This happened way back in the winter of 2012 when I was typing up my PhD thesis at home during the Christmas break.

 

I was sitting in the kitchen by my computer on a Saturday morning, when my mother came in, with the groceries and a brand new broom she bought on the market.

 

I looked up briefly, and said: “I thought you took the car to the market”, and went back to typing.

 

There was a brief, stunned silence, then about twenty minutes of laughter.

 

London is a strange place. It’s huge and most of it is just rows of suburban houses with extensions, added levels and all sorts of enlargements to accommodate the still growing population; the interesting parts are actually concentrated within quite a small area of a couple of square miles. (This is going to be a pure rant. I thought it is important to warn people before proceeding.)

The public transport -especially the Tube- reflects this perfectly; you can see that the tunnels, the trains, everything was designed for a much smaller crowd. So what you have now is hundreds of people being crammed into narrow walkways. It’s so dense the crowd would keep you upright even if you tripped and fell.

This is not an ideal situation at all. Enter the “average Londoner” (and I know I’m generalizing, and being unfair to a lot of people), and the situation turns to living hell.

It seems like your average Londoner (see disclaimer above) have no inkling of being surrounded by other human beings, despite of the visual, tactile and olfactory clues that prove otherwise. Just a commute in a busy morning is enough to fill you up with murderous rage if I’m honest. Sure, let’s stand in the opening door, obstructing it, so nobody can get on or off; and let’s be pissed off when people actually try to push past. (But don’t make eye contact.) Let’s stay by the doors, leaving the inside of the train virtually empty so nobody else can get on; after all, I’m good, right? But don’t let the guys in the inside get off at their stations, either. Hey, let’s stand on the platform blocking the door for people trying to get on, because I’m waiting for the next train, and want to wait where its door will open… Oh, but now they can’t get on to their train? Screw them! Wait, is there a two and a half meter wide stairway, and I’m not walking faster than the other two people next to me? Sure, let’s block the whole thing, so other’s can’t walk faster, either. Meanwhile they actively avoid looking at you or engage with you in any way; kind of weird to see this whole passive-aggressive commuting hell.

Quite frankly it’s astonishing how inconsiderate people are in London. And it’s not just the alienating effect of a large city; New York is different. Sure, if you try to stop in the walkway while in a crowd, you will be swept away; however people do not behave in such a rude and inconsiderate manner. And it’s not just the traffic. If you go to Camden to club, you’ll see something similar. People will push you away in the dance floor; even women half your size will try to actively push you over so they can move into your place (and be very wary of their stilettos), so the dance becomes a kind of passive-aggressive mosh pit; except moshing is actually quite a cathartic and communal event where nobody actually is trying to hurt you; here people just want to place an elbow into your kidneys. Everywhere else in the UK (and elsewhere in the world) groups can share the dance-floor peacefully; in London (in my experience) it’s a constant fight to retain your position. Or take my dear neighbour, for example (no, not the loud, drunk and aggressive one; I meant the nice, family living next door). He consistently parks his huge SUV in front of the house on the street where two small cars could (well, used to) park, instead of using his own driveway. Which is empty. I’m sure he’s a swell fellow, his friends love him, and he visits his mother regularly, but in reality it just shows that he is a dick for taking up effectively three car’s places with his one aircraft carrier without even thinking of the others -like yours truly- who need to find parking lots in a busy street.

I honestly don’t know what turns people inside out when they come to this city. Perhaps there’s an ancient Celtic curse on the place. Or there’s really just way too many people are trying to share it.

So in the last post I mentioned my phone… I feel like I really need to add a short addendum. I did mention I did not like the phone, as it was not a very good one; well, one of the major issues is that a finger-width band on the screen is unresponsive. So I’ve got all this awesome computing power, a CPU with multiple cores, and no way to run games (the only things that actually use this power on a phone), since you need the full screen normally to interact with the software.

But it gets worse. I was on a job interview yesterday, and when I tried to unlock the screen afterwards I realized I cannot. There’s a character “1” in my pin; and since it happens to be placed in the area of that particular strip, I could not actually enter my pin. It used to work -the area was not completely unresponsive- but now it became absolutely impossible. It was maddening and ridiculous at the same time. So that’s it: I’ve got a phone I cannot get into unless I have the screen replaced.

No, not that kind. (We can talk about it, too, if you want to.)

 

I had to reboot my phone the other day, and for that I needed to remove the battery; so the phone came out of its hard protective shell which made it look like a big, flat, rubber brick.

I just realized how nice it actually looks. Designers poured countless hours to make it look aesthetically pleasing, from the brushed metal surface to the curved lines on the side, and then to make sure it does not get damaged should I dropped it onto some concrete walkway, I hide it all in layers of plastic and rubber. (By the way the phone is bad; I’m never going to get another LG again. But it does look good.) It was like having a brand new phone, so I did not put it back to the protective case. At least not yet.

 

Anyhow, this  lead me thinking about the whole issue of protection and function. We use protective cases, protective mats for sofas, carpets and chairs; essentially disfiguring these items in order to make sure they stay beautiful (or at least whole).

Just look at this thing.

eb-belsofa-velvet-sofa-protector-stone

You spend two grands on a leather sofa, and then cover it to make sure it does not get damaged. The fact you have a beautiful leather sofa can only be deducted from the presence of the protector, but now, what you have, objectively looking, is a butt-ugly sofa in the end.

We are weird.

 

 

It seems like I’ve passed one big rite of passage -about 20 years late. I got married. For reasons -some of which out of my control, some of which resulted from my personal choices- I have not found a female who was willing to spend her life with me until now; there were candidates, but at the first sign of difficulties (mostly distance) they bailed. It’s unfortunate, but I guess I should not mourn the loss; after all, if the first hurdle caused them to buckle, a more serious crisis would have been worse once the relationship advances to the point of having children and other responsibilities. At least this way they did not mess up the lives of little humans.

Regardless there we stood in front of the wedding guests, quite a bit older than your usual happy couple, and I had this weird feeling. Most of my friends and relatives were there with their children; it seems like we’re behind that particular curve as well. (It was a particularly problematic area as for sixty adults we had fourteen children…) Now we also have to start thinking about spawning some offspring; but there’s always this doubt of being already too late. It will be strange to go to parents’ meetings in schools while almost being old enough to be grandparents; I’ll be sixty by the time our first born (if she or he arrives soon) finishes high school.

It’s strange how the world has changed for our generation. The old life-story of finishing school, getting a job, getting married, have children by the age of 25 seem to be the exception rather than the rule among my friends; economic reasons (and for me the lack of work-life-balance in the area of scientific research) forces people to settle down later and later. If you listen to some feminists they’ll tell you it’s a problem for women only, but it’s not the case at all; it’s just the biological clock of men isn’t as apparent as women’s (and despite claiming otherwise even feminists tend to have old-fashioned stereotypes). I would have loved (and still would love to have) a traditional steady career that progresses with time, and gives me enough dough and time to bring up a family. It’s not that I was so intent on pursuing my career I could not spare time for propagating… (Or if I did I did a very poor job of it; I’m still just a poor scientist working in the civil service. No sports cars for mid-life crisis here, that’s for sure.) The guy who did the cooking for the wedding is an amazing chef- he worked for really prestigious restaurants ten years ago, and now he’s running his own small business in Tokaj that he built; he is a year younger than I am, yet his oldest son just graduated from high school. And here I am in London, sitting in a civil service job that does not offer advancement (but does offer serious responsibilities), trying to figure out what to do with my life.

It’s strange to feel old when I think of this; after all I do not feel any different than I felt when I was 25. Actually, overall I would say I feel much better and look much better (despite of the hairloss). Mind you it’s a comparison, not an absolute statement. I look much better than the 25 year old myself; I did not say I look good. Just to make sure the distinction is understood.

Yet, the example of our chef does make me realize that time is ticking away; 20 years from now I’ll be close to retirement. And this is a scary thought.

 

 

Apologies for the rant in advance, but I felt like I needed to share it.

I was really excited when I heard about Gaiman’s book coming to the small screen. It’s definitely not a movie material (although it could be adopted in a LOTR-like three part epic), but the TV looks like a better medium. So I thought.

Upon seeing the first part I realized I forgot most of the book, so I’ve read it before the next episode came up.

The second episode… well, I watched it with my fiancee who did not read the book, and knew nothing of the plot. A couple of observations.

First, the adaptation is needlessly obscene (do we really need the dick-picks and the rant about spitting semen on the unfaithful husband’s grave?) and violent. I know, Gaiman’s work is full of sex and violence, but they are not just there to be there. Here a lot of it seems to be pushed upon the viewer just for the shock value.

Second, the plot is absolutely missing. If you don’t know the book, you have no idea what is going on, even after the end of the second episode. And this is deal breaking. Why would you watch something that’s obscene, violent, and nothing much happens in it, if you don’t know what the main plot is? If you’re a Gaiman fan, you know the story; if you’re not a hard-core Gaiman follower, why would you waste your time on the third episode? I know for sure my fiancee is not going to- and she so furious about how little these first two episodes actually gave her, she lost all interest in the book itself. Not sure how general this sentiment is, but you just lost a potential reader there.

 

Third: nothing happens. There are some characters coming and going, some dialog going on, but unless you’re familiar with the book you don’t know who the characters are (they are, generally, old, forgotten gods, and it’s kind of cool reading up on them, by the way), and why these characters matter. You don’t understand who the guy with the hammer is, and why he likes his hammer so much; you also don’t get why it’s important that he joins with Mr Wednesday and Shadow, so it makes absolutely no sense for Shadow to risk his life for his support. I understand they wanted to stick to the book as much as possible, but the book made a much better job at implying what’s going on -at least-, and the TV series format kind of makes it necessary to cut up the plot, and create tight episodes with proper beginnings and endings. A seven episode cliffhanger is just not going to cut it.

 

Fourth: for the trickster spider god, Anansi, we get a pimp-Malcom X mixture who delivers an angry ham-fisted tirade about how screwed black people are, and then proceeds to get the slaves in the cargo hold of a slaver ship murder everyone, and commit suicide by burning down their ship out in the open sea. This is definitely not insolent, cheeky god who tricked the Tiger to give him his big, hairy Tiger-balls and then shifted the blame to the Monkeys.

 

Anyhow, I’m really disappointed. The camera work is fine, the cast is nice, but the whole thing just falls flat on the major issue: unless you know the book you will have no idea what is going on (something to do with gods, going by the title), and will not be interested to find out.

 

A shame, really.