You’ve all seen that scene in the Baskerville episode of BBC’s Sherlock (if you haven’t, you’re missing out, mate) where the show is about to reach its climax and Sherlock, in that flat, bitchy tone we’ve all come to love, commands: “Get out. I need to go to my Mind Palace.” John Watson explains it’s a memory technique which, in theory, means you’ll never forget a thing, and then we see Sherlock (with the aid of a visual manifestation of his mind, including a particularly funny moment when Elvis Presley’s face is superimposed on his) link together all the clues they’ve been given to solve the mystery of HOUND.
Despite what a lot of viewers thought, the Mind Palace was not just a clever plot device invented by Mark Gatiss just for the show. My previous (and ongoing) infatuation with Derren Brown meant I had come across this method some months prior to watching Baskerville, when I saw Derren beat the house at Blackjack using this very technique, and then read in his book, Tricks of the Mind, how to implement this technique myself.
And I’ve found it to be a ridiculously helpful mind hack. It’s helped me remember shopping lists, lists of films I’ve been recommended, has helped me memorise lines for plays (yes, even Shakespeare. Especially Shakespeare), and has even helped me recall vast amounts of information for theory-based exams (I studied for my Media Law and Ethics, and for my Internet Authoring exams using this technique and aced them both). All it takes is a little bit of time and a quiet space where you can be with your own thoughts.
The Memory Palace technique, known also as the Method of Loci (Latin plural for locus, meaning location or place) is a memory hack dating back to Ancient Greece and Rome, wherein items to be remembered are mentally associated with specific physical locations. It couldn’t be simpler. All you have to do is to decide on a blueprint for your palace. You can create a whole new palace for yourself, a sprawling affair with velvet furnishings and floor-to-ceiling mirrors, and assign a new room to each discipline. Or you can think about a place you know quite well – your house, say, or your workplace. You could even think about public places (your favourite walk around the city, the walk from the bus stop to your house – I have memorised biological and neurological concepts based on the London Tube map.) The larger and more detailed the place, the more information you can pin to it.
Next, you’ll need to define a specific route through the palace. Are you walking around the Master Bedroom? Are you traipsing down the corridor? Wandering through the gardens? Are you taking the Central Line from West Ruislip to Epping? Once you’ve done that, you can identify markers along your route. Shepherd’s Bush –> Holland Park –> Notting Hill Gate –> Queensway –> Lancaster Gate –> Oxford Circus etc. Or you can place six chairs along the corridor you are imagining, each a different colour. Or perhaps you are inside a bedroom, noting the wardrobe, the carpet, the bed, the desk, and so on. Remember that the more familiar you are with your memory palace, the easier it will be for you to apply the technique. In your free time, perhaps before you go to bed, mentally walk around the palace and make sure it is completely real in your mind.
Now, you can place items which need remembering along your route. For example, if you are trying to memorise the process of mitosis, you would start by placing ‘Prophase’ on the first marker, by having a PROfessional footballer sitting in it. Then, place a famous METAL musician in the second chair for the ‘Prometaphase’, and so on until all the items have been placed. The trick is to be as creative and outlandish as possible, so that when you think of that particular room, you cannot possibly ignore David Beckham in the first seat. If you need him to be covered in jam, cartwheeling on a trampoline to help jog your memory, then so be it. There’s a palace in your mind. Make the most of it, for crying out loud.
For a wonderful example of a memory palace applied to remember Geologic periods, click here.
People who know me often comment on how good my memory seems to be. I can hear or read things once or twice and remember them almost perfectly afterwards. I can remember facts I read years ago, and I memorise dates, names and phone numbers like it’s nothing. The truth is: everybody can have a good memory. The trick is to engage with the information you have been given and make it relevant enough to you that it stays with you. If you process this data once or twice, you’re good for the short term, and this is perfect for learning lines and studying for heavily theoretical exams. Briefly thinking about the information will place it in your frontal lobe, and will make it short term memory. It’ll be there for a couple of days until it is moved away into your subconscious to make room for more pertinent things. To get the information to stick with you for a long time, all you have to do is go over the information in your mind again and again. For example, you may remember you need to buy milk and detergent when you are at the supermarket because you’ve thought about it once or twice this week. That information can be forgotten once the errand has been run. But you’ll know the first moon landing occurred in 1969; that Watson and Crick discovered DNA; that the Earth revolves around the Sun and that fresh bread tastes really good dipped in olive oil and balsamic vinegar? Why? Because over the course of your life, you’ve had to recall that information far more often.
So there you go. To have a memory like Sherlock Holmes, the trick is to engage with the information you are processing. Some people call it mindfulness; which is quite an accurate description. Be passive and you’ll never take anything in except what is glaringly obvious (and even then, you may struggle). But if you are mindful and make a conscious effort to mentally acknowledge all that you observe (it only takes a microsecond), then you’ll find your memory will become more and more exceptional and people will start to ask you how you do it. The human mind is a machine of staggering capacity. It can do SO many incredible things. The human mind named itself. And you own one. To let it go to waste just because it is easier to say “Oh I’m not that smart” is utter sacrilege.
This week, I’ve mostly been home, writing and recovering from surgery. I keep saying I’m going to catch up on Doctor Who and Game of Thrones but I get distracted on Twitter and by the wealth of stuff online. Here’s what I’ve been looking at.
Here is the inimitable Allie Brosh’s long-awaited post, detailing her experience with depression this past year. I can’t recommend this enough. It is the most accurate, sensitive and honest description of depression I have read.
And that’s the most frustrating thing about depression. It isn’t always something you can fight back against with hope. It isn’t even something — it’s nothing. And you can’t combat nothing. You can’t fill it up. You can’t cover it. It’s just there, pulling the meaning out of everything. That being the case, all the hopeful, proactive solutions start to sound completely insane in contrast to the scope of the problem.It would be like having a bunch of dead fish, but no one around you will acknowledge that the fish are dead. Instead, they offer to help you look for the fish or try to help you figure out why they disappeared.
My friends and I just can NOT get over this guy. Everything is planet now.
Angelina Jolie made the brave decision to have a double mastectomy as a preventive measure. This is a wonderful piece about why breasts do not define a sex symbol.
“Because each social media network rewards different elements of human behavior, each gives rise to a different inferiority complex.” So what are the six major anxieties of social media?
…Planet Earth is blue and there’s nothing [left to] do.
You’ve probably all seen this by now, but I had to share it here. Watched it this morning and it brought a tear to my eye. All the menial shit we trouble ourselves with just seems so insignificant when you gain a little bit of perspective. So if you’re feeling a little down, just remember that we now, as a species, have worked hard enough together to amass the technology and sense of humour needed to actually have an astronaut sit in a ‘tin can’ in space, share his views (literally) with us on Twitter, and pay homage to one of the most beautifully haunting songs of the 20th century. A marriage of science, music, humour and humanity so touching that if it doesn’t inspire you even just a little bit, I don’t know what will.
Read more about the wonderful Chris Hadfield and Expedition 35 here.
My life this past month has been a big blur of doctors’ appointments and tests, culminating in surgery earlier this week. What’s more, I’m about to leave London for the summer. I’ll be spending it in Malta. This means a lot of my time is being eaten up by packing and, well, recovering from surgery. It’s not easy to pack your entire life into boxes when you’re all fuzzy on painkillers, let me tell you.
Nevertheless, you may or may not have noticed I’ve completely changed the layout of the blog. Lately, I’ve found I’ve had absolutely zero motivation to write. Which was surprising because you’d think spending almost a year in London would have provided me with tons to write about. Which it did. I guess I got lazy. It happens.
Last week, I had to make the decision as to whether or not I wanted to renew the hosting of my blog and domain. I almost didn’t.
And then I did. And I revamped the whole thing.
So this post is just a little placeholder. I may not be back to regular blogging for a little while longer. But I WILL be. Soon. I promise. I’m tired of not writing and ready to rediscover exactly how much I adore writing.
I first read The Catcher in the Rye when I was a 15-year-old misfit. The story or, rather, musings, of the young Holden Caulfield struck a chord with me, as with millions of other people who have found the book during an opportune time in their lives. Caulfield gave a voice to the edgy, slightly neurotic, adolescent parts of my mind, which had begun to take shape but could not yet be articulated. Like Caulfield, I feared the change that I knew would come with adulthood, which I was quickly approaching. I found I wanted desperately to hold on to my childhood and my youth. To keep everything as it was. It was the book that helped me make the transition from young adult fiction to ‘grown-up’ books. This is why when somebody asks for my favourite books, it is the first one I think of. When I read the book again a couple of years ago, in my early twenties, it didn’t have quite the impact it did back when I was a teenager, staying up all night to pore over a friend’s old, tattered copy of the book. I found I had outgrown it. Perhaps I am turning into a dreaded phoney. The Catcher in the Rye The ultimate coming-of-age novel, which continues to furrow the brows of young people all over the world.
“Among other things, you’ll find that you’re not the first person who was ever confused and frightened and even sickened by human behavior. You’re by no means alone on that score, you’ll be excited and stimulated to know. Many, many men have been just as troubled morally and spiritually as you are right now. Happily, some of them kept records of their troubles. You’ll learn from them—if you want to. Just as someday, if you have something to offer, someone will learn something from you. It’s a beautiful reciprocal arrangement. And it isn’t education. It’s history. It’s poetry.”
Moving to a new city can be an intimidating experience for anyone, especially if your new city is one as big and notoriously unfriendly as London (a myth, bythe way). It’s easy to opt to stay indoors, or limit yourself to tourist spots, or even rely on your friends for entertainment. But what if you are stuck with no plans one day and you really don’t fancy staying in and watching the telly? You live in the city, for goodness’ sake! Surely there must be something to do, somewhere to go!
I’ve come up with a list of things (which I am constantly adding to) to do when I’m bored and looking for some excitement in London. The great thing about these activities is that you can do them with friends or completely alone, and you’ll probably make a friend or two out of them too.
If you wake up a little early at the weekend, why not dig out your camera and head out to one of London’s many markets? Browse antiques in Portobello Market, bric-a-brac in Brick Lane, quirky colours at Camden Market or clothing on Petticoat Lane. If you’re into vintage, Old Spitalfields is where you want to be; and if you want to sample some of the freshest produce, make your way to Islington Farmers’ Market. Markets are always great for bargains, photo opportunities, and people watching, and visiting them enourages fair trade and small businesses.
If it’s a sunny day (not as rare as you would imagine), you could do a lot worse than to grab a book (a friend will also do), a notebook, a camera (always) and a small packed lunch and head out to one of London’s amazing parks. There are ever so many to choose from, with my personal favourites being Holland Park, Primrose Hill, Hyde Park (obviously), Kensington Gardens, Russell Square and Hampstead Heath. Spend the day being idle and people-watching. It’s good for the soul. Or something.
It doesn’t matter what you’re into – whether it’s art, history, science, medicine, photography, sports… there’s a museum in London to cater to your tastes. And the good news is that most of the permanent exhibitions are free, meaning you get a fun, educational day out for absolutely no money at all. Take a friend if you want to discuss the exhibits, and don’t shy away from seeing things you wouldn’t normally go for - you’re bound to learn a thing or two.
If, like me, you’re a little obsessed with trivia, then you’ll have tons of fun at a pub quiz. Find some friends and form a team, then pick a pub quiz. Most pubs charge a very small participation fee (usually around £1) and offer prizes: from money off your bar tab, to cash, wine and food. If you’re new to the city and don’t know any people who might be interested in joining you, don’t fret. You can always find a pub quiz to attend on Meetup, and make friends in the meantime.
Here’s something I have been intending to do since I arrived in London and haven’t got round to it yet: join a book club. When I lived in Dublin, book club was one of the highlights of the month, and the place where I met some really interesting people. Book Club gives you a reason to do more reading, and hooks you up with people who share your interests. Whether you’re into chick lit or sci-fi, non-fic or thrillers, or anything in between, you’ll find a book club to suit you if you look hard enough. Meetup is always a great place to start your search, as is Google. There are hundreds of book clubs around the city so you’re sure to find one close to home.
One of the great things about living in London is all the free music by up-and-coming bands and artists. Discover new acts and have a great night out with friends on a very small budget. Check out thesewebsites to find out about free music venues.
Talks and lectures
There are always big speakers, philosophers, authors, artists, entrepreneurs and more who come to London to give talks to the public, and it’s definitely worth checking out a few of them.For a full schedule of talks in the city, click here, here, here and here.
This edition of Malteser’s Kitchen is a special one for carnival, which is celebrated this weekend in Malta. These traditional carnival sweets adorn plenty of shop windows in Malta around this time of year and almost look too good too eat. Almost. Today’s post is by Miriam, who runs a wonderful food blog here. Photos are by Matthew Farrugia.
The prinjolata has always seemed like a sticky, white mountain of sugarey goo and I somehow managed to avoid tasting it or knowing much about it for the past 30 years. When Davinia asked to me to write this post for her blog, the task seemed somewhat daunting at first, but seeing as I like taking on culinary challenges I decided to turn this into a (rather sticky) event with my friends. There’s safety in numbers, right?
In the days leading to this event, some of them exchanged prinjolata recipes that had been handed down through generations. Further research revealed that, like most traditional recipes, the variations for this recipe were many. In the end we agreed on using the following:
A 6-8 egg sponge, cut into fingers
Butter cream – consisting of 6oz butter and 8oz castor sugar
One egg white
One cup sugar
One teaspoon vanilla essence
Extra butter for greasing the bowl
2 tots of whisky
Toasted pine nuts
Chocolate for melting
To make the sponge you will need the following:
18 oz sugar
12oz flour (sifted)
A pinch of salt
Please note that I made two very large sponges with these amounts, as I was planning to make a very large prinjolata. You could opt for ¼ of these ingredients to make a smaller sponge (e.g. 3 eggs etc.)
Butter or line a baking tin. Heat the oven to 190 degrees Celsius. Vigorously whisk the eggs and the sugar together until they turn creamy. Then gently add the flour and salt and keep whisking until they combine uniformly.
Pour your mixture into a baking tray and bake for approximately 25 minutes. To test if it’s done, poke a knife into the sponge and if it comes back out dry, then the sponge is ready to be taken out of the oven. Let it cool before cutting into fingers.
Making the frosting:
2 cups sugar
2/3 cup water
½ teaspoon cream of tartar
4 egg whites
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Again, for a smaller prinjolata you may halve the amounts. In a saucepan, stir together the sugar, cream of tartar and water on medium to high heat until the sugar dissolves and the mixture starts to bubble. In a mixing bowl whisk the eggs and vanilla until soft peaks are formed. Gradually add your egg mixture to the sugar mixture whilst whipping constantly, until stiff peaks form. This will take approximately 7 minutes.
Assembling the prinjolata:
Cut the baked sponge into fingers and put back in the oven for about 5 minutes to toast to a very light brown. Let these to cool and in the meantime prepare the filling. Make the butter cream by mixing the butter and castor sugar together. I did this manually using a fork but if you prefer you could use an electric mixer to avoid a gritty finish.Over a pan of boiling water (i.e. bain-marie), beat one egg white and one cup of sugar with two tablespoons of water till they are creamy and thick.Add a teaspoon of vanilla essence and when the mixture is completely cool beat this mixture into the butter cream.
Take a pudding bowl; grease it lightly with butter and start piling and packing the sponge fingers and cream filling right to the top, making sure to finish off with a flat top. Ideally at this point you should refrigerate overnight to let it set, but you can also chuck it into the freezer for 20 minutes or so and this will do the job.
When this is done, ease out gently with a palette knife. Get someone to cross their fingers for you while you do this. Sprinkle with 2 tots of whisky (I used 2 thick workman fingers to measure out my tots) or any other liquor of your choice.
Decorate with the white frosting, coloured candied cherries and pine nuts. Finally drizzle a small amount of melted chocolate over it.
The prinjolata is ready for consumption at this point, but I would suggest waiting a day or two before tasting it as it does improve immensely given some time.
There are variants that utilize biscuits instead of sponge for the inside of the prinjolata, but I felt that this might make it taste similar to my Christmas log (which is delicious, but keeping in mind that carnival comes soon after Christmas, I didn’t think that would be a good idea). My mum had described the prinjolata as the coming together of eclectic ingredients to mimic the folly of carnival. Needless to say, mum is always right.
You’d think a 25-year-old woman would be no stranger to dating. The truth is, I went on my first real date ever three months ago. Of course, I have had long-term relationships before, a few of them in fact – but in Malta, there isn’t much of a ‘dating’ culture. Things like ‘The Rules of Dating’ (You don’t kiss on the first date, you go halfsies on the bill, you wait three days till you call) are quite alien to most of us Maltesers. We’re used to meeting people through our friends and hanging out with them in a friendly capacity before we agree to start seeing them. Blind dates are almost unheard of.
When I moved to London, I started dating. It was intimidating at first, then became quite pleasant. Even if we weren’t compatible, I usually found I had a nice evening chatting with an interesting person (if I didn’t find him interesting, I wouldn’t have agreed to a date in the first place).
So when I went back to Dublin on holiday and my friends asked me if I wanted to go to a speed dating event with them, I thought ‘Why not?’. It was a spur of the moment decision – one which fit in with my new “Say yes to everything you can” philosophy (which is a lot better than saying no and spending the evening sulking in front of the TV). I picked out my little black dress, slicked on some red lipstick and joined my friends in the bar where the event was being held.
I won’t lie – I had my reservations at first. I had never been speed dating before and I’d always imagined it would be a slightly uncomfortable, impersonal, hectic experience. I was afraid it might be awkward, that people would be uninteresting, or that they would find me boring. But since I was only there for the experience, I managed to brush off this hesitation and just try to enjoy myself as much as I could. Worst case scenario, I’d have a really good story for my blog, right?
As we walked in, I was pleasantly surprised to see that almost all the people there were attractive and had made an effort to look their best, just as we had. Without wanting to seem shallow, first impressions are quite important when your ‘dates’ only last five minutes, so my first tip for anybody who’s thinking about trying out speed dating would be to make an effort to look good. Wear clothes which you know flatter your body, put on makeup which you know suits you, let your hair frame your face. Of course, looks are not the most important part of a connection between two people, but speed dating is like dating on speed, and so if you feel sexy, you’ll exude confidence which will make you seem more approachable and likeable.
One thing I was very disappointed with was how expensive the whole thing was. We paid €25 each for the event, and were not even offered a free drink. I agree that, as with every event, an entrance fee should be charged, but surely it should be more along the lines of €10-15, or at least the organisers should have given attendees a free cocktail of sorts.
We were all assigned numbers – from 1 to 15; there were 15 men and 15 women in total. The women sat down at tables and it was up to the men to move around each time the bell rang, which was about every five minutes. The first mini-date was a little awkward at first – we admitted to each other that it was our first time speed-dating, and that broke the ice. We soon settled into a pleasant chat about who we are and what we do and, just as we were getting into a discussion about music, the bell rang signalling it was time to move on. We each had cards we had to tick – A ‘no’, ‘yes’ or ‘just friends’. It felt a little strange for me to have to make a decision based on just five minutes of knowing somebody, but it became easier as the evening progressed.
I met a lot of interesting people. One was doing a PhD, another owned his own business, another played in a band. Of course, there were a few people I had nothing in common with, which was uncomfortable. Five minutes fly by if you’re enjoying yourself, but if you are scraping the barrel for questions and only getting a grunt in response, five minutes can feel like a lifetime.
I found the best thing to do was to lead the conversation and establish a repertoire of questions: What is your name? Where are you from? What do you do? What are your hobbies? Do you have any pets? That sort of thing – unfortunately, five minutes is hardly enough time to sink your teeth into meaningful conversation, but if you like somebody, you can tick ‘yes’ and if they reciprocate, you are free to meet them again for a proper date. However, things got interesting when everybody started trying to shake things up by asking unusual questions. I got asked “Why is the sea blue?” That led to a nice little discussion about physics. I ticked the ‘yes’ box for that guy.
The most awkward moment came in the form of a man who proceeded to tell me how much he hated the foreigners in his country – right after I told him I was a foreigner. I found myself struggling to react to this statement, and it became even more awkward when he started spouting racism. I stayed quiet and waited for the bell, then very promptly ticked ‘no’ next to his name.
Would I recommend speed dating? It depends what you are looking for. As my friend pointed out, you could use that €25 to subscribe to an online dating website, where you can look through people’s profiles before you decide whether you’d like to date them or not. Still, if you’re looking for a way to meet lots of people very quickly, then speed dating is alright. I’d recommend you tried it at least once, but from now on I think I will be sticking to more traditional dating.
Today, I realised a dream I have had since I was three years old. Today, I saw snow for the first time.
Sounds crazy, right? Thing is, growing up in the Mediterranean, we never had any snow. Ever. We had hailstorms, yes, with hail so violent it hurt your head as it fell, but never snow. And despite my having travelled a fair amount in my life, I had never seen snow settle before today. I’ve seen snow fall a couple of times, but only a dusting, and never enough for me to grab a handful of it.
And then this morning, when I woke up and looked out of my window, everything was covered in a beautiful blanket of white snow. So what did I do? Why, I ventured outside, of course! In ill-advised footwear! To do some grocery shopping and take pictures of everything!