Friday, 24 July 2015

I don't know who I am

About two years ago, a friend pointed out that I have different behaviours with different friends; with happy, bubbly people I'm happy and bubbly; with guys I tend to be standoffish and reserved; with people I think are intelligent I act intelligent and understanding, and so on.
This wasn't a huge deal, it was an underlying symptom of a bigger problem. It made me see that: underneath all of those modifying behaviours, I couldn't see what's left. I don't know what my personality is when I'm not trying to please other people. Because that's just it; everything I do revolves around either pleasing people or avoiding disappointing people.
I don't act for myself; I act in a way to conform and fit the model of a person that I think others will like the most. If people don't like me or acknowledge me, I can get upset or even angry; being liked and not judged by others is the most important thing to me.
And I hate this feeling of not knowing anything about myself, of not knowing what part of me I've manufactured to make other people happy, and what is truly indicative of me as a person. I'm a chameleon: my fears change me to whoever I feel everyone would like best. And I can't see the colours underneath.
Because I stop me from acting, from changing things; I just do things the way others do them, and I never go out of my comfort zone, never voice any original ideas; I rarely seem to have original ideas. I just depend on other people to tell me how something should be done, because I don't believe I'm capable of getting the correct solution myself. I don't mean to say this in a self-deprecating way: I just have a very strong feeling of inferiority, and this overriding belief that everyone else can do anything better than me, has lead to me being trapped into depending on other people. I need other people to tell me what to do and how to do things; in things like study methods, cooking, housekeeping, job-hunting, etc.
Above that anxiety, dependency, and feelings of inferiority: I have nothing to anchor myself to. No central belief or idea of myself that I can cling to when everything else falls apart. When all these pillars break down, I have nothing left. I get by, and I'm superficially happy in life, but I know that beneath the surface, I'm not really.
I've talked about this with a counsellor a lot, and it was with his help I managed to get all these thoughts together coherently, as I didn't understand a lot of this before counselling. But I can only see the problems now, not the way forward. My biggest challenge, and one that I know no one can help me with, is discovering my personality, finding my authentic voice.
I don't know how to put that first foot forward.


I'm not writing this for attention; honestly that's the opposite of what I want. But I need to address this publicly because I need to confront my fear of judgement by naming it, by talking about it, and being honest about it. I don't think I can begin to build a real identity until I've put that fear behind me.

Monday, 13 April 2015


Hey! It's been a while.

So, from March 25th to Monday 6th, I've been on the adventure of a lifetime. I know I'll look back on those words in a few years and cringe (sorry, future me!) but this has honestly been the largest and most significant thing in my life so far. I hope to beat the record soon.

Bummit is an organisation within the University of Sheffield - where I study - which runs hitchhiking trips for charity. Its challenge is to get to a specific destination with a team of two to four students, over the course of so many days, just by getting free lifts. I heard about it through students who came to our door, and signed up because I've never travelled, and was getting sick of having no stories to tell. I've been on holiday to a few places - nearly all of them in France - but this was the first time I went anywhere on my own; let alone by such an unreliable method. Not only that, but the destination for this year's Bummit was Bucharest, in Romania (I honestly didn't know that before,) and that's the furthest Bummit has ever gone. We had to get from Sheffield, England, to Bucharest in 9 days. I didn't think it could be done. And now it's over, which I'm sad about; but I want to reflect on the trip and everything involved.

I'm also writing this blog post as a more convenient way to address the question of "How was the trip?" If I've pointed you here, please don't be offended or think I'm annoyed with you, it's just easier to write it all once! I'll break this post down threefold: the before, the trip itself, and the after, and I'll break it down into days, because that's how I kept my journal on the way.


I won't harp on this too long, but the basic points:
  • I spent far too much money. Sleeping bag, thermos, compass, bum bag, torch, camping plates and cutlery; you name it and it ended up in my bag. Didn't need the half of it, but I always prefer being overprepared.
  • I met my teammates at a Bummit teammating (not a word that should ever be hyphenated) social. Jun and Ran are two really awesome Chinese girls, and I'm happy to have met them!
  • The three of us arrived at the Student Union at ugly-o'clock, with our heavy bags, Bummit hoodies/t-shirts, and the Bummit bible, containing all the useful information we'd need on our trip. And condoms. I'm not sure where/when they thought we would have time to use them.
  • Here was our humble beginning, standing outside the SU with our first destination, and no bloody clue what we were doing.


Day 1 and 2

Hitching out of a city is difficult. We learned this the hard way. None of us had ever done hitchhiking before, so we were a little unsure what to do, but on the advice of some other Bummiters, we sought out the nearest petrol station, put up a sign, and started waving our thumbs at cars and smiling. It took us two hours before we actually got a lift, from a kind guy called Lee, who had seen us over the road while he was getting his car serviced, and took us to the first service station.

Thanks Lee for our first hitch!

We got a total of six lifts in England: after Lee, there was Linda; Mercedes and John; Ivor; and Mark and Jennifer. Mercedes and her husband John took us right past their home in Central London, through 2 hours of traffic, to get us to a good hitching point; and Mark and Jennifer took us the last leg to Dover. I wish we'd gotten pictures of those couples!

Then things got complicated in Dover. The idea was to hitch into a car getting on a ferry, get on the ferry, and hitch the same way out when we got to Calais; the problem is, none of us could find a car to get into. The majority of people also didn't get a lift, so they slept in the passenger lounge and bought a foot passenger ticket the next day. We were one of the lucky few who got a lift - and by we, I mean, Jun and Ran found the driver, while I was huddling from the cold in the passenger lounge.

The lift was an awesome Turkish truck driver named Barish, who agreed to take us on the ferry, and then out of Calais on the other end. Barish was cutting across Europe in his huge red truck, and seeing as his route intersected with ours so nicely, we ended up staying with him much longer than we'd anticipated. We were in Belgium by early morning of the second day, where we slept in Barish's truck; then we went on to Germany that afternoon. We ate some really cool Turkish food in a Würzburg truck stop - apparently there's a really big Turkish population in Germany! - and moved on through Cologne and Frankfurt. We finally parted ways in a small service station outside of Nuremberg; we found some nice seats in the restaurant, unpacked our sleeping bags (with the manager's consent,) and got a night's sleep. I won't say a good one, but it was something.

We miss you Barish!

Day 3

Waking up in a service station was a new experience, though not a terrible one. They had showers, food, and the coolest toilets I've ever seen, with automatic rotating self-cleaning toilet seats! (I'm easily impressed.) By that point, we'd travelled over 750 miles (~1200km) but without stopping to see any of the sights, so we decided to leave early to see Nuremberg. It took us about an hour to get a lift, with a friendly young German woman called Steffi.

Nürnberg/Nuremberg, outside Hauptbahnhoff, the main train station.
Nuremberg was pretty cool, considering all I knew about it before arriving was the Trials; we saw museums, the Kaiserburg castle, the cathedrals, all within the old town. And, of course, we had to try the German sausages and beer - well, the girls tried the beer, and I made faces after a sip. Soon enough, though, we had to leave, and there we were reminded that hitching out of a city is difficult. We tried to get a free train at first; the idea was to approach the conductor when he got out of the train, and show him our letter in German, explaining our purpose and motive, and asking to be let on. The plan was miscommunicated, so after an hour or so of interacting with information and the ticket office, we tried to find a car going out of the city. It took two or three cold hours to succeed, but the man who found us, Roman, was incredibly kind. He showed us his nearby hometown of Lauf, a beautiful little town that I hope to return to some day - and went out of his way to ensure that we found our next hitch. What a guy.

Thanks Roman! Maybe we'll see you again some day!
Our destination was Prague, Czech Republic. This wasn't in the original plan, but we decided en route that it would be worth seeing (spoilers: it was.) We found ourselves in a dark and dingy service station in Nowhereville outside Nuremberg; it took about an hour or two to find Lukas, who was bound straight for Prague. His English was good, and he was really interesting, so he and I chatted for quite a while as J+R slept. He was going to drop us at a train station where we could sleep the night, and that seemed like a good plan at first.
Thanks for the direct lift to Prague, Lukas, even if the night became a nightmare!

Well, then the night went pretty wrong. After we got to Prague, there was nowhere safe-looking in the train station, so we instead went looking for a hostel, crossing paths with a bizarre Margo-esque German girl, Mirjam, who strung us along for an hour trying to find a stranger's room for us to sleep the night in. When that failed and Mirjam went her own way, we spent another hour looking for a hostel and trying couchsurfing, which we tried too late; we even tried to follow Mirjam's footsteps and ask strangers for a place to sleep. It was 2 a.m. or so when, with tempers raised and tensions frayed, we finally found a hostel that had room for us.

"It's been a night," I told the receptionist. It had been.

Day 4

Night 1 in Prague was little fun, but the day was a huge pick-up. We had a free breakfast () and caught a free tour () at 10 a.m. (), in order to see the city. The tour was really good; the tour guide was an English guy called Dave, who just so happened to have studied linguistics and languages at the University of Sheffield, like me. We saw a lot of the city, and got a lot of really interesting history. I was maybe the most surprised to hear the word "defenestration" used by Dave; apparently many people were defenestrated (thrown out of a window,) during the wars between the Czech Catholics and the rebel Hussites. Cool history! We got to see a lot of the beautiful architecture - and there is a lot of beautiful architecture in Prague - including the Orloj, the incredibly complex astronomical clock within the town centre. Every hour, clockwork figurines perform a "show" around the Orloj. For a machine designed in the 15th century, it's incredible!

A close-up of the Orloj astronomical clock in Prague's old town.

After exploring the city, eating a supposedly traditional Czech dinner (it was delicious, whether or not it was traditional,) we managed to find a couchsurf for the night. This is something we discovered maybe a little late; is a website where people offer their houses to let you sleep for free. So a nice German guy living in Prague, Christoph, hosted us in his lounge (with our sleeping bags, it was the most comfortable place so far.) It took us two hours longer than it should have, owing a navigational mishap, but we made it alive!

Day 5

We actually spent two days in Prague, because it was so beautiful! After leaving Christoph's house, we tried to see the Jewish Museum in Prague, but they wouldn't let us in with our heavy bags, so the girls took our bags to a restaurant, and I went alone. I'll share this story, as it's one worth telling. During the Holocaust, An Austrian art teacher, Friedl Dicker-Brandeis, was encamped in Terezin, a ghetto for Jews who were to be deported to Auschwitz. Dicker-Brandeis provided the children of Terezin with underground art lessons, giving them a form of escapism by teaching them to paint and draw. She was eventually sent to Auschwitz, but before she died, she buried over 4,000 of the children's pictures in a suitcase, which was later unearthed. The Jewish Museum in Prague holds half of those pictures. It was a really moving exhibit.

After the museum, we explored a museum dedicated to death, sex, drugs, prostitution, and all the sort of topics I was absolutely not expecting to see in a museum. Very interesting, though! When we were done with Prague, we set out for Bratislava, Slovakia, where our half-way meeting point lay. Leaving Prague was only a little less difficult than sleeping in Prague, because we took a bus to the wrong station and had to double back. Eventually we found a lift from Muro, a guy who spoke Czech and German, but no English, so the conversation wasn't very lively. Still, thanks Muro! He took us to Brno, where we got picked up literally two minutes later by Marcel, who fortunately did speak English. From Brno, we went direct to Bratislava, Slovakia, and there we found our hostel. Thanks also to Marcel!

When we got to the hostel in Bratislava, we met up with everyone else doing Bummit, and had a great party in a club that was literally buried in a cliff (the Sub Club. Yes, really.) It was an interesting experience. Seeing the other Bummiters and swapping stories was fantastic, and well worth going to bed at 3:30. Well, mostly worth it.

(Left, Muro took us from Prague to Brno; Right, Marcel took us from Brno to Bratislava)

Day 6

Slovakia! So, the day was slightly shortened by a certain idiot who did his clothes early in the morning and didn't dry them properly, and so had to spend three hours running back and forth to the hostel, getting them dry. We did see a few of the sights around Bratislava. I saw the outside of the Palace, and some pretty cathedrals on the way. That was about it before we had to make our way to Vienna. It was very exciting, I know. We managed to hitch a train to Vienna, which was (spoiler alert) the only train we actually took on the whole trip. The conductor was very cool about it: a couple of Slovak words, a look at the Bummit bible, and we were on our way.

The evening got stressful, because were determined to see a proper Viennese opera, but arrived half an hour before all of the operas were due to start. One frantic train ride later (well, more than one,) and we found ourselves too late to see any opera. We retired to McDonalds for a serious sightseeing-schedule session (who knew planning sightseeing could be such an involved process,) and then made our way to the house of our couchsurf for the night; a really nice Austrian guy called Marijan. The poor guy ended up having a nosebleed while we were there - it wasn't us, I promise! Other than that, I guess the rest of the evening went swimmingly.

Day 7

Today probably deserved the gold star for sight-seeing. We woke up pretty early from Marijan's house and went to see a castle in Vienna - it cost a fair bit to go inside, so we contented ourselves with the cloakroom, and then we explored the grounds. From the palace, we split up: Jun and I went to see a cathedral in Stephansplatz, then a cool animal museum; Ran went to a different museum. We met back up in Stephansplatz, and went on to get a Chinese buffet in Währinger street, next to the Volksoper opera house. We'd bought standing tickets to see "Fidelio"; we weren't missing out on the opera. Well, until we actually saw the opera. It was an experience, but we were all exhausted, the theatre was hot, and none of us understood what they were singing in German, so... we all fell asleep. After the interval, we decided to leave. So, we got a third of the Viennese opera experience. That was something, I guess.

Have I mentioned already that hitching out of cities is difficult? Hitching out of cities is difficult. We were going to Budapest from Vienna. I encouraged the girls to ignore the HitchWiki advice and follow the directions we received from a stranger. After about an hour and a half of walking aimlessly, more asking around, and getting nowhere, we went with the sensible HitchWiki route, and arrived at a freezing service station on the edge of Vienna something north of 11.00pm. It was a while before we got a lift; he was going to a hostel in Budapest, so we decided to go to his hostel as well, with no place to stay for the night. It took about 4 hours, then an extra hour after we got the wrong address and got lost in Budapest. For this night in Hungary, I want to give my love to Christina, the receptionist who stayed up until 5 am - 5 hours after she was supposed to close - to admit four weary, unreasonably tired travellers who needed a place to stay. Christina, you're a wonderful person.

After that, we were all far too tired to

Day 8

Sadly, after seeing Nuremberg, Prague, Bratislava and Vienna, we didn't have time to spend in Budapest. We got an amazing lunch, at least, and saw the view of the River Danube from the windiest bridge that ever winded, so it wasn't a total fly-through. We set out pretty quick to Bucharest, but we had horrible luck getting a lift. We were bound for Szeged, the next closest city to Budapest, close to the border, but it took us two hours to get a lift going only half-way to Szeged. It took probably another hour and a half to get our next lift, but they were probably our best. Zoltan is from Szeged, and when he heard we didn't have a place to stay, he invited us to stay at his house for the night. He and his fiancée Gina were wonderfully kind, and we were very sad to say goodbye to them afterwards.

(Top: Budapest; Bottom-left: It was frigging freezing, but at least the sunset is beautiful. Bottom-right: Thank you to Zoltan and Gina for taking us in and being incredibly kind to us!)

Day 9

Thanks to Relu (left) and Diana (right) for our last lifts through Romania!

The last day! We had to cover 600km in a day, arriving in Bucharest by the evening (spoiler alert: we did it.) We almost took a train, but it was too risky in case we missed it - and I'm very glad we didn't, after hearing all the stories about the train later that evening - so Zoltan drove us to the border. After a bit of a teary goodbye, we walked across the Hungarian-Romanian border and started looking for lifts. Once again, when I went off on my own (to look for trucks,) the girls managed to get a lift instead. Relu was going to his hometown, not 100km away from Bucharest, so it was perfect. We covered those 500km in something like six hours, which was really good. And then he took us further than he planned to, to the town of Ploiești, 60km away. So, a big thanks to Relu. Ploiești was our fastest lift on the whole journey; not a minute after we had landed, the first person we asked gave us a lift. Diana was very kind; she had never given a lift before, but said we had "trusting faces". She took us right to our hostel in Bucharest, and that was it. We had made it. It felt beautiful. Sheffield to Bucharest in 9 days of hitchhiking. I never would have thought it could be done.

So, it's actually been a whole week already since I've arrived back from Bucharest... I'm aware that this is significantly after the fact. The week back has been a little busy, though. I'll fill in the remaining pieces later, but this is the bulk of what I wanted to share of our journey. Sorry that it was so long!

Lastly, the biggest thanks to Jun Zhang and Ran Shi, my amazing teammates. We went through a lot together. I think it was very much worth it, though.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Things. And university.

I used to write things on here. It was fun for a while, and then I stopped because I figured I didn't have anything to talk about, where I felt I actually knew what I was talking about. Fast forward nearly two years, and that hasn't really changed. But now I'm at university! And that's probably worth writing something about.

Boring things first: I'm studying Linguistics and Japanese, at the University of Sheffield (England, if you happen to belong to The Outside World and weren't sure.) I finished college with an A* in Philosophy, and an A in English Language and Computing each, beating my offer of ABB1. Linguistics was something I chose because a guy recommended it to me a few years ago. I started learning more about what it was, decided that the study of languages was really fun and weird and interesting and fundamental to our existence, so here I am. 10/10 would choose again! Then, I realised that linguistics isn't really an employable subject if you don't want to stay in academia (fyi, I don't want to stay in academia,) so decided that I should learn a second language. For reasons that I don't even really understand, I went with Japanese. I don't care about manga/anime, if you were wondering... I just think the language is pretty (ω)❤

This is the start of my third week in Sheffield. Freshers week was pretty nuts, but I don't drink, so I remember just about everything that happened. As much as I remember things, anyway (which isn't much.) I met a shitton of really cool people, (with some assholes thrown in for good measure,) and have continued meeting really cool people since! I won't name and shame them, but if they're reading, they should know I wuv dem ♥. In particular, I've really been enjoying meeting international and European students; people from cultures so different to our own, telling me cool things about places I've never really thought about. There are so many Japanese students in Sheffield, too; it's really cool being able to practise the language I'm learning with native speaker! I may well be orally murdering the language, but the students I've spoken with so far have humoured me otherwise :).

I've joined a ton of societies, too. Japan society, kayaking, the LGBT club, the Christian Union (and I intend to join the atheist society too, of course,) and my favourite: the gospel choir. They're a group of beautiful people who have fun singing and don't take it too seriously. So excited to get more involved in it! There's so much going on here, though; it's hard to keep track of all the different things that happen in a week.

Lectures started last week. There are thirteen contact hours in my week, which is worse than some and better than most; Japanese takes up the most time though. I have five different senseis, which is a strange and interesting experience, but they're all nice, at least. It being the third week, I've barely scratched the surface of linguistics, so all I'll say for now is: it's really interesting, and I hope it stays that way! But Japanese is so fast-paced, it's really easy to fall behind. The older students have been hammering in from day one: it's hard, and you need to work at it. The drop out rate is over 50%; the fourth year lost about 75% of their students. It really makes you think. And it really makes me want to belong to that 25%. I expect it to be a trial.

I'm really not that hot of a student. I made it through A-levels by a mishmash of vaguely effective revision techniques and mostly knowing what I was talking about, but studying independently, managing my own time, revising regularly... it's all alien to me. So, there's a lot of pressure, externally and internally. But I really want to do it, and I want to do it well. Hopefully, that's enough to keep me through these four years.

So, I'm really here, and I'm doing this, I guess. That's weird enough to me; university has been an idea, a goal to work towards for so long, that I don't feel like I've fully comprehended the fact that I'm here now. But I'm okay: I'm happy, I'm enjoying making new friends, and I'm so far keeping up with everything. Early days. Good ones, though.

1 Now that I think about it, I don't think I ever wrote a single thing about college. If you're interested, I went to Barton Peveril College in Eastleigh. I studied English Literature, English Language, Philosophy and Computing at AS, and at A2 I dropped Literature, taking up a certificate in Japanese, which gave me a year of useful (though basic) experience in the language.

~Love Leonidas

Monday, 25 March 2013

I take things too seriously

Sometimes I feel like I take things too seriously. Michael McIntyre presented a skit where he talks about people who say "I can't do accents." He imagines an Irish family introducing themselves in typical Irish accents: "Hello, I'm Tommy! This is my wife Susan!" he says in that beautiful Gaelic lilt: "Hello, I'm Susan, Tommy's wife, this is Little Tommy Jr. Say hello!" she says, still with that distinct linguistic flavour. And Little Tommy Jr. says in your average London-speak "Yeah, sorry mate, I can't do accents." I know the comedy comes from the contrast between the two accents and the ridiculous notion that someone born into an Irish family wouldn't be able to "do accents", but then I go and fuck it up by overanalysing it. It's a classic reductio ad absurdum: McIntyre ridicules the idea that English people "can't do accents" by imagining that an Irish person was unable to speak in an Irish accent and so defaulted to an English accent, which is absurd. Therefore, everybody can "do accents" because we can all do at least one.

But of course we all speak according to one accent pattern, the argument fails because we laypeople are saying that we can't do other accents. Indian accents, French accents, Geordie accents, Queens accents; for the unable linguist, mimicking all the subtle accent and dialect features is hard. You have to really sink your teeth into an accent to know all the different ways words are pronounced. Not to mention that the idea that we "speak in an accent" at all is misleading. We grow up and learn language the way our parents and friends speak it. We  never try to "put on" our accent, it's just the way we're taught to use phonetics.

But Michael McIntyre wasn't making an argument, he was doing a comedy sketch. So you've just wasted five minutes of your life reading two paragraphs that weren't even relevant. You're welcome.

Nonetheless, I do take things too seriously. I can't simply come out with something for comedic effect if I know it's fallacious, misleading, or blatantly wrong. Though of course I do present myself a certain way, if I went and told someone that "it's ridiculous to suggest people can't do accents because everyone can do at least one! *Make way for stolen sketch material*", I would feel wrong inside. A cheat. Because a little person inside my fuzzy head would be telling me "Well yes, but that's not the point..."

It's one reason I don't really write blogs anymore. I'd love to carry on talking about exciting and interesting things, but I get to trying to write about them and realise that I don't really know anything much. "Determinism, yeah, that'd be a great subject for a blog post! I'm gonna talk all about that, it'll be great, people will love it, I'll get 117% in my Philosophy exams! Okay, let's go... what do I know about determinism..."

*Ten minutes later*

"Well, shit."

I've wanted to make a website for a long time. It's bothered me for a while that there's no clear tool out there for finding that word you're looking for: it's on the tip-of-your-tongue; presque vu. But it doesn't come to mind. You want a reverse dictionary, a tool to find words starting with this or ending with that, something that gives you synonyms and definitions and a list of words relating to the concept you want to describe. And I've found nothing to solve that problem. Sure, thesauruses (thesauri?) in a pinch, if you know the rough meaning of what you're sort-of looking for and the word just so happens to have a handy synonym somewhere at the bottom of the page. But it's designed to look for alternative words, not to find your words for you. And okay, there's, if you want a reverse dictionary, and a tool to find words that start with that or end with this, something that gives you synonyms and...

Oh. Shit again.

So maybe that's a project that will come about some time in the future, when I can muster the energy to relearn web design. As for the future... heck knows. Over the past months, tutors have been applying more pressure to start researching which universities I want to go to when I finish college, which degree courses I want to do, etc. Me being my terrible procrastinatory self, that research didn't really happen. So many variables, agh! Hundreds of universities in the UK, how on Earth should I work out what I want to study? Do I want to apply to Oxford, or Cambridge? Which college within either of those should I apply to?

My last tutor made things even worse by adding another variable: do you want to study abroad? Why not go to another European university where the fees and cheaper and you can go and learn a modern language? "Learn a language, ooh, that sounds good... and I do want to do Linguistics... I should really do that..." Then that presented a conflict with the advice my mother gave me, which was never to go too far from home for university, because I'll be cut off from my family and regret it seriously when I'm too poor to do shit, living on student wages, in bloody Amsterdam. Shit, what do I do!

There was a Higher Education fair at my college three weeks ago, which was what got me to finally start learning more about universities and degrees, and I came across a great degree option!. I decided that I want to study Linguistics and Japanese joint honours, the latter would give me an opportunity to study abroad in Japan. Hey, I'd learn a new language! Problem solved, I don't have to study... abroad....

But seriously, the prospect of studying Japanese excites me a great deal. I admit that I didn't care a minute for GCSE French at my secondary school: French is a language that British students learn for the same reason that you go round your next-door-neighbour's house when you run out of toilet paper. While I have a great deal of admiration for the French language spoken by natives - it's truly gorgeous when spoken properly - it really isn't the most interesting of languages out there, sharing our alphabet, and a bunch of cognates. Japanese is fresh, exciting, a whole different kettle of characters! Okay, the thought of having to learn around two thousand kanji - the symbols that represent their words - is daunting, but they have two alphabets to learn, as well. Two.

...Okay, they're actually syllabaries, but it's easier to say alphabet. (See? I can never just say it, I have to qualify.)

So if I studied Linguistics and Japanese, I think that would be great for me. I'd learn a new language, get life experience studying abroad, and get to apply the language skills I pick up to my linguistics modules. It sounds like great fun. It just sucks that they offer it in only six universities across the United Kingdom. Six. And these aren't my next-door neighbours, heck no. Not Southampton or Exeter, Reading or Brighton, Winchester or Bournemouth, not even bloody Portsmouth. My list consists of: Newcastle, Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds, Edinburgh, and SOAS, London. Hey, London! The one university on my list that isn't over two hundred miles away... oeeii :c.

I don't want to study in Scotland. But at least if I do go up to Edinburgh and study Linguistics and Japanese, I'll have an excuse for my posh Southern-English inflection. I really can't do accents.

~Love Leonidas

Edit: I told a lie, it wasn't Lancaster, it was Sheffield. But you never noticed that mistake, did you now ;).

Monday, 18 March 2013

Just be yourself

Phoebe is about to meet the parents of her boyfriend, Mike, and like any woman in that situation, is freaking out. Monica reassures her "They're just gonna love you, just be yourself," to which Phoebe points out "They live on the Upper East side on Park Avenue." Rachel says "Oh yeah, she can't be herself."

The idea that you should "just be yourself" has good principles behind it. While literally it doesn't mean much - you are always yourself and there's no changing that - the saying is there to remind you not to act in a way that completely contradicts your character just to satisfy someone else's prejudices or demands, something that can make you feel fake and hollow. Or you might be about to meet someone and are preparing to put on a big cheesy smile, all smarm and charm in the attempt to win them over, when your friend advises you to drop all that and "just be yourself", because if you try too hard to act a certain way you'll probably just end up intimidating the other party and achieving the opposite effect.

So it's a good principle. But it didn't really work out for Phoebe in the Friends episode I referenced. Phoebe is an eccentric character, and Monica and Rachel are relatively used to her quirky personality, but when they hear that the people she's going to meet are from a very upper-class part of town, they realise that "just being herself" isn't going to benefit her at all. Mike's parents have certain expectations about the way people act, and once they get to someone that probably doesn't matter so much, but first impressions do matter. The comedy in the episode comes from Phoebe trying desperately to strike a balance between being herself (playfully punching Mike's father, who just had surgery, in the stomach,) and being a woman of high class who Mike's parents would respect (which obviously goes to shit.) And there is a middle ground - it's just funny when people can't work it out - there's a degree to which you should "be yourself" when meeting new people for the first time.

Between people you know, this really isn't much of a problem. If your natural inclination is to go around slicing people's limbs off with a rusty battleaxe, that's probably a part of your personality you should repress, but otherwise, if your friends are used to your personality, and you're not generally an asshole, then you shouldn't worry about changing who you are. But if you're going for a job interview, or on a first date, or just meeting someone new in general, you can't "just be yourself" straight away. If you're the type who just gets so enthusiastic about meeting new people that you shake uncontrollably and jump up and down on your chair, that's something you should probably work on when you're applying for a job. And if you're the type who likes to intimately hug people, you should at least get to know the person you're taking out to dinner before you climb on their lap and stroke their face.

Even here, writing blog posts, I think there's a degree of control you have to exercise. Though as you probably know I don't update my blog much any more, when I do I aim to write a post that people can read and enjoy - whether or not I do is another matter. If I just spout random crap off the top of my head, it's not worth reading. There are many aspects of my personality, too, that I try not to translate onto a blog post because I don't think it would make sense or be appropriate.

In an earlier episode of Friends, Monica gives the same advice to Chandler when he sees an attractive woman that he wants to talk to. "Just be yourself... but not too much!" In general, it's a fair comment. People respond well when they can see that you're being genuine and not trying too hard or putting on a show. But the addendum on Monica's advice is telling: sometimes, if you're not used to someone with a certain type of personality, they can be a little intimidating and that's something you generally want to try and avoid. I know I can sometimes be a lot to take in when someone meets me for the first time: I do try my best not to scare people off, though!

At the end of the day, there's not much of a "should" to it. We are always ourselves. It's just about the aspects of our personality we let other people see... and until you get to know someone better, the phrase really should be: "Just be yourself, but not too much."

~Love Leonidas

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Swimming pools and nihilism

These days as an AS Philosophy student, it doesn't take much to get me thinking about the ultimate meaning of life, the universe and everything. But for a long time I've been unable to get away from the view that there is... well, no meaning. No purpose. We live, our parents teach us how to speak an arbitrary language (unless we're raised by wolves, in which case the whole linguistic upbringing is a lot more exciting,) we learn the arbitrary rules of morality in our particular arbitrary society based on our arbitrary location, we decide on an arbitrary career that has some questionable usefulness in terms of the whole society (or at least, we like to think it does,) we go about a significant portion of our lives filling out that career in order to perpetuate a cycle of earning money, eating food and doing any other arbitrary things in between that we think might entertain us. And then we die.

It doesn't surprise me that nihilism isn't a very popular viewpoint.

One of the distinct joys of going through Philosophy lessons over the past few months has been having everything I thought I knew questioned and ultimately scrapped. It's fascinating watching other people go through the same process - you can plot our collective credulity on a graph. We've breached four units now, and in each unit - and often at the start of a sub-unit - we'll start with a question that we think should be obvious. "Which of the following are persons?" or "Do we have free will?" And then we start to learn why Turing thought a computer could be a person, and that's where our credulity hits a high "Oh yeah, that makes complete sense, I really like that idea, yeah, I'm totally convinced that a computer is a person now." But then it reaches a low when we go and learn about how Searle thought that that was bullshit and computers can't be persons. "Oh, right, yeah, I see what he's saying, I can't really believe that a computer is a person now." You could compare the graphs for every section and we'd come out essentially the same for every section. We really don't know how much we don't know.

One of the views in particular that was a big high on the credulity graph was Sartre's existentialism (philosophy has a habit of producing zombie nouns with more syllables than are comfortable like nobody's business.) Essentially, the people at the time were saying that we have a soul. That's your personality, and that's it. You're a shopkeeper/pianist/crazy-axe-murderer because that was the kind of soul that God bestowed upon you. And Sartre said "Well, that's bullshit" (in politer words that would have most likely been French.) He told the people of the world: "Be what you want to be, it's not your soul that makes you what you are, YOU make you what you are. Go out and punch a dolphin or learn the euphonium or do whatever the fuck you want, because you are a free spirit and there ain't nobody gonna tell you what to do." Ever-so-slight paraphrasing here.

Naturally, this was a popular view. Existentialism is a nice idea. If you're not one for Christian theology, go you! Screw becoming the children of God and spreading the message of Jesus: the meaning of life is what you make it. You choose the path. There's no one "direction" for your life that's written in to the stars, carved in the ground, coded into your DNA. It's all you. So of course, this was high on our credulity graph.

But at the end of the day, I can't come to see this as anything more than what it is: a nice perspective. When you get down to the nitty-gritty, the meaning of life is just what the universe tells you: nothing. There is nothing written in the stars or the ground or your genes. Sartre and I are agreed on this. But the decision to carve a meaning out of it is ultimately your arbitrary (you see a theme here,) human decision to do so, to make you feel happier and get you through life without a crushing sense of meaninglessness. (Of course, that's if you're not a determinist and believe we have free decisions in the first place, but that's possibly even more depressing, so I won't get into that here.)

I was thinking about this while swimming earlier. Obviously I have a very narrow and uninformed perspective as a poorly traveled 17 year old college student couched in the safety of a protective Western capitalist meritocracy, so I haven't done much more than what people living in protective Western capitalist meritocracies do, which is maximise your own happiness. For some reason, swimming is a frequent contender on the list of things that we like to do to have a pleasurable day. And you can derive pleasure out of anything if you like - it's certainly a lot easier when you've got a chance to travel fast down a watery slide or release a few happy hormones pumping your arms travelling from one end of the pool to the other. But ultimately, that's all you're doing. Falling down water slides. Swimming from one end of the pool to the other. Or in most cases, stagnating in a lukewarm pool of water that usually serves to make the other pool colder.

They're a real testament to nihilism. We pay money (and don't get me started on the pointlessness of money,) to a group of people who happen to own and clean a body of water so that we can spend an hour or two getting ourselves wet, moving around in an environment slightly different from the standard mix of oxygen and nitrogen that we'd get walking around otherwise. And then we get out, shiver from the cold, try not to expose our nudity to the world while we change into clothes more suitable for outside, and go home.

I mean obviously, some people go there to exercise: to develop their muscles or aid their breathing, or train to be a professional water acrobat or Olympic diver or what-have-you. And that'll extend their lifetime for a bit, maybe, but at the end of the day they're moving from one end of the pool to another. Some just happen to be entering the pool from one, five or ten metres height.

Nihilism is not an attractive view, and I may grow out of it yet, so I don't try to force it on people. But everywhere I go I see people who want their lives to be meaningful and I think "That's all good but... you really are pointless." I am pointless. Human society is pointless. I just prefer existing to not existing, because it's more than troublesome to kill myself and I get a lot of pleasure out of living. And pleasure is the root of it all, I believe. We exist to be happy. It's just nice to believe that we're here for a bit more than to stuff ourselves with food or sit in an office fulfilling a questionable function from 9 to 5.

So religion probably has the right idea. It's no surprise, considering the universe from a nihilistic perspective, that religion became as popular as it did. When you live in a universe with no inherent meaning and someone comes along to tell you "You're going to a place of eternal bliss after you die! All you have to do is live a productive and morally beneficial life and pledge your support to this particular deity, and don't listen to any of those foul pretenders!" then you'd naturally expect people to follow, build that deity into a human form that we can relate to (Jesus,) establish a moral code that generally leads to a beneficient lifestyle (Bible), and proclaim everything you say to be the gospel truth (church). It worked for Ricky Gervais, and it sure beats "You are a creature born of a long chain of evolution with no intrinsic purpose who lives, eats, breeds and dies."

Yet I can't bring myself to believe in God any more than I can believe we have a deep-seated reason for existing. Sartre had the right idea, too. Nobody wants to face a life of pointless hedonism, punctuated by frequent suffering. Far better to at least make some purpose out of your life than to wallow in nihilistic despair as I do now and then.

Besides, if I die without having fulfilled any particular purpose, that will have been a lot of money I wasted on swimming pools.

~Love Leonidas

Saturday, 15 September 2012

College and colds

At the moment of writing, I’m sitting on a train – no wi-fi, but hey – and boy am I not at favour with public transport. It’s not like it’s done anything to me, like a train came up to me once and smacked me on the face, but every time I go for a train it occurs to me that I’m always running for it. Usually bearing heavy bags, on a bike that may or may not have a fully inflated tyre, on a questionable timescale as to whether I can get to the station in time… the list goes on. They’re better than buses for sure – there’s no traffic, much more secure, goes in one direction and does it quickly, and there’s a lot more stability. But while I can get buses from outside my house or the next road along, the nearest train station is buried some ten-twenty minutes bike-ride away from my house, and I hate travelling in the first place! Thus, trains, buses and the like are generally never happy moments for me.

Though really, I’m just not a morning person. A cold is not the worst illness to be had for sure – there’s flu, fever and life-changing, life-threatening conditions which really gives me little cause for complaint. But that doesn’t change the fact that waking up with a cold in the morning is not the least bit fun. The train I’m on is bound for Brighton, the first leg of the two-part journey to Eastbourne, which is usually easier on the first part than the second, but people are wanting for seats here, too. I’m wondering what’s so attractive about Brighton on the 15th of September.

I should bring something positive into an otherwise depressive blog post. College! Hey! I’ve just gone through my first week of real college (as opposed to the imaginary college I was going to the previous week.) Before you ask: Philosophy, English Language, English Literature and Computing. Philosophy, needless to say, I am loving and finding myself an aptitude for – though truth be told I feel a little ahead. I’m doing my best to master the basics, though, as would any other student. Computing is so much awesome fun – we’re starting on coding in Visual Basic, which I’ve never used before. At present, we’re only writing programs to go onto Command Prompt, but it’s nonetheless very addictive and a great deal of fun. My computing teacher also happens to be my tutor, which helps somewhat – she’s really nice, and Welsh. What more could one want in a tutor? (Saying that though, I much prefer the Irish accent.)

Literature and Language are less “Ohmigodthisissomuchfunwheeeeee” but nonetheless enjoyable – we’re studying Much Ado about Nothing in Literature, which I’m surprising myself by genuinely enjoying.  Shakespearean comedy, by the way – but of course you knew that (I didn’t.)
Language is a little less than I expected, but, early days, and… well, it’s language. Anyone wo knows me know that that is my thing. I’m expecting to come to love it like my own child – something like that, anyway J.

Subject specifics aside, I’m loving the fact that I’m seriously in college – a young adult in a ;place for other young adults. I’m meeting awesome new people, playing Team Hockey (I’m very unfit,) and just generally enjoying the feeling of being in a college. I expect it to be a few months before I start saying the name “Barton Peveril” with a tone of disgust and exasperation, but until that day, I shall proceed with as much dedication and happiness as I can :).

On a side note, I’m very happy I got this train early – I just looked around and people are filling the aisles because there are no seats. The sun is glaring onto the laptop though, which makes me thankful that I can touchtype.

I’ll wrap this up on account of the fact that I’ll probably be arriving in Eastbourne soon, and as soon as I get internet access (yeah,) I’ll publish this and be done with it. It feels good to be writing a blog again though, even if only on Microsoft Word.
All the best from Leonidas <3 .="." o:p="o:p">

Thursday, 6 September 2012

College, woo!

College, man! Barton Peveril!

Before anyone asks: English Literature, English Language, Philosophy and Computing :).

Today was only the first of two induction days, but it's still really exciting, and I'm looking forward to getting started on the real thing! I've met some new folks, got some homeworks to worry about, got a hell of a lot of organising to get done, a bus system to familiarise myself with... ahh, joys.

I don't know when I'll be writing blogs. I never feel inspired to these days, and my laptop finally became useless yesterday.

In Philosophy, we had put to us "What is an idea?" The best I could come up with is that an idea is an object/descriptor that we can conceive of that is true/exists, or we believe to be true/to exist. Then, thinking about it, an idea is also the concept of something that's yet to come. A plan for what will be. The blueprints of an architect. It's not deep, but it's something.

I still have painted nails from days ago. It's silver - if anyone's noticed they're not saying.

I may be on a hockey team! But boy I need to get more fit ._.

Until next time <3 .="." p="p">

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Why I don't like patriotism

This is the longest I've ever gone without posting. Holy hell have I been uninspired lately.

I don't have any issue with patriots (much.) I think that it's a very good thing to love your country, helps to unify people and get them to work as one, helps especially in the military, where strong dedication is needed at all times. I don't hold favour with the people who go around and tell anyone who'll listen that their country is a piece of shit, the Queen/PM/President/Dictator is an asshole, and anyone who believes otherwise is a moron. In that respect I don't consider myself an anti-patriot.

But the reason I don't like it is because it's so manipulative.

The whole point of patriotism is as I said: to unify. To bring people together under one banner in support of the same thing, as denizens of the same nation. And so in going about this, they (the unifiers) seed every speech with words like "nation" and "glory" and "pride" in an elaborate rhetoric that makes no secret of the fact that it's trying to rile you up in a flurry of nationalistic zeal.

Maybe I'm a little shortsighted about this, though I'm well aware that the unifiers aren't the only ones trying to manipulate you. Every single business - whose ultimate aim is to make a profit - works to manipulate you into buying their wares or services, and they do it in clever, brilliant ways, which is why advertising and PR etc. are such big business.

But the point is that they are subtle about it. The unifiers and patriots are almost never subtle, and the manipulative intent is very clear. I don't like being manipulated because I know that I can be easily, and that proves a weakness. It's not just patriotism - anything impassioned that doesn't bother to hide the fact that it's trying to recruit me bugs the hell out of me. This week I was helping out at the church for a youth club for young people, and had to sit through "1000 questions", where a black Christian woman sang and preached and rapped the word of Jesus, and the rhetoric was so thick it was stifling. I hated it because it was nothing informative, it was preaching. I don't like being preached at, I like being given good reasons to adopt a certain view.

That's why I'm not a patriot. Give me good reasons to support England as a country, don't try to invoke some kind of nationalistic pride in me as some poor substitute that amounts to "You should be proud of your country... because!" I don't buy it.

Monday, 4 June 2012


Arial - abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz
Helvetica - abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz

Call me crazy, but Arial and Helvetica look COMPLETELY identical. There are supposed to be differences, but they're subtle. Not on Blogger. What wizardry is this?

Maybe they're just lazy.

Do you guys have a favourite font?

~Love Leonidas

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