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Thursday, July 8

Yeah, So I've Been Busy

Hmm, so I haven't even been online for a good 3 days. It's taken me just over an hour today to catch up on all the blogs I read, as well as checking my emails and all that sort of shit. It's all good.

Why haven't I been online, and thus not posting? Firstly, I've been working a lot, as well as keeping myself busy during the daytimes. Secondly, the internet cable has been in the living room for a few days, attached to one of the laptops in there. Admittedly, there hasn't been a lot of constructive internet use in that time by my housemates (bestiality porn, downloading music, etc), but I wasn't overly fussed at not being able to get online. Well, save for the fact that I pay for the internet, and they don't offer to contribute anything... Gets a little irritating sometimes, especially when they don't use it for anything meaningful.

He says, often whiling away the hours on random websites, reading random stuff.

Anyway, I left it with the events of Saturday. Sunday was a day of nothing, to be honest. We went for a kickabout in the afternoon, and ended up playing this bunch of 12-year-olds for a few hours. It was so difficult to not fly into tackles full pelt, for fear of breaking them, and the scoreline was therefore less flattering to us than it could have been.

One thing I will say for those kids is that they took it a hell of a lot less seriously than the (adult) guys we played last Sunday. Jeez, did they ever act immature?! Religiously keeping score is pretty damn funny when it's just a Sunday afternoon kickabout in the park...

I was a little alarmed by the size of the kids though. There were 6 or 7 of them, and 2 would be classified as seriously obese (1 with hilariously floppy boy-breasts). Most of the others were of average size, maybe with a little puppy fat, but these 2 were huge. I wouldn't have been surprised if they weighed somewhere about the same as me, even though I was a good 18 inches taller than them. For those of you who are interested, which is a little disturbing if you are, I'm currently at a slimline 11 / 11.5 stone, the same weight I've been for about 3 years. Although I could be about to lose some weight, because I seem to be missing quite a few meals at the moment. Too much work!

Oh, and one really funny thing (well, it was at the time) from that game: whenever we got a corner, I used to just loft the ball into the penalty area, straight onto the head of one of my housemates who was standing a good 18+ inches taller than all of the kids, whereupon he would nonchalantly head the ball into the goal. So simple, so demeaning, but so satisfying...

I was going to go down to Y, my pub, to watch the final of Euro 2004, but we didn't get back to the house from the football until near the time of the kick-off, so I stayed home to watch it. Yes, well done Greece, they deserved to win it since they managed to produce a great team out of average (read "Premiership reserves") players. Admittedly, they needed a German coach, but we've got a Swede, for all the good he's done us.

The evening was also entirely uneventful (did we watch a film? I can't remember), and I ended up on the sofa with my laptop, playing Champ and watching the baseball. Everyone else had gone to bed by that time, but at around 3 in the morning I could hear a load of loud noise from outside.

Drunks going home, I thought. It carried on, and when I listened a little closer, I could pick out the word "Hellas" being shouted over and over again. "Hellas" is the Greek word for "Greece", although probably spelt differently, and I know this because one of my housemates is of Greek-Cypriot descent. He has taken great joy in shouting "Hellas" at various times in the past month, and we as a household have adopted Greece as our second team in the tournament.

I popped my head out of the window to have a gander at what was going on, and sure enough Phil was just down the road at the traffic lights with his cousin, waving a Greek flag at passing drivers, getting them to beep their horn. They were shouting in both Greek and English, and soon headed for our front door.

To say that they were in good spirits would be a bit of an understatement. To say they were sober would be an outright lie. They made so much noise that I was glad not to be in bed at the time. A Greek CD was put on, and they danced round the living room for a bit before shouting at random passers-by from the window. I left them to it and headed off to bed.

Monday was definitely more interesting. For a start, I did something pretty out of the ordinary, both out of an academic interest and for financial reasons. I'm telling you, psychological testing is the way forward to repair you finances if you're a student.

Every student at King's gets sent a few circular emails each week, requesting volunteers for studies by PHD students or departmental professors. Some are quite involved (one I initially agreed to do required you to eat a shedload of fruit and veg each day for 6 weeks, and to do a urine sample each week. Too much effort for my tastes), whereas others can be done in the space of an hour or so.

Remember how the last one I did involved a big questionnaire about depression, as well as a blood sample? Well, the one I did on Monday was fairly similar. I'd filled in an online questionnaire the week before, and woke up on Monday to find a message on my phone, following-up to my willingness to take part in stage 2 of the sutdy: Virtual Reality.

I had nothing else to do on Monday (a day off from work), so figured I might as well head into Central for this. I'd never done any VR before, so I was also really interested in experiencing it for the first time. It took me a little while to find the UCL campus (not as nice as King's!), and I headed up to the room for the study.

The first bit involved doing a little visual test on a computer. You were given 4 cards at the top of the screen (1 red triange, 2 green stars, 3 yellow crosses, 4 blue spots), and then had to match a given card to one of those 4. It sounds pretty simple, but it's a little bit more involved. Initially, you don't really know why you have (in)correctly matched a card, but you soon realise that it is based either on colour, number or shape.

The program tests your problem-solving and analytical skills, I guess by seeing how long it takes you to figure out the matching criteria, and also how quickly you realise when they change, as they often do in the course of the test.

I then had to do a computer program where there are 2 jars with 100 beads in each. 1 has 60 green and 40 purple, the other 40 green and 60 purple. The computer picked one jar at random, and proceeded to pick one bead at a time, show you the colour of it, and then put it back into the jar. You had a visual reminder of what beads had been picked, and the test was to see how many beads you need to see before you make a decision as to which jar it is.

I went for 10 beads in the end: 7 of them having purple, I plumped for the mostly purple jar. Again, I suppose this test is designed to examine how you solve problems.

For the third part, the interviewee gave me a sheet of paper with a list of words on it. I had to read each one out loud, pronouncing it as I thought it was supposed to be. The words started fairly simple: "qualm" is one that stands out, but got progressively more obscure and difficult.

They were all words which had particular pronunciations, such as "detente", and you either knew them or you didn't. I think I did OK until the last 10-15, where the words got quite patently ridiculous. I hadn't heard of any of them, and knew less how to pronounce them properly! Stupid tests.

I then got to move on to the VR bit. The lady fitted me with the glasses and gave me a little joystick device, before taking me into this booth with images projected onto 3 of the walls and the floor. Firstly, I had to navigate around a small room, to get used to the joystick and the visual effects. Easy, no worries.

Here I'll mention that the whole purpose of the study was about anxiety in everyday situations. The questionnaire I filled in was full of questions like "I feel as if someone wants to do me harm - Totally Agree; Agree; No Feelings; Disagree; Totally Disagree;", and before I went into the VR booth I had to put a cross on a scale of 1 to 10 denoting how anxious I was feeling.

After the initial warm-up, I was guided into a simulation of a Tube carriage, and asked to just observe what was going on for about 5 minutes. I was thoroughly impressed with the detail that had gone into the project, as it looked pretty damn realistic, if a little blocky. I was then asked to "leave" the Tube, and the lady came to take off my goggles, etc.

She then interviewed me as to how I found the experience, and whether I had any feelings of nervousness or anxiety whilst in the Tube carriage. I have to say, looking back at my answers, that I was probably the most unhelpful participant they had. I had almost nothing to say of any worth, other than that it was just like a normal Tube journey. I have a look around, see what's going on, and then switch off. Usually I have music on or something to read (or both), and I mentioned this to the interviewer.

The only thing that she seemed particularly eager to explore was when I mentioned that I had noticed one guy looking at me from time to time. She asked if this made me nervous at all, or if I felt he was intending me harm, but I shrugged it off as something that just happens on the Tube, or in any situation.

I'm such a nosey git that I always have a good look round wherever I am. I always catch myself watching people as I walk down the street, and they usually catch me watching them too. I do it on the Tube too, with a surprisingly good result a little later in the day, which I will get to in just a moment.

The time came for the end of the taped interview, with the promise that they'd phone me back later in the week for one further follow-up. I was given a crisp 20 note for my time, which is a great way to say thank-you. Money is always good: remember that.

I toyed with the idea of heading to my pub for a beer, but it was mid-afternoon and it was therefore going to be empty, so I didn't bother. That, and I couldn't really afford it, even with 20 burning a hole in my pocket. I jumped back on the Tube and headed home.

I have to say that since the VR experience, I have started taking more notice of things that are going on whilst on the Tube, even if I still get into a little world of my own with music and / or a book.

This is why I was able to spot Stephen Merchant in my carriage on my way home after the testing. I wasn't looking around too much, being busy listening to some random tunes, but I did have a little sweep of the carriage a couple of times. I spotted someone who looked familiar at the end of the row of seats (I was standing, as per bloody usual), but didn't think too much of it.

I had another look, a closer one, and realised that whomever it was looked really like Stephen Merchant, incredibly so. He was also tall, as is Merchant, and wore glasses too. I decided that it was him.

I wasn't bothered about going up to him, even though he did co-write one of my favourite comedy shows ever (The Office), since the Tube was relatively busy. I got off at my stop, back in my own little musical world, and headed up the stairs to go to the lifts.

We all had to wait for a few seconds for the lift, and I realised that Merchant had also got off, and was standing behind me. I hooked one headphone off an ear, and turned to him to shake his hand, whereupon I came up with the immortal, I'm-not-starstruck-honest, line "can I just shake your hand for writing The Office?". His equally memorable and Shakespearian reply was "Oh, thanks mate".

I don't know about you, but I felt a connection.

We both got into the same lift, but by then I had my headphones back on and had switched off again. I've got a very short attention span.

That was about it for Monday, save for watching The Evil Dead in the evening (overrated, but still pretty good). Quite an eventful day, more so than usual. Psychological testing, a brush with celebrity and a zombie film. That's a good day in anyone's book.


That card test, with the different colors and shapes, is often used to test Schizophrenia. People with SZ don't realize when the rules change and therefore do badly on the test when they must rearrange new and old rules in their head. They can't keep it straight in their heads. Bad cerebral organization in the frontal lobe.

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