Saturday, October 18, 2008

Inside my head

3 o clock on Friday, 10th October found me enjoying a heavenly Ferrero Rocher milkshake with a few friends at Tinseltown. Fast-forward one week, and 3 o clock on Friday, 17th October found me cautiously dipping my rubber-gloved hands into a formaldehyde solution in order to fish out a brain. That's right- a real, human brain. My first thoughts as I lifted it out were, 'this is kinda heavy,' rapidly followed by, 'I'm sure my brain is not that big!'

This was my first physiology practical of the term. Luckily, my enthusiasm was not curbed by the awful smell of the formaldehyde solution or the fact that we were surrounded by cadavers. Oblivious to all around us, my group and I spent a truly fascinating hour examining one and a half brains and identifying the various parts we had been taught about. At one point, the tutor came over and, using what looked like a knitting needle, showed us the nerve that would control tongue-waggling. I think that is when I suddenly realised that I was actually looking at a replica of the contents of my own head. As I opened my mouth to speak, my own tongue-waggling nerve would be stimulated, enabling me to pronounce words clearly. It was a strange thought... maybe a bit too strange for my brain to handle.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Bus talk

Although commuters on buses and tubes usually maintain the 'stiff upper lip' image, every now and again someone will breach the rules of public transport and start a conversation. This often causes shock waves amongst fellow passengers but I find that it acts like a refreshing breeze in a somewhat suffocating atmosphere. It's sometimes nice to know that you are travelling with fellow human beings and not robotic clones.

For example, on the bus last Monday, I sat down next to a woman who was reading the paper. After a while, she neatly folded it away, turned to me and actually began speaking to me. It turned out that she had been invited to a Muslim wedding function, but didn't know what to wear. I helped her out as best I could, answering her questions about all the different customs and traditions she was unfamiliar with. As I got off the bus, she thanked me for the advice, and I walked away with a smile on my face.

Later in the week, I was on the bus with a friend and we began talking about the month of fasting, Ramadhan. A young lady sitting near us suddenly turned to us and began asking about Ramadhan and how we coped with not eating all day. The conversation soon turned philosophical, and we ended up discussing whether prayers work equally well if they are said in a place of worship or at home. At the end of the journey, I think we all felt a little better for having reached across the huge divide that seems to separate people nowadays to build a little bridge of acknowledgement of other lives.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner...

For those of us (un)fortunate enough to live outside Britain's capital, the London way of life is something of an incomprehensible myth. When visiting the city, we see daily commuters rushing through their journeys, hopping from tube to bus to train to tram without a spare second for anything else. I've often wondered at these people, curious as to why they feel the need to live life at ten times its normal speed. Until recently, I'd felt that when people claimed that life in London was too fast they were just exaggerating. Why should living in the capital make such a difference? This was my opinion until I moved to London myself.

Day 1- 8.30 am

I'm getting ready (and running a little late) when there is a knock at the door. Bewildered as to who on earth is calling at this time of the morning, I open the door with caution. It's a man wanting to check the gas meter. Having told him that I have no idea where the gas meter is, he glances at his little machine, informs me that it is in the kitchen and politely asks if he can come in and look for it. So much for a peaceful morning...Having been delayed, I opt for the quicker mode of transport on my way to university- tube rather than bus- then almost wish I hadn't after having to fork out £6.80 for a day travelcard. I spend the day getting lost and standing in queues. When I arrive home, I'm shattered and it's only 5.30 pm.

Day 2

The day goes suprisingly smoothly until I try to cath the bus home. I know that I need to catch the 91 so, like the logical person I am, I stand at the 91 bus stop at Euston station. The bus comes, I hop on and 15 minutes later find myself heading out of central London towards Trafalgar Square. I ask the bus driver is he is going anywhere near my road. He gives me a strange look and tells me that the next stop is the last one. I quickly get off, cross the road and ask the bus driver on this side if he's going anywhere near my road. "Other side, darlin'," I'm told. I sigh, get off, wander around and eventually find myself on the right bus. As we pass Euston station, I notice that there are two 91 bus stops- C and E- going in opposite directions. I make a mental note to wait at C next time.

Day 3

In an attempt to save some cash, I catch the bus this morning. I settle down, waiting to be taken to Euston station. Suddenly at King's Cross, the bus driver calls out 'all change, all change!' I ask the bus driver why he's suddenly cutting his route short. "Look ahead," he tells me, "it's King's Cross." "Yes I know that!" I exclaim. "Just wait for the next bus," he says, and drives off. A random man turns to me and says with an evil grin, "Oh, if you don't have a travel card or an Oyster card, you gonna have to pay again!" Thankfully, the next bus driver accepts my receipt, and I don't have to pay again. I decide to get an Oyster card all the same, which is easier said than done. Having read all the leaflets the tube station has to offer on the subject of Oyster cards, I finally understand what type of Oyster card I need, and where to get it.

Day 4

When I get on the bus this morning, I reach past the lady infront who is searching for change and beep my Oyster card on the touch pad like everyone else. Now I feel truly christened as a Londoner.

Day 5

I arrive at the end of my first working week in London, and I am exhausted. Yet, at the same time, I feel strangely knowledgeable. Whilst I may not quite be a true Londoner- I have yet to pick up the accent- I am no longer a tourist fumbling for change or staring at a tube map for 5 minutes before understanding where to go.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Unintentional eavesdropping...

Whilst waiting for the train at an almost empty platform, it was impossible not to overhear the conversation of the two women next to me.

W1: Ooh, new shoes?
W2: Mmm, yeah. But I don't like the strap- I'm gonna cut it off.
W1 (shocked): No, don't!
W2: Yeah, I will. I really don't like it.
W1: Where are they from?
W2: Mullets. The straps cut into your feet and they look awful, like ankle straps. You know ankle straps on shoes make your legs look shorter- as if your legs end at your ankles.
W1: Yeah, I suppose. Well, I don't know.
W2: And I need all the height I can get to balance out the weight.
After a few seconds of silence...
W2: I've been looking into some dog agility classes for Winnie. I think he just needs some stimulation. I'm taking him to the Bushey centre. You know, they make him do all sorts of exercises and run through tunnels and things. It's just a bit more competitive. You interested for Sparkey?
W1: Well, I don't know. I don't think he'd be obedient enough. He'd just go running off with all the other dogs.

At this point, the train arrived and I was left to silently grieve the fact that we now have dog agility classes.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Reflection on Life

Life's Just a Ride...

"The world is like a ride at an amusement park. And when you choose to go on it, you think it's real because that's how powerful our minds are. And the ride goes up and down and round and round. It has thrills and chills and it's very brightly coloured and it's very loud and it's fun, for a while.

Some people have been on the ride for a long time, and they begin to question: Is this real, or is this just a ride? And other people have remembered, and they come back to us, they say, 'Hey - don't worry, don't be afraid ever, because this is just a ride ...' And we kill those people. Ha ha, 'Shut him up. We have a lot invested in this ride. Shut him up. Look at my furrows of worry. Look at my big bank account and my family. This just has to be real.'

It's just a ride. But we always kill those good guys who try and tell us that, you ever notice that? And let the demons run amok. But it doesn't matter, because - it's just a ride. And we can change it anytime we want.It's only a choice. No effort, no work, no job, no savings and money. A choice, right now, between fear and love. The eyes of fear want you to put bigger locks on your doors, buy guns, close yourself off. The eyes of love instead see all of us as one.

Here's what we can do to change the world, right now, to a better ride. Take all that money we spend on weapons and defences each year and instead spend it feeding and clothing and educating the poor of the world, which it would pay for many times over, not one human being excluded, and we could explore space, together, both inner and outer, forever, in peace."

-Bill Hicks

Thursday, April 10, 2008

'There's a fly in my soup!'

Week 3- The task this week was to convert a pub, which had never served food before, into a restaurant. This was a task which required proper planning, and 'facts, facts, facts,' as Simon said. Sir Alan chose Sara to project manage Alpha and Ian to lead Renaissance. There was a reversal of the situation this week as the girls did their homework whereas the boys plucked prices out of thin air.
The girls chose a Bollywood theme and Sara led the team well, despite some needless arguments from Claire. Although they missed lunch because the korma did not pass the taste test, selling tickets for £5 helped to bring in the cash. They also had an 'authentic' Bollywood dancer, although Nick did not look too impressed with his talents.
The boys went for an Italian theme and things went from bad to worse. Kevin was appointed Head Chef, for the sole reason that he had eaten in Italian restaurants before. Though he was a bank manager he failed to correctly calculate the number of tomatoes needed for 15 bowls of soup. He even struggled to minus 4 from 15. His carbonara contained ham, bacon and chicken, with potatoes, mushrooms...and basically anything else in the kitchen. He seemed to dominate over Ian and yelled at Alex, simply because 'that's what chefs do'.
Their lack of organisation resulted in a huge amount of overspending- and three trips to the supermarket. Tempers were fraying as the marketing group were sent to buy black bags and tin openers. The entire situation was summed up thus: 'I, Lee McQueen, am concerned.' Other failures included tasteless bolognese, not being able to spell 'accent', half pizzas and Michael's singing- another story altogether.
Unsurprisingly, the boys lost. Although they managed to bring in more money, their overspend let them down. And so, the end of the episode found Ian, Kevin and Simon in the firing line. Simon fought hard to prove that he was more than just 'chopper Smith', whilst Kevin and Ian couldn't decide whether there had been a pep-talk or not! Simon was let off the hook, but will have to tread carefully especially after forgetting the 'sir' in front of 'Sir Alan'! Eventually, Ian had to go. He was a weak manager and although Kevin had his faults, ultimately Ian was to blame. If we were in Sir Alan's position, we would probably have fired both of them.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Week 2- Dirty Linen or Dirty Tactics?

The second episode of The Apprentice proved to be a reversal for Renaissance. The task this week was to find, wash, dry and iron dirty laundry within twenty four hours. The moment Raef volunteered himself to be project manager, after having admitted last week that he had never managed more than himself, we thought the boys' team were doomed to failure. However as Jenny, the project manager of Alpha, began to show her true colours we realised that it was actually the girls who were in trouble.
Raef led his team well - he listened without interruption and delegated appropriate roles. He even acted quite selfishly to secure victory by locking up the house irons and refusing point blank to share them. Simon shone in this episode, having previously worked in a laundrette in Bosnia! He kept team morale high and did not lose faith in Raef. In fact the boys praised Raef so highly in the Boardroom that even Sir Alan was lost for words and for a few seconds could only muster 'Oh! Oh!'
In Alpha, however, it was a different story. They got off to a disastrous start, when Jenny lectured them for an hour on what they already knew. By the time they left the house, they had not come up with any strategy, nor even decided upon the teams into which they would split. Poor Lucinda was thrown from car to car! They could not even agree on what time of day it was, as Claire greeted a potential customer with 'Good Morning', while Lucinda said 'Good Afternoon'! This was followed by Jenny M and Lindi's attempt to wash a thousand items from a hotel for almost £5000 - compared to the £200 the manager usually paid. Swinging from one extreme to the other they then offered a man to do all his laundry for a mere £15 - compared to the usual £60...and they still couldn't tell if it was too high or too low.
Jenny was one of the worst project managers we have ever seen. Having failed to come up with a plan, she resorted to taking out her frustration on other innocent members of the team. Lucinda was once more her target - 'You're like a fungus spreading its negativity through the team.' Needless to say the scene ended in tears and Lucinda refused to attend the next group meeting.
The girls lost by around £200. This week's most ridiculous decision came from Lindi - a 24-hour hotline to see, as Sir Alan eloquently put it, 'How my pants were doing'. Following this we thought Jenny would take Lindi into the Boardroom, but instead she took the relatively innocent Lucinda and Shazia. We felt certain that Jenny would 'get the big F' or even perhaps Lucinda, but much to our surprise and disappointment it was Shazia who caught the taxi home. Once again, we disagree with Sir Alan's decision. Jenny blatantly lied to escape from the firing line, claiming that she had felt like she was 'breast-feeding' Lucinda and Shazia throughout the task. Seeing Sir Alan's expression at these words we were convinced that he would fire her. However she got away, but it will be interesting to see how far she goes.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

It's back...

The nation is once more being treated to a dose of Sir Alan Sugar's blunt, yet hilarious manner of finding an apprentice. Ever since watching 16 hapless hopefuls trying to flog fruit two years ago, my sister and I have been hooked on The Apprentice. Now it's back and looks set to be another exciting series.
Wednesday evening at 9 pm found us glued to our seats eagerly awaiting the first episode- and we were not to be disappointed. From the moment we were introduced to 'the best saleswoman in Europe' and the man whose tools were words, to Sir Alan's clarification that he was not Mary Poppins, we were reminded- if we had ever forgotten- why we love this show.
The first task comprised of selling fish, which before this episode, we thought relatively simple. However, as the boys mistook monk tails for turbot and sold lobsters for £4.90, we began to wonder if fishmongers are really far more intelligent than they seem.
This series, we have been treated to a Syed- clone by the name of Raef Bjayou. Well, as he pointed out in the boardroom, at least he didn't mistake sharks for hamsters! Events were far more exciting with Renaissance this week. The look on the customer's face as her seafood was bludgeoned to death with the wrong side of a knife was perhaps the highlight of the episode. The most ridiculous decision on the boys' side was to sell fish to an office full of solicitors.
However, in the end it was Nicholas de Lacy-Brown who received 'the big F'. We disagreed with Sir Alan's decision, if only because Nick dislikes football. The incorrect pricing was not entirely his fault- although perhaps he could have defended himself better in the boardroom. If we'd had to have fired him, it would have been for those sunglasses. However Alex did evoke some sympathy when he was called a pauper and 'uneducated' by Raef and Nick respectively.
All in all, it's a promising start for what we're sure will be another cringe-worthy yet unmissable series of The Apprentice.
Don't miss it: The Apprentice, BBC 1, Wednesday at 9pm, followed by The Apprentice: You're Fired! on BBC 2 at 10.30.