One of my cousins lives in Tamworth, near Birmingham. A few weeks ago we were talking on the phone and she told me she was taking a gap year, travelling around India and the Far East. So I decided to visit her for a weekend before she left.
She lives in a two-bedroom apartment and when I arrived the whole place was in quite a mess, with half-packed boxes stacked up everywhere. I asked her what she was going to do with all her stuff for the 12 months she was going to be away.
That’s when she told me about one of the options for self-storage Tamworth residents could take advantage of. She found the company on the internet and went to their premises to check them out, because she’d heard horror stories about some storage companies in the past.
From what she told me these guys sound quite impressive. The facilities are modern and clean and above all dry. You get the key to your own storage space, so you can go in there any time during their normal opening hours.
The whole place is humidity and temperature controlled and there are high-tech security systems, like intruder alarms, CCTV, fire and smoke detectors. With all that protection in place the chances of anything bad happening to your belongings is quite small and in the unlikely event that something goes wrong, they’ve got insurance available at a reasonable price.
What Mary; that’s my cousin’s name, really liked was the fact that she could get all the boxes and masking tape and bubble wrap she needed right there, so she could start packing immediately.
I am going to miss Mary when she’s gone; she’s one of my favourite cousins. What’s more, I envy her because she’s doing exactly what I would love to do, travel the world for a whole year. Never mind, as soon as I’ve completed my studies I’ll be setting off on my own adventure.
As regular readers know by now, I love travelling. As a 19-year old student I don’t always have the funds to take off when and where I want, but my part-time job at the local phone shop does bring in some very useful money, so whenever the opportunity arises I take a trip to somewhere as exotic as possible.
Recently I spent a few days in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur. Between visiting all the major mosques, Indian and Chinese temples and shopping malls I was quite busy. I particularly loved the Batu Caves, with the gigantic golden religious statue in front. The 240 step climb to the actual caves had me gasping for breath, but it was well worth the effort.
I loved the cosmopolitan atmosphere of Kuala Lumpur. The variety of food on offer was simply astounding and the quality always amazed me. Even better, those beautiful Chinese girls with their ultra-short minis or shorts nearly caused me to dislocate my neck on more than one occasion.
I also visited the Genting Highlands entertainment complex in the mountains about 60km outside Kuala Lumpur. There are lots and lots of restaurants and more fun rides than you can ever imagine. There’s even a casino, which I couldn’t visit because I was wearing shorts. It’s the tropics dude, how could I have known they would refuse me entry because my knees were not covered?
That brings me to the return journey. To save money I booked a cheap online ticket that involved first flying to Singapore, then to Riyadh and finally to Jeddah, before a final leg to London.
Now, to be honest, the incident at the casino should have taught me something, but apparently it didn’t. Everything went fine on the budget flight to Singapore, but when I tried to board the plane to Riyadh they checked-in my luggage and then they advised me I wouldn’t be allowed to board the plane wearing shorts. My only long pants were in my suitcase, which had just disappeared into the bowels of the airport.
So here I was frantically running around trying to buy a pair of long pants, but the only shop I could find had one waist size, 30ins. If you knew me you would have known I have outgrown that size many years ago. So I went back to the check-in counter with the bad news. Eventually we rummaged around in my hand luggage and found another pair of shorts. I put this on over the first pair and pulled it down to my knees. The pretty lady behind the counter giggled quite fetchingly and waved me through.
That was not the end of my ordeal though. Looking like a drug-crazed gangster rapper from Chicago I was allowed past emigration, but in the final waiting area a very officious looking gentlemen informed me that my attire was inappropriate to board the plane. So he brought me a colourful little blanket to cover my knees.
Looking back now it’s quite funny, but I can assure you at the time it was a nightmare.
As many of my peers would understand, the only problem is that the legitimate download sites charge money for every song you download or a monthly fee or something similar. Sometimes you might be lucky enough to find a favourite song for download on a mainstream site such as YouTube, but you have to be quick, because those are usually picked up quickly and removed for ‘infringement of copyright’.
The so-called peer-to-peer (p2p) sites are a grey area. Technically a friend is within his or her rights if they give me an original DVD with music of a particular performer or group. However, if they upload it to the internet and I download it from there it’s not legal.
I am in no way encouraging anyone to break the law, but most people who read this will know just how many p2p download sites there are. I must admit I tried using one or two of them in the past and I might have saved myself a few quid, but I also picked up a malicious virus on my laptop, which I just couldn’t get rid of. In the end it cost me much more than buying the songs would have, because I had to go to a professional computer shop to have the virus removed.
As a compromise I’ve now signed up with a UK service called Intomusic. They’re heavily into alternative and independent music, which is fine with me and in many cases they only charge a few pennies for downloading a song. What I like is that they allow independent artists to upload their music and sell directly to the public, which is exactly what I will do one day, when I have my own band.
Eating out has always been one of my favourite pastimes. Luckily, being 19 years old I can basically eat whatever I want without getting heartburn, stomach cramps or diarrhoea, like my grandfather does. The poor guy, it must be terrible to have to eat only ‘healthy’ food all the time and perpetually walk around with a packet of antacids in your pocket.
The only thing that stops me from eating whatever I want is, of course, my budget. I’m no spoilt rich kid; I work part-time at a phone shop to get pocket money. If it wasn’t for that I would love to gobble up a 500g steak every night, and of course, I never have enough money to quench my thirst for beer.
If I have to single out one place where I could eat to my heart’s, not to mention stomach’s, content on a student budget, it has to be Kuala Lumpur. I recently visited the city for a few days and the shopping centres all have these amazing food courts where you can not only buy hamburgers and hot dogs, but also just about every other type of food under the sun; from sushi to sandwiches and from beef steak to breyani. The great thing is; it’s incredibly cheap, a full meal with a drink costs less than what they charge for a glass of Coke at the cinemas in London.
Another perk of eating at one of those food courts is all the stunning girls that hang around there. There just doesn’t seem to be enough guys in KL, because more than half of the girls were always either on their own or with other girls; and they were all incredibly pretty.
One thing is for sure, I am going back there just as soon as I’ve saved enough money.
If you have ever used delivery services and you’ve done your homework beforehand, you will know that the cost of sending exactly the same item, to the same destination, varies dramatically. I suppose it depends on how much available space they have on vehicles going that way and how hard-up they are to get business.
I have first-hand experience of this. About a month ago it was my grandmother’s birthday and I wanted to send her a gift. I phoned the first delivery service I came across in the yellow pages and they quoted me an astronomical amount; at least for a 19-year old student with limited funds it was an astronomical amount. So I phoned the next one and received an even higher quote. The third one gave me a somewhat better price, but by this time I started to smell a rat, so I decided to give the internet a try.
That’s when I stumbled on a service called DeliveryQuoteCompare. You fill in a simple form, telling them what you want to send, how much it weighs etc. and where it is to be delivered and they find you prices from several companies. It works a bit like a reverse auction, they start bidding against each other and you can accept either the lowest quote you get or any other, if you prefer.
What I liked was that they also gave me a full company profile about every bidder, so I knew who I was dealing with and I could see the ratings they received from previous customers. When you’re dealing with a company the first time, that kind of information is important.
The company I eventually chose was about 60% cheaper than the one I first phoned and they did a great job. They collected the parcel from my apartment and my grandma had her present the day before her birthday.
It’s a pity, though, that the old lady’s memory and hearing isn’t what it used to be. When I phoned her the next day she was quite surprised to hear the gift was from me. She thought it was from her long dead husband.
Some very clever guy or another; he is probably dead by now, once said that if you wanted a difficult job done quickly, you should give it to a lazy guy, because he would find the quickest way to do it.
Now I’m in no way implying that I am lazy, but when it comes to studying I’ve always tried to achieve the maximum with the minimum of effort.
That is why, when I recently saw an advertisement for a memory improvement course in the local paper, I immediately signed up for the free introductory seminar.
The guy was absolutely amazing. He was introduced to about 50 members of the audience and afterwards they all stood up, one by one, and he could remember their names. He also knew the 50 states of the USA by heart; he could even recite them backwards.
I was so impressed I worked some overtime at the phone shop and signed up for the actual course. It stretched over four evenings between 6pm and 8pm.
I have to tell you, the techniques I learned in those two hour sessions will probably be useful to me, even when I’m eighty years old; perhaps especially then. I am now also able to recite the 50 states of the US, in any order, and can memorise a list of facts much easier than ever before.
To be honest, remembering something is one thing, but understanding it is quite different. So while the techniques I learned during the course are very handy when it comes to something like Economic History, it doesn’t help me much with Statistics or Economics.
I will never forget my mum’s birthday again though.
If you’ve read some of my other blogs you will recall that I joined an online dating site a few months ago. Initially it was a lot of fun, but I have to admit that, so far, I’ve not met anyone I would call a ‘soul mate.’
That’s actually not quite true, about two months ago I did meet a quite charming girl from London. We started chatting quite often and talked on Skype every now and again. One thing led to another and in the end we decided to go to the cinema one Saturday afternoon.
I had to take the train from Newcastle to London. In itself that was not a problem, the journey only takes about three hours and there are plenty of trains. The problem was the price of tickets; a return ticket costs about the same as the price of five film tickets in Newcastle. So this date started off being considerably more expensive than I had hoped.
I met Brenda, that’s the girl’s name, at King’s Cross station and we took the tube to the nearest cinema.
Now I’ve been to London often, but it’s been some time since I’ve gone to see a film there and I was shocked at the prices. The cost of two tickets, along with popcorn and drinks, was more than my normal budget for a whole week. This is where I decided not to hold Brenda’s hand during the film. There was simply no way I was going to commit myself to a long-distance relationship costing this much money every week.
When we came out of the cinema she decided she would like to go for a drink or two. Normally I would have jumped at the opportunity, but at this stage I was rather less enthusiastic. I looked at my watch and mumbled something about still having to take the train back to Newcastle, but she would have none of that, so in the end we headed for the nearest pub.
Things went from bad to worse, as I watched this girl down one beer after the other, without the slightest indication that she would soon get drunk and fall over. Gradually her voice faded to a background murmur; I wasn’t concentrating on what she was saying, I was too worried about the mounting bill.
Fortunately, my phone has a facility that enables you to make it ring after a few minutes, so you can fake an incoming call. I fiddled with it for a while and set it up to ring in five minutes and when it started ringing I answered the ‘call’ and sounded suitably horrified. After ending the ‘call’ I explained to Brenda that my cat had been run over by a car and that I had to rush back home as quickly as possible.
Of course I still had to pay the bill, which is why I had to survive on bread and water for the rest of the week.
As my regular readers will already know, I love travelling, even if it only involves a weekend trip from Newcastle to London. When I go to London my favourite place to stay is a Kings Cross hotel the Jesmond Dene Hotel.
The rooms are more luxurious than a student would normally be able to afford, with free Wi-Fi and a flat screen TV and things like a hair dryer and other niceties.
What I really love about this hotel though is the location, very close to King’s Cross and St. Pancras railway stations. That makes it very convenient for someone like me who wants to explore London in a short time.
The area around the hotel also has a lot more to see and do than I initially expected. Not far away, for example, is the Canal Museum. It’s housed in an old 19th century warehouse, which Carlo Gatti once used for his famous Gatti ice cream. The museum itself is great if you are interested in seeing how people lived and worked on the canals. They even imported ice from Norway and then stored it under the building.
The Scala theatre is also not far from the hotel and sometimes when I visit London there would be great group or singer appearing there. Some famous artists who have performed there in the past include Foo Fighters, Coldplay, Dido, Chemical Brothers, Stereophonics, Lionel Richie and Robbie Williams.
There are also a surprisingly large number of great restaurants and pubs within easy walking distance. My favourite is The Brill, a posh place serving traditional British food, like grilled fish, meat and pork belly. Afterwards I always seem to end up at the downstairs cellar bar. It was recently revamped and is now an even greater place than before to hang out and meet people.
I have to admit, I love gadgets, I love playing around with them and I love reading about them. Just walking around all those high-tech gadget shops is a treat on its own, I can literally spend hours just looking. Of course, I can’t afford to buy everything I like, not on a student’s budget, but there is no harm in dreaming, is there?
One thing I would love to own is a 3-D television. It’s just so incredibly cool to see your favourite movie characters literally walk right off the screen towards you, especially if they have assets like Jessica Simpson, but for now that remains a dream.
At least I could afford to buy myself a new laptop last month. OK, my dad did subsidise the purchase to a certain extent, because the laptop qualified for what he considers to be a ‘study aid’. And yes, I do use it for my studies, occasionally, but to be honest I use it more often to play games and watch video clips on YouTube.
It’s a huge improvement over my previous computer, which hardly had enough RAM to start up, never mind play any significant games or load large programs. It was getting so slow I could literally start it up and by the time I had made myself a cup of coffee it would more or less be ready to work with. Compared to that the new one is actually proof that things can move faster than light.
Now, I can download programs from the internet to my heart’s content. Apart from gadgets that’s my second favourite, downloading all sorts of programs from the net and checking them out.
The latest one I tried was a speech-to-text application. Imagine lying in bed and dictating your next college assignment to the laptop and the program actually types what you’re saying. It sounded nearly unimaginably cool, but in the end it made so many mistakes it took me more time to correct them than it would have taken to type the assignment. Perhaps it was because I downloaded the free version or maybe it just wasn’t programmed to understand my Geordie accent.
It is time for me to get fit. I am not just saying that, I really do need to shed the pounds.
Last year I lived in a house that was thirty minutes or so away from uni., which meant I did a significant amount of walking on a daily basis.
At the time, I remember thinking I should probably be losing weight from doing so much walking, but back then I didn’t notice any benefits at all. In hindsight, I have realised my daily walking was actually helping to keep my weight in balance.
Now I have stopped walking so much, I am steadily getting porkier. I am not fat, by any means, but it is getting to the point where I need to take some action to fight off the moobs.
I have two choices; eat and drink less rubbish or continue eating and drinking rubbish, but do some exercise. I have chosen to take option number two and last week I signed up to play squash for the first time, at the uni. club.
I have just returned from my first time playing and training with them and I quite enjoyed it, despite being pretty useless at the sport.
I have played tennis before, but apparently that is not really an advantage, as the techniques required are very different.
Squash is harder work than I expected and involves a lot of running. It is a very tactical sport and I found my biggest problem was that I struggled to predict where my opponent was going to hit the ball. This meant I was reacting far too late on a consistent basis.
While I enjoyed it, my problem was that there is not really anyone else at the squash club who is a complete beginner. This meant I stuck out like a bit of a sore thumb. To get past this problem I think, in future, I will have to try and persuade a friend to come along with me. If not I am going to continue being ritually humiliated each time I play.