Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Spotty postings

My posting has been exceedingly spotty recently, and I need to apologise for that. The fact is that current temperatures mean that at the end of the day the last thing I wish to do is do the keyboard fandango when the damn thing runs at body temperature.

Still; it's a little cooler today after a storm last night, and so I'm mustering thoughts to fire at you from my last days in this glorious country.

First thought is I will never get used to this heat. To give you an indication: the cream sheets I fitted to my bed on Monday now have a sharp line between the old cream colour and the new, bleached-like-a-bone-in-the-desert white colour they've achieved. The sun did this. The thing is like a billion miles away*. Nothing that powerful should be allowed near children.

My room looks emptier and sadder every day. Much like your skull, it is usually so covered in expressions and emotions that it is very easy to forget that if you take it all away you just have a very generic looking frame. It's like that, sort of. In the same way that it's hard to tell to whom a skull belonged, unless you do that sort of thing for a living, I don't think anyone would know what sort of person lived here if they looked now. And that's sort of sad.

Yesterday, in a segment I'm calling "New ways to disgust myself" I ate an entire roast chicken for dinner with potatoes. In my defense, I had no lunch, and it was really good chicken. You have never seen such a mess, nor seen such a sad, round man in all your life. I can guarantee it.

The reason I had no lunch was because I am absolutely powering through work. It's almost done. I can taste the finish line. It tastes like sweat and rubber, and victory. But the sweat and the rubber were the significant tastes. All the same, at this rate I should actually finish everything. Hooray! Now I just need to pack.

Aïe carumba.

Two more days, a three day weekend to pack and clean everything, two days of frantic finishing up and then home. So excited, so sad. Here comes the end.

*Ninety-three million if you wish to be more precise.

Monday, 22 July 2013

Cricket, allergies, mindless panic

I have 7 days left of my #thirdyearabroad.

This is a deeply upsetting fact for two reasons:

  1. I don't want to leave. I like it here, despite this ridiculous, furnace-like heat.
  2. I have way, waaaaaay too much work to do.
Reason two is the reason I've not been blogging much. Well, reason two and a whole new onset of allergies. My immune system has taken to treating pollen as the opening of hostilities by some unseen enemy and thus flushes my entire nasal cavity every two minutes, with six to seven enormous sneezes as an accompaniment. To round it off, sleeping is for people who are not under savage attack from pollen and being able to see is reserved for those not subject to ambush by flora.

My kinder colleagues tell me I look tired. I don't have any unkind colleagues, which is just as well because I'd go totally bananas if someone actually pointed out what an utterly unpleasant mess I must look right now.

The allergies were particularly bad last night because I played cricket with some friends from work; all interns, all Indian, and all light years better at cricket than me. I was glad England were playing well against Australia because in this little corner of the world I was letting the side down a lot. Still, it was a very pleasant way to spend an afternoon, if a little (a lot) roastingly hot. It is testament to my lack of sleep and wooly-headedness that for four hours today I couldn't work out why my right arm and side were hurting. Not a proud moment for me.

The work, as I said, is endless. Why people wait until just before they go on holiday to give work to the new guy is beyond me; I suppose they see me as the least important thing on a list but it does make it a touch difficult to get clarification on things I need...well, clarified. Still, I shall muddle through to the best of my prodigious abilities.

My final design for the invitations has been approved, and I got to spend several minutes groping paper. Oh, 350gsm gloss. Mm, 300gsm matt. Oh, Bristol, let me touch you with my fingertips. I used to work in a print shop, and some things never go away. And although it sounds odd, handling paper, looking at the different colours of white, comparing the gloss to the matt and imagining how your image would's amazing fun. Never let me design your wedding invitations. You will lose hours of your life to talk about paper.

With that done it's on to the movies, two translations, and a couple of rearrangements. Six days, five projects. No problem.

Now I think about it...I might go in a little early tomorrow.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

The end is near

This morning, instead of sleeping my normal 7 hours and waking up bright as a button and twice as useful, I went for a walk. I went for a walk at half past one along the banks of the Seine because
  1. It was cooler outside than in (and although I'm used to this, I'm not used to the warmth inside being unpleasant and the cold outside being welcome).
  2. My friend Adeline, who's been mentioned here a couple of times, left today, and that was literally the only chance I had to have a longish chat with her.
We rounded off our meander at around half past three in the morning. That's far too late for me, and yet I woke up feeling rather chipper, which was good because my day was already looking long. It got longer on my way to work; my account manager at the bank, with whom I had an appointment booked for five, called to push it back to half past five. Sigh.

Still, there was plenty of work to get on with in the meantime. Remember my to do list? It's shrinking steadily down. Soon it'll be empty, much like the building in which I'm working. I'm a little worried that at the rate people are melting away I'm not going to have anything to do for my last week.

For the moment I'm working away though, and I've just about finished with the invite. I'm hoping it gets printed before I leave; I want to see a beautiful, physical copy of my work right in my hand. It's not as art-deco as I would have liked, but it's still a design I came up with and put together myself, teaching myself some basic GIMP skills along the way.

The latest assignment is a return to Excel, and I've got to make some teams that are well balanced in terms of girls and boys, foreign and domestic students, and a representative cross-section of programs.

Spreadsheets ahoy!

(Oh. And I'm going to be a Fresher's volunteer in September again! I may even get to drive a minibus. Toot toot!)

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

A stressful day that got better and somehow more stressful

If you don't want to read the entirety of this post, then this image will sum it up nicely.

If you don't get it, I'm afraid you're just going to have to read.

Alright, so yesterday and Friday several of my colleagues mentioned that the annual intern report was coming up, and had I prepared anything.

My reaction: whut?

"Oh wow," they said, "you didn't know? Every year the intern has to prepare an hour-long report and present it to the senior staff."

Oh hey, that sounds amazing fun, like running across coals or jumping out of an aeroplane - the kind of thing I'd love to do with more than two days warning. So the entirety, and I do mean the entirety, of my day has been spent in a frantic, sweaty panic. I read and reread my report speech. I argued everything three different ways, trying to find any criticisms that could be levelled at me and working out how to counter them. I put together a presentation. I sweated through two shirts, and that's a pain because I do not have a lot of shirts right now.

So I turned up at the appointed hour and place and knocked on the door. I heard the voice of the motherfucking Dean of the School on the other side. My knees, which were already doing an excellent approximation of castanets, switched up a gear and knocked out a tempo that might easily be labelled prestissimo, if one were writing a symphony for the body.

I digress. I was nervous. That's the point.

I entered.


My coworkers had thrown me a surprise party. I had sweated through two shirts and it turns out there is no intern report. I was set up. They got me, and they got me good. To apologise they'd bought cake, fruit, and gifts.

The gifts were two-fold. First some physical things: a guidebook to Chicago, in French; a gorgeous dark blue tie; and a flash drive and a keyring, both inscribed with my place of work.

They also filled a card and two sides of A4 with kind words. Amazing. I can read them. Even more amazing-er.

I still had to make a speech, mind you. I'm also still shaking from that. 

So that was my day. A stressful day that improved but got more stressful at the same time, and a very pleasing way to say goodbye to all the friends I've made on the staff.

Monday, 15 July 2013

Bastille Day!

Alright, so I am running at about 10% of my normal today because I had the worst night's sleep of my life. Every time I drifted off my body decided to swallow a whole load of thick nasal mucus and so I awoke, choking and hacking, drowning in it. This is due to the fact that hilariously my body sees pollen as an invading virus on a par with HIV/AIDS, and not as cute little flower-sperms.

Okay, try not to think too hard about that image.

In any case, today is the day after Bastille Day - and what an evening it was. The roads were choked with people and the people were full of booze, thanks to police roadblocks checking for alcohol. None was allowed onto the Champs de Mars (unless you'd arrived before the roadblocks, in which case tant mieux) and so people emptied their bottles. Into their stomachs.

As a result there was an air of street party in Paris, though in the cafés and bars there was more than an ounce of frustration as waiters (who, this being Paris, were surly at the best of times) pointing irritably to signs reading "For paying customers only" upon being asked the same question for the nth time. The Champs de Mars itself was as packed as it could be and some enterprising souls, seeing that nobody was using big stretches of space between the green spaces, enterprisingly set themselves up there.

The reason nobody was using them was because they were thoroughfares, you inconsiderate dicks.

However, let's breeze past these inconsiderate individuals and consider the wider scene. People jostling for space, pardoning and excusez-moi-ing and being polite, and sharing food and drink and really getting along rather well. Utterly charming.

The evening began with a concert. I love classical music, I do, but I do wish people would stop ruining it with their voices. There is something so beautiful about instruments and something so human and...unpleasant about voices. Leave the instruments to speak. Actually, mentioning instruments, I went to see an absolutely fantastic jazz band. The drummer was absolutely stereotypical: long, curled hair, manic and infinite energy - he had the lot. The guitarist, too, had the sneer that Jagger et al perfected in ages past; a kind of twisted lip movement that added to the heat some members of the audience were feeling.

And the trumpeter/trombonist/vocalist was born from the same mould as the great Miles Davis himself. In fact, I'm listening to him as I type, and you should be listening to him as you read. There's a button at the top, and buttons are made for pressing. Go back and press it if you didn't press it.

The jazz was in a the Parc Floral de Bois, right at the edges of Paris zone 2. It's glorious, and nearby is the fantastic Chateau de Vincennes. I intend to go back sometime when I'm not wearing quite so many clothes (for the love of all that is good, why did I not pack a pair of shorts? Sometimes pessimism carries its own penalties). In any case, my friends - those who are left, we are all now departing in dribs and drabs, in the middle of the night to catch planes to fling us far away - had camped out on the Champs de Mars and now had prime seats for the night's festivities. I made my way there, fighting crowds, heat, and hordes of tourists standing in the middle of thoroughfares stretching maps out.

If I were to stand on the Champs Elysées with my arms outstretched, obnoxiously ignoring all offers of help and simultaneously exclaiming how lost I was then someone would, and with good reason, smack me in the nose with a hammer (or something equally solid) for being an arse of the first water. But no. These tourist types do it wearing berets that say "I Love Paris" and get nothing worse than a shoulder bump. Wonders will never cease.

I made it on to the Champ de Mars, which was obviously once used for drilling and training soldiers for campaigns in the country (or, as we say here, campaigne). One assumes these useful drills included the setting up of tents, or making camp, and of course where a camp goes camp followers come too - cooks, bookies, and ladies whose affections can be negotiated at an hourly rate. These women would, according to history, wear heavy make-up and garish dresses to advertise their trade, and before long this get-up was camp. Now whenever a bunch of chaps get together, it's not long before they're dressing as ladies (don't ask me why, but it's almost universally true - perhaps a sort of reverse psychology; I'm so manly I can dress as a woman!) and so a fellow who wore these lady's outfits and make-up might be called camp too.

The reason I've suddenly gone off on a circuitous etymological route like that (oh yes, there's a point!) will become clear momentarily. In any case, my good friends had saved me a spot and I, alone, hot, sweaty, dusty and suffering from (as stated above) the worst case of hay fever since records began* could not find them. Not a single one. And I trudged wearily about the whole field, looking like a lost soldier, for several hours, before giving up and collapsing into the dust. My nose ran. My feet smelled. I felt distinctly upside down.**

I listened with half an ear to the concert before making my way towards the river at about half past ten. I arrived in place just in time; an "Ooooh!" went up as the Eiffel Tower went dark and, across the river, a red glow illuminated the banks.

What followed can really only be described with images, so there are plenty below, but to give you a little mental sound -

The sky was full of light and sound. The big fireworks - the really big ones - exploded with a bang that made your internal organs leap with fright. After each bang there was a silence; a sort of anti-noise as your ears struggled to normalise. Windows shivered in their panes; even the Iron Lady seemed to sway in the face of the celestial aggression.

Mingled with the thunder were gentler sounds; the crackle of static as you pull clothes from a dryer but magnified and high above, as if Zeus himself were trying to tug Olympian togas from a heavenly machine. Others sizzled like water poured from height into a hot pan, and everywhere a heavy smoke filled the air and nostrils. During a brief pause, I chanced to look back at the Tower and noticed that it looked a bit more colourful than normal.

Anti-gay reaction was immediate and venomous. Pro-gay reception was immediate and joyous. Government reaction was "This is about Nelson Mandela," at which point both groups fell silent because come on, that's definitely a rainbow flag there.
Fuck yea equality
See? From Champ de Mars to camp to gay to the Eiffel Tower which is on (drumroll please)...the Champ de Mars!

Luckily, before gang warfare (Sharks and Jets style) could break out, there were more explosions and the stars came out again. The best thing about a three colour flag with simple stripes is that you can quite easily pack it into a firework and explode it. 


And again...

And again...

And again...

and...well, you get the idea.
The journey home was uneventful, save for me feeling more and more bunged up with every metre we travelled. I finally staggered home and hit the hay at once, and it's from there that we get back to the start of this sorry tale - my body doing its best to commit seppuku with, admittedly, a slightly blunter instrument than is traditionally used. 

So that was my Bastille day weekend. If you want to see more photos, click here. If you want to read something I wrote for the lovely people at +Third Year Abroad, click here

*Citation needed
*Joke stolen from my uncle

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Happy 14th July!

Yes, ten days after our cousins across the river celebrate the day they finally broke free of our tyranny and could get on with the serious business of making really big pizzas and having the children that would one day result in Neil Patrick Harris (those are the only things I know of that America has thus far achieved) here in France it is Bastille Day.

Bastille Day celebrates the French revolution, when the hated symbol of the wealthy political class, the Bastille, was stormed and its many unfairly imprisoned inmates freed. Right?

Wrong, mon ami(e).

7 people were in the Bastille that day; four forgers, two lunatics, and only one deviant. There had been two, but the Marquis de Sade, the man for whom sadism is named (and therefore the indirect cause of the Fifty Shades... trilogy) had been transferred out ten days prior.

Still, it was a hated symbol of tyranny, and so this evening and tomorrow there is all the pomp and ceremony that is to be expected on such an occasion. Pooi Yee, the tiny driving force behind many of the social events that occupy me, has told us that we are all leaving tomorrow at 7am to get good seats for the all-day-parade.

Yeah, I know. I work all week and this is how I enjoy my weekend.

In any case, this evening was great - there was a fireworks display in the park just down the road, and that meant we all tramped along for much ooh-ing and aah-ing as things went bang and flash an awful lot.

I'll write more on that tomorrow, and may even include some photos, but for now my reveille is in t-minus 5 hours so I'm going to hit the hay.

Happy Bastille Day! Remember that revolutions are so named because they revolve; give it a few years and it'll all look the same.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Welcome to Stress City. Population: me

That's not really fair. Myself, H, and M are all up to our eyeballs in work, and poor H is also up to her eyeballs in tissues too - she seems to have picked up an awful cold. The rest of my colleagues, however, have no more classes to teach and don't want to do any work - so they're bothering me. Normally this would be amazing, but right now, my to-do list looks like this:

And quite frankly I do not have time for tomfoolery.

Still, I got a lot of work done, I'm forcibly animating the film for the Alumni by getting rid of most of the video and inserting plenty of images. A rough draft is finally ready and I should get feedback on that before long if I'm very lucky, which is exciting. Once everything's correct, I get to stamp the logo on the whole film, a process that will put my name on a thing produced for an international graduate school. Forever.


In addition to that, I've also dedicated a lot of time to an invite to the annual dinner. Before you see this, note that I'm nowhere near a graphics expert. I am using +GIMP and struggling like an elephant in treacle. But after encouragement from my colleague, I had a crack at it, going for a (very) basic art-deco style, using a font called Glover, which you can download here. It looks very Roaring Twenties and it's free.

Can I point out at this point that I'm continually stunned by the output of actual artists working for free? It's mad.

This font is the awesomest.

Glove by ~matiasromero on deviantART
 So anyhow, this is what I'm using. As you can see, it's got a really nice style, and I'm hoping it looks good on the background which is essentially monochrome. Bear in mind that this is a draft and, in addition, probably pants. It's the front of a two-sided invite, and the back will have a very similar style, though I'm working on a couple of different ideas, while keeping with the monochrome theme.

This afternoon I stayed an extra hour to finish off the translation of the source code (see above) for the website. I've got to input it tomorrow and find out if it works. My gut says yes.

Speaking of guts - mine has been getting just a little too big and, since in Chicago I'll be in shorts and pools a lot, I've decided I need to trim just a little off. I don't know how much it's going to help, but I've started the +7 Minute Workout twice a day.

It is not a good sign that I did it for the first time last night and less than 8 minutes later I looked redder than I have ever been and had managed to work up a very impressive sweat.

"Do you want to go again?" it asked, cheerfully.

I slipped on a patch of sweat and collapsed. That'll be a no, thanks. With any luck by the end of the week I won't be quite so ready to die afterwards, and by the end of the month I might even be able to do the whole routine twice.

Yea, okay. I'm not holding my breath either.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013


Oh man. Spent another three hours on the video this morning. It's becoming THE VIDEO, this torturous little thing stuck in the corner and sucking my life. It is my own version of The Machine.

You don't know what The Machine is? Sit yourself down and watch The Princess Bride at once.

In any case, having had my soul drained out of my eyeballs for three hours solid I decided to make a break for it and fled towards the shops for a baguette, some ham, and a relaxing hour in the park lazily remembering the work I wasn't doing. I was nearly there when I got a call from an unknown number. Never have I been so close to simply pushing a call straight to voicemail. I think this is the first time - which says nothing good about my level of forever alone - that I've looked at someone calling me and wondered if I could be bothered to reply.

I did. I'm so glad I did; my solo hour of pensive reflection became a bubbling spring of conversation as my colleague Meyling joined me. She's trilingual, I've mentioned her before, and we had a lot of fun just sitting back and relaxing. Making a sandwich by tearing open a baguette, stuffing cheese and meat inside and then stuffing that bad boy straight down one's gullet is the pinnacle of civilisation. You can keep your tuxedos and champagne; give me orange juice, fresh bread, good company and shade from this cursèd sun and I am content.

It couldn't last forever; for a start it was only lunchtime and we had plenty of work to do. There were translations to do, of which I managed five pages in an afternoon, as well as a Powerpoint presentation to rearrange, and team lists to make up. Trying to get a good mix is tricky, but I'm sure there's an algorithm I could apply to make it work. I just have to work it out.

Finally, at 18h Hélène and I spoke to the stagiaire for next year. She sounded like she'd gone a long way beyond nervous as we quizzed her about her plans, how she'd be getting here, what her thoughts were, if she was looking forward it ("Uhh...oui..." was the squeaked response) and other such things. I'm really glad we got in contact with her before; I flew in pretty much blind and had no idea how to get to the residence from the station, which was where I ended up. That journey is still the worst I've suffered here.

I don't want to can't wait to not go. Heartbroken, especially after the new stagiaire's voice. She's so Scottish, and those tones have awakened a longing for 18-hour long nights and blistering cold and a face full of snow. Take me home and keep me here, please.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

And a few more of your least favorite things

My girlfriend's best friend turned me onto a group called +Vitamin String Quartet, who do stringed covers of bands. They are just incredible, so click play below and enjoy this band as you read on.

Today I finished the first cut of the Alumni video, which is turning out to be an absolute headache because the star is uncontactable for the foreseeable future and, regretfully, it's seeming like we might need an extra take. Still, the first cut is certainly watchable, and with a few cuts and some movie magic (I immediately regret writing that phrase) I'm sure I can make this project awesome. All the same, his voice was getting a trifle annoying, so while the film exported I started work on some statistical analysis.

In this particular project I'm looking at how many students said they'd take part in extra-curricular activities, how many actually turned up, and how many of those filled out the evaluation forms at the end. The numbers decrease exponentially.

(Side note, evaluation forms that are not anonymous are, to me, little better than useless. Nobody's going to tell their instructor they're rubbish and put their name to it?)

Still, it's a good opportunity to get grubby in Excel, and some string covers of rock bands (a combination of my two favorite things; their cover of +Panic! At The Disco is especially excellent) helped me power through and create some lovely shiny graphs. A short break from that brought me back to my Alumni colleague, with whom I'm working on some designs for our annual dinner - I'm feeling Gatsby Le Magnifique with an art-deco, monochromatic, angular style (say, do I know any event planners/graphic designers?) and then lunch with five women speaking in rapid French. I understood at least 3/4, which I'm counting as a massive win, because the quarter I didn't understand seemed to be a joke based around me. Not in an unpleasant way, but more in a "isn't-the-foreign-boy-cute-and-clueless" kind of way.

After lunch I got on with a couple of translations and was visited by a few colleagues, who seemed shocked that I had DVDs. I'm leaving in 22 days, and they discover this now.

I'm leaving in 22 days.

That's a really upsetting thought.

I don't want to go. I've got crazy stuff lined up; a holiday in Chicago with my girlfriend, a (paid!) fortnight of work with PRCA, and the chance to write a thesis in French. I'm going to see Derren Brown, and if I'm lucky he'll sign a couple of books that I had to summon demons to acquire. And yet -

and yet, I'm speaking to my replacement, and she's so excited and nervous and I remember being there. And I want to be there again. I want to taste that nervousness, and curse every tiny mistake, and meet again these enormous, wonderful characters that I've known while I've been here.

Nostalgia is cruel and kind in equal measure.

Still, there's nothing else to be done. Life must go on. I've got to take the next step, and fight the feeling that the struggle is Sisyphean.

Also, rediscovering +Spotify is amazing. 

Monday, 8 July 2013

Qu'est ce qui est jaune et attends?

Me, according to a 9-year old who's far smarter than she should be. Jaune-attends is close enough in pronunciation to my real name that I'm unsettled by how long it stumped me. It seems so obvious now, of course.

So I'm sneaking back to the blog. Sorry for the long hiatus. There are a couple of reasons for this, but they're both immensely childish and I'm not willing to dwell on them. Onwards.

My life has been absolutely filled with work recently; two video projects, colleagues with a whole host of things to do that are more important than my repeated requests for information (that sounds bitter, but it's not really - I'm aware that my emails get put into a folder marked "Deal with later" and that "later" means "never" because I am literally the most junior person in the entire organisation.) and a whole host of things to do before the entire company leaves for their summer holidays. I'm not kidding, it's highly likely that come the end of the month I shall be drifting, wraith-like, through the halls that once were thronged with students. My boss, my colleague, and their respective bosses are all leaving, and I'm genuinely a little concerned I shall be left swinging in the wind. We can but wait and see what is revealed.

Plans for the future are coalescing like a sponge that's been put through a blender. I've got a visit lined up to an actual nuclear research facility, which is making my inner geek (who bears a striking resemblance to my outer geek) leap up and down with glee. I've also organised a visit to a place in Chicago that I know Mary's going to love, and I know I'm going to love, and that I will not permit myself to take money into because it will all be spent. And I need to keep that money for the moment.

Speaking of such things, the flat-hunt is creeping forward. Suitable properties with suitable moving in dates are appearing, so I need to nail the next one I see and sort out contracts while I'm here. I'm hoping that's not going to be an issue, but again, we shall have to see. I'm also a few steps closer to bar work at home, if I need it, and I think I'll do a little - the forced socialising is good for me. Plus, being tipped for being handsome/charming/awesome/all of the above is an ego-boost, which is clearly what I need.

(Yes, the mere fact that I've stated it clearly demonstrates how desperately I crave attention. It's a thing and I'm working on it, but for god's sake I blog, and if that didn't tell you I'm desperate for people to look at me you're more blinkered than I am.)

I've got an interview for some copy-writing and photography with a company that deals in student housing, so I'm really excited for that - 9.45 CET and I'll keep you updated on progress there. It's minimum wage but it's writing and photography, and quite frankly I can do that in my sleep. Scratch that, I can excel at that in my sleep. So next year should be fun.

Oh, and I get to start writing a dissertation in September. I am so totally prepared for that!!

Yea, that's going to go as expected. As always I shall keep you informed.