Tuesday, 1 December 2009
It's just a bullshit place to go when you're too old for bullshit school and too young for a bullshit job. The only benefit of it is that it doesn't matter about your actual age, just the age you feel. Middle aged failures take degrees as "mature" students because they're still too mentally young for the real world and they've been falsely led to believe that this will help them. No-one's pointed out to them that "mature student" is an oxymoron.
But university is not a place to grow up. And, contrary to what most people think, it's not a place to celebrate your youth. It's the middle point in life - only not in the middle. It's the transitional period between virginity and addiction. This is no secret, but the common belief is that this passage eases the transition between the two. This is not true. It just prolongs it. Like an rabbit scurrying down a hole after a fox has bitten it's leg off. It's safe, but it's still going to die.
University isn't even a place to learn. At least not any more. There you simply find the exact same problems there were when you were at school. All you learn is how to pass exams. After that, you can forget it. Knowledge doesn't come from places of learning. Knowledge comes from everywhere else. If you're lucky, the most you'll learn as a student is that nothing will ever live up to its hype and vodka-redbulls are for fags.
But not everyone has these revelations.
Tuesday, 19 May 2009
Allow me to introduce you to the wonder that shall hereby be known as:
How to Deal with a Curse of Lamentable Tribulation
Compelling, no? Don't you just want to read it?
Well the first three chapters are right here, and further ones shall be added as they are written. Go and check it out.
Chapter 1: http://nwithers.blogspot.com/2009/03/chapter-1-jake.html
Chapter 2: http://nwithers.blogspot.com/2009/03/untitled-story-chapter-2-chocolate.html
Chapter 3: http://nwithers.blogspot.com/2009/04/untitled-story-difficult-third-chapter.html
Disclaimer: I reserve the right to change this title whenever and for whatever reason I feel like. It could be because I've thought of a better one, it could be because I decide to take the story in a different direction than would accurately fit the title, or I could just do it on a whim because I'm bored. That's the level of commitment I'm putting in to this.
OK, so this is the third time I've changed the title already. The others sucked. This one does not suck quite so much.
Tuesday, 12 May 2009
I didn't know what to say.
"I don't know what to say," I said.
I turned to Matt. He looked just as surprised as I was. I savoured the moment, knowing that all too soon the shock would wear off and he'd be ridiculing me again. Really I was impressed that I'd managed to get over it faster than he had. I'd already thought of three princess-based jokes that would have been perfect for the situation, had it been anyone else holding the tiara.
"Say something..." he whispered to me.
"But I don't know what..." I replied.
I turned back to the old lady. She was already walking back in to the other room.
"Be careful with that," she said over her shoulder "it's very valuable."
"Um, excuse me," I said, running after her . "This is obviously very...er...lovely and everything...but I'm not sure I:-"
"Oh, but you must take it!" she interrupted. "It is a gift, a token of thanks for your heroism. I can not let you go unrewarded, and one should not turn down such an offer. Not accepting this valuable treat would be both foolish and rude!" She seemed to be getting steadily more worked up as she spoke, almost as though she couldn't wait to be rid of the damn thing. Well that was nice. I don't know much about rewards, truth be told I've never offered anyone so much as a pat on the head for doing something, but I'm fairly sure giving someone some old piece of crap you just don't want lying around your house anymore isn't the standard procedure for expressing how thankful you are to them. I mean I was a hero, not a hobo!
"Well, it's just...when you said a reward I was expecting something a little more...cash-like." Smooth.
"Ha! Money? Do I look like I have money to give away?" I looked around the enormous hallway we were in, with the two marble stairways that met in the middle and the antique chandelier swinging gently above our heads, as the 9 foot oak grandfather clock ticked away next to the jewel-encrusted mirror. I decided not to answer the question.
"My husband spent all his money going off on his adventures. Everything you see here was found or given to him on his travels. Even the house came from a little known, yet exceedingly wealthy, African village. The head of the village had it transported over here by boat. My husband never made a penny for all his work! Now please, you have your prize - now leave me."
And with that she flung herself up the stairs, rather impressively for someone her age, and disappeared through one of the many doors at the top. Matt walked in from the kitchen and we silently looked at each other for a few moments before turning to leave.
I nodded my head glumly.
"Can I see it?"
I shook my head glumly.
I shrugged my shoulders glumly. I don't know why I did this, I suppose I just wasn't in the mood to talk. Also I was trying to convey the extent of my glumness to Ashleigh in the hope of receiving a sympathy hug, or possibly a sympathy boob flash.
"Oh stop being such a baby" she said, hitting my in the arm in a less than sympathetic way. What a bitch. "Come on, show it to me."
I sighed (glumly) and lifted the goddamn thing out of my backpack. It was fairly heavy for its size, with two neat rows of green and blue jewels following the swirls and loops of the silver wire frame that would wrap around the head of the overpriced girlfriend of some pretentious king in some ridiculous country no-one even cares about. A large red ruby sat in the middle, with more of the green and blue stones circling around it - just in case it wasn't shiny enough for you to notice. It was very nice I supposed. In a shitty, girly, wannabe-princess, completely-inappropriate-for-an-eighteen-year-old-very-manly-lifeguard-who'd-just-saved-your-life way. Ashleigh tried it on.
"How do I look?" She asked.
'Like a heart-stoppingly beautiful princess that a thousand brave knights of olde England would risk their mothers' lives to win the heart of just for a second,' I thought. "Like some drunk bitch on a hen night," I said. I always found it a mystery why girls never seemed to want to go out with me. Ashleigh hit me again as Matt approached us, setting down two pints for himself and me and a vodka & coke for Ashleigh.
"You owe me two-fifty." he said, sitting down.
"I'll pay you in tiaras."
"Am I not even allowed a free sympathy beer?"
"Sod off more, you don't get sympathy for being given a billion pound present."
"I don't want it! You can have it for the beer!"
"Oh no, I couldn't take the princess's tiara from her. Not when she'd look so pretty wearing it." He grabbed the tiara from Ashleigh's head
and forced it on to mine. Ashleigh somehow managed to produce a camera from somewhere and snap a picture in the half a second it took me to throw the thing off. Why do girls always have cameras in pubs? How many pictures of yourself looking sweaty and drunk in a dark, crowded room do you really need? I didn't know, but I certainly hoped it was enough to hide the one she'd just taken once it was inevitably added to the brain-melting overload of pointless shit that is facebook. I hated facebook. And cameras. And tiaras. And stupid beautiful girls who tormented me with their cruelness and wonderful, untouchable boobs.
"Fuck you!" I shouted loudly, which of course just alerted the entire pub to the less-than-manly tiara that I was now desperately flinging from my head, straight towards the whirling ceiling fan. There were gasps and laughter from strangers all around me, as the three of us were showered in brightly coloured stones, before the battered lump of silver shot back down towards my gaping, horrified mouth.
Somehow, over the next two days, Matt had convinced me to actually pay money to have my garish headpiece repaired. We'd collected all the pieces from around the table at the pub and - after restraining myself from simply throwing them all in the bin - had taken it back home where I'd spent the next couple of hours bashing the framework back in to place with a hammer and re-attaching the jewels with super glue while Matt hovered around me offering tips on the best way to put the thing back together. It was he who had stopped me getting rid of the pieces, pointing out the probable value of such a piece of jewellery and promising unending riches if we managed to make it look like a tiara again. I'd grudgingly agreed. When he wasn't being a dick; Matt could be very sensible about some things. It was just strange how his sensible ideas always seemed more annoying than the alternatives. Needless to say, after all my efforts all I had managed to do was make the silver even more lumpy than it had been before, and superglue several green and blue jewels to my hands. It was decided that this was a job for professionals, and on the basis of "spend money to make money" (Matt's words) we gathered the pieces up again and took them to an antique jewellery repair shop.
Fortunately I lived just round the corner from one.
Unfortunately the unsmiling, thin haired old man at the counter charged me two hundred quid just for the service. I was so close to walking out of the shop and leaving the pieces in the gutter right then, but Matt repeated his "spend money to make money" mantra a few more times to make me stay in there. Also he stood in the doorway and kicked me in the shins until I gave in. Why he assumed I'd share any money I might make from this with him I don't know. I decided right then that if I got some sort of profit back from this I would spend a good portion of it having him deported. For the meantime though I was two hundred pounds out of pocket (Matt had generously donated nothing to my cause) having a broken tiara I hated and never wanted be put back together so I could continue hating and not wanting it.
A week later we went back to the shop to pick it up again. It had been a dull week - since I'd now spent all the money the swimming baths had given me as a hero bonus I found myself with very little to occupy my time with until the next payday. Meanwhile everyone else I knew seemed to be going to gigs, clubs, parties and pubs and having the best week of their lives. I needed some good news from the jeweller, needed him to reassure me that my unwanted tiara was worth enough money for me to retire before I went to uni.
The little bell above the door jingled to announce our entrance to the shop. Sparkling rings, bracelets, necklaces and even an old sceptre greeted our eyes as we walked towards the counter, looking around for the old man who'd served us last time. But from out of the back room came, not an old man, but a beautiful long haired girl. I couldn't help it; I stared at her coming towards us - all legs and breasts. And a face. She moved gracefully over to the counter, a small smile playing across her mouth as she flicked a stray strand of brown hair away from her large, blue eyes. She could have been a model, could have been an angel. She could have been stolen from the best dream I ever had and placed right here in front of me in the conscious world. The time it took her to walk the three steps from the back room to the counter was all the time I needed to fall in love with her.
"Hello there boys, how can I help you?" She asked, looking from me to Matt as if questioning who would be the first one to pluck up the courage to answer her question. I decided to get there before Matt could.
"Yes, hello there also," I said a little quicker than most people usually speak as I offered my most charming smile. She seemed suddenly taken aback, her face falling faster than a bungee-ing hippo. I suddenly remembered the large gap at the front of my charming smile, where the fan-propelled tiara had knocked my tooth out. I hastily stopped smiling and continued.
"Er, yes. We brought in a tiara last week to be repaired...that old guy said it would be done by now...so, er...is it?" I was not doing well.
"Yeah...hang on a sec." She said, looking at me in a way that didn't seem to say 'take me now', as I had hoped she would. She turned back in to the back room, and after a few seconds of rummaging re-emerged with the now restored tiara.
"Brilliant, yeah that's the one." I said. "He also told us he'd be able to value it once it's fixed, could you...er...do that for us too please?" My mind was racing, trying to establish links between expensive jewellery and wooing women. Unbelievably I was coming up with nothing.
"Well actually, I'm afraid this thing appears to be pretty worthless at it is." What? "See the front of it? It looks like the main jewel that should go there is missing. I don't think you'd get a good price for this thing without it."
"What? That's impossible!" I looked down at the tiara. It was true. The large ruby that had stood in the middle of the tiara was gone. But we'd picked up all the pieces in the pub, we'd made sure of it! It took us ages! Could it be at home? No, surely I would have noticed a ruby in my room during the last week. Had it been in the pieces we brought to the shop? I was sure we'd had everything, but it was so hard to tell with it broken in to so many pieces. I looked to Matt in desperation, as if he'd pull the thing out of his pocket singing 'ta-da!' but he looked as dumbfounded as me. I was lost for answers. Somehow, the most precious part of my tiara...
Monday, 6 April 2009
The problem, as always, is the cost of a night of thoughtless inebriation. Obviously here I could be talking about a number aspects of cost - socially, mentally, physically, retardedly - but today I mean it in a strictly financial way. Booze costs bucks (side note - are Hong Kong dollars also allowed to be referred to as "bucks"? Am I now qualified to use this term? Someone please tell me). Go to any decent bar in Hong Kong and a pint will usually cost around the equivalent of a fiver (curse you falling exchange rate!). So of course, here more than anywhere, it is much more financially settling to get suitably drunk at home before venturing to your local pit of darkness and dredgery. Herein lies the first problem - planning must be done in advance to ensure suitable fluids can be found within your home. No-one likes to have to go through the ordeal of putting pants on just to go on a beer run, only to return home for the half an hour it takes to get through a six-pack before repeating the process so that the actual venturing out for the commencement of the evenings activities can begin - it's just too much effort. So such treats must be procured in advance which of course means that the engagement of the act of planning must be performed some time in advance. The reason I need to complain about this minor irritance is that it takes away the one benefit I have of not having anyone to go out with in the first place. When you're making all the decisions by yourself, the advantage is that you don't have to plan anything ever. You are free to be as spontaneous as you want and being able to just sit up at the end of the second episode of friends on a Wednesday evening and decide to go on a pub crawl without having to send out a hundred texts to people and determine whether they're free/want to go/still like you after the events of Tuesday's pub crawl and then decide a time and a place to meet and all that other rubbish is just very nice sometimes. Having to then realise that you have nothing in the house and your options are to venture down to the shops and buy booze or be willing to spend vast amounts of money on enough drinks to make it all worthwhile kills this somewhat. Unless you are already prepared, then the logistics of such an impromptu idea will kill it somewhat - and being prepared for such a thing means it is no longer impromptu. This is the paradox of spontaneity.
However, these are very minor complaints that obviously never really stand in the way for very long, but they serve as a suitable introduction to my main observation.
Imagine the scenario: It's Wednesday night. Friends has just finished. You decide you want to go out to various bars to watch bands and laugh at old men chatting up hookers. You have a suitable amount of alcoholic substances in your fridge/cupboard. The settings are perfect. You can begin drinking while at home, before venturing out in to the Hong Kong night, safe in the knowledge that you now can not possibly ingest enough alcohol to use up the last of your money.
How much can you drink before you don't want to go out any more?
Yes, this is what I've been building up to. How many drinks does it take before leaving your home to find somewhere else where other drinks can be bought in the company of other people and sometimes bands seems like a bad idea? I've been studying this extensively for some time, and I can confirm that there will always be that point where the option of staying in and drinking alone outweighs the option of not doing. The advantages of the first (comfortable surroundings, your own decision of music/TV programmes/whatever, lack of annoying people, not having to wear pants) will always suddenly seem greater than the advantages of the second (social environment, greater range of drinks, better entertainment, possibilities of ending up in a situation with a previously unknown attractive girl in which you are both not wearing pants*). So you are always faced with the challenge of "how much can I drink to maximise the financial gain brought by drinking what I have at home, while still keeping the desire to go out strong?".
Clearly there is no definitive answer to this. It would be simple if it was just a case of "4 beers and a whisky and you're fine to go", but nothing can ever be that easy. Such things are always subject to a number of variables: what's happened during the day, how long it's been since your last drink, whether or not American Idol's on TV etc. Fortunately due to my dedication to the developing knowledge of the intricacies of drinking I have been working on a mathematical formula for the calculation of this sort of thing.
I hereby formally introduce A formula to represent Nick's theorem of pre-going out drinkability.
X = A - ((T + G + I) / (P/100)) 2
In which X = Total amount of alcohol that can be consumed without causing lack of desire to go out.
A = Amount of alcoholic beverages found within the place of residence.
T = Tiredness of the person and/or creature in question.
G = Goodness of things within the place of residence (ie. TV schedule, Playstation games, really nice crisps etc.).
I = Time since last night out.
P = Proximity of suitable bars to the place of residence.
Here's an example of the simple "PIGTAX" formula at work:
Let us assume that the person in question has had a long day at work and has run somewhere for some reason. On the tiredness scale of 1-14 they are at around 9. They do not own a Playstation, and this evening there is an American Idol marathon on TV. However they do have some very nice crisps. This puts their goodness of things level at around a 4 out of 20 (and that's with some really nice crisps). They were out the day before, giving them an I of 1. There is a bar a mere 5 minutes down the road. The average person can cover around 600 paces in 5 minutes (according to data researched from the university of bullshit statistics) so this is our P.
X = A - ((9 + 4 + 1) / 6)2
X = A - 5.44 (2d.p.)
This demonstrates that the person is capable of drinking 5.44 "nicks" of alcohol. To calculate "nicks" you must know that 1 beer = half a nick, 1 whisky = 0.68 nicks, and 1 Stroh = 1 nick. All other drinks fall somewhere in the middle of this - it's really very simple to calculate.
However, our calculation is not finished. This person only has 6 beers and 3 shots worth of whisky in their home. This gives them an A of 5.04 nicks.
X = 5.04 - 5.44 = -0.4 nicks
From this calculation we can clearly see that the person in question can drink every drop of alcohol within their home without fear of reaching the point in which they no longer want more. If that person wishes to maximise their savings however, they're going to need that extra 2 fifths of a Stroh shot.
I hope this formula will prove useful to all those who find themselves in this sort of situation. And remember: drink responsibly - or you'll never make it to the pub for more.
*This is obviously always a preferable scenario, but rarely guaranteed without a severe lowering of your standards. Again - it's the logistics of getting to this point that will progressively get less appealing.
Thursday, 2 April 2009
I've spent far too long on that today, laughing at the overwhelming stupidity of the internet and feeling smug.
When I eventually tire of this (possibly never) I will commence work on the next chapter. Probably.
Friday, 27 March 2009
After recently purchasing a Playstation 3, I have begun looking through several sites to find the best games for this device. Since these games all seem to be rather expensive, it makes sense to only get the good ones. Unfortunately it seems that no-one can agree on what the best game is.
However, due to some extraordinary reaches of boredom, I have come to a conclusion of what I believe should officially hold the title of "Greatest Game Ever™."* It is challenging, infuriating, replayable and involves numbers.
"What is this exciting, spectacular, magnificent game?" I hear you type in to your comment boxes. Well delete that sentence, because I'll tell you. And when you hear the answer you'll realise how obvious and simple it is.
The game is Minesweeper®.
Normally in something like this I would now have to explain exactly what Minesweeper® is and how you play. But since this game has been readily available on every pc since Windows 95 (and possibly before - this was where I came in to the computing scene) I'm going to assume that everyone knows all this anyway. Instead I shall launch straight in to why Minesweeper® deserves this title.
Minesweeper® depends on strategy. Only novices, idiots and children wildly click on blank spaces hoping to see how long they can last before the yellow face dies. Cunning, clever, practised sweepers will take their time, analyse the possible outcomes of every click and expertly clear a pathway through the hidden bombs. It challenges the mind, and the eyes. Keep playing for more than a few games and you will find your attention begin to dwindle, you will not register some obvious signs and you will make mistakes. And in Minesweeper® mistakes are fatal.
Minesweeper® does not offer you extra lives. Minesweeper® does not give you a second chance. Minesweeper® is brutal. Minesweeper® is ruthless. And Minesweeper® will have no remorse about blowing you up when you only have one goddamn mine left to sweep.
Sometimes custom levels are just cheating...
It's not just about the numbers.
Let's just review what we can deduce as the background information of Minesweeper®. We know that we are given a map, set out as a grid, that can be a range of sizes (based on if you play at "beginner", "intermediate", "expert" or "custom" levels). Within this area are a certain number of mines (again, determined by what level you are playing) which are shown in the counter at the top left corner of the screen. We do not know where the action is taking place, whether it is based on a real scenario or a fictional one, but we do know that we have to find these mines so we can ensure a safe passage through them. We are not even told who it is we are trying to get through. We may assume that we are in charge of an army, finding their way through the minefield to the enemy's camp, and we must guide them their safely without killing them or compromising their position. Or we may be trying to mark out the mines so that innocent civilians from nearby towns may make their way through the minefield to collect water or vegetables or opium. Whatever the case, we have been entrusted with this mission and we must uphold our duty in finding these mines.
Unfortunately, though we are given some helpful technology to ease our job, getting started can be the riskiest part. To begin with we are offered no clues as to where these mines could be, other than the initial number of mines on the map. We are also not given a particularly safe method of clearing these mines, it seems to involve actually jumping on the spaces (or – I suppose – literally sweeping them and hoping a mine isn't under the dust). Now, obviously, we are not doing the jumping (or sweeping) ourselves as we are safely at home/work/Starbucks® controlling all this through our computer. The best assumption is that we are in control of a minesweeping robot that can leap in to the air to land on any space you select within the grid. This robot has been personalised by the round, yellow face you can see at the top of your screen. As you pick the square and the robot jumps, you can actually see its face call out "ooohh" as it takes to the air, not sure if it's going to survive the landing. This robot is then programmed with the ability to scan the 8 squares of the grid around it and, though it is unable to pinpoint where they are, tell you how many mines are in that area. Unfortunately you are only given one of these robots to control and if it is blown up by landing on a mine (displaying a "dead" expression on the yellow face) then all mines will have been replaced and moved by the enemy before another one can be shipped out to you.† You have one chance to sweep these mines, otherwise you have failed your mission.
Success however will reward you by showing you the clearly happy robot who has been given new sunglasses for his hard work in the field. Much like in real army life, you are given a swift (metaphorical) pat on the back for a job well done and, if you have proved yourself worthy by completing your mission faster than any other soldier, your name on the honours bored (otherwise known as the best time list).
Don't think you can just go running off to Solitaire®.
We've established the meaning behind Minesweeper®, as well as explaining that it is a strategy game depending on numbers that offers you only one chance to complete. It is this then that brings in the challenge. You fear landing on a mine because you know that as soon as you do you will be forced to start the whole game again. You know that the game is essentially a simple task, with each square you uncover offering clues as to which of the connecting squares are safe, and so the feeling of ineptitude is overpowering when you lose, forcing you to play again to prove your worth to yourself and the Microsoft© corporation. With every loss you increase your concentration, stare harder at the screen, focus more on each number you are given on every square you have successfully claimed. But this of course is your downfall. After two or three losses you find yourself unable to concentrate as hard, unable to recognise the simplest of traps that you would have laughed at in earlier games. And you will continue to lose. Minesweeper® will play with your fear of failure and taunt you until you fall in to its infinite pit of despair.
And when you win? Your reward is meagre. You don't even get the complimentary pair of fairly unflattering sunglasses, they go to the small yellow face – your solitary companion throughout the challenge. All you have is the knowledge that you either were or were not faster than the previous person to play this game, and if you were you can be sure that it's only a matter of time before someone comes along and robs you of your only prize. With this knowledge, and faced with such an anticlimactic ending to the game, there is only ever one thing you want to do. Play again.
And this is the secret to why Minesweeper® is the best game. Once you start playing, you will keep playing. Whether you win or lose you will keep playing. You will hate the game when you lose, and you will be disappointed by the game when you win. But this is all just Minesweeper® laughing at you.
Minesweeper® understands what drives you. Minesweeper® knows that when you blow up the last mine after meticulously finding the other 98 it is only a matter of time before you return to the game to prove your competence, and it knows that it has given you such an unsatisfactory ending when you complete it that you will simply play again in the hope that a better score will satisfy you more.
Minesweeper® is cruel. Minesweeper® is aware. And Minesweeper is a taunting little bitch that won't let you out of her clutches.
If I could just get it on the PS3…
Minesweeper®'s a bitch.
*Disclaimer: I do not claim to have played every game in the world - far from it - and accept that somewhere they may be a game considered superior to this one that I simply have not yet come across. In this case I ask that you, rather than sending abusive comments, remain calm and buy me this game so I may test it. Any money spent getting this game to me will not be returned.
†There is an alternative explanation for fans of the "army scenario" theory, previously mentioned. If the enemy troops are alerted by the sound of the explosion from a mine, then they know where your soldiers are and you have lost your element of surprise. Since you are obviously nearer their base (as if the mines were yours you would undoubtedly have a map with their locations – unless you're in the American army in which case you've probably lost it) they are likely to have access to more troops and artillery, as well having the high ground, so you are extremely likely to lose this battle. This, again, means you only have one chance at clearing the way and makes your job even more important.
Monday, 23 March 2009
Thursday, 19 March 2009
"Eww, you kissed an old woman!" Matt said in a high pitched, children's mocking voice.
It was later that afternoon and I was sitting in Starbucks, my hair still wet from the three showers it took me to feel clean again, getting abuse for my earlier act of heroism. Was I not allowed one celebratory coffee before the kissing jokes started?
"I didn't kiss her! I performed a first aid technique to prevent her from dying, just as you would have had to do if you'd bothered to work for once."
Matt was another lifeguard at the baths. We'd both joined up on the same day after deciding that the job involved lying around staring at girls in bikinis all day, and being paid for it. What we hadn't realised, though it should have been obvious, was that pretty girls usually don't spend all their time lying around an indoor swimming pool in revealing-yet-tasteful swimming costumes - they usually go out shopping or something with their friends and boyfriends who don't spend all their free time shouting at children for jumping in the water. Those who did turn up usually just treated it as a workout, and didn't stay very long. In the pool, swim a few lengths, out of the pool, change, home. No stopping, no relaxing, no flirting with the pathetically desperate lifeguards. Instead I spent several hours a day, every weekend, staring at the water as a steady stream of bored parents with their sugar-doped children, overweight mammoths trying to justify their breakfast curries and wrinkled seniors trying to defy the closeness of death came and went throughout the day. I'd been working there for six months and the most interesting thing that had happened (until this morning, that is) was when they drained the pool after a child had had an "accident" in there and I'd got to go home early. It may have been the most boring job in the world, but it paid well and I needed the money. I also didn't trust myself to work up the effort to find another job, even if I'd left this one. Matt, on the other hand, didn't seem to care as much as me. Today was the 5th week in a row that I'd covered his shift as he'd spent the weekend doing whatever it is that people who don't spend their free time with a whistle around their necks do. Having fun, probably. Being normal. I still have no idea how he managed to always have enough money to do whatever he wanted without every working. Hell, I was struggling to get by every week and half the time I was collecting his paycheck as well! I had even less idea why he kept his name down as an employee if he was just going to have me do all his work every week. "Legal purposes," he once told me, which I'm fairly sure makes no sense.
"Yeah, there's no way I would ever get off with some random old woman, even if she is drowning."
"What? So you would have just left her there to die by the side of the pool as you watch?"
Matt considered this. "Well, the pool's usually pretty busy at that time. Lots of fitness freaks trying to keep, you know, fit. One of them probably knew first aid, leave it up to them."
I stared at him. "But...you're the lifeguard! You can't just 'leave it up to them', it's your job! They're sitting back leaving it up to you because you're the one who's supposed to deal with this sort of thing!"
"Aha, not necessarily. As a lifeguard am I not simply guarding their lives by ensuring they do not endanger them through running or jumping while near the pool? Surely it is the job of the paramedics to bring her back from the brink of death. Otherwise I would be a life-keeper. Or a life-resumer. Or a death stopper! Yeah, now that's much cooler. Matt and Jake. Swimming pool death stoppers. Then I'd start going to work." He grabbed his coffee and triumphantly drank half of it in one swig. I hoped it burned him.
"Yes but...I...You can't..." I had nothing. Dammit. Matt could be so worryingly logical when it came to excuses for not working. There was nothing I could do to argue with him. I'm useless in these situations. Give me a drowning pensioner over a dicussion with Matt any day. I looked around for inspiration and saw Ashleigh walking towards us holding a coffee with what appeared to be a forest growing out of it.
"Ashleigh, will you please agree with me that, as a lifeguard, it's my responsibility to save people from drowning. I can't believe I need to find clarification for this. Also, what the hell is in your coffee?" I asked as she sat down next to Matt.
Ashleigh was Matt's girlfriend. They'd met at some party shortly after Matt and I had become lifeguards. She did sometimes come down to the swimming pool to hang out with us in her bikini but, by Matt's rules, I was not allowed to look at her during these times. He even fashioned a pair of blinkers for me once, to help me abide by his strict law after he caught me breaking it a few times. It was difficult though. How are you supposed to talk to someone without ever looking at them? Especially when that someone looks like Ashleigh. She was tall and thin, with long brown hair that swept over one side of her face, a beautiful smile that showed off her perfect teeth. And fantastic boobs. In retrospect, Matt may have been completely justified with his rule - though I hated him for it at the time.
"Oh, I told the coffee guy that I liked the flakes they put in the coffee sometimes, so he gave me like twenty of them. I think he likes me," she smiled as she said this - I believe I mentioned her smile? It was perfect.
"What?" cried Matt, "He's trying get with my girl?" Seriously, who talks like that? I made a mental note to talk to Matt about watching so many old American TV shows. "Where is he? If he tries anything funny again, I'll kick his ass!" Matt was 5'2 (which only furthered my confusion as to how he got an amazonian goddess like Ashleigh in the first place).
"Of course it's your responsibility," she said, ignoring Matt and slapping my hand away as I tried to steal one of her flakes. "If you're not going to save someone from drowning, then what are you doing taking a job as a lifeguard? The two kind of come together..."
"Thank you," I replied thankful for whatever God allowed me to meet this creature that was so smart and beautiful and wonderful. If I told her Matt's theory, maybe I could convince her that he was cruel and stupid and she'd come to me instead and we'd elope together and live happily forever.
"But you did get off with an old woman," she giggled.
I hated her.
Matt seemed to have forgotten his outburst of thirty seconds ago and was laughing along with her. It would be nice to have some friends who would congratulate me and treat me nicely when I save someone's life, I thought, instead of these sadistic bastards.
"I wasn't getting off with her! I was performing..." I started saying, my voice seeming much higher and louder than it usually did, when the ringing of my phone cut me off.
"Hello?" I answered, standing up as Matt and Ashleigh continued to laugh at me.
"Ah, Mr Johnson, hello. This is Officer Jameson, calling on behalf of Mrs Prinkleton."
"The woman you saved this morning..."
"Oh yeah, her. Right. Yes. Carry on." Idiot. Who else could the police have been calling you about?
"Well she's doing fine Mr Johnson, since you seem so concerned," smart arse. "In fact she heard about how you were the one who saved her and she has decided she would like to offer you a reward. As I'm sure you're aware, she's a very wealthy woman."
"I..I was not aware of that. A reward would be lovely." Not the most gracious of acceptances - how are you supposed to react to this sort of thing? Why have I never learned how to accept what could possibly be a large sum of money from an elderly lady whose life I saved that morning?
"Really? You've never heard of her? Prinkleton? No? Wealthy husband? Famous explorer? Died under mysterious circumstances? Nothing?"
"Er...Sorry. Doesn't ring a bell."
"Oh...Right." Great, now he thinks I'm a moron. I must be the least heroic hero in the world. "Well anyway, she's asked me to let you know when she's out of hospital, and you can go and collect your reward then.
"Right. Good. Thank you...sir. Goodbye"
I returned back to the table where it appeared Matt had been explaining his 'lifeguarding isn't about saving people' theory to Ashleigh.
"You are right about one thing - death stopper is cooler. Would probably make a decent band name too."
I sat down with them after quickly grabbing a couple of Ashleigh's flakes.
"That old woman wants to offer me a reward for saving her."
"Yeah, apparently she's really rich too" I confirmed as chocolate crumbs fell down my shirt and melted in to little, delicious stains. Who the hell came up with the idea of chocolate that falls apart when you eat it?
"Wow." Matt seemed suitably impressed. For about 3 seconds. "Hey, maybe she's just looking for a little more action, if you know what I mean. Maybe your reward's a little something for both of you" He winked and they both started laughing again.
"It wasn't a...I didn't...Oh shut up!"
Despite his sordid predictions, Matt accompanied me to Mrs Prinkleton's manor house out of curiosity for just what my reward could be. It had been three days since I'd saved her life and, despite some decent mentions in the newspaper, all anyone really wanted to comment on was that I'd been "kissing" some old woman. Turning up at her house a couple of days later probably wouldn't help those rumours that I was secretly a debaucher of the elderly, but I was a hero dammit and I deserved my prize.
The huge wooden door opened up to reveal to us old Mrs Prinkleton herself, looking even smaller and frailer than I remembered with her white hair looking like mould on an orange and a better moustache than I could have grown in a year. I shuddered at the memories that I knew would haunt me forever.
"Hello Mrs Prinkleton, I'm:-"
"Who are you?" she interrupted, which I thought for a minute was rather a ridiculous question when I was in the middle of introducing myself before I noticed she was squinting at Matt.
"I'm...uh...I'm Matt" he replied, looking pretty taken aback. He must have been as shocked at her rudeness as I was. Old people today. "I'm a friend of Jakes..."
"What happened to your face?" she asked, rather bluntly, as she examined the large red circle on Matt's cheek.
"Er...Long story, I'd rather not go in to it really" he mumbled as I tried my hardest not to laugh. It wasn't a long story, it was just a ridiculous one. The previous day Matt had tried to attack Starbucks guy as he was now convinced, for some reason, that he was trying to steal Ashleigh's heart from him (and probably her boobs). I've no idea how he came to this conclusion, but the outcome of the situation had Matt collapsing over the counter after trying to leap over it to throttle his startled nemesis, who countered the failed attack by cracking Matt across the face with a pot of hot milk. Needless to say, with his burnt and bruised cheek and my still very swollen nose we probably didn't look like the kind of people who would be turning up at a rich old lady's house with honourable intentions.
She squinted a little more at him, then finally seemed to decide he didn't look like much of a threat to her belongings and ushered us both inside. Her house was huge and full of all sorts of odd decorations and souvenirs from all over the world.
"They were my husbands" she explained as she saw me staring at a case full of arrows and spears. "I'm sure you've heard of him, he was a very famous explorer. He came across all these items on his travels across the world. Before he so mysteriously died of course."
I mentally kicked myself for forgetting to google his name earlier. Why did everyone assume I'd heard of this man? And why did they all refer to his death as 'mysterious'? Did many deaths come with this description? If I hadn't saved his wife, would her death be reported as mysterious? Would she be remembered for 'mysteriously struggling to breathe once her head was under the water'? I'd never witnessed any other nearly fatal experiences while I'd been working there, so I knew drowning in a public pool was not particularly common. Was this enough for it to be mysterious though? I realised I was thinking about this all too much and turned my attention back to the real world, where Matt was concentrating more on her husband's life than his death.
"An explorer? I didn't realise there were explorers any more. Haven't we found everything yet?" he asked.
She looked at him darkly. "Oh there are many more unusual things still to be discovered in this world," she replied. Now that was mysterious.
"Um, yes well...we really were just coming for the er...the reward you see, so..." I said, rather uncomfortably.
She looked at me once more before turning around and walking towards the back room without saying a word.
"Smooth." Matt said to me, walking after her.
We followed her in to the kitchen where a small object was lying on the counter, wrapped in brown paper.
"Here you are then. Accept this gift with my gratitude."
She didn't sound very appreciative, considering I'd kept her from her watery doom, or even happy about giving the object away. I however was getting steadily more curious as to what this package was. I'd assumed it was simply going to be a (hopefully large) cash gift and had been praying it wasn't whatever Matt had been thinking up in his disgusting little mind a few days before. But this object looked the wrong shape to be filled with money. What could it be? My mind was racing through the possibilities of the possible wonders I could be about to recieve from this collector of exotic objects. I picked it up off the counter top and ripped off the paper to reveal inside...
Wednesday, 18 March 2009
So as those of you who are from Ireland/aware of the Irish/alcoholics/own a calender will know, yesterday was St. Patrick's day - the number one holiday centred around drinking (closely followed by New Years Eve, Christmas and lonely Valentine's days). True to British form I took this as the perfect excuse to go out drinking on a Tuesday without thinking of the consequences I would be feeling the following morning. Unsurprisingly I am now experiencing those consequences and regretting that decision. Nevertheless, this is the story of an English man celebrating the patron saint of Ireland in Hong Kong.
To tell the truth, I almost didn't go out at all. I got back from work and spent the usual couple of hours lying on the sofa watching TV and eating sandwiches and crisps. Sometimes it's hard to get out of that mood, you really don't want to be bothered doing anything. But, such is my dedication to supporting the economically failing(probably) bar scene, I got up off that sofa, brushed the dorito crumbs off my St. Patrick's day green shirt (or the non-themed green shirt I was actually wearing and had happened to put on through sheer coincidence before learning what day it was) and set off on the lookout for adventure (read: booze). Also American Idol was on. By 11 o'clock I was in Wanchai - one of the major bar areas in Hong Kong.
I knew where I wanted to go first. Delaney's is an Irish pub that's known to just about every westerner who steps foot in Hong Kong. On the top (and for all I know, only) Irish holiday of the year it was sure to be full of many people who spoke my language. The only problem was that I couldn't find the damn place. I walked in 3 huge circles around the entirety of Wanchai before eventually giving up and simply going in to one of the other hundreds of bars there (this may be a little exaggerated). And there was Chinese Elvis. Chinese Elvis was a Chinese man dressed as Elvis (shocking, I know). He seemed to just be sitting in the bar playing his guitar and singing Elvis songs for no reason at all, ignoring the fact that there was already a jukebox playing in there and only the people sitting closest to him could hear him. Fortunately I was one of those people. Unfortunately he couldn't sing. The guy didn't seem to know half the words to any of the songs he was singing, and couldn't pronounce the other half. He had such a thick accent, and the songs were too fast for him to be able to work out how to say - imagine a Chinese man with a heavy accent trying to sing "Jailhouse Rock". Now imagine him trying to sing it while sounding exactly like Elvis Presley. It didn't work. "Jayrehow Wah" just does not sound as good. Still, it was a novelty and fairly amusing for a while. And his dedication to the character was pretty impressive, even if his singing wasn't.
I left that bar after a while to go wandering again, and FINALLY found Delaneys. It was crazy. There were more people spilling out on to the street than there were inside, and there were so many people inside you could barely move. I didn't spend very long in there actually - I don't like places where I have to fight through a crowd so I can wait half an hour to get a beer. Also I had the same conversation with three different groups of people about how great it is to be Irish, why Guiness is "men's beer" and why England suck at Rugby. It surprised me to find out just how many Irish people there actually are in Hong Kong.
After a couple of drinks it was time to move on to the next bar. This one was definitely quieter (I think there were about 4 other groups of people in there) but had a pretty decent jazz band playing. I stayed until the end of the set, but then got bored. Crowds can get annoying, but quiet bars are just dull when you're on your own. The next bar beckoned.
This was one of those bars you always seem to end up going to, even if you're determined to find somewhere new. I've been there a few times, but they have decent bands and just enough people so you don't feel awkward, but not so many that you go thirsty. I stayed in there for the rest of the night out, before feeling the need to leave and collapse on a doorstep somewhere nearby.
That's where the unwritten rule of Tuesday night bar crawls came in to play. Once you've emptied your insides on to some person's doorstep (actually some people's doorstep since everywhere is an apartment block here) it's usually time to go home. One quick cab ride home and I was sound asleep in bed, just a few short hours away from the wonderful feeling that accompanies morning.
And that is my surprisingly long story of a St. Patrick's day night out with myself. 4 bars, 4 and a half hours(ish), several drunken Irishmen, 3 bands, 1 Asian Elvis, many many drinks and 1 disgusting mess that someone else will have had to clean up this morning. All in all, a complete success I feel.
On an unrelated topic, I have just noticed that this blog thing works on American time. Why put the time I'm posting these if it's not going to put the right time? What a ridiculous thing.
*That's a Dragonball Z reference for all those who are just that cool.
Tuesday, 17 March 2009
A figure below the surface of the water. Arms reaching up, trying to bring the weight of the body with them, but they are too frail, too slow. There's nothing for them to grab on to and they just stroke the top of the pool without moving anything. People have stopped swimming, are looking over to the drowning woman. A few are screaming. Some are gathering up their children and trying to force them to look away even though they themselves can not stop staring. Two men are now lifting the woman out of the water, dragging her over the side of the pool. I race across towards them, ignoring all the signs that warn me against the dangers of running. I've read each of those signs a million times over the last 6 months and now I pray that their warnings are exaggerated. I slide the last few feet and drop down to lie next to her. Everyone moves away, gives me space to assess the situation. She's old. She's very old. Bollocks. I put her in the recovery position faster than I could have put myself in any position and begin shouting to her, trying to wake her up. Nothing. She's not breathing. I groan. She is very, very old. More Bollocks. There's no other choice. I begin CPR.
It's thirty seconds before she starts to breathe again. Thirty seconds of terrifying, panicky, heart-stopping, wrinkly, disturbingly hairy-lipped hell. Thirty seconds longer than I usually like to dedicate to having my face attached to that of a very old stranger's. But she coughs, and begins to breathe again. Yes! I've done it, I've brought a person back to life! She's coughing up more water than I had previously thought was in that pool, but she's alive!
Then she suddenly and unexpectedly sits up and headbutts me so hard in the face that I fall in to the pool myself and have to be helped out by the same two guys who had helped me save my octogenarian assailant's life less than a minute before.
"I'm fine. I'm fine," I assure them as I watch blood fall in to what had been a beautifully clear pool from what had been my beautifully shaped nose.
I look back at my elderly damsel of distress. She's collapsed again, but still breathing. I decide she's probably going to be alright until the paramedics arrive; at around the same time that I decide that there are too many people around to see me push her back in the water. I instead opt to go in to the changing rooms and vomit in to a toilet for several minutes.
When I returned to the poolside the woman had already been taken away in an ambulance and there were a group of policemen taking statements from those witnesses who hadn't felt the need to run away at the sound of sirens. One of them approached me as I entered the room.
"Ah, you must be the young man who saved her then. What's your name son?"
It took me a second to think of the answer, I must have still been in shock - all I could think about were whiskers. "Um...Jake, sir" I finally said.
"Well Congratulations Jake. You're a real hero".
He seemed to falter as he said the last part and looked me up and down. It was understandable. I've seen a lot of films and usually the hero isn't soaking wet and covered in his own blood, vomit and tears. But it was nice to hear all the same.
"Oh thank you sir, but I'm really not a hero." I tried to stand up tall and stick out my chest as I said this, to show I knew I really was a hero, but this action merely flung some of the wet cake mixture of bloody vomit over him. "I'm just another lifeguard."
I suppose I now have to start thinking of things to write about then. Maybe later...
Coming soon: Short stories. Nonsense poems. Episodes of my life in literary form. The usual.