Tag: Reactions To Stuff

Our front door is buggered

(I guess you could say it’s under door-ess. Ha)

Doors live a rather simple existence. They’re windows without the glass, walls without the rigidity, cloth flaps without the perennial fear of a desert beast bounding through them to devour their inhabitants. In fact, the only remarkable thing I knew about doors is that in Old Norse, the word for ‘door’ only exists as a plural noun, because all doors were the kind of grand, double-doors one would find at the entrances to mead-halls, and poorer dwellings would only have hurdles or curtains pulled over holes in the wall. But my door-themed small talk game was infinitely improved this week when our front door decided it had had enough of being a front door, and would very much like to be a wall instead.

The problem is that our door is fairly new, and is apparently not a very good fit for the frame that surrounds it. This wasn’t a problem when we moved in over summer, but as the temperature drops, the rain falls and the air becomes saturated with moisture the wooden door has absorbed some of that moisture, and has grown in size by a few imperceptible millimetres. The result is that the door is now permanently semi-wedged in its frame, and doesn’t really like opening, not without a Herculean latch-tugging effort every morning.

When me and my flatmates (technically one flatmate and their significant other but whatever) drag our arses up to the door for an Old English seminar held so early on a Tuesday morning that it might as well take place during the reign of King Alfred the Great, we are confronted by our door. First we reason with them, reminding them that they have lived as a door for all their lives, and seemed happy, and that if only they’d explain to us why this sudden change came about we could understand and accept them. We’d batter a hole in the wall and install a new door, letting the old one live fully as part of the wall, if only we knew more about this unexpected change. But we always hear nothing.

Then, we roll up our sleeves and begin an impromptu re-enactment of the classic Arthurian scene involving the removal of the sword from the stone; first the flatmate tries, failing because their strength stat is too low, then the significant other, failing too because they failed the agility roll, then me, succeeding because I’ve played this game before and have been relentlessly EV-training for weeks.

With the door opened, you’d expect this sorry narrative to smash into an abrupt conclusion; but I am not Chaucer, as my tale will have a satisfying conclusion. The other quirk about our door is that it has a hard lock; this is a particularly tough kind of lock, so strong that it can’t snap into place by itself, and requires the twisting of a key in its lock to shift the necessary tumblers, which sound like they weight about fifteen stone each. This means that when we leave in the morning, having rubbed our hands raw on the tiny latch trying to get the thing open, we then have to pull the door all the way back to its closed position, and fumble around with an awkward key-in-lock situation. And because we’re locking the door, we can’t just pull the door to and let it sit half-closed, bound in place by some hillbilly automatic lock; no, for this kind of impregnable security the door, which is too big for its frame remember, must be wedged back into its frame so we can operate the lock effectively. It’s worth pointing out that, like the latch on the inside, the outside is devoid of any handles or additions suited for moving the door back and forth; as a result, we play a game of ‘pull the door quickly then yank your hand back so your fingers don’t get caught in the door!’ every morning, and it’s already getting tedious.

The ultimate irony, of course, is that all these procedures and inconveniences are meant to make the door harder to force, and the house safer: heavy doors are harder to push if the lock isn’t fully opened, the hard lock exists to keep intruders out, and the lack of handles make the door difficult to operate unless you’re the inhabitants, and have gotten used to dealing with the bloody thing on a daily basis. But now, sometimes we don’t lock the door because it’s too much effort; we leave it pulled to, but not locked, because no-one can open it without a pneumatic drill and a week’s worth of anabolic steroids, and we can’t be bothered to dope up every evening in preparation. In making the door intruder-proof, the manufacturers have made it human-proof, unsuitable for use by breakers-in, tenants, and presumably the US Navy Seals.

So if you’re in the business of house-breaking, don’t try your luck at our place; you’ll just cut your hands on our stubborn, slightly splintered door.

On my surprisingly successful flirtation with cooking

(I’ve jinxed it now, and will kill myself and all my flatmates with the next meal I attempt to make)

For those of you following me on Twitter – SUBTLE PLUG IS SUBTLE – you may have noticed my bizarre and uncharacteristic odyssey into cookery last night, as I attempted to make vegan lasagne from scratch. Happily, this was an almost complete success – not least because I might have stumbled onto the most middle-class snack food imaginable, aubergine crisps dipped in pepper and parsley – and was something that I actually enjoyed.

That’s right I, of the three recipes, two involving toast, enjoyed making food of some complexity.

A lot of it felt like a writing project, just in miniature; there were a few hours of preparation, a few minutes of combining ingredients, and a few more hours of anticipatory oven-watching, as opposed to the months and years that go into writing something like a novel. There was enough novelty in it, however, to make it a useful break from my life of endless writing, as I was doing something with my hands; the judgement calls were based on physical stimuli – the softness of the pasta, the warmth of the filling – opening up a myriad of new decisions to make, rather than all my inputs being conceptual, which invariably becomes draining after a while.

I also got proper food out of it, which is an oddity. My vegetarian, and now vegan, life has been dog-eared by constant fears (grounded and ungrounded) about my naff diet and the fact that I’m doing some kind of sport six times a week with only a banana and some soya milk to fuel me; but last night, I had an honest reason to stop worrying about all of that.

Plus, I got to eat lasagne for the first time in forever, which is always a good thing.

I played in a dodgeball tournament!

(DODGEBALLDODGEBALLDODGEBALL)

As many of you will know, I love the UCL Dodgeball Society; the sport itself is great fun, the vibe both relaxed and gently competitive, and the people (eventually) made me feel socially relevant, being only one of two large groups of friends to really do that last year. But I’d never actually played competitive dodgeball due to a combination of poor organisation on my part, and just being a bit crap at the sport; but today a tournament was held, taking place after all of last year’s first team had graduated but before any athletic freshers could replace them, giving me a rare opportunity to strut my dodgeballing stuff in the pale blue livery of UCL. And I buggered it up for the most part, but had a fantastic day in the process.

The tournament was a single-day affair, a round-robin group stage followed by knockout rounds that we failed to reach because we were drawn in a group of a team a league higher than us, a yea, two leagues higher than us, and a conglomerate of international-standard players who only seem to meet and train in summer, like the dodgeballing equivalent of a musical supergroup that only tour in a three-week span in July for no apparent reason. Our results were better than we hoped – a draw, a whitewash and a gutting defeat that cost us a quarter-final place – but looking back I felt so much regret for what we did, and what we nearly accomplished; pushing our first opponents just a little harder to secure the win, rather than the draw, would have put us in a much stronger position, and actually seems rather plausible considering the relative quality of the two sides we lost to. I also made a single kill, and recorded a single catch that managed to lose us the game; I stepped out of bounds just before I secured the ball, so instead of being the last player heroically bringing a team-mate in to launch a valiant comeback, I was just the last man standing, who happened to walk off the court instead of actually be hit by an opponent.

But it was the vibe of the day that was the most awesome. It’s been years since I played a sport competitively like this, punctuating long periods of sideline speculation and stretching with frenzied moments of ball-tossing, apart from the increasingly toxic world of watching Tottenham play. This was a thing I was involved in, not as a spectator or a critic, but as someone who was making things happen, albeit in a small way.

When the Minotaurs and Eagles came close to fists at a few close line calls, or when my teammates made spectacular catch after spectacular catch to keep our flagging, doomed place in the competition alive for another few throws, there was a rush you simply don’t get from writing eloquent essays or reading even the finest poetry.

I also learned a Hell of a lot about competitive dodgeball – namely that I need to keep my sodding feet inside the lines – and saw high-level dodgeball being played for the first time in my life, which is this insane mixture of machine-like cannon-fire and acrobatic ball-sweeping, layered over a surprisingly sophisticated tactical framework. It was fast, and brutal, but it all made sense and fitted into broader assessments of team styles, or individual talents.

I hope that we’re able to scrape a second team together to play in leagues, or even non-league cups, this year; because I love training sessions, and needlessly-costumed Sports Nights with the team, but this was a qualitatively different experience that I’m not going to let fade into a single memory.

Also, if you want a more minute-by-minute report of the day, head on to @ucludodgeball, where I was Tweeting merrily about the whole thing.

Reading! Studying! Learning! Yes!

(I make that a ‘rule of three … plus one’ there)

I had a seminar today – my only one of the day – that was really rather inspiring. I know that statements like that are tossed around all the time by university admissions people to make idiot students sign up for their courses in Beyoncé studies, but this time it actually worked – I left the seminar wanting to go home and read and work on essays and generally be a productive student.

The seminar itself was relatively unspectacular, just the three of us students sitting in our professor’s room and listening to them talk for the majority of the hour. But I think that’s why I found it so useful; at university, and at least on my course, there’s always a performative element, as lecturers stand on plinths to tell us about Romantic literature as if they’re channeling Old Norse skaldic poets or speakers to the Roman senate. This isn’t an inherently bad thing, but there’s a disconnect between my real life of sourcing cheap vegan milk and figuring out how to pay utility bills and my academic life of ‘isn’t this a pretty metaphor?’ – I know that art reflects life, but art rarely is life. This seminar was the total opposite, however; I didn’t feel like we were working through a list of prepared ‘intelligent’ ideas to consider, but were four people interested in a thing rambling on about that thing. Seminars are, of course, pitched to us as all being like this, but rarely are.

And after four months of writing blog posts and playing Dragon Age, I feared I wouldn’t be able to get my teeth into academia again; guess I was wrong.

My chair is nice

(that’s the sort of title that thirteen-year-old James would be shouted at for including in his English homework. Where are you now, key stage three mark schemes?!)

For someone who’s spent a worrying amount of time siting at desks in his life, I’ve never really had a decent desk. My desk at home – the one I’ve brought to my flat – is a simple piece of IKEA wood bolted into four simple IKEA legs, and my chair was always a slightly curved bit of IKEA tat screwed into a set of wheels that conked out after a few years. The setup was unspectacular, but largely functional; the only issue was that my chair was the smallest, least comfortable piece of crap I’ve ever had the displeasure of parking my arse upon.

As a result, I learned to fear that chair. The chair was part of the wider suffering struggle of homework, a literal pain in the arse making my physically uncomfortable as the work made me academically distraught; that chair was a great motivator, a thorn in my side that encouraged me to work as quickly as possible to get stuff done, but little else. I never used that chair for relaxing in, or even sitting in when there wasn’t a book in front of my nose, which is why I wanted a laptop so badly last year, so I could peruse Buzzfeed and play Football Manager from the comfort of an armchair, or even a cushy bed of nails.

Now, however, everything has changed. As part of my agreement to take the smallest room in our house, I asked for the rather nice chair from my flatmate’s room as part of the deal; it’s not very new, or in very good nick, but it’s a big, high-backed black thing, made of some suspiciously comfy synthetic material with big plastic hoops for arm-rests. The wheels work, it’s just worn enough that I can lean back in and have it lean back with me, and the arms fit just underneath my trusty IKEA desk.

But the memory of my old chair still haunts me: I was speaking on the phone a bit earlier, and reverted to my old jumpy pacing around the room, when I had a perfectly squishy chair to rest in; and sometimes I choose to recline on my bed like a Roman patrician instead of sitting on the chair, laptop in hand, which is equally comfortable and far more productive.

This is why that title is rather tame; I can’t say ‘my chair is lovely’ because I’ve not used it nearly as much as the other things I love. This chair isn’t a committed partner, but a cute person I’ve had a few dates with, but haven’t been able to fully engage with because they share a name with someone who bullied me in primary school, so I always feel this weird nostalgic dread whenever I hang out with them. Hopefully that’ll change; in all honesty, it is a great chair.

Is this blog a good thing anymore?

(an existential blogging crisis!)

I started this blog to write. To put words to paper every day, as an exercise in self-disciple and improving my writing skill through the medium of endless practice, backed up by review and interaction from readers; to these ends, this blog has been nothing but a success beyond my wildest naff metaphors.

But in many ways, it’s gone too far. This is no longer my chief writing project: in terms of academia, that honour goes to my degree; in terms of fictional prose, that’d be my novel; for poetry, my writing blog; for journalism, Public Pressure and Sportsemic; and for gaming, the greatest of my passions, I have The Game Shelf. However, it is the project that takes up the greatest amount of my time, and is one I feel obliged to contribute towards every day; at this point in my life, the input is greater than the output.

This isn’t to say that this blog, and especially the people who read it and engage with it, are somehow worth ‘less’ to me now than two years ago, but the rest of my life has changed around it. I feel obliged to hammer out a new post every day, regardless of its quality, while there is less motivation to write a new journalistic piece regularly, when I’m better at, would benefit more from, and perhaps enjoy to a greater extent, the latter.

I feel like this blog is a very seventeen-year-old James project, an ambitious attempt to hone a largely theoretical skill through discipline and personal commitment. This blog reflected that strange marriage of the creative and the relentless skills that go into working towards an A-level in English, but my life isn’t about such a singular goal any more. These days, I flit from wanting to be a novelist to a gaming critic, to a game designer, to a poet, and occasionally a punk bassist or rapper; this blog is an island of needless rigidity and obligation in a turbulent sea of ideas and experimentation.

But is there a solution? If I change the posting schedule – say, weekly, instead of daily – there’s still the imposition of an arbitrary schedule, and if I abandon a schedule altogether this blog becomes a totally different beast. Could I scrap the blog altogether, and go in all with the pretentious journalism?

Definitely worth a think.

In the short-term, obviously, nothing will change on the blogging front. It’s good to have some kind of creative obligation like this, especially on days where I can’t think of anything to write about NOFX or the World Karate Federation, because it makes (and has made) writing into my life, rather than a hobby within it. I may have to reconsider the importance of this blog – as it’s no longer my main creative project, I might ease up on the need to write every day – or at least the length and format of my posts to make writing every day easier, but for the time being there won’t be any changes in how I write.

There’ll be lots of changes, however, in the way I approach and think about my writing; and that may be the most important consideration to take away from these 23 months and 600 posts’ worth of words.

So much yarn

(yarn for days!)

My flatmate has started crocheting. This isn’t a problem, and could actually be a rather rewarding creative experience, especially because it’s so radically different to some of the other, exclusively mental, processes that people like me tend to engage with. But there’s a key issue with the relentless yarn-weaving: there’s yarn all over the place.

It gathers in balls, like slugs performing bizarre mating rituals on one another, on tables and surfaces; there are strands dotted around the floor and the stairs like the hallmarks of a guilty dog, slinking through a house after flopping into one too many puddles, an dropping slick, wet hairs in their wake; a brave few pieces make it up the stairs, peering boldly over the nightmarish precipice of our short steps like the Yarn World’s equivalent of Neil Armstrong, forever breaking barriers and ascending, quite literally, to new peaks of shocking brilliance while the ogreish humans lumber about their hero, forever ignorant to their accomplishments.

And, in all honesty, I don’t want to disturb the yarn; for too long have the small, functional things of life been disregarded by pretentious blog-writing intellectual types, who reckon their latest half-baked magazine idea is of greater intrinsic value than the slow, heroic lurching of a piece of yarn up a flight of steps, clinging onto the sock of an unwittingly history-defining human. A salute you yarn, and your colourful diversity that has never been an obstacle to success unlike in human culture, and wish that these achievements continue, and records of Yarnkind continue to tumble as the crochet-hook of history bends towards more fluffy things inexplicably stuck to my socks after they come out of the wash.

Godspeed Yarn. Godspeed.