Jul 6, 2009



The United States, Mr. Biden said in an interview broadcast on ABC’s “This Week,” “cannot dictate to another sovereign nation what they can and cannot do.”

...isn't that exactly what they are doing with the nuclear issue in the first place ? I may be trained in politics but I'll never understand the way these people think....

Jul 2, 2009

Health And Safety (Part 2)

We play football with the office every Wednesday and yesterday was no exception. I have just found out that with a particularly vicious shot last night I put my boss into hospital by breaking his wrist and he's going to be off work for 3 weeks. Now THAT is a great way to finish your career with the company.

I hence propose that, as a dangerous sport, football should be banned.

Health And Safety

I'm back ! There's been loads of work, graduation and that rare Finnish commodity, sunshine to enjoy. Now I'm back and I'm going to whine about something again. So please draw up your seats. I've actually been pondering this one for a while - every time I read a story about how "Health and Safety regulations" have been invoked to prevent people from doing something, I get irritated/amused. Hopefully by presenting many examples of this kind of stuff, it can make enough of an effect that this kind of horror in our society will be reduced.

In a recent example from Exeter, (United Kingdom), goggles were banned from school swimming lessons on health and safety grounds. Apparently, if you remove the goggles in an incorrect way can lead to "severe injury".

In another recent laughable example from Peterborough, (United Kingdom), a bunch of OAPs were banned from drinking coffee in case some of it fell out of the mug and burnt children. Accidents do happen I'm sure but I also believe that these people, all of then aged above 50 (and regular drinkers of hot beverages), know how to handle a coffee mug. And if a kid is stupid enough to run around and knock a cup of coffee all over themselves, well - that'll teach them not to run around in a library won't it ?

Old people of course are not only targeted for their disgusting coffee-drinking habits - A group of pensioners in Norwich (United Kingdom) were banned from getting take-away fish and chips due to the fear that the food would go cold and hence cause food poisoning. Thankfully common sense has prevailed in this case at least and the ban has been dropped. The fact that it was even thought about in the first place, though, is pretty sad.

The irony award goes a school in Saffron Walden (United Kingdom) which banned sunscreen under health a safety regulations under the pretense that some of the kids might be allergic to it. Surely sunscreen is a health and safety tool, is it not ? If they develop melanoma in 15 years that's OK - but we're talking about getting a rash from a skin reaction !! Perish the thought !!!

Even more dangerous than applying sunscreen, of course, is taking photographs. A Scottish tourist attraction has in fact banned the taking of photographs completely. Here I quote - "Rosslyn Chapel is to prevent visitors taking any photographs inside the building for fear they will injure themselves." Logical, isn't it ?

From the above it would seem that being out and about is an extremely dangerous pastime - visiting tourist attractions, going to school, meeting up with friends for coffee and lunch are all events which could ruin our lives and cripple us forever. Thankfully we're still safe in our own homes, right ?


A residential block in Stoke-on-Trent (United Kingdom) recently outlawed doormats due to health and safety regulations - in the case of fire, they argued, people would trip over their doormats and this would presumably cause them to die a horrible death. Potted plants were not spared from the legislation and have also been banned. Surely it would make more sense to ban ovens, radiators, frying pans and electricity, the causes of fire in the first place ?

If you have managed to escape from your apartment without lethally falling over, be careful of what is waiting to trip you up outside - last Christmas in Wimborne, Dorset (United Kingdom), the Christmas choir was banned for health and safety reasons due to fears that, in the event of a power cut (seriously) someone could fall over in the dark and injure themselves.

Christmas cheer was also on display in Walton-on-the-Naze, Essex (United Kingdom) when a Christmas tree was banned for health and safety regulations after the volunteers who put it up failed to provide a 20-tonne concrete foundation to prevent the thing from falling down. And current regulations allow us to wander around in forests where trees have only natural foundations and fall over violently whenever a storm appears ?! Sheer madness ! What are they thinking !

And finally, just to show that people remember that Christmas is, above all, for the children, a shopping centre in Hemel Hempstead (.....United Kingdom) let the kids in on the act too when they banned a troupe of Brownies from singing Christmas Carols for health and safety reasons after it was discovered that a group of singing young girls would block fire escapes.

I remember when I was a kid being told that we have things a lot softer than our parents generation did. Comparing my life as a kid to what there is today though, we lived in a war zone ! We fell over playing football and got blood on our knees, we ran around without being told to stop, and we could even wear goggles to the swimming pool without being lectured about how dangerous they were ! One of the reasons I'd like to live to be an old man (despite the fact that I wouldn't be allowed to drink coffee or eat take-away) is that I want to see what would actually be allowed any more in 2050. I know I have a bunch of small cousins who are more cautious than I have ever been about anything and I feel sorry for them. Maybe I should go and give them a good beating, show them the daring and freespirited living of the 20th century that the world used to enjoy....

Rant over (to be continued)

May 15, 2009

Drawing the Curtains on my Academic Life

On Monday I handed in my thesis which (one crappy little paper aside) draws my life as a student to an end. Not that I've really noticed given that I've been working full time for several years, but there we go. The thesis was a classic example of what being a student is. I've known that I had to do it since the autumn of 2005. I started writing it late in 2007. I handed it in three and a half years after starting it, having written practically the whole thing in the final week. At the outset, the plan was simple - I had to take part in seminars, make three presentations on my paper, and then write the thing and hand it in. Then, the following happened.

Late April 2009 : Realise that the final deadline is May 11th. Ask boss for a week off due to impending panic

3rd May : Sit down and start writing until I pass out

4th-9th May : Repeat

10th May : Get up late in order to be able to write all night and then hand the paper in on the next day before the 11am deadline. Go to the shop for some Energy Drink and go to the library

11th May :

4.30am : Realise the sun is coming up and speed up.
8.00am : I try to register to drop off the paper. I am refused by the system.
8.30am : M leaves for work, having spent the last half hour wandering around nervously due to previous event.
9.30am : I have finished and leave to the library to print the paper.
10.15am : Arrive at the library and print my paper off while looking at what else I have to do
10.17am : Realise my registration is being refused because I haven't sent a part of my thesis for a language check. This takes one month. Crap.
10.18am : I remember that I have to write a 400 word abstract and rattle one out. It's pretty terrible but at this stage, quality counts for nothing
10:25am : I'm still in a queue for the printer
10:30am : My work starts printing !
10:31am : My work stops printing, the printer is out of paper. My efforts to restock it are in vain
10:35am : I find the right place to put the paper and we're off again.
10:37am : The printer stops working. NOT NOW !!!!
10:40am : The printer, encouraged by some gentle prodding, whirs back into life. Heart begins beating again
10:45am : I'm all printed and run to the faculty
10:47am : Arrival at the faculty. I hand in my paper while explaining that I mysteriously haven't been able to register for a reason I cannot understand ! I'm taken to another office where I smile profusely and explain that I didn't know the rules and that in any case, English is one of my mother tongues and I doubt very much that I would fail a language test and please please please can we ignore this rule for once.
10:48am : The rule is ignored. My status is fixed and I can now go and register
10:49am : The computer I try to switch on doesn't work
10:51am : I can't find the link for the registration screen
10:52am : I'm done !!!! I go outside and smoke profusely, and then quit smoking (again).
10:53am : I head off to work slightly delirious, picking up a bottle of Coke on the way.

Once again, the student has caused unnecessary suffering to himself and all around him. He now faces a painful month or 2 waiting to see if his paper has been judged abysmal by all concerned and kinda hoping that it hasn't. His fate is in the hands of the (lovely) professors of Helsinki University. He'll get very drunk if(/when) he passes.

I ♥ S.Y. (R.I.A.)

My first trip to the extended axis of evil only lasted for three days but I already want to go back. The little wander took me from Lebanon where I'd had a look around Beirut and Baalbek to Hamah where I spent two nights and Damascus where I ran around like a headless and awestruck chicken trying to

1) see as many things as possible
2) eat as many chawarmas as possible
3) buy as many presents to keep M happy as possible
4) continually reassure my mother that I was still alive

The first task was easy - Damascus is crawling with sights, sounds and history. The entire old town of a UNESCO world heritage site and it's the kind of place I could walk around for hours and hours (both because it's beautiful and because it's a labyrinth that even with my incredible directional skills could confuse me). As it turns out, I was with a Canadian guy I had met in Hamah who was a bit cautious about going into darker and quieter areas with more confusing looking streets which was probably a good thing. If I'd been wandering around alone I'd probably still be there asking for directions to the Airport. If you want a description of each of the sites in order then grab your Lonely Planet because I can't be bothered (and don't want to turn this blog into a travel guide by) explaining each and every one of them. It's the kind of place where traces of history are so omnipresent that for example remaining columns of a Roman temple are used as the entrance to the souq, and wandering among the little store around the sides and back of the Umayyad Mosque you could be forgiven for wondering if you'd stumbled onto the set of an Aladdin movie. The narrow streets covered in creepers take you past small junk shops and the smell of spices and roasted meat fill the air. People, even in Damascus, are curious, friendly, generous, open, kind, (and so forth) and you'll occasionally get stopped in the street by some character who wants to welcome you to Syria and ensure that you're having a nice time. A smile gets a smile back, a few mispronounced words of Arabic gets an enormous roar of laughter and a big handshake. Most refreshingly, you don't get the feeling that people are after your money or have any hidden agenda - they're being nice to you because they are nice people. Some of them want to practise their English or their French and some of them are curious about outsiders and bombard you with questions about what life is like in your country. Despite Syria being very interesting in so many other ways, the people are certainly a part of what makes it special. It's the kind of place where you can ask someone for directions to your hotel and five minutes later you have an appointment with a new friend in a cafe around the corner.

The second point would have been easy if I hadn't insisted on taking the largest size every time. Seriously, the chawarmas are great - and I should know, they're the only thing I ate in 6 days. The thing about travelling by yourself is that you don't want to go sit in a restaurant for 2 hours. I didn't manage to work out if it was because I'd get bored, or because I only had 6 days and wanted to make the most of them, or if I was just too concerned about my self image to wander alone into a restaurant and look like a loser just sitting there, munching my dinner and watching Arabic soaps on the omnipresent excessive loud TV, pretending to have any idea what the hell was going on. Result : I ate lots of chawarmas. For breakfast, lunch and dinner. And I don't regret that for a second.

The third point I think I succeeded in and, as every man knows, it's the most important factor in a journey.

The fourth was always going to be a tall order though - when I first told my parents that I was going to Beirut they asked if the flights to Baghdad were all full up. I'd never been to the Middle East before, Lebanese friends cancelled their trips at the last minute, and I arrived at 3.30am. The immigration officer asked me if this was my first trip to Lebanon, to which I answered that it was. "Well then..." he looked straight at me. "Good luck !" And with that I was waved through. I had never been worried about going to Lebanon - in my mind it was the kind of place where trouble could happen if you ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time but it was cool in general. It was certainly cool. Definitely. My hotel window didn't close properly so I could hear everything going on outside and these fearmongers from back home started getting to me. Every loud noise outside sent my eyes springing open and looking out for signs of trouble outside. I was staying just down the road from where Rafik Hariri was assassinated and for a moment a creeping doubt came into my mind as to how safe Lebanon really was. I quickly chased it out with rational thinking - no trouble had happened here for ages. As it was, Beirut was fine - signs of war are everywhere and the city is still roughly divided between Christians and Muslims, and people are not quite as open and chatty as they have been with me in other Arab countries. It's definitely as safe as it has been for many decades though. Still, that didn't stop me feeling the son's duty to sent my mother a text message every half hour to tell her I was still living and in possession of all four limbs. She is concerned for my safety whenever I go to the toilet so I understood that she would be slightly concerned about me here as well.

Conclusion - go to Syria and go to Lebanon before the tourists invade them. Then you'll be sorry.

May 3, 2009

I Really Don't Care

It's been ages, I know. And I really can't be arsed to do anything about that now. Therefore I will give some kind of summary. Since my last post I have..

1) realised that I work too much
2) been to Lebanon
3) been to Syria
N.B. Lebanon was cool, Syria was super-super-cool
4) got slightly drunk (just now)

I really want to write a long, rambling piece full of praise for Syria next time I'm sat as the computer and NOT just about to conk out. Watch this space and thank you for your patience. I'm off to bed.

EDIT : I wasn't slightly drunk, I was rather more than that.

Apr 4, 2009

Being organised

It's not all it's cracked up to be. I myself find that being completely disorganised and useless can be immensely frustrating but it gives you a lot to look back on. A few years back, for instance, I was going back home from university for the weekend and, knowing that British Rail was likely to let me down, I took the train before the one I should have. Turns out I should probably have left a few days earlier just to make sure I got to the airport on time. I missed the flight and, being an impulsive kind of guy, I just did the first thing that came into my head. That was to call my sister and ask what she thought I should do (error number 1) - she called the parents, reported that they said I should get a Eurostar (which apparently was completely false) and so I went down to London (error number 2), took the Circle Line in the wrong direction (error number 3), got my pocket picked and lost my phone (error number 4) and eventually arrived at Waterloo station at around midnight which was obviously far too late for the Eurostar (error number 5). Without these, I wouldn't be able to recount the story of that night I spent sleeping on a newspaper in a train station in London. It's a bit annoying at the time but I wouldn't change it for the world.

The latest incident came in Kaunas last weekend. The plan was simple :

1) Walk from the football stadium to the hostel
2) Sleep
3) Get up at 6.30
4) Go to the coach station
5) Get a bus to Riga and wander around there
6) Get on the plane and fly home.

1) and 2) were excuted flawlessly but then we were brutally taken down by that hideous tradition of putting the clocks forward 1 hour. Hence we innocently woke up at 7.30, missed the bus and had to take a 70€ taxi ride to Panevezys on the Vilnius-Riga highway and hope to get a bus from there. As it turned out, all went swimmingly and we got on the plane without any problems (bar spending too long over a beer and having to be called personally over the loudspeaker system and then taking a bus out to the plane when everyone else was already seated). This reminded me of that time back in 2004 when I tried to get onto a plane headed for my first African trip and lost my passport, boarding pass and yellow fever certificate, all within the space of about half an hour. The advantage with this kind of history is that when shit does happen, you're entirely prepared for it and very rarely let panic cloud your judgement, and I got all of them back from various places.

Once again, I've let horrendous time management get the better of me and I have the majority of my thesis to write in about 5 weekends before it's due to be handed in on May 11th. Consequently, I'm sat here in all serenity writing this. There are, admittedly, small voices in my head saying "maybe you should stop blogging and actually get on with it ?" but my level of experience speaks for itself - I did get back home for that weekend (albeit 17 hours late), I did get on that plane to Africa, and I did get back from Kaunas in perfect time. And this is why I am sure that, some way or another, I'll get my thesis completed on time too.

Yesterday I decided that, with my little expedition to the Middle East on Wednesday, maybe I should get a backpack after my last one sadly expired in January. So after a 20 minute shopping spree I emerged with a new travel buddy - it's black, it's big, and it cost me 135€. All I need to do now is get onto the plane...

Mar 31, 2009

For Sale to Highest Bidder : The Soul of Riga

I witnessed a rape on Sunday - not a physical rape by a person on another, but a slow, gradual rape, where the soul of a city has slowly been eroded and is disappearing at quite a pace. I first visited Riga in 2004 when the old city was still quaint, quiet, with a scattering of bars with a local feel about them. It was all in all a Latvian experience. The people we shared the hostel with were mostly passing through on longer trips. Sure, they were interested in going out for a beer or 3 when they were there but the main point of being in Riga for them was to see the city/rest of Latvia. There were a few hostels in town and a few more being set up and you could tell from this that the tourist flow was increasing. It still felt a bit like a corner of Europe which retains its identity, where people took pride in their Old Town and where you could discover things at your own pace. Since then, seemingly, the invasion has started. The occupying force is mostly British booze-tourists and their vehicle of invasion is the cheap Ryanair flight from London Stansted.

I was in Riga again on Sunday for a few hours on my way to the airport from Lithuania and was pretty shocked at what I saw - the amount of tourists cruising the streets were more reminiscent of the crowds on the day cruises from Tallinn than what I saw in 2004. Every bar I walked past in the Old Town had abandoned the feel I got 5 years ago in favour of an English style psuedo-modern look, the barstaff said hello in English rather than Latvian and the windows were adorned with Sky Sports stickers. Yes ! you, tourist, can come to Latvia and take advantage of the cheaper beers without even feeling like you've changed country ! I eventually found a bar without a Sky Sports sticker in the window and walked in, expecting to find an oasis in the unLatvian desert, only to be greeted in English by a bargirl under a big screen showing England playing against Slovakia.

My Latvian friend told me that people there are tired of the "staggers" getting trashed and representing their own proudly by doing things such as pissing on Latvia's independence monument but, she asked, what can we do about it ? The answer is not much, I suppose, and especially in an economic climate like this, the bars are doing the sensible thing by cashing in on the invasion - my beer in 2009 cost nearly 5 times more than it did in 2004.

It's a difficult situation I guess - tourism is an enormous money-spinner and in the same way that you can't blame a homeless man striking up a superficial friendship with a millionaire, central Riga's bar owners can either welcome to booze cruisers or sink into the abyss of bankruptcy as the drinkers head elsewhere. Latvia has the unfortunate situation of being close enough to London (and I don't want to be overly harsh on the Brits - boozers do come from other places, although the main culprits come from the UK), accessible with cheap flights, sell beer cheaply, and be populated by a large proportion of attractive women, which proves to be a good magnet for tourist money but a deadly cocktail when it comes to preserving the soul of any place. All in all it means that I'm less likely to go for a weekend in Riga when I have a few days off but, given that I don't spend a week's wages on beer during that time, I suppose I am less missed than others would be.

Mar 12, 2009


After 4 weeks and 3 days - I'm back ! You haven't missed anything - stuff is exactly as it was. The world is still rotating, I'm still working the same jobs, there's still snow on the ground, Finns still like beer, and the kitchen in our flat is still half covered in trash.

Saturday, however, heralds a bit of a change in my routine. Normally on Saturdays I like to perfect the art of slobbing, mainly because it's the only day of the week where I don't go to work (except for last week when I did). It's great because you can get up late and you also don't have that Sunday feeling where you know it's the last time you'll be getting up late until the next weekend, which results in you getting up a bit earlier because you want to make the most of the day, and then being utterly unfulfilled because you end up doing boring crap like food shopping, or going to do the laundry.

The change will be that I'll have to drag myself out of bed at the crack of dawn to go and have my second pop at the last university exam I'll ever have to do. Before then (and it's Thursday afternoon now) I'll have to read 4 books, plus do all of the things that people do when they're studying for an exam and they don't want to read the books. We've all done it - checking your emails once every millisecond, smoking more than you should, reading news stories so irrelevant and uninteresting that you'd never read them otherwise, smoking and checking your email again, wondering who you could send a constructive text message to, failing, sending a pointless one to someone anyway and then sitting watching your phone waiting for a response, which usually never comes. I failed the last crack I had at this exam because I was overenthusiastic - I stayed up on the Monday night until 3am reading this mind-numbing theoretical rubbish which is in most cases just an overly complicated ego boost for the author (after all, why write things in regular language when you can write it in a way that no one can understand and realise how clever you are in the process ?). This led to me being a complete wreck for the rest of the week, not being able to take anything in and making an absolute hash of the exam when it came around. This time, I just can't focus on anything. I've smoked, checked my emails, watched the Simpsons, read about last night's football, eaten an entire bunch of bananas because it allowed me to take the skins to the trash and even checked the use-by dates on food in the fridge to see what should be eaten tonight. And I NEVER do that.

As it is now, the exam is 40 hours away and I have another 3 books to read. And as you can tell from the fact that this post is full of long sentences and inane twitter, I'm just using it as yet another "something to do" while my books just sit idly on the table, waiting for me to fall asleep on them when I finally manage to peel the covers back and see what bland speculation lies within. I don't get drunk very regularly at all these days but the day I graduate, I've promised myself that I will. And once Sunday comes around I'll liberate my brain, observe the world again and who knows, maybe even have something to write about.

180 days until the grand departure.

Feb 9, 2009

Finland : I Like

Regular readers may have noticed my slight penchant for dishing out some stick to Finland for various reasons (for further information, see most of my posts) although I'd like to put that on the back burner in order to let rip with some gushing praise.

Last weekend witnessed a delightful long-weekend visit from my mother and, rather than staying here in Helsinki in the slush and greyness, we dragged her out to Koli National Park in Eastern Finland. It's a wilderness with lakes and forests (much like the rest of the country in fact) so it's hard to see why this particular area of lakes and trees was set out for national park status. There are wolves and lynxes and bears hanging around there although we didn't get to see any. Given that bears have a tendency of hibernating in pits around this time of year, I'd venture a guess that this was probably a good thing. Wandering around in show-shoes was fun, as was watching the absurd fashion sense of the Russian tourists who were wondering around in the forest with glaring fluorescent tracksuits and enormous designer label handbags. The countryside is definitely Finland's best feature in my opinion, and in Koli there are rare appearances from hills which you can climb up and enjoy the spectacular view across (guess what ?) lakes and trees. All of this covered in snow in a scene you would struggle to find anywhere else. The only problem with a Finnish winter is that it gets light rather late and gets dark very early, meaning that you don't really have much time to admire this natural beauty. But once the sun goes down, you can return to the cabin in the forest, listen to the sound of absolute silence, cover your ears from the -30 degree temperatures and wander off to check if the sauna has heated enough yet for people to go in. On the way back to the cabin you can see more stars than in most places on the planet and, once you've got back in, stick some sausages on a stick and grill them in the fire which is nearly always lit.

It's not the kind of life I'd like to live permanently I suppose, but it's a great break. I suppose you can see the difference in that doing nothing in Helsinki is boring, but doing nothing out in the forest is great.