20 Tips: The London Underground

I’ve always enjoyed the feeling of a busy city like London, and the London Underground (also known as the Tube) is the simple but powerful train network that lets you travel through it. I probably know it better than the overground. I’m not a local kid – I grew up far away from London, in a village way up in the West Midlands, but I’ve visited London enough times, and passed through it enough times, to feel at home there too. At home enough, in fact, to complain about it.  When lines are down or stations are closed for maintenance (“A train versus an Out-Of-Order sign: I know who’ll win. Why doesn’t the driver?”), or perhaps when trains are held up in a tunnel for five minutes (“Can’t they just, you know, nudge the train in front along for a while until I get to Victoria?”), I get irritated like most people. Rush hour, particularly, is a nightmare, and there are special rules which apply here. Here are a few tips I’ve picked up over my limited time there:

20 Tips To Survive Rush Hour On The Tube

1) If there are no signs to the line you want, find signs to the Way Out, because the Way Out is also the Way In and has signs to every line.

2) Treat your fellow commuters as if they were sociopaths. There is no compassion here. This place, at this time, is the very definition of natural selection.

3) When walking through a station at rush hour, it is against the common law to stop moving suddenly. If you need to tie your laces, move to the side and come to a halt, slowly. If you need to check your ticket, move to the side and come to a halt, slowly. If you are having a pulmonary embolism, drag yourself to the side (with your face, if need be) and drop dead, slowly.

4) If you are carrying a small suitcase with wheels which drags behind you, when you get to your station, all you’ll have left is the handle. People will have walked through it enough times to shear the two apart. Either pick it up in your hand, wheel it in front of you, or if you’re lucky enough to have four wheels on it, wheel it out to the side. That way, people see it and don’t stand on it.

5) The big board which shows your train times is always placed so that to see it, you have to be standing still directly in the line where the most people are walking. In other words, it’s designed to make you piss other people off.

6) Always carry a couple of 20 pence and 10 pence coins. You wouldn’t want to deny the government the pleasure of making you pay to empty your excretory system and then push through a metal barrier covered in a day’s worth of people not washing their hands.

7) For the sake of all that is good and proper, when standing still on an escalator, stand on the right. The collapse of Western civilisation begins when you don’t, I promise.

8) If you decide to take the stairs, by law, you must race the people walking on the escalator to the top.

9) The escalator going the opposite way does not exist. Make no eye contact with those upon it. Extreme awkwardness follows otherwise.

10) On approach to the ticket barriers, your life is worth less than their turn to swipe through. Approach from the back of the queue. Any one attempting to break in through the side will be killed. It’s one of those rare instances where peace is truly safeguarded by violence.

11) In the underground, when waiting for a train, listen to the stone-cold, psychopathic, passive-aggressive announcer lady: Let people off the train before you get on. Similar reasoning as number 7).

12) When a train approaches the platform, do not bother trying to align yourself with a door. Inevitably, the door will stop before you or ahead of you. It’s a natural paradigm and a fundamental law of physics.

13) When getting onto a packed Tube train, you must apply the same philosophy as a rat squeezing under the door gap: If you can get your head through, the rest of you will fit.

14) Under no circumstances will you run towards the train doors once they start flashing. Do not underestimate how fast they close. You will hit your head. It will hurt.

15) Londoners will smell your fear. Show none. When making space for yourself on a train as it begins to move away, it is acceptable to stab others who try and take it.

16) When standing awkwardly close to someone whilst on a packed train, to point where it wouldn’t be unreasonable for them to sue you for sexual harrassment, make no eye contact. Make no apologies. They cannot kill you if you do not acknowledge their existence.

17) Do not smile at kids on the Tube. In the eyes of their parents, you have become a paedophile.

18) Not so much for you as for your fellow passengers, hold on to the railings. You will fall when the train moves otherwise, and you will become the proverbial and literal first domino. It’s also the single most embarrassing thing that can happen to you unless you get off at the next stop.

19) When getting off a train at rush hour, start moving immediately with the crowd, even if you don’t know which way you’re going. If you’re going the right way, that’s awesome. If you’re going the wrong way, you’re not going to be able to go the right way until the crowd clears, anyway.

20)  Mind the gap.

Good luck.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Wherever I Hang My Knickers, That’s My Home.”

The title of this particular blog post is in reference to a poem I read in a book of short stories and poems, as part of my English GCSE. I never really believed that any part of that ghastly anthology would ever resonate with me, but the last line from one humorous poem, written by an author whose name escapes me, has been drawn out from the backwaters of my mind, after a blog post by a friend.

When we speak of our home, we usually speak of the place we grew up, and where we spent our childhood. But like all arbitrary things, I reject that out of hand. Home, to me, has nothing to do with where you grew up. It can be, if you had great memories there. It can be, if perhaps every time you return there you feel the warmth around you. It’s also not a permanent position. The feeling of a place being your home is conditional on what goes on there, and what you experience as you stand there and just let the atmosphere of the place wash over you.

I feel greatly attached to my home. It’s a little village, a couple of miles away from a large town. It’s quiet, spacy, and everyone knows each other. Everyone looks out for one another, and there’s a peace that feels as ubiquitous as the air around you. But it’s not my only home. Home is Southampton as well. Home is a place where I feel happy, and safe, and where I feel like I know what I’m doing. It’s a place where I can think, and relax. When I go to my little village and experience whatever problems might occur there, and miss Southampton for its people, its busy atmosphere and my life there, I don’t feel guilty. When I’m in Southampton, when I feel tired of my work or of the events and people around me, and I wish I was back in my village, I don’t feel guilty. I’m not betraying my home, because they are both my home.

There are other worlds apart from these places that I can call home. Right now, I’m on a train back to my village from one of them. I spent the last three days down in a tiny village called Hailsham, near Eastbourne on the south coast of the UK, in the beautiful confines of the Boship Lions Farm Hotel. This place is the birthplace and current residence of a wonderful project called the Starfish Project, which helps stammering children and adults to overcome their speech impediment by means of a simple breathing technique. I’ve had a fairly severe stammer since childhood, and I came here for the first time in April 2009, with my mum. Since then, I’ve gone back perhaps nine or ten times to help teach the technique to the beginners and refresh my own technique. I can say with every fibre of my being that the people who come to that place, to help, to learn, or simply to observe, are the most incredible set of human beings I have ever met or will ever meet. The network of support available to a recovering stammerer such as myself has been overwhelming, and the astonishing people who make it up have become my family. The course has been held at this hotel for the past fifteen years, and in that time, the course has seen over 1500 people pass through it, and call it home. When I arrive at the gates, it feels like home. Each course is only three days, and on the train back now, I already miss it dearly. If I could, I would stay there for the rest of my life. If you wish to know the kind of attitude you might encounter there, you might want to look up an old post of mine (one of the first), called The Starfish Story:

http://itmayormaynotrhyme.wordpress.com/2013/12/31/the-starfish-story/

Home, to me, need not be one place, and it need not be permanent. Home will change as you change. Home will change with time. There’s something powerfully alluring about the idea of being constantly on the move, and for me, this is the best kind of life to have. Many people think that those who always move from place to place wish to have no home. I would argue that in fact the opposite is true – travellers seek to make everywhere their home.

Home is truly wherever you make it to be, and it is beautiful for that reason. I would advise that a friend of mine feel no guilt for finding solace by going away from home. Your dream world is a real place, full of people and cats and muffins and trees, and that makes it your home. The mere fact that Southampton is your “Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free Card” makes it another place that you can call home. It will be, for as long as you choose it to be.

Everyone has heard the phrase, “There’s no place like home,” to which I might add, “…and no place that can’t be home.”

Never Nostalgia

One thing I’ve found difficult over the holiday period is finding a good gym and swimming pool in the area where I can keep up my every-other-daily ritual of pushing myself physically. Swimming in the mornings has become a part of my life in recent months, and I’ve finally gotten used to waking up in the mornings at 06:25 and being in the water at my university sports centre by 07:05. It helps with fitness obviously, and usually it wakes me up better than anything in the mornings.

There’s a perfectly good sports centre very close to me – the one currently situated in my old school. It’s recently been refurbished and its gym restocked, and as a result, it’s pretty high class. And because I’m an ex-student, I get a discount on basically every facility there. I found that out when I went for the first time this morning (I took way too long a break from exercise). I spent it in the pool, enjoying the warm water and the cute little kids splashing their exhausted parents, not enjoying so much the spoilt brat swimming in the lane next to me who demanded ALL the floats. All of them. That isn’t spoilt in itself – all kids do that kind of thing – but the parent was trying to make it happen. That’s when you know something has gone wrong for this kid in the interval between being born and now.

I diverge. To get to the pool, I had to park my car at the other end of the school and walk across the whole thing to the other side. And the memories came flooding back, of running around playing tag on the fields, of being told off by the scary ex-military teacher Mr Shield who guarded the door to the cafeteria like a bulldog, of chasing friends with hockey sticks for fun, of falling asleep in the classroom over there or almost shaving my face off on the belt sander in the D.T Department. Most recently, as I walked by the drama department, I recalled my final year with a smile, in which I pulled a series of pranks on them. I was never caught, and I confessed on Graduation Evening, when nothing could be done about it. My Deputy Headmaster (now the Headmaster) hates my guts, but my Headmaster (now ex-Headmaster who is spending his retirement in Spain) told me in secret that he thought it was a hilarious test of his successor and that if I ever wanted a reference, I should email him, not his successor, who also knows me.

It was eerie as well. Today is Saturday, and term ended yesterday. No one wants to come back to school the day after term ends, and the whole place was deserted. Not a soul went in or out, and it felt so different and so strange. I had the eerie feeling that it had been like this ever since I left. This clearly isn’t true. The school has now seen exactly 1100 years worth of ex-pupils go through and had gone on well without them. There was no reason at all that my year in particular moving on should leave it with such a grim expression. It wasn’t that it had physically changed. It was almost identical. But I felt as if in some odd way, it was no longer my home. Later I would realise the reason.

Amongst all those happy and sad memories of school were mingled “memories” of things that could have been but never were. There were so many times when I could have asked the girl standing by the bus stop out, but I never did. There were so many times I could have kicked that ball into the goal if only I’d ran a little bit faster. There were too many times when I was too lazy to put in the effort, or too scared, or not confident enough to make something wonderful happen. So many things could have happened. There were so many friendships that I could have had if I’d just gone up and introduced myself, and so many relationships that could have been made if I’d stolen that dude’s girlfriend a couple of times. I shouldn’t call them memories, but the imagined future in my head is so vivid that it feels like it really happened. And the moment when you realise that it never happened is the moment that you realise you were never truly happy here, but you could have been. One girl who I knew there became one of my closest friends…on the night of the Leavers’ Ball, on the final day, of final year. Far too late. If I’d made the effort earlier, I might have a story to tell, and more importantly, someone to tell it with.

More than anything else, looking back on this period of my life has given me the strength nowadays to take risks that have real consequences. I don’t mind being shot down anymore, because I need to know that whatever happened could have happened no other way. I am happy to pursue a dream rather than wait for it to fall on me.

There’s one particular saying that has always irked me, even when I wished for it to be true: “Good things come to those who wait.”

Bull. Shit. Good things come to those who work for them. I’ll make this promise to myself now: I will not look back on these four years in University and have the could-have-been’s and never-were’s outweigh what was.

Southampton: Solace and Solitude

I’ve come home from Southampton for the Easter holidays now, and I found myself reviewing the past term, with it’s ups and downs. I really should be thinking about home (where I am now), but home doesn’t have to be a single place. Southampton has been my home. It’s catered for me when I’ve needed it, and it’s done wonders. One thing I’ve discovered about it is the number of beautiful places where it’s possible to find some measure of peace.

I’m giving them all up. I went to these places when I need to be alone in bad times, but I’ve since come to realise that being alone isn’t productive. I would justify it by saying that if I was alone, I could get rid of all my sad thoughts and replace them with happiness. But that’s like saying that North Korea is actually a democratic country. Sure, it’s technically called the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, so in theory, it should work like one. But then again, there’s only one party and all rivals are declared enemies of the state and then executed. Likewise, being alone works in theory…but then you realise that the sad thoughts have declared the happy thoughts to be enemies of the brain and had them de-neuron-ed.

In that spirit, I’m relinquishing all of those secrets here:

1) The laundry room in my accommodation – after eleven o’clock in the night. No one turns up, but the laundry is always open. It’s not somewhere you would go for silence, though the sound of the washing machines and driers whirring away around you is somewhat therapeutic. But you’ll find solitude there, no doubt. From now on, I’m going to use it for laundry (no shit, sherlock).

2) The roof of the Physics and Astronomy building on Highfield Campus. As long as I’ve studied at Southampton (not very long, admittedly), I’ve never known a soul to have been there when I’ve have. It’s isolated, fairly silent (allow for the sound of traffic), and a wide open space. You’ll find enough solace here – it’s peaceful. But oddly, though no one comes there, solitude is not available. If you stand at the railing, you look down and you are in touch with the lives of all the people below you. In the Spring and Autumn, you get a stunning view of the campus treeline. When my next term starts, I’ll take my friends up there for the view, and it’s easily big enough for cricket.

3) The new cafe in the Nuffield Theatre on Highfield Campus. Opens early, closes late, and there are a hundred corners in which you can have privacy. It’s beautifully styled, easy to think, very little to distract you from your own misery. I’m going to order coffees to go from now on.

4) The auditorium (or stage) in the Turner Sims Concert Hall, also on Highfield Campus. You’d be surprised how easy it is to sneak by the lady at the box office to get in. It’s deadly quiet, so quiet that you can hear your own heartbeat. No one every comes in, and it’s really great for letting those depressing thoughts echo around you. Now I’m going to use to see concerts.

5) The balconies on the top floors of Maths, which give absolutely stunning views of the rest of campus. Don’t look down: the floor is littered with cigarette butts. I’m not going to go here unless it’s at night (no views of butts), and only because I want to take a picture of campus.

6) The gravel garden between Building 32 and the Social Sciences Building. It’s white, beautiful, but quiet. Even though everyone is around you, you still feel alone.

7) A cosy little cafe in the ticket station at Dock Gate 7, which serves the best hot chocolate I’ve tasted, and the owners will let you take a mug out to the railings at the docks. You’ll find peace here. But most certainly you won’t be alone. The owners are too friendly for that. I’ll take you here if you need to have an important talk with me.

8) The railings at the very end of Dock Gate 7, where I might have taken a hot chocolate from 7). It shows you the unrivalled beauty of the river delta which flows into the English Channel. And every now and then, you get a gigantic container ship glide silently by, cutting the water like diamond on glass. You won’t be alone here, either. The fishermen are too nice. I’m taking my friends here for the view.

I’m never going to be alone in these places again. And I’d advice others against it too. It does nothing for the mind to be lonely.

A Poem To A Friend

One month ago, on the 1st of March, I wrote a blog post full of garbled numinous rubbish concerning my life and my relationships. I look back on it and cringe, but it’s still there because it reminds me of my mood at the time and gives me a contrast to me as I am now. I was borderline depressed then. Right now, I am happy. I’m slowly giving less of a damn what other people think, and therefore becoming the best version of me I can. I’ve said before, it’s okay to look stupid sometimes. The best people always do. I’m done with feeling sorry for myself, for obvious reasons. Instead, I substitute that feeling for the above – be the best version of me that I can. I’m also focusing more on my friendships with others, and that, more than anything else, makes me happiest. So this is a poem to a wonderful friend of mine, who shared something with me this weekend. I wish I could have done more at the time for you, but that may come with time.
______________________________________________________

Secrets and Tears

There’s whispers between us like warm woollen strings,
That bind us together like feathers are to wings,
And though there are two in this smallest of spaces,
We’re one with this whisper and alone in these places.

You’ll find not a heart in my chest, now, my friend,
But a home for your secrets and you that I’ll lend,
It’s yours to confide in, to rip apart or seal.
And a place you can hide in to lock up and heal.

Friends, if nothing else, are there to keep you warm,
And protect you from all else and keep out the storm.
They can’t always help you, but give them a while,
They’ll find out somehow, how to go the extra mile.

When the silence has risen and the sun falls to ground,
And there’s nowhere to run through the darkness around,
We’ll fly to the heavens and bring back a star,
We’ll make a new morning in a world not too far.

We’ll talk for so long if we’re given our chances,
Over drinks of hot chocolate with short flicking glances.
No pressure, just speak from the heart and be true.
I’ll listen to you talk for as long as you need to.
__________________________________________________

Don’t Forget To Be Awesome.

Epiphany: I Am Being An Arse

It’s about ten minutes to midnight as I start this particular post. I probably shouldn’t be up at this time, seeing as I have to be at gym at 9 am tomorrow. But I couldn’t sleep, and because I’m vain enough to do so, I spent a few minutes looking through my own blog posts. A trend came to my attention – I’ve been whining way too much.

It gets worse: Me whining about my life is not an independent action – it’s a symptom of me feeling sorry for myself and burying myself in my own misery. More over, it’s quite possible I’ve been doing this on purpose at a sub-conscious level. I’ve taken to spending time alone, and not because I actually needed time to think (well, sometimes), but because I was seeking the attention of those around me. I was hoping that someone in particular would come and find me and make me feel better. Looking over my recent conversations with people, I can see how obvious it is, and it’s pathetic. I recently told someone that’s been suffering as a result of my self-satisfying, moronic attitude that they would just have to deal with it, because I don’t have a choice in whether I act my best or my worst.

I lied. I do have a choice. Needless to say, I’m pissed off at myself for not pulling out of this downwards spiral earlier on. Symptoms were everywhere – even my choice of music in recent times was indicative of it. The usual upbeat, cheerful songs that used to dominate the Most Played on my phone have been displaced by slow, depressing songs which mimicked my mood. Those were choices. Those were my own decisions to play them. Which, for me, demonstrates that it was by some deliberate action that I maintained my own pathetic mood and took it out on other people.

Having realised this, this is where it ends. I am bored of feeling sorry for myself.

I’m about to spend a weekend with my closest friends in Southampton, full of movies, clubbing, cooking, laughing, smiling and taking the piss out of each other. I’m doing fairly well with university work, and we are about to break up for Easter. In about three weeks, I’m taking nine of my closest friends indoor skydiving one day after my birthday, and celebrating their birthdays with them in London. Before that, I’m volunteering to go on a Young Person’s Starfish Course, spending three days with some of the people who understand me more than anyone else in the world. I’m also going to help ten young, scared kids beat a stammer that has beaten them their entire life, and find the brilliance that lies beneath the surface of each of them. I am currently in the process of making plans to spend a month in Thailand this summer, to do volunteer work in a pre-school desperately in need of help. In the last few weeks, I’ve reacquainted myself with someone who I’d previously thought I would never really be close with. She’s become one of my closest friends, one of the reasons I now see sense, and one of the reasons I can now let myself list the good things in my life, without the cringe-worthy thought in my head that somehow I deserve to be pitied.

I am happy because I choose to be happy. I refuse to think about myself as I was, because I wasn’t awesome. Therefore, that wasn’t me. I’m not going to leave it to chance to decide whether or not I get to be awesome anymore. I’m going to be happy, and almost as important, I’m going to be happy for those around me for those who have what I want.

The time is now twenty eight minutes past midnight. I would say, “Tomorrow is a new day,” but technically, it already is one.

Bright Children

I am lucky to have a large number of wonderful cousins in my family. Between the two sides of my family (mum’s and dad’s), I have ten cousins: five boys and five girls, as well as a sister. Their ages range greatly, from the oldest, my sister, clocking in at 26 (she feels 105), to the youngest, most mischievous one who has not yet turned 6. One of my cousins is 13. He’s an incredibly bright kid, with a fascination with mathematics and physics. His mum and dad, my aunt and uncle, say he gets it from me. I don’t know how, seeing as I did not contribute any genes. Perhaps we both got it from our grandfather, a nuclear physicist. This cousin of mine has lived all his life in America, and in his cute accent, he really never stops asking questions of me about anything that interests him, and if I don’t know, he’ll go out and find out.

You can tell how bright a kid is by the how far their questions push you into your knowledge. A regular kid will ask, “Why is the sky blue?”, or “What came first, the chicken or the egg?”. To the first, I can give them a brief answer on how the oxygen in the atmosphere absorbs every colour in white light except blue, so that’s the one we see.  To the second, I can simply say that eggs existed long before chickens with creatures like reptiles, so it was the egg. These are trivial questions – the answers have already been found. And when they get the answer, usually they are satisfied.

My cousin will take it to the next level. He takes you on a journey from the first question:

If I tell him oxygen absorbs every colour except blue, he’ll ask me why. That’s still answerable. He’s clever, so I can explain to him that colour depends on the frequency of the light waves, and that atoms have shells of electrons around them. When electrons jump up a shell, they need a certain amount of energy to land on the right shell, and that depends on the frequency. So electrons absorb only certain frequencies when they jump, and not others. The ones that aren’t absorbed pass through unharmed, whilst the others get absorbed and then scattered, so we don’t see as much of them.

Then he’ll ask me why there are spacings. And I can still give a vague answer: Because of the laws of electromagnetism and quantum mechanics, you can calculate the spacing between them based on how all the electrons interact with the nucleus and the other electrons.

This goes on: I get to Coulomb’s Law, which is an equation that governs the force of attraction between charges (protons and electrons), and then to the force constant in that equation. I can tell him how that constant includes this powerful physical constant called the permittivity of  free space. 

If he asks what it is and why it’s so powerful, I can tell him how it is describes the strength of an electrical field that goes through a vacuum. I can tell him how James Clerk Maxwell used it and another universal constant called the permiability of free space to calculate the speed of light in a vacuum. I’ll also tell him that like the permittivity of free space describes the strength of an electrical field, the permiability of free space describes the strength of a magnetic field.

And then he does what most adults can’t, and puts two and two together:

“Wait…if the speed of light is calculated from an electrical constant and a magnetic constant, is that why light is called an electromagnetic wave?”

It is. I push him a little bit: “If the speed of light is calculated from two universal constants, then what does that tell you about the speed of light?”

He get’s it in one: “It’s also a universal constant.” I wait.

“But…that’s crazy,” he says.

“Really, why?” I want him to work it out for himself. “Why is it weird that speed of something would be measured equally for everyone? No matter where they are?”

“Because speed depends on where you’re looking from.” he answers, “If you’re in a train travelling at five miles an hour, and your throw a ball at two miles an hour, you see a ball going at two miles an hour, but someone outside sees it going at seven miles an hour. Speed can’t be the same for everyone. It depends where you look from.”

“But if the speed of light was measured differently, then that would imply that the two constants it was calculated from weren’t constant. Physics would change. People would measure the laws of physics differently instead. Is that crazy too?”

“Yes…”

“If speed is space moved through divided by time, and the speed is constant for everyone, then what has to happen to make sure of that?”

There’s a brief pause.

“Distance has to change?” he asks? I nod. “Or time…”

“Keep going.” I say. “Think about how to phrase it, and tell me.” He thinks for a while.

“If the speed of light is constant, then space and time have to change to make it happen.”

In 1905, Albert Einstein drew the same conclusion upon spotting what appeared to be a contradiction between Galileo’s Principle of Relativity and Maxwell’s Equations of Electromagnetism. When he resolved the conflict, he wrote a paper, and called it his Theory of Special Relativity.

He would win a Nobel Prize for it. My thirteen year old cousin just derived it from asking why the sky is blue.

Risk and Ruins

In the last year or so of my life, I’ve noticed a major change in the way I think – now, I take risks. I take risks personally, academically and physically. I don’t particularly know what made me change. Maybe that’s useful – if I don’t know what it is, I’ll find it difficult to lose it. That’s a good thing, by the way, that I am taking risks. I don’t mean stupid risks, like the ones taken by idiots who use #YOLO far to often. I mean risks like trusting someone, I mean risks to my ego. Physically, I can say that I’ve been pushing my fitness to new limits as well.

This state of mind, and the transition, has been unusual for me, for one reason. Usually, when I achieve something, or come to some kind of conclusion and change the way I behave as a result, I still remember why I used to act differently before. That is to say, if I used to make irritating attention-seeking posts on Facebook, I look back and cringe, but I still recognise the mentality of a fourteen year old boy with very little to do. I understand myself. If I spend a few hours with a maths text book and learn Calculus from fundamentals, I now understand Calculus, but I still remember that at one point I did not, and more importantly, I know why I did not understand it (which, incidentally, is the mark of a good teacher. Ask me to give you a lesson in basic calculus – you’ll never forget.). Additionally, when I see others with the same ignorance, who haven’t gone through the same change yet, I understand them, and I feel the emotions that they feel. The difference is that in me, those emotions give way to stronger ones.

But with this particular transition, with my new capacity to take risks with people, I have in the process completely lost my empathy for those who don’t. I no longer remember why I ever went through a phase in my life when I didn’t risk everything for something that was worth it. Perhaps an example would help.

I recently told a close friend of mine that I had feelings for her.  It was probably the biggest risk I’ve taken in my life so far. On top of personal issues that could pose a problem, I fell for her after I signed a contract to live with her and our other friends next year in university. What hung in the balance was our friendship, a potential relationship, and strains on my friendships with others in our circle, as well as massive tensions next year in the house.

Because I’m telling this story, you may expect that it turned out okay, that we’re happy. We’re not. It did not go the way I wanted it to, and over the last few months I’ve spent weeks experimenting with avoiding her completely and other weeks trying to stay around her and get used to her. I’ve taken the latter course. But trying to get over her whilst still being around her has side effects: In my case, they are catastrophic amplitudes of mood, from huge highs when I think I might make it out the other side, to lows bordering on depression when it all comes flooding back. It’s incredibly awkward to be around her. Our friendship, which used to be strong, is straining though the mist of things left unsaid. They’re unsaid because neither of us want to deal with them right now, with the stress of exams and coursework, friends’ birthdays coming up, and just the effort of remaining cheerful in front of my circle of friends (who all know what happened). The last week or so has probably been an all time low, and I’m currently struggling to find the turning point.

Safe to say, the risk did not pay off. Do I regret it?

No.

There exists not a single part of me that regrets taking the chance. Even in retrospect, even knowing the full extent of the negative consequences, I would have still told her because the pay off could have been beautiful. Most of the time, when you take risks of this kind, they don’t work out – at least in my experience – and the worst times of your life may follow. Be that as it may, occasionally, just occasionally, you take a risk that turns into something truly stunning. And all the risks you took before, the ones that turned to ruins, fade into oblivion. What lingers and haunts you, however, is the chances you never took, the stories that were never told, and the moments that could have been, but never were. And they don’t leave you.

A risk is like a faulty batch of fireworks. You light them and you don’t know whether they’re going to explode in your face or shoot for the sky. But you do it anyway, and when a firework finally goes up, the ash from all the failures, the ash that hung around in the air for too long, is forced to relinquish your gaze to the light show above your head.

I’ve been told by some that the reason they don’t take risks now is because they’ve done so in the past and they didn’t work out. I don’t understand you. You may call me naive, you may patronise me, you may tell me that “you don’t know what I’ve been through”, but it’s my not-so-humble opinion that the only reason you speak like this is because you haven’t taken enough fireworks out of the box. If you fear the pain that could come: it should be clear that nothing in life worth having comes easy. I prefer to take the risk and get completely destroyed, as has happened, than to never know what could have been.

I might be wrong. In which case, prove it. Take every chance you can, and if you make it to the end of your life without a single one of them working out, then you can rub it in my face. Otherwise, get off your arse and stop waiting for things to fall in your lap. If there are no opportunities, make them. If people stand between you and what you want, run them over. If it doesn’t work out and it blows up your life, rebuild it, piece by piece. Then clear a patch of ash, stick a rocket in the ground and light the damn thing.

Take risks with people. Trust them for no other reason than that you can. Give them the chance to utterly destroy you, and let them prove themselves to you by strengthening you. Push yourself beyond your comfort zone and try something new. Try someone new. If you’re even remotely curious about what a friendship or relationship could be, then push it. Find out about them, and do not confine yourself to one person, to someone safe and familiar, especially when that person who is safe and familiar could have been someone else, given even the slightest change of circumstance.

If it could have been some other way, some other person, then your relationship is arbitrary. If you’re disturbed by that idea, then prove it wrong. Build relationships and friendships with others, and prove to yourself that the person you love most could have been no-one else. And if it turns out that it is, if it turns out you could have had that same friendship with someone else, then have them both.

My closest friends are not arbitrary. I’ve already demonstrated to myself that they could have been no one else, within certain limitations. I don’t believe in fate, so I accept that if I’d ended up at UCL rather than Southampton, I probably wouldn’t have met them. But given my current position, I’ve tried to create the largest possible pool of people I can know, so that from that I can filter the people I like, and then distill the best possible people I can love. This, for me, is the only way to be content in your friendships and relationships. Needless to say, I chose well.

I wish one other person could be like that, and take a chance on someone. You never know, they might surprise you.

Speak Not Of Pride

I can’t count the number of times someone has told me that they are proud of things they had no choice in. For instance, there are British nationalists who tell me that they are proud of Great Britain because it once owned a quarter of the world. These people are well meaning, but the only person who might have any right to be proud of that is Queen Victoria, not you. She implemented it. You just sat there a century later and leached off the heritage. Likewise, I am bored by people who are proud to be gay, straight, a man, woman, British, American, proud of their surname or first name..etc. These were not choices. They are arbitrary matters of chance. This poem essentially sums up what I think of these kinds of statements, and I’m not the only one – the quotes at the bottom were more or less my inspiration.
_______________________________

Speak Not of Pride

Please tell me not of your pride in your name,
Nor your race, or your nation, or creed.
There is no choice in a nought-player game,
Only luck without one conscious deed.

You’re proud of your country, the battles it’s won,
And the time when it used to sail ships?
So you were there, then, I see, when the battle was done?
Did you feel the sea salt on your lips?

You’re proud of you colour, that you’re black or you’re white?
You must have been clever as a foetus.
To select your own genes for skin pigment right,
In the nine months before you would meet us.

And good luck, my friend, if you wish to believe that,
Your name was your own damned decision.
A baby so smart! With the name book you sat,
As you peed on your dad with precision.

Proud to be male, did you say? How strong!
If different, oh, what would you say?
Would you cry in the corner and weep all day long?
Or would you feel the exact same way?

You’re proud to be gay, you say with such reverence?
You had no more skill to advise,
With your gender, or race, or sexual preference,
Than with the colour of your eyes.

Take pride in your choices, in the things you have done,
Not with the chances life brings.
And share all these lives with your daughter or son,
And ask them to do greater things.

Speak not of pride, but achievement and plan.
We choose not the cards in our hand.
Just play your hand, in the best way you can,
And on that, take pleasure, and stand.

__________________________________________________

“We cannot choose the cards that we are dealt, only how we play the hand.”
- Randy Pausch (1960 – 2008)

“I could never understand ethic or national pride. Because to me, pride should be reserved for something you achieve or obtain on your own, not something that happens by accident of birth. Being Irish isn’t a skill… it’s a fucking genetic accident. You wouldn’t say I’m proud to be 5’11″; I’m proud to have a pre-disposition for colon cancer! So why the fuck would you be proud to be Irish, or proud to be Italian, or American, or anything?”
- George Carlin (1937 – 2008)

Thank you for reading. And as it happens, yes, I can be proud of this.

A Short Observation

I’m not usually good at short posts. Generally anything I blog about is long and in depth.

This, however, is something I’ve learnt in pursuit of romance:

As long as you are not good enough for them, they are not good for you.

That is to say, as long as you pursue them and they don’t reciprocate, you’re inevitably going to get yourself hurt.

I write this particular post at 1 am, under the influence of alcohol, with club music pounding in my ears. Frankly, I am impressed at my ability to construct a flowing sentence in this state.

That’s all for now. It’s been too long, so my next post will rhyme.

Goodnight and good morning.