When Humans Became Vanity Smurf

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Now haven’t we all become super busy photographers in recent years?

Not only that, we also all seem to have a real knack for it, taking state of the art pictures of everything and anything, from our food on our plate to the car we just polished outside on a sunny day, taking photos of the sun and blue sky in the process.
 
Since the invention of digital photography and good smartphones, most of us appear to have a desire to document our life without pause.  For some, doing this proves to their friends and family that they are living-it-right-now. Even if that means, popping down the shop to get a pint of milk. 
Without pictures there is simply no evidence it ever happened.
 
I know, as I do it too. I can’t imagine myself going somewhere interesting without taking loads of pictures. There are just so many beautiful things to capture, perhaps I never saw it so much before.
 
Most of the pictures I take though, are of my cat.  I must add though, that she does not appear to take a keen interest in my newfound hobby as she usually turns around, sulking, whenever I point my iPhone at her.
 
But of course, like almost everyone else, I upload them as soon as I have sharpened or blurred them (depending on age and skin quality), added a few effects to them and cut out anything displeasing to the eye. The process taking no more than a minute per photo.
 
At the moment, I am seeing a lot of pictures of food crawling up my newsfeed, some pretty dishes, others looking like a landslide. There are also the obligatory cats and dogs and of course, you can always find a glamorous self-portrait where lips are pouting, boobs and biceps are getting a prime position and eyes are of the come-hither type.
 
A lot of these pictures are amazing but there are many more that smack of self-adoring. And what is it with that unflattering flabby arm thing that crops up in a lot of these photos? Even the skinny ones appear to get sausage-arm-syndrome when the picture is taken at a wrong angle. But credit where credit is due, a lot of people appear to be so much better looking these days. Sometimes I am genuinely surprised.
 
The ‘selfie’ as it’s now commonly known, is something we have learned to accept. As it was not so long ago, that we would snigger at people for profiling themselves as the sons and daughters of the original self-lover Narcissius. Yet now, most of us have embraced the power of the self-portrait.
 
We know not to trust anyone in taking a picture of ourselves. After all, we know our face and body best, we know what works. And, you wouldn’t ask a friend to take 50 pictures of you until you’ve got a good one. It would just be, well weird.
 
Of course, you don’t mind doing this yourself. Then if it’s still not quite there, you open up one of the many photo apps stored on your phone with the eye on transforming an okay picture into a fabulous model shot. At times, that picture may no longer give an accurate reflection of the real you but that is okay, as it got you 45 likes.
 
Last year I took a selfie on my 40th birthday. Obviously, I’ve taken many more but this one was without a doubt one of these: ‘look at me’ shout outs.
 
I had just come back from the hairdresser and thought I had to show the world I still looked okay for my newly acquired middle-aged status. It’s the thing we all do at some point and there is no harm in it.
 
We know it is going to make us feel better and we realise that some of our friends may know why we do it, but still they will like what they see. And that’s what matters.
 
Sometimes though, the self-imagery goes way too far and particularly so with the younger generation.
 
Not so long ago, my husband and I were eating in a restaurant when a young couple sitting at the table next to us, were constantly playing with their phones. Then when he left the table for a few minutes, the girl picked up her phone and started taking, what must have been a hundred pictures of herself.
 
She puckered her lips, turned her face to the left, then the right, became doe-eyed for one second, then a vixen with lips slightly parted and her tongue touching the corner of her mouth (that made her look deranged, but hey). Then she fluffed up her hair, fixed her bra and looked into the camera, all sullen looks and exaggerated desire. When the guy came back, she continued for a while and then showed him the many, many pictures she had taken. He seemed interested and then showed her his phone. It looked like he had been doing the same in the bathroom. A match made in heaven.
 
Then there was the girl we saw in Beijing, waiting in line to buy a train ticket. To be fair, we had to wait a fair bit. The girl nevertheless thought of this as the perfect opportunity to organise her own model shoot and started snapping away on her phone. But first she carefully applied her make up on top of the considerable amount that was already in place on her face. In between the tons of pictures, she plastered another layer and at some point, she tried to take a picture of herself, applying lipstick. She failed.
 
I then saw her bringing up some sort of social site on her phone and started uploading the trillion of pictures she had taken. I wondered what the caption was going to be.
‘Waiting to buy a ticket, still glam as always! Yay’
 
It just seems odd.
 
You do see it everywhere though kids who should be having fun but spend time taking self-portraits instead. Preferably with background to prove they have been there.
 
‘Selfie-ism’, is only going to get even more pronounced over the years I think. We’ve lost our embarrassment about this already and readily admit that we are not shying away from a little photoshopping here and there.
I nevertheless wonder whether such amour-propre will turn some generations into Vanity Smurf; the one walking around with a mirror in his little blue hands, proclaiming all the time how beautiful he is.
 
I believe it will only get a lot worse and there may come a time where the hours of staring at our own reflection may start tormenting us. We’ve all got imperfections and they are usually not visible to the other person’s eyes. That said, looking at it for hours and hours on end, may turn the prettiest face into Quasimodo.
 
And let’s not forget, there is a risk attached to having all this technology in your pocket. As we know, the selfie appears to be disrobing more and more. Adults can strip off all they want for all I care. If they want to message each other pictures of their expanding torsos and nether regions exposed and decorated, it’s their responsibility after all. Let them have fun.
People needs laughs and bodies can be comedy.
 
Kids however, do not have the full perception of what is good and right yet and if someone asks them to expose themselves, they may just do it without considering the consequences. Who knows where these pictures will end.
 
But the thing is, we may also get totally fed up with the art of capturing one at its best. As if you think about it, a lot of the selfies are remarkably similar to one another. Different shape and face but the pose, is usually the same.
The angle and contorted arm, the give-away.
 
It would be interesting to see people going back to basics, where the best picture you have of yourself, is one with one eye closed and your hair blown into your mouth.  And like with anything else from the past that was buried and then ressurected, it may become another vintage trend to post pictures, taken by another, without the need for manipulation.
It’s probably not going to be glamorous but it’s not exactly like you and I are really glamorous, is it?
 
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The Pub In The Car Park

Whenever I walk to my local supermarket, I am always being confronted with a scene that could be a module out of the ‘When Human Fall From Grace’ handbook.

The image I see, is not a pleasant one. Yet it is somehow fascinating too as it is like looking at a galaxy, far far away but one thatis only five hundred yards away from my doorstep.
I am referring to the local drunks. A collective of people, men, women, varying from young to old, from the shabby to the average but never the chic, hanging out together on an outdoor car park – which interestingly enough is situated next to a pub. Though, they never enter these premises, preferring much more the outdoor life.
As it is, they also prefer to bring their own drinks, bought from the supermarket next door which they stuff into their bulky backpacks. The big bag and legless stance making them look like drunken astronauts. Their choice of poison is in almost all instances, cans of Special Brew. I know, because I can see them fishing out the cans from the lukewarm minibars they are carrying on their backs. And the street around is always littered with flat-pack style cans of that Horrible Brew.
Seasons have no effect on them and they can be found on this depressing car park, 365 days per year. Their outfits never change, they don’t shiver when it freezes, though they always sweat. The only difference you notice when walking past in a changing season, is the increasing redness on their faces when it gets cold and a more obvious smell they dispense, in summer.
Every day, from morning to night, you see them throwing beer down their throats whilst trying to stand upright against the wall and when they collapse, they will usually not bother to stand up again.
Nor will their drinking partners consider to pick up the human mess lying at their feet but instead they will focus their attention on stealing the comatose friend’s drinks. Other times, they fight each other in a rage, with fists and profanities flying but as quickly as the argument started, as soon it will end with a bear hug and the dulcet tones of the intoxicated: I-love-you-man’s.
Once I saw two guys fighting each other and it was a brutal spectacle. The bigger guy had blood pouring from his forehead, the smaller one’s knuckles were fast and red. I wanted to call the police, when a guy walking past me, on the way to his front door, said: ‘don’t worry about them, they are just drunks’. And sure enough, barely a minute later, they were slapping arms around each other, walking off to the sunnier side of the car park to toast to the good life.
This daily, tragic soap where the ‘stars’ are deplorable characters who at some point, fell of society’s radar, can’t make you but wonder what it is that happened to them. Why choose a life of drinking cheap booze on a car park and hang out with the rejects of civilization? How can a person lose all its self-worth to the point where one never bothers to walk into the supermarket’s public toilets’ next door to release themselves and prefer to do so on the street, even the women?
The reasons could be wild and various I assume. Some may have lost their jobs, their partners and consequently tumbled into a series of unfortunate events, causing them to drink more and more. Others may have been alcoholics for so long, they wouldn’t even remember how many years they’ve been battering their livers to a pulp. But then, what makes them decide to come together in a place which lacks any charm and is littered with empty cans and tanked carcasses? Is drinking in solitude for some, just too much to bear?
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I wonder whether they all met each other in the pub first and then decided that drinking on the street would be cheaper, so hey, let’s form a club!
Why did they by-pass going to someones house to drink there instead? It just seems so more comfortable and private then playing this tragedy out on the street.
It is a strange phenomenon and I see it everywhere. On random corners, in little alleys or for instance in the park outside of my parents’ apartment building. The obligatory backpack on the melting pot of people, sometimes they love each other, other times they are seconds away from manslaughter. Each time I visit my parents, I see them – there are always a few new ones and some of the old ‘members, I never see again. You’d hope they got some help but you know that most likely their non-existence ceased to exist.
You will rarely see one of the drunks outside of their set perimeters as if the outside world, our galaxy far far away, is just not safe enough for them. I also never see them arrive or leave, it feels at times as they steam up from the ground to coagulate into a lamentable mess, ready for another day at their office of choice.
Though, only last week, one guy from the regular clique, crawled through the fence of a beer garden we were sitting in and approached us. I stared at his bloated, sweaty face, a network of angry red thread veins and eyes darting around in bloodshot yellow pools.
‘Sorry to disturb you, may I kindly ask you if have you some money so I can buy a beer – please?’, he asked.
We were impressed with his honesty and maybe it was stupid but we handed him a few coins. He thanked us profusely, his body shaking with tremors and then walked off, back to his drunken, safe nest on the car park around the corner.
Of course and being totally patronising; people with drinking problems can be polite too but hearing this man talk in such eloquent style made me wonder if he was one of those who once had it all together – until something snapped and he got catapulted all the way to the dark side of the street. It is sad to think that it can happen to anyone. Who knows, he may have been laughing at some point in his life, at the drunks fighting each other in the street and would never have thought that one day, he’d be one of them.
I am like that. I think this could never happen to me. But it’s clear that you never know for sure what could happen next and whether one day, this will prompt you to be the one collapsing next to them after a many-course meal of Special Brew.
It’s a sad show and it is not about to get cancelled any time soon. Nobody is there to help them and they themselves are not screaming for any help either.
The scene is there to remind me to never over indulge or seek toxic remedies to get over an issue. I will stick to the few glasses of wine with a meal or that beer on a terrace. In a way, I am sure, this is what the drunks would really prefer to do as well.
For now, they prefer the outdoor life and camaraderie, which may perhaps not be so bad when you are the bottom of the pit.

Instant Punk, Instant Life

Yesterday, I noticed a picture of Madonna’s daughter, Lourdes in the paper. She had shaved the sides of her head and this was enough excitement for a newspaper to give the event a headline. Of course, I don’t care or worry about a 16 year old’ shaven head but it made me think about the year she was born.

You see, 1996 was an important year for me. It was then that I went online for the first time. I was 24 and even though we’re talking about something that happened nearly 17 years ago, I still remember to this day the moment I finally got on the net. I sat there, transfixed waiting for the page to load – which took about a good five minutes.

Then red letters spelling Yahoo! appeared in front of me and I was amazed that the internet knew this was my first time online and gave me such a warm welcome as a result. Like a little celebration.
I didn’t have a clue about search engines.

Then on that same day, I ended up having a chat with a woman living in Antwerp, which I thought was totally amazing. I was in Ghent, a whole 60 km away from her!

It is said that 1996 was the year that the internet got commercialised. And, it was also then that my husband, got his first mobile phone, which prompted people to think he was either a pimp or a pusher.

Modern life as we know it now, started that year for me. In fact, I always think about time as the internet and pre-internet era.

But the thing is: I was already 24 when the technological revolution kicked off. Right up to that hot day in August in 1996, I had believed we were already living in modern times. We were after all able to fax a doodle across the world, we danced to electronic music wearing futuristic fly-like sunglasses and most of us were the owner of the most sophisticated communication tool out there: the beeper.

Life up to the mid-nineties felt anything but old-fashioned.

Though, upon reflection, I wonder how we were able to survive these days without so much of a scratch. As, how the hell did we manage without mobile phone or internet? With no option to text someone to say that you’ll be one hour late, adding ‘just wait for me’. And how was it possible that we went on holiday without reading a single hotel review or an air crash statistic page, and with two rolls of film in our travel bag?

It’s also odd to think that back then, we would go weeks without giving any news to each other. Not that we were cold-hearted people, we just assumed there was no need to let people know up to three times a day what we were eating there and then.

Thinking about it, I can’t remember us sending each other letters which read: ‘just had a lemon Calippo. Wowsers!’

Today however, we appear to believe that such important update must be shared with anyone – with photoshopped pictures attached, to give the event even more significance.

Regarding Lourdes and all the other kids of her generation, she was born with the Internet already available for commercial use, mobile phones, and all the other gadgets and possibilities that came later on.

The kids today are part of the millennium generation, also known as Generation Y. They are the ones that can manoeuvre around your Smartphone, better than you can and long before they are able to tie their own shoelaces.

And there was a time that I envied them. Not so much because of their youth (though a crease free face without the option of extra luggage under my eyes would be something I’d sign up for again) but because of the fact that all this modern technology enables them to have everything at a finger tip – as soon as they are born really. Anything they wish for, is there to consume instantly.

I do however wonder what it does to a young person’s brain to have to deal with such an information overload on a daily basis. Surely, they must be able to cook the perfect eggs Benedict or build a bedroom Hadron Collider by the age of four, right?

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Well, maybe not. As, although these children will be exposed to a lot more information than most of us ever will, according to psychologist Betsy Sparrow of Columbia University, the way we use search engines, changes the way our brains store memories. This is called the Google Effect.

This basically means that having easy access to information via the internet, makes people less likely to remember certain details they believe they can access online.

One result of this phenomenon is that your brain will no longer feel the need to store the information like it used to do as it knows it will be able to find it in seconds if there is a need for it.

As Sparrow quoted: “We’re not thoughtless empty-headed people who don’t have memories anymore. But we are becoming particularly adept at remembering where to go find things’.

Another thought I had is: is it really so much fun if everything is available in a matter of nanoseconds?

If you think about it, many years ago, us humans were hunters. I therefore assume that this trait is still embroidered within our DNA. But the fact is that everything can be found by anyone; does it not take some of the fun away from the experience as a result?

I remember that in my teens, there was one little obscure shop in a rather unsavoury part of town which would sell punk and new wave gear.

If you were into this type of music, you’d know to go there. The thing was: if that shop didn’t have what you wanted, you went to Brussels and if Brussels could not offer you the desired, you went on to hunt through as many vintage shops as you could find. AND, if that did not bring any result, you had no other option than to make the outfit yourself.

Notwithstanding the fact that it could be exhausting too, it was still a lot of fun to search for it and when you found what you were looking for (to sound a little U2-esque), you were pretty chuffed with yourself. You had after all gone ‘all the way’ to find that rare object you had your heart set on.

These days, a kid wanting to go Punk-style, has the possibility to type into the search engine: ‘Punk Fashion Buy’ and the result will be pages of shops offering Punk clothes and accessories. Within a day or two, the whole outfit including the safety pins and reproduced stains, will be delivered to their home address and they’ll be able to roll out the prêt-à-porter-punk, they’ve become overnight.

And if they want the music to go with it, they’ll just look for it, click download, pay or not and it will be on their playlist within the next hour.
Even though I am a huge music fan and download a lot of music, I however think that kids these days, miss out on some of the fun we used to have by going to these small, independent record shops.

Those may have been dark and smoky places but there were always interesting characters lurking around the listening stations. You would end up talking to these music fanatics and it was never boring. The exploration was as much fun as the actual find.

Trying to hunt for things made us appreciate it more I believe. It definitely made us stand out more and although we were perhaps more labelled back then, it created a real underground culture, which I don’t see so much of now.

There are other concerns I have; to name the first: the demand to be constantly available. As since when is it mandatory to be 24/7 people, always having to be on standby – just like a doctor?

At least the generations who have lived the ancient life will every now and then remember to put the: ‘Sorry We’re Closed’, sign up. It just gets too much sometimes. I just hope that these children, having not known anything else than this constant updating and messaging, will do the same.

I am also worried about all this internet trolling as according to the news last week, one in three children has suffered online bullying. At least when we were kids, we could close the door behind us and that was that. Due to the technological wonders we now have, the bullies can bully the victims within their own bedroom walls. It can’t but affect them.

Another worry I have is all this poor communication we get to see these days. Everything must be fast and furious and as such, messages like these: CD9 CYE CYT B4N (parents are around, check your email, see you tomorrow, goodbye for now), may become bog standard.

Incredibly, in New Zealand, SMS lingo is now accepted language during the end of the years exams.
It makes you speculate where all this is leading to and I am wondering whether one day, the publishing houses will be re-releasing classics such as How To Kill A Mockingbird in text language.

But we have to be ready for the reality that the children who have known this technology all their lives, will be joining us in the workplace very soon. There is no doubt in my mind that they’ll be brilliant at their jobs but I do not think that there will be a lot of pleasantries exchanged – at least not face to face. I am sure however, that I will be able to read all their witty updates on my Twitter.

I will be honest, I still envy these children a tiny bit for having everything available to them by a click of the mouse but I also realise that these are potentially the kids who built many trees in Sims City rather than climbing the real ones and whose parents organised a play date with the neighbour’s children via Wifi and Skype, without the need for them to meet. (you never know, little Poppy may be catching Harry’s cold otherwise)

But it’s not all gloom and doom as these kids have after all experienced the high-tech life from the moment their parents built them a Facebook page with an ultra scan image as profile picture. Who knows which great inventions may follow suit.

And of course, there are still plenty of children who don’t have their own website, can spell and have active lives with friends they meet for real and not as an avatar.

They are just like we once were but in what they call ‘the primitive times’.

Same principles yet they have mobiles, we had coins and payphone cards.

To conclude: we live in times where everything is possible and almost anything can be obtained, which is great. But I think that the hunter in us, may be left, just a little bored sometimes. It’s also not certain how we are all going to evolve along this fast growing technology. We’ll have to wait and see.

But I can’t deny that I am very happy that I get to experience life where everything can be Googled, though I am also grateful that for the first 24 years of my life, I got to walk with dinosaurs.

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Rude London Or The Big Post Olympic Depression

Just this morning, when I was wondering whether I should write a piece about how my beloved London has become quite rude in recent times, my thinking process got halted abruptly when I heard a loud thumping on the tube window. It was so loud, the noise went right through the rubber of my earphones and it silenced the great Johnny Cash.

We were at Bank station and some guy, wanting to get on the packed tube, thought it was the right approach to get into the carriage, by knocking like a lunatic on the windows. His eyes nearly popped out of his red face. He then exposed his teeth and exploded in front of the glass:

‘You f*cking C**ts,’ he shouted. ‘For f*cks sake, move, you f*ckers!’

Literally, his exquisite choice of words. He was a man in pinstripes and looked like a thousand other professionals working around Bank. So, he wasn’t your typical ‘chav’, dressed in the latest market edition of Burberry.

This man’s rude manner summed up my thinking of late: London has become rude. It all seemed to have changed so rapidly as well.

Of course, I am not claiming that London was once made out of the same cloth as the Disney town Celebration (FL) which is the idealised version of small town America. And, it wasn’t exactly like people would release 100 peace doves to then burst into happy chanting upon greeting each other at the pub. London, being the robust place it is, has always had a bit of an edge to it and is definitely a city you don’t mess with. That said, since I have arrived here nearly 15 years ago, things have taken a turn for the worse.

London, was, not so long ago, a cool and pleasant city where people minded their own business and were respecting more or less to the unwritten rules you somehow discover when settling here. These are the transport rules; let people off before boarding, to name just one. The society rules: don’t stop at the entrance/exit of shops or any point of interests, do not jump any queues and move about in robot-fashion but have the charm on standby when it is required to switch it on. Also, you never stare.

Now, it appears that some of us living here, have transformed themselves into self-centered individuals who will stand wherever we want if it serves us better, we don’t mind pushing someone to the side to get that last vacant seat, we have become queue jumpers or will give you lip when you bump into them by accident. And more than ever people stare and even if I do that little twirl of the head and glance backwards as if to say: ‘surely you can’t be looking at ME?’ they keep staring. It feels like London has gotten eyes. And teeth.

There are so many instances of boorish behaviour I can recall since the euphoria of the Olympics last summer. I don’t know why I consider the post Olympics time to be the ground zero of this current brutish wave. But everything has a starting point and for me, it looks like it all kicked off after the best time in London ever.

Still, it shouldn’t be the case that, post euphoria. we have to act so rudely. It is a real shame that such great city has become that miserable.

What is it exactly, that causes London to have become so angry and act upon the cliché that this city is rude, as observed by the rest of the world long before London was actually rude for real?

I wonder if this is due to the recession; people being laid off, jobs are now much harder to get and the cost of city life appears to be increasing with every hour passing. Then again, there could be many other factors at hand, I think.

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Could one of the reasons be the current trend of Internet Trolling; the contemporary pass-time of being nasty to strangers whilst hiding, sad and lonely behind a screen? Is this form of bullying now flowing over in real life – no longer content these trolls are with destroying one’s person day by posting cruel comments on one’s Twitter, they now feel tempted to ruin people’s day in real life? And talking about online activities; maybe some of us believe we have become mini-celebrities because we’ve after all got 500 followers and 2300 friends on Facebook? Which makes us Madonna right?

Or is it because the drugs have changed in recent years? I can see things around me when I’m out, the vibe in some places has changed. As where Ecstasy would make everyone love each other and scream out things like: ‘I want to personally thank your mum and dad for making love in the seventies as otherwise I wouldn’t be talking to you, you totally amazing stranger ‘, the drugs now available on the market, such as horse-tranquilizers, plant food and paint stripper causes them to act like Urban Barbarians.

Maybe it is simply due to the fact that London is bursting at its seams; with so many more people having entered this city in recent years hoping to exploit the gold rush but what they usually find is bits of tin foil – flown away from a stray kebab wrapping. But who knows, it may just be a Post Olympics Depression we all suffer. A bit like we’ve spent the night with the best lover ever who promised us sunshine days and croissants in bed but then left first thing in the morning, never to be seen again. No wonder we all got a bit miserable.

Yet more reasons spring to mind as I also think that the incessant flow of cold callers/texters wanting to flock you insurance, a credit card or kitchen, are driving us even further up the wall of discontentment. Talking about that phone, I am also sure that all of us being so engrossed in our mobile of late, has made us more introvert than before and as such, we may not interact with people so well as we used to be able to.

Oh of course, I am just guessing here but what I know (and others I’ve consulted) is, that London has changed. It just seems less friendly than it was but having gone through all of the reasons I could think of, I am wondering whether this city has transformed into a grump because of a mixture of all things suggested?

But who knows, it might just be all due to the bad weather we had in the last year. And goodness me, does the weather effect people’s mood here or what!

It would be amazing though if we could go back to the wonderful days of the Olympics or even the times before, where we used to all dance around a camp fire on the grounds of the Tower of London and make each other necklaces out of daisies. Okay, this picture is far-fetched but I miss the ‘old’ days, where we all seem to just flow past without so much aggression, more smiles and definitely less staring, fuming eyes. I love London very much and at present, I love it like a mother would love a very naughty child. You will never give up the love but you will get exasperated at times. Disappointed even.

I am however sure that London is not the only place where the level of rudeness has increased in recent months, years. But the good thing about this city is still that it’s a bloody amazing place, with so much to do and once you get past the sour faces and the pushing and shoving, you’ll have an absolute great time.

The vicious man in the pinstripes’ suit, I saw this morning, I wonder whether at some moment today, he slapped his head and said: ‘god, I just acted like a proper idiot, earlier on’.

But I am afraid that he still thinks it is absolutely acceptable to call people the worst names under the sun, just because he wanted to board the train. Unfortunately, it seems others thought so too as nobody batted an eyelid. Though, that could just be a London thing. We don’t care, we used to not stare ( even if there is more staring going on, we won’t do so if someone acts like a total twit). As, deep inside, we are still these robust London robots – but with a Colgate smile and cute dimples when the situation applies itself to it.

Go on London, smile. We’re on camera!

I Think I Think Too Much, I Think?

Goodness me, don’t we think a lot in a day.

That realisation came again this morning. As, from the moment I woke up, I drowned myself in a flow of thinking. I did so much thinking it made me actually think about thinking.

That thinking mechanism, it kick-starts the moment you open your eyes. If you are a fireman or stuntman (or Prince Charles for that matter) you may think: so which wacky and crazy adventures will one experience today? Or you may wonder if you’re going to wear the clothes you’ve selected the evening before as you are convinced you’ve put on five pounds overnight, or why you dreamed you were on a cruise ship which managed to get all the way to Trafalgar Square to then sink into the tiles in front of an applauding crowd? (Mine two nights ago, still not sure what that was all about)

In my case, this morning, I kept thinking: shall I get up? It is after all 7 am in the morning on a bloody SUNDAY! AND one day I’ll go and bark through the letterbox of the owners of the dog which wakes us every weekend on the dot. So after plotting my revenge for a couple of minutes, I negotiated my way out of bed, wondering how I could spend my time until I had to go out to meet friends for brunch at 2 pm. Shall I clean the house, do the laundry, straighten my hair, paint my nails or do something far more useful such as ‘photoshopping’ new hairstyles on a picture of mine? All these thoughts racing through my mind for 1.5 hours and with my eyes firmly closed as I did not want to advertise to the cat I was wide awake. But she always knows, I can tell by the way she drapes herself around the top of my head whilst her nails knead the pillow around me. So I in the end, I got up, fed the cat, went into the shower, had breakfast and did some thinking on the subject of thinking.

First of all, I realised that I could have decided in five minutes whether to stay in bed or what to do once I got up.

But no, I needed to have a 90 minutes thinking session to deliberate these mundane moves.

According to the National Science Federation, humans have on average between 12.000 and 60.000 thoughts per day.

Such high number seems almost imaginable but I guess this amount of thinking will stretch further than: have we got more milk left for the porridge? There are probably thoughts we can’t even recall we had: how many squeezes of toothpaste? Do I cross now or wait until it is green? If I walk faster, I will be able to get past the snail on stilettos. Damn, these are pretty nice shoes actually. Where would she have bought them? But no, no c’mon, I’ll march like a duck on broken stilts if I’d dare to walk on those. But then again… NO!

And this will be another thinking session getting possibly lost forever in the annals of our 24/7 operating brain.

We think more than we talk, we learn things throughout the day that we need to process, we question situations that happen around us, we may be prone to negative thoughts which may wash on our brain’ shores with regular intervals and as such, we clock up the numbers. All this thinking continues into our sleeps when our thoughts get processed, redistributed or deleted. In fact, whilst we are asleep our brain spurts up its activity and start doing the work which is required for us to be able to perform the new task we learned on that day, it selects whether memories with the greatest emotional value should be enhanced, and simultaneously, those of lesser value may be buried under a pile of other discarded souvenirs.

With so much wonderful work being done inside our head, I can’t but have the following imagery of a Victorian-style factory all rotating wheels and chimneys. Overlooking the mechanics is an ancient little man with a dusty book on his lap. But sometimes, the old little man is not available as he usually takes lunch at the same time as us and you’re left with no other option than to ask the others: what shall I eat today? And you will make others think. Though, even if they wouldn’t have the faintest clue of what it is you fancy at that moment in time, they’ll come up with a wide range of suggestions (more than they’ll be able to find for themselves) – but you decline them all and settle for the initial thought you had.

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I’ve witnessed it many times. I should dislike it but having been on the questioning side too; it would be rude to do so. There is one pet hate I have however regarding thinking: it is people who claim to know what you are thinking.

They may just drop it into a conversation: ‘yeah, I know what you are thinking’ – which drives me a bit mad as I usually don’t even know what I am thinking myself so how do they know? Does my forehead reveal a dot matrix board spelling out my thoughts? The worst ones though are the people who don’t even let you know they are aware of your thoughts and whilst adjusting that knowingly smile on their face, they will say: ‘I agree, I was just thinking the same’.

This, in certain instances at least, does tend to freak me out as I may have been thinking of something rude about the person sitting with us. So if that thought was something like: ‘god, I hate the way she makes that slurping sound when she eats an orange. She resembles a flesh eating plant, it’s just gross!’ – what do I do? Will she expect for me to roll out the not quite delicate subject and throw it on the table?

What if they’ve misread your thought and you’ll end up making an ass of yourself by talking about something the other shouldn’t know about?

I don’t know, it’s just not comfortable.

Years and years ago, if I thought my husband was more quiet than usual I would ask him that one question he dreads even more than ‘does everything including my hair look fat in this?’ – I would ask him: ‘what are you thinking?’

He would always respond with: ‘nothing’.

And that would drive me mad as how can you not think of anything?

“’What do you mean, you’re not thinking of anything? Anything at all?’ I would ask him

‘Yeah’.

“But that is impossible’, I then contested. ‘Everybody thinks – all the time.”

“Are you thinking now?’ he would ask me.

“Yes, I am thinking why you are not thinking.”

“Just think that I’m not thinking’, his conclusive response would be.

To which, I would point out that this was just, well, weird.

He would then call me weirder and I’d tell him he was the weirdest of them all for just sitting there – not thinking!

I now know not to ask that question anymore because I have learned to accept that sometimes we don’t think at all. At least, we think we don’t think but of course we never stop. Then there are times when thinking hurts because of these buried memories crawling up like zombies from their graves or it just hurts because you’re facing a complex situation. Sometimes it hurts in an annoying way, causing your head to almost foam at the top, so hard you have to think. A perfect example: you were about to say something and it is just, poof, gone. You try to get it back but it just doesn’t want to come. And no matter how engaging the conversation you were having, all focus is now on trying to recoup what you’ve lost. You snap your fingers, you mumble some words, and you even claim it was something important but you just cannot remember it. You can almost feel your brain strain whilst trying to search every nook and corner. Sometimes you will retrieve the lost words and the feeling is pretty much similar to that special feeling we all get when we retrieve the mobile we thought we’d lost. Other times, our thought will evaporate forever. There will however be instances where it comes back, usually for me it is when I wake up. Especially if it concerns a songs that I could not remember the day before for it to spring to mind when I wake up in the morning. I may have given up thinking about it but my brain kept working whilst I was asleep, retrieved the file and played it to me upon waking up. Clever. I wish I was that clever

But and despite the incredible machinery of our brain, I believe we think too much. I know I can. UK scientists believe that too much thinking can result in poor memory and depression. I don’t have that problem but I can imagine how all this thinking and rehashing of thoughts may have a negative effect on some of us.

We keep thinking whether we’ve done the right thing, we worry about what the others will think of what we have said or done, we have so many options on offer that it is impossible to decide in 1-2-3 (Shall I go to this party or stick with the original plan to have dinner with my friend, I might upset her otherwise). Sometimes we think for ten years whether to have children or not, marry or not, leave a job or not, buy that overpriced house in zone 47 or to stay put in a rented property in zone 3 – to then do nothing at all. We spend so much time thinking, believing that we are plotting our future, building a way out, but we’ll easily get distracted by a newer, easier thought that barges in, overruling whatever it was you were about to decide on. We think, we re-think. We sometimes come back to the first thought or get a new idea altogether. I understand a little more now how we can get to such high number of thoughts per day.

And it is a fact, that many people think a lot about sex too. Though I refuse to believe that men think of sex every seven seconds. This would imply that sex is on their minds, 8000 times per day. There is no research to back this claim up anyway but let’s be realistic here: if a man would think that much about sex, he’ll probably end up in an asylum.

But even if there are no thousands of thoughts spent on sex, we sure think a hell of a lot. Just now, when my cat came to sit next to me, to stare at me – hard, I was thinking: what is my cat thinking? Is she thinking? Of course she is. Maybe she thinks: ‘you silly woman, you’ve just written about a little old man sitting in the factory in your head’.

I know, I was thinking for her and I got it wrong of course. She just wanted food.

That made me think, what shall I eat?

I really need to think about this. I am not that hungry but maybe I need to think about making some extra to take to work tomorrow. Come to think of it again, I’ll just settle for wine and crisps. Good thinking.

Bloody Valentine

There are questions that I do not like to answer, such as: why do you not have any kids? (none of your business, I don’t ask you why you opted for so many of them when the world is about to collapse under its own weight) or how much do you earn? (so that you can sit back and laugh to your heart’s content whilst going tut and aaah or if you are surviving on scraps, expect me to pay for everything – anyway, none of your business again). Though, there is one question that I don’t mind people asking me and that is: ‘what are you going to do for Valentine?’

My answer could be something totally fantastic like; a a romantic dinner that I organised on top of the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral where I will present him with an original Jimi Hendrix’ guitar or at the very minimum a box of chocolates as preferred by TV ambassadors but the reality is that I don’t have anything to give nor to offer. Not on Valentine Day’s anyway.

Which is what I then tell the inquisitor and there have been instances where a silent gasp could be seen expelled from their lips. But I don’t care and I certainly don’t mind them asking me – it is what it is.

The thing is, I dislike Valentine tremendously. At times, I find the whole thing frankly revolting even. The sea of violent red and shocking pink scattered with bears, balloons, hearts and cupids, surrounding us on the far too many days running up to this Commercial Claptrap, I do not like it for one bit. I basically detest the whole concept and as such, that makes me a Valentine Scrooge.

Not that you will see me stomping around London Town, waving a banner above my head, which spells out: I HATE THIS VALENTINE CRAP! Nor have I got a heart resembling a cracked heel lying dormant under my ribs, I only find it rather really annoying this one day celebration. But it’s not what some people like to hear and they may even tell you to lighten up.

If I think about it, it is not exactly like that whenever I have ‘me-time’, I shoot teddy bears clutching a velvet heart and then brew an evil concoction from their exploded, fluffy parts with the eye on global mass destruction – obviously. What it is, since I can remember; I have always had an aversion of all things forced upon me. To give you one random example: I used to be the girl that would be a member of two libraries so that five books could be borrowed from each place, every fortnight. Walking home, I would always start reading a book, it was just too hard to wait. Yet, when we were asked at school, to read a particular book, I would wait until the very last moment to do so. Actually, I wouldn’t even read it, I scanned the book instead for the most notable passages. Then once the book was all ‘essayed’ out at school, I’d read it properly – when I felt like it. I just hated being told what and when to read just like I hate being told how to feel – on a specific day.

That does not mean that I do not care about romance and of course I realise that Valentine is quite a light hearted way to tell someone you care, love or that really, you just want to have a big, fat splash-out meal with lots and lots of alcoholic beverages. And dessert but chocolate is always good too.

So yes, I care about romance and I love giving and receiving presents and I will always find an excuse to go for any type of meal. Still for me, it just doesn’t sit well that it has to be on that day.

That there are a lot of people who celebrate Valentine and still romance each other at random intervals during the year, is something I am completely aware of. Of course. But, it has to be agreed that for all the genuinely loved up couples who let themselves get carried away on the 14th of February, there are quite a few who bank on the red roses, the box of chocolates, the pre-printed card spelling out a love template, the gift, the restaurant of course and hopefully a slightly more exotic tinged grand five minutes finale before they turn their backs to each other again. For yet another year.

We all very well know that the businesses are the winners in all this, seducing us with all that is red, pink and fluffy and we can’t but partake in this not so refined and orchestrated love festival.

When these red and pink tones first hit the shops in early January, I wanted to understand where this bloody Valentine was coming from. So as every modern thinking woman does, I ‘googled’ the answer. I initially got pages full of the band My Bloody Valentine but then I found what I was looking for.

I was surprised to read that its modern day sweet sludge version had in fact some very dark and bloody origins.

Pointing out the start date on the Valentine timeline is hard to do but it may have all kick-started in ancient Rome somewhere early AD. It seems that the Romans celebrated the feast of Lupercalia between the 13th and 15th of February. It was a full on party where the men sacrificed a goat and a dog, then whipped the women with the skin of the animal they had just massacred. Then around 197 AD, a Christian named Valentinus was martyred under the reign of Emperor Aurelian. Being the Bishop of Interamna, he was beheaded because of his religious beliefs and as legend says, he died on the 14th of February.

Coincidentally enough, another Christian, also named Valentine of Rome (the name must have been like what Jack is to every other kid these days) was also martyred. This was under the reign of Emperor Claudius in AD 289. Valentine number two, possibly a priest or a bishop was arrested for handing out aid to prisoners. There are three versions of what happened with this Valentine; it is said that he converted the man who jailed him by healing the sight of his blind daughter – but an over 18 version hints towards Valentine having fallen in love with the jailers’ daughter. It is claimed that he would sent her notes saying ‘From your Valentine’. Then yet another version tells the tale of Valentine being arrested for carrying out weddings when Claudius had banned young men from marrying. The ban would apparently make better soldiers out of them. Like Valentine number one, the second Valentine also died on the 14th of February. So the story goes and St Valentine’s Day was created.

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Of course there is also the defining moment in the 16th century when Valentine made its entrance in popular culture when Shakespeare mentioned it in Hamlet. From the 18th century on, people would create handcrafted love notes they would pass to each other and by the 19th century, such notes became mass produced. It was however in 1913, when manufacturer Hallmark started producing Valentine cards, that Valentine’s Day would turn into the commercial beast we now know.

Valentine’s Day came as such to live due to a sequence of events but it is a fact that Hallmark has enabled a booming industry to grow out of the big endorsement show they started in the early part of the 20th century. Their Valentine card printing business, also coined he expression Hallmark Holiday which basically means: a holiday created with the purpose to sell cards and gifts.

By the fifties, the idea to throw in a gift was added by the savvy advertisement people and if you were celebrating Valentine in the eighties, you’d might have gotten a piece of jewellery as this is what the marketing world started to push when they realised people had more spending money than before.

And so we come to Valentine’s day we now celebrate, which may be simple and sweet or extravagant, luxurious or way over the top. Some people may do it out of love, others out of guilt and some just because it is the thing that is expected from them. Then there will also, always be someone playing the big parade on Facebook; all staged pictures with pouted lips – and every box of chocolate, bunch of flowers, gifts, it can all be viewed in their picture gallery. Some people have 30 plus pictures demonstrating all the paid extras whilst showing every smile or disappointment of the gift exchanging moment.

Naturally, everybody has the right to celebrate the way they want like others can choose not to celebrate at all. Not everyone is in love with Valentine after all, there are still plenty of cynical people out there too. Some may still celebrate ‘a bit of Valentine’ or not at all but like me, they’ll just wish for the 14th to speed by as quickly as possible because even if it means nothing at all, it always feels uncomfortable to be forced fed the unwanted. But then, a couple of days later, they’ll write a funny and sweet little rhyming story on the blackboard in the kitchen for their loved one and on the way home, they’ll pick up a box of cocktail chocolates (as it’s his favourites). And it was done for no particular reason at all. You did it, just like that. It may have been the 17th or 18th of February, a day with nothing to celebrate – for now.

When A Pope Gets His P45

Today we heard that the pope has handed in his notice and only a couple of weeks ago it was announced that Beatrix, Queen of The Netherlands will be throwing in the towel for her son to take over the firm. Having such high profile figures quit these ‘eternal’ positions, makes you realise that a job for life has become a thing of the past.

As a child, I remember seeing these people who looked cracked in the face, their smiles turned upside down and their eyes, opaque due to the shine rubbed off by hands tired of working. Their posture a little hunched, they always appeared to moan about such and such. The good thing nevertheless was or so they believed themselves; they had a job for life.

In the past, this is what you strive for: you came out of school or university, you went into a company, worked yourself up the ladder and stayed there until retirement when the company you worked for, offered you the famous gold plated watch as a ‘now off you go’ present.

For most, this was the desired path to follow: birth, school, work, death. In between, a house may have been bought, a couple of cars, a boat if they were lucky. There could have been kids, dogs or a cat. It could get that exciting as generally speaking, most people would not have steered away from the route they were expected to follow. This meant that they had to drive up and down the same road for 40-odd years, had to endure the same people day in day out, there were the same smells, stories and situations – but that was part and parcel of it and something they accepted upon signing on the dotted line. A job for life would perhaps not guarantee them great success, it would nevertheless secure them financial stability and the reassurance that things would never get so wild, as they would not be able to handle it.

The parents of generation X, like mine, were already suffering the backlash of these golden watch aspiring people as it was by then already much harder to get a job for life. With so many of the older generation glued to their chairs, some working, others making necklaces out of paperclips, it was as such, much harder to get a foot into the door. You had to wait for one to pop their clogs or for another to walk out of the company’s door whilst breathing on that golden watch for extra shine.

Naturally, there were always the ones who went retro on us in the eighties and who managed to bag themselves one of these compensated life sentences. These ‘lifers’ would undoubtedly work hard at times yet the myth grew stronger each day that these people were known for slacking their way through their slow-paced career: shuffling papers around whilst their breath would smell of sherry consumed over lunch as there was after all always tomorrow to get the things done which they were unable to finish last year.

We cursed them, believing them to be lazy yet so many of us wanted to be them; someone with a secure job, a good income and the option to have long lunches.

In this day and age however, aiming for a job for life, is frowned upon. Most people would change their jobs and work place often in order to further their careers. Then there is the latest crisis-factor which sees a lot of people being discarded like some tatty, old rubbish – so even if you wanted to stay on until the very end, the chances are that you would have probably been made redundant before you’ve accumulated a respectable amount of service years.

Change is good, we all know it. We no longer fear change, we encourage it. That said, I know some people who’d love nothing more than to stay where they are now. Even if at some point, they made a snarky remark about their mum and dad working for the same company until they retired. Life within the same organisation becomes so comfortable, work feels like a second home; their surrogate family being Rita from Accounts and Farouk the Customer Service Manager. But it’s a fact that with this recession, job offers are on the thin side and if you have something decent, you want to hold on to it.

In my case, it had been a while that I felt like leaving my job to start afresh. Back in Belgium, when growing up, I had this romantic idea that I would be a nomadic writer, putting things down on paper when I felt inspired. I was a bit naive about some things; I also thought that time travelling was a certified thing long after I had been briefed by a so called friend (who does that, really?) that Father Christmas didn’t exist.

But then you grow up, you increase the level of quality of your personal needs, get slapped with bills bigger than your fist and before you know it, you become static in your choices. And beside this, I also realised that it would be too challenging to start again, with the same salary, at my age. I also did not fancy this theatrical X-Factor audition process that most companies seem to favour these days. I have heard of people going to five interviews to get a job, one woman I know went through seven interviews to then not get the job. For every role, there appear to be hundreds of people queuing up to serenade the prospective employer. Most of them though, would not even get an invitation: as they haven’t got enough experience or worse, far too much experience, to fill the role. In some cases, they’re not fresh enough as they are considered to be molded goods by their potential new employers who are not keen on the ones who’ve shot roots within the same enterprise before trying to approach theirs.

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In my case, in a way, I got lucky as I have been made redundant. I will finish at the end of March. I say ‘lucky, as the decision was made for me. Of course, I worry about being without a job but at the same time, I am looking forward to it because and to keep it simple: a change will do me good. Though these have been good years, I stayed five times longer than I had intended to do. It is somehow reassuring to know that I will after all not become a ‘lifer’. But yes, I had a great time too, I met brilliant people and I got complacent. As such, I had let go of the idea that, out there, the city was dotted with many other companies for me to consider. But I realise now, there is an outside world, I am going to explore it. I might look a little bit like a feral ex- office worker; not sure how the wild city jungle functions these days but I am sure I will manage. I just need to remember how to swing from rope to rope.

And – I wasn’t going to receive that golden watch anyway; these days the best one gets, is a small compensation and a printed certificate to state the number of service years completed. I think my ‘Congratulations, ten years’ service’ certificate got lost when moving desks but that is okay as I can always ask our graphic designer to print another copy out for me when I leave the place.

But it is fact that everything seems to be disposable these days; from relationships to TV’s and washing machines to the friends we have. Everything has an expiration date and we no longer feel the need to nurture or take care of the things we have. It can be so easily replaced. And this flows over into working life: we don’t want to be the one person that is tagged a dinosaur. At least, it has been like this for a long time. Now, we sometimes have no other choice than to take up the label of prehistoric beast if it would secure us our finances because of these unpredictable times. From: ‘I will do two years at the most in one company’, we have become people who will mumble between gritted teeth: ‘It’s not the right time now, let’s ride out the storm’.

So what going on with Pope Benedict XVI ? He is after all, the first pope to resign in 600 years. I totally understand if the man feels too old and more so, too frail to perform to the best of his capabilities but was that not something that was to be expected when he took up the role at 78 years old? What will happen to him now? Is he going to continue work within the religious system? How does that work when he applies for a new role? Would he need to give references and talk about the challenging parts of his past job? Can one give God as a personal reference? Of course, Mr Ratzinger may just want to retire and grow tomatoes in a corner of his third floor balcony.

The news of a pope and a queen resigning must give little Charles some hope, I think. These were ‘lifers’ and they quit! Will he prompt his royal mama to put the crown down for him to scoop it up and run around Westminster, shouting: I am King, I am King, finally! I am King!’

Of course it is possible for the Queen of England to say: ‘stuff this crap, I’ve had enough of all this. Philip, pack the sun lotion and my Corgi-printed sarong, we’re off to Benidorm!’

My idea of potential post-royal plans may be far fetched but there is a chance now for the Queen to leave it all up to her son – who has been studying to become king since successfully passing potty training.

Coming to think of it again: today a pope resigned. It is not something we ever expected to see.

I fully realise that these people, regardless of their positions of grandeur, get older, tired, unwell and that ultimately, everyone has the right to retire. Also queens and popes. At the rate it is currently going, I however believe that all of us will probably end up working until the day we die. Weirdly and not wonderfully, it may just become a vice versa world, with us lot; slightly senile, hunched over our digital desks with arthritis whilst trying to organise a conference call with our boss in America (who always forgets he’s running five hours behind). But whilst we will slave away with rattling bones and dentures, a retired Queen and a Pope will be playing mini-golf in Spain on a well deserved retirement blow-out.

For now, what will happen in the Vatican? As, in one Gothic corner, we’ve got a pope seeking employment or considering to grow tomatoes, in the other corner; the headhunters for one of the most prestigious jobs known to mankind have started their ‘Vatican’s Next Pope’ search. Though, time wasters need not apply.