There are these commonly held beliefs that simply refuse to go away, and I have no idea why. They are entrenched in our culture, and despite of being blatantly untrue, and easily refutable, they hold on, like a tick onto a dog. These are successful memes that survive in our collective conscience despite of being useless -or in the case I’m going to mention, downright dangerous.

My most favorite one is the one about finding North by looking at what side the moss grows the tree trunks.

Honestly, have you ever seen a tree before? Just go out into any park; you don’t need a forest. Moss grows all over the trunk. Everyone who has ever taken a look at a tree knows it- yet people still keep repeating it, and the idea persist.

It’s weird how these memes got themselves into the culture so successfully no facts can make them go away. Perhaps it’s the cultural version of how a virus propagates its genetic information to the next generation.

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The title of the new Samuel L Jackson movie… Keeping with the recent animal-theme, here’s a little story from today.

As we know the Tube is home to several species of animals. Some are harmless like mice and rats, and some are not so much.

This little story is about a spider. It’s nothing monumental, really, so most likely you will be disappointed at the end of it.
I was standing on the Tube, reading my ebook reader (Quo Vadis, if interested*), when I noticed a tiny spider, no bigger than a pinhead, walking about on my sleeve. It had a nice, white body with some sort of a pattern, and tiny brown legs. Since I was underground I did not brush it off; thought I’d wait until I get off.
Suddenly a woman next to me jerked away from me eyes wide, and telling me on an alarmed tone that I have a spider on my coat. From her reaction I thought it was a mutant huntsmen, but no, she spotted the tiny dude.
I smiled at her and told her I knew, but what am I to do? Don’t want to kill it, after all. Some other people joined into the conversation, but you could just see the horror in that woman’s eyes. She actually tried to move away from the vicinity of the scary beast, but the carriage was packed. I carefully transferred the spider onto my ebook reader, and closed the cover- I hoped that in the dark the spider would calm down and stop moving. I put it in my bag, and the story ended for most parties concerned. It turned out the spider did stay put in the dark; it was still in the reader when I got it out in the office. (There is a gap between the cover and the screen; it was unhurt, if you’re curious.) I transferred it to a plant, and our story finally concluded.

I shared this story because of the unlikely reaction of that poor woman. People who know me know that I hate spiders; but at this size even I can’t be bothered to be scared of it. Apparently, not everyone can.

*Only added this detail to show off my literary sophistication, obviously

I’m turning into Grizzly Adams. Normally I wear a “cultivated stubble”, but lately facial hair got out of control. I got to the stage where I need to decide if I go with the Grizzly Adams, the full beard, the lubersexual or the Bandholz.

This is not a deliberate decision on my part, or a sign of an early mid-life crisis. We just moved, and my wife unpacked my trimmer. We spent a weekend trying to find it, but not to avail. And while I’m waiting for the replacement to arrive I feel more and more like a lost Viking than your regular civil servant.

I had a really gross discovery in the glass pot we keep the table salt. On the bottom a black, shrivelled body of a snail was hiding.

I’m not sure if it had an existential crisis and crawled all the way across the kitchen into the salt-pot to end it all, or it was just an exceptionally stupid snail, but what the actual hell… Just why?

At least it made cutting back on calories easy on that day.

I’ve been thinking about this a long time. If you asked me one thing that I think should be hammered into anyone and everyone -and what took me a while to realize- is to be aware of things around you.(Self-awareness is important, too, but it’s not today’s topic.)

I was about thirty when I realized that things just happen around me, and I’m not exactly aware of them; I don’t pay attention. I let things happen, I let things play out; I’m passive in my own life. My mother is like that to this day; and I suspect many other people are, too. And it’s not necessarily some big revelation, finding god or anything like that. It’s simple things.

How did I end up doing molecular biology? I wanted to be an etologist, after all; a scientist working with animal behavior. I found the lecturer really antagonistic and unpleasant, the department was outside the city, so I gave up on this line. While looking for alternatives I got into plant physiology, because a friend was working in a lab there, and asked me if I was interested, and finally I helped out my then fiancee a couple of time in her lab. She left the lab, I stayed; and hence my career in molecular biology was born. Instead of focusing, instead of figuring out the best way forward I just bounced all over the place, letting things determine how my future will be shaped, and accidentally ending up somewhere. I let my mother bully that particular girl, hoping things will get better; I tried to balance between the two effectively ruining our relationship, her state of mind, and my relationship with my mother at once. I still feel shame for what I’ve done -or rather, what I have not done. My only excuse is that I was young, and had no idea what being a man (and not a child) actually means.

I let time pass by without actually looking at what was happening not realizing I will not get back those years I spend living in a waking dream. (This is the best way I could find to describe this state of mind when you are not making an effort to be consciously aware of what is happening around you.)

It was the same story with my first PhD. My supervisor and his wife who was the lab manager, were horrible. (They haven’t had a PhD graduate in seven years prior…) Instead of drawing the necessary conclusions, and getting the f… well, the hell out of there, I stayed around, hoping it will work out. It did not. I got depression, thought of suicide, I wasted years of my life, and when I left finally, I realized I made my first really conscious decision in my life. I can thank Jenni Fields that much at least. She taught me what matters really in this life.

I also realized I lost friendships, important people from my life, because I let things drift apart. The best case was my high school class… I was in a boarding school in Sopron, a small town in Hungary, and almost all my classmates ended up going to Budapest for their university courses. It would have been trivial to keep touch, to get people together regularly; yet nobody tried and now we did not even hold our 15th anniversary of our graduation. (It’s a custom to do it every five years.) We could have met every week in a pub, and yet we are strangers now. Now I make an effort to keep in touch with people, even if they live on the other part of the world.

Don’t get me wrong: planning will not necessarily get you where you want to go. As the elder Moltke said, plans do not survive the first contact with the enemy. But HAVING a plan is essential. Having it and constantly revising it is important; otherwise you’re just like a driftwood carried by a river.

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.