Part 14 – Copacabana, Kidnapping and Arnold Schwarzenegger

I feel that a preface is necessary, since it is now almost two years since my last update. The primary inspiration for the renewal of my blog is that I will spending my next semester in Brazil.

Originally, I had an ERASMUS exchange set up in Austria for my last semester. Austria, a country where the most dangerous thing that could happen would be questioning the greatness of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Or returning to Scotland with an Austrian accent, that would make my German girlfriend want to punch me in the face every time I spoke with her in German (assuming that she doesn’t already want to punch me in the face, irrespective of accent or language). Instead, I swapped a piece of tranquil, picturesque, Alpine Europe for Brazil. A country with its dedicated own crime article on Wikipedia. This impression has hardly been helped by the frenzied coverage during the World Cup, with seemingly every cross section of Brazilian society seeming to decide that a few good riots were exactly the right ingredient to spice up the World Cup.

My new home in January?

My new home in January?

Of course, there is a simple reason I chose to forsake Austria for Brazil. Generally, for myself at least, the more awkward/dangerous/downright crazy an option is the more attractive and logical it seems at the time. Doubts and common sense seem to be a delayed function of time in comparison, useful and present only after a decision has been made. And for exactly these reasons can I not wait to go to Brazil. A land of binary states: the beauty of the Amazon and Copacabana beach, juxtaposed with crack cocaine caused crime and poverty. I will be living in Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo or Belo Horizonte, the smallest city of which, Belo Horizonte, still has a population that exceeds that of my homeland, Scotland.

A map of where I could be living in Brazil

A map of where I could be living in Brazil

However, before I head to South America, I’ve been living somewhere even stranger for a Scotsman…England

More specifically, London. A city which, in truth, is not dissimilar to an independent country within the UK. On about every conceivable economic statistic London is a massive outlier. Today I read that the average rent in London is over £1400 a month. The rest of the UK is £650 a month. The average house price in London is approximately £400,000, compared to £180,000 for the rest of the United Kingdom.

There is, of course, a very good reason that I know these statistics. I’m currently working at the Financial Conduct Authority, which is the regulatory agency for the financial sector in the United Kingdom. I could talk more about my work, but then they’d probably have to kill me. What I can say is that I’m working within mortgage regulation, giving me a horrifying insight into the lives of grown up problems. Y’know, those people for whom doubts and common sense is not a delayed function of time, but a constant companion.

I must say that I’ve found London to be disappointing. Now, I’m not some country bumpkin from the north of Scotland who’s missing his croft and cuddling up to his beloved sheep during those harsh hours of northern darkness. I’ve lived in Singapore, Berlin and Glasgow and I can, without a doubt, say London is my least favourite of this exquisite selection. Singapore is as expensive, but at least is a wet dream for anyone who has OCD or craves organisation, while Berlin is infinitely cheaper, more welcoming and blessed with a unique sense of craziness that simply makes it my favourite city.

The one unique attribute from the selection that London possesses is its sense of power. Since I’m working at Canary Wharf, I’ve been working in the same place as all those nasty bankers you’ve been hearing about. Y’know, those guys that caused that little financial Armageddon that you may have appeared on the news once or twice… Compared to my normal life as a penniless student, this contrast is rather marked and bizarre. Going to work in a suit everyday feels about as unnatural an addition to my body as that of wings or a second head who insists on being addressed as Hugo. I think the one experience that I’ve had that sums this up, was when I was waiting in line for the cash machine outside work. The guy in front of me’s bank balance was more than the worth of my parents’ house.

Canary Wharf - Where I'm currently working

Canary Wharf – Where I’m currently working

Anyway, I’ll leave this here for a first effort at restarting my blog, and leave you with some Portuguese that I’ve been learning

Por favor, não me raptem!” – Please don’t kidnap me!

As you can see, I’m well prepared.

[DAS ENDE]

Advertisements

Part 10 – Geography, Exploding Falafels & Al Qaeda

Since my last entry I’ve been to 3 more places:

  • The Bavarian Alps, where, at 31 Celsius, my only probable souvenir in the post is aggressive skin cancer
  • Bretten for a mediaeval festival, where I felt right at home with archaic technology, coming from Elgin in north-east Scotland (putting that in there before Graham does…)
  • Finally, and most recently, in Heidelberg for a massive meeting of all the students in Germany.

One thing I’ve learned is that nothing promotes friendship like a mutual need. Being in a country where your knowledge of the local linguistics is poor means that any other native speakers of your language are welcomed with open arms.

They have a bad odour? Doesn’t matter.

They have links to Al Qaeda? Will you shut up? I’m trying to speak English again, at last!

They love Justin Bieber? OK, maybe I’ll reconsider…

Of course, I could speak English with the Germans that I’m not so familiar with, but that promotes guilt far too easily and establishes an obvious linguistic hierarchy.

In fact, the only comparable ecstasy to finding another native English speaker is getting a straight line in Excel for your experimental results. This is a clear indication that you, despite whatever divine force it is that likes to bully academics, have carried out the experiments successfully.

The United Kingdom has always had that advantage within Europe of being an island, that geographical veto it can use when it’s convenient. If we want to interfere in the EU, we’re European, it’s our continent too! However if we want to avoid it, oh no, we’re an island, we’re not really European.

Anyway here are some pretty pictures of Fellhorn, the peak in the Alps where I was.

It is glorious axioms of life that standing at the top of a mountain makes anyone feel more awesome. So here I am feeling awesome.

My favourite photo because I took it and managed to get the cow and the beautiful panoramic landscape…only to discover, to my hilarity, that said beautiful cow had taken a massive, wet shit in the bottom of the photo.

Also I’ve had a valuable lesson reinforced in the last week: never become a vegetarian. I was cooking for a vegetarian, so I decided to cook falafels. This was borne out of the Scottish philosophy of “everything tastes better deep fried” , so at least it was unhealthily vegetarian.

So I threw the first falafel in the pot of oil.

It exploded with the synthesis of a large volume of black, possibly carcinogenic smoke.

Graham assures me this is due to the black magic that is involved in the production of vegetarian cuisine.

Never again.

I may get a few extra exotically named vitamins by following a vegetarian diet but I’d probably blow off my arms while making a salad.

The following weekend I was in Heidelberg for the RISE Conference. It was a fantastic weekend. I have also acquired a new name: Seamus McMotherfucker. Cheers Derek for that one. Now, some pictures.

Myself, M for “Milne”. Or “Moron” as my brother kindly suggested. Wee bastard that he is.

L-R: Derek, Kevin, Myself, Ruben, Sara and Vishal. Audrey had deserted us by this point.

View from the castle of “Der Philosopher Weg” – “Philosopher’s Way”, where some of the most important philosophers of the day used to come to think.

Derek with the funniest sign I’ve ever seen.

Heidelberg is the oldest university in Germany (1386 gegründet). The Americans I was with found this pretty amazing, a university that predates the discovery of America by Columbus, let alone the colonisation of their country!

For anyone that has done a chemistry class ever also has Heidelberg University to thank. We all know that most of the more interesting lessons always involved a Bunsen Burner and hence the ability to BURN SHIT JUST BECAUSE WE CAN.

And there, pyromania, I believe, is an excellent place to finish.

Next Time: Amsterdam & Switzerland

[DAS ENDE]