I’m Learning a New Language. AREN’T I BETTER THAN YOU?!

Despite life being meaningless and the overwhelming fact that we’re living on a dying planet, I’ve recently found myself in one of those periods in which for some random reason, I’ve been trying to self improve. This has mainly taken the form of me embracing the challenge of learning a new language. Well, I say, ‘learning a new language’, but all I’ve really done is download the Duolingo app and spent my breaks in work weirdly mouthing such completely necessary sentences as, “the dog eats rice” and “the rhinoceros has a horn.” Undoubtedly, these are sexual euphemisms that are only spoken in foreign climates by bored business men. In fact, if I’m ever abroad and hear someone utter a sentence about a ‘rhinoceros having a horn’, I’m sprinting to the nearest airport. Pronto.

Admittedly, I am still at the really early stages of using Duolingo so I don’t want to judge it too harshly, but the lessons are full of similar bizarre impractical sentences about ‘giraffes reading newspapers’ and ‘socks not speaking English’. I did initially wonder if I had accidentally chosen a setting in the app that was specifically for people with brain injuries. But no, that’s just how they do things in crazy old Duolingo world.

Now you might be thinking, “which language have you taken upon yourself to master, Paul?” Perhaps it’s a language of a country that you one day hope to live in? Maybe a country that you visit on a regular basis? On both of these assumptions you’d be incorrect. I simply went to my old friend Google and asked, “what is the easiest language for an English speaker to learn?” A couple of articles later and I am now a student of Dutch. My inherent laziness not stretching to the next five hundred articles explaining that it’s pretty much a waste of time because almost everyone in the Netherlands speaks English.

Brilliant.

Upon receiving this knowledge you would assume that I stopped learning Dutch and found a more practical language to learn? Again, you’d be painfully incorrect. You see, whoever designed the Duolingo app ingeniously designed a streak system which once started makes it incredibly difficult to abandon. In fact, I’m currently on an impressive forty one day streak and now spend most of my days worrying about losing it. I can only imagine what my streak anxiety will look like if I one day make it to a significant three or even four digit number.

As I mentioned earlier though, I have been forced to sneak off on a number of occasions to a quiet area in work in order to fit my practice in. A couple of weeks back now, I found myself alone in the changing rooms with my headphones in and repeating back in English the sentences that were flashing in front of me. In hindsight, I was definitely doing that thing people do when they have headphones in and began shouting back the sentences at a volume that was inappropriate even at a football match, nevermind a workplace. Anyway, there I was screaming back in a mixture of English and Dutch when this sentence appeared, “Ik ben een vrouw. ” I confidently highered my speaking voice and bellowed repeatedly the English translation, “I AM A WOMAN, I AM A WOMAN, I AM A WOMAN.” Then out of nowhere, I felt a presence watching over me. Out the corner of my eye I could now see the shining bald head of the security guard slowly making its way around a corner. As our eyes met he dashed away, clearly thinking he had discovered a bearded employee who was in the courageous first steps of a gender transition.

I’m trying to better myself and there I was becoming a talking point at that man’s evening meal with his family.

Anyway, I must admit, I’m now five weeks down the line and my motivation is beginning to seriously wane. In the first week I downloaded the app I was averaging about thirty five minutes per day testing my new skills out and reading over Dutch newspapers. However, like most of my fads I’m decreasingly spending less and less time on it and before I know it I’ll be back to being a little Englander who slowly open mouths sentences to far superior people when ordering beers on a city break.

Does anyone know the Dutch for, ‘stop being an ignorant lazy fuck?’

I’ve Bought A Keyboard But It Might Be Quite A While Before I’m The Next Elton John.

This week, I finally caved into a voice that has been intermittently whispering into my ear for the last two years. A voice that has been berating me for being a man in his thirties and not being able to play a single musical instrument. It’s the same voice that made me download an app to learn Spanish not too long ago, and without giving away any spoilers, I’m still only fluent in being an ignorant little Englander.

Nevertheless, I didn’t let my previous failure in improving as a human being stop me and decided to take some serious thought about which instrument would be right for me. And by, ‘serious thought’ what I really mean is, I quickly googled the sentence, ‘easiest and cheapest instrument to learn’ and impulsively ordered a keyboard. If I could have been bothered to click the second link you would have now undoubtedly been reading a blog about my attempts to learn the ukulele.

After the order for the keyboard had been placed, I spent the next forty eight hours watching videos of the likes of Billy Joel and Elton John and forensically looking at their finger placements as if I had any idea what I was looking for. I was even being distracted at work and found myself incessantly texting my girlfriend asking if it had arrived yet. So much so, that when it finally arrived my girlfriend’s text message to me simply read, ‘It is here.’ No warmth, no kisses to end the text as she usually would. Just three cold words sent by a woman at the end of her tether.

When I arrived home, I sprinted past all loved ones and instantly began to rip the packaging apart exactly like a man who lives in a world of instant gratification and is emotionally overwhelmed by a two day wait for something he bought on a whim. Upon annihilating the cardboard it became quickly apparent to me that I had bought a keyboard that was clearly designed for children. In particular, there’s a leaflet included that has several smug children holding a variety of different instruments. I suppose that this is meant to motivate other children. The message is an uplifting one of, “IF THEY CAN DO IT! SO CAN YOU!” But as a man so significantly outside of that demographic, it holds a more negative tone. More a message that says, “WE’LL BE ENTERING THE JOB MARKET SOON! INSTEAD OF PISSING ABOUT WITH A CHILD’S KEYBOARD, PERHAPS YOU SHOULD FINALLY GET AROUND TO LEARNING MICROSOFT EXCEL?”

Surprisingly though, even this was not enough to dampen my spirits and with motivation and enthusiasm still running through my pores, I found myself on YouTube within moments. In the recommended videos, I could see thumbnails advertising videos such as…

“Learn Hallelujah in 5 easy steps.”

“Classical music for beginners.”

“Nursery rhymes for children.”

As is often the case, I analysed all three choices and decided to go for the easiest option. As a result, I spent the next two hours learning the famous children’s ditty, ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.’ It must be noted that at the same time I was committing this tune to memory, my caring girlfriend, who has decided to volunteer for a charity that helps people with learning difficulties, was undergoing her volunteer training via zoom. So as she did this genuinely amazing thing, she and all her fellow volunteers could just faintly hear a fully grown man in the background swearing along to a nursery rhyme like a fucking lunatic. It must have crossed the other volunteers minds that my girlfriend had gone above and beyond in her duties and started dating one of the service users.

Despite the annoyance of my poor girlfriend having to listen to her neanderthal boyfriend smashing away at keys to a song that five year olds learn in thirty minutes, she was actually quite impressed and couldn’t resist shouting, “You’re an actual top notch pianist.” Or at least that’s what I think she said. Her compliment was drowned out by a selection of choice swear words and requests for me to keep it quiet.

My talent already too much for some people to take in.

I’m now about a week in to being an owner of a keyboard and I’m still at that stage where I can’t walk past it without having to touch it – I went though a similar phase as a teenage boy. Obviously, my girlfriend is convinced that like most things I’ll get bored of it and before too long it’ll be in the corner of our bedroom gathering dust. I on the other hand think I’ll eventually be proficient. In fact, her insistence that I’ll give up makes me want to stick with it. I might be the only musical legend that learns his art fueled solely by spite.

Also for anyone interested, my first single, ‘I Told You I Would Stick With This And Thanks For Your Unwavering Support’ will be available for download shortly.

Amsterdam and That Time I Got High.

Recently I visited Amsterdam. It was the first time I had ever been and I was incredibly excited. I was excited for many reasons, but there was one that stood above the rest. I was finally going to try weed for the first time. My heroes in literature, in music, in comedy, they had all experienced it and spoke of its eye opening qualities. It was something I wanted to experience. This was my mission.

I always imagined my first time would be very romantic. I’d be in an intimate venue probably listening to jazz with people who wore quirky hats and said things like, “I’ve just got back from a really meaningful backpacking experience in Peru.” I would be taken to a place in my mind I’d never been and the whole experience would fill me with wisdom that I could pass on to future generations. It was going to be a pivotal moment in my ordinary life.

That didn’t happen.

What did happen was this. I entered a pub. The pub was the type of pub that would have scared the sober me. It was full of heavy metal types. Leather jackets everywhere. On the walls it was decorated with framed art that depicted the Devil riding motorbikes and putting his middle fingers up at anyone who paid him the slightest bit of attention. But I wasn’t sober. I was far from sober and I was determined that this was my moment.

As I made my way to the bar with my money in hand, panic began to set in. How do you even order weed? What words do you say and in what order? In my head I nervously practiced my lines.

“Can I have some weed please, sir?”

“One of your finest strains of marijuana, squire!”

“One weed for me. Keep the change!”

I was out of my depth and was going to be laughed at.

I waited patiently in the queue. Not knowing what was about to come out of my stupid mouth, when out of nowhere, a hand landed on my shoulder. It was a man I had never met before and he was speaking in a language my drunk mind couldn’t pin down to anywhere on earth. He seemed happy, patting me on my head a few times and laughing. He probably sensed that I didn’t belong there. After a few moments of nodding back awkwardly he offered me something – incredibly it was weed! This god-like man had saved my life. I took it from his hand and inhaled before I had the chance to chicken out. I did this a few times. Holding back my coughs and trying to look as cool as I possibly could in front of this friendly foreign man.

Standing there, I waited. I didn’t know what I was waiting for, but regardless I waited. Nothing was happening. I continued to wait. Where was this inner peace? Where was this enlightenment? I waited some more, but to no avail. This great fountain of knowledge and wisdom and peace that I expected to rain upon me was nowhere to be seen. Instead I just felt nervous. What if I had done it wrong? What if I pass out? Why am I sweating?!

I began to breath heavily. I was like Pablo Escobar with anxiety issues.

“HOW WILL I KNOW WHEN I’M HIGH?!” I screamed directly into his face.

He looked back at me with the expression that only two people who don’t share the same language can give each other. A smile, but a smile with eyes that radiated confusion. I saw this as my cue to leave him.

Tentatively, I made my way out of that pub and into the Amsterdam night. My first experience with weed was over. I had completed my mission. Was it the personal transforming experience I’d hoped it would be? No. Did I feel like I was about to vomit as a mixture of nerves, alcohol and weed mixed around my tired body? Yes.

There are no lessons to learn from this. Other than perhaps, if you’re looking for a transcending experience, it’s probably best not to do it in the early hours of the morning on your own in a rock bar in Amsterdam