No Complaints #14: Quatrefoils, lobster knights and the deep, deep north

Are we enjoying this? Let me know if you have thoughts or (straightforward-ish) feature requests.

Things to read

“When people ask me if they should get tattoos, I always say yes; when people ask me if they should write weird, controversial things, I always say yes; if they should dye their hair, accept a job, move to a faraway place, yes. I am an enabler of the highest order, because making these mistakes – tattoos, hair dye, jobs, and writing are all equally terrible mistakes, no exceptions – are the best ways to mark time. ‘I thought that was a good idea?’ is the most powerful statement ever uttered in the history of history.”

This is ostensibly a piece about Joan Didion, but really it’s about the way we use certain writers as a way of making broader statements about ourselves – it’s not about them, it’s about us and who we want people to think we are. Email to Pocket.
“Vyacheslav Korotki is a man of extreme solitude. He is a trained polyarnik, a specialist in the polar north, a meteorologist. In the past thirty years, he has lived on Russian ships and, more recently, in Khodovarikha, an Arctic outpost, where he was sent by the state to measure the temperatures, the snowfall, the winds. The outpost lies on a fingernail of a peninsula that juts into the Barents Sea. The closest town, by any definition, is an hour away by helicopter. He has a wife, but she lives far away, in Arkhangelsk. They have no children.”

Not a long article by any means, but it comes with some pictures you’re going to need to make full screen and stare at for a long time. Email to Pocket.

“Berivan was a 22-year-old ordinary, smart, ambitious girl, trying to find her way in a wildly violent place like Syria. I never thought I would see the day when Berivan would be holding a gun to defend her town Kobani to her last drop of blood. Scenes of horror and brutality in Syria were highly affecting her. She could not sleep for a few nights after she watched the Isis military campaign against the Yazidi minority in Sinjar, and was frightened that Kobani would face the same fate. Berivan said to her mother: ‘I’m going to join Kobani’s fighters and no power on earth can stop me.’”

These astonishing women died to defend Kobani against Isis. Email to Pocket.


“Joaquín Jiménez, to whom I was referred, began by asking what I hoped to get from our sessions, and I replied that I wanted to stop having the symptoms that had brought me to him. ‘That's an unrealistic aim for therapy’, he rejoined. ‘What would be a realistic aim?’ I asked as mildly as I could, and his answer was to the effect that I might gain insight into my condition and thereby come to cope with it. I thought again of the man with the broken leg: he goes to the doctor to have it set, and the doctor says ‘That's an unrealistic aim, but I'll give you some insight into your condition so that you can cope with it’. I kept the thought to myself, leant back in my chair and began burbling again, as I had to those who had gone before.”

An amusing, yet sad, little piece about trying lots of different kinds of therapy and not finding any answers. Email to Pocket.


“There were moments, when I was watching a movie or trying to relax, that I would chant to myself: ‘Don’t think about quatrefoils. Don’t think about quatrefoils.’ These were the times, of course, when I would look up and see the shape on a window or in a moulding. Quatrefoils were everywhere, and they seemed to mock me. My co-worker, Sam, told me not to ignore them if I saw them everywhere and encouraged me not to give it up. I must have described quatrefoils to him a bazillion times. I felt like a total crazy person.”

A podcast producer writes about how a familiar shape became her own personal symbol of how easy it is to get too interested in things. Email to Pocket.

+ Additional note: the above piece was originally included in an edition of Nick Quah’s ace email newsletter about podcasts and the people who make them, Hot Pod. You should sign up for it.

Things to listen to

Welcome to Night Vale, if you haven’t already come across it, is probably the oddest of the podcasting juggernauts out there. Unlike other big names like This American Life and 99% Invisible, WtNV is entirely fictional, taking the form of a community radio bulletin for a town called Night Vale. This place, as you quickly gather, seems to exist in an ever-shifting kind of dystopia (a fact made all the more stark by the total mundanity with which many of the items are presented. There are recurring characters, segments and themes, but you can never be sure what the reassuringly deep-voiced announcer will be telling you next. If you don’t fancy starting at the beginning (not really necessary to understand what’s going on, since nobody understands anyway), I highly recommend episode thirteen, which takes the form of a terrifyingly meta tale about you, the listener, as your every movement and thought is simultaenously narrated on all the radios in Night Vale... I told you it was weird, but trust me – after 20 minutes you will be hooked.

Things to watch

Compulsory medieval thingamabob

Readers who have been with me a while will have noticed I’m rather partial to knights-gone-a-bit-wrong (cf. the merknight in No Complaints #11). Today, behold the majesty of The Lobster Knight:

The guest gif

It’s just been that sort of a week.

THE END. See you next time*!
*Next time will probably be next Friday. If you want to suggest things I should include in the next one of these, please do reply and send me links.