my expectations in men are way too high considering i look like a potato

Sunday Times article - Zayn


 Zayn Malik’s eyelashes are epic. They ought to have their own Twitter account, like Cara Delevingne’s eyebrows. They are long, matt and untouched by mascara, as I can report with authority from my seat next to this delicately beautiful man on a sofa in a cavernous photo studio just outside Paris. He appeared on set half an hour early and full of enthusiasm (“This coat is sick, man, I love the tailoring”) and pursued, as ever, by paparazzi who had followed him from his hotel, the Four Seasons George V, where he and Gigi Hadid are slumming it during Paris fashion week.

“Zigi” are the pop/fashion power couple of the moment. She has just appeared on her 19th Vogue cover, the inaugural Vogue Arabia (a nod to her father’s Palestinian heritage); he is currently finishing his second solo album and was in the recording studio till 5am this morning. The stakes are high because his first solo single, Pillowtalk, was No 1 in 68 countries. But after his years in One Direction, slogging away at the coalface of teeny pop, he is now his own man and enjoying it. Does he consider Paris fashion week, which he’s ostensibly here for (he sat front row at Balmain to watch Gigi walk), work or pleasure? “I don’t see any difference. I do my work and I have fun while I’m doing it.”

He flew to Paris to surprise Gigi as a romantic gesture. “She didn’t know I was coming,” he says. “I went up to the suite to knock on the door…” Pretending to be room service? “Exactly. But my number had changed to European on her phone, so it wasn’t much of a surprise in the end. She played along with it, though.” Ah, Gigi, such a good sport. “It’s been amazing spending time here with my girlfriend,” he says. “The food is always great here. Steak and mashed potatoes.” Living in LA, he’s missed the carbs. “In LA, you get your fresh fruit and your kale smoothies, but you don’t get yer potatoes.”

He hasn’t lost his Bradford accent, and it makes everything he says sound droll and unpretentious. “Bit raunchy, bit romantic, Titanic-like,” is how he gruffly describes his Fifty Shades Darker song with Taylor Swift, I Don’t Wanna Live Forever, currently in the charts. He grew up in East Bowling, where his mum, Trisha, who is Anglo-Irish, worked as a school chef, while his British-Pakistani dad, Yaser, stayed at home looking after the four children. Has he taken Gigi home yet? “I’ve never took her to Bradford, not yet. She’s met my family in London a few times, though.”

After he left One Direction in March 2015, breaking a million teenage hearts and ending a hugely lucrative mini industry (the band is now on hiatus), he lived at the Beverly Hills Hotel for six months, eating room-service chicken wings, feeling the vibes of all the musicians who had to stay at the hotel, such as Frank Sinatra, and doodling lyrics for his solo album, Mind of Mine, on the headed notepaper. Then he bought a home in Bel Air. “Gigi’s been living with me this past year,” he says. I notice that he pronounces “Gigi” not as a Gallic caress, but like a northerner going to the races: Gee-Gee. “I call her Gee, she calls me Zee,” he says. “There’s some other nicknames too, but I’ll keep those private.” He smiles.

They’re a hugely visible couple, who have been together since late 2015, and play out their love affair in fashion magazine shoots and the sexy video they filmed together for Pillowtalk — in which Zayn sings a passionate chorus that “f****** and fighting on is our paradise and it’s our war zone”. Why a war zone? “I don’t actually mean it’s a war zone,” he says slowly. “It’s a… metaphor for different things.” I pull a face. Zayn. I think we can do a little better than that. He takes the hint, draws breath and digs a bit deeper. “Love hurts,” he says. “Love is hard. Maybe my experiences of love up to writing that album were new and hard.”

He was previously engaged to Perrie Edwards of Little Mix, but they split in 2015. “I think there’s a strength in expressing emotion. If you were a guy, you used to have to be really masculine, but now expressing emotion is accepted and respected.”

When he published his autobiography last year, at the age of 23 no less, he came out as having suffered from an eating disorder, sometimes going for several days without eating at all. Headlines followed, such as “How Zayn Malik Is Shifting the Narrative of Men with Eating Disorders” in the Huffington Post. “It wasn’t specifically an eating disorder,” he says. “It was a control thing. Every area of my life was so regimented and controlled [the boys in 1D would sometimes have to go straight from playing a stadium to recording new material in the evening], it was the one area where I could say, ‘No, I’m not eating that.’ Once I got over the control, the eating just came back into place, super naturally.” He corrects himself. “Not supernaturally! Just really naturally. I came back to the UK and spent some time with my mum and got some TLC, and she cooked me food and I got back in touch, mentally, with a lot of the things I’d lost.”

How is his second album, due later this year, coming along? “They always say the second album is difficult, but so far I’m really happy with this one. There are real signs of growth and development. Hopefully, as a human being, I’m growing too, in my knowledge and perception.” Still, like so many, he gets “too wrapped up” in his social media. “I’m scrolling and scrolling and I’m, like, ‘I have to stop’, but I can’t, so I delete the app from my phone. And download it again the next day or whatever.”

He has deliberately surrounded himself with a music management team of strong, middle-aged women. Coming from a matriarchal family, he likes it that way. He seems in good hands. “I now have no problem with anxiety. It was something I was dealing with in the band,” he says. Did sharing his eating problem help? “Yes. People saw strength in that, and they didn’t seem to expect it from a guy, but they expect it from a female, which to me is crazy. We’re all human. People are often afraid to admit difficulties, but I don’t believe that there should be a struggle with anything that’s the truth.”

In One Direction he was tagged “the mysterious one”. “I have no idea why,” he says. “It was obviously a marketing strategy to appeal to different areas of female personalities and wants and needs. ‘I might want a cute one’, ‘I might want a cheeky one’, ‘I might want a mysterious one’, that’s all it was.” He’s smiling — he doesn’t seem bitter about having been a pick’n’mix pop puppet. “It’s cool, that’s life, I guess. I don’t really think of myself as mysterious, but maybe I am.”

He has a naughty, clever, playful side. He enjoys pretending to be his own evil twin, Rodger Malik. It’s a bit like Eminem’s Slim Shady. “Maybe it’s a psychological thing, or I’m creating an alter ego, but it’s fun to banter with your evil twin,” he says, rolling up his trouser leg to show me a tattoo on his calf that says “Rodger” in scrawled letters, near a tattoo of Jack Nicholson as The Joker. “He’s quite influential, that Rodger. He’s done a couple of songs on the new album. He’s off fishing today.”

Mysterious, possibly. Complicated, for sure. But Zayn seems at ease with himself. He’s pursuing new projects, including designing for Giuseppe Zanotti and some “regal, but street-inspired” looks for Versace Versus. “Actually, Gee helped me design for Zanotti. She’s a really good artist, really creative.” Donatella Versace commissioned Gigi to photograph Zayn and the British model Adwoa Aboah for a Versus campaign. “We shot it at the Chateau Marmont. It was just me, her and Adwoa. We got on a good vibe with it. There’s a dingy, rock’n’roll look to it.” How did Gigi take to being on the other side of the camera? “She didn’t have any problems taking photos,” he says. “There were no tantrums. She’s a really chilled person — she fell right into it.”

Donatella is more effusive, summing up their love affair: “They define the mood of their generation with their honesty, energy and love.” She’s got it. That’s Zee and Gee for you.

A submission for 'One Hell of a Faimily'

If you are willing to take such from un-Tumblred folks such as I.

Yana Gavrilovna had a plan. Possibly not a very good plan, but, eh. In this economy, there really wasn’t many options for a high school dropout in a village 70 miles from St Petersburg. She had no desire to be a housewife and she wasn’t pretty enough to be a whore. So, summoning the devil it was. She’d found the spells in a book in the old house in the woods north of the Markovs’ potato field, the one that had belonged to Yekatrina Fyodorovna, who everyone said had been a witch. Apparently everybody had been right because there were plenty of supplies and a giant mortar and pestle just lying about the place. All Yana had had to do was nick a few herbs from the Markovs to replace the ones that had gone moldy, and then puzzle her way through the really old fashioned text.

It was handwritten on mismatched pieces of parchment stitched together into a ragged leather cover and covered in writing, some in weird, spikey letters, some in a weird, long-voweled language, and half the time with Russian notations underneath. There were also a few spells in what she recognised as Church Slavonic, but they were all for good luck and plentiful harvests and that sort of goody-goody shit. The foreign spells were much more interesting.

She found no less than twenty three summoning spells for ‘spirits’, which she assumed was the polite witchy term for demon. She found herself torn between summoning a spirit of Heavenly Fire, which certainly sounded like Lucifer, and a spirit of shadow-dwelling snakes, which also sounded like the devil. The need to play music for the latter spirit decided it. Yana had all the musical talent of a brick, and no desire to risk offending some demon with her crappy voice.

She stumbled her way through the verses of the summoning, burning herbs and lighting candles at the appropriate moments. She was sure that the spell was supposed to be all aetherially beautiful and mystic sounding, but since she had no idea what she was reading out and kept stumbling over words, it just sounded like a six year old reciting poetry. Eventually, she got to the end, lit the last bundle of herbs in the candle and drew a wonky circle around the flickering lump of wax with the smoldering sage.

For a moment, nothing happened, and Yana began to feel like an idiot. Then, the candle sputtered, and the circle burst into multicoloured flames and all of a sudden there was a thing inside. Thing was definitely the right word, because Yana had no idea what she was looking at. It certainly wasn’t the sleek-looking horned gentleman in a suit she had expected. Television had clearly lied to her. Instead it seemed to be a thing made of sheets of light, almost like the aurorae they sometimes got this far south. After a short period of squinting it resolved itself into an immense face, almost that of a dog, but longer in the muzzle, with sharp fangs and catlike eyes.

It spoke without opening its vast maw, its voice echoing inside Yana’s head like a seemingly infinite choir. Sadly, it spoke in whatever the Hell language she summoned it in, so it might have been demanding her soul or complaining about the herbs for all she knew. Unsure how to respond, Yana just shrugged and asked, “You speak Russian?”

“Do I speak- of course I speak Russian,” it looked around, “this is Russia. Of course. First time I’m summoned in over a century, and it’s to some dingy hovel in Russia. I guess that explains the crappy incantation. You can’t speak a word of Finnish, can you, girl?”

“Finnish.” Satan spoke Finnish. Satan was a Finn. That… made a disturbing amount of sense actually.

She dismissed that train of thought with a wave of her hand, “I want to make a deal. Demons love that right?”

It looked at her blankly. Yana took that to mean she should go on. “Anyway, you lot always want the human girl to bear your spawn or whatever, and you got the magic, so, hears the deal, make me immortal and eternally young, and I’ll carry your kid. Sound good?”

“Please let me leave.” It looked almost despairing.

“Agree to the deal and I will.”

After a moment, in which the demon seemed almost like it was considering just staying there forever, it sighed, which felt really strange, and said, “Fine, alright, whatever. Just let me leave.”

“Awesome,” Yana clapped her hands together, “so, d’you need to do anything to knock me up or what?”

“I suppose this would work better if I was solid,” it said miserably, “human shaped too. One moment.”

The demon did… something, and it became smaller, and solid, and somewhat to Yana’s surprise, a fox. A disturbingly large fox, about the size of a horse, but otherwise, just a normal fox, the kind she sometimes saw in the woods. Then, the demon did something else, which sort of made reality go all twisty for a moment, and it became a young man, with bright red hair and glowing fox-eyes. He was actually kind of cute, all awkward and naked and- holy shit that was the biggest cock Yana had ever seen outside porn.

“I, uh, attempted to recall what human females prefer in a mate. My kind does not reproduce in such a… physical way.”

“No, no, we’re good.” Yana supposed that human men probably ought to be disappointing after demons, but still.

“There’s a bed over there, um,” she broke the circle with the toe of her shoe, “let’s, y’know.”

They did. It was very awkward and the demon, who apparently had no name pronounceable by humans but who Yana dubbed Vasiliy after a favourite pet dog, had no idea what he was doing.

“So,” she said after they were done, and Vasiliy was just standing about looking confused, “Assuming this takes,”

Yana looked a question at Vasiliy, who said, “It will. I am certain.”

“Then you just need to come back in nine months to give me what you promised and pick up your kid. ‘Cause I’m sure as Hell not looking after it.”

Vasiliy nodded, then asked, “Should I stay around or can I leave?”

“Go, go,” Yana waved him off, “ just remember to come back and gimme my payment.”

Yana walked back to the village with a limp and a feeling of smug accomplishment. Phase one, complete. Time for phase two.

Finding an actual witch, and not some random-arse Wiccan or neopagan, was actually a lot harder than summoning a demon. Google didn’t seem to work for this, so, at four months and already starting go show, Yana was forced to rely on somebody she really hadn’t wanted to. Her Babushka, her hyper-superstitious, extremely devout church-scrubbing, headscarf-wearing grandmother, who knew all the gossip, seemingly, in rural European Russia. Her babushka who would definitely know she was pregnant out of wedlock and lecture her for hours about sin and Hell and suchlike. Not that Hell was going to be a problem.

Still, her babushka could never know that.


Four hours of fire and brimstone later, she was able to ask about witches. Subtly.

“I don’t remember doing anything carnal four months ago, the only thing I can think of was I poked around in Yekarina Olekova’s old house, and everybody knows she was a witch. That’s why father Boris had to run her over with the combine harvester. Twelve times. So maybe she cursed her house and now I’m cursed and a what if it’s the kind of curse that needs another witch to remove it.” Yana used her best puppy eyes and crocodile tears. Apparently, it worked. Supposedly, there was a witch four villages over who kept trying to bargain for peoples firstborn. Babushka had told her that so she could avoid Anastasiya Karamazova, but, ehh. A week later she had borrowed her brother Aleksei’s car, purportedly to go see a doctor at the nearest hospital, and driven over to see Karamazova.

Karamazova’s house was a lot nicer than Olekova’s. Not just because it hadn’t been left to moulder for two years either. It was newer, built only a few years ago when Karamazova had moved here from the big city and had yet to try and buy babies. She looked about thirty, with stringy blonde hair and a kind face, laugh lines around brown eyes.

“So, I hear you’re a witch.” Yana said when she opened the door.

“Not another one,” she sighed, “I will call the police on you girl, don’t think I won’t.”

“No, no,” Yana held up her hands, “I’m not here to bother you. I’m here to talk business.”

Karamazova raised a brow and stood aside, gesturing for her to come in, “Then I apologise for my rudeness in making you talk over a threshold.”

When they were seated at a neat looking dining table, tea steeping in a pot in front of them, Yana began, “You are a real witch, right? Baba Yaga’s granddaughter, that whole deal, not just some Wiccan.”

“I am. Not that I like to publicise such.” Karamazova poured the tea and offered the bowl of sugar cubes. Yana took one and put it in her mouth, drinking her tea around it, while Karamazova did the same.

“Then, I have a deal for you. I’m knocked up, see,” Yana gestured to her belly, “and I hear you’re looking for a kid. This’d be my firstborn, and I don’t actually want a kid. So, I propose a trade.”

“Well, this is new,” Karamazova said, “Never heard of someone actually offering before. I’m guessing you don’t even want ten years with him or something.”

“Nope,” a thought struck Yana, “him?”

“I’m a witch, girl. Do you really think I can’t tell sex and gender, even in a fetus? Both male, in this case. A shame, I would have preferred a daughter, but needs must, and this boy will have power, I can feel it. I am interested. What do you want, then?”

“Money. I want to be wealthy beyond my wildest dreams for the rest of my life.”

“Doable. I will have to pull some strings, but it can be done.”

“Awesome. See you in, what, five months?”

“Yes. 13th of March, around 8:45 in the morning.”

“Cool. I’ll arrange to be at Mariinskiy hospital that morning,” Yana said, “think you can magic up the papers so they say he’s you kid not mine?”

“Easily. I will be there also. What name should I put down, then?”

Yana shrugged, “How about Timofey Vassilieyovich? Timo’s my favourite brother, and the father’s called Vasiliy.”

“That will do. Will I have to deal with the father?”

“Up to you. You’re a witch, I’m sure you can handle him. Although,” she smirked, “you might want to keep him around. Boy has no idea what he’s doing, but damn, he has got a good foundation to work on, if you know what I mean.” She waggled her eyebows and held her hands almost a foot apart, and Karamazova almost choked on her tea.

“I’ll see myself out,” she said, whilst Karamazova sputtered, “see you March 13th. Mariinskiy hospital, in Petersburg, and remember what I want.”

Winter came, and it went, and the only thing that really seemed memorable was that she got hugely fat, little Timmy seemed to decide bruising every organ he could reach was a great game, and there were far more aurorae than usual. Almost every night in fact, and a bunch of scientists kept turning up to poke at things with weird instruments and stare at the sky whilst scratching their heads. Other than that it was just the usual haze of her relatives’ and neighbours’ disapproval, she lost her job at the local pub, not that she really cared, and Timo agreed to put her up so she wouldn’t have to live with her parents. He really was her favourite brother. Also, he lived in Petersburg, and had a job as a journalist with the BBC, and could therefore be openly gay, which meant babushka would not bother her. She liked his boyfriend, too. Henri was nice, and Canadian, and told her stories about Montréal and his big, weird family and said that they’d happily put her up if she ever wanted to go.

Spring came and the canals filled with slush, and Yana became truly vast. Henri and Timo kept bringing her food and weird vitamin thingies and offered to adopt the kid if she didn’t want it, though they said they’d have to do that in Canada, where it was apparently legal for gays to do that and also get married. Yana spent a lot of her time looking up places she wanted to visit on Henri’s old laptop, and going to an English class that Henri taught. She figured English would be useful when she did travel, and she intended to travel and awful lot. She poked around museums and art galleries and looked longingly at fancy clothes and jewelry and expensive booze. And, come March 13th she made sure to be at Mariinskiy hospital bright and early around 6am, just in time for her water to break.

Two and a half hours of pain and swearing later, she was presented with a scrawny little thing by fearful nurses, while the obstetrician was on the phone and babbling about birth defects and journal articles and scans. Timmy had red hair. She supposed she ought to have expected that. Still, she was curious so she unwrapped the little bundle to take a look. The first thing that struck her was the tail. Well, no the first thing that struck her was that he was definitely a boy, but this was her son and a baby and that was just weird. Anyway, he had a tail covered in red fur, a when she turned him over the fur climbed up his back, and down his arms and legs to peter out on claw-tipped fingers and toes. When ne opened his mouth to cry there were fangs, and when she opened his eyes they were shiny and golden, the irises so large she couldn’t see the whites. This came out of her. Awesome. Anyway, Karamazova had apparently bullshitted her way in and was staring at her new kid with an expression of shock.

“So, uh, full disclosure,” Yana said, “Timmy’s dad is a demon. But hey, here’s your kid, gimme my money.”

Karamazova handed over a credit card silently, and picked up the boy, wrapping him back up. She appeared to be still in shock.

“Might want to make the doctors and nurses stop talking about weird birth defects and journal articles, before they start taking pictures.”

Anastasiya Vladislavovna Karazova had known the girl had been keeping something from her when she’d made the deal. She had though that it was something minor though, probably about the father. That he was black or Jewish or something a rural Russian would worry about, which wasn’t likely to be an issue since she intended to move to a Western country where they’d be less likely to be murdered, or that she had HIV or a drug problem or some genetic disorder, all fairly easily dealt with for a witch of Ana’s calibre. She had not expected this.

The father, she assumed, entered the room shortly after she had retrieved Timofey. She assumed it was the father anyway, because he was shrouded in some very impressive shapeshifting magic. He went over to Yana and spoke to her, then he did something that imbued her with some of his power. Then, she pointed him to Ana, who steeled herself for an argument.

“You are not a demon,” Ana opened, “some sort of nature spirit I’m guessing. A fox? You feel like fire and the aurorae have been oddly active.”

He nodded, “She summoned me and seemed convinced I would want a half human child. She demanded that I agree to her deal before she would release me. It was a kind of ignorant determination that I have never known to be swayed by facts.”

“So, now you want the kid so the deal can be fulfilled, yeah?”

“That is so.”

“Well, tough,” Ana said, “She made a deal with me too. Her firstborn for riches beyond her wildest dreams, and I held up my end of the bargain, so Timofey is mine.”

“But I also held up my bargain,” He - Vasiliy, wasn’t it, the hell kind of name is Vasiliy for a fox spirit – said, “Eternal life and youth for her half human child.”

“She played us,” despite herself, Ana was actually kind of impressed, “I’ve never even heard of somebody being ballsy enough to sell there firstborn to both a witch and a demon. Let alone bully a spirit into this sort of bullshit.”

“We seem to be at an impasse,” Vasiliy said, a thoughtful look on his borrowed face, “we could duel for the child. I am fairly certain I would win. However, not here. Too many mortals. Do you know of a good place nearby?”

“Yeah… how about no,” Ana said, “It must have been a long time since you last dealt with humans, but we’ve got a thing called joint custody now. I have him for say, a week, then you have him for a week, and we take turns like that.”

“Oh.” It seemed like the idea had never even occurred to him. While Vasiliy processes this radical alteration to his worldview, Ana took care of altering the doctor and nurses’ memories, so they only remembered a sad still birth by Yana, and a perfectly normal birth by Ana herself. Vasiliy stood in silence while she filled out the various forms, so that her son would have a birth certificate, and not long after Timofey Vasilieyovich Karamazov was officially registered as such, he spoke up again.

“Where do you live?”

“A few villages over from our mutual friend,” she gestured over at Yana, who waved back, “but not for long. I intend to go somewhere far from Russia, where we will be safe. England, maybe. Or America.”

“How about Canada?” Yana called out, “Kid’s gonna have family there. My brother Timo’s marrying a Canadian guy, he might be able to set you up.”

She though about it. By now, the demon hunters had heard about the strange goings on in the region, and she had already had to ward her home like a fortress, and the only reason that had worked was because they were looking for something bigger than some witch. They’d be after her soon enough, and Canada was a good choice. Low key. Not the kind of place anybody would think to look. And Timofey deserved to have as much family as he could, especially family that could help track down his birth mother if he ever wanted revenge.

“Sounds good,” Ana said, “unless you got a problem with that?”

Vasiliy shook his head, “It is good. Canada is close to the poles, I can visit without drawing too much attention.”

“Cool, go look up Timofey Ivanov, with the BBC. Tell him you got my kid and he’ll help you.” Yana said, then seemed to fall asleep.

“What is the Beebeesee?” Vasiliy asked.

Ana sighed and looked at Timofey. He was going to have one hell of a family to out up with.

Three months later, they touched down in Montreal airport, papers declaring them political refugees in hand, and Anastasiya Karamazov walked out into the chaos of a Canadian airport and into the slightly terrifying arms of her sponsors, the seemingly unending relatives of Henri Larivière, Timofey’s newly-minted uncle. Gods help her, for she was going to need it.

Do with this what you will. I am done with it.

Czech habits: How to survive visiting Czech household

Honestly, we aren’t that weird people as internet sometimes makes us to be. Still, we have a few unusual habits that can attract misunderstanding. 
Imagine you are standing in front of the house of your Czech friend or your temporary family and we can start.

Take of your shoes before you enter their home. Often you will be convinced that you can come inside but don’t get confused - that still means that your shoes have to go. Why?

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