies and inherited antigenic substances on the surface of my red blood cells has any effect on how I am as a person!”

Forgive me, but that’s a very B- thing to say. Read on to find out more about the real you. Antigens don’t lie.


O

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It might be because I’m a basic O+ myself, but this is the blood type closest to my heart. Sure, you love a Pumpkin Spice Latte and it breaks your heart that Uggs are universally mocked these days, but so what? Popular things are popular for a reason!

Your favourite sport is football. Your favourite pizza topping is pepperoni. Your favourite TV show of 2017 was Blue Planet (if you’re UK-based) or America’s Got Talent (if you’re living stateside). You have 1.8 children. You’re in the median tax bracket for people of your age. You drive a Ford Fiesta with fuzzy dice hanging from the mirror.

No one loves to be average, but there’s beauty in that. And, what’s more, if you’re O- you’re a universal donor, which basically makes you a hero in waiting.


A

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You’re that kid at school that no one disliked, but everyone made fun of in a playful sort of way. You’re good natured and pretty sweet, but shit are you gullible. You’re the person kids would think of when they heard that, “Hey, did you know gullible is written on the ceiling here?” joke.

When you first got Facebook, you were guilty of sharing those chain posts that said stuff like, “Facebook is going private! Liek and share or you’ll have to pay $29.99 a month!!”

You’re pretty sure kiwis cure all illnesses, from the common cold to drowning.


B

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You’re sceptical to a fault, and the key word here is fault.

[The other key word is sceptical.]

Whenever your mates or coworkers start telling you about their weekend, your eyebrow is poised to raise in disbelief. “Really,” you think to yourself (or, sometimes, say out loud), “did you really have five beers? Did you really spend £23 on tights?”

You pride yourself on not swallowing the rubbish everyone posts on the Internet – you’ve been known to comment “That happened” on news articles and Facebook statuses alike. Even when you’re sure an article is biased, though, you can rarely be bothered to research the actual, impartial truth. Just the knowing that you’ve seen through the bullshit is enough for you.

That said, your incredulity does have its bounds: when you watch magic shows, like the inimitable Dynamo, you begin the episode trying to figure out how he’s hidden the fishing line and finish secretly believing that he is an actual wizard. You’re quick to Google the trick after the show’s ended to restore your cynicism.


AB

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Oh my God, you people are the worst. Just pick a type.

[You might be wondering how this picture is relevant. It’s not, but AB people make me cross so I picked one at random.]

Positive or Negative

You may be saying, “OK, Ro, you’ve explained what the letters mean beautifully, but what about the little + or – following them? What oh what do they have to say about my psyche?”

Good question. It’s actually just what you might have guessed: the positive and negative symbols reflect whether a person is an optimist or a pessimist – that is, whether they see the glass as half-full or half-empty-and-not-even-a-good-glass-anyway.

Somewhat counter-intuitively, though, the + symbol means you’re a pessimist and the  symbol reflects an irritatingly cheery optimism.