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]

Part 9 – Gay Pride, Berlin & Homer Simpson

Since my last entry I’ve travelled to 5 more cities in Germany: Bonn, Köln (Cologne), Düsseldorf, Frankfurt and, most recently, Berlin.

I’ve noticed recently a large improvement in my German and this was exhibited in Berlin. While in Berlin it was the annual gay pride march and I found it fun to translate all the slogans. Ended up covered in stickers of these too, when Jeff (an American from Rhode Island that I was with) and I had to cross the street through the parade.

Fick? – Want a fuck?

Nimm mich! – Take me!

Du willst es doch auch – You want it really

Rauchst du nach dem Sex? – Do you smoke after sex?

So if you need advice on how to chat up men in German, it seems I have acquired sufficient expertise.

What I found interesting was that it passed by the old Nazi headquarters. 70 years after Hitler’s regime murdered homosexuals there’s a parade in his capital, his “World Capital Germania”, filled with gay men and the slogan “DildoKing.de” on the side of the bus. What a fantastic image, Hitler turning in his grave* at the mere thought of that. Shows just how much Germany has changed since then.

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*I’ve since been corrected, through the medium of a meme (welcome to the 21st century), that Hitler doesn’t have a grave, by my friend Alex.

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Above is a picture of the memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe, Berlin.

The problem with designing something for such a grisly event in history would be that a grand, gaudily artistic monument would be just be wrong. Conversely it still needs to  be powerful, to do justice the suffering of the subject. And this monument is perfect. A sober, but effective, design with very little abject symbolism, leaving it up to the visitor to decide. I loved how all the blocks are all different shapes and sizes but have no discernible markings. Leaving them to just be an anonymous number. I took this to be showing how people of all ages, sizes and paths of life suffered and how the people lost their humanity by just being a number. When numbers become big they lose their impact, because our understanding wanes as numbers rise above our everyday experience and comprehension.

6 million dead people. It’s unimaginable. Literally.

It’s the same reason economies will always fail and these financial machinations will never be understand properly. When numbers enter cohorts of billions we cannot comprehend what we’re dealing with. And for the same reason we’ll never be able to understand the scale of the universe. When 100 countries in the world seem like a large number, when our holiday flights of a few thousand miles seem gargantuan, monolithic, how can we really understand the scale of a universe in light-years? We are limited by what it is to be human, a cage of proportion.

In the accompanying museum the following display truly touched me. It is a letter from a child, in the concentration camps, to his father explaining that he will soon be dead. The candid nature of the letter is what I found powerful. When I was a child the closest I came to death is when my PokeMon fainted on my GameBoy. Yet here, a child, someone so young, has already their fate. A departure from life through the mechanism of brutality.

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 “Dear Dad! Before I die I want to say farewell to you. We would really like to live, nevertheless they won’t let us, we will be killed. I’m so worried about this death, the small children are thrown into the pit while they’re still alive. Goodbye forever. I kiss you tenderly.”

Now here’s just a miscellaneous mix of photos

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The Reichstag

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Brandenburger Tor

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Checkpoint Charlie, note how German is the last language shown.

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I enjoyed this poster. It refers to the Germany Greece game in ongoing European Football Championship, which Germany won 4-2

Back to Karlsruhe. I’ve almost managed to fuck up a couple of experiments so far at work. A cultural German note of seemingly insignificant interest: Germans use commas for decimal points in numbers, not full stops. Yes, this is incredibly inconsequential for 99,9% of applications in life… Until you try to programme flowrates for a reactor…using full stops…hence 5.00 l/min turns, not so inconsequentially, into 500l/min…woops. Yep, this is the guy who wants to, potentially, work with nuclear energy later in my calamitous life. My parents reaction when I told them that?

This was it

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Apologies to all those who won’t sleep soundly tonight…

[DAS ENDE]

Part 6 – The Terminator, Jaundice & Not Living in a Cardboard Box

I’ve just spent the last week with my family until Xmas. My family is changing a lot at the moment after my parent’s separation, as you would expect.

A brief illustration of the characters of my family

Dad: One case of jaundice away from being Homer Simpson’s real life incarnation

Mum: Just 50 but has a 2nd degree black belt in TaeKwonDo

Chris: Owns hair far more violently ginger than mine. I’m surprised he hasn’t been stolen and sold for scrap with soring copper prices.

Dad has bought himself a wee house now that he’s moved out. It is such an entropic masterpiece of chaos that I adore it, mainly because it signifies a reversal of positions in life. For years my parents nagged me about my untidiness and now it is my turn to nag them!

This got me thinking about how my relationship with parents has changed over the years.

When I was young I was convinced that they were robots sent back from the future to make sure any sort of potential for joy was neutralised. Like The Terminator, but more mundane and with less muscles. Their arsenal of methods included: enforced vegetable consumption, early bedtimes and shoe shopping under duress. The brutality.

However, as I got older I realised that my parents were…dare I say it?…Human.  That once they were young and had dreams, ambitions…and dodgy haircuts (a particular one of my Dad’s moustache springs to mind… No doubt, if I have children, they’ll be cringing at pictures of my old ponytail in years to come).

That’s the thing about parents; you’re always out of sync with them, they’re always a stage ahead of you so you can never properly empathise with them. Like you’re a sine curve and they’re a cosine, always out of phase, rarely ever the same value. That’s one thing I would have loved to have seen, my parents at my age, before they accumulated that wisdom and assurance in life that separates you from them.

Discussing life matters with your parents; 90% of the time it’s like going to the cinema with someone who’s already seen the film. They know the ending and how it will probably pan out. And knowing the ending makes everything in life boring. I’m sure you’ll all have heard the immortally infamous line “I Told You So” at some point from your beloved folks. I do think as I get older I can appreciate them more though, as I accumulate  more life experience and have more shared experiences and you come to understand how they were moulded through the phases of life. Just as the same is happening to you.

Moving to the future, it is now only 4 days until I leave for Germany. 4 days. 96 hours.  And only today did I receive confirmation that I’ll have somewhere to live. Meaning I won’t be forced to live in a cardboard box, selling my teeth for use in the production of tiny piano keys or have to subject myself to some sort of medical testing, like having the head of another human conjoined to me, in order to survive day to day.

4 days.

Fuck.

[DAS ENDE] 

Part 5 – Evolution, Marie Curie & Llamas

Since I left you last the manky monstrosity of our oven has been somewhat rectified. The following is an account of part of the titanic struggle that will one day pass into legends of antiquity.

Firstly, do you remember PokéMon? If you do not, then kindly proceed to Option 1. If even the mention of PokéMon subjects you to a euphoric invasion of nostalgia then read on to Option 2.

Option 1:

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Option 2

If you do, do Muk and Grimer awaken childhood memories? Yes? Well this is how it went…

A wild MUK appeared!

MUK used SLUDGE!

It wasn’t very effective!

GRAHAM used CLEANING PRODUCTS!

It was super effective!

MUK used POISON GAS!

But it failed!

GRAHAM used DISPOSAL!

It was super effective!

MUK fainted!

GRAHAM reached Level 41! What? GRAHAM is evolving!

 *cheesy and repetitive Japanese game music*

Congratulations! Your GRAHAM evolved into AN EVEN FILTHIER BEING THAN HE ALREADY WAS!

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Credit to Chris Milne

Oh PokéMon games and their one dimensional punctuation…

With part of that gargantuan task complete I’ve decided to take the train back to Elgin for a last visit home before going abroad. The only thing more predictable than Scotrail’s (Read: ScotFail’s) atronomical beverage overpricing and grumpy, soulless staff on the trip was my meeting of a weirdo. I’m not sure whether during the last couple of years, due to government austerity measures, if the Glasgow to Elgin train line has been transformed into a looney bin on rails or not but I always seem to meet some colourful characters on the locomotive.

  • The Earl of Thurso’s son, with whom, from all the kingdom of beverages, I drunk Buckfast.
  • An American actress who had a tiny part in the film “The Day After Tomorrow”
  • A woman whose great-grandfather in Paris had water poured over his head by Marie Curie, the Nobel Prize winner
  • An American whose father invented the plastic formica

Anyway today’s character was an American from Minnesota named Brie. Yes, like the cheese. However, after having an ex whose first names were Panacea and Reality I would probably have been rendered incapable of feeling any surprise even if she’d introduced herself as Duchess Pippington Dustbin Childtoucher.  She also had a pet llama. So I spent my journey learning about llamas. Standard.

Makes you realise how practically everyone in the world has some strange story or claim to fame. Not surprisingly considering how often we interact with people on a daily basis. It’s just a statistical outcome that we’ll meet these people.  Everyone has a tale to tell, if you’re prepared to excavate their consciousness a little. So, my advice to all of you, next time you’re on the train talk to that person across from you, they may well be most interesting person you’ll ever meet*.

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Mr Andrew Milne takes no responsibility if the character’s “interesting” trait turns out be that they are: a murderer; terrorist; molester etc.

 [DAS ENDE]

Part 3 – Transformers, Biological Warfare & The Art of Spin

Sometime during my first year in Glasgow the three of us, pictured above, decided to live together. Left to right is: myself; Justice and Graham. Yes his name, well surname, actually is “Justice”. We think he should’ve studied law instead of engineering so in court he’d be “Lord Justice Justice” in a “Major Major” Catch-22 farce of titles. He also wants to do a PhD after undergrad meaning that he’d be Doctor Justice. With a name like that it’s almost a moral obligation to become a Bond Villain or Superhero.

Anyway, we did move in together but with my moving abroad to Germany and Singapore this is coming to an end. It’s quite easy to forget what you’re leaving behind when moving abroad, getting caught up in all the excitement and preparation. So here goes, a  few of the escapades of Maule Drive.

 Moving In

This is from the first day we’d moved in. After having a few friends round for drinks we decided to play a prank on a friend, Greg, by filling his shoes with water and freezing them. This taught me two things.

  1. This prank works surprisingly well. Greg’s shock when he tried to put his feet in his shoes was hilarious.
  2. Don’t fuck with plumbers. Remember what your friends do for a profession. Greg is a plumber and hence knows more about the intricacies and intimacies of my home than I ever will, meaning his revenge will always be infinitely better.

Davie (L) Me (R)

After a few drinks Davie and I also decided that we wanted to be transformers. Hence “Carling-tron” and “Mecha-coors” were born.

Christmas Dinner

This was the setting for our Xmas meal. Being poor students we didn’t have a dining table…or a dining room for that matter… Instead we just put down blankets in the hallway and called it a “Xmas Picnic”. An act of spin that I think even Malcolm Tucker or Alistair Campbell would be proud of! Graham and I managed to somehow cook a 3 course meal for 12 people in probably the world’s smallest kitchen. And no one suffered from food poisoning. Andrew and Graham: 1 , Salmonella: 0. We were also supposed to have a Xmas tree  but obtaining one turned out to be harder than a microscopic game of Where’s Wally. Hence the baubles we’d already bought were used as projectiles as we all descended into bauble warfare. Like normal battles, but more “christmassy”.

Who’s That Hot Bird?

A group photo from Xmas dinner. This is also, probably, the tidiest Graham’s room has ever been. While I am no saint when it comes to the mysterious art of cleanliness, Graham is next level. You get the feeling when you see it sometimes that it’s contravening a NATO treaty on biochemical warfare somewhere. Also some of the stuff Justice and I have found in there is probably more furry and hairy than Graham himself. To put this into perspective; Graham’s nickname is Chewbacca, from Star Wars.

Miscellaneous Others

Generally the three of us have what you might call a dysfunctional relationship, where giving each other abuse is everyday. I remember meeting a Canadian in Edinburgh last summer who was amazed at how mean us Scots were to each other. To us it’s just second nature. Graham and Justice’s two favourite points of attack for myself are that I’m an old bastard and that I’m from northern, more rural [read: sheep shagging], Scotland.”Are you so old that you shit Werther’s Originals?” I think is Graham’s quote of the week about my age. Abusing Justice is often a lot less subtle even than that. Above is a picture just after I got back after Xmas, where Graham and I ambushed Justice and wrapped him completely in a few rolls of clingfilm.

While out with Greg one night we met some absolute psychos from the army. During the evening one of them told me that I looked like Willy Wonka out of Charlie & The Chocolate Factory. Graham then decided to mock up this picture and post it on Facebook. I’ll leave it  to you, the reader, to decide on the quality of the resemblance.

A group photo from my 20th birthday. Many thanks to Francesca and Catherine for the fantastic cake you can see.

Graham broke the bin lid, this was the solution. As he put it afterward; “Strathclyde University engineering education at its finest!”

[DAS ENDE]

Part 1 – A Scottish Idiot Abroad (ASIA)

“This is a story all about how, my life got turned upside down”  – Some of the infinite wisdom of The Fresh Prince of Belair, as well as a fitting introduction. The central conceits of this aforementioned story of mine are:

  • In little under 4 weeks I will be living in Germany.
  • In little under 3 months I will be living in Singapore

One, is a country who’s language I barely speak where I will be working with technology I, most likely, will not understand. The other is a country whose ethos and climate are as far removed from Scotland as the concept of salad. Though, as my friend Joseph reassured me, moving to Singapore will be just like moving to Glasgow, except they’ll speak better English than us Scots!

Tomorrow morning is my second round of immunisations for life in the Orient. During the first round I felt a character from the Scottish film Trainspotting, carrying around several hundred quid in cash with the desired end product being someone injecting me. Unfortunately, it wasn’t for a high but for a defence against my brain swelling to the size of a beachball from some, no doubt fascinating, oriental disease.

I’ve decided that the goal over the next year will be to visit 10 countries. One I’m quite set on is Cambodia, to see the Angkor Wat. I think the picture will be able to express my desire more eloquently than myself. And with that I will drift off to the Land of Nodd, I’ve heard it’s lovely this time of night. Gute Nacht jedermann.

One place I definitely want to see

[DAS ENDE]