Category Archives: Prose

Veni, Vidi, Trepidati (I came, I saw, I panicked)

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A bit of context please! The following story is based on an “adventure” of sorts I had last year. I might sound unlikely but, yes, it did indeed happen!

Saturday, 26th of October, 4:30

Espresso shots so far: 1, mental awareness: 35% (zombie), panic attacks: 1 (minor)

The special tune in the alarm clock and the obligatory pre-trip nerves appear to be the only reasons I am functioning at this infernal hour. It also appears that caffeine and sugar do not have their fabled WAKE-UP effect on me. Note to self: Do not trust advertisements again.

 

Stumbled over my backpack twice while looking for my hairbrush. Found it under a pile of clothes awaiting ironing. Dread to think how it ended up there. Was under the impression last night that all I would need in the morning was ready to be packed. I stand corrected.

 

6:30

Mental awareness: 45% (systems booting)

Taxi arrived the moment I opened the door. Thank heavens for good timing, or flat mate would have had my head for making noise so early in the morning. Will probably still do when I return… Had to kick the door close. Coffee still in hand, I had to wrestle a backpack and a drawstring bag onto the backseat and then proceed to make pleasant conversation with driver. Now, why do I have a bad feeling I am missing something important?

 

6:45

Mental awareness: 60% (systems loading)

Arrived at the rail station. First thing I noticed was the train on platform, preparing to leave. Yet, it appears I am about an hour early. That can’t be right. Better check with the nice gentleman by the platform doors after I finish my breakfast.

 

6:46

Mental awareness: 115% (panic attack imminent)

A MISPRINT! THERE WAS A MISPRINT AT THE TICKET OFFICE! I had specifically asked for the train leaving at 7:30, so that I would not have to pull an all-nighter just to be at the train station on time. Now I realize that the printed time on the ticket is 6:30. How could I have possibly missed that? Still, deep breaths, deep breaths now, no reason to freak out just yet. I can change the ticket for one on the very next train to London, no harm done, just a slight delay, right? Right? Oh, who am I kidding? THIS IS TERRIBLE! WHY ME?

 

7:00

Mental awareness: 95% (systems operational), mood: bad

Apparently printing error was my fault. Had to buy whole new set of tickets for part of the journey. Think that I hate the railway system a little more than I used to. Had to waste ten minutes waiting on a queue just to talk to someone. Conversation at the ticket office proceeded as such:

Me: There was a misprint in my ticket. Can I change it for a later one? Preferably one for the very next train to London.

Unsympathetic employer: I am afraid we cannot change your ticket. You will have to buy a new one.

Me (beginning to panic and not really caring about my account balance at this point): Fine! I need to get to Cardiff. It’s an emergency.

Unsymp…You know what? Let’s call him Joe: Well, the next cheapest fare leaves at four in the afternoon.

Me (hyperventilating as next train to London arrives at the platform): No, no! You don’t understand! I need to get to Cardiff as soon as possible! Just give me a ticket for the next train.

Joe: Very well Miss. That’ll be *** pounds.

Me: Gah!

 

Now sitting on the train on my way to London, I find myself unable to focus on anything other than homicidal thoughts involving printers, credit cards,Ticket office employees and  P. “I can’t access my bank account,” he said! “Can you come give me a hand sis?” he said. “It’s not that far!” he said. Ugh! Deep breaths now! Perhaps some calming music will help.

 

8:30

Mental awareness: 65% (still sleepy), mood: annoyed

Almost in London and struggling to keep myself awake. The effect of the music might have been too calming. Opposite seat has been taken over by someone who can’t possibly be anyone other than a retired Inspector Gadget. He has spread more electronical devices on the table between us than I thought possible and his legs have expanded to the point where I have to practically climb ON my seat to avoid being stepped on. Too tired to do anything more than the occasional glare, to which he is impervious, as he is hidden behind his newspaper. I hope Dr. Claw gets you sometime soon, you leg-space invader!

 

9:15

Mental awareness: 85% (not bad…), mood: cautiously optimistic

Unbelievably made it to London Liverpool Station with time to spare. Was not sad to part with Inspector Gadget. Had brief moment of confusion as I tried to find my way from Liverpool Street to Euston Station. Decided to play it safe and run the distance. In retrospect not a good idea since I was carrying two very awkwardly shaped bags. My mother was right. I need to exercise more… Must have been quite the show, bursting to the platform out of breath, bags nearly flying out of my hands and asking panicked about the train to Cardiff. Somebody must have been having a good laugh at my expense since I had barely caught my breath before the train rolled on the platform….

 

11:00

Mental awareness: @#$%*blue screen of death! @#%$!&*

Birmingham has more than one train stations. BIRMINGHAM HAS FIVE BLOODY TRAIN STATIONS! WHY, UNIVERSE, WHY? Ticket said change trains in Birmingham, so when I picked up the word “Birmingham” over the frustratingly quiet intercom I –of course!- hurried out of the train. Seeing no trains bound to Cardiff, I started worrying but figured two ticket-related mistakes in one day are too much even for me. So I did what every mature person would do in my situation and popped to the closest information desk to ask directions. Turns out I was one stop early and that Birmingham has what appears to be an “international train station” in addition to the one where I was supposed to be at. It’s been a while since I wanted to punch something so much…. Nearly out of options, there is only one thing left to do: hitch a ride to the proper station. I will take it as a sign of mercy that the next train arriving on the platform was going the right way and was full enough for no conductor (no matter how dedicated) to attempt to check for tickets. It took fifteen minutes of doing a sardine impression and nearly twisting my ankle when the driver hit the brakes and I had nothing to hold on to, but I made it. Finally, finally the right station, the right train, the right time and minimal running involved! It’s nearly over! I am almost there! Dare I say it? What could possibly go wrong now?

 

11:05

Mental awareness: 35% (secondary system rebooting)

I…I think I might be lost. There should be a staircase leading to the platform right about here. Instead there is a solid wall. Harry Potter reference? Or did I just breeze by the stairs without seeing them? Whilst looking for them?

 

12:00

Mental awareness: 90% (secondary system reboot successful), mood: pleasantly surprised

What are the chances of sitting next to a friendly guy just because you launched yourself to the first free seat you found? Yes, there are still gleams of sun (figuratively) shining down on me. Fully intended on spending the rest of the journey reading and/or listening to music. Does not seem to be the case now. Guy sitting next to me not only talkative but actually interesting.

 

1:00

Mental awareness: 95% (really good), mood: best so far

Talked through the entire trip to Cardiff with cute guy next to me. Good mood appears to equal good luck since we appeared to be invisible to any and all conductors that passed by us, and I might have my ticket but he apparently lost his somewhere along the way. Topics ranged from travelling to babysitting (the inevitable subject between two people with too many younger cousins, nieces and nephews). Only half an hour left before this journey from hell is over and I must say it looks like it will end on a high note. Now, if only P. would pick up his phone…

 

1:45

Mental awareness: 100% (navigation system at full capacity), mood: stormy

Don’t worry, he said. I’ll pick you up from the station he said. Moral of the story? Never trust your little brother. Having toured the entire station and found P. waiting… nowhere, I finally managed to get him to answer the phone. It appears that it was LoL night, last night and every night, and he had only just woken up. Due to his phone ringing. Never mind. I am a grown woman, fully capable of navigating this city. To which I have never been before. Saddled with bags. With no map. In the pouring rain. I better get same damn good brownie points from the universe out of all this.

 

2:20

Mental awareness 80% (energy levels falling), mood: confused

Men come from the same planet as women, right? And dust is dust no matter how busy you are, right? Right? Took me nearly half an hour to found P.’s accommodation building, no thanks to this country’s inability to signpost the roads properly…. Had to face my immortal enemy: electronically locked doors. Tried to call brother and was promptly informed that I did not “have enough credit to make this call.” Tried following the instructions by the door and put the room’s code (which should have opened the door). Failed spectacularly. Tried again. And again. At this point a security guard came to see what’s the fuss. Explained the situation and was escorted to the reception, while (very understanding) guard went to knock on P.’s door to inform him of my arrival (and most likely wake him up). Popped in thirty seconds later to tell me that there was someone coming. Was that my brother? Lo and behold here was his Royal Lateness in his pajamas and flip-flops, coming to pick me up. Yes, he had only just rolled out of bed.

 

Walked up the stairs, through a maze of corridors, to his room. Paused nervously at the door.

“You weren’t joking about giving me a hand with cleaning, were you?” he asks. Would have cheerfully slapped him if it weren’t for the fact that I was so tired. As it were I limited myself to a frustrated “Just open the damn door!”

 

At this point I think a description of what I’m surrounded with is necessary. I will start with the premise that the expression “bombed” is no longer a cliché but very much a feasible reality. The drawers under the bed are hanging half-open and half-empty. The bed itself unmade (of course) and half-covered in posters. The desk practically invisible under the module handouts, empty bags of crisps, laptop gadgets and the occasional bundle of pennies. The kitchenette a qualified hazard zone. Nearly all the clothes stuffed in the laundry bag. Three bags of garbage by the door. Clusters of dust and fluff at the corners. I’m afraid to leave my perch on the bed to check on the bathroom.

 

Moral of the story? Never, under any circumstances, visit a first-year in university accommodation. The trauma is not worth it.

The Drowning

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The gentle breeze that greeted them the day before like a childhood friend’s caress had transformed overnight to an old warrior’s booming voice. The girl released the last knot from her sash as the wind picked up again, sticking the wet sarong on her legs and whipping the long hair to her face. In the grey-gold sunrise the waves below looked like mercury. Sprays of foam flew all the way up the cliff, where she was standing, landing at her feet and putting away the candles from the night before one by one.

 

She had stayed up with the full moon, sitting away from the others and their noisy laughing talk as the hours grew longer, the air colder and the sea wilder.

 

With a hysterical laugh she took a few steps forward and jumped in the water.

 

The water had been inky black and, even with the moon shining above, they had nearly lost the shore as they tried to swim out.

 

A deep breath bringing air to salt-burnt lungs. Another wave dragging her to its embrace. The current taking her by the hand, leading her in an intricate dance, now waltzing towards the ocean, the next moment back to the shore. The rapidly rising sun burning overhead, changing the water surrounding her from nearly silver to foggy grey and blue. Another large wave and then the silence –blessed silence- of the underwater. Darkness behind closed eyelids, blood pumping against eardrums, pressure building against the temples.

 

She had lain on the pebbled shore and named the constellations that were still visible, the stars going brighter with each breath held a little longer, until she was racing amongst them and she had to remind her body to breath, counting inhales and exhales, one-two, one-two, one-two.

 

Her body was left to move with the water currents, while she floated above it, flying with the wind until the need to exhale became too strong and she slammed back inside the heavy, heavy body, crawled to the shore, even as the waves pulled her legs back in like an insistent lover.

 

He had come to sit next to her, the touch of his hand too warm, sticking to her skin. Her breaths were heavy, doubly now that he was close, and she pushed him away violently, ignoring the surprised words from the others.

 

Lightheaded and giddy she let another stilted laugh escape her lips before standing on shaky legs and moving to the water again. The winds that she dreamed of never lasted enough, not hardly enough to drive the maddening pressure of people and their thoughts…

 

Voices disjointed as they reached her ears, too many different words crashing against one another and why can’t they just be QUIET for one moment?

 

…against her mind. Another deep breath and she dove under again for just one more minute of peace…one and a half…two…before the burning became painful and she burst out of the water, in front of the wave, swallowing water instead of air.

 

She had burnt her finger whilst lightning the candles, trying to save the battery on their phones just in case, because of course they’d remember to bring drinks but a flashlight had been too much to hope for.

 

This time it took longer to resurface and by the time she is on dry ground again they are all there to berate and ask and even as she coughed the last of the sea from her lungs and tried to fill them with air (when did breathing become a chore?) the ever-present pressure is back. So much noise and how can anyone understand anything, answer anything, when voices and faces blur in a mess that is not the fault of an oxygen-starved brain.

 

In the semi-darkness the ground had seemed so inviting, the faces, drawn with sharper lines from the yellow-orange light, friendlier somehow. It was an illusion, as much as her race with the constellations but she had allowed herself to believe it, if only for a few moments, before the noisy talk had started again.

 

What were you thinking? Are you alright? Do you need some water? (I just drank a wave-full, I think I’m all set.) Did you get dizzy? That wave was huge! How could you miss it? It’s too windy, we shouldn’t have stayed.

 

What’s wrong with you tonight? Can’t you have fun? Why were you carrying matches anyway? What else do you have in that bag? Did you bring any water bottles? We’re nearly out of drinks? Did anyone bring food? Where’s my phone? Where’s my shoes? Is that a shooting star? Quick! Make a wish!

 

Even as she dragged herself to her bag and picked her things from the ground her eyes kept returning longingly to the waves. She could hear them whisper invitingly, and though she followed the others back to the house, well, wouldn’t it have been better if she had stayed under, in all the peace and quiet?

R is for Red

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Oh red! My favourite colour. And apparently one of the “traditional” Christmas colours. I wonder why…. No, I’m not being sarcastic, I honestly wonder why. I get why they use it on Valentine’s Day (even if the association is incredibly morbid, if you think about it) but the only naturally Christmas-season thing (and just to be clear, I’m using “Christmas” as an umbrella term here because December-religious-celebrations sounds awful)…What was I saying? Oh, yes! The only seasonal thing that’s naturally red is the holly plant’s berries. And Santa’s outfit doesn’t count, sorry, that’s Coca Cola branding all over that image. Sorry if I just ruined somebody’s childhood.

 

If I had to rationalise it (bad idea) I’d say it’s because of the gloomy weather outside. Let’s be honest, in most of the Northern Hemisphere the weather right now is cold/snowy/rainy/freeze-your-toes-off/not pleasant. So what best way to stave off the blues caused by severe Vitamin D deficiency but make the inside of your house as bright and colourful as possible? Or that could be just me. It still doesn’t explain the horror that is those multi-coloured Christmas trees I saw (purple and bubble-gum pink, seriously?) but you have to admit, with as warm a colour as red, you’re bound to feel a bit better.

Q is for Queues

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One of my favourite Christmas songs (yes, I do have a few) is the “12 Pains of Christmas”. It always amazed me though, how they don’t mention the inevitable queues right before and right after Christmas. Queues are a tradition of their own, with rules, customs and code of conduct that appear incomprehensible to the outsider. Personally, as long as I’m not in a hurry, I find them hilarious. The things you overhear, the looks you get, especially around this time of the year! I’ve already finished my Christmas shopping and there is something very satisfying about standing in a queue at Tesco with only a milk while everyone else in the line is loaded up their ears with Christmas stuff. The expression “plan ahead” was hardly ever more apt.

 

There is only one kind of queue that I don’t care for. The one that forms in bus stops, especially when the bus is late. Especially at this time of the year. IT’S BLOODY FREEZING! The last thing you want (if you have my tendency to stuff your bag full of books) is to wait ten minutes out of the bus while somebody in the bus is taking their sweet time counting change. Have it ready jackass! Or get a pass! Some of us are freezing our toes off.

 

What’s your worst kind of queue? Or are they all just plain horrible?

P is for Pudding

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Another one of those “Christmas classics” that I have never tried. Clearly I had no childhood…The only things I know about it is that it is a dessert, it is bloody hard to make and that it almost as British as shepherd’s pie. And I’m not even sure about that last one. It’s incredible how you kind of assume some things: “We wish you a merry Christmas” has the word “pudding” on it, ergo puddings are Christmas-y things. Are they? I’m not looking it up, I’m still recovering from this semester’s research projects (cue the PTSD flashback).

 

-one shop trip later-

It’s a fruitcake? Seriously? There’s already a Christmas fruitcake with its one score of jokes and punch-lines? Why do we need another? Oh Western civilisation and your multiple contradictory customs… Why do you torment me so?

O is for Oh Christmas Tree

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I DESPISE this song. Genially despise it. Granted there aren’t many Christmas songs I like, most of them being of the white noise variety, but I reserve a special place in my Hated Things List for “Oh Christmas Tree”.     For one, it’s absolutely pointless. Even by Christmas songs standards. And for another the lyrics are t.e.r.i.b.l.e! They are repetitive to the point making you think that you’ve read the same stanza twice, they hardly convey any messages (other than Christmas trees being evergreens and cliché. Whoop-de-bloody-whoop) and worst of all the rhyming pattern is monotonous enough to send you to sleep. And I take serious issue when it comes to rhythm and rhyme. You should have heard my rant when I read a translation of Antigone and the genius that did the job messed up the (incredibly easy to follow) meter.

 

Also, “No one alive spreads cheer so well”? Newsflash buster! The tree you’re serenading is either DEAD or made of PLASTIC. Unless it’s a Doctor Who episode, I think it’s unlikely the tree’s alive…. And I thought it was the gifts and copious amounts of sugar that did the cheer-spreading…

N is for Naughty and Nice

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Dear Santa,

…I can explain? Um, thing is, I’m not sure on which end of the spectrum I’m on this year…. I tried to be nice (mostly) but I couldn’t help finding that naughty was more fun. It’s not my fault, not really. People just don’t get me. And I know I have anger issues, but I’ve been working on it, I swear! So what if I blew up the downtown bank again? It’s practically a seasonal requirement by now, and anyway that queue was taking far too long. And the department store robbery? I’ve been short on cash and with so many henchmen and evil minions to buy presents for, I found that I had to look into alternative methods of shopping. The hallucinogen mince pies were an accident, I admit. I was going to save that for Valentine’s Day. Now I’ll just have to settle for truth serum-laced chocolates. As for my non-seasonal activities, they are all part of my job. And if you ask my army of doom, they only have good things to say for me! I made sure of it. So, could you maybe, just this once, stretch the definition of nice? I would really like a new death ray for my secret headquarters. And possibly a brownie tray. I’ve been baking far too much for the recruitment fairs.

Sincerely,

E.O.

(Evil Overlady)

L is for Last Christmas

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No, I’m not going to do a parody of that song. For all its unbearable cheesiness and unforgivably irrelevant video clip I kinda like it. Considering how creepy most Christmas-themed songs are (Santa Baby, Baby, it’s cold outside, I’m looking at you!) at least this one is honest. From the very first, sugar-encrusted, digitally-remastered note to the fading strings at the end, it only delivers what it promises: over-the-top sentimental lyrics, repetitive music and a passably good singer. And when I say passably good, I mean the original guy, not any modern versions or remakes or what have you. I mean, isn’t that what Christmas is all about? More sentiment packed in a few days than most people sincerely (or not) express in a year, wrapped up prettily in stock phrases and bad taste ribbons and bags? Or wrapping paper. Whatever packs your presents.

 

No thanks to my uni assignments, I’ve been frequenting more coffee shops than what is healthy lately. Ever since the Christmas season started commercially I’ve been hearing all kinds of strange remakes. Here are some of my personal highlights:

  • The Little Drummer Boy with a drummer so enthusiastic that makes Darth Vader’s theme sound tame
  • Santa Baby sung by a male singer
  • Baby it’s Cold Outside sung by a female singer (empowering?)
  • Any version of Grandma got run over by a reindeer
  • The full version of Jingle Bells
  • Santa Claus is Coming to Town (have you heard the lyrics? Actually heard them?)

 

Anything I should add to the list?

Message me on the comments below!

K is for Kings

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Kings? Where did that come from? When I was growing up, I knew them as Mages. Which makes a lot more sense if you think about it… What do we know about them anyway? They’re rich, they have a penchant for astronomy and astrology, really loose lips and they come from an exotic country. I suppose they could be actual kings but then again, if they were, would they be able to travel on their own? Don’t think so. Granted the Bible tends to be minimalistic when it comes to details of the non-deeply symbolic variety and they seemed pretty chummy with Herod…Nah! I’m gonna stick with my childhood version. They were Mages. It’s cooler. I mean come on! In that era’s literature royalty was either absolute scumbags or absolute bores. Those of the –shall we say- metaphysical persuasion at least have the ambiguous, whence-hast-thy-power-cometh-from working for them.

 

Loving how these posts swing between honest-to-goodness Christmas things to me panicking about my essay. In my book it’s part of the festive season, but I’m almost done, so, please, be patient with me.

I is for Ice

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Let me get one thing straight from the beginning: I despise cold. Not dislike, not feel uncomfortable in, despise. As in, I would happily live inside a lit fireplace if I wasn’t made mostly of carbon and water. That being said, I also happen to like ice. Not so much having to walk in it, but observing it? Very much so. I don’t have much of an eye for sculpturing (especially of the abstract persuasion) but I can certainly enjoy the icy shapes that follow a frosty night or a good snowfall. The shades of white and blue, the play of light as it passes through the thinner parts, the shapes it contorts to when it starts melting. People think that ice is static. Not to me, it’s not. Ice is ever moving and changing, its colour, its texture, its shape, its very state are subjects to time and heat and the wind that move around it. You know that scene in Frozen, when Elsa is building her castle and every other shot shows the ice being a different colour? That pretty much sums up how I see ice. While I love fire and all things over 20 degrees Celsius, I also can appreciate ice for what it symbolises: being quiet, playing the long game, subtle strategic moves instead of flashy declarations (conversely these are also the characteristics I prefer in superhero movie characters. Make of that what you will).

What does my treatise on ice have to do with the festive season? Well, if you’ve been in Norwich lately, you’ll know that the weather has been rather icy and anyway, I watched Rise of the Guardians a few days back. It’s stuck in my head and it was either this post or a full-blown, multi-chap fanfic to get it out of my system. Due to time constraints you’re stuck with this.