Morning Has Smoken

imageI don’t know what your favourite smells are to wake up to in the morning. Baking bread, perhaps? Frying bacon? Success? But one of my least favourite smells is the smell of smoke. Or, more specifically, smoke that I didn’t intend on encountering as it billowed its way into my room. What did I do last night in the kitchen?! Was my immediate thought. I scrabbled out of bed and really didn’t enjoy the way my hangover chose to kick in at this exact time. Yet upon entering the kitchen, I could see that everything was in order. Well. Messy order. It was then that I realised that the thin haze all around me was not from my flat, but from the flat of my neighbour the floor below (whom I will now loving refer to as The Downstairs Moron).

Living above this guy has been a trying time. I thought I had it a little rough with my neighbour previously who, in addition to being distractingly attractive, was also in the habit of rising early to pray loudly in Arabic directly below my bedroom. Not that I took issue with the prayer itself, it was more to do with the hours in which the need struck to commune with the divine. 6am, for example, is not my favourite hour for the call to prayer. However, this guy did make amazing food, let me take care of his kitten when he was away, and helped me practice my French. So in the long run, I liked him.

In direct contrast is Downstairs Moron. Yet another early riser, DM also loves to sing, both loudly and badly, at early hours on a weekend. I half think he’s warming up for church a few hours later. But what is most trying about this neighbour are the odours that emanate from his flat. The front door of which I have to go past every day. And yes, come to think of it, my brain realises, the smell of burnt food is one of the staple smells that come from The Downstairs Moron. The issue today however, is that for once, the smell has climbed the stairs and woken me from my sleep by activating the pre-historic DANGER section of my addled brain. I plod downstairs and hammer, politely, on the door. No answer. I hammer impolitely. Still no response. At this point I’m starting to not enjoy coughing by this guy’s door and so I go upstairs again and Google “How To Kick Down A Door”.

After ringing my landlord to leave a vaguely panicked voice-mail informing him that one of the events happening today would be the destruction of Flat 1’s front door, I decided to put to use my newly-Googled knowledge of Door Carnage By Kicking. This lasted all of four feeble footings until I decided that I was not, in fact, the new Jet Li. Ah, but now I get to do something even more exciting. I get to do what all little kids dream of doing for real at some point: dial 9-9-9.

I can tell you, it’s quite a rush.

Next thing I know I’m standing outside, squinting through my headache made worse by the fire engine’s siren, and being told by the speedy responders that it was just a pan that Downstairs Moron had left on when he went out for work. Whatever had been in the pan may only be determined by forensic science, and seeing how the place hadn’t actually burned to the ground, this was unlikely to happen.

And while I fared pretty well, had my smoke machines replaced, and went to get a breakfast that featured absurd quantities of peanut butter, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for Flat 1’s poor little front door that now lay in splinters with a forlorn looking lock dangling by a solitary bent screw.

Next time I see The Downstairs Moron, I’m going to have words. I may even inform him of his new name.

Life Before Noon

garfieldIt was morning and we were stepping out of the gate, bright sun in our eyes. It had been a late night, the midnight showing of Avengers 2, and probably because we’d stuffed ourselves with sugar and I’d had six espressos to keep my eyes open, the night’s sleep hadn’t been what you could call amazingly refreshing. Yet it was morning, and work beckoned. As he squinted in the light he muttered:
“Eurgh, I hate morning people.”
I nodded. I mean, who actually *likes* morning people? Bright an early is never fun. Right? Why can’t they just grumble and roll along until lunchtime hits like the rest of us? I threw out my stock Oscar Wilde quote: “Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast” but all I got was a puzzled look in return. And then it hit me: he thought I was a morning person.

After recovering from such a spiteful accusation, I ran through the check-list in my head. While he was visibly malfunctioning, I was alive and smiling. He was still mostly comatose, I was practically bouncing – and I’d not had breakfast yet. I was looking at the day as a good one already, despite having only been awake for an hour (and asleep for only 4 and a half). Had I become a morning person? Was I really one of THEM?!

It’s true that now I’m living your average 9 to 5 weekday, I have to go to bed around midnight. I get cranky after 12 hits unless I’ve had lots of alcohol (at which point I’m probably just being my bitchy queen of a drunk self anyway). Friends try to get me to stay up past 1 and I just nope out and curl up with in my duvet. After all, sleep is fun! It’s like the third most fun thing to do by yourself! Why are there all these people who refuse to lie down and conk out before 5am on average nights?

Am I getting old? Is that just it? I know I’m halfway through my 20s and white hairs are just a thing now, I’m incredibly excited about knitwear, and Nigella Lawson is like my second mum, but I was unaware of when I slipped into the turgid swamp of white, middle-class adultism and left behind my “don’t talk to me before 11am” days.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve fully embraced my inner geek and have no issue becoming unduly excited over small things. I find letting myself overdose on happiness and joy rather agrees with me, so if you give me reasons to smile at 8 o’clock like, say, having seen Avengers 2 only hours previously, realising I still had a full huge bag of chocolate I didn’t get around to last night in my bag, or the fact that the sun was shining, then yeah – I’ll be jubilant in the AM.

Then again, perhaps I’m not a morning person. Maybe it’s just that some suffer more than others before noon and I won yet another genetic lottery that decrees that while morning is not my favourite time, it’s not the end of the world and my speech and motor functions are still intact. I still refuse to leave my bed before noon for anything other than a five alarm fire, the zombie apocalypse, or free food on a Saturday and Sunday however. And while my internal clock may wake me up before 9 on the weekend, I am most definitely going to lie here for three hours while I go on the internet. And I’m not one of those “let’s get up at 5 and go for a run” types. Those people are dangerous, stay away from them because they are probably the lizard people in disguise that David Ike has been warning us all about. And I will still give you a truckload of side eye and unspoken but clearly detectable (practically tangible) scorn to anyone who sings at me to wake me up. Unless it’s Julie Andrews of course. But then I’d have all sorts of other pressing questions to deal with.

What are you doing here? Am I dead? Is this heaven? Am I naked? Would you like some tea, Julie?

Why I Am An Optimist

Optimism-Breeds-OptimismMy previous month of no news was certainly interesting. I’d call it informative, but the truth is I’ve enjoyed being far less informed than usual. I have no idea what’s happening in Ukraine (there were rumbles of a nuclear accident?), no clue where the fight against ebola has progressed (though I’m guessing you don’t know either as no new white people have been infected), and I know diddly squat about UK politics for the month of November – I count this as no big loss.  It’s not as if I managed to stay news-sterile for 30 days though. I read the occasional headline on reddit, and tumblr came alive with the anti-racist police (or is that anti racist-police) riots and protests that have erupted across the USA, but generally I’m out of the loop. And I feel great.

Sure – go ahead – bury your head in the sand, Andy. Cut yourself off from all the crazy that isn’t happening to you and you’ll feel fine! Well, now that you mention it, that’s a pretty sound idea. What do I gain from reading about the murder of children, violent disease, extra taxes, paedophile MPs, civilian casualties, and the Islamic State? A burning anger? Over tweaked paranoia? A general sense of dread? All of the above and more, I’d imagine.

This all weirdly coincided with a tiny life event that made me realise what it is I really want. Or at least, one thing I truly value in people. I had to genuinely ask someone to be nice to me. He was so caught up in his (admittedly humorous and expertly crafted) put-down jokes – I believe the kidz call it “banter” – that he had forgotten that a human resided at the barrel end of his quips. No, I don’t think he’s a bad person. Yes, he was nice generally and had a nice face, but I think when you have to ask for someone to be nice then you’re on the tail end of whatever it is that’s happening.

We love negativity as a species. We LOVE it. Thrive on it, crave it, create it, and despise positivity. We then wonder why so many of us end up with brains hard-wired to think the worst and to ignore the happiness. As a guy who’s a sarcastic dick at heart, I want to just throw my two pence out there and reveal my life changing choice: I am going to try my best to be nice, to reject unkindness, and aim for joy.

I only have one life. And my one drive is to make sure I am happy.

And here I reveal that – hold onto your hats – we as humans can think and believe two opposing things at the same time. I can be positive and not be in denial that bad things happen.

Exhibit A: Tom Cruise is great and I love him. Tom Cruise is also awful and I never want to be near him. Exhibit B: Alcohol makes me feel great therefore I love it. Alcohol makes me feel awful, therefore I hate its effects. Exhibit C: Nobody cares about politics. Everybody cares about policies that affect them. Exhibit D: Nobody likes taxes. Everybody likes what they pay for. I could go on.

Yes it is possible to choose the positive over the negative and not ignore things. I mean hey, most of you choose the negative over the positive and you’d never accuse yourselves of the same short-sightedness. And why on earth is it so jarring to choose to err on the positive side of things? If the two sides are equal in importance (or at least in prevalence) then why is it that I seem to suddenly be going against the grain? Am I mad? Quite possibly. But I believe I have a duty to myself to stay in the healthiest frame of mind possible. Negativity does not help me in this.

And here’s where my writing runs into a conundrumatic* wall. To continue with my train of thought will be to delve into the negative, to berate, to decry, to be negative about negativity. How do I get my vague point across without becoming preachy? Without being just another whiny internet commentator mewling “Why can’t everyone just be nice?”. I think the answer is simply to inform you of my decision, and leave you to think what you want. My guess is that you dislike being told what to do as much as I do anyway.

Perhaps we’re all just different. Shocker, I know. But if I make one person feel a smidge better by not telling them why the thing they like shouldn’t really be liked, then I think this makes me happier than informing the plebeian masses on how right I am about everything. After all, you’re probably tired of hearing that from me by now.

So that’s it. I’ve been a negative person for too long. Perhaps this is my official conversion to optimism or something, and I have no intention of regressing. I now value kindness as the most valuable human trait, not excellent sarcasm. I’ll read about things that make me happy, over things that make me sad. And while I’ll keep a vague eye out over what’s going on – I want to know what happens with 2015s UK elections and 2016’s US elections (come on Elizabeth Warren!) – and I’m not going to avoid all news sources like I did, I think now I’ll just not be a slave to them.

Yes, negative cynicism can be funny. But positivity makes me happy. I know which side I’ll choose.

 

*Yes, that’s a new word. You may use it. 

Goodbye Internet

the-end-03It’s 8am and I wake up (there are some benefits to living so close to work). The first thing I do is try desperately to turn my phone alarm off. Swipe to turn off? Sounds easy enough until the last millimetre and then it seems not to register my finger. I’m sure this is an Android conspiracy to further frustrate me of a morning but that’s another story. Now vaguely alive and with my phone in my hand, I go immediately to the news – did any celebrities die in my sleep? Is Z-Day here? What has UKIP done now? I spend about 15 minutes trawling through two different news apps, then reddit, then twitter. By the time I fall out of bed, I know what’s going on in the world, and I just want to crawl back up into bed and hide for about a century.

Now I don’t want to be a pessimist, but being British comes with a certain level of cynicism that we feel is our civic duty to impart to the world. No, it can’t all be good news all the time. Yes, people are going to die, natural disasters are going to happen, taxes will be raised, people imprisoned, but lately it’s all been washing over me like a continuous version of that one wave at the beach that knocks you down when you’re a little kid. Every day as I wake up, I hold my own head down under the depressing waters of how utterly abominable humanity is being this morning, and only surface when a cute cat picture floats my way.

It’s not as if I’m suddenly realising that the ratio of bad news to good is less 50:50 and more like 99:1, it’s that over the past few months it seems as if we, as a race, have been increasingly lousy. No matter what issue it is, we seem to have reached some sort of ditch and have chosen to lie there for a little while and be gross. Politics, infrastructure, the environment, the internet, celebrities, foreign policy, wars, general death and disease have reached peak crumminess and I think I just need a break.

I think I used to be able to sniff out the happier stories each day to temper the oppressive dark cloud, but perhaps I’m just a bit out of practice. I like being positive and staying away from negativity as much as I can. I simply have better things to do than pour scorn on someone else’s likes and dislikes, revel in drone strikes, or to read the comments section of a website. I like being buoyed along by the thought that we’re improving as a race, and we are. When I think of the advances in science and medicine, the overall trend towards being nicer people, and (how could I forget) the fact that there are new Star Wars films coming out, I get so incredibly happy that everything seems to be great. It seems that people just want to hear about all the garbage going on instead of the great things. And so, when we’re told every day that we’re all doomed we just sort of go with it, and choose to believe that things truly are shit. They’re not – it just sells more newspapers.

But perhaps I just need a little break. A hiatus from the media deluge of depressive depravity. And I know that the title of this post is Goodbye Internet, but I’m not quitting the internet altogether. I mean, how on earth would I survive? Netflix is here! But for just one month, I’m quitting news. I’m leaving all sites that pepper me with pessimism, and I’m going to sit here, eat pizza, watch Netflix, and count down the days till Star Wars (as of today there are 407). Feel free to join me. For those of you who don’t join, feel free to spend these next 30 days tidying everything up on the planet so it’s good for when I get back.

Too Much Of A Good Thing

bank-accountsSo I don’t know about you but there’s this thing I do where I simply have to check my bank balance every time I think about it. I’m not one to misdiagnose myself with OCD because, let’s face it, I’m a slob. Those of you who’ve had the good fortune to see me in my natural habitat no doubt had to climb over mountains of clothes in various states of worn-in-ness, and fight through a sea of coffee mugs to attain some measure of comfort. I’m compulsive about very few things and only my reaction to one wall socket switched on with nothing plugged into it will elicit any reaction that borders on some sort of asperger’s syndrome scale. I’m trying to be zen, remember?

But when I think about my bank balance, I must immediately make use of the marvel that is online banking and have some numbers appear on one of my various screens to tell me how much money I don’t have any more. While most actions of the compulsive nature have a calming effect, mine has more of a belt-tightening effect if I’m honest. Usually I’m a little out, but over the years I’ve become pretty adept at knowing vaguely how many pennies reside in my pot. It’s one of my odd, but comfortingly useful life skills I seem to have picked up as I’ve gone along. Coupled with this are my abilities to: equally pour out wine for two or more people to an acceptable measure of level of accuracy (oddly, I become more accurate the more wine I drink); and the MARVELLOUS skill of, when shopping, being able to bag all my groceries into multiple shopping bags that all weigh the same (or at least balance out over each hand if there’s an odd number of bags). Please don’t burn me at the stake for being a witch.

However there comes a time, once in a blue moon, when my internal bank balance calculator takes a bit of a holiday. This isn’t usually that much of an issue but it’s most fun when my need to check on my monies also decides to go a-wandering. I’ll drift for a week or two without a care in world about finance and then *pop* I remember that such things exist. Yet what somehow happens each and every time these two events converge is that when I can bring myself, snivelling and practically weeping at the thought of how destitute I am soon to be, to call upon the online banking gods to deliver to me my fate is that I am vastly richer than I thought I was.

And what is my reaction to finding out that all is well and that I’m not as shit with money as my subconscious thought I was?
– Why surely, Andy you save it. Or at least you settle comfortably into the knowledge that this month will be under budget and all will be well?

Nah. I see it as a challenge: How fast can I spend my cash surplus? I bet all of it can go in one day! How about some new and obscenely overpriced underwear? And now to stock up your drinks cabinet, yes? And what self-respecting geek doesn’t collect out-of-print graphic novels that sell for dangerous amounts of money? Why not look at how expensive cars are?

It’s at times like these that I realise how financial crashes work on Wall St.

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

ReverseI remember the time in life I realised that I didn’t have to pretend to actually like football. As a 14 year old in an all boys school (and desperately trying to pass as a straight person) this was a great relief. Having not grown up in a household where football was of any importance whatsoever – a grace for which I am yet to thank my genius parents – being dropped into a world where the lingua franca was whatever player performed well that week, and whether Liverpool or Everton would do well that season*, was all a big culture shock. Coming from a city where you were either a Red or a Blue, I seemed to confound comprehension of my peers by choosing neither. But as I dipped my toes into the waters of Not-Giving-A-Hot-Shit (a place I would soon dive into body and soul) I became more and more myself.

I guess my ten year journey has led me to here then. An almost completely different person in many respects but still me at heart. So it is with tentative trepidation that I find myself secretly googling the results of world cup matches. My eyes are glued to any screen showing a game and I honestly have favourite teams and have mapped out a strategy of who’s going to win. Or at least – who I want to win.

It’s not that I’m suddenly actually interested in football, it’s more that I’ve unexpectedly found that I can appreciate the beautiful game. I see patterns and formations, I can anticipate goals and game developments quite intuitively. I think I need to be deeply involved in the game in some other life, my brain appears to be hard-wired for it in a way most other peoples aren’t. It’s disconcerting to find that one of my inbuilt aptitudes is for a thing I have such disdain for. I think I have much self-examining to do when the tournament is over.

And so this sudden life epiphany has me all pre-disposed to think about change and how suddenly it can occur even when the tide seems to be against it. And forgive me for this rather jagged segue into a different topic, but on this Pride weekend we’re marking 45 years since the Stonewall Riots.

In less than half a century, my people (that’s right, I’m the Moses to society’s anit-gay Pharaoh) have gone from an imprisoned minority to being plastered annoyingly across every channel you could hope to watch. Louis Spence prances round like a knob, Alan Carr flaps and cackles live on our screens, and Graham Norton slathers us with bitchy sass while we watch Eurovision. And we FUCKING LOVE IT. I think that we need to take a moment to realise just how massive this is.

While other political groups are still campaigning or fighting for their cause, often with violence, all we did was stand up and shout loudly and gayly and people listened. After all, it’s hard to ignore such an immaculately dressed interest group.

Perhaps this feeds into my new love for non-violence and leanings towards Jainism (please don’t be alarmed when you wikipedia that and see all the Swastikas – they invented the symbol and the Nazis just stole it)  but I think that even if you disagree with us – you can’t deny we have a killer PR team.

Yay for equal rights, yay for non-violence, yay for football, and yay for The Netherlands – YOU CAN DO IT!

*I’ve yet to actually take the time to actually work out how long a football season is and why this matters. The season always seems to be starting and ending.

Zen And The Art Of Mythological Maintenance

ZenPerhaps it’s my hesitant dabblings in yoga and that one time I managed to properly meditate*, or maybe it’s just I finally stopped caring about making sure everyone knows I’m right all the time, but I’ve slipped into an incredibly Zen way of life and thinking these days. Ok so I’m using Zen in the sense that I’m a placid lake of happy-go-luckiness who just rolls with the punches rather than a student of the 6th Century strain of Buddhism. But I’m sure you get the picture. Things just seem not to matter as much any more. Not that I’m becoming deadened to emotion or anything, I mean more that I’ve chosen not to care as much about things that I can’t change or things that get me nowhere in life.

Now I still geek out excessively. If you want to see me animated then just mention the upcoming Star Wars films in my presence. Words cannot hope to faithfully describe just how gosh-darned PUMPED I am for those things. Same with most geekery across the board if I’m honest. I enjoy being slightly manic when I feel like it. I still get worked up when the moment calls for it. Truth is though, I’ve realised that very few moments do call for it.

I guess it was a side-effect of being 18 and intelligent that I felt the need to hammer home just how correct I was and how wrong you all are at every available opportunity. It’s fun being right – I still believe that (ask any of my exes – I am an irritable correction freak) and I enjoy knowing stuff and churning out interesting facts to people – it’s just not a driving force of my life any more.

Some of you may remember my tempestuous departure from Christianity that went down a couple of years ago. I was an arrogant cynic who felt so intensely angry at so much about my previous life and I felt that I should be angry at someone but I had virtually no individuals to pin my butt-hurt intellect on. As a friend of mine commented “It’s just so hard because for twenty two years I’ve had this utterly amazing imaginary friend and now I have to come to terms that he’s just not there listening any more”.

I spent far too long reading as much as I could about how silly the very notion of God was. What fools! Hahahaha – look at those religious LOSERS! Tell you what, while it may be wrong to pick on a group of people for what they believe, it is undeniably fun. But yes, I was an insufferable prick.

And then came along the realisation that none of it actually mattered. Yes, I’d stopped believing in God, and yes, it was a big woop. Yet after the cosmic dust settles on the theological headstone I’d fashioned for good old Yahweh, I realised that nobody cared. Perhaps it came from my evangelistic days where I was used to going out and shoving my opinion in other people’s faces, or it could be that I just felt proud of my achievements in besting what I had believed to be the ultimate power in the universe, but just how people are awkward around the shouty men in the street who talk about how I’m going to Hell, people get annoyed at people who feel it their mission in life to pounce on any vague theological argument. People want to be able to think what they think without jarring flap-mouthed loons weighing in with their two-cents.

It’s funny actually. The times when I was most spoiling for a fight, I was sending out all the signals that I was singularly the worst person to engage in any sort of meaningful debate about higher things. Simply from an intellectual point of view I wanted to have a debate about atheism and Christianity – I still do in fact – but being a furry little ball of self-righteous rage, all my Christian friends exercised the wisdom of Solomon and stayed away, far far away. I honestly think that was the best call. Thank you all for not allowing me to embarrass myself. I’ve enough moronic moments in my life to deal with already without adding more.

But the worst part is that I never got to have a sensible conversation about things I truly wanted to talk about. I honestly don’t think that anyone of my Christian friends has any idea why I now don’t believe that God exists, and that’s weird considering the fact that I can rattle off the reasons and life events that led many of them to believing in God, and then sort more of them according to denomination and how many points of Calvinism they adhere to.

Perhaps I’d like that debate now. Over a drink somewhere – not on the internet. Internet arguments are without question the worst forum in which to try and talk to someone about anything serious. But then again, I’ve realised that it honestly doesn’t matter. This whole Zen thing has mellowed me out to the point where I know exactly what I believe and I’m comfortable with it. So comfortable in fact, I can listen to people talking about things that fly brazenly in the face of my godless sensibilities, and decide that none of it is worth a fight. You’re my friends and family and I don’t want to push any more of you away because of which books we like to read.

Zen truly is the way to live. Everything is better, everyone is lovely – if you just give them a chance, and the world seems brighter. Though that may just be the new light bulbs we bought for the kitchen – those things are brighter than the sun.

*It was out of this world. I felt like Yoda, Gandalf, and Professor X all rolled into one.