Yoga Bragging Rights

Yoga Bragging Rights

You might think that the yoga mindset precludes bragging. Not for me. I won’t let any zen thought occlude my better judgement. I will abstain from arguing that you should do yoga if you like yourself (and especially if you don’t like yourself), instead I will provide a list of cool reasons to do yoga. All of them tested and approved by me (because I’m a self-proclaimed expert on pretty much anything. Also, did I mention recently that I’m a doctor? Just to be clear on this.).

My gear

The really good reasons to become a yogi are as follows:

  • You get to wear cute yoga pants. I don’t mean the shabby yoga pants that you’re already wearing all the time, with a hole in the crotch area where the Asian kiddo labourers didn’t sew the seams properly. I mean real fancy yoga pants that you only use for actually doing yoga. I suggest getting several lengths, including short shorts for summer. Be cheeky.
  • You get to terrify people. Simply strike a warrior one, two, three, and take it to a dancer from there. Alternately, if you’re feeling lazy, just collapse into a forward fold and start drawing yin and yang with your hands in the dust. People will start dialling 911 because they’ll think you broke. When they realise it’s perfectly normal, they’ll think you’re a kickass (or dumbass, depending on the people).
  • You get to impress people with pearls of zen wisdom. Accept that it is what it is (Buddhist tautology). Choose to let go of that which doesn’t serve you. Know that the universe is for you and so is everything else. Please know that you’re not required to actually believe this shit. You only need to be able to say it with a straight face. Optimally, after letting such a pearl drop, join your hands in a prayer and bow your head slightly. Namaste (or, as I prefer to say, the darkness in me recognises and honours the darkness in you).
Finding Everyday Inspiration: Czech Turkish Coffee Recipe

Finding Everyday Inspiration: Czech Turkish Coffee Recipe

Part of WordPress’s writing course Finding Everyday Inspiration.

I’m still finding everyday inspiration. Or rather, looking for it and not finding it. Here’s where my readers’ suggestions come in (cheers to you, guys!). I asked what to write about and I’m still shocked that anyone bothered to advise. Actually, it looks like everyone bothered to advise! I have shit to blog about for the rest of the year. I mean, I  have suggestions to blog about, which I’ll turn into shitty posts (like this one, you’re welcome).

Trent from Trent’s World came up with a challenge for me to “do something that is completely different”. I love the idea (wait, I don’t love anything). Anyway, what I’ll pull off is something I’ve never done before and shall never repeat again. I will blog a recipe. Yes, you heard right. I don’t blog recipes because a) I have none, b) my concept of cooking is so barbarous that my recipes would probably get me banned from WordPress.

The recipe result (serving suggestions)

I give you a recipe for a Czech Turkish coffee. I don’t mean Czech-Turkish with a hyphen. It has nothing to do with Turkey. Therefore we call it Turkish (because logic). I have no clue how the misnomer happened. And I make the most terrible coffee (ever, forever). You absolutely shouldn’t try it at home, even if you manage to get hold of the rare ingredients required for this abomination.

Ingredients

  • the cheapest generic brand of coffee you can buy (or steal)
  • tap water, preferably hard (so it gives your kettle limescale)
  • optional sugar, absolutely no milk (this isn’t baby formula)
  • booze (preferably slivovitz, but rum will also do, as will anything really)

Steps

  • Fill the kettle with water and switch it on (use only as much water as you need to save electricity).
  • Grab a large mug (half a liter is about right). Throw in two or three spoonfuls of ground coffee.
  • Pour boiling water in the mug.
  • Add slivovitz to taste.

Notes

  • It’s perfectly normal for the coffee grounds to float on the surface.
  • The coffee tends to be strong, so have your heart medication ready.
  • The grounds are not consumed but left at the bottom of the mug.

Pro Tips

  • Some people stir the coffee to make the grounds settle, I just blow on it—less dishes!
  • If you can’t wait for your coffee to cool, just throw in an ice cube or two.

If you’re wondering, all of the above is true and that’s how I take my coffee. It’s a thing.

My Corkscrew Got Screwed Up; or, The Worst Christmas Ever

My Corkscrew Got Screwed Up; or, The Worst Christmas Ever

A day before Christmas, something terrible had happened. My corkscrew got screwed – in a bad way – it broke into two pieces as I was diligently applying it to a bottle. I was left in an even worse way, with the prospect of holiday without wine. Fortunately, there was still slivovitz.

A few days later, as I ran out of slivovitz (the horror, the horror!), it occurred to me that I could claim warranty for my newish but already deadish corkscrew. (Also, I switched to rum.) I emailed to my supplier of screws, attaching a graphic image of the subject’s dead body as it was left on the crime scene. I suggested that due to the nature of the damage, I deemed it unnecessary to send the product back.

The crime scene
The crime scene

The seller responded with what looked like an automated reply, requesting that I return the faulty product, fill in the attached form and add a detailed description of what the problem is. (At the point the problem was that I ran out of rum.) The next day, I faced the depressive absence of alcohol in the house, but for an unopened bottle of wine. With determination, I set out to describe my problem in the form provided.

Lacking the booze muse, I hesitated what to write in the MALFUNCTION SPECIFICATION field. It seemed obvious: It’s broken. But I don’t like stating the obvious, plus I don’t want the seller to think that I approach my claim with less than dead seriousness. After all, the corkscrew is dead, Jim.

I was thinking of approaching a technical specialist to help me write my complaint: The product manifests a severe failure of structural integrity when due force (F; also, may the force be with me) of x Newton (N) was applied and caused axis y to detach itself from axis x, the latter of which collapsed, resulting in the absolute annihilation of the product. 

At least that’s what I imagine are scientific terms for the colloquial observation that the corkscrew broke into the handle and the screw (plus the cork, still impaled on it). The screw would make a great prison shank. Regrettably, I’m currently not looking to go in jail. The complaint form remains as yet uncompleted, and I welcome informed advice on how to go about it.

Shank
Shank

That’s not the end of the story though. Today I was feeling inadvisably crafty and set my mind on creating a home-made corkscrew. What I used: the spiral from the broken screw, a double wrench (size 16 and 17) and some string. How I did that: I tied the corkscrew spiral to the wrench with the string. Did it work: no. So now what: I just pushed the cork into the bottle. Who cares about bits of cork in the wine.

Weird Czech Seasonal Traditions; or, Carp in the Bathtub

Weird Czech Seasonal Traditions; or, Carp in the Bathtub

Unless you’re Czech, you’ll be surprised to find that we Czechs have one of the weirdest sets of Christmas traditions ever. They range from tampering with dangerous chemicals (lead pouring), through animal cruelty (carp in the bathtub), to becoming a Christian for one day (atheists attending the midnight mass).

Preparations for Day C aka Christmas Day start with attending a local fair. Here, one gets drunk on mulled wine and mead in plastic cups, eats lángos and crepes with frozen fingers (the fingers are not eaten, but eaten with) and, above all, gets oneself a carp. Now, carp is not slang for a hangover, but the kind of fish that is served with potato salad as the traditional Christmas Eve dish. The catch is that the carp should be obtained live and kept as a pet for a few days, usually in the bathtub (jokes aside, we seriously do this). On the Christmas Morn, the man slays the carp with a mallet for the woman to cook. Alternately, the children take the carp to release it in a river or pond, where it probably dies of thermal shock, while the family dines on fish fingers.

Below is a clip from a classic Czech film, Cosy Dens (Pelíšky, 1999), showing a drunken bet of two brothers competing who can hold his breath longer – and using a bathtub with a carp swimming around in it.

The Christmas Day itself is associated with a number of curious and often apparently pointless rituals. One should starve until the dinner in order to see a golden pig (again, serious). The tradition does not mention what the point of hallucinating a golden pig is. Provided that you observe another Christmas tradition, lead pouring, you could however incur lead poisoning and easily see all kinds of animals as a result. As I never practised lead pouring, I can only speculate that one procures lead on the dark net in order to melt it, pour it in cold water and then guess what shape it is when the lead solidifies. It is not known what this potentially Freudian ritual is intended for, besides revealing one’s dark desires and blaming it on the lead.

Numerous traditions are connected to young girls, whose chief wish for Christmas was supposed to be to secure a husband. An unmarried girl could throw shoes on the Christmas Day, which is different from throwing tantrums in that if the thrown shoe pointed to the door, the girl could hope to be married within a year. It is advisable to remove pets and family members from the door area before attempting the throw and, as a safety precaution, to throw slippers rather than stilettoes. Village girls could also go out in the fields, holler magic formulas and wait from which direction the first dog responds. The girl would be married in that direction (not to that dog, presumably).

A short clip from Cosy Dens again, showing the most popular seasonal tradition: booze.

Many rituals are designed to find out whether a person will live or die anytime soon. An apple would be sliced into halves for each family member, and when the apple seeds formed a star, the person would live, but when a cross showed, the person was as good as dead. This can be rather easily cheated by using good-looking, healthy apples for the slicing. Also, what a waste of a good apple, because who would eat apples where there’s fried fish and baked sweets.

The same slicing could be done to walnuts as well, and the shells would then be equipped with a lit candle for a sail and floated in the basin. For those who are not crafty, like me, floating candles do the same service. When the nut ship stays at the edge, its owner will stay at home; when the ship sails to the middle, the person will become an immigrant. Sadly, the tradition doesn’t specify what happens to the person whose ships sinks in the harbour, as is usually my case.

For the Christmas dinner, a scale or two from the carp are put under the plate to ensure that money will stick to the eater as scales stick to the carp and that there will be as much of it. The dinner itself is a quick business since after the dinner, there come the presents. The father rings a bell, which means that the present planting is done with, and everyone lays siege to the Christmas tree. Presents are distributed by Baby Jesus Schrödinger-style. The baby, just delivered, simultaneously lies in its crib in the nativity scene and tours Eastern Europe, of all places, to forward its own unwanted gifts (now I’m fabricating a little, but Baby Jesus does deliver presents here).

Below is a YouTube for the classic Czech version of Cinderella (Popelka, 1973) with English subtitles.

Once the presents are unwrapped, the telly goes on with the obligatory Cinderella shown on multiple channels. After that, the nice things are over and it’s time for serious business. All mobile family members gather to take a stroll at the cemetery, lighting candles for their deceased. Cemeteries on Christmas Eve are real fire hazard. Finally, the Czechs, statistically proven to be the least religious nation in Europe, attend the Catholic midnight mass. The phenomenon of church attendance at Christmas remains a mystery of faith. However, faithful to the stats ranking the Czech Republic as the topmost country in the world in the consumption of beer per capita, after all the freezing at the cemetery and the church, we go home, grab a bottle and go to bed.

Fun with Depression; or, It’s Not like I’m Depressed

Fun with Depression; or, It’s Not like I’m Depressed

I’ve been treated for clinical depression forever, but I try not to be too depressed about it. After all, (s)he’s my best friend who will stay with me until death or dedicated mediation do us part. Either despite to or owing to my condition, I hate psychiatrists. I believe our feelings are mutual, hence my typical appointment with a mental health specialist is a threat to mental health of everyone present.

I first went to a therapist on my own discordant accord when I was young, hopeful and thought that health care was my oyster. [Insert sardonic smirk.] The therapist tested me: it took two hours and involved, among other forms of torture, drawing with a blunt pencil. At the end of the session, I longed to use the pencil as a cruel and unusual weapon against the therapist who was meanwhile reading the paper.

The therapist hated my test results as much as I already started to hate my therapist. One of the tests was to draw a tree – I did, and hid a half-bitten apple in the branches. I wasn’t sure what the outcome of this test was, besides revealing that I draw like a five-year old, so I asked the specialist what she thinks about the apple. She thought immaturity. Almost there – though, admittedly, I thought more creativity and curiosity ala Steve Jobs.


My first therapist sent me straight away to my first psychiatrist, who was, aside from holding art classes, qualified to prescribe medication. I collected my brave new pills and for a few weeks, the onset of the meds made me glow like I was radioactive or pregnant. I burnt out soon. I was moderately okay with the treatment, as it enabled me live without getting killed in the process, accidentally or otherwise. But it bored me to repeat my boring story to a new bored psychiatrist on each visit and hardly ever seeing the same one twice in a row.

Having had the peculiar pleasure of being treated over the years by every staff member of the clinic, I thought I would start to think big. The new psychiatrist that I picked was big for sure. He was a devil: twice my height, three times my weight, wearing his grey-streaked hair long and dishevelled. I didn’t even need to examine him for horns, he clearly had a pair hidden in his bed hairstyle. The lack of a computer, patient files and other such paraphernalia in his office ultimately confirmed my suspicion that he wasn’t so much into treating people.


My third psychiatrist didn’t scare the serotonin out of me, so we had a good start. Then he asked me to produce a structured CV of my depression to take a step back from my experience. I compiled the document as required, written in the passive, complete with emphases and footnotes. The doctor was displeased. He asked me to rewrite the thing in a personal style. I was puzzled. I submitted my rewrite and the next thing I heard was that my new psychiatrist relocated to a combat zone. Possibly to treat people with real problems.

Number four I didn’t choose but was allocated to me at the same clinic. When we first met, I thought that I was dead and she was an angel. She sure looked like she was about to become one, for she apparently suffered from eating disorder or other disorder that made her weightless. When we shook hands after a session, her hands were colder than mine – which couldn’t be real because I’m the coolest person ever (see what I did here!). She shook hands like we just closed a big deal, not like she just prescribed me my usual.

It was good to see that she was literate, and I didn’t want to push it, since she might have had more issues than me. She let me go out of her icy grip only when she was hospitalised in a long term. Psychiatrist number five nearly gave me a stroke. The fair old lady started to inquire indiscreetly into my matters and gave the impression that she meant business. I was horrified: this is Eastern Europe, for serotonin’s sake, no one here does their job in their job unless horribly misguided or a foreigner.


I eventually ended up with new antidepressants, which depressed me. More precisely, it actually expanded me, alas not mentally, but very physically. The medication caused my regular feet to become tyrannosaur’s feet – huge and tyrannising. I phoned the good old fairy lady to tell her that I told her so and that her experiment on a human subject turned dinosaur subject didn’t work out. She asked me over, unafraid. I was afraid, I contended, that I couldn’t walk and certainly not in shoes, as my shoe rack had turned into Cinderella’s rack.

We negotiated. I walked out (walked figuratively) with the new meds swapped for even newer meds. I’m not sure that this is what I wanted, and I might need a therapist. Wait – the lady in question is my therapist. To double-check that dinosaur feet are a perfectly sound condition with no health risk, I called my general practitioner. He wasn’t disconcerted in the least but graciously allowed me to come over, shall I so be inclined.

I don’t understand that people with medical education don’t understand that when one’s feet are swollen, one can only go places by crawling while shoeless. Since I’ve spoken with two doctors in ten minutes, my dinosaurs and I rest in peace, knowing that if I die, my cat will sue the hospital, succeed and live on premium meat pouches for the remainder of her nine lives. Depression is so fun – except depression.

Lost in London; or, I Hate You, Google Maps

Lost in London; or, I Hate You, Google Maps

I begin each of my occasional travel posts with the observation that I hate travelling. Because I do. One of the valid reasons for this hatred is my utter lack of a sense of direction. I lose my way in my very home city whenever I inadvisably venture in a side street, hoping for a shortcut. It’s no wonder then that wherever I go, I get tragically lost.

The morning I set off for my trip to London, I took a taxi in case I strayed off on my way to the railway station. Also, I didn’t want to give my suitcase a headache by dragging it in tow on the cobblestones. I found the right platform by trial and error and with the help of the knowledge that my RegioJet train will be yellow, unlike the discoloured Czech Railways cars.

Later, two hours into my trip, I was well pleased with myself as I hadn’t got lost yet. Perhaps it’s because it wasn’t the mushroom kind of trip when you chase a hallucination off a moving train. I was hallucinating though when I joined a nun in the business class compartment, who helped me to hoist my luggage on the rack and then sat down to WhatsApp some messages and Instagram her complimentary mint tea.

I miraculously didn’t get lost up to boarding the plane, likely due to the fact that it wasn’t my first trip on this route. I congratulated myself on the minor miracle that I performed. My confidence however waned the second I set my foot on the British soil. I got lost on the airport apron and couldn’t find the terminal. I’m not very observant, and how would I know a terminal from a hangar?

I wasn’t shot on the spot, which I probably would have been in America, but was politely escorted to the appropriate exit (Can I help you, Madam?). After an hour of crawling at snail pace on moving walkways, I got ejected in the arrival terminal. I had been put to shame by a person twice my age who speed-walked on the travellator and pulled his suitcase behind him with great agility, but that didn’t bother me enough to walk on it too.

The terminal turned out to be complex, to say the least, or a maze, to tell the truth. It may have been excellently signposted, but I don’t do 3D and can only read basic 2D plans, excluding actual maps due to their confusing complexity. The GATWICK EXPRESS signs pointed in random directions and proved to be impossible to follow. I suspected it was an instance of British dry sense of humour. When I lost track of the signs, I found the train station.

I took great pride at my successful purchase of a train ticket in a machine. There was an awkward moment when I got entangled in the tape that mapped out imaginary corridors to queue in. Eventually, I was forced to crawl under the tape where it said NO EXIT. I swear it was the only exit. The machine had printed out three tickets, which seemed somewhat profligate for a single journey. The explanation occurred when I was trying to insert a receipt rather than a ticket in the barrier gate (That’s not the ticket, Madam!).

The attendant who yelled at me at the gate thought it prudent to usher me on the train. An hour later, I simultaneously got off and got lost at Victoria Station. I switched on my dearly paid data roaming and opened Google Maps. I never read a manual to Google Maps because I always optimistically believed that the navigation would be intuitive. Not only is this a misled idea, but I also always forget all about it. A downpour set on, and my phone was crying real rain tears while it was trying to figure out my current location.

Some time later, my phone suggested that I turn on Wi-Fi in order to be informed about my precise location. This made me cry real rain tears too, as I assumed that if I were at a Wi-Fi spot, I would probably know where I was. An hour later it became clear that Google Maps had no clue where either I or my destination was. This revelation brought about a sharp stabbing pain in my chest. I was thinking a stroke, but it turned out to be a metal bra wire that bit its way out of the fabric. Unabashed, I dived into my cleavage and dug around to push the wire in its place.

I arrived at a random bus station, which made me tentatively hopeful, since I was looking for a particular name- and letter-marked bus stop. My optimism was ill-founded, for it turned out it was a cross-country bus station. I was considering for a while getting on a bus to Glasgow because London was clearly defying me, while in Scotland I feel at home. Then I tried not to be a pussy, kitty up and ask an attendant what he thinks about the G spot aka the G stop.

The poor man was puzzled. So was I when he showed me the way to the desired bus stop. I never get it when people give me directions. It’s clearly their fault. I was considering lying down on the ground and dying in a puddle of London rain when a nice policewoman approached me (Where can I direct you, Madam?). She showed me the way for the next fifty meters. Now desperate beyond being ashamed to ask, I proceeded to ask half a dozen more people. Two hours after getting off at Victoria, I found the spot.

The G stop was tucked away in the middle of I don’t know where and was largely disappointing. I never read the manual to London public transport, hence I discovered first-hand that a bus only stops when someone waves it down. I had an hour to meditate about this fact of life before another bus of the desired number came. I was waving it down like a mad octopus. I emerged as a public threat because I set my suitcase on its wheels when on the bus, and it chose to travel to and fro and punch passengers in their legs. They weren’t chuffed.

The most astonishing part of the day’s trip came when I arrived at the bus stop where I was getting off. I procured a paper street plan and started to follow it, all the while thinking that it might be faster just to walk in increasingly larger circles around the bus stop until I hit the hotel. Before I managed to get lost, I found the place. The entire route took me four hours, though Google Maps estimated one hour. Google Maps have no clue about maps.

The next day I checked Google Maps to see what sights were nearest to my position. As I said, I always forget that Google Maps are like Jon Snow – they know nothing. I’ve seen most of London already anyway when I was searching for my bus stop. The Maps Which Know Nothing suggested that Hyde Park might or might not be in a walking distance from my position. I refreshed myself with a slivovitz shot or two and bravely set out for the hike.

Finding the place was itself the highlight of the day. I grew grumpy several hours later when there was no end to the park – and when the effects of the slivovitz wore off. Determined to find the end of the park because I hate loose ends, I walked past the bridge as far as to the end of Kensington Gardens. How was I supposed to know that behind the bridge it’s not called Hyde Park anymore but Kensington Gardens?

I exceeded my original objective, but my pleasure was tainted by the fact that I had to walk all the way back. After the previous day’s experience, I understandably didn’t trust buses. The whole hike took eight hours. It surprised me not a little that I still lived, since I’m strikingly unfit and unathletic.

I’m also incorrigible and incapable to learn from experience, for I cheerfully consulted Google Maps the next day to see what other sights there were within ten miles, which was apparently a walking distance for me now. There was Buckingham Palace. The directions seemed pretty straightforward, but I defeated them and went the wrong way.

I did find the place, but only after walking a significant stretch past a high wall adorned with barb wire at the top and polite warnings not to trespass. I wasn’t inclined to barbecue myself on the barb wire, so I meekly walked and walked and walked along the very boring road. The palace wasn’t at the end of it and I had to took a T-turn, which is a half-U-turn, to get there.

Once satisfied with Buckingham Palace, I was self-destructively craving for more walls, wires and gates. I ambitiously decided to walk through St James’s Park up to Trafalgar Square. Admittedly, I was originally aiming for the Downing Street, but I wandered off a little. At Trafalgar Square I got lost. I certainly knew I was at Trafalgar Square, what I didn’t know was how to find the Charing Cross station. The inhuman amount of hiking got the better of me and I was determined to take a bus or die in the attempt.

The first piece of advice I received from a local was to go to the Strand, where there’s a pharmacy and a railway station, and Charing Cross. There was some logic to this advice, as it turned out an hour later, when I actually got to the Strand to see for myself. For the directions to be helpful, though, they should have been: Walk round and round and round Trafalgar Square and when you find a street leading from it called the Strand, you’re there.

Still lost, I moved in side streets and was addressed by a bored security guard: Why so sad, Madam? I walked up to him and whined, I’m lost. I thought that was self-explanatory. It wasn’t. The man took greater interest in my facial expression than my welfare and shockingly proposed to trade his directions for my smile. I frowned and was about to walk away when the man gave me his directions after all and added some unsolicited Zen advice.

I found the bus stop, the bus and the hotel. On the day of my departure, I even found the relevant tube station. At the ticket gate an attendant spoke to me. As I don’t speak Londonese, he had to repeat his question five times. After I understood that the question was where I was travelling to and after he made himself satisfied that I was a complete idiot who doesn’t speak English, he announced that I wasn’t getting to my destination from here. I felt a sudden urge to stab him with my bra wire. I didn’t when he showed me to the right platform.

The tourniquet at the train station still hated me and refused to eat the ticket that I fed it. An attendant pulled me over (Come on here, Madam!), scrutinised me and my ticket and then let us go. I went through the last batch of madam-ing at the airport, where I was semi-stripped and put in a sunbed which was really an X-ray. Inadvertently, I promise, I smuggled on board a lip balm and half-drank tube of Speed 8 stimulant. In your face.

Power Blackout; or, Apocalypse Now

Power Blackout; or, Apocalypse Now

I grew up in a one-street village situated (in)conveniently at the bottom of a valley surrounded by woods and wine. Whoever founded the settlement was clearly wasted: while the sunny slopes of the hills did provide a nice site to plant grape vine, rain water tended to flow down the slopes and flood the village on the regular. I also blame said village founder, deceased since about the Middle Ages, for not foreseeing that the villagers of the future will be addicted to electricity and won’t be chuffed with the frequent power blackouts for whose frequent occurrence in the valley there is a scientific explanation which I don’t remember.

The village natives took the blackouts with a stiff upper lip, though they weren’t even British. My mother looms large in my memory as the candle fairy – not to be confused with candy fairy – as she roamed the rooms of the house carrying a lit candle and dripping wax on the carpets. The blackouts weren’t that bad as long as the stove ran on gas, the heating on wood (hence the rapidly thinning woods behind our house) and the TV mostly didn’t run at all anyway. The situation grew worse with the advent of the computer and escalated quickly with the arrival of the dial-up internet (though the latter mostly didn’t run anyway).


Now I would kill for Wi-Fi – though I will deny it at the court of law because my blog was hijacked and I’m not even writing this. I live in a moderately sized small town (provided that a small town can be otherwise than small), large enough to boast a reliable power supply because no one wants TV-less and Wi-Fi-less people taking to the streets each time when there’s a little rain or wind or whatever else upsets the volts and watts. Recently I experienced the first major blackout here. To say that it was apocalyptic would be a gross understatement.

It started – as could be reasonably expected – with a Wi-Fi failure. My email client wouldn’t download my mail. After composing a less than flattering letter of complaint addressed to Microsoft Outlook® (composing mentally, that is, deprived as I was of both email and outlook), it occurred to me to check the Wi-Fi connection. It was down. However, Bill Gates helpfully advised that I search the Internet for help when the Internet isn’t working. What a practical tip – not. Also, I suspect that Bill wasn’t as smart as publicity suggests.

As I averted my eyes from the laptop in sheer frustration, I noticed that the thermostat on the wall grew blank. Does it run on Wi-Fi, as do I? As I stood up to investigate, I saw that the clock of the oven grew blank too. What an odd coincidence. It almost looks as though there was a power blackout. Wait. It is a power blackout! I was puzzled, bemused and sad. What a bloody betrayal of civilisation! I curled up on the floor next to my cat, who was ignorant of the tragedy that befell us, and waited for the renewal of life energy. The wait took a while.


Did I mention I was waiting? I waited until the floor got cold because the floor heating, while it doesn’t use Wi-Fi, still uses electricity. I waited until I grew hungry, which was too bad, because my pantry was only stocked with microwave meals, instant noodles and toast. I wasn’t sufficiently starved out to eat uncooked toast. I couldn’t use the toaster, the kettle, the stove – and I couldn’t use Google to search for a wilderness survival kit (neither could I use Bing, even if I chose to descend so low). I had a vague notion that you should hide under the table in emergency, but maybe I’m confusing it with a nuclear emergency.

Driven by hunger, I descended as low as I could – that is, downstairs. I was pleased to see that the stairway was lit, however creepily, with emergency lights. (I’m aware that I used the word emergency three times in the last three sentences, but it’s an emergency!) I headed to the convenience shop conveniently situated on the ground floor of my block of flats to get some rolls. Alas, the shop was shut due to power cut. Don’t say. This was a relatively cheerful discovery in contrast to the subsequent finding that the house lift apparently runs on electricity too. I live on the sixth floor.


By the time I climbed up to the cold, dark and (most shockingly) Wi-Fi-less flat, I nearly incurred a blackout myself. I’m not terribly athletic, to say the least. My heavy heaving woke up the cat, who yawned, made a yoga cat-cow and casually approached to observe me experiencing a seizure akin to an anaphylactic shock. The cat grew bored and abandoned her dying can- and door-opener after five minutes. I kept on hyperventilating somewhat longer.

Resilient as I am, I decided to test if instant noodle soup can be brought to life with warm tap water when hot water isn’t available. Guess what. It can’t. The result tasted as I imagine a piece of plastic immersed in lukewarm water would taste – nasty. Serve me right for having silly thoughts of food when I had a fridge full of booze. I poured a nice glass of white, curled up with a book and grabbed the cat to sustain my bodily temperature on her heat. At that point the power went back on. Wine solves everything.

Singing, Peeing and Drilling; or, the Sounds of People

Singing, Peeing and Drilling; or, the Sounds of People

Living among people has one major disadvantage – namely, the people. Even when one hides in one’s own den of a flat to avoid the sight of people, the sound of them can’t be entirely avoided. The thing is, not all human habitations are properly sound-proof. My experience twists the laws of physics and suggests that instead of absorbing noise, walls of homes tend to amplify it.

I was brought up in an old two-level house and was used to its human and inhuman (also inhumane) noises. My room was surrounded by the kitchen, hence the daily clinking of dishes, and the living room, hence the nightly noise of the TV turned up loud. The inhuman sounds included mostly rats eating through the structure of the building. The most inhumane of all was however the neighbour’s tireless playing of brass music – he must have been the only person left on earth to enjoy the assault on the ears that brass music is.

Moderately old
Moderately old

Then I moved to a moderately old block of flats. The sounds produced by the house and its inhabitants at first felt like living in a combat zone. Doors banging, people yelling and music playing indoors, dogs fighting, cars racing and glass smashing outdoors. It took me some time to accept that it’s not a world war but just people casually existing. Eventually, I came to know my neighbours on all floors more intimately than either of the parties involved ever wished for.

Next to me on the same floor there lived an old gypsy woman. She used to have a husband, but he died under intriguing circumstances which were not publicised in the death notice stuck with duct tape on the entrance door of the house. I dubbed my neighbour Esmeralda for her inclination to Latin American theatricality. She travelled in taxis, partied most nights and was returning home singing and swearing at the lack of a lift in the house.

Occasionally Esmeralda’s family members would come to extract money from her, which provided for either a tragic or a comic performance, depending on whether she gave up the money or not. When the police knocked on my door to inquire about her, I thought it prudent not to know anything. I didn’t want to end up as Esmeralda’s late husband.

15-05-10-people (4)
Living together

Stacked in the bed-sit above me was a middle-aged alcoholic with enlarged prostate. He lived alone, but on and off, fellow female drunkards sought shelter in his place. They would sit together on the miniature balcony, clatter with beer bottles and tap cigarette ashes down on my laundry hung out to dry. The prostatic alcoholic was a great animal lover. He used to feed the birds in all seasons, causing the seed skins and bird droppings to be strewn all over my balcony. Finally I stopped putting the laundry out.

This upstairs neighbour had prostate problems so severe that I considered starting a fundraiser to get him a Prostenal course of treatment on the house. His prostate was very much my business, for he kept on peeing a few drops very noisily each hour, days and nights. I suspect he must have been standing high on a block when doing this, otherwise I have no explanation for the sheer loudness of his urinating. It must have been the same block that he used for drilling training, as with the amount of drilling he did, he couldn’t have made do with just the walls, the ceiling and the floor.

I moved out from this colourful house soon after the local street kids grew up, started to smash windows, doors and cars big time and amused themselves by running up and down the stairs in the house and banging with baseball bats on people’s doors. I got my car vandalised, possibly because I was silly enough to try tell the kids off when they were vandalising something else. So I got rid of the car and moved to a new block of flats, alas in a close neighbourhood.

No people beyond this point
No people beyond this point

The other day I happened to meet a neighbour from the previous house. He lived downstairs and from his flat there always oozed cigarette smoke, dog smell and loud techno. He lived with a noisy wife, an unascertained number of children and several dogs. The neighbour looked good enough now, as he was walking two ancient dogs, and he spoke to me coherently and more substantially than we ever spoke when we lived in the same house. It looks that his wife and the younger kids had left, the eldest youthful delinquent had been put away in a correctional facility, and the man was doing better than before.

I’m hoping for the same for me, as I had left one husband and one cat behind and now live at the top of the world (or on the top floor, at least) with the other cat that I got in custody. The house is so new that some of the units are unoccupied and dead quiet. The walls seem to be made of actual brick rather than cardboard, and nothing can be heard from the inhabited flats either. The silence is so oppressive that it regularly makes me suspect a nuclear catastrophe had happened and everybody died. I hate to say it – but I miss my singing, peeing and drilling neighbours. People make one feel alive.

Fear of Flying; or, Eyes on the Door

Fear of Flying; or, Eyes on the Door

I don’t like travelling in general and travelling by plane in particular. I never had an irrational fear of flying – and I still don’t. What I incurred is a perfectly rational fear of flying as a result of the recent trend of suicidal co-pilots. On my first flight after the Alps accident, I had at least a good chance that I wouldn’t even make it to the airport. It’s not that there has been an upsurge of suicidal taxi, train and bus drivers. Rather, I have no sense of direction (though I’m a leftist), which is a moderate handicap when trying to get from point A (home) to point B (airport).

I parted with my home and my cat to the accompaniment of many tears on my part and indifference bordering on annoyance on the cat’s part. The first stretch of my route was covered by a taxi, as I wasn’t particularly keen on lugging my luggage all the way to the railway station. Also, I’m lazy. The taxi driver proved a shocking prowess when he found my address. This is not a slight task because my address doesn’t exist. Seriously – ask your nearest clerk. The kind young man not only didn’t kill me, but he also got me to the station on the first try and even helped me with my suitcase.

The train station is temporarily (read: eternally) under construction. I don’t really mind the workers drilling through the floors and trapping unaware passengers in the holes, what bothers me is the fluidity of platform designations. Within a matter of a week, platform 5 may transform into 1A and 1A into APPROACH VIA TUNNEL. Is this a train station or a coal mine? The train was delayed (this is Eastern Europe – which is self-explanatory), so I was at leisure to undertake a sightseeing stroll around the station to locate my platform. It was 1C, which was really 3, actually APPROACH VIA STAIRCASE.

Ready to go
Ready to go

Standing at the bottom of the staircase with my suitcase, I wasn’t chuffed at the prospect of the climb. However, an alien being materialised behind my back and before I aimed at his face with my weaponised handbag, he offered to carry my suitcase. I was analysing his offer. Does the anonymous benefactor mean to carry my luggage up to the platform or away to his stash? And would he appreciate its contents, including a hairdryer, a handbook on Marxism and several pairs of woollen socks? After much deliberation, I imperiously waved to the man to grab my suitcase and follow me.

At the top of the stairs, the alien gentleman grew tired and abandoned me and my suitcase. The conductress present for the train seemed to weight forty kilos with her cap and whistle, so I kindly helped myself with the luggage in the train without requesting her help. I tried to will the suitcase to levitate, but the bastard wouldn’t. Since trains bore me to death-near sleep, before the vehicle even left the station, I curled around my luggage to protect it from theft, set the alarm clock for two hours later and collapsed into unconsciousness.

Things got tricky in the train’s destination, from where I was supposed to take a shuttle to the airport. Prior to my ambitious trip, I received an insider’s knowledge that the shuttle stop was located in front of the station. This turned out to be a rather unhelpful information – while it narrowed the area of interest to a few square kilometres, there was no way to tell where the building had its head, its tail and its front. Forgive a small-town dweller ignorant of the ways of the big city.

Up the stairs
Up the stairs

Somewhat sleepily, blindly and hopefully, I trailed a bunch of people with suitcases, hoping they would lead me to the stop. Which they did – lead me to a tram stop. I entered the nearest local business to ask for directions. It chanced to be a tiny kiosk, where, taking down newspaper stands with my suitcase, I inquired and was advised wordlessly with an impatient hand wave in an ambiguous direction. That helped. Not. I found the stop after asking, successively, a fast food employee on a smoke break, a cleaning woman and likely a prostitute (not identical with the cleaning woman).

The shuttle appeared to be the site of a world record attempt in progress at how many people and how much luggage can be crammed in one bus at one time. I wasn’t happy to be part of the experiment. Grateful for my new flexibility and stability owing to yoga practice (minus the Zen), I assumed the Eagle Pose and held it for an hour. Because that’s how brave I am. Also, there was no way to move out of the pose. I got off at Terminal One because my flight was due from Terminal Two. (Yes, I know, that makes all the sense.)

There was little to no fuss at the security check because my Eastern European passport isn’t a source of special excitement in Eastern Europe. It is typically found thrilling by security personnel elsewhere, so I know to wear my best shoes, fancy socks and cute underwear to be ready for the thorough frisking I regularly receive. I always beep in the security frame – it’s my heart of steel. As I happened to have a priority boarding coming with my boarding pass, I was immediately segregated from the herd and chased from place to place enclosed in a fence of tape. Priority boarding never more.

Tram love
Tram love

Strategically seated in front of the plane in the aisle, I scrutinised the crew for marks of mental disorder. The flight attendants seemed sane enough, but the pilot looked Germanic, which didn’t evoke the best associations. Discomforted by the discomforting mien of the pilot and finding little comfort in the uncomfortable seat, I departed to the toilets after take-off. I saw the signs but no toilets – it turned out that while I was looking for a booth, the toilets were represented by a cupboard. In the cupboard I assumed an embryonal position, not because I was performing yoga but because I had just squeezed myself in a cupboard.

One must love the low fare airlines. I returned to my seat crawling along the LED lights on the floor in the aisle. I didn’t buckle myself for security reasons [sic] and kept my eyes on the door to the pilots’ cabin, ready to get my foot in the door, literally, if it should open. It didn’t. The flight lasted for over an hour, the passengers enjoyed recurrent turbulences and I was running out of gods to pray to. I probably didn’t breathe, but no oxygen mask was ejected above my seat. As I say, low cost airlines. The plane landed, eventually, safely, but next time I think I’ll just walk. I don’t have enough Zen for this.

The Real Red Tape: Your Address Doesn’t Exist

The Real Red Tape: Your Address Doesn’t Exist

Had I known the sheer amount and nature of the red tape business to attend to when divorcing and moving, I would have forever stayed poised in the state of separation in the eyes of god and, beyond god, the Institutions. Now, though divorced, I’m suspended in a zone of fifty shades of grey, deprived of my ID, driving licence, permanent address and, effectively, my official identity. I wonder if I’m even legally in my home country, but I’m too scared to ask, lest I should be deported to wherever officially non-existent persons are put away.

The first trial, involving dealing with electricity and water providers for my rented flat, was in retrospective a gentle foreplay to the roughhouse that was to come later. The marathon began with a delightful one-mile walk in biting cold to the seat of the electrical company, situated in a less than convenient distance from my home. I had researched in advance how to operate the six lifts in the modern building: a lift is allocated to each traveller individually, based on which floor you want to go, and she who gets in a wrong lift is lost forever in between the floors.

My impeccable plan was nearly ruined by a gang of noisy, rowdy men who violated my lift, pushed me to the back of the small cabin and then found it inexplicably hilarious when I was trying to get out on my floor through the sheer bulk of them. Since then my errand didn’t go quite as planned. I was the only customer in the large customer centre and clearly disturbed the clerk from updating her Facebook status when I dared to enter her booth. She hated me on first sight. It was mutual. I presented my request with utmost politeness, maintaining a professional smile on my face. Wait. That was what the clerk was supposed to do. Except she didn’t.

Electricity
Electricity

I asked to have the electricity bills registered and sent to my name, which is the usual procedure required of renters. The clerk didn’t like my proposal. I can’t say I was particularly thrilled either. I was however sure that the Facebooking official would be eager to dispatch payment reminders the first thing if my registration wasn’t successfully completed. Visibly disgusted, she took my Rental Agreement and copied details from the contract to her Facebook Timeline. She looked at me with a sigh and said, Your address doesn’t exist. I retorted, Are you sure? It existed fine when I left it this morning. There ensued an argument as to whether my home is a real place or not.

Finally, seeing that she is missing important Facebook updates, the clerk admitted that new buildings were not in the system yet and willed my address into existence. She handed me a list of advance payments to be charged monthly for the electricity. It was three times as much as I had reasons to expect. Are you sure, I ventured tentatively, that this amount is adequate for one person in a bedsit? The clerk gave me a look of deep disapproval, That’s none of your business, the payments are set as they are, and we’ll see if it’s enough after a twelve-month trial period. I stared. The woman made to return to her Facebook. Can I offer you telecommunication services? she said by the way. Are you joking? I thought, no-thanked her and left.

Uplifted up by this unqualified success, I proceeded to skid on slippery pavements in a vague direction of where I thought the water supplier building was located. Only it wasn’t. I had to accept that I got it wrong about a mile later, when I found myself walking on a motorway. I condescended to consult Google Maps on my phone. I was informed that the desired destination was four miles away from my position. I didn’t take Google’s word for it and I did right: after much puzzling and freezing on the spot, I found that I had the GPS disabled when I was leaving home to conserve the battery. Google thought I was still at my home address, the one that the electricity clerk thought didn’t exist.

Red tape
Red tape

You could say that it was complicated. With the phone clutched as a compass in my ungloved hand, which was starting to incur frostbite, I trampled across fields, parking lots and private properties for two more miles before I saw a building with a metal sea wave nailed on its façade. Unless it was an ocean centre in a landlocked country, I was there. No one was around, but when I stealthily entered the building, a receptionist materialised out of nowhere. Where to? she interrogated me. The customer centre? I tried. Very well, the receptionist broke into a smile and gave me directions.

I was so astonished by her friendliness that I didn’t listen and went on to bang my head on a glass door that didn’t open. It was the wrong door. Opening the right door for me, the receptionist ushered me to the relevant office. I was struggling with the temptation to ask her to hold my hand while I’m negotiating with the clerk. But I overcame my desire for a touch of humanity, and the receptionist abandoned me. The clerk gave me the familiar look of professional annoyance. I curled up in the chair, recited my request and procured my papers.

But you don’t own the flat, said the clerk after she studied the intimate details of my Rental Contract. No, I know, I admitted, and don’t need to be reminded, I thought silently. So I can’t change the billing to your name, the clerk jumped to a convenient conclusion. But—, I feebly protested, when she added as a side note, And the bills are not registered in your landlord’s name either, but to the “Home on the Hill” company. I was mortified. Does it mean that my landlord is not my landlord and that I rented the flat from a person who doesn’t own it and hence can’t rent it? Also, “Home on the Hill” sounds like a pyramid scheme.

Water
Water

I kept on staring at the clerk. She had meanwhile returned to her Solitaire. That would be all, she observed without looking up. Can I have my documents back? I asked humbly. Ooh! Now the clerk was mortified by her appropriation of my ID and my Rental Contract, the validity of which now came in doubt. Having retrieved my papers, I left the gamer to her cards and left. All done? the super excited receptionist called at me as I was trying to be invisible on my walk of shame. Yes, I white-lied and ran. I wasn’t pursued.

Not precisely super excited about the result of my errands, I dragged my super exhausted self all the way back home. I might or might have not stopped on the way to get the cheapest box wine of the brand Mr Cellarman, popular among Alcoholics Anonymous. I arrived home semi-dead, but glad to find the building still existing. In your face, Facebook clerk. As I was wiping snow, slush and mud off my boots before going in, my eyes travelled to a large plaque above the door. It said, Home on the Hill, 666/21e Hospital Street.

“Home on the Hill” is of course the name of the collective of flat owners in the building. That explains a lot. Such as why the water supplies for the building are registered in this name. It also implies that my landlord can still be my landlord. Or not. I informed my tentative landlord about the water registration situation. He said he knew. But since he knew, why on earth did he send me to re-register with the water company? Was it a loyalty test? Is he a red tape agent provocateur? I’m scared and I started sleeping with scissors in my hand. For the tape.