Quizzing as a living

July 7, 2018 § Leave a comment

Callum Train, 44, is a professional quiz master. He runs pub quizzes all over East London and probably possesses more factual titbits than all the panelists of Quite Interesting put together.

His dry humour and understated confidence get him through rowdy pub nights like a breeze as he pokes fun at punters left and right in his mild, unassuming manner.ftsf-6e3442cb-9a27-4fd3-80ab-b1d877e348d5

Callum is a member of the gig economy, surviving off whatever opportunity is granted him next. When he was made redundant at his office job four years ago, going on benefits was not an option. What was originally a light-hearted hobby became a serious job, and he now relies on five well-attended evenings a week to make ends meet.

Pub quizzes are a precious commodity in the modern age, in that they disallow the use of mobile phones and encourage good old brain-racking and face-to-face interaction. There were over 22,000 of these events every week across the UK, according to a 2009 study.

Pubs use such events to boost otherwise quiet weeknights. During the busy period of the World Cup, quiz masters like Callum have to deal with many cancellations and disinterested crowds.


Sad, woefully inapt boys.

December 9, 2016 § Leave a comment

Again, the fun tales of being a girl behind the bar.

Sometimes I hear the thoughts inside of some boys’ minds. I call them boys because they are not apt to carry the epithet of manlihood. When one is babbling at my feet, trying out all the seduction techniques he’s clearly picked up from the Internet, I can hear his mind goblins pitter-pattering and adjusting gears whilst regulating blood flow to mediate the sexual organ before anything truly telltale happens. He will be helpful in any way possible, to the point of suffocation – and suffocation is damn hard to do when you have only met someone once. So +1 for advanced technique, but -100 for wrong technique.

He will talk to me about me and try to relate, putting on a flabby shell of seduction and thereby showing his true colors by not being himself. He will stare, then, for a while; if it works for the Jedi, why not him? I ignore the boy, then, and go about my business, and he’s probably thinking I’m playing hard-to-get now.

So it’s time for that much-decried method of negging, which apparently aims to crush a woman’s self-esteem by finding weak points and making her fragile and approachable. Needless to say, this doesn’t work on me and in fact turns me off more, which I didn’t think was possible – I was already a windowless room with the lights off, and that just makes me a coffin in the ground at midnight in a Scandinavian winter. Not only is it a transparent avowal of having read bullshit seduction techniques online, but it doesn’t make you look pleasant if you’re nasty to someone you, again, hardly know. I really don’t know what woman that one works on. Maybe if you’re really subtle, like bringing up things she wishes she could do and showing that you are better at them? Anyway, a sad attempt, but nothing compared to what’s to come.

If I have the misfortune of having to spend more time with this leech, there is no doubt that he will pounce before the night is through. I’ve been through the motions, something must be astir in that cold-hearted woman’s heart. There’s no space for questioning it. If you don’t do it now, boy, you’ll never do it. It’s like the adrenaline rush you get before running up to jump off a ten-foot-high diving board – now or you’ll be disappointed in yourself for never trying. And besides, it’s just a bit of water, you won’t die.

Unfortunately, that attitude is the wrong one to have when it comes to women, because even though we can’t kill you either, you can certainly make us extremely uncomfortable at best, or traumatise us at worst. You’re not dealing with your own personal hormonal blood rush here, but the sanity and self-preservation instinct of another person – one that has likely been through this bullshit before. If you’re lucky, she is like me and far too considerate: she will push you away and shake her head with an internal eyeroll. If the world is just, however, you’ll try your final, pernicious move on a girl with no patience and a lot of pent-up energy. She will either elbow you in your pretty little boyish face or speak up and humiliate you if people are around. She will not let you forget your stupid sexual attack on a clearly unwilling human being, clearly being the key word here, if only you’d paid attention to body language class in the womb like most adults.

Can’t stand boys. Bring on the men.

Question yourself more.

November 14, 2016 § Leave a comment

Say, I reckon the main thing affecting human relationships is self-doubt. Too many friendships end up at the landfill because of stubbornness and unwillingness to question oneself.

So, there are extremes. I hear people come up to me at the bar when I’m waiting to serve them and start off our interaction with an awkward titter and a polite “ooh, sorry”. I can not help but give them a baffled look – what is everyone so sorry about? Maybe they’re apologizing in advance for the unpleasantness they are predisposed to causing later on.

Use up your daily quota of apologies on banalities, to instill a sense of sympathy and trust in your interlocutors – so that when a compromising situation arises, you can let indignation take over in an impassioned outburst, and not owe anyone any  apologies.

See, people know of the concept of being apologetic, respectful and willing to back down. All these are valuable assets to a fully integrated member of our society. Most of us, however, have grown so massive inside our own minds that the consciousness herniates.
What pokes out on the surface is a never-ending outflux of generic apologetics.
Underneath, an unrelenting sense of self pulsates and readies itself for the great pounce when its sense of sensibility is questioned, or its needs not quite met. It is when apologies and self-doubt are most crucial that they are treated as nothing more than pesky obstacles, and conceited rage is allowed to take full reign of the mouth and, on special occasions, treat it to its favorite candies: obscenities and mockery. When two people do not get along, it is often a case of one ego not even entertaining the possibility of the other’s opinion being worthy of consideration.

The mind must be mediated, the hernia removed, the consciousness evened out.

The pain of beholding beauty

August 20, 2016 § 1 Comment

I can not keep my appreciation of beauty to myself.

We went cycling by the canal yesterday. It was the most beautiful day of the year and I didn’t bring my camera. We saw green and gold, crystal clear reflections on the water as we rode, but I didn’t bring my camera. We passed all the house boats with their tiny windows and low ceilings, tanned boat masters sitting on their mattress thrones amongst their flower pots. River boats floating along at a leisurely pace as men played oddly-shaped guitars for women. Everyone was feisty, communicative and jovial. We reached a locked gate at one point, and there were two kind young men sitting by it smoking aromatic herbs – the sunshine gatekeepers, I called them affectionately. They showed us the way up and around to rejoin the canal, as we had reached a mooring zone.

The canal is like a subway for pedestrians and bikes – far away and below the city with its dirty bustle. To find our way back we had to request the services of a gentleman on his confident cycling route home which happened to be on our way that we could not find. Like a quest in a video game, we suddenly had to pick up the pace and follow this man across quiet, winding roads until we reached a group of cyclists who all seemed to be on a similar mission. He left us with a wave and a humble “you’re welcome” as he sped off, his part of our little journey successfully accomplished. We followed the rest of the herd until, before we knew it, the canal was on our right this time, and the sun was at a fabulous low point in the clear sky. But I didn’t bring my camera. We passed rows of trees and their doubles in the lightly windy water, and then they opened up to reveal millionaire houses overlooking the most peaceful and glorious part of London. Great stone habitats with columns and professional landscaping. White, throne-like benches. Maybe their kids had their own boat somewhere nearby, for whenever they may feel like toughing it out with the simpler classes. Weeping willows, white stone houses, hilly gardens, but I didn’t bring my camera!

Then I saw it. I saw a reflection under a bridge a reflection so immensely riveting I had to turn back and gaze at it. I had to get a picture even if it was with my crummy phone. A sliver of light had eased its way along the wall under the bridge and found itself refracted inside the water, creating a slightly off-kilter line. The sliver itself was perfectly reflected on the surface underneath, and its continuation was reflected opposite in a slowly moving golden reproduction of the water’s surface. Gleaming thin lasers in constant movement on the upper left side of this perfectly formed oblong golden X on a charcoal background… and I didn’t. Have. My. Fucking. Camera.

Here’s what I immortalised instead.


My introduction to men.

August 6, 2016 § Leave a comment

I was sixteen, he was eighteen. His name was William, and we met in my first year of Swiss high school. He was in his last – he’d skipped a year in primary school, he was such a smartie. Tall, curly, dark and very cute. Issued from a family so Catholic they lived in a parish, he was the absolute epitomy of the boy you’d unhesitatingly take to meet your mother. The perfect first boyfriend for an unusually prudish and delicate young girl.
But let me take us back to my humble seductive beginnings.
I was a prude all throughout my teenage years; not a puff of smoke, not a drop of alcohol, and seriously disturbed reactions to sex scenes in films. All that didn’t stop me from absolutely loving the boys, though. From Charles to Alfie, from Riccardo to Jeremy, my middle school years were wrought with teasing and stalking boys in the company of my friend Nika. All in good wholesome preteen fun.
“ALFREDO!!” I screamed out the kitchen window as Nika giggled behind me.
“ALF – oh, shit, he’s looked up!” and we crouched down in peals of laughter.
Alfie, clearly not amused, continued on his way to school. He had appeared early that day. Nika and I would get together half an hour before class and stake out my kitchen window, which gave us a sniper’s view over the road to our middle school. Through this portal of fun we would see the boys we were not-so-secretly coveting and harrass them from afar, warming up before our daring up-close interactions at recess breaks. They were both older than us, and both really smart. In fact, Alfie ended up skipping a grade to go straight to high school – and it wasn’t even the only grade he’d effortlessly evaded. Needless to say, we had good taste. It was deeply tragic when we entered our second year of middle school only to see everyone…but him. I loved Alfie’s orange T-shirt and blue backpack. We could spot Charles’s fair head of long, long hair and distinguished glasses from a mile away. We could also hear his squeaky shoes as he approached with long, bounding steps straight into our usual ambush at the corner of the furniture store that was on the intersection between my house and his.
“Charles! Fancy seeing you here!” we giggled as we joined him on our way back to class after lunch break.
“No way, not again,” he said, probably feeling very embarrassed at first, but he got quickly used to it. We were lucky no one called a restraining order on us.
“What do you think of God and the belief therein?” I engaged immediately in pseudo-serious conversation, prodding at his intellectual mind. He’d give in eventually, “putting out” for us in the form of entertaining debates that would last deep into the hours of the evening when we’d continue working on our victims through instant messenger.
Nothing like Alfie.
What do you think of us?, we wrote, anxiously waiting for the reply.
You’re, uh, nice? but I don’t know what you want me to say, was the perplexed reply of our quiet, scientific friend Alf. He was cold and unresponsive, and so delightfully intriguing and fun to torment. He couldn’t take the harrassment and so got more of it; we liked to sit outside his apartment building in wait when he tried to avoid us. We even learned his brand new unpredictable timetable when he cheated us out of a second shared year of middle school. One day he had a real go at us for all our unwarranted affections. It only made us follow him more surreptitiously so he wouldn’t notice as much. At least he knew he wasn’t alone in his victimhood, although. His classmate Charles coped with the attention more enthusiastically, and we ended up exchanging many words in our online chats, so many, in fact, that he warmly promised to write psychological tracts about me one day. Oh Charles, my precocious, wise, writer friend. I was thrilled.
These two years of middle school were my first taste of male attention, male attraction. There was hardly any sexuality to it – perhaps a little with Alfie. In fact, they represented both ends of the spectrum.

Alfie was my shy, preteen introduction to lust. It was in the warm feeling I’d get whenever I saw his face appear unexpectedly round the corner or from behind a door. He demonstrated to me and Nika the power of indifference and the obsession it cultivates.

Charles was my introduction to male companionship and the pulsion I still have to this day to spill my guts out to a smart man who will listen.

I kicked the stalking habit after middle school. Men took care of that when I grew up and started working in pubs.


PS: all names have been changed.

Nighttime crises.

July 31, 2016 § Leave a comment


ain’t nothin but a tired cow, yawnin all the time

Ever get that feeling, when you’re trying fitfully to fall asleep, that your closed eyes are merely wide open, lidless eyes looking up into darkness? I’m getting that right now. It’s somewhat disturbing, I decided to give in to my body’s evident desire to keep me painfully awake. As I look at the screen, it’s kind of shifty, blurry-like. Maybe that’s a sign I need to go to sleep. Ha! Called your bluff, body. I know you won’t let me. Wanker. I know you’re a wanker ’cause I’ve seen it myself. Another thing you like to do without asking my opinion first. Well, I’m pushing it a little. You know I’d never stop you from doing that. Except maybe that time I really didn’t feel like it, I was reading that awful article, you know? About American politics and how frightfully clownish it’s all gotten? And you just had to go and… anyway. Let me bloody sleep already.

And I feel I should do something productive, like finally get around to writing an outline of a story or something, only I feel that would only wake me more and intensify my budding headache on top of it all. So I suppose I should go on with this “stream-of-consciousness” nonsense, excuse for a writing style, and maybe lull myself to sleep that-a-way.

Go on, body, you know you need it, you need it bad. Well, not bad, per se, I’m not like, sleep-deprived or anything. Just well, I will be if you don’t hurry up and let me go, ’cause mother’s gonna wake me up early tomorrow. And you know we don’t like that, neither of us. Particularly me. You’re just a sloppy mess, and I have to put up with it. So don’t, just, don’t, okay? Christ!

Hm. God, you know what’s really embarrassing and absolutely sinful about my inner self? I am so angsty about literally every single last one of my old friends doing some fancy master’s degree after brilliantly finishing their fancy bachelor’s degree, back in the fancy old town where I grew up. I suppose I’m pretty brilliant as it is, but couldn’t at least one of them go off the rails a little like me? Can’t they make me feel like my decision of “doing a crappy little music degree and then moving on to NOT study further and just live some sort of life” was not such a terrible one? They are all so sorted, you know. So… employable. I can’t see myself in any sort of high-paying job, none. I have no skills to offer the high-paying. Except, of course, my body, she said with a tinkling laugh and eyelash flutter. But god no, I suppose it’s too easy, and also too shame-upon-the-family-name-ish.

Families. Don’t get me started about families. In fact, I won’t start. Really, my family’s pretty all right. Like, I’m pretty god damn blessed. God damn it, I’m so god damn blessed, I could so have had a cushy masters degree in my old cushy town in its cushy country with its cushy free higher education. And here I am with my blessedness running down the side, kind of glooping off into a puddle on the table and then leaking, just one long gushy drop of blessedness, leaking off the side of the table onto the floor. Just beginning to stain the floor, only a small section of it, but it’s a slow and terrible process which I’ve been in the process of beginning ever since I decided to do that stupid art school foundation year and then that even stupider music school diploma year, and then that stupid degree which I should have known would be stupid.

Look on the bright side, though, I’ve met some awesome people and been through some awesomely exciting stuff, at least compared to my old town life. Ehh… even that’s not convincing me so much. All my most deeply-rooted nostalgic memories are of that old life, growing up. Though I know the mind is so tragically deceitful, and I know when I move on somewhere else, I’ll have those same nostalgic thoughts about my life right now… and I’ll only ever be happy in retrospect. Curses.

…Only ever happy in retrospect. Good theme for a song (NOT a theme song), or name, or something. Or a bo–

No. I have not one idea for a good plot. I can only ever write what pops into my muddled brain, or whatever someone tells me to write about, provided the necessary materials. (Any newspaper peeps hiring? Nudge nudge!)

Anyway, here we go, pip-pip, off with me, the coyka* is calling.

*my personal little russky addition to the Nadsat dictionary, meaning bed

Ode to Dog

July 30, 2016 § Leave a comment

There is practically nothing more precious to me than this little being, so delightfully alive. She makes my heart cry just to see her big black eyes, so suspicious as she looks up at my mother and me after we betray her with yet another bath, or eye-cleaning, or other intrusive procedure. She makes my heart burst with laughter to see her cocky stance and pouted-out black lips as she looks at my mother, ready to prance and bark her heart out at nothing when given the command.

She’s lying there, looking at me with some bemusement and distrust in her eyes. She doesn’t trust anyone as much as my mother, and particularly not me, as I was young and impatient and tried to train her with all these techniques I learned online. I was the obnoxious parent always trying to “do what’s best” and not earning her favor in the least. It pains me to this day, but I am so happy to see what a beautiful relationship she has with my mother than I’ve stopped minding so much.

She’s the flightiest little creature I’ve ever met. Unless you have food, good luck getting close enough to so much as touch her on the back. She doesn’t need attention or cuddles, in fact, she’d rather be left alone, except by my mother. She has bouts of absolutely unbelievable playfulness, digging in the covers, pushing pillows off the bed with her tiny, thin, black muzzle and her tiny, thin, wet, black nose. When playing with toys, she gets possessive and almost aggressive, but always seems to come back for more; I’ve yet to tire her out. Only her doggie friends have managed to do that.

Twelve years of life is no obstacle for her, I still can’t see symptoms of ageing. I like to think I helped with that by insisting on feeding her a raw diet throughout her life, though recently she’s been demoted to (high-end) kibble due to stomach troubles. I didn’t listen to vets’ and friends’ fearmongering and read numerous books and sites on the subject, and I’m so happy to see that BARF is becoming a mainstream thing in pet nutrition.

But I digress.

She is so funny. Afraid though she may be of strangers, she is a bossy little napoleon when confronted with big floppy dogs like her friend Kikko the Pitbull or Bratan the Doberman. Bratan whines when she is under the dinner table because it’s a no-access zone when she’s down there. She seems to respect dogs her own size a bit more, but still tries to hump ’em good (for dominance reasons), in spite of sometimes dangerous remonstrations. On a walk, she’ll avoid any dog in her way; she’d rather not talk to strangers, thanks very much.

She’s so fragile and small. Such a tiny skeleton under all that fluff and attitude. What nightmares I have had about her being in danger. Children just don’t do it for me; but I know what a strong mothering instinct I have when I think about her. I had it since I was a teenager and she’d sleep in her crate in my room; the tiniest noise of distress from her little bed and I’d be awake and fretting. And I’m no light sleeper. I can’t count how many times I’ve woken up to be heavily disappointed at missing an awesome thunderstorm that morning. But this little creature… even now that I haven’t lived with her for nearly five years… she still haunts my dreams with her sheer preciousness.

And finally, her smell. My god, that smell! I will choose my next dog by smell and smell alone. There is nothing to calm me quite like that homely aroma that just rolls off her when she is quietly sighing in her crate as she sleeps. Nothing like that gentle aura of warmth, for it is the absolute definition of warmth, to me. When I hold her and she gives in despite the annoyance of being held, her flexible, full and bony little body just emanates this warmth and this smell so powerful that I can hardly distinguish one from the other. It is THE smell of love, and cuteness, and warmth, and body heat, and life. Call me crazy? Yes. You probably will. I wish I could capture that essence in a bottle (without having to do anything gruesome like Grenouille in Das Parfum) and keep it with me at all times… although maybe I wouldn’t, because the smell is just so connected to the body and the being, and the WARMTH!!! How many times can I use the word warmth in one paragraph? Count and see. Even the word “warmth” is lovely and represents well what I’m trying to describe.

Warmth, warmth, warmth. Nothing better! God, I love warmth. God, I love this dog!

Just how can anyone resist?

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