Thursday, 4 April 2013

Toilet humour

It was a Friday, in a grotty bar in central London. The final round of post-work drinks had been dispensed with and the empty glasses gathered on the sticky tabletop outnumbered the drinkers.

"Well, I best head off if I'm going to make it to this party", said a friend, adding to the host of drained vessels. "Can you pass me my stuff?"

"Yeah I better make a move too. Any idea where the loos are in here?" asked another of the drinkers. I gestured toward a dark corner of the bar, the same direction that a bold white arrow promised he'd find the "Lads" - it was the sort of establishment that such a title implied toilets, rather than anything more surprising.

As he stumbled off in the general direction of the arrow, the other acquaintance who had announced the importance of his imminent departure appeared to find something of interest in his bag. He looked up sheepishly from his false distraction. "I need a piss as well, but... I don't really know [the other chap]. I'll wait 'till he's done."

This is the bizarre, unspoken etiquette of male toilets. All men become accustomed to these unspoken laws without ever requiring tutelage or formal training.

Those unfamiliar with male toilets (in the main, women) often enquire as to what goes on behind the closed doors of the Gents - I thought I'd share some of those rules with the wider world, in the hope that it might spark discussion, chuckles, and highlight any potential differences in regional practice that I might be unaware of.

Setting the scene
With some 20 years of experience behind me, I have come to find that male toilets hold little variation in design. Men, by virtue of a fortuitous evolutionary trump card, are offered both seated and standing options for going about their business. The standing options will always outnumber the seated - I can only assume that when an architect plans a building, they provide equal space for the male and female toilets; female toilets consist solely of cubicles, which take up more room than most urinals, thus resulting in less facilities and causing unfair queues. Blokes are usually offered a smattering of cubicles and a greater selection of either separate urinals or, for lack of a better word, troughs.

Positioning is everything
A simple rule stands above all in male toilets; always leave a gap. In the case of single urinals, where each man has his own kingdom to water, you should always leave a free urinal between yourself and the next gentleman. When dealing with larger communal urinals, or troughs, things are a little trickier to judge; most men will usually aim to leave enough distance between themselves that one couldn't stretch out his hand and place it on the shoulder of the fellow next to him. Should a man enter a toilet that hosts five urinals, finds one occupied and takes an immediately adjoining urinal... well, that's just not sporting behaviour.

The moment this rule becomes impossible to apply (there isn't enough room to leave a gap), it is immediately dropped. Some men are too sheepish to take up this overruling; in a packed club or at halftime down the local, some men still cling to usual practice, loitering while a queue of confused brethren look at the perfectly good urinal left free. Clearly some value their personal space above an empty bladder. Proceed to tut, and take the space.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder
Most rules apply, directly or indirectly, to field of vision. No one enjoys being watched while they answer the call of nature. You must maintain total control of your eye line should you wish to avoid any misunderstandings. Thus, most men will either direct their gaze at what they're doing (that's to say, downward), or study the brickwork immediately in front of them as though searching for the hidden gateway to a mythical kingdom. No glances or distractions; the male neck loses all lateral rotation once he steps up to the mark.

The lost art of conversation
In contrast to female toilets, little-to-no verbal communication occurs in the men's room. Occasional small talk is permissible, but usually only to distract from other "bass" tones common to toilets. Subject matter will consist exclusively of the "the match" ("That was never a red card/penalty/goal", "Do you think City have lost the bottle" etc.) or the weather.

Stage fright is not to be laughed at
The close company of strangers is enough to put some men off their "stride", so to speak. You step up to the font, go about your usual preparations, and then... nothing happens. This is commonly known as "stage fright", and is mutually understood by most as unavoidable and unfortunate. Should a fellow user of the toilet find himself in such a predicament, leave him to go about his business, wash your hands and leave without a second glance.

None of the above applies to friends
On the occasion that men take a communal visit to the Gents, all etiquette ceases to apply - though total strangers already using the facility are to be treated with the normal level of respect. It is not uncommon for friends to hold council ("Where are we going next", "Isn't she going out with Chris?", "What's that smell?" etc.), push each other, laugh at stage fright and generally make asses of themselves. That's just how it is.

In the above story, in which one friend delayed his use of the facilities, I can only assume that he didn't want to enter into a potentially awkward situation. He knew the bloke him well enough to share a few rounds, but was unsure if following him into the toilet would be seen as a touch impolite. Again, odd, but understandable.

If you have encountered any additional rules or practices for toilet etiquette, feel free to share them in the comments below. But please, keep it clean.

Monday, 25 March 2013

An unexplained absence

When I initially established this blog, its purpose was to practice my writing style. I am a clumsy wordsmith, with a limited knowledge of the English language, matched by a somewhat constipated turn of phrase.This blog has previously been subject to abuse, acting as a gushing outlet of thought rather than a refined trickle of precise musings.

My writing has recently improved, not as a result of this blog, but thanks to a six month spell at Wired.co.uk. My brief stint at this publication has seen my work end up online (professionally) and in print - and I am more confused than anyone as to how this has happened. I am also fortunate enough to have gained some freelance work for the immediate future, which keeps me in London until a new means of employment is found (I am handy with a duster, give a painfully brilliant massage and know how to walk a dog - email david.cornish[at]hotmail.com with any honest job offers).

My new ambition for this blog is to see it become a far more concise, professional affair. As such, I am about to write a piece about the awkward world of public toilets.

If you'd like to see what I've been up to, feel free to read my words on storytelling in computer games, or new technology finding its place in the publishing industry. Failing that, you can sift through all of my Wired.co.uk work.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

A guide to moving to London


Having recently secured a six month internship with Wired.co.uk, I faced a task that several thousand graduates, travelers and newly relocated workers undertake each week: how to move to London?

London
Population: 8,174,000
Area: 1,583 square kilometres
Proportion of social rented housing: 24 per cent
Proportion of households with one person: 30 per cent
Population density: See image right. Click to enlarge
(Stats from ONS 2010, Census 2011 and Wikipedia) 

With a knowledge of London accumulated  from childhood tourism trips and countless sofa-surfing ventures, I had very little idea of how to set about finding a new home. What should take precedent; the location? The flatmates? The commute time? Council tax costs? The number of stains on the walls?

The amount of variables you can rack up is staggering, so embarking on the hunt for the perfect pad is ultimately blessed or blighted by the tools of your search. Some are marvelous, while others turn an already frustrating endeavour into a nightmare. Here are three I used, to varying degrees of joy.

The Good, the bad and the ugly
UK.EasyRoommate.com - the teeny, tiny bad

This is one of the smaller listings sites for flat hunters and landlords, and therein lies the problem - fewer users means fewer flats and less new properties to sift through. Combined with a deeply frustrating user experience of frequent crashes and poorly laid out lists, you're more likely to vomit in rage than find a new room.

Easy Roommate requires you to upgrade to a premium membership before you can contact other members, and while such a pay wall is common, it can be infuriating to find some landlords refusing to list their phone number to premium members, or avoiding the premium incentive by  listing contact details for free in the property description - great if you're casually browsing, a slap in the face if you've just forked out the best part of £15 for a week's access.

As a small, annoying service, best avoided.

Gumtree.com - the vast, bewilderingly ugly

Gumtree be big. Very big. More giant redwood than gummy. Yet one of the largest listings sites on the net is deeply undermined by its limited search functions.

I discovered that to be successful on Gumtree, you need to have a good working knowledge of London's geography. Searches can be refined by location, price and number of required beds. The site currently lists over 13,000 properties in East London alone, so unless you know your Tower Hamlets from your Upminsters, you're going to spend a very long time clicking through yet more pictures of grubby kitchens and tiny bedrooms.

Its vast lists are free to access and provide new offerings on an hourly basis, but the ratio of bad-to-good ads can make sifting through the endless pages eye-watering work.

Spareroom.com - the easy, accessible good

The best of the best. The brilliantly designed advanced search function has been put together by a team who understand the needs of flat hunting, allowing you to pick between London Boroughs, commute zones, tube lines or total commute time. While you can browse all ads for free, the 'Early Bird' pay wall prevents you from contacting ads less than seven days old; it's well worth paying the £9.49 for a week's access to the service as flats move so quickly anything left after seven days is likely to have something growing in the bathroom or dying under the stairs.

Another very handy service offered by SpareRoom is flatmating - a weekly speed dating event at which prospective tenants and landlords/renters can meet, chat, drink and gather those all important first impressions beyond the confines of the flat in question.

SpareRoom also offers an iPhone app, vital if you're living out of a suitcase and searching for rooms on-the-hoof. However, it's best to create a profile and save some specific searches from a computer account, as the app version doesn't allow you to be as specific.

Here be dragons
Walking into a stranger's house is a strange social experience at the best of times. Walking in with the hope that it might become your home is even stranger. The same questions will flood your mind with each visit: Do you like the room? Do you like the house? Do you like them? Was that mark on the floor blood or soup? Did the other housemates look friendly or like they're on a government list?

Given that everyone's idea of 'home' is so different, the best advice I can give is to set about your search with an open mind; some rooms I discovered were listed as 'nudist friendly', 'pork free' and 'gay flatshare' (it was very unclear if I needed to be gay in order to live there, or comfortable with the idea of living with gay people).

You'll see some horrors, meet some weirdos and probably think you're never going to find anything under £550 per month that doesn't contain more than a hint of damp - but persist. Bargains are there to be had, so long as you keep looking and stay friendly. I was fortunate, managing to secure an amazing house share in Brixton with 6 other 'young professionals' at incredibly low price, but I only found it having forced myself to call any and every add that was in my budget and risking seeing some properties that didn't list photos.

You'll need a week, you'll need a very understanding set of friends with a free sofa, and you'll need an iron-plated sense of adventure, but you can find a home in London in a short amount of time. The SpareRoom app with Early Bird membership is by far the best tool out there to help you on your way, but the search is as easy as you make it. Be prepared to meet some rude people, some lovely weirdos, and plenty of potential housemates. Happy hunting.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

The devil makes work...

Jesus healing the Gadarene demoniac Legion
Exorcists of the UK’s mainstream Christian denominations are receiving a growing number of requests for their services. David Cornish investigates

“Within the ten years I’ve been working as an exorcist I’d say I’ve had between 30 and 40 cases. Before I was asked to take on the role I wasn’t aware there was so much of this healing needed – I knew it had always gone on, but just not to this degree. After the bishop appointed me I asked him if this was unusual. He simply said, ‘It goes on more than people know’.”

Father Paul Everson is not a world weary priest with a vial of holy water secreted about his person. He is a dry witted 76-year-old exorcist, whose gentle nature and clerical collar are more Vicar of Dibley than Van Helsing.

After serving the Catholic Church for 42 years, Fr Everson was asked by his bishop to become the resident exorcist of his diocese. The role wasn’t to include a cruciform business card, with all cases referred to him via the bishop and other priests:

“We’re not advised to give people our telephone number or details. The bishop’s not trying to stop people from approaching me, he’s just being considerate. Don’t misunderstand me – I’m not trying to be secretive about it as it’s a public ministry. He wants me to do the ministry and for everyone to find it available to them, but not in that public way.”

The exorcisms practised by Fr Everson consist of major and minor forms. ‘Major’ exorcisms – which must be approved by a bishop – cast out any malevolent spirits from a possessed person, ridding them of demonic influences. A ‘minor’ exorcism can refer to freeing an individual from oppressive forces, or the spiritual cleansing of a physical place such as a house.

Since taking the role in 2002, Fr Everson has noted a rise in the number of requests for his services – a trend he puts down to materialism, a lack of God in people’s lives and the wrong help being sought for spiritual problems.

“In all kindness and charity, there’s a lot of evil in the world... the devil is having a heyday.”

Fr Everson’s role as resident exorcist requires a great deal of patience and a willingness to hear people out rather than push them away. His most testing case came last year when a priest requested his help with a ‘rage filled’ man.

When Fr Everson entered the room he found the man to be unresponsive:

“He was just staring about the room with a look of anger. As with all cases, I do my best to talk through with the individual what they’re feeling and experiencing. At the end of that I try to make a conclusion as to what sort of prayer, liturgy and care they might need.

“When I began speaking to him, he started being abusive with his language: ‘You can’t help me, what are you doing here’, then cruder, blasphemous things, against God, the Church, against priests. Then quite suddenly he snapped out of it and talk normally about his work and life.”

After a short conversation, the man lapsed back into an aggressive state. Without warning, he took hold of the exorcist by the collar and forced him against the wall. Fr Everson made no attempt to react, and was eventually released with the help of the man’s priest.

“I still couldn’t make my mind up about his condition, but I didn’t think he was ‘possessed’ as such. I told his priest that I thought this man needed psychiatric help – which he was getting.”

Fr Everson decided to conduct a prayer of minor exorcism (see panel) and insisted that the man continue seeing a psychiatrist. The man’s priest has since reported that he’s doing well.

In spite of the occasional danger, Fr Everson is humbled by his role.

“It’s very special work really. I’m not pleased that people are troubled in this way, but I’m pleased to be an instrument to help them.”

Our daily bread

The work of an exorcist is not always as extreme as Fr Everson’s encounter. Troubled buildings are more common than troubled souls, with most cases involving an ‘unwanted presence’. The Reverend Claire Wills, a shy and softly spoken 68-year-old vicar of the Church of England, gained her first experience of a deliverance while training for ordination in 1996.

“I grew up in a liberal tradition, so I’d always faltered in my understanding of demons and spirits as you find them in the New Testament. I wasn’t quite sure how ‘real’ they were, so to speak –were they just something we had demythologised and now understood as psychological issues?”

The vicar mentoring Rev Wills was a member of the diocesan deliverance team – a multi-disciplinary group of clergy and medical professionals tasked with responding to exorcism requests made of the Church of England.

Rev Wills was asked by her vicar if she would accompany him on a visit to a family who had reported feeling an ‘uncomfortable presence’ in their home. He required her prayer support and suggested it would be a valuable opportunity to widen her experience.

On arriving, the vicar and Rev Wills made their way around the house to look for any rational explanation to the family’s complaint – expanding pipes, loose floorboards and shifting foundations often the cause of many suspected spirits. After finding no corporeal explanation, the vicar began reading a prayer to bless the home:

“Everything got a bit dramatic,” recalls Rev Wills. “Things jumped off the walls of the room we were in and started moving around. The family, who were in the room with us, seemed to become tied together as if by ropes.”

To the relief of Rev Wills and the family, as the vicar finished reciting the blessing the unusual activity stopped. The family didn’t report any further disturbances after their visit.

The rising dark

Now part of a deliverance team of six clergy, Rev Wills often finds herself struggling to keep up with her caseload, overseeing the exorcism requests of three counties. She claims that in the last 5 years the number of exorcists working in the Midlands has tripled to cope with demand for the ministry:

“There are a growing number of people dabbling in the Occult. Some people are just far more sensitive to this sort of thing than others, with young people in particular getting into stuff that scares them. They can be deeply affected by TV shows and videos on the subject. I groan whenever I see a pub advertising psychic evenings. The deliverance team gets busier all the time, and there’s a growing need to recruit more people.”

Despite a successful case history, Rev Wills hasn’t gained Fr Everson’s affection for the work of exorcism.

“It might sound strange, but whenever I receive a new case I never want to go. Some people think it’s a glamorous role but it truly isn’t. I hate going.

“Some people who come to you are mentally ill or just mildly deluded. Some are unstable and attention-seekers. You’re often dealing with some really nasty stuff.”

Rev Wills reveals that in recent decades, more people have felt able to come forward with issues relating to childhood sexual abuse inflicted by Satanists and Coven groups.

“In the West Midlands there’s a specialist counselling organisation which deals specifically with the adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse. If they come across a client who has obviously had Coven experience they refer them to us straight away.”

One such case concerned a woman who was adopted by a couple who practised Satanism. The woman alleges that she was repeatedly raped in Coven ceremonies and eventually became pregnant. Shortly after her child was born, it was sacrificed in a satanic ritual.

Rev Wills explains that the woman required spiritual deliverance, in which malicious and damaging spirits are ‘bound’ and cast out with liturgical prayer.

“There’s also a great need to reassure the victim that they can be released from any vows made to Satan, that the victory of the cross is a stronger power and that God loves them. All of this work can take a long time.”

Not all new cases have their roots in Satanism. The Reverend Thomas Allison, a convener for a Church of England deliverance team, views the structure of modern society as the main contributor to the increase in requests:

“There isn’t the formal route for spirituality that there used to be. Three or four generations ago families were used to going to church on a Sunday. If things happened that were unusual, they had a ready made framework and point of contact for such problems to be dealt with.”

Rev Allison also cites spiritual consumerism as another cause of recent growth.

“People will describe themselves as very spiritual despite not attending a religious service each week – which is fine, but it often means these spiritual yearnings are unfocussed and unmet. People will happily watch films like The Exorcist or The Last Exorcism and be drawn in by the special effects and the pseudo-spiritualist atmosphere, which in itself can draw them into all sorts of things.”

Rev Allison finds that many often turn to the internet for help which they might once have sought from the Church.

“Very often they’ll go to the website that’s got the flashiest advertisements and call in someone who’s more than likely a charlatan. They’ll tell the family just what they want to hear, take their money, and not actually solve their problem for them. If they fail to find a solution elsewhere, they turn to the Church as a last resort.”

It’s Rev Allison’s responsibility as the convener of a diocesan deliverance team to ensure that the Church of England’s guidelines are followed when a major exorcism is proposed.  Written in 1975 by the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Donald Coggan, they suggest a report is submitted to the bishop, outlining the recommendations of the deliverance team and a medical professional. The bishop may then permit an exorcism to take place if it is appropriate.

“It’s always best practice that any case of deliverance, no matter how minor, is discussed in the team. We need to get as wide a field of thought, theology and pastoral care surrounding that person or situation. It’s all very carefully controlled and those safeguards need to be there.”

A difference of professional opinion

Outside the Church of England, only the Catholic and Greek Orthodox denominations have a formal framework for dealing with exorcisms.

It is the view of Father Simon Meleton, a deacon of the Greek Orthodox Church for 45 years, that exorcisms are wildly misunderstood in the West as sensational events. In reality, most exorcisms occur in prayers of blessing and baptism services:

“It may be that someone feels that things just aren’t going all that well for them, or that they’re depressed or feeling oppressed by something. Sometimes people invite a priest to their home for a blessing with Holy water and ask for an exorcism to be read – in other words, that the evil influences that they think are around them may be dispelled. An individual will usually sit or kneel before a priest, or lie in bed, and a prayer is read over them.”

Although all Catholic priests receive the minor order of exorcist at ordination, it is the policy of Catholic bishops of England and Wales to appoint a priest in each diocese to oversee the ministry.

In October of last year Fr Everson attended a conference for Catholic priests new to the role of exorcist, allowing them to meet and discuss their difficulties with more experienced practitioners. He was surprised to learn that major exorcisms of possessed people very rarely occur:

“Nevertheless there can be possession, and less than that, there can be people who are disturbed by restless spirits.

“I have come to the conclusion on more than one occasion that an individual seeking help has been quite psychologically disturbed or required psychiatric care. In one particular case a psychiatrist and I worked together – there’s a bit of overlapping sometimes.

“This particular psychiatrist was very supportive of the work of exorcism – not all are, and I say this with the greatest of respect to them – there are some who think my work is a lot of nonsense. But there are those who are sympathetic and who are very grateful to have us work with them.”

If an individual displays a temporary loss of personal identity, or appears to be taken over by an external personality or force, a psychiatrist may give a diagnosis of ‘trance’ or ‘possession disorder’. Such trance states have even been diagnosed in young fans of bands and pop groups.

 “Many people have dissociative symptoms where they don’t feel themselves or can’t remember what they are doing,” explains Dr Daniel Nicholls, a psychiatrist who has worked alongside exorcists. “An individual can consciously or unconsciously resort to be being out of control – or in extremes ‘possessed’ – as a way to express themselves when they are very hurt and have a poorly formed personality, which is often the result of traumatic early life experiences.

“Psychiatrists will generally assume there is no spiritual component to these symptoms and will treat it as a dissociative disorder. If it looks like possession, then it will be diagnosed as ‘possession disorder’ – a medical description rather than a theological statement.”

While having a Christian faith of his own, Dr Nicholls is unsure of the role that exorcism plays in dealing with such patients:

“My thoughts about this condition are generally inconclusive.  There are worrying cases, but we mustn’t jump to thinking things are always spiritual as that can be very damaging for the individual.”

The cast who cast out

While the exorcists are glad that more people are turning to them for help, each of them feel that more can be done.

Fr Everson believes it’s simply a case of education:

“Whenever I work with people, I ask if they’ve delved into things like the Ouija board or things of that nature. I tell them that I view working with them a delight and privilege, but I insist that they turn away from that. It won’t do you any good at all, but it can do you harm.”

For Rev Allison, the Church of England needs to be more confident in treading the tightrope:

“The Church does need to be in the public arena, but in a very sensitive way, so that the ministry is rightly advertised. I have to say that for many people who are troubled with these phenomena exorcists have become the last resort.  I’m buoyed up by that possibly meaning that the Church still has some credence and that people still ultimately recognise that there’s an organisation with 2000 years of experience in dealing with these problems.”

Despite its experience, Rev Will believes that the Church is very nervous about drawing publicity to their work:

“One of the reasons the Church isn’t very forward about this ministry is that it doesn’t want the opposition to know that we’re working to combat them.”

The opposition?

“Those involved in Occult practices and Satanism. Most dioceses may have kept one expert on their books, but didn’t really expect him to be called. Gradually through having ignored ‘the devil and all his works’ for so long, the incidences of hauntings, unquiet dead, possession and other paranormal phenomena have increased dramatically. That’s partly because it’s now culturally acceptable to have psychic evenings, play with Ouija boards and consult mediums. People are no longer frightened to mess about with contacting the dead, or the devil. It isn’t a no-no any more, and the Church is reacting to the situation in society.”

Due to the sensitive nature of their work, some of the names within this article have been changed.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

War Game

Reacting to the media's portrayal of war being 'over there', in a far flung country, French photographer Léo Caillard set about creating a collection of images that placed war in the everyday reality of our lives. The results are eerie, apocalyptic and grimly wonderful:








Apple granted patent for touch screen LCD

Apple are rumoured to have a new iPhone
and 'mini' iPad on the way
A newly published Apple patent is the most significant indication yet that a slimmer, lighter next generation iPhone will use an ‘in-cell’ touch screen technology.

Granted on 14 August 2012, Apple’s patent for a “Touch screen liquid crystal display” allows for the touch-sensing elements of a touch screen to be integrated within the LCD display, rather than in a separate covering layer as in current iPhone and iPad models.

The LCD touchscreen currently used in the iPhone 4S relies on ‘on-cell’ touch screen technology, in which a touch sensitive element sits between a protective glass layer and the LCD unit. Apple’s patent, originally filed for in June 2006, details an extensive variety of methods for using an in-cell technology that incorporates the touch sensing unit directly into the LCD.

“By integrating the layered structure of an LCD and a touch sensor, a variety of benefits can be achieved,” explains Apple’s U.S. Patent No. 8,243,027. “This integration can include combining or interleaving the layered structures described above. Integration can further include eliminating redundant structures and/or finding dual purposes (e.g., one purpose for the touch function and another for the display function) for particular layers or structures.”

As well as reducing the overall thickness of touch screen devices, Apple’s patent file outlines how the new in-cell touch screen will simplify the existing manufacturing process and reduce production costs.

With 85 claims and 107 illustrations referenced, Apple’s patent falls short of providing any solid specifications for the next generation of iPhone and iPad.