Acts of kindness, Crime, Dance, Dating, internet, Religion, strangers, Uncategorized

…shoplifted/Hare Krishna/Freemasions/Ninja Skills…

Week 9

Day Fifty-Eight

…signed up to a dating website

I’ve always thought internet dating was full of weirdos and perverts – so I gave it a try.

Match.com allows you to upload 6 profile photos, unfortunately I don’t have any of me working out or saving several orphans from a burning building, just lots of drunk photos, which is unlikely to entice the ladies.

If you wish to date me (I’m not paying for the whole meal) you’ll find me under the name neilfoster81 here: http://www.match.com

Day Fifty-nine

…committed to seeing something through to the end

It was New Year’s Eve.  I contemplated the ten months left of this challenge and came very close to quitting.  One of my Friends said “why don’t you just give in, that’s what you always do”.

Like most modern men, I have commitment issues – it’s not my fault, I blame the generation I was born into.  On New Year’s Eve 2014 I made a commitment to my friends to see this through to the end and not give up on it, something I’ve never really done before.

I’m excited about the year ahead.

Day Sixty

Day 60…shoplifted

I’ve never shoplifted, apart from when I unintentionally stole Pick ‘n’ Mix as a child, so I thought I’d give it a go.

It’s a lot harder than it probably used to be as every shop has cameras, so I had to wait until the shopkeeper turned his back.  I bought a bottle of water, whilst at the same time sneaking a Mars into my pocket – proper rebel.

Afterwards I felt completely guilty, so I’ve returned the pilfered confectionary item in post with a note apologising for my misdemeanour; I’m not quite a career criminal yet.

Day Sixty-one

…listened to a meditation tape

To get the New Year off to a good start, I received a speeding ticket from the police.  I now have three points on my driving license, which I’ve never had before.  I was always told as kid that points mean prizes, so I’m quite pleased.  In the eyes of the law I’m now three points closer to being a Bad Ass.

To help me relax after this unfortunate news I tried listening to a meditation tape, it didn’t work.  It was basically just the sound of nature with a softly spoken woman saying “you’re in your secret place”.

Each time I tried to relax a really loud woodpecker kept making me jump, making my secret place quite stressful – I won’t be going back.

Day Sixty-Two

Day 62…visited the Freemasons Grand Lodge

I don’t know much about the Freemasons, apart from that it’s a very secretive organisation – which is why I don’t know much about it.

I discovered there’s a small museum in the United Grand Lodge, their HQ in Holborn.  You can visit the museum if you ask at the reception desk, but you have to sign in and they watch you closely.

The plethora of Freemason artefacts on display still didn’t really explain what they’re all about.  The whole time I kept thinking, if this was a movie I’d accidentally uncover a secret, my apartment would be bugged and men with guns would start following me.

I was given a tour of the Grand Temple.  It was impressive, but I was still no closer to the truth.  However, to my surprise, the tour guide suggested perhaps I’d consider becoming a member; he asked nobody else in the group.  He took my details and said he’d pass them on when I’m ready – if you don’t hear from for a while, then I’m being bugged and the armed men are coming.

Day Sixty-three

…folded a t-shirt in 2 seconds like a Ninja

Day Sixty-four

1528552_781065705241364_1171771393_n…chanted at the Hare Krishna Temple

I was informed the Hare Krishna’s (or “a bunch fruit-loops” as my Nan once called them) have a service/get together on Sunday that’s good for newcomers, so I went along.  I was expecting someone to greet me and explain the basics, but nobody did, so I sat on the floor in their small temple, just off Oxford Street, and tried to copy everyone else.  I felt like a bit of a prat, but I don’t think anyone cared as they were more concerned with Krishna.

At one point, after lots of chanting, a large curtain was drawn to reveal some deities.  Everyone stood, banged cymbals and danced; I must admit I got into a bit, despite having no idea what was going on.  At the end, three hours later, they asked who was new and why they were here.  I put up my hand and explained about my yearlong challenge and they all spontaneously clapped, which I felt was a very gracious, but I guess that’s what they’re all about.

On my side quest, to understand religion, I’m starting to realise gathering as a group to be selfless and share some common principles may be a very beneficial practice, but I’m still not convinced there’s a God yet.  The Hare Krishnas were very lovely people; they gave me a free Indian meal, making them one up on the Christians who just offered me coffee and cake.

HARE KRSNA, HARE KRSNA, KRSNA, KRSNA, HARE HARE

HARA RAMA, HARE RAMA, RAMA RAMA, HARE HARE

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Acts of kindness, Big issuse, Fitness, Games, Homeless, Poverty, Voluteering

…Homeless Shelter/Insanity Fitness/Vedic Maths

Week 8Week 8

It’s the New Year (Happy New Year etc).

New Year’s Day is often considered by many to be a symbolic time for personal change, but the reality is the entire country’s hung-over and can’t be arsed.

Recently I’ve started to really feel the enormity of my personal challenge.  I keep getting massively behind blogging about my daily adventures, mainly because I’m a lazy pig (not wishing to be rude about our swine friends, I feel they get a lot of abuse when it comes to deprecating metaphors).  I’ve even come close to quitting and I’ve still got forty-four weeks to go.  It’s a lot harder than I first thought, although to be fair I didn’t really put much thought into it in the first place, but it’s the New Year and I’m determined to carry on.

Instead of blogging daily I’m now going to write weekly summaries of my experiences, hopefully allowing me more time to focus on achieving new things, rather than having the usual ‘OhbloodyhellthedaysnearlyoverandIdontknowwhattodo’ panic.  In fact I’m already going on a bit and beginning to panic, so let’s get on with it, starting with the last three days of week eight:

Day Fifty-five

…Volunteered at a shelter for the homeless

I wasn’t expecting there to be many volunteers at the temporary homeless shelter, run during the Christmas period by the charity Crisis, but I was pleasantly surprised to find over a hundred people giving up their spare time to do a good deed.  I possibly made a bit of a rookie mistake when the organiser announced at the start “I need four volunteers.  If you were here yesterday you probably know what the task is”.  I foolishly put up my hand up and was lead straight to toilet cleaning duty. Two hours later I was relieved from the ‘shit’ job, then taken to the kitchen and told to clean dishes for three hours, however my final task was to simply supervise the makeshift cinema room (basically I got to watch some films with a load of homeless people).

The eight hour shift with no break was tiring, but I certainly felt I’d worked my way up the hierarchy of volunteering.  I’ll be helping again next year.

www.crisis.org.uk

Day Fifty-six

…Attempted the Insanity Fitness Test

I remember seeing one of those disturbingly long digital TV adverts, in fact I think they’re called infomercials, for the Insanity Workout programme, which claims to be the toughest fitness programme ever put on DVD – I had to give it a go.

Unlike on day four, when I tried a Jane Fonda workout video, it was impossible to find a YouTube clip of the twenty minutes of fitness insanity.  The closest I got to a free copy of the workout was some home videos showing people following the DVD in their living rooms, which was bit weird, but I figured I’d just have to follow them following the official footage.

I worked out with a really fat American chap, who, for some reason, felt it was appropriate to exercise pretty much naked – which made me feel a bit sick.  I followed the video in my bedroom, but there wasn’t really enough space so I kept knocking things over and hurting myself, also my new chubby online fitness buddy kept pausing the video, however I persevered and got to the end – insanity!

www.beachbody.co.uk

Day Fifty-Seven

…Learnt Vedic Maths

I got an E grade at GCSE Maths, so I can confidently say I’m no Carol Voderman or whomever the male equivalent is.  When someone suggested I learnt a mental math calculation technique from India, my brain was already frazzled before I even knew what it was, however the system seemed to make everything a lot simpler than the standard way, I even found myself unexpectedly enjoying it.

Unfortunately an hour after learning the technique I’d already forgotten it, also I couldn’t help thinking why can’t I just use a calculator (A mindset of the hi-tech generation that I know definitely upsets my grandparents). 

SO ON TO A NEW WEEK AND NEW YEAR OF NEW THINGS…

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Acts of kindness, Big issuse, Poverty, strangers

…sponsored a child

Day 41Day Forty-one

I have a tendency to, rather embarrassingly, overwhelming cry during particular scenes in certain films.  One such scene that’s guaranteed to turn me into a blubbering halfwit is the final five minutes of the 2002 movie About Schmidt.

The film tells the story of Schmidt (Jack Nicholson), a retired man who’s led a safe and predictable existence working in insurance, but after the death of his wife he embarks on a road trip and discovers more about himself and life than he ever expected (I pretty much pasted all this synopsis from IMDB).  The scene that turns me into a wailing fool is when he receives a letter from a child he’s sponsored in Tanzania.  After Schmidt’s road trip of discovery he comes to the conclusion that his life has been a failure, however when he reads the letter of gratitude from the child he realises his small action of sponsorship has made his life worthy.  With that film in mind I decided to sponsor a child, which I’d never done before.

The first child sponsorship website I Googled presented a gallery of children from which you could select whom you wanted to help, I found this a slightly unsavoury task.  Each child seemed like they’d be told to look more dishevelled than the other, like it was a strange poverty auction.  I decided to try another website.  The next charity wanted £25 a month donation, so I looked for another site (I want to help, but I’m not made of money).

I settled on the charity ActionAid as their sponsorship starts at only £15 a month.  I really don’t have much money at the moment so I had to cancel my monthly Spotify subscription in order to keep up my donation, this seemed a better use of my funds than paying for uninterrupted music.  The ActionAid website gave me the choice of which country I wanted to sponsor a child from, again I found this hard to choose so I selected the option ‘country where help is most needed’ and let fate decide.

I’m now sponsoring eight year old Marzia who lives in Bamyan, Afghanistan.  I’ve been invited to write a letter and also told I’m welcome to visit, but I think a weekend trip in Afghanistan maybe a little risky.  I hope my donation helps and isn’t just spent on guns or sweets.

ON TO THE NEXT NEW THING…

P.S. the scene from the film Billy Elliot, where his dad crosses the picket line to work in mines so his son can fulfil his dream to be a dancer, also rather embarrassingly makes me blub.  I’m not sure why I’m confessing to all this, I really don’t have to.

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Acts of kindness, Uncategorized, Voluteering

…volunteered at a Free Bookshop

ImageDay Fourteen

If I’m brutally honest whenever I’ve been into a charity shop, and that’s not often as I’m a bit of a snob, I’ve always thought the volunteers must either be on community service for mugging old grannies or they’re a little bit nuts.  The idea of working all day to receive no pay or at least some kind of prize ashamedly baffled me.

I was invited by a friend who calls himself Idiot Rich to volunteer with him for a day.  I jumped at the chance as it was something I’ve never done before, and also I wanted to find out how much of idiot he actually is.  We were to help at a bookshop that offers all their books for free; certainly not a business plan that’s Dragon’s Den worthy although I doubt the people running it care as they go by the name The Kindness Offensive.

I met Idiot Rich at Camden Road Station.  We had to take a short bus ride to the free bookshop (I’m not sure it can technically be classed as a shop if no money passes hands, but that’s just being picky) and during the journey I was told a little more about the unpaid job ahead.  He explained the charity saves unwanted books before they head to landfills and instead offers them to the public for free.  The charity don’t wanted another book in return or any donation money, it’s completely free – a pure act of kindness.

I was instructed by Idiot Rich that we would be arranging a large jumble of books into genre sections in the shop and, time permitting, alphabetising them too.  I thought to myself the people running the shop will be very pleased with the free work I’m about to give them and at a bare minimum I’ll get a certificate from the Mayor of London, or at least a party thrown in my honour by the local residents – at this point I still wasn’t quite grasping the concept of working for kindness not reward.

When we arrived at the shop I must admit I was somewhat impressed.  I was expecting a small rundown charity shop with the whiff of damp ginger biscuits in the air, perhaps a crazy bag lady in the corner searching through a pile of odd shoes (all based on my limited experience of charity shops), however the Kindness Offensive’s Free Bookshop is in fact located in a beautifully converted pub.  The former Camden pub has been completely redecorated into a welcoming bright open space with shelved books around the edges and bunting hung from the ceiling.  Parked outside the bookshop there’s an old Route Master Bus that’s been painted in the bright signature colours of the Kind Offensive.  I’m later told they won the bus (I’ve only ever won a pot of jam) and it’s now used to deliver free Christmas presents to children in hospitals – an even kinder act of kindness.

Inside the bookshop I meet two male volunteers both wearing high visibility jackets which is the uniform of their offensive.  One of the men, after I explained I’ve come to volunteer for the day, informs me all I have to is greet people and tell them they are allowed three books for free.  The man then informs me Idiot Rich likes to arrange the books in order which is possibly pointless because the entire shop’s being moved around in few weeks, also you can’t label the sections because for some reason the cleaners don’t like it, and furthermore new books are piled on top of the old ones every day – despite this I begin the task of categorise the books, which now seems like an idiotic way to spend my afternoon.

In general I’m not a big fan of working and tend to find as many distractions as I can before commencing any form of labour.  After reading all the posters on the walls and staring out the window for bit, just like I used to at school during Religious Education, I finally started arranging the books.

As Idiot Rich and I continued organising the books into some kind of order, the other two volunteers sat waiting for someone to enter the shop.  In the almost three hours I was there only five people entered – five people Imagewho were smart enough to realise what a great shop a free shop is.  I overheard one customer ask a volunteer if the books are in any order and he replied “not really”, that’s great I thought to myself.

Later on Rob, who is the leader of the Kindness Offensive and had just returned to the shop in the ‘Funbulance’ (another vehicle they’d wonderfully converted), presented one of the volunteers with a plastic medal for his commitment to being super kind.  At the start of the day I would have murdered for a medal or any kind of recognition for my free work, but I was happy for the man who’d clearly committed more time to kindness than my miserly half-hearted almost three hours.

By the end of my time in the bookshop I was proud of the work Idiot Rich and myself have achieved, even if the customers didn’t notice there was actually a complex system of book arrangement.

I was surprized to find it was great doing something for the community and for a short while being part of something wonderful and, with the fear of sounding cliché, ImageI guess that IS the ultimate payment of volunteering.

The kindness Offensive are awesomely kind people, so if you’re near Camden do go visit their bookshop which will hopefully be there for a long time, or even better why not donate some of your time to them.

NEXT NEW THING HERE I COME…

P.S. When you enter the bookshop Arts and Crafts are on the left by the entrance, Science Fiction at the back and Novels on the right.

http://thekindnessoffensive.com

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Acts of kindness, Uncategorized

…attempted to give a compliment to as many strangers as possible in one day

ImageDay Ten

I wanted to give a compliment to at least ten strangers I encountered on my day’s travels.  Surely this would not be a hard thing to do, but by the end of the day I’d given a compliment to a grand total of one person.  Bit embarrassing really.

The problem is it’s quite hard to approach people in London, because everyone’s in such a rush to get somewhere.  Most people you encounter on the street or on public transport either have their headphones on listening to hip-hop or such genres, or they’re on phone conversing loudly about how late they are for work or how awful their date was last night, or their just reading the free newspaper The Metro engrossed in finding out where Miley Cyrus was twerking that week.

The second problem with giving a compliment to a stranger is how to do it without sounding like a sex pest or creep, saying “Hi, I don’t want to sound like a weirdo but I must say you’ve got the most radiant smile” instantly makes you sound like a weirdo.  Also there’s only so much you can compliment about a stranger you’ve approached and haven’t spoken to, mainly what they look like or what they’re wearing.

I left the house with the daunting task ahead and decided to compliment the first person I saw.  The first person I saw, walking down the street towards me, was women who was possibly in her fifties but all I know could have been in her thirties but just had a rough time of it.  She had a fag hanging out of her mouth and coughed as she dragged on it.  Her slightly yellow skin was as wrinkly as a prune’s finger tips after it had soaked in a bath for an hour; if indeed a prune did have fingers, was able to draw a bath and was some kind of animated fruit.  She had a tracksuit on covered in many food or fluid stains.  There was literarily nothing I could say to her.  I tried quickly to think of something “You’re a pillar of the community” or “You’ve set a great example to all of us, young and old” but by the time I’d managed to muster up the courage to say anything, anything at all, she’d gone.  Damn!

Where I live in Honor Oak Park, South East London, until recently there have been very few practical food shops.  There were just a few newsagents that offered a miserly selection of slightly rotten vegetables, and if you hadn’t pre-planned by buying your fresh groceries from a supermarket before arriving on the train back into Honor Oak Park then you were forced to use these less than ideal shops.  All this changed a few months ago with the opening of the area’s first proper convenience store Sainsbury’s Local (the one I visited recently in just my dressing gown).  Ashamedly I’ve stopped spending my money in the independent family run newsagents and instead started putting my money into the pockets of the corporate giant, but at the end of the day their produce is better.  However the one newsagent I do still use is next to my house, and I only visit it for their tomatoes.  They have fresh tomatoes, ones like you find on a farm.  The rest of their stuff is all rotten, but their tomatoes really are exceptional.  Anyway, I’m going on a bit, back to my attempt to compliment random members of the British public

After walking past a few strangers and failing miserable to form anything in my head to say or have the courage to say it, I entered my local newsagent.  I wanted to buy some of their tasty tomatoes for my lunch.  I approached the counter and behind it was a middle aged Indian man whom I’ve never seen working there before.  A stranger.  I quickly tried to think of something to say.  Perhaps I could compliment him on his hair, but then I thought that would be weird.  Perhaps I could mention that ‘when I was in India’ I meet many Indian people and they all seemed very nice just like him, but that would be even weirder.  So this is what I actually said:

Me: Hello

Indian shop-keep: Hello Sir.  That’s £1.50 please.

Pause

Me: I must say you’ve got much better tomatoes than the ones they do in Sainsbury’s.  Very Fresh.

Indian man laughs in a weird way.  The laugh either meant I don’t have a clue what you’re talking about, or, I really don’t give shit about my tomatoes.  Either way it’s a really awkward moment.

long pause

Me: Right bye then.

…and I’m afraid to say that was it for complimenting strangers, that’s all I achieved.  I really did think about doing it during the rest of the day, but every time I saw a stranger I didn’t know what to say or I just got the fear.

I felt a little disappointed with my achievements but I guess I HAD complimented a stranger even if it was on his tomatoes, something I’ve never done before.  It may not of meant anything to the stranger but it meant something to me.

SO ON TO THE NEXT THING I’VE NEVER DONE, AND HOPEFULLY NEXT TIME WITH BETTER RESULTS…

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