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I’d made a few reluctant attempts at starting to learn Korean. The sounds were totally alien, I struggled to get my mouth around them, and of course there would be no familiar Romantic base to hang the grammar upon. The thought of struggling so much with communication was weighing on me a little… But then I got a call out of nowhere, offering me a job in Seville, Spain. I could abandon the Korean completely! And now, three weeks later, here I am…

Packing was difficult – I’m no stranger to packing but this is the first time that I’m going somewhere just to go. And not come back, or have to think about coming back, or where I’m going next, or what on earth I’m going to do with myself in six months, or a year, or whenever the current venture is up. This time, I can stay still. How unusual… In the end, due to the expense and impracticalities of trailing large amounts of luggage in my wake, I couldn’t really take any of the things I’d have liked to have taken for a life of staying still, especially books. I had to settle for my Spain guidebook, my Spanish dictionary, Bukowski’s Tales of Ordinary Madness, and Hunter S. Thompson’s The Rum Diary, which I’ve only just read but have every intention of reading again as soon as I’m done with Bukowski. I think I chose well…

My journey over on Saturday was also notably unusual. For me, anyway… I stayed with a friend in Glasgow in order to catch my late-morning flight in plenty time. I did indeed arrive at the airport in plenty time, and hangover-free. I checked in my hold bag, 0.1 of a kilo below the weight allowance. I carried on through security without difficulty. The flight wasn’t delayed; In fact it landed 25 minutes early, which left enough time to catch the direct bus from Malaga airport to Sevilla. I had enough cash for my bus ticket (despite initially trying to pay the driver with Turkish Lira – thanks, Dad, for the bag of ‘Euros’). The bus got into Plaza de Armas station right on time, at 8pm. I walked in the right direction straight off and arrived at my new apartment within only a couple of minutes, where my new flatmate was waiting to greet me.

All this things going smoothly is unheard of for me. An airport experience, free of debacle? Naw… Either something is very wrong, or, just maybe, very right… Korea never had sat quite right with me (goodness knows, I’d procrastinated over it long enough). Now it feels like the universe has corrected itself. If it hadn’t been for an unexpected delay in getting my Korea visa documents sorted, it would have been too late – I would already have been there, away out East and unreachable. I don’t think I believe in fate – more often than not it’s used as an excuse or an empty justification, and that annoys me – but sometimes you need something to hold on to. It makes you feel nice…

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I have long made known my vitriol against pandas: great, dim, pointless beasts who refuse to make an effort to procreate and insist on trying to live on an indigestible foodstuff. They clearly have no will to live and if the forces of natural selection could have their way, they would be long gone.

As some notable naturalists have pointed out, if all the money spent on ‘saving’ the panda were redirected it could be of huge benefit to other, more pressing, ecological causes. But us Westerners with our sentimentality and our weakness for insufferable cutesiness… I suspect the pandas may just have become the victims of my displaced rage towards these cutesy and unreasonably sentimental types, though. And this weekend, I became one of them…

I picked up a 2013 calendar of pandas, chuckling shamefully to myself, thinking what a great Christmas present it would make for my friend who also hates pandas. And then I looked at the pictures on the back and suddenly felt really, really, terribly guilty for all those vociferous, anti-panda rants I’d subjected my colleagues to. Look at them, wee silly bumbling things, just trying to make their way in this grim world. Ach they’re cute, are they no?

[image: chinapanda.org.cn]

 

Yesterday was the anniversary of the death of Elliott Smith.

For those who don’t know: American musician, addict, depressive who ultimately came to stab himself (or be stabbed by someone) in the chest on 21st October 2003, aged 34.

My obsession with Smith has lasted nigh on two years and shows no sign of abating. In general these days I’m quite bored with guitar-based music, but  I just don’t tire of Smith’s fluttering, dynamic chords and layers of melancholy vocals. More than that, he is my favourite thing: a storyteller.

It would be impossible to pick a favourite track, always getting to know different songs better, or fall out a little with others (or have them become too painful to listen to any more when they become associated with a time). Pitseleh is definitely a favourite though. It shows all of Smith’s best qualities: rolling, compelling guitar work accompanied with piano, harmonised vocals, and sad, cutting, ambiguous lyrics… Elliott, you were truly the most exquisitely depressed human being…

Back at the start of September we went down to the Borders for a friend’s birthday celebration, by all accounts expecting a hippy campfire weekend out in the woods. This version of events continued accordingly until around 10pm, when we decided to make a diversion to a charity rave in a nearby field. We thought the field in question was only a few hundred metres down the road from the woodland community where we’d set up camp. The car was already running on fumes, as was I – Laura, still sober, offered to drive to the new venue. She had no insurance and hadn’t driven in some two years, but we were on quiet country roads, what could go so wrong? I placed my driving licence in that nameless hollow in front of the gear stick: “it’s a really old picture, they’ll never be able to tell it’s not you!”

The rave location turned out not to be just down the road at all, and we ended up rolling around the countryside surrounding Galashiels – thankfully mostly downhill – on a lengthy search, fraught with potential fuel-death. After having the chance to stop in town and fuel up (me in my intoxicated state; no doubt that’s illegal as well), we spotted a small, painted sign lit by fairy-lights in a gateway: “Party→”

Sometime after 9am next morning Laura drove us back to our tents, confident she was fine to take charge of the vehicle despite no sleep. None of the rest of us were in a position to disagree. None of the other five of us full-grown tall people, that is, that were to squash into the small Seat… A car that had begun the trip spotless was showing the signs of having been with us every step of that epic full-moon weekend, filled with empty booze containers, grass, and mud up to the ceiling…

As if all that hadn’t been illegal enough, I discovered this week when I went to renew my driving licence that the current one had expired sometime back in August… Not to mention the fact that I’d lost the accompanying paper part somewhere in South America, and hadn’t lived at the displayed address for over four years… The new one arrived already, no questions asked. Sometimes, luck is on my side!

Now that I’ve abandoned ship, (see Goodbye, hello!) I’m realising just how much communication now actually depends on being connected to facebook. Mild frustration has arisen at having to rely on people to pass me information by mouth, and at being excluded from certain founts of information, especially as I prepare to emigrate to South Korea (see posts in coming weeks).

And when I take photos of friends I think, ‘but who’s ever going to see these now??’

And after four years of compounding my life into a daily soundbite, my brain is only just starting to disengage from status-composition.

The overwhelming feeling that remains with me, though, is one of freedom. And I cannot emphasise enough how pleasant it is to open an inbox of messages from people with interesting things to say, and who know how to compose a proper sentence. Aaah…

A photo otherwise unseen…

Today, I’m feeling monochrome…

Image

This afternoon I was overcome by an urge to head for the coast. The sun had retreated, but the breeze was still warm and the clouds made a fine spectacle. There were others on the stony shore at Auchmithie, enjoying the close of the summer. Slavic voices fleeted up on the wind, too distant to tell where from, and I wondered how they had come to find this hidden cove.

 Some houses for sale: tiny, squint, one-story things, like rural homes ought to be; and I fantasise of a bleak, seaside existence…

I saw Ashley today, working in the British Heart Foundation charity shop. She looked thin and pale – so pale it was almost a green – and sort of folding in on herself as she attended to a rack of clothing.

I can’t tell you much about Ashley, but we both went on a history department trip to Prague in 2004. I remember her vividly, perhaps because I have a fantastic photo of her – an actual photograph, before the transgression to digital.  She is sitting with my three good friends at a table in a pub, the three of them smiling (as is the custom), and Ashley on the end with a look of inexplicable surprise upon her face – eyes wide, mouth open.

She’d led a sheltered life. She didn’t drink or go out, had never owned a mobile phone (her parents didn’t believe in them), and had the socially inept manner of what we assumed could only be an indication of genius.

The mobile phone thing turned out to be a hindrance when she went AWOL the afternoon we were flying back to Scotland. Our bus departed for the airport, leaving behind a lone lecturer to look for her. We all worried. “She’s no savvy”, one of the guys commented. Somehow, she was found in time.

Having supposed all this time that she had been some sort of genius savant, I was taken aback today to find her in her charity shop guise, seemingly crumbling, though strangely and sadly congruous…

I don't think it would've been fair to post the picture of Ashley.