amateur flâneur

A place for casual observation and comment- Email amateurflaneur@gmail.com with your pieces

“Did you have a good night last night?”- Tom Stevenson

I’m sure this poorly worded question is up there in the top five most asked on a university campus.

It’s a question reserved for the daytime bump into an acquaintance who you greeted the night before, observed their presence and then didn’t speak to at all because you’re not actually friends with them.

The irony of this question is that you’re not allowed to say no.

You’re supposed to say yes and then recount an amusing anecdote about yourself or a mutual friend that made it a good night. However, if you find yourself struggling to pinpoint such an anecdote, you’re in trouble. Your status as an outgoing fellow clubber is under threat. The acquaintance knows the format. You know the format. If you don’t drum up an acceptable story sharpish, your reputation as an extrovert will be under threat. You’ll be one of those people who had an uneventful night. You can’t be fun if over the course of four hours amongst friends, music and drinks you have nothing to show for it. Well you can, actually, but you don’t want to be that cynical bastard who says, ‘No, not really. It was just like all the other seventeen Thursday night Pam Pams I’ve been to this year: drink, chat, dance, cig (x3), Lion King Medley, Mysterious Girl, home.’

Instead, it’s so much easier to play it safe and respond, ‘Yeah, great night. Fell down the stairs twice and Sophie got kicked out. Classic.’

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How Important is Eating Healthily?- Pete Wormald

Well, here are the maxims that I live by. Too much junk food is probably bad for you. If you try to maintain a healthy diet, you’re probably going to be better off than if you don’t. If you’re overweight, stop eating so much and if you have the body type of an Ethiopian long distance runner, eat some more.

In my ideal society, this would be the extent to which most people bother to think about the relationship between what they eat and their overall health. The healthy section of society (which is the vast majority of those under fifty in contemporary Britain [BBC 2011]) would not preoccupy themselves with no-carb diets and the alleged importance of “5 a day.” They would realise that such things were of little or no use to them, and would get on with what actually matters in their lives.

The society in which we live in is nothing like this. We are continually reminded by a wide range of people from public health authorities and journalists to our uncles and aunts that eating healthily is very important. Doing so will lead to a longer life, will protect us from numerous diseases when we get old, and of course, will make us healthier beings. Such messages have been fully accepted as undisputable “truths” in contemporary society and so it is unsurprising that there is a huge amount of pressure nowadays to carefully monitor what we eat.

The problem with the healthy eating discourse is two-fold. First of all, those undeniable “truths” are not necessarily true, and in the instances that they are, the way in which the evidence is interpreted and acted upon is often obsessive and illogical. Secondly, it represents an irritating and excessive intrusion in our everyday lives.

Having a meal is something to be enjoyed. However, it is nearly impossible to get through my dinner nowadays without someone giving me a five minute speech detailing the exact vitamins the fruit salad contains or the reasons why Tesco’s organic basmati rice is the best thing that’s ever been invented.

The other day, my father actually printed out “Dr Oz’s 100 Healthiest Foods” and stuck it on the fridge so as to make it unavoidable anytime we walked into the kitchen. Everyone (bar myself) studied it carefully as though it was some groundbreaking political manifesto. It was actually a load of rubbish. The point being that the whole subject of “eating healthily” is annoying, excessive and increasingly pervading our everyday lives.

On to my second point. The entire basis of eating “healthy” foods is that doing so is actually good for your health. However, if you look into the science behind this, you will find much of it is remarkably weak. One of the main reasons to eat healthily is based on the assumption that maintaining a moderate weight will lead to a longer, healthier life.

A paper recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (2013) has shed serious doubt on this claim. The researchers who covered nearly 2.9 million individuals in their study found that overweight people (BMI 25-30) were actually less likely to die sooner than those of normal weight (BMI 18.5 – 25). Underweight people (BMI less than 18.5) and obese people (BMI 35 and over) died sooner than the overweight and normal people. Contrary to what is commonly thought then, based on these findings, if your eating choices are geared up towards maximising your overall life span, then pushing towards the overweight category is actually your best bet.

Others reasons to follow a healthy diet include ‘helping you feel your best and having plenty of energy…handling stress better…and preventing many health problems and diseases’ (WebMD). Unfortunately, many of these claims similarly fail to stand up under scientific scrutiny. For instance, it has long been claimed – and until recently, rarely challenged – that a low fat diet is good for you because it reduces health risks in later life. However, a $415 million study was conducted in 2010 that involved nearly 49,000 participants and concluded that the diet has absolutely no effect whatever (NY Times 2010). This is an extraordinary finding.

Millions of people round the world had completely changed their consumption habits based around something that they had taken as “fact” but in fact was pure fiction. There is so much misinformation, speculation and phony science in the healthy eating discourse that even its most solid foundations that are (or were once) universally accepted are being dismantled one by one.

Of course, that is not to say that there is no correlation between certain foods and our general health. What is important though is that we scrutinise the “truths” and “scientific claims” that are so often made in this complex and underdeveloped area of science. Until we have a much better understanding of how our bodies are affected by difference foods, we should stop obsessively talking about it, because aside from being an extremely dull topic of conversation, we still don’t really know what we‘re talking about.

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Digital Persona- Adrian Choa

So you’re in the ocean in the South of France.

It’s a beautiful day, not a cloud in the sky.

What are your feelings?

Are they, “time for a relaxing swim!”?

 Or are you hit with an uneasy pressure or obsession to ensure that this moment is photographically captured and instantly uploaded to facebook?

Sunsets (make sure you capture my silhouette against this shit or at least have me jumping in mid air with all my bestest pals)

Club nights (make sure my cigarette/drink is in the shot)

Gigs (live music watched through pixellated screens)

What meal you’re eating (#burger#lovelylunchoutwithmymainbitch#whatdiet?)

The combination of improved optics on smartphones and the inevitable ubiquity of social media platforms have led to this moment. Don’t get me wrong; the desire to capture a moment in time is by no means new. It seems inherently human to wish to immortalize experience, whether it be through art or mere photographic documentation.

But to photograph with the sole purpose of displaying and manipulating perceptions of yourself seems to be a separate desire altogether.

In these realms, facebook, twitter and instagram become online CV’s for the self. Indeed, one can almost change other people’s knowledge of your appearance through the thorough screening of tags and the ensuring of specific camera angles. This leads to such remarks as “ah he/she was far more attractive on facebook!”

People become glazed in obfuscating, digital makeup. This digital makeup is seen most prominently on Instagram where aesthetic filters are used to deliberately make the banal seem beautiful. How did that person manage to make their plate of spaghetti look like a stunning sunset?

Fundamentally, the internet can give the modern person a feeling of recognition and belonging, all manifested in those beautiful, gleaming crimson notifications. This is equally sought out through the sharing of articles and videos- pieces of media which one can use as somehow reflective of your persona. If the recipient of this share enjoys or loves it, it is almost as if you are in some way responsible for the creation of it. This is seen most clearly with hipster blog/facebook groups which violently race to link a new release first. What’s more you can doctor their experience with a pre-watch/listen commentary “Oh you will die at 1:15”. From then on there is a small part of you injected into that media.

To different extents we are of course all guilty of possessing an altered digital persona. It would be impossible for a profile filled with arbitrarily taken photos and a concise list of “likes” to truly reflect anyone. However, I believe that if you find yourself in the situation where the obsessional documentation of events is more important than the enjoying of them, something is wrong.

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Meal Deal Misery- Emily Kane

Another unsatisfactory lunch.

It seems I possess a great ability to disregard all previous misgivings when my stomach begins to rumble. The local Sainsbury’s is a focus for students nipping out of university looking to grab a quick bite to eat. For the last two years I have followed suit, content with the lunchtime selection, however now I exit and inevitably begin to grieve. It takes a lot of will power to enter Sainsbury’s at peak time so I would not have fallen into such a routine without a suitable incentive.

This used to be the Sainsbury’s meal deal.

The agreement was that I could enjoy a sumptuous Taste the Difference prawn and lemon-dressed rocket sandwich, plus a bag of crisps and a drink (albeit from a small selection) for just three pounds. Sainsbury’s now however have decided that this is not a deal. Nope, instead they have changed their terms and the Taste the Difference range is off limits. Not only is it off limits but also the one prawn sandwich I crave and need is now three pounds on its own. Whilst I may be towards the greedy end of the scale, I believe I do not expect a lot from a supermarket sandwich.

Sainsbury’s new definition of a ‘deal’ is suspicious. At least half of the regular sandwich range requires the consumer to imagine the filling upon ingestion. Plus the coke bottles have been redesigned for Stuart Little. Sainsbury’s case could be saved if the new arrangement still made financial sense. However, on occasion I have picked my three components to later find that they do not even reach the three pound total. Thus, I have arrived at the till and inadvertently scanned a collection of items that do not equal the good ‘deal’ advertised. Although I will have ultimately spent less money, I have achieved little. Change has not happened in other Bristol Sainsbury’s, simply the one with arguably the city’s biggest student catchment and regular footfall. Therefore this is a deliberate attempt to prise money from students, including those like me who have innocently overindulged in the former deal and are now hooked.

Crack dealer tactics.

Every lunch I return to either spend too much on my old sandwich or turn grumpy after buying a shite replacement.

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I beg not

Libraries- Tom Stevenson

There is something clearly wrong with a hundred people sitting silently in a room the size of a banquet hall. Of course, there’s stage whispers, the pitter-patter of keyboards and those geography students with scratchy felt tips, but the people come there for silence. Sometimes books. The point is that at university you are inundated with opportunities to socialise, but in university you are isolated. Just because you come to the library, and work near or next to a friend, does not mean that you combine your mental resources to productive effect at all. Even group presentations are ciphered off into distinct personal sound bytes that require almost no cooperation. Seminar discussions filter through the tutor. No one writes down each other’s points and some ‘peers’ never speak. But the eerie silence of a library is the most forceful reminder of the isolated character of higher education. The next time a prospective employer asks me whether I can work in a team, I’ll tell them I can socialise, but the only team-mate I’ve had over the past three years is a computer called Macintosh. And he prefers watching porn anyway.

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Disingenuous Studying- Flora Lenon

There exists a social phenomenon found amongst university students: the extreme exaggeration of the amount of work they have done.

It works both ways: they have done ‘soooo much’, or ‘literally nothing’.

Both are lies.

The former is to convince themselves that they are not doomed to fail. And the latter is to either deceive their fellow classmates into a false sense of security or to ‘show off’ about their own inability to concentrate on the task at hand. All discussion of quantity of ‘work done’ must be avoided at all costs; it is dull and never even close the truth.

N.B. Girls also do this with relation to quantity of food consumed.

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“Daily Mail, why are you taking over my life?”- Madeleine Love

I like to think that as a 4th year student at a respectable University I can dupe myself into having attained some higher degree of ‘intellect’ and ‘education’ and that the profoundly mind numbing content of the New Scientist, British Medical Journal and Financial Times arouse the ‘academic’ inside of me. However, morning, (multiple noon’s) and night I find myself inexplicably drawn to the daytime drawl that is www.dailymail.co.uk (heaven forbid you type in .com, as this takes you to genuinely informative news about the citizens of Charleston USA).

What the exact draw of Cara Delevingne’s latest facial expression, Brooklyn Beckham’s birthday dinner or a cat that looks like Hitler is I cannot tell you…all that I can tell you is that without my 30 visit/day Daily Mail addiction, my 9-5 stint ‘working’ in the library would actually equate to 8hrs as opposed to the current 3. But realistically, when faced with a 20,000 dissertation… who doesn’t love Hitler cats?

End note: Funnily, writing the dailymail web address within this article hyperlinked it directly to the site… depressingly I clicked on it… 23rd view of the day.

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Welcome

Facebook and Twitter are saturated with people wishing to express their opinions, happy or sad, about the basic framework of their societies.

“I can’t believe the referee!”, “Life of Pi is overrated” and “The Republicans can suck my dick” could so easily be conveyed in an expanded way which articulates opinion more effectively. With this added depth,  people could then comment or write a rebuttal with more meaning than a “like”, or the fierce abstaining from a “like.”

Rather than link an article you agree with, why not write one, without the pressures of an editorial rinsing!

This is a place where people can write comment pieces about whatever they want, no matter how long or short, professional or amateur.

Join in…