Saturday, December 20, 2014

91 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 85

We landed in Nice to spend some time there before a wedding. We needed to take a bus to our hotel.

Being ignorant of French travel norms, we went to the bus station. After queuing for a while, it was our turn.

"Good morning, sir," I said, "I should like to buy two bus tickets."
"Ha!" roared the Frenchman manning the counter. "Ha!"
"Um... right. Two tickets, please."
"This is the bus station," he told me. "You can't buy bus tickets here."
"I just saw you sell tickets to all those people."
"Those people," he told me haughtily, "were buying tickets for the bus. Not tickets for the bus."
I rubbed the bridge of my nose. "So where do we buy tickets for the bus." His eyebrows shot up. "I mean the bus."
"On the bus," he said.

We went to the closest stop, which was the wrong stop, walked all the way back to where we started, by now leaking sweat from every pore. We found the right stop by following the deepest trail of sweat, waited for the right bus, and bought two tickets. Hooray!

After the relief had worn off, I began to fret. "What was the name of the stop again?"
Jen looked on her phone. "Aauaauaa," she said. (That's what it sounded like, anyway. The French attitude to consonants is one of their many faults.)
I looked around and realised there was no digital screen or route map. The only information we could get was the name of the stop we were going past. We didn't know if our stop was the next one, or the third one, or the umpteenth one.
Jen went to ask the driver. "Will you be saying the names of the stops?"
"Nah, too much effort." Shrug.
"When is Aauaauaa?"
"Um... yeah. In a bit." He glanced behind him. "I guess."
"We were told the trip would be about 20 minutes."
"Could be."
"There are many ways you could help us out, here."
Shake of head. "Look, come back in 15 minutes and ask me again."

Annoying. Plus the bus was jam-packed. You know those pictures of crowds on Indian trains? Imagine that.



But without the camaraderie.

We drove at 200mph for three stops, hit traffic, and progressed at a speed roughly equivalent to being pulled across the Sahara desert by huskies specially bred to have tiny, tiny legs.

Finally we arrived. When Jen told me we had to change to another bus I nearly wept. Fortunately, it came quickly. We didn't even have time to check the timetable when the doors opened. We stepped on.

"Do you go to Ouiouiwee?" Jen asked.
"I dunno," said the driver.
"How can you not know?"
"I don't know all the stops in Nice," he said. He couldn't even be bothered to shrug.
"You only need to know the stops on one route."
"Well I don't."
Eventually a fellow passenger told us it was the right bus, and a different one told us when to get off.

Transport in France is an absolute shambles. I'm not even going to write about the trains there because just thinking about it gives me nipple warts. There are millions of French people suffering from and through that 'service' every day of their lives, a thought that makes me very happy indeed.




Day 86

Parts of Nice are really great. The old town is superb, and next to it is a long park with fun play areas and refreshing fountains.

Then there's the beach. Three of us went to have a swim. It's rocky, with a sharp dip at the point you enter the water. I had two glasses of prosecco then hobbled towards the dip. I slid down with what I like to think was gravity-defying elegance and my belly-flop into the water was totally intentional.

After flailing around at toe-depth for a bit I decided I had ingested enough salt water for one day. In the five minutes I was there, I developed an overwhelming terror of being bitten by a shark. My companions mocked me for this, but the thing about water is that in such large quantities you can't see what's in it. It's a frightful place, the sea.

So I decided to leave. With one main problem - what looked like a dip from one side has, from the other side, the countenance of a cliff. I tried to clamber up, but with the rocks not only wobbling but also trying to pierce my flesh, and with wave after wave crashing into me, I kept losing my balance and toppling backwards.

This continued for quite some time, because my 'friends' were too busy laughing - literally weeping with joy - to help. Finally, a stranger took pity on me and threw me some flip-flops. With those on I was able to manoeuvre myself so that my bottom faced the cliff and I could shove myself up, ass first, three or four inches at a time.

So yeah, basically I emerged from the water just as sexily as all English guys.





Day 87

Still in Nice, I saw a shop I thought was funny. It was this hairdresser:



Normal hairdresser, right? Look closer.



What exactly drove this poor man to stop serving female customers? The mind boggles.



Day 88

Today there was a wedding. Cecile married Nick. Cecile's a journalist and works for a newspaper in Christchurch. She asked me to write a review of the wedding, which I did. It's literally the best thing that has ever been written about weddings and I was quite chuffed to see it printed.

Look! There it is! In a real newspaper!



That's my article on the left. Now it wasn't pure, unalloyed joy I felt - I had two reservations. First, they changed the title of the piece. It was given the uninspiring title, 'It's a nice day for a French wedding.' Not only is that incredibly dull, but it also removes an important bit of information and makes parts of the article unnecessarily weird.

It should have been called 'The Case of the Insouciant Celebrant' - a title I'm sure a literate, inquisitive person such as yourself will find deliciously intriguing. When you read the article - by clicking here - you'll understand why changing the title is a crime against literature.

MOREOVER, my good friend Cecile told me that she had intervened in the editorial process when she learned that my article was to be given full-page treatment. Full page! Me! In a real newspaper! But NON. Non, non, non. "I made them change it to half a page," said Cecile, "Because I've never had a full-page article so you can't get one on your first go. That wouldn't be fair, would it?"



Day 89

I left Nice after two bus trips EVEN WORSE than the ones on day 85. Joy!

For the photo of this event, here's one I took of a guy who was at the airport with us - crippled Arsenal star Olivier Giroud.






Day 90

Great things about being back home - tea with milk you can trust; sleeping in your own bed; catching up with all the internet stuff you missed.

To think that I nearly didn't see this sensational image:



Don't dial 0465-8767-1724-6613, because that's the police.



Day 91

As much as I enjoy pretending to be mad at Cecile, she did trust me to write the review of her wedding (a trust I spectacularly and hilariously betrayed) and she even paid me the fee she got (which I said wasn't necessary).

At the same time I was paid for editing a dissertation, and got a gig translating a corporate website from German into English (note - I don't speak German and they paid a fortune). 

Three pieces of paid writing work in a month! I felt like Catherine Cookson. I earned enough to spend two weeks in Nice, or buy 32 crates of cheap beer from Aldi.

Guess which one I chose?





Mood: Relieved.

Compliments: "Andrew seems to be perfect." "It's still on your chin. No, the other side." "You always ruin everything."

Optimism: Coming up was a family holiday and moving apartment. Lots of stress on the horizon, but I felt quite sure everything would turn out well. So... 7 out of 10.



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?"
"Yes."
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.



CECILE - A LIFE IN PICTURES


BABY




FIRST GALLIC SHRUG


FIRST BIKE


MEETS NICK




ABANDONS VEGETARIANISM






PROPOSES TO NICK




HAPPIEST DAY OF HER LIFE




Anyhoo, here's that link to the article:

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

.