I was six when the Taliban took over Afghanistan and made it illegal for girls to go to school. So for the next five years, I dressed as a boy to escort my older sister — who was no longer allowed to be outside alone — to a secret school. It was the only way we both could be educated.
Each day we took a different route so that no one would suspect where we were going. We would cover our books in grocery bags so it would seem like we were just out shopping.
The school was in a house — more than 100 of us packed into one small living room. It was cozy in winter, but extremely hot in summer.
We all knew we were risking our lives: the teacher, the students, and our parents. From time to time, school would suddenly be cancelled for a week because the Taliban we’re suspicious.
We always wondered what they knew about us. Were we being followed? Do they know where we live?
We were scared, but still, school was where we wanted to be.
—From Shabana Basij-Rasikh’s TEDxWomen talk, “Dare to educate Afghan girls.” Shabana, now 22, runs a school for girls in Afghanistan. Listen to her talk and read more about her work at TED.com.
Most TED Talk videos are pretty neat but this one is one of my favorites.
MeTube: August sings Carmen ‘Habanera’ (by augustschram)
This is the weirdest most ridiculously insanely crazily brilliant thing i’ve ever seen
Pretty much with this attitude I became a massive alcoholic
In the great big book of life as written by me there are only 3 repeating stages a person can go through. There is the Before Drink Stage in which you function as a more or less ordinary and well-balanced member of the human race, the During Drink Stage in which all regular laws and morals are discarded in favour of those which provide you with more drink, and the After Drink Stage, commonly called the Hangover Stage, in which…well is the focus of this blog post.
Being in Hangover Stage right now, and having been there often, I can assure you it is not pleasant. Think Gollum screaming on the rack in the first LOTR film. You become basically kinda like this pathetic like jagged shriveled form, only just able to maintain the basic metabolic functions for continued existence. Pizza usually appears from somewhere too. Or as is my current case appearing all down the left side of my face and pillow. Clothing is often inconceivably and hilariously jumbled—like the sock I had to remove from my hand when I woke up to type this, or the hoodie that was back to front and inside out and on my legs and is still there for some reason.
Soon you become like a marooned and parched veteran crawling on all fours and meandering to a sink where you can alternately puke and drink. It is often in this state that a sibling discovers you. And they look pitiably down, and shake their head, and say So Out Late Last Night Then? By now, any kind of comprehensible response is beyond feasibility. The best that The Hungover Man can work up is a kind of guttural rasping from which the words “Water” and “Go Fuck Yourself” can be vaguely deduced. The sibling leaves, and The Hungover Man continues, collapses for a brief while or forever, and then with one final lurch of energy makes it to a sink. There to stir up intense molecular activity in the stomachal region, and basically like move vast quantities of chyme against the force of gravity, squeezing what amounts to a partially digested veggie burger (£3.99 with meal) through the cardiac sphincters, adding mucus to the bulk as it ventures up the oesophagus, choking briefly when gravity wins at the epiglottis, and finally out through the mouth into the drain, and from there on your 4am drunk meal now floating in sewers 20 feet underground becomes officially the property of Severn Trent Waters. I don’t even know what I’m on about anymore.
We began (that is me and my liver) in highflying style with a pitcher full with Strongbow. It was 3 in the afternoon, and with a symmetrical flourish we wouldn’t be done till 3 in the morning. That makes for a 12 hour bender of near mythic proportion. By good fortune, the time people had decided to shift the clocks back an hour meaning we got a smooth 60 minutes on the house at 2 am. Anyone who could see my state even well before then though would quickly conclude that the extra hour was unnecessary. Take for instance this trip to the toilet:
Now, toilets in bars are an economical affair. You enter, you do the business, you exit. Words don’t need to be exchanged, and more often than not grunts will suffice. Unless squaring up for a round of fisticuffs, eye contact is a no-no. Gesturing is straight out. Communication of any kind must be parenthesized within a flurry of insults. For example,” Oi Dickhead Get Out The Fucking Way”, or “Quit Hogging the Hand Dryer You Spaz” to illustrate some common bar toilet phraseologies. Continual monitoring is essential because situations can rapidly escalate and swallow up any potential escape paths. A man frustrated at his money disappearing in the condom machine can turn in an instant and take out his anger at any old dweeb (usually me) within the vicinity. Bar toilets are dangerous places: you enter, you do the business, you exit. That’s all.
I made a rookie error—I dallied. There was a guy puking in the toilet (a regular attraction at most bars in England) and I asked him if he was okay. In between bouts of vomit he told me to buzz off. A more sober version of me would have left it at that, perhaps taken a picture or two of the wreck to share with friends, but by and large not intruded any more. I asked him once more if he was alright. His vomiting stopped in short order. He drew himself up, and gave me a right good shove. Then he returned to his earlier position, and reproduced various gloops of yester-dinner.
As for me, I’ll admit it, I’m not built good. It takes pathetically puny quantities of force to displace me serious distances. I went sprawling with legs and heads swapping relative positions. I picked myself up and fled. From then on I was too scared to go back to the toilet. I only went for a whiz outside on the street after that.
The bus ride home was interesting. An old man from the row in front tried to strike up a conversation. Not feeling in the mood at all, I put in my headphones. By the time I took them out to get off the bus, the old git had just finished up a story about how his great-grandniece had survived polio in Armenia or something, mistaking my head nodding to the beat as acknowledgment. I was rude and I don’t care. Ten minutes earlier, before getting on the bus, I had charged all around Coventry knocking ice cream cones out of small children’s hands, and umbrellas out of old lady’s. If there was a suicide booth somewhere nearby this is what I would have done: dropped my watch, wallet, and cufflinks into a panhandler’s guitar case, made a racist dead baby joke to an innocent looking stranger, and then without even a second thought I would have gone and strapped myself in and picked the most gruesome option. What I’m trying to say is my interview went badly and I was a wreck.
It was for a Shop Floor Assistant. They asked me to sell a cushion to test my salesman skills which I had listed in my CV as being almost superhuman, and all I could think of were T.S. Eliot quotes describing the horrible emptiness of the situation society had engineered here for me. I was sitting between two other candidates. To my left was Carbuncular Kid, and to my right was Burping Gastrointestinal Explosion Man (I’m going to give them superhero names). We were grouped, handed a catalogue, and asked to sell page 278 to two nail-gazing interviewers on the other side of the table. Carbuncular kid and BGE-man immediately put me on cushion duty, and while I was there having an existential breakdown, they argued over who had the rights to the classy leather sofa which took up the bulk of the page. In the end they settled on saying one sentence each in turn, because that would look really professional, and that is precisely how you buy sofas.
As I said, my turn came, and I buckled up. Half a dozen pairs of eyes stared down. To the interviewers credit they told me Not To Be Nervous, which of course made me all the more nervous. I mumbled something about cushions being a luxury only a small percentage of people the world over could afford and only a fool would pass up on the opportunity to own this particularly prize specimen, which, having the word HOME embroidered on it, was clearly king, or at least of princely personage, of all the cushions in cushion-dom, so to speak. Here there was an awkward laugh from me. Then I realized this was stupid and I went for a less poetic and more direct selling technique by mentioning that the design was such the extra plushness would make it difficult for small children to accidentally asphyxiate on. One of the interviewers coughed, and the other blinked repeatedly.
At the end of the interview I refused to give them the satisfaction of a thank you. I walked out. Straight out, disappeared into an elevator, where my heart lurched and sank in perfect sync with the drop down the building. I hate interviews so much.
Spent morning on sofa, underneath a duvet, snapping off squares of Cadbury WonderHangoverCure®, inserting occasional groans into the ambience, and pondering why why why. Somewhere in the room, in 42” Samsung HD glory, is a little old housewife, deliberating over the capital of Venezuela, for a once-in-a-lifetime chance to recline in a bikini* on some palm-fronded beach somewhere. Visuals of naked models clutching precarious towels appear, whilst the poor little old lady bites her lip and watches the timer run to zero. Host cuts in with the correct answer (Caracas???) and shows her everything she could have won, then cruelly dismisses her behind a curtain and begins afresh the ritual to fetch his next victim from the audience.
4pm now and I’m like dying here. Call an ambulance, beep stuff, insert something intravenous, hold aloft the defibrillators—back down, just some idiot with a hangover :|
So, last night. Everything began the regular way: money was transacted, alcohol was retrieved, motion was repeated, and repeated, and repeated. Suddenly out of nowhere I was struck by a rare flicker of consciousness. Lights were strobing, I was gyrating, and S club 7 bizarrely felt like the pinnacle of all musical accomplishment…how does that line by Nabokov at the start of Speak, Memory go… “The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness”…existence and drunkenness both i think.
AnywayIAm so hUngoVer My head m y poOr heAd.
Here’s how I imagined life would be: one minute you’d be gowned and shaking hands with a snooty class valedictorian, the next you’d be suited and shaking hands with some bigwig at human resources. Meaning life would be a doddle. Society would basically be giving you a good old slap on the back because your ancestors made the right choice moving westwards. It would be nothing like it is for those mindless drones in China who get paid mostly in pirated DVDs and can get at best maybe like 20 minutes maternity leave max, and that’s only if they promise to immediately enrol their baby for more work or something. And so I believed it.
Anyway there I was, wandering aimlessly around town, contented with the world and feeling a bit peckish. I got short-changed in Greggs, and thought to myself you know I probably ought to give this whole job thing a whirl. I found an unassuming named building (Dick House if I recall), waltzed right on in, lobbed my hat on a hatstand, and demanded a Job off the reception lady. Adding: preferably high pay, lots of holidays, little work, numerous benefits though not particular about which, and ideally an opportunity to bark at underlings. She said, sorry check back later.
You have to understand, I don’t actually want a Job. I mean, who the hell would want to spend 8 hours a day doing stuff when you could be sleeping or drinking instead. The problem is a Job is where money comes from, and you kinda need money for pretty much everything (don’t look at me, I didn’t make these rules). Irritation ensued then as receptionist after receptionist informed me there were no Jobs. They were on vacation, they’d moved abroad, they were sleazing themselves out on street corners to sick low-wage deviants, whatever: they just weren’t where I could get to them. And now my tummy was decidedly rumbling, and my nose was actually hurting from getting so many proverbial doors slammed in my face, I decided to crank things up a notch – I decided to go see the Job wizard (he lives in the Job Centre), and ask him why no one would hire me. I mean, I’m fairly able bodied, if someone of authority gives me an instruction, unless it’s something outrageously immoral or beyond my capabilities, I usually get it done to a satisfactory level. Heck I even have certain skills and qualifications which I went to the effort of tabulating in a document called a CV for the convenience of any employer.
The Job Wizard, who was called Fred, and was an intern, and walked around with a badge that said HAPPY TO HELP, and kept complaining that he hadn’t had his morning coffee yet, told me I needed experience to get a job. I asked him how I got experience. He told me I needed a job. I asked him how I got a job. He told me I needed experience. I asked him how I got experience. He told me I needed a job, and that I should stop repeating myself for effect because it was wasting his time.
So now I’m more confused than ever. All I wanted was some money to buy Greggs, and now I’m having a quarter-life crisis because life isn’t easy, and no one will hire me :(
I don’t know…It was January a little while ago, and now it’s January again, and in the intermediate 12 months no one—not least me—has bothered to fix the latch on my bedroom door, and I’m pretty sure that bottle of PVC glue was still stuck on that shelf this time last year, and what’s to be done about this whole life business… I don’t know.
I’m hoping maybe this’ll finally be the year I accidentally slip down a manhole and uncover a hidden utopia deep beneath the crust and round out my days singing and drinking while fleets of automatons till the land and everything exists in harmony. Or maybe it’ll be the year the president finally snaps and demands from his war secretary in a shaky voice the red button, his family, and some privacy. Orrrrrr maybe this year’ll pass with eerie calm until the 31st of December, and then in like a chaotic ragnarok all the world’s volcanoes and seas will rise up together towards the streaks of flaming meteorites, and the last person alive will scream something about the Mayans being right before being consumed in the general conflagration.
I’ve been awake for 24 hours and have probably drank too much coffee and have literally no idea what im talking about. Maybe I should try and sleep or something.