Star Bright

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What do Terelj National Park, the hills of Chiang Mai, the Great Barrier Reef and the Australian Bush all have in common?

They are the four places on earth whose views of the night sky have quite literally taken my breath away.

Now, I’m not going to pretend that I’m any kind of astronomer or indeed have any interest in the sky.  I’ve certainly got no desire to ever travel to the moon or leave this atmosphere (I will travel the world but JUST the world).  However, there’s something about the night sky in all its glory that makes me shiver.  I can watch it for hours.  A few days ago, I watched the blood moon come into glory, and gave me a chance to lie back on the grass and remind myself of just how beautiful it is.

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To be fair, like a lot of people I grew up in cities and villages with enough lights and pollution to drown out most of the stars, and it was only when my family moved to a tiny handful of houses in the country, and I went out very late at night around New Years that I realised how much I never saw.  The sky isn’t just a big black sheet – take away the lights on the ground and its astonishing how little black there actually it.  There are stars, galaxies, planets all dotted around and visible to the eye in the way I honestly didn’t know was possible.  And even further out with ones eye, the black almost seems gritty, with stars you more feel than see.  Vincent Van Gogh’s ‘The Starry Night’ makes so much more sense when you see the sky without the lights of earth.

I may not want to go there, but lying back and seeing all those stars is both inspiring and a little bit magical.  You realise how small you actually are in the grand scheme, and how much easier it is to believe that somewhere out there, life exists – staring up at the same sky and thinking the same things we are.  The universe is right there, close enough to touch – and its only isolated from humanity’s modern day achievements that you can step back and truly appreciate it.

The most frustrating thing about travelling and loving the sky though?  My camera sucks at taking any shots that do it justice.  The sky remains one of those things I can only really enjoy right then and there.  Frustrating, but at the same time, magical and timeless because of it. 

And a Travelling I go…

…Yeah…I haven’t been around much have I?

No real excuses if I’m honest.  Just between making that monster of a cosplay, selling just about everything I own on eBay, moving and organising a 3 month monster of a trip, actually finding a spare hour in the evenings to write anything has actually been harder than expected.  To the point where even when I wanted to write, it was the one thing that got pushed to the side.

But as it is, I’m writing this from Mongolia – my once-in-a-lifetime backpack trek underway. 

Well…sort of.  As it turned out my backpacking dream was a bit overambitious, and I did end up putting my backpack in cargo instead of hand luggage – it was just too heavy with my winter gear.  Plus it meant I could take another daypack.  Though cannot WAIT until I hit warmer climates and can empty out about 40% of my gear.

Since most of what I’ll be writing now is a travel diary, I made up a blog specifically for me to write about my journey:

http://www.thelogpose.wordpress.com

If you liked my blog (at least when it was active) or are interested in reading about me complain and freak and generally act like the worlds worst Westerner in Asia, hopefully you’ll follow me there too.  I’m not saying I wont be updating this blog again (non-travel entries still need a home), but it’s definitely taken a step back for this one.

Batale

Graduation

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Huh, haven’t done a flashback one in a while.  And this is something I’ve wanted to write for some time.  If just to get the events down for me to process properly after so many years.

So last weekend was the 5th anniversary of my graduation from University.  Five long years since I spent four equally long years studying for a degree that has gotten me absolutely nowhere.

But I digress.  To be honest, I never assumed that my graduation day would be a big deal.  But something else happened that day, which came to a head 2 weeks later, and pretty much redefined and solidified my relationship with my mother.  When I graduated university, I also graduated from under her shadow.

Most people would say they become a lot more ‘themselves’ when they go to university.  Away from home for the first time, they’re able to embrace a lot of things they couldn’t under the careful gaze of mummy and daddy.  Although I won’t deny I definitely fell under this category (my demi-goth years, the beginnings of my cosplay obsession, my first tattoo), in the back of my mind, the knowledge of my mother’s disapproval continued to hold me back.  Perhaps it’s the same for everyone at this time of life – even when free we desperately cling to the hope that our parents will just be happy we’re happy.

Anyway, as my fourth year began to end, graduation started to approach, and I started getting nightmares.  Not so much of failing – I got through the course with the highest awards I could get – but of the fact that my parents would expect me to actually go to the graduation ceremony.

I didn’t want to go.  I did not want to go on that stage and collect my degree.  Frankly, it wasn’t my idea of a good time – I would have been happy to get it in the post and then party at the prom a few days later.  Going on stage in front of that many strangers to get an award didn’t appeal.

But that was just one issue – the real issue was the fact that both my mother and father planned to attend.  This filled me with a cold, deep dread – because by this point, these 2 people hadn’t been in the same room together in nearly 3 years…and hadn’t interacted without turning it into a huge screaming match in nearly 6…with the topic of me going to university being the subject an awful lot of the time.

Frankly, I had vivid (and as awful as it sounds, perfectly reasonable) nightmares that the two of them would snap in the middle of the ceremony and start yelling at each other in front of everyone.  Considering they’d done it at home, in restaurants, car parks and other people’s houses – I certainly couldn’t see any reason why they wouldn’t.

However, it became clear that I didn’t actually get a say in this matter.  When I told my Dad I didn’t really want to attend, he told me he’d be dragging me onto the stage himself if he had to.  And when I brought it up with my mum, I was told I’d be going whether I wanted to or not.  On top of which, Dad was going on holiday to Orkney the day after, and so would naturally be bringing my stepmother, and my Nana was coming.  My Nana was a great peacemaker, but my mum and my stepmother in the same area for an extended length of time…my nightmares just go worse.  Especially as my mum was living with her new boyfriend after her recent divorce and she and my stepmother have never been particularly civil to each other.

But then I came up with a plan.  If I had to go through with this little piece of humiliation, I was damn well going to make sure they didn’t make it worse.  We were doing it my way or not at all – I spoke to both of them, and laid down the rules.  We would all meet up and have the carvery lunch, then go get photos.  Afterwards the parents would take their seats in the hall (could only get 2 tickets originally, but managed to snag another on the day for Nana.  It was in no way meant to be a slight on my stepmother, would have loved for her to have a ticket), I go on stage, walk off stage, return my gown, meet up with my brother, and go for dinner at the best Italian in town.

And if there was one, just one argument, or scuffle, or unnecessary insult I was going home, graduation ceremony be damned.  After all the parties and events where my brother and I were forced to grin and bear it, or clean up afterwards, they were going to act like responsible adults for one day, and set aside their issues to be happy for me.

Both agreed, and with a still slightly nervous disposition, I confirmed I’d be attending the graduation.

When the day finally came, it didn’t get off to a great start as mum completely dismissed the outfit I’d planned to wear.  I ended up wearing a dress she picked out instead as I was willing to be generous (and it wasn’t actually half bad – ended up in my work wardrobe a year later), but drew the line at any make up other than concealer – again, I’ll be generous and say she didn’t have a tantrum at that, even if there was a close resemblance.

However, that was the only road bump.  She even made a point to tell me that her boyfriend would not be attending as this was just family.  I was pretty happy about that – nothing against her new BF but I’d only met him once by that point.  When we all met up, I got the call about the extra ticket, and I got to enjoy a meal with all my parental figures getting along amicably since…well, ever.  I felt happy enough about it that I was even willing to ask for a full family photo when we were getting them (in hindsight, this was a very bad move on my part – ended up with a photo nobody but me wants to hang).

At graduation, my nerves decided to show, as I spilled water no less than  three times – twice on myself, and once on my fellow student, thankfully not too badly. My left side was soaking for a good amount of the 90 minutes, and I kept glancing over to where my parents were sitting whenever I heard a louder than usual noise.

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(Thanks to this, the fact that I was going on stage in front of hundreds of people, that I was wearing heels (that weren’t properly broken in as they were my rarely used ‘interview shoes’), I was ridiculously nervous, and when I went on stage, I got a ‘smile Batale’ from the Dean).

Nothing happened.  It’s kind of sad just how astonished I was that nothing had actually happened.  We reunited with my Stepmother who’d gone window shopping during the ceremony, and headed to a local pub to meet my brother, and wait until it was time for the reservation.  With everyone chatting and getting along, this was actually turning into the best day I’d had in a very long time.  And by far the best memory of my collective family since I was a child.

While they settled down with drinks, I grabbed my gown and went to return it.

I was gone maybe 20 minutes.

When I came back, they were still all smiles.  Mine however, faltered when mum’s boyfriend walked through the door after another 15 minutes.  Perhaps I should have asked what he was doing there when mum had insisted he wouldn’t be coming, but I didn’t want to rock the boat.

Then my mum stood with her new man, came over and smiled, gave me a hug, said she’d ‘explain later’ and walked off without a second look.   As she walked out the door, everyone else stood and walked out the door, heading in a direction opposite of the restaurant.  When I ask where we’re going, I’m told everyone thought the Italian reservations were too early considering how big a lunch we’d had, and we’re going to a restaurant on the outskirts of town instead.

It’s clearly too late, but I snap and ask for someone to explain what the hell went on in the 20 minutes I left them alone.  Apparently there’d been some miscommunication about the events after graduation.  Dad’s side had assumed mum would be leaving after the ceremony, and my stepmother and mother were struggling to stay on each other’s good sides.  This despite the fact that they agreed to my plans weeks before.

My spirits, which had been in such good form all day, sank like a rock.  We go to the restaurant, but astonishingly, people can tell I’m upset, and we head to yet a different restaurant – a franchise Italian in an attempt to get me the carbonara I’d been wanting all day.  It’s a valid effort, but for me, the day’s ended on a sour note.

It’s not so much that the plans changed.  This hurts, especially as it was the plans that directly followed my parents getting what they wanted, but what kept me agitated was the fact that they didn’t tell me.  As if they knew I’d react badly and waited until I was gone to finalise their plans.

The conclusion finally comes 2 weeks later when my Dad calls me up.  When I confront him about what happened, he apologised, and admitted that I’d been treated badly.  They should have told me what was happening when I returned.  I was grateful, and accepted that though it wasn’t the day I wanted, at least my parents admitted they had been in the wrong.

Two days later, I moved back home.  Mum visited weekly just to make sure we were still alive, and we talked about what happened.  She placed the blame solely at the feet of Dad and my stepmother for what happened.  When they told her what they thought was going to happen, she called her boyfriend.  I argued that they should have told me what was happening, and that nobody had forced her to leave.

What happened then?  My mother blamed me.  What happened was my fault because I hadn’t stood up for her.  I’d seen her walk out the door and hadn’t said anything.  If I’d really wanted her there I would have said something.

Okay, first of all my mother is a full on wildcat.  She has never failed to defend herself against anyone.  It’s something I’ve always admired about her.  Two, I’m supposed to start a scene in a pub because my mum is running out the door with the boyfriend she promised wasn’t coming with a quick ‘explain later?’  I’m not her!  And also not a child, we’d just spent the day celebrating my graduation from university!  The least she could have done is taken me to the side and told me what happened!

I was livid.  I was furious.  All I wanted was some acknowledgement that she’d unintentionally hurt me, and what I got was diversion and accusations.  But it did give me something else – an epiphany into our relationship.

I realised that I cared a hell of a lot more about my mum’s happiness than she did about mine.  All I asked for was one day where they had to ‘grin and bear it’.  In exchange I’d do something I really didn’t want to do.  Instead, both played nice until they got what they wanted and then did their own thing.  Dad was no more in the right that day, but at least he was willing to admit it.

So I decided to stop my own grinning and bearing.  A few weeks later I got my hair cut shorter than it had ever been – something I’d held off on because my mother hated my hair short and loved it long, despite me hating the sheer amount of work maintaining it caused.  I bought the clothes I’d always eyed but never bought because I knew how much mum hated them.  I allowed myself to play video games and read manga as much as I wanted when I wasn’t working, shutting out any complaints from the weekly visitor.  I had tried to make a compromise where both of us could be happy and get what we wanted, and it failed.  So from now on, I live my life and make my choices completely on what makes me happy, regardless of the peanut galleries complaints.  I’m not listening to her complaints.

Honestly?  I don’t think my mother has any idea that this was the catalyst for our current relationship.  She’s certainly been forced to master ‘grin and bear it’ techniques since her guilt tripping and complaints don’t work, but I’m certainly not going to bring it up unless she asks.  I’m happy with myself, and with our current status quo.

And that conclusion was worth the sour memory of my graduation day.  Times 10.

The Doubled-Edged Self-Checkout Sword

To be honest, up until today I always considered the self-checkout machine to be a brilliant step forward.  As someone who has been a cashier (and then spent the next 7 years making sure she never had to be one again), I can happily say that it’s not a job for the weak hearted.  Spending hours upon hours scanning customer’s goods, dealing with them muttering on the phone, complaining about prices or yelling at you because the supervisor needed to complete a sale isn’t there, because every other till is backed up and it’s going to take a few minutes.  On top of which, you have other customers who only want to buy a few items complaining and groaning about having to hang behind a veritable trolley marathon.

So yes, when the self-checkout machines appeared at my local supermarkets, I did a little jig of joy.  Without a car my shopping was always little under a basket, and I often bemoaned the fate of waiting behind everyone else doing their weekly shop.  The self checkout machines keep me from having to spend another 15 minutes waiting in line behind every snappy businessman and frazzled parent, and get my still-slightly-claustrophic-when-surrounded-by-people-self out the door just that little bit quicker.  Can’t even say I think they’re a threat to minimum wage jobs, considering they need 2-3 people constantly supervising them to approve ‘own bags’ and okay liquor.

However, my colleague told me a story today, which made my approval stop in its tracks.  I have now realised the unexpected and dangerous secret of the self-checkout machine.  The night before, my co-worker was out jogging, and along the way she remembered she had to buy stamps.  Popping into the shop, she decided to buy a chocolate bar as well.  But when she got closer to the till, she stopped in her tracks.  She knew the person on the till.  And there she was in her jogging clothes about to buy a chocolate bar.  Said item was quickly shuffled back onto the shelf, and she left with just her stamps.

I’d never seen someone so pleased in maintaining someone’s opinion over something so minor.  She was so proud of herself for resisting the chocolate urge.  Then she said the golden line.

“It’s a good thing there wasn’t a self-checkout, or I’d have bought it there instead.”

This harmless little comment stopped me in my tracks, and I thought back to all the times I’ve used the self-checkout machines (there are many such times in the past month alone).  Sometimes they really did have too long a queue and I’d go to a human being, and some stores just don’t have them, and with this in mind, I spotted a dangerous trend.

Every time I use a machine for my shopping, I always add sugar.  Chocolate, baked goods, cookies, cakes, random-other-generic-calorie-monster-I-know-I-shouldn’t-be-eating-but-am-anyway.  Even just tossing a snickers in the basket while I wait.  I don’t do this in the normal queues.  I’ll actually put stuff back rather than watch all the fat roll across the scanner.

There’s just something about having another person go through every single thing you’re planning to eat in the near future that makes you think twice about having that little guilty pleasure.  Even though it’s mostly in your head, even though you know they’ve had dozens of people through their till before you, there’s a nagging, unflinching notion that the employee wearing a nametag and a slightly dazed expression is judging you for your choices.  You are so desperate for this strangers approval (or at the very least, lack of disapproval) that you’ll suppress your urges for another day.

The self-checkout machine has no such problems.  It exists to be an enabler.  Certainly there are some things people are glad they don’t have to buy from another person (puberty brings much embarrassment and averted eyes sometimes), but that’s not my issue.  I don’t think I’ve ever bought something from the proper tills in my local supermarket – I always go to the self-checkout.  What am I usually in there to buy?  Chocolate and/or muffins.  Literally go in there for just that.  It’s bad enough I’m in there so often the security guard knows me on sight – I couldn’t describe the horror of having the other employees remember my face and regular binging habits.

But maybe I should.  If I want to stop eating junk food, I have to stop using the guilt-free shopping option.  Society is there to help support you – even if that support comes in the form of your subconscious portraying itself on the face of a minimum wage slave.  From now on, I am to go to real people to buy things.  Or name the local self-checkout machines in order to give them personality, and therefore really mess up my subconscious and peer group balance…

Just Shaved Some Years Off My Life

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Why is it when I have something I want to write that isn’t date-necessary, I get bowled over with things to write about?  My Saturday post keeps getting pushed back on the grounds that it’ll take some time to write, and I actually have other things to write about.

(And yes, I am fully aware of the irony of now having too many things to write about, thank you).

However, this afternoon I had a complete full on panic attack when I realised I’d been doing something very stupid.  Something I feel I should write about just to remind myself how much of a crazy scatterbrain I can be without trying.

This event in question?  Cosplay related, to nobody’s surprise.

I’m currently making a full on helmet for my main costume, and this has involved multiple layers of cardboard, paper mache, and finally a layer of body filler.  The filler is so you can sand the helmet down and get a smooth finish.  So far it seems to be working as expected, and with some free time this afternoon, I grabbed the sandpaper and started to get to work.

After 10 minutes, I’m noticing an awful lot of powder falling from my little work of art, and I start to get a nagging feeling I’m forgetting something.  I discard the newspaper for cleanliness and keep going.  Then it hits me.

The tub recommends wearing a mask for sanding.  It’s just one line on the tub, but it stops me short.  A quick scant to Google later, and I’m hitting full blown panic attack.

Although nowhere near as dangerous as fibreglass (which I understand is basically the devils cosplay ingredient), turns out body filler is mildly toxic, and should never be sanded without protection, and definitely not indoors if you can help it.

And I’ve spent 10 minutes doing just that in the kitchen.  My brain goes into panic overdrive and I get the thing down to the bottom of the stairs near the door for airing, shove the badly working hoover into the kitchen to get as much of the powder off the counter and floor as possible, yank open the windows and start to wonder if that tickle in my throat is my soon-to-be-death.

It wasn’t – but my nerves did result in me throwing up – only belatedly realising that if I HAVE inhaled any of this danger item, it’s in my lungs not my stomach and I’ve probably done more damage to myself than the filler ever did.

Thankfully, I finally got to some forums on using these materials, and got my nerves calmed.  A little session like mine isn’t going to cause any serious damage (fibreglass, hell yes.  Body filler…not so much).  The kitchen is one of the airier rooms and I was using the corner far, far away from food preparation, and I just need to get a mask and take it outside in future.  Clearly it hasn’t damaged me too much, as I had to run the bleep test tonight not an hour later, and managed to plateau at 9.2, despite having not ran it since March (gym finally paying off).  Lungs survived the ordeal, though my earlier panic left my throat raw.

I’m now just crossing my fingers and hoping I’ve cleaned up my mess well enough that it won’t be an issue.  Starting to understand why so many ‘serious’ cosplayers dedicate their entire garage’s to their craft.  Once you slip out of fabric and foam and glue, it starts getting dangerous.  Certain props and designs just can’t be made with standard materials – you need to get creative.  And with that comes electronics, toxic fumes from paint and fillers, fibreglass hell, plastic and its multiple warnings, and the craziness of expanding foam.

And it’s not even like you have to use this materials to make good costumes.  Some of my favourite cosplayers are those who devote time to the details rather than the materials.  Trinity Blood cosplayers immediately come to mind – anyone who can devote 2 weeks to sewing 3,000 beads onto a ball gown deserves my respect.

However, this cosplay is something I’ve been building up to for years.  I adore Kamen Rider, and the fact of the matter is it requires me to make armour.  Hopefully this weekend I can invest in a mask and get the helmet into a closer-to-complete state.  I want to complete it so I can find out how dangerous it’ll be to wear – at the end of the day; I have to wear this thing after all.  Hopefully sealing up the helmet will be enough – plenty of people use this method, so I just need to follow my predecessors.

A Taste of Africa

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My roommates have an ‘agreement’.  Each of them cooks for everyone else, and its usually something ‘traditional’.  The first ended up making curry, which is not traditional for her, but something she’s very good at making.  The second offered up vegetarian Italian cuisine (and then got roped into doing the pizza party).  First roommates French coworker who often takes part in these did a French night that I had to miss.  As such it’s just been myself, and my African roommate who needed to host.  However, he was up first, and due to holidays and plans, these nights have been few and far between.

Last night I had plans.  Not particularly clever plans – mostly consisted of going to the cinema and maybe rooting through the freezer for quorn nuggets for dinner.  These plans immediately fell apart when I walked in to find one roommate cooking – after months and months of putting it off, he’d finally decided to do his own come-dine-with-me-night, and give us a taste of home.  So discarded my plans and waited.

Said roommate was originally from Eritrea, but grew up in Sudan and Ethiopia before coming to Europe.  As such he has very different tastes and upbringing (debating with him about ‘first world problems’ is one of my favourite things to do in the evenings as he has such a different view on things that seem to matter in this day and age).  When it comes to food his one rule appears to be ‘the spicier the better’ and balks when you mix flavours (the very concept of Hawaiian pizza boggles his mind – sweet pineapple and savoury meat should never got together).

So we were pretty much prepared for a spice-explosion when he finished.  I’d never tried African food before, but I’ve always been willing to try anything once.  Although we didn’t actually get to eat until about 9 due to delays (and apparently I’m the only person in the flat who things 6-7.30 is too early for dinner most of the time), it was clear he was going all out.  Even dressed in his traditional formal wear just to show us what he’d wear to a celebration.  As for the food…

ImageHe hadn’t so much made a meal, as he had a whole buffet…

One half of the table was Ethiopian/Eritrean food, while the other half was Sudanese, give or take a few ingredients he hadn’t been able to source.  On the right side I had flashbacks to a Simpsons episode when he offered up the Enjera.

ImageEssentially like a pancake, and it’s what you use instead of a knife and fork.  African cuisine is very hands on.

The dishes included Keyih Tibsi – a meat stew in a spicy sauce.  The meat was kept on the bone as apparently that’s preferred – boneless is missing half the point of eating.  There was also ‘Ades and Bamya’ which was a vegetable paste including okra, and again was very spicy.  The main dish on the table though was Shiro, a spicy tomato sauce/paste which is as much a staple of African cuisine as the Enjera – roommate used to eat it all the time back home.  By far my favourite dish too, although again felt it was too spicy for me to really enjoy.

On the Sudanese side of the table, there was something I think he called ‘Fool and Ribda’, which was another spicy dish, but included falafel in the mixture as well as kidneys (one plate without for the veggie in the flat).  Followed by a vegetable dish ‘molokhia’ – which was a green and ‘stretchy’ stew like substance.  Reminded me a little of seaweed salad.  Finally, the last dish was Salata Aswad, a mix of aubergine and peanut butter.  The only non-spicy dish on the table but ironically found it too bland.  Aubergine is not the most tasteful of veggies and the peanut give it enough kick.

ImageWhere my roommate grew up, normally everyone would eat from the same plate, using the Enjera to get what you wanted.  Since we didn’t have a big enough plate, we had to improvise and just grab from the tables.  And yes, it really was a very messy (if enjoyable) way to eat.  Though by the end I was dying for something that wasn’t going to burn my tongue off – and got a nasty surprise when I found out Enjera have to undergo a fermenting process to get the holes in their surface, so might technically have an alcohol content (was not happy with my roommate for keeping that from me until after I’d eaten).

ImageThere weren’t any African desserts to follow, instead my roommate brought out Baklava and dates, which were nibbled on while he showed us videos of dances from Eritrea and Ethiopia.  As the finale, he brought out a portable type of stove along with some beans.  Turns out making their own coffee at the end of the meal is also a big thing in Ethiopia, and that’s exactly what he did (only setting the fire alarm off once!).  Not a big coffee drinker myself though, so retired before then to write up last night’s blog post.

Now, which the last of my roommates having performed their cooking night, I’ve realised it’s my turn, which is sending me into a bit of a tizzy.  Everyone (with the exception of one), has cooked food traditional of their homeland.  Stuff they grew up eating and enjoying.  This becomes a bit of a problem for me as both options aren’t particularly easy.  I really need to get my mother’s (or Nana’s if possible) recipe for Scotch broth (every family has a different recipe, handed down, but I never learned when I had the chance) so I have something to offer as a starter, but then there’s the main course.  For Scottish cuisine there’s the classic haggis…but I have never made it myself.  My typical meal growing up (that you know, didn’t come from the deep freezer section of Tesco) was either mince and tatties, or a roast dinner.  Ignoring the sheer cost of putting a proper RD together, and the fact that I’ve never actually cooked one on my lonesome (just the concept of making roast tatties from scratch terrifies me), neither of those are suitable for a vegetarian, and puts me back to stage 1.  At least the supermarkets sell vegetarian haggis if I was bold enough to test it.  Any ideas?

Welcome to the Granite City

Writing this under extreme duress.  No clue what I’ve done, but my right wrist is back in its restraint as doing anything sends my hand into fits of agony.  Getting through this without jarring it in any way is quite the lesson in word processing grace.

This weekend actually marks an important anniversary for me.  Its 5 years ago today that I graduated from university, and I fully intended to write a blog about that.  However, fate had other plans.  Plans that became apparent when the sound of bagpipes filled our kitchen (much to the distress of my very hung-over roommate) around 11am.

ImageIt’s a parade.  Turns out it’s the International Youth Festival parade – one of many performances happening throughout the day.  On top of Tartan Day celebrations, and the finale to the Granite City Festival, and the regular Farmers Market.  Everything is happening today – one of the hottest days in a summer that has already seen more hot and sunny days than the last 3 years combined.  And even though I knew I should be working on my thrice damned costume, I’d been holed in too many days to not jump at the chance to enjoy this kind of atmosphere.

I ran into half a dozen performances, a multitude of tartans (making me sad that I technically own nothing tartan and am getting through the day with a plaid shirt) and splashed out money in the Farmers Market for proper raspberries.  The type that grow in a field and actually have a taste, unlike the supermarket blandberries that fill the shelves half the time.  Worth every penny – but it was so hot I found myself driven back inside just for protection.

Of course, that’s not even an option anymore.  With the windows closed and my door shut my room is less of a haven and more or sweatbox.  Ram the window open and flee once more, heading back into town and wandering into the Granite Festival.

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Needless to say, granite’s a pretty big thing here.  Nearly every building is made from the stuff.  The majority coming from our local quarry, though nowadays a significant amount comes from abroad too.  The festival’s been on all week, but it’s coming to its finale today – in the graveyard-turned-city-centre-park, they have stone splitting and letter carving, along with a tour of the city at 2, so I figure why not?

ImageNot…quite what I was expecting.  Rather than a tour of the city it was focused on the art and metaphors around the use of granite in the city.  I got flashbacks to my English class, when you had to overanalyse a book and were just pulling ideas out of thin air in a desperate attempt to flesh it out.  Though can’t deny the guy made some interesting points, and I did start to look at my city in a different light.

IMG-20130727-00013aThis, for example is something I’d never thought twice about until he pointed it out.  The Travelodge sign is normally in blue, but on Union Street the sign is grey.  Much like the McDonalds on the Champs D’Elysee, the council refused the sign unless it didn’t detract from the street’s aesthetic.  There’s also a multitude of buildings that are clearly from different eras, but you never quite notice because your eyes never look past the first floor.

2013-06-02_09-34-08_809Sadly, the tour ended with us at the city’s current financial black spot – Marischal College, home of the city council and directly opposite to their former building, which is currently being demolished at the same cost of redeveloping MC (despite the fact that they still haven’t paid it off to begin with!). 

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Though will admit, that is a FAR superior view to the old building.

The MC is a little bit special because the council actually had the building cleaned, and it stands as a testament of granites hardiness as it now looks brand spanking new.  To the point where it kind of looks fake in a city of dark and dull.  Right next door is the church, showing the colour it used to be before they brought out the power hose, as a permanent before and after shot, reminding us of just how shiny the rock can be when treated right.

And since I can’t figure out where else to put them, here are some photos from my day, showing off my city on one of the rare occasions its got the weather to enjoy it.

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The art gallery with granite pillars from different quarries.

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Much like the traffic cone in Glasgow, Robert Burns ALWAYS has a seagull on his head…

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The lion upon which every graduate gets a photo op on.

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The very old building meets the rather new.

My Deadline Senses are Tingling

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It’s gotten to that point in the year.  When I have less than 3 weeks before a con, and 6 weeks’ worth of costume work to do.  I’ve spent long weekends wrapped in paper mache, body filler, velvet and leather, just hoping and praying that the whole thing will work out.

I do this every. Single. Con.  I start a costume, and then dilly dally my way through the six month window until I can smell the deadline.  Then, usually around the time it becomes too late to order anything from China and get it here beforehand, I start to panic.  Sleep drops, work is distracting, and headaches become second nature.

And I become the worst roommate to ever walk the planet with the sheer amount of crap left in the kitchen and living room, but to be fair, I’ve had roommates who lined the living room with cooked chickens, and this lot left a game of scrabble filled with nothing but sex words on the coffee table last night, so most don’t have much room to talk.

I can almost smell the all nighters that will inevitably come with the last 3 days in August.  I have the week off and fully expect to still be working on the stupid thing before I leave.  3 years ago my record was only packing my bag 30 minutes before my train left, shoving in hand sewing to do on the said train.  A very similar event the year after, when I spent 2 nights trying to work on a ball gown, only to get snowed in and have my work be for nothing (I never got an opportunity to wear it until last year, when I had to rip it apart because I’d lost so much weight too).

This convention cosplay is looking to be no different.  Had the day off so spent it in the kitchen sticking paper mache to foam.  Looking at my deadline, I have to get the armour up to a certain point if I’m to have any chance of having the costume done in time.  The problem is the paper mache pulp that I use to sculpt takes a long time to dry, so I keep having to stop working on things.  And when I start work on something else?  I usually discover I’m missing something and have to go to the shops.  Again.  Which gets a little depressing after the fifth time.

So what does this costume consist of?  At its most basic, it consists of one bodysuit, made mostly from velvet and a gold corset type middle.  Added to this is a pair of leather-type jodphurs and a warped belt made from similar fabric.  There’s also a pair of red knee-high boots.  The upper body is mostly an American Football armour piece, front, back and shoulder pads, and finishing it off is a full helmet.  I have worked with ‘most’ of these things at some point, but nowhere near as much as I’m having to do now, and mistakes have been rampant.

So, where am I now?  Helmet has 75% of its first layer of body filler on.  The front still has pulp drying – but the filler seems to be doing what I wanted it to do, which is a plus.  Only problem is the sheer weight the filler has added – will not be able to wear the helmet for long periods, that’s for sure.

As for the armour, I wanted to get the shoulder pads done but got bogged down by the frontal armour.  Decided to wait until that’s dry, then hastily get the 2 pieces together so I can get a better idea of what side my shoulder pads need to be.  They will be done this weekend, just not as early as I wanted.

And since everything is drying or on hiatus, I can hopefully either finish off the sewing part (80% of the body suit done, mostly just stitching the back up properly), or buy the right sized sheet foam for the gloves and/or boots.  If I can get just one of those jobs up to a point where it won’t take much to complete, I’ll be clear sailing for the first time in a while.  Just need to properly buckle down, ignore my roommates, the sun and anything else that-SQUIRREL!

Pride Comes Before Serious Agony

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So Taekwondo was on summer holiday for two weeks, and I’d already missed a lot of classes.  With this, I was going to lose even my Kettle Bell classes, and when I went back, I was going to be in such terrible shape I’d probably die within 5 minutes.

So with this in mind, I hatched a clever plan.  Every day after work, I headed to the gym with my iPad loaded with One Piece episodes.  Every weekday I kept up some form of training, if only biking and walking, doing a good 40 minutes to an hour a day.  As such, although I had to miss Monday’s class, I walked into Kettle Bells on Tuesday fairly confident I could get through it with minimal damage.

Oh how young and naive I was.  Turns out that although going to the gym regularly is a very good thing, the muscles one uses to ride a bike or walk up a steep hill are completely different to the ones used to squat and lift a kettle bell.  Halfway through the class my arms were ready to give out from atrophy.  My only saving grace was that the rest of the class (teacher included) were having just as much trouble.

And as an added disappointment, I discovered I’m back to 11 stone on the weights after 2 weeks without weighing.  Yes some of that’s hopefully muscle, but I was genuinely hoping to get my weight back down to 10, not go screaming in the opposite direction when I haven’t lost any inches on the waist either.

So disappointing day…but the best was yet to come.  Work up this morning (to thunder and lightning, summer has officially left), and my legs refused to move.  Feels like they’ve been replaced with cocktail sticks – no strength and poking my flesh with sharp ends.  Doing anything that required bending of my knees resulted in much whimpering and awkward manoeuvring – least I’ve lived with it before and know it will get better after a few weeks.  Note to self, next time I go to the gym I do squats with the weights too!

As for the class?  Pretty small, and very hot.  Turns out on Monday, one member even fainted from the temperature.  We didn’t get that bad, but did get one nugget for my ego.  Despite failing every single hurdle we had (couldn’t get through one press up, or the plank, or even parts of the warm up), I managed to get through the class and the additional open pad training without becoming completely out of breath – a genuine first.  Might not have done anything else, but the gym has improved endurance.  Monday, and the inevitable bleep test will hopefully let me see how much.

Blind To Those Around Me

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I just had one of those moments.  I’m sure everyone’s had one.  That moment where you suddenly realise that for all your complaints about the world around you…you’re pretty much a failure at noticing what’s right in front of your nose anyway.  Just goes to show how much escapes your notice even through day to day life.

I’ve always considered myself to be a fairly open person with my hobbies – too many fearful years of suppression have left me far too happy to express my passions, much to people’s amusement and/or consternation.  Doubt anyone who has met me more than twice couldn’t give a fairly accurate account of my hobbies, passions and dreams quite easily.  But tonight was a pretty big reminder that the people around me aren’t always that open.  There are things people don’t always tell you, for no other reason than they never saw the need.

What happened?  I basically got a friend request on Facebook.  It threw me for a loop at the person had no mutual friends; the profile photo was a stock photo of a statue, and the name foreign.  It sounded familiar, but I didn’t recognise it.  I mulled around for a good five minutes before looking at the person’s page.  It was all photography – good photography and photojournalism, but couldn’t find anything to explain why this stranger wanted to be friends with me, couldn’t even find a photo of the man in question.

Then, I spotted on his profile.  He lived in Aberdeen, and with far too much epiphany, I realised where I knew the name.

It was my roommates.  The man who lives quiet literally one wall away from me.  Who I’d spoken to not 30 minutes ago.

So I’m feeling just a little pathetic and ridiculous about it all.  Admittedly I never really bothered to ask what said roommate’s last name was, but that I couldn’t but 2 and 2 together considering the uniqueness of the name seems to give a depressing conclusion of my minds state.  But what makes it really hurt and hit deep?  Up until 5 minutes ago I would have honestly said that my roommate had no interest in photography whatsoever.

It honestly came out of left field.  I have never seen him with a camera – whenever we go out it’s always someone else taking shots.  He’s taken albums of photos of places I had no idea he’d even been – despite talking about travel with him regularly, even has a diploma in photojournalism…and I had no idea.

How did this skip my attention?  I’m no photographer but I have (multiple) friends who love the hobby with a passion, and I adore photos of people’s experiences.  We regularly talk about holidays and travel, I always ask him where he’s gone – but somehow his talent and experiences have gone unmentioned.  Perhaps he wanted to keep them secret?  But then why add me as a friend to a page devoted to this part of his life?

So I confronted him about it tonight.  Apparently he fell in love with photojournalism some years ago, and while he was travelling threw himself into it…but discovered, much like my brother and his cameraman dreams, that photography is not conductive to making money.  So the passion was put to the side in exchange for making good money.  As such, since he moved to the city (and I should add, the only person in the flat who hates the granite city more than myself is him), he hasn’t had the drive to take photos the way he used to.  Hopes to one day take it up again, even here, if just so he can continue to tell stories through photography.

It makes me wonder what secrets my other roommates and work colleagues have tucked away…

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