Monday, November 17, 2014

84 Days of Happiness

It is believed that by taking photos of things that make you happy (every day for 100 days) you will improve your mood, become more optimistic, and, intriguingly, receive more compliments. Does it work? Let's find out! (Or go to part 1 to start at the start).

Day 78

What's the most compelling piece of television you've seen recently? Breaking Bad? House of Cards? Those shows are great but crumble when judged against The Great British Bake Off.

The concept is simple - a bunch of middle-class Brits get in a tent and are told to bake a lemon cake or a shortbread. We watch them. It is amazing. 

More people watch it than watched the World Cup final. It's all very gentle and civilised and full of mild humour. Which made The Bincident all the more thrilling - contestant Diani took contestant Iain's Baked Alaska out of the freezer. It melted. If that'd been me, I'd have yelled at Diana so loud and long her bones would have shattered and I'd have used her jellified remains as ersatz ice-cream. Instead, Iain, the victim, took his ruined bake, threw it in the bin, and stormed out of the tent. Out of the tent!

While the bincident was playing out on screen I neither blinked nor breathed. I realised Dirty Diana progress to the next round and the Innocent Iain would be sent home. "What the eff," I said. "What the very eff."

Nor was I the only one to get worked up - thousands of people phoned the BBC to complain (about the injustice) and social media was abuzz, and the biggest newspaper in the country ran this front page:

A show about baking. Front page news! Baking. Sometimes I love being British.

Day 79

Today I was subjected to a sustained assault on my health and dignity. I was forced to go camping. It was for my friend Kevin's stag party, which makes sense until you realise the camping was his idea.

For those who don't know, camping is where you wait for the coldest, wettest day of the year, drive into the countryside until you're dangerously far from a Domino's Pizza, and erect a nanometre thin piece of cloth. This is called a 'tent' and you 'sleep' in it.

There were seven of us at the start. It turned into one of those horror movies where people are taken out one by one. We lost Tim to wakeboarding, which is as related to waterboarding as the name suggests, and soon after, Alex had to go to put out a fire in his friend's flat 100km away. 

By breakfast, the conditions plus alcohol plus thumping music and screaming kids had reduced everyone to gibbering wrecks. All except the groom who announced he would 'pop in the lake for a quick 5k swim'.

The one good bit was the premium wagyu burgers that Brett brought and grilled. He topped them with blue cheese and they were pure heaven. He quoted Leonidas by saying, "Tonight we dine in hell, and the food is surprisingly good."

Day 80

One of my students was alone in the classroom. "The others can't come," he said, "Too busy." 
At first I was disheartened. He was the weakest in the class and it would cost me more effort and energy than if the stronger students had been there to do my work for me.

After a few minutes I realised something had changed. "This guy," I thought to myself, "Has improved beyond all recognition. How did that happen?"

I pointed out that his English was really good and asked him why. "Because you're a good teacher," he said, and we both had a good laugh. "No, but really," I said. I wanted to know.

"Well," he said, "I installed that Duolingo app you told us about. I practice ten minutes every day. And I watch NBA basketball. That's in English. But I guess the main thing is that I watch a lot of Geordie Shore." "You mean Jersey Shore." "No, Geordie Shore. People from Newcastle going to parties and being moronic."

So there you have it, people. The secret to incredibly rapid language acquisition is these guys:

Britain - exporting language and culture for a thousand years.

Day 81

If you're new here, know this: Jen is my girlfriend and she rides horses. 

I was reading a comic hidden behind 'The Consolations of Philosophy' when she came home from work.
"A guy emailed me today," she said. I wasn't immediately interested, and made some non-committal noise. "It was a strange request... or maybe... Never mind."
I looked up. "What sort of request?"
"The strange thing was that he wrote via my work email. So he must have been googling riding teachers or just looking for women who ride."
"And? The request?"
"He said he would pay me if I let him clean my boots."
"Oh," I said, and looked back at my comic. Then it clicked. "Wait - he'll pay you?"
Time passed. 
"And I suppose the dirtier the boots are, the more he'll pay?"
"I didn't go into detail."

Budding entrepreneurs take note: there's easy money to be made from these fetishists. I got Jen to give me the guy's email address and he's paying me 20 francs to print this photo of her:

Day 82

Because everyone schedules their weddings to cause maximum inconvenience, I was forced to go my second stag party in a week. I was still covered in leeches as part of my rehabilitation from the first one. 

Nick's stag do sounded just as fun as camping - the victims had to cycle the length and breadth of Switzerland then go rock-climbing up the most jagged, skin-flaying outcrops of hell ever discovered.

Luckily I had to work so missed all that and just went to dinner. Except the groom, everyone - literally everyone - at the table was called 'Andrew'. I waited for an explanation but I waited in vain.

When Nick went to the toilet I asked why all Nick's friends had the same name.

"I have a theory about that," said Andrew. "When I first met Nick he was quite diffident towards me, but when he heard my name he completely changed. He started biffing me in the arm and buying me beers. Next time I met him was at another party, and I observed first-hand as Nick met Andrew."
"Me?" asked Andrew.
"Yes, you," said Andrew. "And I realised that - shit, he's coming." He cleared his throat and continued talking about lobular fatigue and ductility.
I never heard the end of the story, but later I got an anonymous text message which had just one word: 'prosopagnosia'. 

If I can survive a week without being forced to go to parties, maybe I'll have time to look it up.

Day 83

Today I discovered a Twitter account called 'Drunk Furniture' and had a good laugh at it. Here's a small sample:

"It's funny," said Jen, "But why is there so much furniture lying around?"
"That's Britain for you," I said fondly. Sometimes I love being British.

Day 84

This post is already quite long so I won't write anything about day 84 except to say that I had a good time and I was happy and this picture was related to my happiness:

Mood: Good

Compliments: "You've told this story before. But tell it again." "I hadn't even noticed your bald spot until now." "You don't smell but those socks smell."

Optimism: High

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Photographer Documents the Finding of the 'Lost' Art of Conversation

A recent viral article claims to 'document' the death of real-life conversation by showing photos of people using their smartphones. While other people are nearby. Some of whom are also, scandalously, USING THEIR PHONES. My friend Cecile posted it on her Facebook wall with the comment "omg conversation is dead waily waily prepare for the rapture"

BUT new research conducted by me suggests that the art of conversation is alive and kicking. And I have the photos to prove it.

Please note that I AM seriously positing a claim that these photos show that people are talking to each other more often than ever before in human history, and that those conversations are also more interesting, more full of human feeling, and contain a wider range of vocabulary.

"Yes! Totally incurable!"

"The first one to stop clapping is fired."

 "You'll never find the bodies."

"Just pictures of women eating salad and laughing. Yes, a whole website!"

"Dude, why does that girl have your penis on a leash?"

"No, it's an extra fifty with a condom."

"And it just ended with a nice photo of two people who use their smartphone more than average and talk more than average. And that kind of proved his point."

The last photo was taken by Aurelie Menard.

Monday, October 13, 2014

77 Days of Happiness

For my own mysterious reasons - which are plainly laid out here- I'm taking photos of things that make me happy. One a day for 100 days, in the style of the 100HappyDays project.

This series was slightly delayed by two weddings and a move (Did you know? - Two Weddings and a Move was the working title for 'Four Weddings and a Funeral' - in the first draft, the gay fella read out 'Stop All the Clocks' while everyone else hauled furniture upstairs).

Day 71

"One thing I don't understand about Switzerland," I said to a student, "is why my electricity bill is so low. I mean, I'd almost prefer to pay more. Electricity should be expensive so we use less and save the planet." "I totally agree," came the reply, "but it's strange because my bill is quite high." Somewhere in the world, a crack of thunder rumbled ominously.

The student said, "Now tell me more about your plan to spend no money in July." "Well," I said, "my plan is to spend no money in July." "Gosh. I hope you don't get any unexpected bills!"

On July 1st, just after breakfast, I went to my mailbox and found an unexpected bill. The electricity company had been undercharging me for 6 years, and decided now was the right time to ask me to pay the difference.

I took the news with a smile and good grace. 

Still, six years. Six bloody years. You have to laugh.

Day 72

One of the basic principles of relationships, which any fool can learn from watching sitcoms or romantic comedies (e.g. the classic Three Weddings and a Baptism), is that people should notice when their partners have had haircuts.

I take care to notice Jen's hair every morning and evening and comment on every change, even if it's just a suspicious darkening or if it has acquired a more wig-like texture.

Needless to say, I have noticed every haircut Jen has ever had since the beginning of the relationship.

She hasn't noticed a single one of mine. It's got to the ludicrous point that when I say 'Do you notice anything different?' her eyes dart around the room and she shouts things like 'The chair is bigger? The printer is out of ink? You hid my crocs?'

Today's failure made it Andrew 14 - Jen 0 in haircut-noticing. So I've got that going for me, which is nice.

Day 73

My new iPhone arrived. It's the same as the old one, but a bit bigger, and a fraction faster. It was fun unboxing it, stroking it against my cheeks, and trying to get the fingerprint scanner to recognise my tongue, but I quickly reverted to normal use - looking for pictures to send to my German friend Anna that she'll find disturbing or annoying.

As the first ever transmission from the new phone, I sent her this:

The reply was simply, 'dude, WTF.'

I assume she looked away as fast as possible, but it must have been nagging at her. Every few minutes I'd get a follow-up question: 'What's that thing she's hugging? Where did you get this? Is this what a wedding in Manchester looks like?'

Day 74

Monty Python did a show at the O2 arena in London which was also streamed live in cinemas around the world.

One of my students thought buying tickets to that broadcast would be the perfect way to seduce a middle-aged Swiss woman. If you're not familiar with the Swiss, I can tell you that the previous sentence is as surreal as anything the Pythons ever came up with.

To his great surprise, he was rebuffed, so he ended up inviting me. I smuggled in some mini-wines, we got 'just as sloshed as Schlegel' and chuckled at the sketches. 

No-one expects original material

There was nothing new, which I found disappointing. But as the alcohol kicked in I decided I was having a good time anyway. It's all very well trying to be fresh and original every time you perform, but probably most fans want to hear the classic hits. Jen, for example, doesn't laugh at much of my new stuff, but has fits of giggles when I sneak up behind her and burp in her ear.

Day 75

After a bad start to my spend-no-money project I finally had some good news: I sold my old iPhone for a fair price. That meant all the calculations I'd done before upgrading hadn't been mere fantasy, but cold hard science.

Of course, it meant handing over my 4S, my faithful guide and companion. That little phone and I had some good times. There was the time we watched a video of Scarlett Johansson squirming on a rubber ball on a loop for about eight minutes. There was the time I pretended to use it to film some hoodlums and they got spooked and ran off.

But there was also the time it used a whole month's data plan in ten minutes instead of connecting to the wifi in my flat. There was the time it charged me for data roaming in Spain even though I'd turned off all the roaming features. And there was the time it took all my voice memos, containing some important notes to myself about my book, sent them to the NSA, then wiped them from my account, while laughing and nudging its mates.

You know what? I've changed my mind. I hope that piece of shit phone chokes on its own vomit!

Day 76

One of my students has worked for his bank for so long that they gave him a three-month sabbatical. He was telling me about his plans. 

"I'll fly to New York, spend some time there. Then fly to Vancouver, and take a month-long luxury cruise ship down the coast of America, Mexico, through the Panama canal, round the Caribbean, and up to Miami. Then we'll drive around California for a while. There's a bunch of spas we want to try out."

It's all too human to listen to such things with envy and resentment. But I was just really happy for him. That surprised me. Why should I be happy about the happiness of someone else? 

Maybe it's because he's a great guy and I know he deserves it. Maybe it's just that I'm growing up, maturing, becoming a better person. Hmm. No, it's the first one.

"Um... they're gonna come back for us, right?"

Day 77

You might remember me trying to put some pizzazz back into my relationship with Jen by becoming more mysterious. That basically meant not answering her questions in full and not finishing certain

Everyone I know, with one exception, thinks me being mysterious towards Jen is a good idea. But they also say that I should 'be nice' to her.

So I thought I'd get her a little present. I acquired Harry Potter book 1 - she wants to read all the HP books so she can enjoy the 'Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality' I mentioned last time.

When she got home I told her it was hidden in plain sight, and if she found it she could have it. 

She wandered around the flat looking kinda gormless actually, and in the end I realised she wouldn't ever find it without help. So I gave her some hotter/colder hints and when that didn't work I picked it up and put it in her tiny hands.

"Aw!" she said, making her sloth-in-a-bucket face. "Where did you get this?"
"Oh," I said. "Just from a place."
"No, I mean, did you buy it or borrow it or what?"
"I have my sources."

That went on for a while. Finally, she went to do what she calls a 'lady poop', and I reflected on how my combination of thoughtfulness, generosity of spirit, and elusive mysteriousness makes me a wonderful person to know. 

Progress after 77 days:
Mood: Forgetful.

Compliments: "The things you think of! Your brain is just really weird." "You got thinner. It's like hugging a stick." "You made my day!" "Oh! It's actually quite firm."

Optimism: Mostly apprehensive about surviving/not being bankrupted by future events - two weddings, two holidays, and one move (another discarded movie title).

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Andrew's True Reviews: Cecile's Wedding

Note - in the original version of this post, I cruelly used an unflattering photo of Cecile for comic effect. It showed her with a very curious facial expression. I have replaced that photo with a similar one of a well-known celebrity.

I went to Cecile's wedding, and wrote an article about it for her newspaper. (Here's a link to the article, but I'll put it at the bottom as well so that you can read this first.) I only had 500 words to work with, so there were some details I didn't have space to include.

1. In the morning we went to the registry office for the legal ceremony. Cecile told me it was going to be "just a simple casual thing" and then complained when I turned up in shorts.

Cecile told everyone to be at the evening service at 16:30 sharp. Sharp! Don't be late! At 17:15 someone turned to me and said, "Here we are, waiting for Cecile to turn up, not sure if she will. This must be how her students felt."

(Okay, I said that. Whatever.)

2. The ceremony was performed in French and English. Cecile tried hard not to mix the two up. "I take you Nick to be my usband... No, husband. Husband! With an H! Everyone heard me say the H! Stop laughing!"

3. When I met Cecile in the weeks before the wedding I asked what kind of cake they would have. "Shoe cake," she said. Obviously I laughed. When this made her angry I realised she was being serious and there really would be shoe cake served.

I genuinely thought it was going to look like a shoe right until the moment I saw the tray of profiteroles (which she smashed with her fists like some nuptial Hulk).

Turns out it's written 'choux'. 

4. Me and my girlfriend had a mini-break in Aix-en-Provence then went to Nice. "Ah no you haff bin somewhere," said Cecile, "bwhut whahere hexactly?"
I replied, "Aix, Aix, baby." She did that puzzled, half-blank, half-stupefied face of hers.

She didn't know the song! Ice Ice Baby, the biggest song of the early 90s! Never heard it, never heard of it! She insisted that it was an obscure thing that was "only famous in Manchester." It became - with remarkably little prompting - the biggest running joke of the wedding, culminating in the dance floor being full of people singing 'check out the hook while the DJ revolves it' with Cecile in the corner, arms folded, while everyone laughed at her.

(Not true - she danced along with everyone else.)

5. We also had to endure slideshows showing Nick and Cecile's progression from baby to married adult. ("Slide 296: Nick gets 4 atoms taller"). Well, apparently I'm not allowed to complain about that, because it would be ungrateful, because Cecile organised for me to have a giant delicious tomato instead of a fish dinner.

Listen up, relatives of the newlyweds, you did a good wedding and everything, but I've prepared my own slideshow. Show you how it's done. Learn up.









Anyhoo, here's that link to the article:

Click here for the best article ever printed in the southern hemisphere.


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Learn EQ with Handrew (part 2)

Hi, it's me again! You know, Andrew Girardin. I won a prize for having the most Emotional Intelligence. But I wasn't born like this - I had a good teacher.

My mentor and life coach Handrew wants to teach you some stuff about Emotional Intelligence so that you, too, can live each and every day to its fullest.

In today's lesson you'll learn how to stop feeling bad about all the things that happen.

Handrew here! In lesson one you learned your personality type. That's very important. Today we're going to step into a submarine, shrink it to tiny size, and swim around your brain. Like in that movie!

I'm being injected into my own brain?

Fasten your seatbelt, buddy. Your brain is a dangerous place. If your personality type was RED, we'll be injected into your medulla oblongata. For all other types, we'll be going into the occipital lobe. (Don't worry about the difference. It's just to validate the personality testing we did, to show it wasn't pointless psychobabble.) 

Once we're inside, we're going to head right towards the part of your brain that our sensors indicate is fucking up your shit. Scanning... target locked. Stand by for launch in 3, 2, 1...

The injection seems to have gone smoothly - we're in. Let's just test all the systems before we press on. Don't think of a pink elephant. See all those lightning bolts? That's you thinking about elephants! The sensors all seem to be working. Let's move on.

We should be getting near - Whoa! Shields up! Achtung, baby! We're getting interference from that memory cloud on the left. The last porn you watched, I assume. Why is that dwarf holding a -? Look, can you try to think clean thoughts for now? - we're burning 18 acres of rainforest every second to power this machine.

Oh! Oh! This is the place. 

No, it's not supposed to look like that. You know when someone doesn't come to your party and you think they hate you? You know when you're talking to someone and they look at their watch and you think you are boring them? Assuming the worst all the time has opened this horrid black hole thing in your brain. Doctors call it a 'Spazzy Assumption Place.'

Don't be a SAP! We can make you all better.

Let's use the scenario about someone checking their watch while you're yapping away. Why are they doing that? Order these from most likely to least likely:

s) because he hates you
b) because he wants to know the time (for any of a billion reasons)
b) because the watch is actually a Geiger counter and he thought he smelled some radiation
o) because he's written your name on his wrist and wants to use it when he asks you on a date
o) because he wants you to notice his Patek Philippe

The correct sequence is, of course, b-o-o-b-s.

Which stands for:

Next time you find yourself assuming the worst, stop and think about what you learned today. Boobs.

Now let's get out of your brain before the smell overpowers us. Maybe we'll come back one day and see what else we can find.

Coming soon - part 3.

Note - I don't like redirecting people to other blogs because everything you need is right here. But if you want more advice on this topic, here's a post called '16 Things Emotionally Strong People Don't Do.' Other than the annoying click-bait title, it's actually good.