Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Human Nature Part 2

A couple of months back I wrote a lamentation on human nature, after a few unfortunate run-ins and encounters. The conclusion was grim: humanity is a dirty dog full of fleas, biting you whether you pet it or kick it - or something like that.

Fortunately, every dog is washable, and human nature likewise can veer from dirty, yappy brute to nice, clean mutt. And today I had an example of the good of human nature (and also my own absent-mindedness).

I was on the way to Marks and Spencers to buy a chicken tikka wrap and Belgian chocolate drink, and passed by the Clydesdale Bank machines to withdraw some money, £40 to be precise. I did this and strolled on, and was a good 50-foot or more away when I heard a woman's voice - "Excuse me! Excuse me!" I turned to see a lady chasing after me. "You left this money in the cash machine," she said, and handed me my £40. I was too dumbstruck to say anything but "Crikey" and "Thank-you" as I accepted the money gratefully, and wondered quite where my head had been for the last minute.

So that was nice, and awfully honest, and reaffirms my faith that mankind isn't entirely depraved or sinister.

One day I may become a priest, and I'll use the story to illustrate something. But mostly I'll just talk about housecoats and owls.

Sunday, 13 September 2009


Life being sporadic and episodic rather than a novelesque crescendo, there are lots of bits and pieces, whims and fancies, and songs and dances that don't actually go anywhere: they just happen. Thus too this blog is full of pointless incident, maybe fun but without an overriding story arc. Perhaps one day all these loose strands will spectacularly pull together and I can have a lovely Disney adventure written about my life, but for now I will update some of the above flotsam and jetsam that have drifted by in the last year.

Laser Eyes

I am very delighted with my new eyes. After years of shoving plastic discs into my corneas, or hanging a twisted contraption over my ears, I can now wake each morning and enjoy each day with crystal clear vision free of apparatus. I think this has been just about the best money I've ever spent - except for my £20 snooker table, of course. Sometimes I get surges of happiness when I think about it.

Stocks and Shares

When I last mentioned this, in March or April, I was down about £5. Well, I am delighted to tell you that I have been leading the recent market recovery, as I'm now £30 in profit. I've made a 51.71% and £12.93 profit on Caspian Holdings, a 27.58% and £13.49 profit on the mysterious NCC company (bought because they share my initials), and a 21.78% and £3.92 profit on Tullow, whom I worked with recently in Ghana and were very nice people. Additionally, a few months ago I put a whopping £97.91 into Marks and Spencer, because I often buy my lunch there, and it's now worth £103.60. As you can see, if all this continues indefinitely, one day I'll be a millionaire.


Astonishingly, my good friend Varwell is still engaged, defying all known odds. He's due to get married - forever apparently - in just two months. At this rate, I may actually have to write a speech.


A while ago, you may recall I wrote an educational and informative post about housecoats. Well, I am proud to announce that two more housecoats have been purchased since, both gentleman's housecoats. Here they are:

This is the Conservative Gentleman's Housecoat. A sensible and resolutely non-flashy number, it nevertheless courts controversy by having a number of "outdoors" attributes, such as a more rigid fit. It goes particularly well with roast beef and the Mail on Sunday.

The Gentleman's Speckled Housecoat. At first glance, a straightforward housecoat-in-black, but upon closer inspection one is astonished to find it speckled in white thread! It's as though Jackson Pollock himself designed a housecoat. This is a frightfully dapper jacket, with traditional fit yet outrageous patterning. Not one for the faint hearted!

Here is a closer look at the speckled design.

And finally, a sad tale. Those who know me well may recall distant rumoured murmurs of a yellow housecoat, swathed in legend and shocking scandal. For this housecoat has been worn on more than one occasion out of the house! "When is a housecoat not?" the famous question goes - "Out of the house," is a typical response, so this housecoat - the Gentleman's Controversial Yellow Housecoat - has its fair share of detractors. But through all that, it remains a housecoat. Alas, fly too close to the sun and you get burnt, and this was the fate of the Yellow housecoat. While being worn as part of a sailing trip two years ago, it got soaked in sea salt and red wine, and was truly a state. I put it in a cupboard for a year and then decided to take it to the dry cleaners, but for some reason it was a little damp and they said they couldn't do it. So I thought, "Hell, just shove it in the washing machine." Delicate ladies, avert your eyes, for this was the result:

A most woeful sight. I should really put it in the bin, but I just haven't the heart.

Here's the housecoat in happier days:

Still At Home

You may recall that I have a job. As I've been home for all but ten days (plus a holiday) since June, it doesn't really feel like that right now. Unfortunately, my peace has been disturbed as I have to go to Montrose tomorrow. Montrose! Montrose is a town with lots of anagrams, but I'll let you work them out for yourselves. Anyway, I only have to go there for three days, and I can come home at night, thank God. I'm there to do some training, but this actually means I'll just sit in a classroom and be confused. Fortunately, I am exceptionally good at looking thoughtful and interested - a skill that has served me well in my 30 years.


I have a wayward sister who, I believe I mentioned, last year quit her respectable medical career to become a waster, dabbling in a hedonistic world of sleaze and filth. She returned from travelling in foreign countries not long ago and has since been avoiding looking for employment, and just yesterday moved to Edinburgh to continue avoiding it (and to avoid helping my mother get her new house ready, but this is very understandable). Anyway, my sister has generated a new blog, which I've linked to on the right. I take no responsibility for the poor grasp of spelling within.


Finally, the ladies have all been clamouring for an update on Handsome Matt, who I visited recently in Australia. Was he still handsome, they all wondered, did he still have his charming way? Ladies, have no fear, you are not to be disappointed. Matt has aged well over the last four years, and is not yet fat or bald:

(he is however as cheesy as ever, but this never seemed to bother the ladies)

Goodbye Mail On Sunday

Since the age of 17, upon starting university and living away from home for the first time, I've had a routine every Sunday. An unremarklable routine, but a routine nonetheless: I would get up, buy newspapers, and two bars of chocolate (one segmented, one whole), make two cups of coffee, and listen to pleasant, soothing Sunday morning music while devouring all of the above. The routine hasn't been absolutely rigid - if very hungover, I'd replace one cup of coffee with lots of orange juice, and sometimes crisps have replaced the chocolate - and it has been very interrupted during my two years in Korea, my last three years frequently away, and during my Year of the Castle, whereby I'd invariably be too intoxicated to stand by Sunday morning. But overall, for 13 years, Sunday morning would be a gentle time of music, coffee, chocolate and reading.

And the newspapers? The Mail on Sunday and The Sunday Express.

The reason for these little-England choices were habit. Growing up, these were the papers my family bought each Sunday, along with the woefully mundane Sunday Post. I've never figured out quite why my parents bought these papers, as my parents were always very friendly and open-minded, but perhaps it too was habit. And so it was a habit that spilled over into my adulthood.

Well, I binned the Sunday Express many, many years ago, as I got fed up hearing yet more tales about dead Diana. Every issue seemed to be another Diana Tribute Special. After Diana died, they seemed to give up on actual news reporting, except for the occasional forced outrage over immigrants (which the Mail did better anyway). I realised that I was reading the same Sunday Express every week, so it was quietly retired in my routine and never replaced.

But the Mail perservered. It may have been rabidly anti-Europe, anti-foreigner, both pro- and anti-Diana, pro-Tory, paranoid about any form of surveillance, obsessed with "Broken Britain", scared of Obama, and pretty much against anything not set in a quaint English village of retirees, but it had the occasional interesting story, a good magazine, a decent review section and once had a double page spread of an owl! Also, I enjoyed appalling my friends, who would buy papers like The Observer, or the Sunday Times, or the Independent on Sunday, or whatever, who would be astonished and horrified that a man such as myself, who walked with the gays, the coloureds and the sick (just like Jesus), could buy a paper holding such right-wing views.

Of course, buying a paper with right-wing views doesn't mean I have to share the views. I'm very capable of reading something and disagreeing with it. It's easy to sit back and read lots of opinions you agree with, it's much more challenging to read and think about a whole bunch of stuff you believe is absolute falsehood, or at least heavily biased. But let's not pretend, that wasn't why I've been reading the Mail on Sunday for the last 13 years. It really, and quite simply, was habit.

And now it's time to break the habit.

You see, the Mail on Sunday, is unutterable garbage. Useless, awful, dull garbage. It's not prime garbage like the Sun or the Star, which still manage to at least be entertaining, have punchy headlines and stories, some quite good sports sections, and very often a half-naked lady; no, the Mail on Sunday is tired and grey and worn-out with outrage. I almost never read any of the stories any more - they are the print equivalent of a fat 50-year old offshore worker ranting about something... I just shut off completely until the noise goes away. The stories don't engage or entertain and they certainly don't inform. I don't take the fat 50-year old tosser out for weekly drinks, so I've begun to wonder why I entertain the Mail on Sunday (only 26 years old, as it happens) in my home each week.

Still, for years I've skimmed the stories, they aren't really the central selling point. What did amuse me more were some of the columnists. Columnists are supposed to be challenging and/or interesting, and for a while they were. But they seem to be on auto-pilot too. Even Peter Hitchens, a man filled with great hate for everything in Britain and especially outside of Britain, although occasionally confused about Muslims as they show religious devoutness, something atheist Britain now lacks - ah, if only he didn't have to live in the same country as them - even he seems to be dashing out his page late on Saturday night from a pre-set list of evils (Britain, Europe, Obama, all politicians, immigrants of course, windfarms, the modern world, lesbians, iPods, cyclists, schools). Though in fairness, he did have a rant about UNESCO and masturbation today. The other columnists have disappeared into a smug world of self-satisfaction that is evidently of great delight to themselves, but not to any readers.

The Sports section is awful. Perhaps in England it's better, but in an attempt to muster a few Scottish readers, they just feature page upon page about Rangers and Celtic. I used to think their reviews were ok, but have realised there's no depth of coverage: the music just seems to be Simply Red, and I don't think I've ever read a book they've reviewed. David Mellor gives every classical music album 5 stars. They have a dire quiz section, including a bafflingly inane chess puzzle which every single week features a single black King and pawn vs about ten white pieces: guys, this is not a puzzle, the game is long over. The letters are all recycled outrage, the only good cartoon (Calvin and Hobbes) they retired over a decade ago, and while I appreciate the gesture of the free CDs, I don't think I'm their target audience (there's been not one piece of German minimal techno yet).

Basically, I buy this paper every week and no longer actually read it.

Therefore, as from next week, the Mail on Sunday is banished from my home, along with its small-minded, paranoid, petty, smug ways.

So, next week, I'm going to enter into a new world and buy a new and different Sunday newspaper. No longer will I have to hang my head in shame when handing over my money. I haven't decided which yet (not the Sunday Express), perhaps I'll give each a trial run, or just rotate the selection, but I am sure that at the very least I'll have some material I can actually read instead of throwing to the ground after fifteen minutes.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

The Drugs Don't Work

Pub karaoke is not kind to the residential neighbours.

Monday, 7 September 2009

Korea And 90th Birthdays

Well, from the winter of Australia, it's back to the summer of Scotland - and the absolutely torrential downpours that entails. While I have so much good to say about this small and insecure nation, I'm afraid sometimes the weather plays the trump card and I have to admit a degree of sympathy for those that flee and live forever in warmer climes. I'm in the lucky position that I get frequent jaunts off to sunny conditions, but to live forever in Aberdeen's varying shades of grey must become wearisome - especially when from these moody clouds is unleashed a neverending torrent of rain, as witnessed last week.

It rained so heavily that at least two of my flats started to leak. Yes, two. Poor me indeed.

Before I re-entered this world of rain and gloom and Aberdonian stoicism, there was the small matter of Korea to deal with. My flight home from Australia when via Korea, and as I spent two very influential years there in 2004 and 2005, I thought it would be pleasant to stop over for a couple of days, to reacquaint myself with the place, and to catch up with some friends I'd not seen for almost four years. Four years! That's longer than some people have been alive. It's also long enough for me to have completely forgotten all but the most elementary Korean that I spent about 18 months studying daily while there. So I was excited, but a little nervous.

It was only two days there, in my old city of Daegu, and in the sticky August heat that settles in that mountain-ringed city of 2.5 million (it's considered a fairly small city by Korean standards). But it was enough to immerse myself in the frantic bustle, catch up with friends, and to reacquaint myself with Korean pornography as shown on the motel TV. Korean pornography is hindered by strict laws that seem to insist the gentleman always wear a big pair of underpants. The lady is allowed to take hers off, but only if nothing rude is shown. There really is very little to recommend about Korean pornography, unless you're very new to the genre and want to dip your toe in gently.

On one of the few moments I managed to drag myself away from the motel TV, I met with my old Korean teacher for a coffee then a meal. I say "old" in the sense of from times past, not as in ageing, an issue she was very sensitive about. 33 years old in Western terms, but 35 in Korean age, she lamented her lack of a husband and the lack of suitable men in Daegu. I dismissed her lamentations as those of a bitter, ageing crone, but she said "look!" and asked me to find a suitable man for her. So we looked for a while from the 1st floor window of the coffeeshop we were in, as loads and loads of people bustled by, and by golly if she wasn't right. Barely a man at all, let alone a suitable one - the streets were filled with young, pretty girls! Pretty, pretty girls! And that's why I love Korea! I thought to myself.

We were joined by a friend of hers, a fellow Korean teacher I many years ago in my Korean blog criticised as being goblin-like, and now feel very guilty about, for she was utterly lovely, if distinctly small. She impressed me by being familiar with Azerbaijan, due to having a student from there, and from a recent one-week trip to neighbouring Uzbekistan, which at the very least got marks for being quirky.

All of the above conversation was done in Korean, a real test for me after having not spoke it for years, but to my delight a surprising amount came back to me, albeit in patchy, child-like form, and with great help from my Korean teacher who has a near-psychic understanding of what I'm about to say. We remained at the coffeeshop till early evening, whereby we joined up with a fellow teacher from my second hagwon in Korea, Ho-Jung. Ho-Jung used to be an innocent, naive even, Korean girl back then, but in the interim had spent a year living in the chaos of Cairo, and was eminently more worldly for it. Also, her English was pretty good, which meant I could relax from my babbling Korean for a short while, and she could also clarify to the others quite what the hell I'd been talking about for the last few hours. We all ate a meal, and the other two retired, while I had a few more drinks with Ho-Jung.

The next day I languished for a while in my motel room - it was just too hot to go outside for very long - but in the evening met with the aforementioned bunch, plus Ho-Jung's friend (and a fellow teacher for a while at the same hagwon, i.e. kind of a school) Im-Soon, and later on we were also joined by Dave, a name much easier to say. I tried to be flash and pay for everything with my credit card, but it was declined! Damn you Egg Visa (I later learnt they had suspended it for suspicious purchases - Australia plus Korea plus a crazy binge on amazon seemed to set off an alert).

And that was that. A very brief visit to two years of my life. Moreso than most of my life, Korea seems like a dream, because it was two years utterly removed from anything else I've done, and since I've been back in Scotland there has been very little I can relate to it. There are very few Koreans in Aberdeen, very little Korean influence here, and I barely know anyone who has ever been there. So although it was a hugely influential period of my life - transforming me from a shambolic shambling wreck that lived in an addled haze to the wholesome gentleman you see before you now - it is a period in isolation from the rest of my years. So to briefly be immersed in that alternative existence was strange, but great.

It's a curious fact that when I left Korea, in February 2006, I had sincerely intended to return for one final year that July. But in May I stumbled, quite without intent, into the job I have now, and it was all change. But things could have been, and very nearly were, very different. For better or worse? I don't know. I have more money now, and hundreds of flats, but oh, there were so many pretty girls back then. Pretty, pretty girls. Now I'm surrounded by burly, hairy men.

Anyway, I got back in Aberdeen on Sunday morning, just in time for a party: my grandfather's 90th. My grandfather is a quite remarkably spritely and inspirational nonagenarian, who for over a year had been meticulously planning a grand 90th birthday party, shrugging off a diagnosis of cancer along the way (since getting it, he's never seemed so healthy). I had no idea what to expect from a party organised by a 90 year old, but it turned out to be a lot of fun. Loads of people had turned out, albeit a few who I think may actually have been dead, and the afternoon was a feast of wine, food, tales and japes, dancing and chatting up old ladies. Ooh, there were a few hotties. For the simple fact that it was a rare convergence of family made it an enjoyable occasion, but it was a fun event in itself, listening to rambling old folk, trying to injure my mother on the dancefloor, appreciating the astonishing music (think Casio keyboard) and getting a chance to wear my swish suit for the first time this year.

Since then, it's been back to Aberdeen life, featuring mostly dinner and Playstation FIFA 2000 at Green's, reading weighty tomes, drinking steadily and drinking arguably too much on Friday while reuniting with Kitchen Mark and his honeybuns French Claire, and wearing a selection of housecoats (classic gentleman's and a new as-yet unnamed one the two favourites). Midweek I popped back to Dingwall as part of the ongoing efforts to help my mother move house. This time was the actual clearing of her house, with the keys ready to be handed over, and a wave goodbye to the Christie home since about 1983. In effect, this involved 10% work, 90% trying to sedate my panicking mother ("What if it falls through at the last minute?", "Where will my cat live?", "What if the river overflows and floods my new house?")

And that's about it... EXCEPT! Well, I have to be discreet here, as there are legal implications, and things are at a very early stage. But, you may recall a month or so ago, my run-in with a character at a train station in London, in which I lent him a never-to-be-returned £80, and I happened to put his details up. Well, I've since been contacted by two different people, both of whom have had run-ins with him. This guy appears to be a professional scam artist, with a few tricks up his sleeve. But don't underestimate the power of the internet, or the determination of the two people that have contacted me (or this guy's apparent idiocy), as we've got some leads. I'd like to say a bit more, but will hold back for now, but needless to say that for me it will be £80 well spent if I can see this guy: a. Imprisoned, or b. Getting his arms sawn off. Check back on my "Human Nature" entry if you want more details.