Goodnight

This is my last post on this blog.

There’s nothing quite as cold as that feeling of knowing that something is wrong with you. It hits like nothing else, and for a few seconds, I felt my heart beat in my throat. I asked myself a few blog posts ago whether or not the person I am now is better than the person I was.

Well, I’m less naive than I was last year, more experienced and better equipped to deal with the unexpected turbulence that comes as part of the economy-class seat in the plane that is my life. But I’m more cynical, ruthless, cold and selfish, and I’ve become everything I find repulsive in another human being. In the simplest terms, I don’t like who I am. And that, as it happens, is the answer to the question the little voice in my head has been posing to me for a long time, which I’ve so often ignored (against my own advice, I might add).

Naivety and innocence suited me. I may be more aware of the world now, but I was happier when I didn’t care, and most importantly, I was better to those around me. Recent events have demonstrated to me that I’ve gone too far down a road to my personality I don’t like. When I look at the people around me that I care about, they are nothing like me. They’re superior human beings in every way, either in their attitudes towards work, or in the way that they treat people. I wish I could undo the last 12 months of my life, and start again.

I’m acutely aware that the last sentence goes against almost everything I’ve said before in this blog. For me, the day I started itmayormaynotrhyme was my reference frame for change. It was the point I assigned as T = 0. I look back, and I wonder if I started this blog for the right reasons, and I realise I didn’t. It’s become a way for me to complain to the world, and seek out attention from the people here who I know in the real world.

I love to blog, I really do. And I’m going to continue to do so. But not here, and not in this way. I no longer believe that this blog can represent me, because in reflecting me, it’s turned into something I don’t like to look at. Over the next few weeks, I’m going to take some time away from everyone I know, and reset myself to the person I was at T = 0. Then the new blog begins when I’m done, and this one, along with the remnants of this person, fades into oblivion.

If I followed you from this account and I don’t know you in the real world, then I’ll follow you again. If I do know you, I’m afraid that I can’t let any of you find out where I’ve relocated. To all those who’ve put up with me and followed me to this point, I thank you sincerely. Hopefully, you’ll end up subscribing to my new blog without knowing it’s the same person.

Goodnight.

I Should Not Be Blogging Right Now

At this moment, I should be studying the d’Alembert solution to the Wave Equation. It happens to be one of the rare pieces of pure mathematics we are taught that can be applied without modification to our engineering degree – it’s a second-order partial differential equation, which models the propagation of waves through fluids, and we use it constantly in our Aerodynamics module. Don’t feel bad if you don’t know what a partial differential equation is, by the way. You probably don’t have to. I have to, and I don’t have a clue. I’ve written the solution on the whiteboard. I now find myself staring at it, head slightly turned, like a cat watching a human being type on a keyboard: I don’t know what the hell is happening, but it’s interesting to look at. When should I take over the world?

That, as it happens, is the appearance of the cat that roams around the Southampton University Student Union (SUSU). The university owns the cat, and SUSU is her home, and Susu is her name. She has a rather grand palace, with four floors of open terrain for her to wonder about in, several huge couches for her to nap on, and countless students with an morbid addiction to petting her. Despite her luxurious lifestyle, one can understand why she looks slightly disgruntled all the time: Oh look, another dumb-ass student heading my way to rub their cold hands all over me after they exit the toilet. Woop-de-doo. I hope I make them sneeze. When should I take over the world? 

…or something to that effect.

I have three letters to write today, at some point. They are the back log to my New Year’s resolution, which was defined as one letter a day. In defining this fairly relaxed pace of catching up with old friends, I seriously failed to consider the fact that this period would overlap almost exactly with my exam period, which extends to January 21st. I’ve written three letters so far, and I have three more to write before the end of today, which I estimate will take about two hours in total.

Look at me, getting distracted like this. This happens when I randomly lose motivation during work. My solutions include:

1. Eating

2. Sleeping

3. Showering

4. Cooking

5. Blogging about disgruntled cats

Given that I’ve been doing so much of No. 2 (not that kind of No. 2), I have no idea why I’m yawning so much. No. 1 and No.4, of course, are the reasons I became fat over Christmas, aside from the multitude of people tempting me with food and persuading me by saying “Aw, come on, it’s Christmas!” Meanwhile, No. 3 is the reason I smell absolutely rosy right now.

I recall that this is how last year began as well on this blog, with me being distracted from my exam revision. I take this as confirmation of the phrase, “History repeats itself.” I apologise, in retrospect, for wasting my followers’ time by creating a blog post with utterly no content to it. All I’ve done is just pass a distraction along to someone else.

Ah well, back to the second-order partial differential equations.

New Year’s Advice II: Thoughts, Interactions and People

“I’ve never been any good at New Year’s Resolutions, so here’s some New Year’s Advice from an 18-year-old with nowhere near enough life experience to give you New Year’s Advice.”

– New Year’s Advice: Perspective and Irony, December 31st, 2013.

That was a year ago, on this blog. And here I go again.

I’ve never been good at New Year’s Resolutions, so here’s some New Year’s Advice from a 19-year-old with nowhere near enough life experience to give you New Year’s Advice. Having said that, this is not so much New Year’s Advice as Previous Year’s Lessons, which can be passed on in some form to others as Advice. We all learn from our mistakes, after all.

I’ll begin with the early lessons – think less about the nature and scale of the universe around you. Be aware of it, by all means, but keep it locked away in the back of your mind, behind a door that you no longer have the key to. To truly comprehend it is to render yourself paralysed by your insignificance and inability to influence it.  You may read these words now and accept that you are in fact insignificant. But, to borrow phrasing from Sherlock, “You see, but you do not observe.” The difference between hearing those words and feeling their meaning is akin to the difference between someone telling you they farted and smelling it for yourself: You neither need nor want the latter. Let yourself be taken by smaller, more human worlds. Distract yourself with conversations over a McDonald’s at 3 am, walks along the ship docks at twilight, and sharing a bottle of wine with a friend on a park bench at the river’s edge. The world around you is large, and you are small. Take that to heart and expand your life as much as you can, but do not be disheartened if you fail to touch everything you wanted to.

Apologise for your mistakes. Never assume you are faultless, even in situations when everyone agrees that you were “in the right.” Extract from disagreements the moments in which you were even minutely at fault, or assumptive, vindictive, vengeful and cold. Apologise for those small things, because even though it makes you feel weak, it causes others to perceive you as strong and self-assured. It might also open up the possibility of the other person doing the same. Principle, not pride, is worth pain. Pride should be swallowed, as goes the common phrase. Some people agree with this and even act on it, but somehow always find a way to projectile vomit it back into someone’s face. Don’t projectile vomit into people’s faces. That particular piece of advice should be taken both metaphorically, in this context, and literally.

Distance yourself from the people around you who can find nothing better to do with their time than whine about the world around them, and how it is unfair. Neither spend time with them, or be one of them. Both, in their own ways, will depress you. If you find yourself complaining and feeling sorry for yourself, hit your own head with a book and then get the fuck over it. The world is not against you; it just simply doesn’t give a damn that you exist. Once again, accept that simple paradigm of nature, and then create a small corner of the world that you can call your own. Surround yourself with people who tell you how amazing it is, and ignore the small injustices, especially the ones over which you have no control.

Trust people, regardless of your prior experiences. Distrusting the world around you will leave you a lonely, depressed person. Humans are, by our very nature, pack animals. We are not meant to be alone. Let all kinds of people into your lives. It doesn’t matter if a few of them destroy you; the decent ones will pick up the pieces.

Do not surround yourself with like-minded people. Surround yourself with those who think differently to you, in almost every possible way. The more exposure you get to different view points and different interactions with the world, the more you grow as a person.

By enlarge, be patient with everyone. You have no idea who that person will be in a few weeks or months or years, and you will never cease to be pleasantly surprised by them as they change for the better. A certain degree of impatience is good for you, because it protects you from people who waste your time, but there’s a limit which is defined. The test for that limit is simple: if you find yourself leaving behind people who are trying to help you, then something has gone wrong. Impatience, after all, is only meant to protect you from people who deliberately waste your time and hurt you, not those who care for you deeply, but make mistakes.

Don’t strike people from your friends for their negligence or mistakes. Yell at them, by all means. If someone has neglected to consider the outcome of a certain situation and has hurt someone as a result, yell at them to your heart’s content and make sure that they feel bad for what they have done. But then keep them around, and watch as they change. They will. In these circumstances, broken trust is almost always down to misunderstanding on both sides of the argument. And decisions made based on misunderstanding, I hope you’ll agree, are bad decisions.

On the other hand, if someone hurts you on purpose, then waste no more of your thoughts on them. Extricate them from your existence and disregard them entirely, no matter what they say in protest. If someone you trust commits a deliberate action against you, then they can, and will, do it again. This, incidentally, is one of the conditions for which impatience is valid.

Be aware of your own biases and world view. Be suspicious and critical of ideas that are consistent with notions of the world that you already hold dear. Not doing so is known as confirmation bias, and it is the single most potent form of idiocy the human mind is capable of. In all aspects of life, we form our own pictures of the world, imbibing ideas that reinforce it and disregarding evidence that we are wrong, no matter how much evidence there is. Question yourself every time you chance upon a belief that appears to agree with your view – the overwhelming likelihood is that it doesn’t agree – your mind simply wants you to believe it, because it is easy. Listen to the voice in the back of your head, or rather, the front of your head. The voice originates from a part of your brain known as the medial pre-frontal cortex, which whispers to you when something has gone wrong with your rational processes. It is always, universally, right.

Listen to everyone who tries to give you advice, including strangers, and your friends and family. With strangers, use the advice they give to evaluate them. With those you know and trust, use the advice they give to evaluate yourself. Friends always act with your best interests at heart, and they know you better than anyone else. And sometimes, they spot things that you can’t see. If they tell you that something is wrong with the way you are acting, then they are most likely to be right. Even if you don’t like what they have to say, even if they are criticising you, appreciate the fact that they are taking the time to be truthful and honest with you, because it tells you that they still think you’re worth the trouble. It is not easy for them to be frank with you – and you should not be insulted or worried when they do so. You should be worried, however, when you’re doing something wrong and no one is telling you. It means they’ve given up on you, and it’s the worst position you can ever put yourself in.

Make efforts with friendships you’ve had in the past. Make time for them. If there aren’t enough hours in the day, then wake up earlier and sleep later. The people you meet in your life, the people you trust, are the only truly valuable choices you make in this vast world of ours, and you chose them for a reason. Uphold it. Those who you’ve grown distant with, write them a letter and tell them about your life. Remind them why you are friends, why you ever connected and then connect again. It feels strange and “random” to reach out to someone who you’ve lost in recent times, but once upon a time, when someone reached out to me from the past, it felt good.

That last piece of advice is the one that gives me my New Year’s Resolution. As you may be able to tell from my last post, there are a lot of people who I want know again. There are a lot of people who I’ve grown distant with and want to catch up with. There are some from my old school days, who I met very late and never got the chance to know, and something tells me that we might have been good friends. There are even some letters I’m writing for people, just to tell them about my life, in the hope that they might tell me about theirs. This year beginning January 1st, I’m have a lot of stories to tell and people to discover. I honestly have no idea what I’m going to say to them. I am well aware, as a side note, that I’m going to look like an idiot.

Happy New Year’s to everyone, as it comes to you.

I Don’t Recognise Myself

I had written about three paragraphs of this post on the topics of winter and the holiday season before reading it through a couple of times. My writing was boring, rather lifeless and I deleted it almost immediately. Between now and my last blog post on December 2nd, that’s probably the third time that has happened.

This usually happens when I’m confined to my house and I know I must revise. Revision, for my three most important modules in January, is slowly sucking the life out of me, like a Dementor’s Kiss, but the dark robes hide not an unseen face, but partial differential equations. Those who haven’t read past the second Harry Potter book won’t get that reference (yes, I’m looking at you). The situation is so dire that in the process of procrastinating my revision, I wrote a poem about revision:

A civil rights movement, two nuclear devices,
General and special relativity.
A crash in the Wall Street stock market prices,
A doubling of human longevity.

First flight, first orbit, it happened so fast,
In a century of human transition.
What else will occur in ages not passed,
As I finish my bloody revision.

As you might have gathered from that, revision is taking it’s sweet time.

But in between periods where sit and daydream endlessly about snow, and times when I nightmare about the idea of the moon not being made of cheese, I find myself in self-reflection. December 31st will mark the one year anniversary of this blog, and I look back on the person I was at this time, last year. And I don’t recognise myself.

In some respects, I’m proud of the difference I can see in myself. I’m resourceful, relaxed and adaptable to a level I never thought I could be. I’ve dealt with situations in recent weeks which would have put my former self into frenzied panics. What’s more, I did it with a calm I didn’t know I had. I’m not as naive anymore, though there are still ideas in this world that I hold onto that I know will probably turn out to be wrong. I am aware of my own biases, and that allows me to be objective. I’ve begun apologising for my mistakes, having patience with people and generally smiling more. None of these things were true last year, and I owe it to the magnitude of my experiences, some amazing, and some characterised by the worst moments of my life. But it doesn’t matter, because they taught me to become better.

This process is tainted, however, by the nagging realisation that it came at the cost of some people who were very dear to me. I don’t know quite how many friends I’ve lost or am losing this year, but it’s more than I’d like. Some drifted away because both of us have been busy, and I understand that completely – “Life gets in the way,” as has become my chosen phrase in recent months. There’s no bad feelings there, and if they need me in their worst moments, then I’ll gladly help, even if they vanish again as soon as they feel better. My empathy for those drifters who come and go has grown over the past year, and I can honestly say that I don’t spite them for their fleeting appearances, nor do I feel as if they’ve done anything wrong. I just miss them, and I hope that they think about me.

Others fell away because both of us changed. This kind of loss scares me the most. I worry about the manner in which I’ve changed when good people who used to be close to me become good people who don’t particularly care fore me anymore. I wonder if I’ve become something worse, or if they have, and I hope that there’s some way in which both of us could become better people but not get along anymore. These losses hurt the most, especially when the other person spells it out.

The final break that comes to mind are those friendships in which you fall for the person you thought someone was, only to find out later that they are different in every possible way. It amazes me that one of my closest friends from this time last year has now become someone I genuinely cannot stand. On December 29th 2013, she started her blog on WordPress and told me to start one too. I gave it a day’s thought, and started this blog here on December 31st, 2014. That girl was the start of all of this, and the reason I’m typing these words. And now, she’s an utterly different human being, and the memories attached to her leave a bad taste on my tongue. It’s made me more cynical, untrusting and it irritates me because I no longer trust my own judgement in people. I don’t know if she’ll ever read this, given the lack of activity on her blog and the mutual dislike she has of me, but I don’t particularly mind if she does. It’s all been said, in some form or another. But there’s no pain. Merely a resignation to the inevitable – our personalities are mutually incompatible, and the less time we spend in the same room, the better.

I come back to the same fear – are these my fault? I think I’ve grown better as a person, but I ask myself constantly – what if I’m wrong? I’ve gained a lot more friends this year than I’ve lost, by an enormous margin, but is it worth it for those who I’ve lost? For the life of me, I don’t know if the person I am now is better than the person I was before.

A Greenish-Blue Card Swan

A SwanThis is another item from my puzzle box, which I pick at random, all from different times of my life. As it turns out, this one is fairly recent. I say fairly; there are items in that box which I’ve had since I was born and other items which entered the box, quite literally, yesterday. This swan can be found about a year and three months down my timeline, from the 22nd of September, 2013 – my first day as a university student.

The nostalgia flies when I remember the day I moved into my new flat in University, lugging cardboard boxes and suitcases up the stairs, along with fat desk lamps and cooking supplies that I’d use twice a year, and occasionally a tearful mum who passed out whenever she got too tearful (I’m joking, she’s not that bad). Moving away from home for long periods of time is something all parents get emotional about. I guess most kids get nervous about it too, but for me, I was more excited. I had left my old school and was finally able to make a fresh start, and it felt good. I really should have been matching her for tears that day, but I think the prospect of having a little independence and freedom in my life.

When all the unpacking was done and my room was as neat as it would never ever be again, e found the plastic bag on the desk which contained our Southampton Fresher’s pack: a list of leaflets that no one ever reads, a Fresher’s magazine, a notepad and pen…and a condom. The contraceptive packet lay at the bottom, mercifully hidden in the folds of the magazine, away from my mum’s eye. My flatmate was not so lucky. She’d been told by our Fresher’s representative (the second years who are supposed to help us adjust to Uni life in the first few weeks, i.e. get us drunk) to open the pack in front of her parents. Gullible as she was, she did so, and the condom packet flew onto the desk, to the mortified silence of her father observing the tagline “What happens in Uni stays in Uni.” I think if that had happened to me in front of my mum, I’d have been transferred out of Uni.

All seven of us would meet in the kitchen later, after all our parents had gone, and order four Domino’s pizzas together that Saturday night. I look back at that room and think of how much my opinion of each person would change over the year I knew them, and how at the start I loved them all as we chatted over pizza and drinks. By chance I was still carrying my Fresher’s pack, and we all had a laugh about the contraception. Amongst the many leaflets we looked over in my bag was a greenish-blue card one, explaining the movie night in the common room every Saturday night in our halls. Having decided that we weren’t going to watch a movie on our first Saturday night, my flatmate Luke absent-mindedly took the leaflet and began making a swan at out of it as we ate our pizzas, before handing it back to me, to my bemused silence.

I’m not sure why I kept it. Perhaps it’s due to the inherent pizza-box smell it holds, or simply the fact that it was a gift from a quirky human being. But it stayed on my shelf in my room for the rest of the year I lived with that flat, and it came with me to my house when I left. It took its place in my box when the summer came, as a reminder of a year new beginnings.

Rocket Storm

MB1 Rocket Mark I

The object pictured below catalysed the first instance in my life when I knew, without a fraction of a doubt, that I really, really liked rockets. Not necessarily that I wanted to be an aerospace engineer, but just that I liked rockets.

This piece of wood, plastic and explosive takes me back to my first ever trip to Boston to visit my aunt and uncle. I was a bright-eyed, excitable ten-year old, even more so because I was travelling to the USA without my parents. Only my 17 year old sister was with me, and we’d had someone to supervise us through the airport. You know how siblings fight, and how they claim that they “hate” each other. Yeah, we did too. But I think this was the first time I actually “liked” the presence of this evil creature known as a big sister. It was reassuring, and I’d seen Home Alone far too many times to not be scared of losing her at the airport.

My aunt and uncle lived, and still live to this day, in a beautiful American-style home in the Boston suburbs. Their house, I remember, was creamy white, with wooden panelling surfacing the whole of the outside. The porch looked older than the rest, as if they had kept it there to preserve some of the history, sheltered by a wooden roof held up by two pillars on the outside edge. There were two huge spiders’ webs that stretched from each of the pillars to the wall, like transparent sheets, with a spider the size of my hand (a seven-year-old hand, bear in mind) sitting in the middle of each. I still remember the masses of dragonflies that would swarm around the houses during the summer months, flying through the porch as I walked through the door each morning and scaring the living crap out of me. I became grateful for the huge safety nets the spiders had cast; if the first one didn’t catch the dragonfly, the second one would. The dragonflies flew approximately equally from both sides, so both spiders’ webs would sustain about the same amount of damage and capture the same amount of food. I expect it turned out to be quite a lucrative partnership for the pair of them.

Aside from that, I recall the tangled but rather quaint garden they kept, and the huge open space in their house that served as the living room, dining room and kitchen. Last but not least, I find myself dreaming of the short drive we would take, on the wrong side of the road and the wrong side of the car, to visit the science centre in Boston.

There was a rocketry class here, run by a lovely man called Jim Salem. It’s still in business, by the way. The rocket below is made by Jim Flis, who runs a site called FlisKits.com, and I encourage you to use them for any rocketry needs. In one week, we designed, built and launched rockets, complete with a parachute. As soon as the solid-rocket fuel ran out, the last part of the fuel would burn backwards, firing up the hollow tube of the rocket’s body, and heating the air inside until the nose cone, the black bit, popped out, releasing the parachute. The rocket was reusable, as long as you put a new piece of solid rocket fuel in it. Depending on the grade of the fuel, the rocket could go anywhere between 300 metres and 1.5 miles into the air.

I loved that class, and that rocket. It launched 3 or 4 times, and we would run after each lift-off, as that windy day carried the parachute for a few hundred metres through the huge, long-grass field. And every time, we’d pick it up and clear the grass, or the fire-ants, off it. The smell of burnt wood and cotton greeted me every time, and smoke would drift out of the top as we brushed the inside of the body to clear away the ash.

The reason this post is called Rocket Storm is because of the design I painted onto this piece of engineering. The nose cone is supposed to be the storm cloud, and you don’t need to try too hard to see the lightning bolts starting fires in the bottom to launch it.

I think there’s something telling about the fact that this post focuses more on my memories of the house than my memories of the actual project. I don’t quite know what it is, but those three weeks with my aunt and uncle were magical. The rocket itself is not actually from within the puzzle box, but it would be if it fitted. It’s easily the largest, coolest-looking memory I own.

A Jigsaw Puzzle

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I don’t really enjoy summer holidays as most people do. The weather is beautiful, which in the UK means it’s not raining, and the whole world is outside and happy.

Most university students use the holidays to catch up with the school friends they missed while in term time. For me, I feel as if I’ve changed too much to enjoy their company. And as you might guess if you read a post of mine from a long time ago called Never Nostalgia, those old school friends are limited. When I wasn’t in Thailand or the USA, and I was bored at home, I’d work for an hour or so on this enormous (well, enormous to me) jigsaw, and put together a starry background.

My summer was spent piecing together this jigsaw puzzle. It’s rather therapeutic. In any case, the empty box for this puzzle, which I must keep, became the box for all the other things that I must keep. Tomorrow, I start telling the stories of the contents of that puzzle box. But tonight, I leave you with the puzzle itself. It really is rather beautiful.

A Jigsaw Box

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Last year for my birthday, one of my close friends, who’s referred to as Chipmunk or Chippy due to her chipmunk-like cheeks, gave me a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle of a dazzlingly complex looking space scene as the completed picture. It was a tapestry of colours and vibrant stellar art and over summer, I finally found time to start it. Aiming to put in about 20-25 pieces a day, I worked on it and finished it by the time I went back to university. It now lies in my room, waiting to be glued onto a backboard and framed as a picture. A part of me is tempted to slightly displace the corner piece, which is a tiny imperfection that lets people know that it wasn’t always this stunning.

The question, then, was what to do with the empty box. Feeling in a productive mood, I cleaned out my room that summer in less than three days. I literally took the whole place apart and divided the contents into several categories:

(1) Useful items which belong in my room (e.g. alarm clock)
(2) Useful items with no place in my room (e.g. hair straightener)
(3) Useless items that have no place in my room (i.e. crap)
(4) Useless items which do, for some reason, have a place in my room (e.g. old school jumper)

You’d be amazed how little of (1) there was and how much of (2) and (3) there was. Category (4) quite literally consists of my memories, and all of them, with the exception of the plastic water bottle in which I took water to school in every morning during my Thailand adventure, are contained within that empty jigsaw box. The water bottle, which I bought for 10 baht (about 20 pence), is tapped to the outside.

I keep it in my room in Southampton. If there was a fire in our house, I would go back for this box and nothing else. That box contains every part of my life that I want to remember. Most recently, the ticket from my Diwali Ball this year as well as the decorative placecard from our meal went into it, preserved in a puzzle box. I could sit you down next to me and open the box up, and tell you story of every single item. It would take literally days, but I could do it.

Between that box, the bracelets on my wrist, my wallet and my keychain, my entire life story could be told.

I want to start telling those stories here. Some are short, some are long, but on Monday when I’m back in Southampton, I’ll take you through one of them. And the next day, another, and another, and another. For now, the picture in this post is the contents of that box laid out on my floor, as they were at the end of summer.

Distractions

I find myself doubting my intelligence and common sense, right now, as I reflect on the fact that I’ve made an enormous mistake in the field of romance, for the second time in the space of less than a year. I convinced myself that I’d learnt from the last time, but apparently it didn’t sink in. I’m frustrated by my own stupidity and how easily I give in to temptation. I could continue moping about this, but instead I’ll reflect on the positives: This time, I’m out early, and I won’t be putting myself through hell as a result. The other change is that I know what not to do this time, which is continue to pity myself and plunge into a spiral of depression. This paragraph is the first and last time I discuss this, and the rest of this is what I should be doing: distracting myself with humour.

It’s been a few months since I watched a George Carlin sketch. Iconic, sharp and charismatic as always, Carlin never ceases to make me laugh. His old sketches are like a good book – you can read it over and over again and always find something new and interesting to talk about. I don’t quite know why I took a break from his comedy, or all comedy sketches in general. I’ve been YouTube surfing from video to video, going from comedian to comedian. I always smile a little when I see Louis CK in the “Suggested Videos” section next to Carlin’s HBO Specials. When Carlin died, Louis CK spoke at his funeral and revealed to the audience that George Carlin had been his idol, his role model and that, I quote, “…everything good that’s ever happened to me has been thanks to him.” I love Louis CK’s comedy. It’s not quite the level of Carlin, but then again, no one’s is. In any case, he filmed his first HBO Special the same night that Carlin filmed his last in 2008, and he’s a fitting person to take up the mantle.

I’m sitting on Level 5 in my library right now, surrounded by people typing away at computers, trying to finish work. I should be to, to be honest. I have a lab report due in on Monday and I’m going home this weekend. Hopefully I’ll have time to finish it over the weekend. I didn’t really prepare for this, because I arranged to go home at the last minute. As much as I convince myself that I am independent from my parents and don’t miss them much, I find myself wishing for my mum’s steaming food and, right now, a hug. I won’t be able to spend a lot of time with her. As I go and see my parents tomorrow, she is leaving for India for two weeks to see her parents. Apparently she’s taking them on a tour of North India. My grandfather is always happy to leave the house and be adventurous, but my grandmother is more home bound. I find it amusing that my mum only managed to convince her to go with two things: the promise of playing on my mum’s IPad, and the promise of visiting a temple at every place they go.

I love my grandfather as a person. He used to serve in the Indian Air Force, and speaks several different languages, including fluent English and a bit of Russian, from his days training Russian soldiers during the war.  It’s a mark of his decency that he took the time to learn to speak the language of his trainees rather than force them to learn Hindi. He’ll sit on his chair with all of his grandchildren, and tell us stories from the war, about how his plane caught fire as they  were travelling over Egypt, forcing them to make an emergency landing in Cairo and wrestle terrorists off their plane the next morning. The way he speaks, the way he tells his tales, his mannerisms, his calm, relaxed demeanour – all of these things make his stories the best in the world. My mum says that I take my ability to tell my stories from him. I’m happy with that.

One day I’m going to look back on this day as part of an ancient story that I can tell my own grandkids and laugh about. And like my grandfather’s stories, there’s always going to be a point to them, a lesson learnt that I can pass on. In my case, the lesson is simply this: All is fair in love and war. In my grandfather’s case,  it was the same, but with the addition of:

“And remember, my children, that you should never  let terrorists near your plane, and if you must, keep it locked.”

The Black and White and Fiery Night

The Nobel Prize in Medicine this year was won by a trio of scientists who discovered the answer to one of the most interesting questions in neuroscience – how do our brains map the world around us?

Independently, they demonstrated the existence of the newly-named “place cells”, which record the places that we’ve been and embed them in our memories. When we discover a new environment, the neurons from these parts of the brain fire, and when we visit them again, they fire in the same order. In other words, there are different parts of our brain that fire when we arrive at a place we are familiar with.

In the figurative sense, the places we spend our limited time in become part of us. I always find it quite lovely when the pursuit of science confirms the figurative into the domain of reality. The places we go, quite literally, become part of us. Some people are repulsed by the idea that our adventures can be stored in our minds merely as electrical impulses firing between neurons. For me, it’s no less than an astonishing testament to the laws of physics and their ability to produce marvellous objects.

Last night, I spent about five hours in a place which became a part of me in both the literal and figurative sense. I’ve mentioned it before. The roof of the Physics and Astronomy building, in Southampton University, is one of my favourite places in which to simply exist, and I show people this place because it’s part of my story.

I don’t think I could have chosen a better night in which to take someone to the roof for the first time. It was slightly cold, perhaps, but it didn’t really matter. The view in every direction was stunning, under a clear night with every constellation visible. Orion was missing, but we found him later. The Big Dipper, the Summer Triangle, Cygnus, Polaris, Seven Sisters and Andromeda all made their appearances, telling their stories in cosmic whispers and songs unchanged for three thousand years. And so I told a few of them, inexplicably familiar to me, to my companion that night. Quite frankly, I’ve never known anyone to be so attentive to someone telling them nerdy space facts.

The fireworks gave a shot of colour to the black and white starry night. They were so close by, and so utterly breath-taking. Neither of us spoke in that time, and it’s a mark that two people understand each other when they can feel perfectly comfortable with not talking. Most find silence threatening somehow, a sign that things aren’t going right. It’s not. It’s merely an acknowledgement that not all friendships depend on constant conversation. For those friendships, the words that are exchanged contain in them more depth that any others. We kept each other warm, and just waited.

There’s a poetic nature to watching fireworks from a distance. I always find it amazing to see them explode silently, and then wait for the sound to hit you a second later. Another set of fireworks, so far that they came from the horizon, were silent for perhaps ten seconds before the pressure waves reached us and echoed around our eardrums. It’s almost eerie when the light comes without the sound, and reassuring when the sounds comes without the light. It’s gorgeous, all the same.

What dragged the night on so long were the conversations. I could never spend five hours on a rooftop alone. But we talked constantly, occasionally munching on chocolate doughnuts (and in her case, spilling chocolate on her hair and squishing the last one under her shoe), just chatting for hours on end. When it got too cold, we went inside and found some comfy seats in the seminar room and continued. We only left when we realised, in a kind of Cinderella moment, that it was five minutes until the building locked for the night and we had to go before being trapped.

The best conversations are natural, the best times are always unexpected and the best friendships are emboldened by silence. That, a starry night, and platonically romantic fireworks display. The only additions I could have made to this meomory of memories is a ship gliding silently by in a glass ocean. And that the Southampton docks will gift.

Apologies for leaving it so late to blog, by the way. As once before stated, life tends to get in the way.