The Teenage Dilemma

Alcohol. Teenagers crave it, to be socially acceptable and generally fit in. The need to drink will arise in the average respectable East London teenager at about the age of 15/16. Of course, it comes earlier to those confined to tall concrete mass-houses otherwise known as tower blocks, of which there are plenty around here. Almost instantly though, the teenager will encounter a fundamental flaw to their plan, and that’s buying alcohol. The advent of ID checks in all supermarkets mean it’s practically impossible to buy alcohol in a supermarket, where it’s likely to be cheaper. So the choice is left between bringing your parents along to buy it (which is not always permitted), or go to a grim backstreet off-license where the man behind the counter doesn’t care and all of his stock likely came from the modified bathtub in the back room.

To most, those are the options until they turn 18. However, to those minors with a little bit of time on their hands (not an issue for a student in the summer holidays), anyone can buy alcohol from the leading brand supermarkets with no need for ID.

What’s the secret? Make up? Big Shoes? A fake beard?

Disguises aren’t necessary, although you’re welcome to dress up for the mission if it makes you feel more relaxed about it. You need not worry, no laws are broken in following this guide. The trick, simply, is don’t buy alcohol.

But surely that defeats the point?

Not quite. What I mean by ‘don’t buy alcohol’ is don’t buy anything from the beers, wines and spirits aisle(s). You won’t succeed, and attempting to buy it (so bringing it to the checkout) is a criminal offence. In much the same way as asking an unsuspecting adult to buy it for you. What’s perfectly legal, however, is buying something that can become alcoholic but isn’t at the point you buy it.

I don’t follow?

Perhaps a little bit of chemistry is important here, based around yeast. Yes, yeast. The stuff you make bread with, found in the bakery aisle. Not age restricted at all, but when kept in a warm place with sugar (another perfectly legal product to buy underage), it begins to produce alcohol and CO2. The secret, therefore, is home brewing.

That’s a little bit complicated, isn’t it? And surely the government have caught on to it?

Well, it’s not very complicated. Putting yeast and sugar in a bottle with ginger, lemon and honey will, after a few days (or longer if you want it more alcoholic) give you ginger beer, with an average ABV of between 4-9%. Potentially strong stuff, costing less than Tesco Value Lager and I guarantee will taste a million times better. And, as alcohol is only a potential by-product of yeast, they can’t restrict the sale of it, just like they can’t restrict the sale of potatoes, barley and grapes. Ginger beer isn’t the only thing you can make too, it works for lemonade, and pretty much any soft drink (although the taste will vary quite a bit from what you make and it’s sometimes not pleasant). A simple google search will provide you with hundreds of recipes.

All you need is those cheap 2L water bottles (about 15p each), ginger and lemons (about 40p combined), sugar (£1), honey (£1) and yeast (another £1) and you’re good to make about 6-8 litres of cheap, tasty alcohol. Nice.

If you’re wise to the wonders of chemistry and have a few days to wait it’s not at all hard to make your own alcohol regardless of your age, and anything you make yourself is bound to taste better. It’s almost a no-brainer, but obviously a little bit of thought and careful planning is required, as the CO2 build up if left unchecked can cause bottles to explode quite dramatically. Don’t let it put you off though, just open the cap every evening and you’ll soon have a smart solution to the teenage dilemma.

Boris Bike Challenge

It’s the summer, and this means students across the country have to find ways to spend an eternity (well, up to sixteen weeks) of free time.  I was reading recently on a blog post about the “Boris Bike Challenge”, dubbed one of the most physically demanding public transport journeys in London. What better way to spend a Monday, then, than have a go at it? The objective is simple, get from Westfield to Westfield using only the Barclays Cycle Hire scheme.

It can be run in either direction, but for me this means getting from the Boris Bike dock at Bromley High Street, Bow (the closest one to Westfield Stratford City, and one of the easternmost Boris Bike stations) to the dock at Westfield White City (the westernmost Boris Bike dock). In a straight line it’s about 8 miles, which isn’t a particularly long way but you have to remember that the route will take you through the middle of Central London and the bike you have to use weighs 23kg (my own bike weighs 10kg as a comparison). There are a few extra rules to follow;
– The trip cannot take you longer than 60mins.
– You must follow all traffic rules.
– You can incur no usage charges.

What this means is that you need to stop at every traffic light on the way, you can’t ride on the pavement and you can’t go the wrong way down one-way streets to save time. Also, to follow rule 3 you can’t ride the bike for more than 30 minutes at a time, meaning a stop and 5-minute wait will be required roughly halfway along the route.  I’d had a look at the Boris bike map yesterday and I’d planned to stop either on Oxford Street or in Hyde Park, depending on how long it took me to get there.

This morning I arrived at Bromley High Street at about 11:10 and registered my card (and the £1 access fee for 24hours). I chose the bike I wanted to use and set off at 11:17. I managed it halfway down Bow Road when I encountered the sliding seat of doom, that is, the clasp holding the seat up being too loose resulting in it sliding away from under you as you cycle. Not content riding with my knees around my chin, I pulled over and quickly tightened the clasp and reset the seat, mindful that this was eating into my 30 minute window to travel as far as I could. I carried on and reached the city within 20minutes, where the trouble with the traffic lights began. Every single junction was adding an extra minute to my trip sat idle at traffic lights, even though I was trying my best to be at the front of the queue every time with some sneaky filtering. I’d worn my watch for once, specifically for timekeeping (I’d normally use my phone but tight jeans make it difficult to constantly check it) so I knew my time was running out.  I remembered was a docking station at Holborn, so I aimed for that and arrived 28minutes and 50seconds after I’d left Bow. A minute longer and I would have racked up another £1 charge on my card.

Using the 5 minute break to have some food and water, I then rented another bike and carried on. The journey continued with frantic pedaling and annoyingly frequent stops at traffic lights. By now it was becoming very tiring to keep going, as the very low gears on the bikes meant you had to keep up a very high RPM to get anything other than a stately pace out of the bikes. If anything the traffic lights let me catch my breath which was becoming more important with every passing light. The real issue, however, came when beginning the 1.2mile run down the length of Oxford St. Taxis and buses rule the narrow roadway here, and they’re constantly pulling in and out to pick up passengers and fares. It’s hard enough to dodge them, but when you’ve got mindless shoppers milling across the road from every gap in the traffic it becomes very difficult to make any progress. I found it effective to use the bell provided quite liberally, and once I had reached the end of Oxford Street it was time to navigate the massive Marble Arch roundabout. My initial plan was to go through Hyde Park on the quieter northern carriage road but this had been closed for use as an Olympic Car Park. I was forced to use Bayswater Road which is a rather large road filled with massive coaches and lorries on their way out of London. Scary enough, but my progress had also been slowed by the lengthy hill between Lancaster Gate and Notting Hill Gate, and lugging the 23kg Boris Bike up that was no easy feat.

What comes up must come down, though, and after the peak at Portobello Road Market an equally lengthy downhill run awaited, where I tried to get the most aerodynamic position and roll down picking up speed. It was quite successful, and some of the other cyclists on their flashy road bikes looked rather bemused being quickly overtaken by Boris’ flagship two-wheeler. A quick glance at my watch told me I had 7 minutes left when passing Holland Park Station. The only thing I knew about this road was that it ended up at the even bigger Holland Park roundabout which was where I could get into Westfield. I had no idea of the distances involved having never been there before and, in a despairing few seconds caught behind a sightseeing bus I thought I would overrun my 30minutes. Thankfully, once the bus began moving there was immediately a sign detailing the roundabout just 20m away. I took a bit of an amber gamble through the traffic light, but I’m pretty sure it never turned to red.

Success was just yards away, and all that stood between me was the red light that let buses go into the bus station. When arriving at the stop line I instantly noticed the black sensor above the light which meant I would need a bus to come behind me if it was ever to turn green. My watch said I had 3 minutes remaining, and there began an agonising 90 second wait for a bus to arrive, followed by another minute for the lights to change. I could see the Boris bike station, but the red light (and the rules) were keeping me, perhaps from completing the challenge. I pushed all of my remaining energy into the pedals and docked the bike as quickly as I could manage. On seeing the green dock light I went over to the terminal to print the journey record and see my final score. The results were in; 28 minutes and 28 seconds, meaning it had taken me in total 57minutes and 18seconds.

Success! It was very, very tiring, and I had found my way to the other side of London for no good reason but I had completed the challenge, averaging a not very respectable 8mph average on the trip. It is definitely one of the most physically demanding journeys you can make on public transport. That is, after all, what a Boris Bike is; a self propelled method of public transport. It was loads of fun though, and probably quite good for me too.

Sure, it’s no London Marathon or Triathlon, but you don’t need sponsorship or flashy sports gear to try this challenge, just £1 for the daily access fee and a way to get home from the other side of London, which can even include making it a 2hr round trip!

The Best of Times

The last week has been tough. And I’m sure I’m not alone. The vast majority of A-Level exams start tomorrow for the next two weeks, after a one week respite (if you can call it that) of frantic revision and studying. That’s the idea, at least. For many, the next two weeks will decide what they do for the next year, and most likely the rest of their lives. No pressure, right?

There’s no denying that it’s difficult. Cast your mind back two years (or however long) and you’re sitting there stressing over your GCSE’s, you’ll hear everyone saying “They’re easy”/”You’ll walk them”/”Piece of piss”. And they’re right. You watch the Year 11’s getting all stressed out, and you can completely understand where everyone older than you was coming from back then. They were incredibly easy, at least relatively. You won’t hear that from anyone about A-Levels though.

You won’t hear undergraduates mocking you about how easy A-Levels were. You won’t hear teachers or lecturers do it, either. They know, perhaps more so than you, that A-Levels can be tricky. You might hear them say “You’ll never work harder in your life”, or even just silently agree with your complaints. That’s my experience, at least. I looked over past papers, over my notes, and I came to realise just how much work needed to be done. Seeing as my exams start tomorrow, I’d like to think I’m nearly ready. If I’m not, there isn’t much I can do about it, it’s far too close to make a difference.

I felt a bit burnt out this morning. I knew I needed to finish up with some work, but I just felt so stressed. I could barely concentrate. There was no point in trying to work like that, so I started playing a game. Surely, the satisfaction of running around a virtual world firing machine guns and rockets at people would just melt the stress away. I didn’t account for the fact that everyone else playing wasn’t in the same state of mind and would brutally capitalise on my lack of concentration. After three rounds I left more stressed than when I began. So much for that idea. No matter, YouTube would provide some mellow music that would solve everything. And it did, for about two minutes until I hit the stream buffer. I don’t think there can be anything more irritating than music interrupted by streaming every 30seconds. This clearly wasn’t working, and my stress levels weren’t getting any better. I resorted to writing this while listening to the radio. I now feel at ease, and maybe this afternoon will lead on to peaceful, productive working.

One thing I thought about, though, with all of the exam stress it’s not so much the fear of working but the expectation that comes along with it. After all, in the course of conversation with friends and relatives you’ve no doubt talked about how you want to go to university, and this has probably followed on to where you’d like to go and what grades you need etc. The honest truth is that Universities care more about what you think you’re going to get in your A-Levels than who you are and what you’re like as a person. Three letters on your piece of paper will say more about you to the admissions tutors than anything else. That’s why getting your three letters becomes the most important thing in your life. It’s not so much the A-levels that decide your life, it’s the three letters that come with them. By telling everyone, including people you’ve probably never met, you’ve given yourself an awful lot of expectation to live up to. It’s a big thing to deal with and when you’re trying your best to revise it certainly isn’t helpful, particularly if you’re constantly reminded of it.

Mark Twain once said “There are basically two types of people. People who accomplish things, and people who claim to have accomplished things. The first group is less crowded”. It’s only two more weeks and then you could be the type of person who accomplishes things. I sure hope I do.

Shiny New Updates

After resurrecting my blog from it’s seven month hibernation I looked at it and something wasn’t quite right. Everything was exactly as it was left but I just didn’t like the look of it any more. So I decided to change it all. It’s not the first time I’ve done it, back in July/August last year I changed my blog from it’s default theme into the grey and atmospheric theme I had kept until now. Looking at it this afternoon I didn’t even like the name I had chosen for it.

Now that everything’s been redecorated, you might notice some differences. It isn’t grey and atmospheric. It doesn’t have a weird name (well, actually it still does but it’s a different weird name). It is now all hippy like, airy and generally more welcoming. I suppose before I was trying to go for a hard-hitting information blog but I’ve come to realise that it just doesn’t fit with my style of writing. In the words of Anton Ego (who is the restaurant critic in the Disney Pixar film Ratatouille) “it’s all about perspective”. When you write anywhere up to 3 blog posts a week you haven’t really got time to step back and look at them. Sure, there’s time to proofread and pick out your awful sins against the rules of grammar, but you never really have the time or the will to read through what you’ve written and try to understand what you’re writing about.

In many ways that’s the tricky part of blogging; you can sit at a keyboard and type away with whatever comes into your head but it never really goes anywhere. Quite literally, you’re rambling about your head occasionally throwing out sentences here and there. Quite a few of my early blog posts are very much like this, lurching about in my sea of thoughts, throwing new ideas out with each paragraph. It can often be interesting to read, and it’s perhaps a key part of blogging but when you read back over what you’ve written it seems cluttered and generally insane.

If I don’t get the chance to read over what I’ve written you’ll probably see me slide back into rambling, ranting and letting my mind wander freely. I don’t want to sound cheesy and cliche but “The Cavern” is a pretty big place now; there’s plenty of space to jump around in the array of ideas floating about. What I write in my blogs is very much spontaneous, so I guess we’ll all have to wait and see what becomes of the third generation of tomhowlin.wordpress.com

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A very late NaNoWriMo update

When you start doing something that you’re meant to do quite regularly, like blogging, it really does remind you how quickly time can fly when you don’t blog for any length of time. It’s been seven months since I last wrote something on this site. I can’t actually believe it’s been so long, to think I was trying to write a novel when I last visited this site.

If you’ve been reading my blog since I began you’ll know I attempted NaNoWriMo in November 2011, which now I come to think of it seems like a very, very long time ago. In short, I didn’t succeed; I only managed to write 25,000 words in the month. For the first two weeks I was steaming ahead, comfortably exceeding my word targets each day. I guess I then started to get a bit complacent, and before I knew it I’d run out of ideas and the word count stopped. I’ve still got ideas on how to finish it but I haven’t a clue how to link it up, or extend it for another 25,000 words. One thing I did learn, though, is that 25,000 words is quite a few when they’re all in one file. I’d managed about 40 pages of block paragraphs before my metaphorical  fountain of creativity ran dry. I never managed to find more ideas in time.

It was an interesting few weeks, it has to be said. I don’t think I’d ever before put so much effort into writing, not even in exams. I honestly thought I’d got it sussed, and I’d walk the 50,000 words with maybe even a week to spare. What I didn’t realise was how much energy it took to think about and then write 2,000 words a day for 30 days straight. It’s certainly not easy, and when you’ve got to juggle schoolwork alongside it becomes a very difficult task indeed.

I had, however, learned an important thing. Big tasks can be achieved if you break them down and stick to a plan. It’s only once you stray from your plan that you’re almost always doomed to failure. I’d never previously thought it possible to write even 25,000 words on one topic, let alone double that. It was because I began missing my word count targets that the goal began slipping away into impossibility.

Next November, I may have enough ideas to continue. I know it’s slightly cheating to pick up where you left off, but if I can write 25,000 words in one month I can do it again. So hopefully in December 2012 I’ll have written a novel. One thing checked off my bucket list. If the rumours are to be believed it’ll be just in time to see the world end. At least I’ll have accomplished something.

Hey Stoopid!

#NaNoWriMo

National Novel Writing Month is upon us! For those of you who haven’t heard of this internet phenomena, it’s basically a creative writing challenge, where you have 30 days (the whole of November) to write a 50,000 word novel. Simple, right? In order to ‘win’ the challenge you must have completed the 50,000 words and have submitted it by November 30th. There isn’t really much of a prize other than a certificate and the satisfaction of writing a novel. I mean, it’s on people’s bucket lists so it must be a feat worth achieving. And you get to tell people that you’ve written a novel. So not that bad really. And as a benchmark, 50,000 words is about the same size as The Great Gatsby.

I have decided to attempt it this year (first time ever, btw) and I’m aiming to write 2,000 words per day (to complete it in the time frame you need to write 1,667 per day). Having the extra ~400 words per day means I should finish 5 days early and will give me time to correct any major errors. At the moment 2,000 seems to be enough to write one small chapter, and I estimate it will use up about 70-80 pages. Oh, and if I’m happy with the overall quality of the novel by the end of the month I’ll publish it here in a separate portion of the site (it’s bigger than you think, but most of it is empty at the moment).

And good luck if you’re doing this too.

Silence

I’ve returned! Sort of.

It’s been nearly a month without anything going on here at the Cavern (!) . Just posting to let you all know I’m not dead and something worthwhile will be on here shortly…

In the meantime, here’s some information on “LifeHacks”. Basically, cool things to do that can make your life so much easier. And it can save other people too. Or just your stuff. Whatever way you look at it, all knowledge is useful. Enjoy.

Don’t you feel better for knowing this?