Tag Archives: advice

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!

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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

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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.

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.”

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.

Beauty Regime

“Rosie,” they say in awe, “your skin is so grainy. Your hair defies all known laws of physics. Did you know irons exist?”

I’m used to the public’s veneration by now; I nod modestly and try and change the subject, but my admirers are unstoppable.

“You look like an extra in a film about rickets,” they say, “Have you put eyeshadow under your eyes or have you not slept for twenty years?”

I smile a Mona Lisa smile, sip my Horlicks.

“Tell us your secret,” they beg. “Tell us how we, too, can look like a background actor in Peaky Blinders.”

Up to now, I’ve always brushed off requests to share my beauty regime, but the time has come to tell all. In this, a bland-blog exclusive, you can find out how to achieve my sought-after look.

Cucumber

Throw it out. You’re in Russia now; the only vitamins you’re allowed are from the piles of dill added to every dish. Don’t worry, though – this monochrome diet will give you the wide eyes and pallor of a Victorian urchin. Very chic.

Shave ur head

More specifically, have a friend of a friend do it for you.

Sick of my fringe getting in my eyes, I let my most stylish friend drag me to a part of the city I’d never visited before. We ducked into his mate’s barbers: “Do exactly what you want,” I said to her, more proud of the fact that I’d formed the imperative correctly than actually wanting a haircut.

“Exactly what I want,” she said thoughtfully, and whipped out the scissors. A couple of minutes later, she said, “I’m going to use the машинки, are you ready?”

I’ve got used to having no clue what people are saying to me. “Yep, ready,” I said. Turns out машинки are hair clippers.

 

 

Sounds stupid but I really didn’t expect my ears to look like that.

In other news, it turns out having a cool haircut doesn’t make your selfie game any stronger – I don’t know why I didn’t take the fucking toothbrush out of my mouth.

Stay humble

Sure, you look incredible, but keep in mind the envy you’re bound to be inspiring in everyone who sees you. Drop in the odd self-deprecating comment (or, if you’re feeling extra, full-length blog) to keep yourself grounded.

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Humility’s a virtue

 

Cats

Here’s a secret: when you’re having a bad hair/face/overall appearance day, use cats to distract people. They’ll look at your adorable furry friend and your bedhead will be overlooked.

Case in point:

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Bet you didn’t even notice I’m in that.

Mate with massive camera

It turns out a talented photographer can make anyone look cool as fuck, even me.

 

Side note – on the day we took those pictures, I was hungover as shit and wearing yesterday’s clothes.

“Shouldn’t we wait til I’m having a good face day?” I asked.

“This is your look,” he replied. “Now go stand by that wall and look miserable.”

Go figure.

Tricking yourself into being productive.

I’m fairly open about being one of the least productive people in the history of the world. It’s something I’ve had to make my peace with over the last twenty-something years. No sooner do I sit down, determined to do some work, am I distracted by my phone or an email or a passing moth. This is not ideal, to say the least, seeing as I’m a humanities’ student and blogger – both of which require a decent amount of independent work.

That feeling you get after spending a day sitting your desk without getting anything done is one of the worst in the world. Believe me – I’ve had it a lot.

And I’ve tried it all: telling myself off, writing a detailed revision plan, the “60 on 15 off” method, studying in cafes, studying in libraries, studying at the train station, even bribing myself with Smarties. (This method fell down when I realised I could eat the Smarties without doing any work. I ended up no cleverer, but whole tube of sweets fatter.)

Finally, after having been in education for nearly fifteen years, I had an epiphany: since I couldn’t be trusted to work under normal circumstances, I would have to be smarter than myself. I needed to outwit myself.

In a very calm, grown up inner voice, I told myself that I wasn’t going to do much studying at all today. I was just going to do a little bit, and then I would lie in my bed and read Guardians of the Galaxy fanfic. All I had to accomplish was that tiny, little bit of work, and then I’d be free to do whatever I wanted for the rest of the day.

And how would I know when I’d done that tiny, miniscule bit of work? Well, I told myself in that teacherish tone, I would make notes just until my pen ran out. That wasn’t so daunting, was it? After all, even I couldn’t remember when I’d started using this pen; for all I knew, it would run out after a single chapter of Czech: An Essential Grammar. Bolstered by relaxation that seemed only minutes away, I set about scribbling down declension patterns.

Four and a half hours later, my pen ran out and I stopped studying. I was thrilled: not only had I actually got a fair amount of revision done, I also had an unfamiliar feeling of accomplishment. I could get used to that.

Enthused by this success, I racked my brains for other ways to wring a little productivity out of my reticent brain. Bribery seemed hopeful, since I’m almost always one stressful situation from eating my bodyweight in chocolate. But this method, as I’d already discovered from the Smartie debacle, was fatally flawed because, instead of studying hard and then rewarding myself, I would simply eat the incentive and go and have a sugar nap.

But what, I thought to myself, if I couldn’t eat it? What then?

Instead of buying my reward beforehand, I lay out 70p on my desk – 70p that, if I got enough done, I would spend on chocolate. The bribe worked: unable to devour the money but still dreaming of a sweet treat, I got my head down and studied hard – although I did spend a fair amount of time gazing longingly at those silver coins.

After scheming up these two strategies, I have to say my general work output has increased. Sure, I’m still not the most conscientious student in the world, but I no longer feel like I’m basically incapable of sustained periods of concentration. I consider this a success.

It does seem fundamentally stupid that I have to cajole myself into studying in this way, by treating myself like an unruly schoolgirl, but hey – whatever works. As far as I see it, it’s better to study because you think you’ll get some chocolate at the end than not to study at all.

How do you stop yourself from procrastinating? Let me know in the comments.