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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.

Monday, July 5

A Fucking Good Week

Yep, I haven't written here for a little while, but that's because I've been having a very good week, and have been pretty damn busy for most of it. I suppose I'd better carry on where I left off, which I think was in the pub on Tuesday night.

Excuse me if I seem to go off on a tangent at any point, because no doubt I'll end up saying something about something that happened whilst I was working, only to remember that it in fact happened on a different night at the pub. They all seem to blend into one.

What I find quite amusing about the various regulars that come into the pub is how a group of postal workers come in every night around 9.30, have 4 or 5 pints, and then go to work for a night shift, sorting post for the West End. That's a fucking great way to work!

Although it could also go some way to explain the general shambolic nature of the Royal Mail at the moment. It probably isn't hugely efficient for workers to be turning up half-cut each night before they start sorting out all of the post...

Speaking of which, I'm still waiting for my goddamn exam results! I can't remember if I mentioned it here, but I found out (via t'Interweb) on Thursday that I'd passed this year, but had to wait for postal confirmation of my individual module scores and thus an overall grade for the year.

Supposedly, they were going to be posted on the Thursday, which would guarantee their arrival by the weekend. Supposedly. It now being Monday afternoon, and I still haven't got them. I'm starting to think that they might have been sent to my parent's house, rather than my place in London, so I really should ring my Dad to see if they're there...

Right, so I've just phoned home, and they haven't got my exam results there. I guess I'll have to just wait till tomorrow, because it's now too late to ring the Law School at Kings to find out exactly what the hell is going on.

I also just dropped my Dad in it with my Mum, because I told my Mum (for 'twas she who answered the phone, having just got back from her holiday) that I was ringing to thank Dad for getting me the iPod and posting it through. She didn't know that he'd got me it, so I might have just got him a mini-earbashing from her next time he rings home from Hong Kong. Oops. Thankfully I didn't let it slip that he has the same laptop as me out in Hong Kong. He'd probably demand my one back if I told Mum that!

Aren't truthful, open parents great?!

Anyway.

I was talking about the pub, and random things that happened during shifts. One thing that springs to mind (or rather, a pair of things that spring to mind) was on Thursday. The pub was pretty busy, full of young media-types as well as the regulars, when this group of 2 women and 1 guy came in.

The girl that came to the bar had, how you say, an incredible chest. I was struggling to maintain eye contact, I really was. This isn't an attempt at trying to sound funny: I was truly struggling to maintain any type of eye contact. They were just there crying out for attention.

And before I get any moaning feminist types, why else would you wear a very low-cut top other than to draw attention to your cleavage? Don't moan when it has the desired effect. Oh, and stop leaning forward when wearing that kind of top, it doesn't help us poor bartenders.

Her and the other 2 people she was with were in the pub for quite a while, and soon the regulars as well as the Post Office guys were starting to notice. You know the types of guys I mean: lecherous, "wahey, look at the tits on that", "you don't get many of them to the pound", types. The latter quote is a direct one from one of the regulars.

Anything else that I can think of from the pub, in what is becoming quite rapidly the "Cheers-blog" Rufus referred to? Did I mention the Austrian guys who were in on Tuesday night?

The pub was dead, really quiet, and towards the end of the night, these three guys came in, the first ordering a pint of Guinness. I served that one up, asked if they wanted anything else, and another of them jokingly said that they would share that one. I laughed and asked if they wanted straws, noticing that the guy had a distinctly non-English twang to his voice.

They ordered a couple more beers, and I left them to it on the far side of the bar from what has become my usual leaning point. I could still hear them, and I pretty quickly figured out that they were speaking German, and at a rapid rate. It's actually quite difficult to determine which of the Eastern European languages somebody is speaking, since they are all very guttural, and usually spoken at breakneck speed.

I couldn't resist the opportunity to practise my German, especially since I hadn't spoken any for about 6 weeks, so I composed a question in my head, intending to ask them if every German spoke as quickly as they did.

They were surprised, to say the least, to hear German coming out of my mouth. They then told me that they were in fact Austrian, not German, and that Austrians always spoke much, much faster than Germans. They asked me why I wanted to know, and I explained about going to Heidelberg in September.

According to them, Heidelberg is such a relaxed, chilled out, town that everybody there speaks very slowly, and that I would have no problems understanding anyone. They also said that my German was very good, which did my confidence no end of good. After that little exchange, I left them to their own devices, and they ended up being the very last people to leave the pub at chucking-out time. In fact, they were still finishing their bottles of Becks outside as I left and headed to Oxford St for a night bus.

I think it was Thursday that I managed to get a few hours free to watch Old School on DVD. I quite like that kind of brain-dead, laugh out loud, modern slapstick comedy, as found in films such as American Pie, Road Trip and all of the other wannabes. Whilst I truly love cinema as art, and can appreciate the craft of film-making, there are times when all I want is to be entertained. This is where this kind of film serves a purpose.

I was pleasantly surprised by how funny it was, to be honest. I was expecting a couple of set-pieces, which I got, but then some bits in-between without too much funny stuff happening. Thankfully, Will Ferrell and Vince Vaughn are two hilarious guys, and always come up with a line or facial expression that cracks me up.

I especially like Vince Vaughn, because he plays the angry-inside characters so well. He's deadpan, but delivers his lines in such a way that you can't help but laugh out loud. Ferrell is a perfect foil, since his comedy is all about being over the top with his expressions and voice. My favourite Will Ferrell scene is from the intro to the MTV Movie Awards 2003, when they spoofed Matrix: Reloaded. He captures the hilarity of the Architect perfectly, and sends him up to great effect.

I'm chuckling to myself just remembering how he constantly uses "vis-a-vis" and other such pompous words to the point of screaming them at Neo, Justin Timberlake and Seann William Scott. Incidentally, Scott is one of my favourite actors, and he pops up in Old School too, with, if memory serves, a classic mullet. Smooth.

I can't remember anything else of any note that happened during the daytimes of last week, which is probably as a result of my getting out of bed after midday each day. I'm such a lazy cunt. Although, in my defence, I don't go to bed until it is getting near daylight, so I'm getting the same amount of sleep as everybody else, just later in the day / night.

As I mentioned above, I worked Friday night at Y, and got to meet all of the regulars together for the first time. Unfortunately, there is already a Rob in that group, so I've been given the name of Robbo for when I'm there. I don't mind too much, it's better than the alternatives they were throwing around (Bob, Bert, Bertie, Robbie). They're a really good bunch of people, always laughing about this and that, as well as necking a good number of drinks.

I hope that I can find a good local pub when I get back from Germany. I still haven't got to the stage in any pub where I can go in and ask for "the usual". That is a goal in my life. Sad, I know, but it is still a valid goal!

The pub was really busy, as I expected for a Friday night, and I was rushing about for most of the evening. I thoroughly enjoyed myself though, and I began to remember just how much I love working behind a bar, especially one where you can actually chat to the punters. I don't think I could cope in a trendy wine bar, although Saturday may have proved me wrong on that point. More on that later.

Oh yeah, I've just remembered one thing which happened in the daytime of Friday: my iPod arrived! Bo! Aren't Apple products packaged brilliantly? I did like the little touch of a sticker that said "Don't Steal Music". Erm, yeah, like that's going to work.

I spent most of the afternoon setting it up, loading all of my mp3s onto it (2489 and counting) and installing iTunes onto my laptop. Unfortunately, my desktop computer doesn't have a Firewire port anywhere, so I'm having to use my laptop to connect to the iPod. It's not a big deal, because it'll be the laptop that I'll be taking over to Germany, but I download my music onto the desktop, so it's a bit of a pain in the ass transferring it all across every so often. Only another couple of months of that though...

I took it (the iPod) with me when I went to work, without, you'll be glad to hear, the white earphones. I still prefer my bigger, louder ones, and they look much better than the white "I'VE GOT AN IPOD" ones. I just about figured out how to use the buttons, and whereabouts they are on the case, so that I could use it without having to take it out of my pocket. The cable on my headphones is really long, and it's a real pain shoving it all back into the pocket every time I take the iPod / CD player out.

After the pub closed on Friday night, a couple of the locals were still there for a mini lock-in, which seemingly happens every Friday night. I joined them for a couple of (free) pints, and the drunken conversation flowed, mainly from the two quite pissed regulars. One of them is possibly due in court pretty soon on a charge of criminal damage after smashing a Fire Exit sign at Upton Park after Ipswich lost the playoff game there, and they mostly talked about that.

Judging by mY's exasperated expression, she'd heard it all a thousand times before, and it probably didn't help that the two guys were pretty damn pissed by this point... An entertaining way to chill out at the end of a shift, however.

Saturday afternoon seems to have passed me by, save for the ladies' final at Wimbledon. A great match, but I feel so wrong for finding Maria Sharapova so damn attractive. I keep telling myself that she's less than a year older than my little sister, but it doesn't seem to work.

I still see my little sister as she was when she was about 10 or 11, if not younger, but she's now 16. I guess it must be the rose-tinted older sibling glasses that I'm wearing. And yet I see Sharapova, who looks much, much older, but has less than 12 months between her and my sister. It feels so wrong! Dammit, why couldn't Sharapova be ugly? Then I wouldn't have this slight guilt hanging over me.

It was one of my housemates' 21st birthday this Thursday, and he'd planned a hell of a night out for Saturday. Unfortunately, me being me, I had to work. This time, I had to go to a different pub, X at Oxford Circus. I managed to find enough time to have a glass of wine with my housemates and some of their friends before I left for work, but I was still a little miffed that I was going to miss an almighty piss-up. Well, more than a little miffed, but my bank balance meant that I had to work as many hours as physically possible. Including Saturday nights. No fun for Rob.

Or so I thought. I actually had a really fantastic time at X, even though I was working damn well hard. The assistant manager (amX, to use the same naming method as before) was completely unaware that I was supposed to be there (I swear this company is the most unorganised I've ever worked for, save for fucking arsehole Bailey's, for more of which see last summer), but he soon sorted me out and put me to work behind the downstairs bar with him.

Perhaps I should explain the layout of X: the main part is very open, well lit, with loads of tables and lights everywhere. The bar runs along one of the long sides of the room, is also very spacious and has a no-smoking policy whilst at the bar. As the review on Beer In The Evening says, it's big, bland and featureless.

Downstairs is a different story. It's darker, more cramped, louder, and has a great atmosphere. The bar is very claustrophobic, and there's barely enough room for all of the glasses on the shelves. There's also very little room to pass pints from the pumps to the punters, as basically the entire length of the bar is taken up with pumps of various types. A little elbow room wouldn't have gone amiss.

I started off downstairs with amX, but it was very quiet, so we chatted for a little while about what the pub was like, and how busy it had been that week (or not, as it actually had been). I felt my way into the job, learning where everything was, and the little subtle differences between the tills at X and Y (too many!). It was still deathly quiet though, save for a little 5-minute spell around 8.30.

amX then sent me upstairs to work there for a little bit. All of the bar staff up there were female, and fit ones at that. Unfortunately, they were all foreign, mostly Eastern European, and it was a little difficult to understand them at certain times. Added to this was the fact that I was new, and thus not yet a part of the team, and I felt a little outcasted.

I enjoyed the work though, but it was still very quiet. We figured that everyone had overspent during Euro 2004, and was now suffering from the reduced bank balances. I managed to help someone find a hotel they were looking for, even though I still don't know Central London all that well, but that was probably the highlight of my brief stint at the upstairs bar.

amX then asked me to go back downstairs, and mentioned that it was getting busy down there, so I should enjoy it more. Too true it was busy! It was hard enough fighting my way through the crowds to get to the bar, never mind serving everyone.

The time I spent there absolutely flew by, and before we (me and the other barman) knew it, it was time to call last orders. Again, I was remembering why I loved working behind a bar. I love the interaction with the customers, the pressure of serving as quickly as possible but still maintaining standards, the feeling you get when you know you've worked really hard, just to let other people have a good time. I love all of that.

A couple of customers stand out from the evening: two very lovely girls who were drinking nothing but cranberry juice. They always smiled and made eye contact as I was serving them, and seemed like just very nice people.

There was also the obligatory drunk-by-10.30 girls, who'd been on tequila all evening, from what I remember. One of them even refused to drink a glass of water a friend had got for her until she'd been told that it was vodka. Those were the days. I've definitely been in worse states by 10.30 in the evening, although I've probably carried on drinking too. I'm hard: remember that. Ahem.

I was knackered by the end of it, but very satisfied with my evening's work. I cocked up a few times, but generally made a very good go of it. It took us over half an hour to clean up and collect all the glasses after everyone left, but we weren't exactly speeding through it.

We chatted away whilst we were doing that, me about my degree and going to Germany, him about the bar and living in London. He (I shall call him Neil, for ease of use) hadn't gone to university, but I could tell he was a switched on guy. To be honest, you can't be retarded and work behind a busy bar, no matter how stupid bartenders seem when you're on the other side, dying for a beer.

By the time I left the pub, it was midnight, and I really wasn't up for meeting up with my housemates, as I'd intended to earlier. Added to that, I was tired, and probably couldn't have coped with a huge night out after being on the other side of the bar for 5 busy hours. With that in mind, I hopped on a Tube and went home.

I didn't have any music with me, since I'd been expecting to go out drinking after work, so it was a thoroughly boring tube journey home. I hate not having music or something to read when I'm on the tube, especially since most journeys I make are at least 20 minutes long. I get bored very easily, and end up reading each advert inside the carriage about 50 times. Either that, or I end up gawping at some attractive girl, before realising I've been caught looking. Meh.

The house was empty when I got home, as everyone else was out drinking. It was also an absolute tip, but that was to be expected if drinking games had been happening before they went out. They evidently had, since there were playing cards and empty cans all over the living room.

Could there be a better opportunity to watch a film? Every time I try to watch a film in the living room, I get constant interruptions from one or more housemates, either coming in and out of the room, talking over it or trying to get me to do something else. Half past midnight in an empty house, with the probability of no-one being home before 3, was the absolute ideal time for Reservoir Dogs, one of the DVDs I've currently got from my rental website.

As it was, a couple of my housemates got back whilst it was on, but one went to bed and the other sat in to watch the second half with me.

I can't remember if I've seen Reservoir Dogs before, but I was once again mesmerised by Tarantino's film-making skills. He's got a knack of picking camera movements that you don't really expect to see, plus of course the excessive violence that you do expect.

I'm not going to write a huge piece on it now, since everything that could be said about Reservoir Dogs has been said, but I'll just point out something that me and my housemate talked about whilst watching the trailer for RD on the disc.

Can you imagine what it was like seeing that film for the first time in the early 90s, before Tarantino became a household name? The trailer doesn't really show the film to be anything other than a relatively standard gangster / heist piece, but it truly was something much better than that. Ultra-violent, ultra-cool, a new classic.

Anyway, I've written an exceptional amount, so I'll leave it before describing the relative non-events of Sunday and the fairly eventful Monday. Three and a half thousand words. Not bad. Well done for reading it...
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