Well, this is about a literal present to myself. I turned forty (Jesus on a bicycle!), and I decided to finally treat myself with an automatic watch.

My grandfather had an old, 1949 Omega Seamaster, and that was the watch for me for as long as I’m aware. Well, my uncle had laid claims to it, so that one is out. (It might be better this way; it’s really a delicate item. What I do feel sorry about is, however, that it’ll be eventually sold – if it wasn’t already.)

So that leaves me buying a new watch. Why do I like automatic watches? After all they are not as robust as the quartz watches, they are more expensive, and you actually have to maintain them. In other words: they are regressive. They represent a technology that has been surpassed long ago. There were no breakthroughs since the beginning of the 20th century in how mechanical watches operate. Mass production has been introduced- even Rolex uses robots now- but that’s about it. So essentially I have bought a steam engine in the era of jet propulsion.

Yet… they are more than just an item that tells you the time. They are incredibly complex mechanical contractions that have been around for about three hundred years; this in itself makes me want to own one. It’s a piece of history, after all.

Now, if I could have chosen any, and I mean any watch,  I would have gone with the simple Rolex Submariner. I say simple, because it only costs £6000 -as opposed to certain watches that cost up to 200k. (By the way I would totally buy that watch, even though I still cannot figure out how to read the time on it.)

But as I said I turned 40, not turned into an idiot- I’m not spending a sizeable portion of my salary on a watch.

This leaves me with an alternative: a Seiko Sdx007. Great pedigree, very sturdy design, waterproof and cheap.

66e0f8b406a6d70c2926b0c74cc0d90a

It is automatic, so it winds itself up as you move about, which has also a hidden benefit… If I’m not active enough it will stop at night. I now essentially have an activity meter as well as a watch. It’s digital (yes or no answer), but it works. Just saved a hundred quids right there.

I often wonder how much effect things really have on us, and how much is determined by our brain. The placebo effect is a very well known phenomenon: it is clear that taking sugar pills (even if the person knows they are just sugar pills) does help alleviating pain, or even curing certain conditions.

That in mind I would like to share a little amusing story from my Florida days, when I was working in the hell that was called the Chemistry Department of that tiny little university north of Miami.

I was responsible for the running of the coffee club in our little lab of horrors, and that meant I took the money from the collection box, and transmuted it into coffee in the supermarket, to make sure the laboratory kept running smoothly.

If you ever have been around academics, you know that we are practically coffee-based life forms. If you listened to the postdocs and fellow PhD students in the lab you had an impression that nobody was able to function without a good dose of daily caffeine, moreover even the slightest decrease in the daily dose would cause immediate withdrawal symptoms, the inability to function as a human being, migraines, shakes, and in general, transform a relatively functional adult into something that resembles a zombie more than anything.

Well, I got to test this hypothesis over two weeks.

Now, I know, ethics committees are pretty strict on human experiments, but please keep in mind that it was not premeditated, and the people in questions were horrible human beings, anyhow. (Seriously. The place was the definition of how not to run a lab.)

Anyhow, one day the money stopped coming into the box. And despite my repeated warnings, nobody felt it was important to replenish it. Since I bought the last batch of coffee on my own money, I thought I’d just substitute the next batch to the decaf that was on sale -hence cheaper than the regular coffee, since it was I who paid for it anyhow.

 

For two weeks everyone had coffee with absolutely no caffeine in it.

 

Nobody noticed.

 

And this is why I am happy to have decaf at any time; it makes absolutely no difference. You get the same hit out of it, even if you know it’s decaf – and this is the miracle of placebo.

 

This has been long in my mind, but it really only crystallized during Christmas dinner with my family. My cousin and her husband (who I did not think were so conservative) were completely taken aback by my admission that I had no problem with tattoos, and I would not be averse of having one done. I never thought anyone at their age (40s) had any problems with tattoos any more; I thought it was only old ladies nowadays. I was wrong. Regardless I told them that most likely I’ll never have a tattoo done.

It’s not that I’m against the ink. In fact I find tattoos -if done well- really good. (Let’s forget about the names of your “one true love”, silly dragons, facial tattoos and the horrible photo-tattoos for a moment here.) It’s just my culture is conspiring against me. I think a tattoo should be more than just a pretty pattern on your skin. It should mean something since you are marking yourself for good. So it should tell something about your past (personal or cultural), or make a statement about your person. To get a tattoo because it “looks cool” is just silly in my opinion (which, admittedly, does not amount much). I hastily add: this is only a personal opinion- these are the reasons I feel I can/should get inked. What others do is their own decision, and I don’t think my opinion is valid for their case.

Anyhow. Cultural ties. This is where I’m shot by the place of my birth.

Let’s face it: if you’re, let’s say, of Celtic descent, you can have some awesome Celtic motifs. (Let’s not even talk about Maoris, shall we?)

13361097-celtic-motifs-stock-vector-celtic-motif-knot

Seriously, they are wicked. If your ancestry has Celtic blood in it you can wear these proudly and with a meaning. A tattoo, for me, should always be more than just a pretty design as I said. It should mean something; and for this reason I cannot possibly put Celtic stuff on my skin and be still have street cred. I might as well put a Chinese symbol on without know what that symbol actually means. (As many people apparently do.) I feel like I should be putting something on that connects me with my roots.

Unfortunately that something looks like this.

embrodiery-kati-1

Don’t get me wrong; it’s pretty, it has a lot of history, and can look really good on modern pieces of clothing. For women. In this respect, the rest of them are not much better, either

Let’s face it: it’s not very masculine; hardly something for which the guys in the gym would look at me in awe.

I’ve spent whole of the Sunday (1st of January) recuperating, watching movies, and generally being lazy, and enjoying doing nothing.

The next day I woke up early morning, ironed my shirt, got dressed, and left for work. I did notice that there were very few people milling around in the Tube, but the suspicion only stroke me when I saw the office building was dark…

So yeah. I had a dress rehearsal for going to work on the second day of 2017. I did not know it was a bank holiday.

 

We were discussing old stuff with a couple of friends and I remembered a fond memory of old. Back when I was in university one day I was crossing the street where my girlfriend lived on the zebra crossing. Mind you, this was in the old days; when everything was new, and everyone thought the traffic rules were like the pirate code: more of a guidance than actual rules. Pedestrian crossings had no special status then; it took a really bad year of several pedestrians getting killed on these crossings for the police to really crack down on these drivers. Back then it was an act of wishful thinking to use the pedestrian crossing, rather than an expectation of having cars yield to you while you’re on the road.

Anyhow.

A driver was apparently unsatisfied with the speed I tried to get out of his way while crossing. (It happened here.) He stopped, got out of his car, and started yelling at me, while pushing me against a tree on the promenade. He was your typical gym-rat with shaved head and polo shirt; he thought he could bully someone younger and less beefed up than he was. I was quite honestly stunned, so I could not immediately form a coherent plan of action. (Back then a lot of people had trouble checking their anger in Hungary. Perhaps it’s still the case, but I doubt it. There were several cases when people acted violently against others at the slightest- and often imagined- provocation. I myself was badly beaten up a couple of years later on the street at broad daylight which kind of fucked up my life for the next ten years or so. Having your head being used as a football apparently tend to lead to epilepsy. That’s a different story, though. Let’s get back to our bully here.)

Suddenly a bullhorn sounded. “You! You baldy! That’s right, I’m talking to you! Turn around and walk to the police car, before I come over there!”. We both looked up, and sure enough there was a police car parked right next to the bald bully’s with two policemen standing next to it grinning, one of them was talking into the loudspeaker about five meters from where we stood.

My little adrenaline-pumped hero turned mellow real fast. I was sitting on the low stone fence for a while enjoying the show while he was dressed down by the two policemen. This was one of those rare occasions when a deus ex machina got you an instant karma.

…so we had this workshop about changing policies in a changing world, and at the end we had to come up with a superhero who embodies this idea of bold change.

 

And then it hit me. Superheroes are not the agents of change. That’s the supervillains’ job. Superheroes are keeping up the status quo. They are by definition against change.

I think I found something really profound.

OK, technically it’s not out of body experience; it the experience of the feeling of your body not belonging to you. The weird feeling  you get -usually under the influence of illicit substances- that when you move your body it’s not actually attached to you.

I just realized how to get this symptom for literally peanuts, and better yet you don’t even risk your health (and your clean criminal record).

Start learning to play the guitar.

That’s all. You’ll find that when you try to change chords and move your fingers on the fretboard, your fingers go all over the place, absolutely independent of your original intentions. It’s really a weird feeling watching your finger go to the second fret on the D string, instead of the first fret on the A string. You know where it should go, you direct it to go there, and yet it goes somewhere else… you really feel like you’re watching somebody else’s hand. There you go- you can have mind-altering experiences without taking any drugs. Although, looking at the famous guitar players of rock and metal, I am worried that guitar is a gateway drug to the hard stuff.