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.

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.

The Razors Edge

In my previous post, I suggested cycling as a faster, cheaper and healthier alternative to driving as a means of commuting. At the time I was being a bit of a hypocrite, I didn’t actually cycle my daily commute. Rather, I was what many peasantphobia sufferers call a “bus wanker” (nope, I honestly had nothing better to do on the bus :D). The time came when Boris Johnson’s gift of free bus travel came to an end as my card expired and there would be a week  before its replacement came. Instead of trudging for 50minutes through the finest areas of North Dagenham, I decided to spend a week cycling as a sort of trial run. I have to say that I don’t want to go back to the bus days, it’s just so much better by bike!

For a start the 50minute walk, or 30minute walk and bus ride has been reduced to just 15minutes to travel the 5km or so. This is even better because of the reliability of the bike ride. With my journey time varying by just seconds each day, I can leave at 8:30 and arrive at 8:45 on the dot. With the bus I would have to leave at 7:30 in order to stand a chance of getting on the bus, with 4000 students using the bus to get to the 4 schools along the way every morning it was a regular occurence to wait for 5-6 buses before you were able to get on. The advantage of being able to leave an hour later is you can sleep in for another hour, and that is never a bad thing!

The cycle ride takes in mostly small tree-lined side roads, a short section through the park and a little bit at the end on a busy main road. As daunting as the last section sounds, it’s actually so busy the traffic is crawling along, which means you can jump onto the centreline and filter all the way to the front of the queue for the lights. On the other side of the lights you’re pretty much there, just making a left turn into the quietest road around.

You will all be able to see a recording of this route in the next week or so, as Monday 10th October is Cycle Video Day, the day where all cycle commuters are encouraged to strap on their helmet cameras and make a 10-minute video showing the best/most exciting part of their daily commute. This was created in part by YouTube’s most watched camera cyclist, Gaz545 . He has his own blog over at CroydonCyclist. Make sure to check out Cycle Video Day if you want to take part. I mention this because Gaz has kindly included my YouTube channel in his list of camera cyclists. Head over to my channel to see some videos I’ve taken riding around in Central London, including some good examples of how not to drive, if you’re learning. The occasions we catch bad drivers are unfortunately the primary reason behind the popularity of camera cycling. As the slowest road user for the most part, cyclists aren’t very popular among motorists. Many a road rage incident has been captured on film, and it really shows who has the last laugh when the police get involved and convictions come flying at the smug, condescending motorist.

Dangerous drivers aside, cycling is as safe as walking statistically, so you’re really only getting a benefit out of it! Check back on my YouTube channel or here in the next week or so to see the video.
Safe Riding.

The System Has Failed…

Today’s Objective: Hypothetically become a 17 year old who passed their driving test two months ago, looking for a small car and some reasonably priced insurance.
(I am a 17 year old, so no issue there. But I can’t drive don’t hold a driving license and I don’t own a car. I was simply rambling around the internet having a look at what’s available in the motoring world.)

Not a particularly difficult endeavour, right? Sure it’s not – it’s just really, really expensive – as you’re about to see.

Step 1: Find a car. This was by far the easiest part of my research. I selected two cars which would be suitable for a new driver (that is; small, economical, cheap) which were found on a particular auction website which has a motoring auction sub-site. The cars were as follows:

The Classic

A very small car, no? It’s a 1984 Austin Mini. As you can see from the image, it’s very cheap. It has a 998cc engine, so not very big. Other than that there’s nothing special about it, it’s a cheap car ideal for someone who wants to get driving cheaply and may or may not be a fan of the original (and best, of course) Italian Job.

The Alternative

Another small car. This is a 1988 Ford Fiesta 1.1L(But you can read that in the picture, right?). It’s also a very cheap, economical car, with a 1,117cc engine. Despite not having quite the style value of the classic mini, it’s still a worthy contender for good first car.

Step 2: Insure the car. This involves trawling price comparison websites where I got quotes for these cars. Most price comparison sites have a function to say that you haven’t bought the car yet, so you can speculatively search for insurance. Nice and simple.

I acquired two quotes for each car: one for how the car would actually be kept (on the street in an East London suburb), and one as an interesting contrast (garaged in a leafy North Somerset town that I know is one of the safest places you’ll ever visit). In all of the cases I was the same person, a 17 year old who has held their standard UK driving license for two months, in full-time education living at home with parents. I was the only driver named on the policy (At a later date I will provide an update with quotes if you employ the popular tactic of fronting, which is putting your parent as the policy holder and you as a named driver. A word of warning though, it is illegal!)

One very interesting thing I noticed is that there are never more than 8 insurance companies willing to insure a 17 year old Londoner, but many more (and well-known) insurers who would insure a 17 year old Somerset resident. The results are below.

For the 1984 mini, in East London, these were my quotes:

Were you startled at these? I was.

Yep, you’re seeing that right. Third Party Only insurance at £8,500 minmum. Very close to 40x the value of the car. If anything I find it depressing.
And here’s the quotes (for the same car and same driver!) if it were kept in a North Somerset garage:

Differences

That’s far more reasonable and is the price I would expect to pay given the risk factor of teenagers. Still, it is quite expensive and certainly not a price I’d want to pay, especially since it’s bordering on 10x the value of the car.

Unfortunately the Fiesta has a similar problem.
In East London;

Only one choice? Competition isn't a strongpoint here

Over 1000cc and most insurers are too scared to even go near you. To be fair though, the one quote I was given does include a fair amount of good extras. Not quite worth nearly nine and a half grand though.

For the North Somerset resident, they have another respectable list of choices;

Once again, it’s slightly more than the mini but still quite reasonable and there’s a good choice of respectable insurers on the list. But also, would you really want to pay £2000 for a car worth a quarter of that?

The moral of this post: Unless you’re stupidly rich/don’t live in London, it’s really not worth trying to buy a car at 17 if you’re buying a straight-up single policy. I have yet to explore ways to make it cheaper, so stay tuned.

The Alternative: Buy a bicycle. No, really. For short commutes (<10-15miles) it really does pay off. No Insurance to pay. No Tax to pay. No fuel to pay for (except water and sports drinks). No MOT to worry about. With a decent bike (and a little bit of ever-improving fitness which will naturally come from cycling every day) you can average up to 20mph which is easily faster than the bus and most traffic in London at rush hour anyway. You can filter through all of the traffic so there’s less time waiting in queues. It’s even rather enjoyable.

This is a picture of a bike almost identical to mine which costs the same as the austin mini and is good to go for that price. It’s easily capable of averaging 20-25mph if you’ve got the legs for it. And, because it only weighs 10kg you can easily take it on the train and carry it down stairs. Not something I’d recommend trying in the Mini.

Two wheels are taking over, it’s a wise investment.

 

A Matter of Life and Death

Few words can describe the untold awesomeness of the 5th August 2011. I will, however, try my best to convey the experience.

The O2 Arena. 6pm. 20,000 metalheads are converging as part of what can only be described as a pilgrimage. Tonight is the penultimate show on Iron Maiden’s Final Frontier 2010/11 tour . Yeah, it’s that long. Having travelled around the globe stopping at literally every inhabited continent playing hundreds of shows in hundreds of cities, Iron Maiden are playing their final two shows in their home town. Less than 10 miles away is (no longer) the Leytonstone pub where the band originally met back in the mid-70’s. Brief history aside, the support begins with the venue only half full. Despite all of the empty seats, Dragonforce put up an impressive show with plenty of leaping, diving and exactly the sort of guitar solos you expect from the power metal heroes. They’re keen to assert this title, playing theatrical orchestra music before and after their set for the added hint of epic. Epic music is not in short supply throughout their set, with one particular solo through Operation Ground and Pound leaving many (including myself) sat in awe. Unfortunately the sound isn’t the best, with plenty of bass but lacking somewhat in the treble. This seems to have little effect on everyone’s opinion, with the band recieving a rapturous reception after every song in the relatively short set. At the end there is a short break for beer and food before the main show begins.

With the stage in complete darkness the familiar opening of Satellite 15…The Final Frontier plays accompanied with a video featuring Iron Maiden mascots and artwork reminiscent of The Final Frontier’s cover art. Breaking into the main section of the eight minute song, the band burst onto the stage met with an eruption of cheering, applause and horns raised high. This continues throughout the song and well into El Dorado, the track which follows on the album also. With every solo the crowd take the time to absorb the musical genius being blasted at them. Bruce Dickinson (the lead singer, of course) takes the time halfway through the set to have a chat with the fans, the only response being thunderous cheering and general metalhead madness.

There is, however something deeper in what he has to say and this is thought-provoking at the very least. He notes many of the tour locations, including how they were unable to play in Japan because of the Earthquake/Tsunami and takes the opportunity to wish the japanese well. He mentions his gig in Jakarta, Indonesia where he played to 30,000 islamic metalheads in a country where Metal music was banned until very recently. Elaborating on this, the show in Belfast was talked about in which the whole Protestant/Catholic divide is still apparent. Bruce responds to this by saying “This is a safe house. This is a our house. This is Maiden’s house”. Perhaps the most poignant quote of the night, reminding everyone that Iron Maiden is not simply an awesome Heavy Metal band, it is a religion unto its own to so many, uniting people of all nationalities and religions. Two people from the opposite ends of the earth may meet having never known eachother, but if they are wearing Iron Maiden shirts they will become almost instant friends.  Maiden fans have a reputation for being the friendliest but also the most vaired of any band, and this is clearly evident this evening. When introducing a hit from 1979, he asks “How many of you weren’t born in 1979?” to which at least half of the arena respond with the now standard gutteral roar accompanied by horns thrust to the roof. Fans of all ages are here, sporting Maiden shirts from all over the world and also from many of the tours the band have embarked upon over the years. These days, the youngest member of the band is 52 and the oldest is 58, but they still have a surprising amount of energy, being able to leap over the various set pieces on stage in much the same way someone half their age would be able to. Perhaps the most impressive feat comes from Nicko McBrain (the fifty-eight year old drummer) at the end of the show who flings his drum covers into the standing crowd but also frisbees one way up into the fourth floor seating area, a distance of well over 50ft.

As you’d expect, the band get a hero’s departure at the end of the show, with fans showing their appreciation for the six people who have done more for international relations than any diplomat will ever hope to achieve. As the pilgrims leave to the sound of Monty Python’s Always Look on the Bright Side of Life many are still left dazed in awe at what they have just witnessed. This is metal. This is the single most important musical genre to ever sound on the planet. Why do I say that? Well, it’s the only genre that has devoted followers in every country in the world, no exceptions. Walk up to someone in the most remote corner of the planet and you’d be surprised how many have heard of a metal band. Whether it’s the thirteen year old boy sitting on the roof of an Indian train with Seventh Son of a Seventh Son in his backpack, or the man in Botswana who goes to the only electricity source in the village with his friends and a CD player just to listen to Master of Puppets once a week, you’ll find metal everywhere. The music’s pretty unbeatable too, if I don’t mind saying.

Up the Irons! Join the Metalhood!

Sounds of a Playground Fading

I’m going to see how long I can keep up using album titles relevant to my writing theme as post headings. Obviously, as long as I’m doing this, the titles aren’t my own creative work and I’ll take no credit for them. Just a little disclaimer there for copyright reasons. Whoever thought up of the title for their album gets a cookie for being so creative. As of this post, only the post preceding uses an album title.

School’s out for Summer! For me anyway. To be honest, the last two sentences are as far as the title of this post fits the theme of my writing, but it only gets better. As you’d have read in my previous post, a week has passed which means I now have seven more in which to do as little or as much as I want. In that spirit, I decided to use some unspent energy to become a philanthropist for a day. This involved joining the school cycling team on the London to Southend Bike Ride all in aid of the British Heart Foundation. I’ll begin by saying the day started well; the relatively slow progress made to the first checkpoint was put down to the mile and a half long incline which tested our bikes (and our legs) to the absolute limit. The second section (each section being about 13miles) was so much easier, and we completed it in half the time it took to do the first quarter of the route. With 26miles down and 26 to go, it was decided that we stop for lunch, where the first torrential downpour of the day began. I say this because it was certainly not the last to add to the experience. Now being mildly soaked, we headed on to the third checkpoint, where there were yet more hills on the way but thankfully some long downhill stretches too. Just after drying out, the second torrential downpour began, making a 30mph descent become more dangerous with every passing yard.

After the third section and the end of the rain, the fourth and final leg began. By now our energy supplies and water bottles were running low, meaning it was simply down to squeezing every last drop of energy out of our bodies and pushing for the finish line. Coming into the outskirts of Southend, the car traffic really began to build. This meant, despite being physically exhausted, we were now being required to divert energy into planning our cycling mentally to avoid collisions with traffic. Unfortunately, in a traffic jam on the 51st mile I made the mistake of not concentrating on the car infront and bumping into it. The driver, luckily, was rather sympathetic. No damage was done to the car, and, after he was satisfied inspecting his rear bumper accepted my humble apologies and got on his way. Continuing on towards the ever-closer finish line I couldn’t help but feel annoyed with myself for making such a mistake, which could have been quite costly on my part if I had been travelling with any form of speed. It was then I saw the flash of lightning and the almost immediate growling response. Little more than five seconds stood between the spectacular introduction and the main performance of monsoon rain that carried on until the finishing straight, by which time I was quite literally dripping from head to toe. I had become separated from the group after the incident with the car, but I wasn’t the last to finish. After four hours and twenty minutes of gruelling cycling through Britain’s finest weather, I had beaten the 52mile course, suffering only a minor dent to one of my brake handles, a waterlogged phone and some soggy banknotes. I can only describe my emotions with the following picture.

Success.

That was just the first Sunday of my summer holiday. Needless to say, I don’t think I’ll be doing anything on that scale again for the time being. Hopefully this means you’ll see more of my writings appearing over the summer. There will naturally be a two week holiday break, because even the Dreamforge needs two weeks a year for the eye to pass in the revolutionary storm.

Maybe this time the weather will be nice.