Adventures in House Sitting: Part 1

So a friend of mine is out of town for a conference and while she’s gone I’m minding her place and her dog. I know, I know. What a great friend and genuinely benevolent human being I am right? I really don’t mind, I mean she has a very nice place in Notting Hill and I welcome the change of pace and scenery. I must admit that being cooped up in my room has been particularly trying over the last week or two. My insomnia seems to running crazy and the sleep cycle is completely out of whack. But hey, such is the life of a student right? We begin to turn into primarily nocturnal creatures. And her dog is just the cutest. Madra (that’s Gaelic for dog. Apt!) is a very sweet dog, even though since her mommy seems to have left she isn’t quite her excitable and bark-ey self.

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Graffiti

You probably see some everyday but rarely mind it. On the sides of bridges, on walls in vacant lots, beneath your very feet as you walk on the pavement. Graffiti really can be found anywhere and everywhere. Some consider it a symptom of the degeneration of society, as eyesores that debase the value of properties and are a sign that “the neighborhood just isn’t what it used to be”. Some see it as a means of expression, to rebel and shout out against a society that they feel misunderstands or mistreats them, used when the words that come from one’s throat just aren’t enough. Some even see in it a new art form, a way to show the world their talent and their skill.

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I’ve got a band!

Alright so my friend and I wrote a couple of songs while we were jamming. I published them on my tumblr blog – http://khurshidz.tumblr.com – which I maintain separately, mostly to exhibit some of my photography. Recently however I found myself idle with a bit of time on my hands so I did what I usually do in such a situation. What’s that? Study? Go to the gym? Surely you jest! No I gave myself a little side project ; p

So after discussing it with my friend and fellow band member, I came up with a name and created a profile on Grooveshark – an online music listening service. Its got no fans or followers on their yet, maybe one of you can be the first : )

http://grooveshark.com/#!/artist/Victorious+In+The+Sun/2649426

Byron’s Burgers

I’m really not much of a foodie. In fact compared to most of my friends I’m pretty fickle when it comes to cuisine (though in my defense this is mostly because I don’t find the taste, texture of smell of seafood at all appealing, and this does eliminate a lot of ‘exotic” fare). But one thing I cant definitely appreciate is a good burger. So I decided I’d blog about one of my favorite burger places in London – Byron. Now Byron is a chain, which I suppose puts off a lot of people (Hipster alert!), but personally I don’t think that just because there’s more than one of something (over a dozen locations in London alone!), it makes it any less. The burgers aren’t terribly expensive, nor are they in the everyday price range of a student, but if you’re looking to treat yourself its not such a bad buy.

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Gie her a haggis!

Today is Burns Night, a celebration of the life and works of Scottish poet Robert Burns. On this night people congregate and take part in the traditional “Burns Supper” which features Haggis. For those who may not have heard of it, Haggis is a traditional Scottish dish which is made up of the heart, liver and lungs of a sheep, minced with onions, oatmeal, spices and salt, all of which are stuffed into an animal’s stomach (for the sake of consistency I’m presuming Sheep) and then aged/simmered (Yummy?). It is usually served with a side of turnips and/or onions, or “keeps” and “tat ties” if you prefer (I absolutely love the scottish manner of speaking!). And of course, one would be remiss if he didn’t have a nice glass of Scotch to go along with this fine dining (finally a tradition I can get on board with!).

In checking how Haggis is made I actually did come across a few hilarious sites about one rather fantastic and doubtful suggestion as to its origin. Apparently there is a Scottish legend of “the wild haggis”, a furry looking creature (that rather resembles a Wolverine, but brown rather than black and with long flowing hair). As the story goes, this creature is really where Haggis comes from. I even came across a site pleading people to switch to “artificial haggis” and to conserve the ever depleting population of wild haggi. There were even references on some sites to a “Wild Haggis Conservation Society”. Now I know people believe a lot of the stuff they read online, but I really wonder how many people would but this? Those of you who think its just too fantastic to believe can see for yourself: Save the Haggis!

I’ve personally not tried Haggis before, though I have made a few trips to the beautiful land of its origin. I’m not what you would call a foodie, in fact by comparison to most of my friends I’m actually a bit fussy. But I’ve decided to go ahead and try the traditional Burns Supper tonight, which is being served at The Curve, a cafe located on campus at Mile End. I mean one of the greatest thing about moving here has been the vast number of opportunities to try new things and have new experiences, so maybe its time to expand my pallet as well.

But the evening isn’t just about the food. It’s also about the man. I had the opportunity to also check out some of Robert Burns’ poems. I’m not a great reader and am far from qualified of course to comment on its value or importance in the realm of literature, but I did enjoy the element of whimsy that many of his poems seem to exude, particularly “A Red, Red Rose”. Now of course if you go to read his work you’ll see that it is written in Scottish, well to be more accurate Scottish English I believe, as the real Scottish language in fact Gaelic. I was unfamiliar with many of the words and had to look up their meaning, while with others it was fairly easy to guess. And the entire time I found myself reading them in my head with a Scottish accent (which is tied for first place with Irish for my favorite accents ever). The most prominent of his works of course is “Address to a Haggis” which is read out loud as part of the Burns Supper (and which is also the origin of the title to this blog post). For those of you who’d like to hear or read the poem here is the link to the BBC website which has the text as well as an audio file of the poem being read by John Gordon Sinclair: An Address to a Haggis

So to you dear reader I bid farewell as I pray that my gastronomic adventure soon to follow reaps reward.

Alternative Ending

There he stood. Face to face with the girl he had said goodbye to all those years ago but had never stopped thinking about. In that one moment that his eyes caught hers he saw his entire life play out before him. He saw the tears in her eyes as he told her he still loved her and always would. He saw himself getting down on one knee in the crowd at a concert as the band played their favorite song. He saw himself waking up next to her smiling face every day for the rest of his life. He saw them old and retired up in the quiet little place in the hills. She really did love the hills. And in that one moment he felt happier than he had ever felt before and so he did something he hadn’t done for a really long time. He smiled. And I don’t mean one of those smiles that you put on for your friends and family so they don’t worry about you. Or that drunken grin you get on your face as you sing along with the song playing in the bar after a few too many pints even though it’s not karaoke night. It was one of those rare smiles where, even though you don’t really have any extraordinary reason to smile, you do anyway, because in that moment, for that fraction of a second, you feel nothing but true content in a way that your mind couldn’t really even begin to understand or express. And wearing that same smile, he turned around and walked away.

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The Green Nightlight?

I just spent the last twenty minutes or so reading the webcomic “JL8” – a fresh and, I must say, cute vision of beloved DC heroes (and some villains) as tiny tots. Independent comic book artist Yale Stewart has done an amazing job of portraying the characters we know and love in a not so familiar setting while managing to retain many of the familiar dynamics and characteristics. Its a very interesting take and I now find myself eagerly looking forward to the next strip (updates every Monday and Thursday).

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Visions of White

Staring out my window this morning I was caught quite off guard by a sight that was altogether new to me (well in real life anyway). Looking out over Regent’s Canal I saw a blanket of white covering everything in sight – the pathway, the jutting bricks on the wall across the canal and even the branches of the trees. My first thought as I looked at the falling snow dance upon the ever present london breeze was, “Oh man. That’s beautiful,” followed immediately by, “Hmmm… My all purpose, wear them everywhere, Adidas Originals aren’t going to cut it anymore.”

This is the first time I’ve ever seen Snow. Well, not counting many years ago when I went to The Snow Centre in Hemel Hamstead for some tobogganing and some Snowboarding lessons (which most definitely did not take). Though I must admit, I was rather hoping it would get like this around Christmas – that would have been pretty epic! Still, being here, staring at the snowflakes as they cascade from above and rest upon my windowsill, I’m reminded that its never too late in life to have new experiences. I know most of you think thats not much of an epiphany coming from a 25 year old, but coming from Delhi (where its hot 9 months out of the year, and even when the temperature dips below 0 you don’t see snow-covered treetops but rather, thanks to the fog, you see nothing at all ) I never thought watching the city turn white outside my window would be part of a normal day for me.

As beautiful as it is out there however, I’m tempted to hide inside with my cup of tea and just watch the passers-by rather than actually brave the winds. I must admit that I’ve recently felt rather unequipped to cope with the weather. The rain and gray skies I could manage, heck in Delhi I don’t think there actually is ONE rainy season, it pretty much just rains when it pleases! But the fierce winds (the exact opposite of our loos) and the dropping temperatures really are a force to reckon with. I don’t how these runners take to the streets in their shorts or how women in the city manage to walk around in dresses or skirts, even if they are wearing warm leggings. As tough as it is for me though, I think some of my friends from even warmer climates, the Spanish ones especially, are having a real tough time adjusting.

The current snow fall, best I can make out, is very light. If I had to venture a guess I would say maybe a Centimeter, possibly more depending on where you are. Though if it snows all day, and there seems to be a 70-80% chance of that, according to my iPhone weather app, then hopefully there will be enough by the evening to pelt some friends with snowballs! I have to admit, watching Hollywood movies growing up I always wanted to do the snow-day standards – build a snowman, lie in the snow and make snow angels, and of course construct an awesome and impregnable snow fort. Well, I say growing up, but if there are was enough powder out there right now there’s a decent chance I’d be doing just that, no matter how many funny looks I got. So if you’re around the Queen Mary Mile End campus area and you happen to spot me, you might want to duck (insert evil laugh here).

Hmmm… I just realized that I’ve spent this entire time talking about the weather and relishing my tea. I suppose I’m becoming a real London-er after all eh?

Makin’ it Legal: Is it High Time?

“Yeah I’ll take some Filter Tips, a pack of Rizlas and some Skunk” This is the image that popped into my head when I opened page 10 of The Standard today – that of a 20-something man, with a paper under one arm and a blackberry in the other, popping down to the off-license around the corner on the way back from work for some Weed to help de-stress after a long day. And though this seems absurd to some, it might not be that far in the future.

A cross-party groups of peers in a report submitted today has recommended that low-harm drugs, such as Marijuana, should be decriminalized and their use regulated through sale in shops. This report has been introduced to try and revive the debate over the need for the reform of the UK’s 40-year old Misuse of Drugs Act. Peers involved in pushing these recommendations apparently feel that the UK’s current Drug policy just isn’t working and according to Ex-government drugs advisor Professor David Nutt, what is needed is more “sensible,rational” Drug regulation. The PM however begs to differ. He feels that the policy is sound and said speaking at Cambridge today he said that the numbers are coming down and the focus of the policy needs to continue to be on treatment. So even though there are people out there who want to enjoy a safe legal high and don’t mind the idea of the profits going towards the NHS, like with cigarettes, they are going to have to wait a bit longer.

Now most countries in the world are pretty united when it comes to the hardcore stuff – Heroine, Cocaine, Meth. But policies the world over differ when it comes to what are considered low-risk, recreational drugs such as Marijuana, Mushrooms or Ecstasy. Amsterdam is known the world over for being a haven of the high, with permitted sale and use of some recreational drugs in designated areas. However even they have made moves recently to restrict the particular circumference of the zone where such use is permitted and have cracked down on tourists who abuse the freedom. The United States, which has long been involved in the “War on Drugs” has legalized Marijuana for medical purposes in a number of States, including California and even the capital Washington DC.

This debate is just as prevalent in India, where as recently as November 12, 2012 The Times of India, one of India’s largest and most-respected News agencies, advocated a more “enlightened” approach to Marijuana usage, suggesting that it should be legalized following the legalization in Washington and Colorado. The truth is the recreational use of Marijuana was not traditionally considered a “social evil” or as deviant behavior. In fact it use and sale was legal right up till 1985 when the, now still in force, Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act, came into force. On Holi, the festival of colors, many people throughput the country freely and openly participate in the consumption of Bhaang (a by product of the female Marijuana plant) as a part of the festivities – from your average “lower class” villagers to the “elite” of Metropolitan societies at their fancy and lively Holi parties. Many arguments have been put forward in India for legalization (and they are similar if not identical to those put forward in other countries) – Taxing the, till now unregulated, flow of recreational drugs would mean a new and high source of income (India is considered to be one of the top exporters of Marijuana and its by product Hashish in the world); Bringing the sale of such drugs out of the shady underworld would make it safer for those who experiment and often suffer due to mixing or “cutting” of such drugs with other harmful adulterants (an argument that would bring such products under supervision similar to that provided by the Food Adulteration Act, which provides strict penalties for this involved in harm caused by mixing of outside pollutants into food grains);and of course, the protection of minors (if sale were age-regulated sale of Marijuana would be restricted just like Alcohol or Cigarettes).

However there are just as many arguments against legalization – Age regulation is not an infallible control mechanism (ask yourself truthfully if the first drink you had was after you turned 18 or 21 or 25, whichever is applicable to you) and while there are many studies which suggest that Marijuana usage is not strictly physiologically addictive, personal experience will probably suffice for many people to know that a lot of people, especially at ages when they are at risk of falling into anti-social trends, can show signs of psychological addiction to such recreational drugs.

Both sides have an opinion. Neither stands infallible. The truth is it is a decision a society and its people must make for themselves. If people truly believe that they are ready for the legalization of such things, and they take personal responsibility for themselves and their children; to educate and protect them; to equip them with the mental fortitude to resist using drugs as a crutch; to allow themselves to be high but not get lost in the clouds; then it is their prerogative to speak up. Legislators are not gods or oracles that can see the future. They are men like you and me, tasked with the (often more difficult than we would like to imagine and mostly thankless) job of making rules and guiding society. But a society if nothing but its people.

I personally choose not to chime in on this debate just yet. I don’t think I am personally well-versed enough to authoritatively comment on the evil or acceptable nature of recreational drugs. Nor do I personally encourage anyone to use such drugs. All I would say is, if you choose to use or experiment, take responsibility for yourself. Don’t say you get high because society made you, don’t say you light up because the movies programmed you. And be safe. If the point of getting high is to feel good, then don’t do things that harm your body. Don’t over indulge. Like many others I like to pop down to the pub once in a while and relax over a round, but that doesn’t mean I would recommend planting yourself there 7 days a week and getting faced to the massive detriment of your wallet and your liver.

“Alive and Well”

A lot of stuff can happen
In a span of 10 years
Time can heal wounds
And dry staining tears

Memories can change
And feelings can too
Till you no longer remember
How she left you

And one day you wake
Feeling no sadness
And you ask yourself
What is this madness

How can I forget
Someone so important
Whose time in my life
Fate so harshly shortened

Am I some monster
Bereft of feeling
Or is this just my heart
Doing some healing

Is it human nature
To move on and prosper
And slowly block the memory
Of the day that you lost her

Forgotten but yet never so
No sickness or pain
Just sunshine and rainbows
No dark clouds or rain

In memories she lives
In hearts that swell
As long I love her
She remains alive and well