Back to school…

13 Oct

(Preface: I’m aware that this blog is becoming a bit of a funny beast, originally I intended it to simply be a record of my ‘American Adventure’, then I got distracted with Museum stuff and now it’s all got a bit pedagogical! So yeah, evolution in progress!)

So as of tomorrow I will be starting my second quarter working as a Special Education Paraprofessional at a High School in Denver. Having now got almost 4 months of experience under my belt and about to jump into another term I feel reflective and in a blog-writing mood. Also as I like lists, and the internet likes lists (almost as much as it likes cats) I will be making a list. In fact two lists! So without further ado, here are the 3 best things I’ve learnt from last term and the 3 biggest mistakes I made. (Let me underscore that 4 months as a paraprofessional does not make me some expert teacher or child-whisperer, far from it. Please see these lists as a beginner-teacher muddling his way along rather than some cribsheet handed down from a teaching guru!)

USEFUL THINGS I LEARNT!

problem-child-bad-music-student-evil-kid-with-devil-horns
1. There are students you struggle with, who push all your buttons and can make your day a misery. I had students who (and it shames me to say this) when they were off sick I would internally breath a sigh of relief. Without battling with these ‘problem students’ I knew my day would be that much easier. Weirdly, my experience has also shown me that these kids end up being your favourites! I had a student who 2 weeks into the job had me pulling my hair out, he would not do any work, he was rude, dismissive and generally found my presence in his classes to be an irritation and embarrassment. Having tried every technique I could Google, from bribing him with cake to long heart-to-hearts I was at my wits end. And guess what, he’s still a difficult kid, but all that effort has paid off in that now we have this really cool relationship. I know now that when he tells me he’s ‘bored’ (for this particular student EVERYTHING is boring) all I have to do is roll my eyes and he’ll snigger and get back to work. When I kicked him out of class for making farmyard noises (this is a surprisingly frequent occurrence…) whereas before he would storm off calling me every name in the book, instead we actually had a mature conversation. I even got an apology! So here’s the thing, I know now that no matter how much I may struggle with some students, to the point of total exasperation, it’s those kids that you end up really getting to know. So for next term I will try to stay patient, I will know that the harder the fight the better the reward and I will never label a kid as a ‘problem’ again… or at least I’ll try…

Anger2. The next thing I’ve learnt is this, it is NEVER about you. When a student tells you to eff off (in a mock British accent no less!) it’s not about you. When a student questions your teaching credentials in a patronising and mocking fashion, it’s not about you. When after an hour long talk with a student they disregard everything you say and break all the promises they made it’s not about you. You get students for 8 hours a day, that’s all. You don’t control their home life, their friends, family or hormones, you are simply a small blip on their radar. My students come from a real mix of backgrounds, and some of these backgrounds are incredibly and frighteningly toxic. Therefore to imagine that, when a student screams at you, it has anything to do with you is incredibly arrogant. I think taking the ego out of teaching is hard work but it’s important, it sucks when students are mean, cruel, stubborn or rude but it really has nothing to do with you. So I’ve learnt to be less sensitive and self-obsessed and this term I hope to continue to not take the bad stuff to heart.

tumblr_m1rpykN54F1qdjogeo1_5003. PLAY GAMES! Yes, the best way to forge relationships with students is to play, or at least have fun. Particularly the more difficult students. One of my greatest experienced teaching was playing capture the flag with my students. It’s those moment  away from the classroom where you can enjoy being around your students and they can see you as a human. That translates back into better relationships IN the classroom. By the end of last term I was tired, real tired and I think I forgot how to have fun. No surprise my relationships with my kids suffered. I need to make sure next term that we have time to play games.

MISTAKES I MADE
personal-space1. Not giving students space. When a student is on the rampage, storming out of class or working themselves up into a rage I fear that I often responded badly. I would doggedly follow said student trying to ‘reason’ with them, or get up close and personal. I see now that this simply escalates the situation, and I regret that I have on 2 occasions made a bad situation worse… So my new motto is ‘give angry teenagers space’. I’m a teacher, not a negotiator in a cheesy action movie, I need to keep this in mind and not try and be superteacher!

clip_image00872. Being inconsistent. When I started working with my students I pretty much threw every trick I had read about, at them; A token economy today, then kinetic learning, then youtube videos, then trackers, stamps… etc etc. I think the novelty of a new teaching tool/gimmick held way to much sway and rather than sticking at any one technique I chopped and changed. The problem is double-fold, one inconsistency is confusing at does not help build stable teaching relationships and two, if you want to try a new technique and test it, you need to give it time. So, this term I will be less erratic and less influenced by bright shiny new teaching mcguffins!

Grumpy-Cat3. Negative thinking. I told myself I wouldn’t be negative, aaaaand….. I failed. I have to avoid negative conversations with staff and pointless ranting in the office. It doesn’t help and it’s just not good for me or my students. Teaching is hard, sometimes it sucks, sometimes the administration do stupid stupid things and sometimes it’s all just plain unfair, but bitching gets you no where. Venting once is fine, but if you vent over and over about the same thing all is communicates is that you’re not doing anything proactive to change it. So no more endless complain-athons!!

And that’s it, wish me luck for round two!

P.S. Talk about bad formatting, it looks like I just puked HTML over this page, sheesh!

Adventures in Teaching

10 Aug

dead poets

I am now a paraprofessional (Teaching assistant if you’re from the UK) and for better or worse my job has pretty much taken up ALL of my mental capacity. Therefore, I thought I would throw down a few thoughts, fears and things I have learned over the past month as a way of freeing up more of my brain to do other things.

I work at a High-School in Colorado with kids with exceptionalities (I know this my seem a hugely hyperbolic ‘PC’ term but ‘special education’ and ‘learning difficulties’ just don’t cut it). Let me be 100% honest, whenever I heard about special education I guess I imagined students in wheelchairs, unable to communicate, colouring with crayons and dribbling down their shirts. I know, pretty bloody ignorant. I always imagined those people that did jobs working with these kids must have incredible patience and that it was not something I could do. I have since discovered that my understanding of special needs and of myself was woefully incorrect.

For one, my kids are impossible to define. My students have such a variety of personalities, abilities and disabilities I don’t really know where to start. For one, many of my students don’t look, or sounds like ‘special needs kids’. These kids ‘pass’ in the school, many of them don’t want anybody else to know they are in ‘special ed’, many of them have been haunted by that label throughout their lives. Those who do seem to fit the ‘mould’, those kids who stand out as different are some of the most incredibly perceptive, sensitive and thought-provoking people I’ve met. The idea of the ‘short bus’ full of dribbling ‘retards’ is so far from my classroom that now the mere thought of such a stereotype is abhorrent to me. My students never cease to surprise me.

As for patience, yes, patience is necessary, but once I cracked open all my preconceptions about these kids I find that patience isn’t really what’s needed. When a student is puzzling over a simple math problem, 1+0=? for example, I could get impatient. I could think ‘Why can’t this kid do such an easy problem? Is there any point trying? We go over and over this problem and still nothing.’ in fact, I used to think this way. But when you have spent time with this student and you know that he or she has done the sum ‘9×5+7=’ with ease, then you know that the issue is not that the problem is too hard. Then it’s not patience that’s needed, its creativity. Trying to work out how to explain what 0 is worth becomes a puzzle. Explaining what ‘abstract’ means is a challenge. Helping a student to recognise ‘nouns’ and ‘verbs’ is a game. Using metaphor, and by scaffolding meaning on top of meaning, you work with the students to get to the answer. For me this process is hugely stimulating. True, sometimes you’re tired and patience and frustration make an unwelcome appearance, but never any more than with my general education students.

And that’s something else I believe about my students, none of them are stupid or dumb. Some may have low IQ’s, well below the average in fact, but taking into account their individual abilities and deficits they are incredibly smart. One student may struggle hugely with short-term memory, or have an incredibly short attention span, so when these students crack a problem, write a sentence or finish an artwork they are having to create connections and use strategies that most of us never even have to bother with. These kids are playing the computer game of life at hard, when the rest of us are content with easy, and they’re playing it damn well!

Finally, it’s not all personal growth and joy. I don’t skip home every day singing my students praises, there is a dark side. Whilst I wasn’t blindsided (I have friends and family in teaching and so was expecting some of the negatives) living them is something else. One thing is how depressing it is to see students who have gone so far down the wrong path, who have home lives that are so toxic, friends who do all the wrong things and live in a world of razorblades. As a teacher I can do very little to change that, we have them at school and then we send them home to fight their own battle every night. Some of my students are losing that battle, some have already lost. I have met 14 year olds who are already cynical, hardened individuals. To be honest I don’t really know what I can do to help. There are just no easy answers.

Aaaaaand that’s where my heads been at!

!kcohS erutluC

26 Mar

Nope, I didn’t fall on my keyboard. What I’m referring to is something I’d never heard of before tonight, something called reverse culture shock (get it?!). The reason I’m writing this is to try and piece together something odd I’ve been feeling these past few days, something I can hardly put my finger on and something that I think is fully explained by this term!
Image
So I have just returned to the UK for 10 days. I have been looking forward to this SO much! The past few weeks I have been so thrilled to see my friends and family, to be a Londoner again and to revisit all my old haunts. After arriving back in London I felt that familiar sense of madness that I felt last time I visited: Everything was moving so fast, more traffic than I remember, everybody’s accents sound so… so… ‘British’. Just like last time I decided I needed to sleep it off. The crazy feeling of dislocation was just the jetlag and strong painkillers (wisdom teeth and travel get on like a nerve on fire…). So I slept… and when I woke up, I still felt totally lost.

I met up with my friends, and seeing them all was fantastic. I couldn’t stop grinning, and after a few drinks I was convinced I had gotten over my weird unwelcome feeling of ‘otherness’. Then, after stepping into a nightclub it all felt so strange again. I had been there 100’s of times before, with these same people, but it felt so odd. Like a dream everything was a little ‘wrong’. The music was a little off (where was the cheesy country tracks?) and the drinks were incredibly expensive (What?! A Coors-, uh I mean Stella costs 5 bucks-, uh, I mean quid?). But there was something else, I just felt like a total stranger there.

This feeling of weirdness has persisted. Today whilst out with three of my closest friends, friends who I know like the back of my own hand, conversation and jokes kept slipping over my head. They were talking about things and places and people I had never heard of. Whilst I know that time has passed, that whilst I’ve been away things have happened (I’d be incredibly arrogant not to!) it left me a little lost for words. Seeing that I had withdrawn from the conversation (not like me) one friend asked if I was ok. I admitted that I had been feeling a bit out of it, a little bit like a foreigner in my own ‘home’ and that I wasn’t really sure what was up but that I’m sure it wasn’t serious. I left early and got the tube home in a daydream. I was not depressed or upset but definitely unsettled. I have always been very good at being a Londoner!

Now it’s clear to me. Travelling has changed me. Not that I have somehow ‘found myself’ or become some deep profound person. But, my view of the world has somehow shrunk whilst what I once thought of as normal and homely has stretched. I love London, but it doesn’t quite feel the same as it once did. I find myself constantly contrasting it with Denver in my mind, and in the end you feel a little untethered from both!

Don’t get me wrong. I am having an incredible time, and now I think I know what’s going on (and that it’s not just painkiller induced brain damage!) I think I will be able to relax back into being here. But as a brief word of warning to long-haul long-term travelers, don’t underestimate reverse culture shock! Fitting back into your own culture of origin after a long time adapting to a new one is definitely a bit of a shock to the system!

A year ago today…

21 Mar

I was doing this…
Image

…drinking a glass of bubbly in the Heathrow lounge, just about to board a flight to Washington DC en route to Denver-comma-Colorado. I am now sitting in Denver International Airport eating a burger king… yeah not quite as classy, how the mighty have fallen etc etc. Still, it is a very neat situation, flying back to the UK for a 10 day holiday on the exact same day I packed my bags for America.

Anyway, I’ve been putting off this post for some time; the somehow obligatory ‘what I have learnt so far a year in’ post, where I flounder at trying to sum-up a year’s worth of experience into a  few paragraphs. I realise that one of the points of creating a blog is so that others may read what you write, and mammoth self-involved posts aside, this still makes me a little uncomfortable… A long list of all-the-stuff-I-did sounds pretty bloody tedious… a little like being forced to look through someone’s holiday snaps, or being told the plot of a film you have no desire to see. At the same time, I don’t want to get so self-analytical that I become too paralysed to write anything for fear of coming across as a royal bore. I guess I just have to live with the fact that by the very act of writing a blog I am (to all intents and purposes) doing the e-equivalent of standing in a busy supermarket whilst shouting my own list of groceries over a loudspeaker. So with this rather awkward preamble, I shall try and make this brief, I shall try and make it readable, and I will try and insert amusing photos.

(For those with a short attention span here is a short twitter friendly summary: IT HAS BEEN AMAZING, AND I MET PEOPLE AND DID THINGS!)

The Befuddled Beginning

To start with, moving abroad, uprooting yourself from all that is familiar is an incredibly strange and frightening experience. I had a lot of predictions of how I would feel when I landed in Denver, when I finally unpacked my suitcase, when I actually realised that this was to be my home for three years. But to be honest, I just felt very dislocated, detached and numb. Not unhappy, terrified or excited… at the most a little jittery, like I’d had a little too much coffee. In fact the first 2-3 weeks I think I was pretending to myself that I was on holiday, that this was just a little adventure and that I would soon be back in London.

Despite my detachment from everything during this period I was quite a sensitive soul. I remember two completely dichotomous experiences. Both occured whilst out drinking in those first few weeks. One was a thrilling blur of drag queens, friendly people and brightly coloured shots; I remember repeating to everyone I met ‘Christ, you’re all American, isn’t that weird? That you’re all American and that I am in America?!’. I felt euphoric.

The other night couldn’t have been more different; it was when I experienced my biggest moment of homesickness. Whilst out at a bar with a ‘friend’ (see previous posts on pros and cons of the British accent) I suddenly found myself feeling incredibly out of place. It was pretty much then, whilst inebriated on unfamiliar spirits in a noisy bar that I  discovered that I really missed my friends terribly. If there was moment where I honestly wanted to be back ‘home’ in London it was then. Luckily, that soon passed (along with everything else I ate that day…). The next stage was less schizophrenic and more stable but also difficult in its own way.

The Netflix Months

I spent a few months being a bum. I mean I did do some stuff: I traveled  I snowboarded a bit, and I felt like I saw a lot of Colorado and the surrounding states, but really I was still a bum. I didn’t work, I volunteered (a bit), I worked on some projects (Hardly at all. See post on ‘Lost Projects). After a month of this I started to feel a bit untethered from myself. Who was I without a job, without any real friends, without any purpose or aim? I watched Netflix, cooked chilli con carne and occasionally drank coffee. I started to look forward to grocery shopping simply because it made me feel purposeful.

Side Note: Here are my top 5 weird American food items (I say weird from the perspective of an English palate mind you)

1.Maple Bacon (Because sweet bacon is wrong)


2.Marshmellow and Sweet Potatoes (No explanation needed)


3.Riceroni (Rice, and pasta… hmmmm but also mmmmm!)


4.Mole (Mexican style meat stew… made with Chocolate and/or Pepsi and/or Dr Pepper!!!)


5.Tootsie Rolls (Chewy chocolate in a lolly… that is then removed from the lolly… and sold seperately…)

Finding Ones’ Feet
In the end I got a job. Not my dream job, but a job all the same. From then on my life started to become more cemented. Having a daily routine allowed my life to start to become more structured and more reminiscent of life back home. Both in work (and out) I also started meeting a group of awesome people. People who I could hang out with in an easy laid-back way, people who I could be myself around and not just be ‘Sacha the performing Brit’. Anyway I’ve since started to work in a position I love, and things really do feel settled now. Now, finally, I feel like a real boy!

pinocchio1

Now Denver does feel like home, and so does London. With the power of the internet I feel like I can live my life in both. I am SO excited to be going back to London, but I think I will also be excited about coming back to Denver. At the start 3 years seemed like an awfully long time. A year in, well it seems like no time at all.

To finish here’s a quick breakdown of my Top 3 moments in the USA!
Image

1. Winning the pedal boat race for the Museum of Nature and Science. Me and my coworker won NOT ONLY the race (pictured) but ALSO a prize for best costume. Dressed as the Mars Curiosity Rover and a Martian we had such an awesome time. It wasn’t the winning (although that helped) it was the combined joy of having a job somewhere I loved, feeling like I was making friends and doing something totally mental!
Image

2. Las Vegas. Well I wrote a whole post about this so it probably comes as no surprise! I loved my time in Vegas SO much more than I anticipated. It was thrilling, relaxing and totally memorable. My favorite part of the trip? That’s tough, but I would say wandering around the themed hotels on my last day and going on the New York New York rollercoaster!
Image
3. I’ve had my ups and downs with snowboarding, and a good few bruises too, but the ups have been awesome. Whilst I’m no pro, and learning hasn’t been easy, there have been some truly awesome moments on the slopes. One particular snowy day at Keystone and a fresh-powder day at Vail stick in the mind. Anyway I’ve spent almost $500 on a brand new snowboard so I’m committed to many more seasons to come!

And that’s it. There’s so much to say about the past year that I can hardly scratch the surface. And whilst I try and keep other people’s identity private on my blog I feel I have to say a BIG thanks to Terryn (I’m sure she won’t mind) but also to all the other AMAZING neighbors  friends, coworkers and randomers, for making Denver a home. HERE’S TO ANOTHER 2 YEARS!

Why Facebook terrifies me…

14 Mar

I use Facebook every day, I check it so many times that it feels like a reflex. Like looking at your watch or scratching your nose. I don’t feel ashamed of this, in fact I’ll be honest, Facebook has made moving to a different country a much easier experience. How else would I be able to stalk all my mates on a night out in Soho, comment on my mum’s new painting or share a hastily drawn Microsoft Paint birthday card with a friend?
Image
Don’t get me wrong, I do know Facebook (and all social networking sites) are mainly full of boring/regrettable drivel. I am happy to say I am very much part of this; I post a lot on Facebook, I average about 1 status a day, generally some small observation about my own inability to function in society or self-congratulatory posts on my own awesomeness. Admittedly, I do feel sometimes when looking at my Newsfeed that we should all go back to the days when we spent hours writing poetic letters to each other, rather than minutes blasting each other with Youtube videos of cats or badly-grammered brainfarts. (When I feel this way I also remember that this was the same time that people threw their waste out of windows and left-handed people were thought to be possessed … so yeah give me inane Facebook updates any day!) But all in all, this doesn’t bother me. I laugh at people on my newsfeed for their boring/awkward/embarrassing nonsense and somewhere further up the e-food chain I’m certain others laugh at me with equal derision. I can live with that.

Another very valid criticism leveled at Facebook is that it’s evil. You know that South Park episode where Stan’s Facebook Profile grows into a massive monstrous entity that owns his life? Well, that is a pretty fair representation.
Image

They own all your photos, videos, opinions and (perhaps most worryingly) your drunken 3AM rantings. Not only that, but they will happily use your face to sell all your mates diet pills… or so I hear. But to be honest that doesn’t bother me. My privacy isn’t all that valuable, I don’t really care who sees a photo of me drunk on my 19th birthday, or whether my face is being used to sell acne cream, or if a corporation owns my immortal soul. If that makes me morally shallow… sorry.

The thing that ACTUALLY scares me, the whole reason I wrote this blathering post is this: Facebook is making me get a bit Dorian Gray.
Image
To explain I’m going to ask you to do this for me. Open your Facebook profile. No really, do it.

Done?

Great, now look at your most recent photo. (My guess it’s one of 3 things. You standing in front on an exciting location designed to make you look well traveled.  You and your friend’s faces closely pushed together on some forgettable night out. Or you and your significant other looking so in love that you could be a Rom Com poster. Am I right? I’m right!) Now… take a deep breath… hit the lefthand back button…
WHAM!!! It’s way-back-machine time!
This is the first photo of you on Facebook. When you first joined.

….
Now some of you will be wandering what the big deal is, why should a picture of you from 8 months ago be such a horror? But most of you, who joined facebook 6, 7 or 8 years ago will know what I mean.

Just for verification, here’s what I get when I accidentally hit the dreaded back button.
Image
Me at the tender age of 18, leaning on a stolen shopping cart during my first term of university. (P.S. whenever you try and delete people’s faces for the sake of privacy it always looks like you’re some crazy jealous ex or serial killer!)

That was 6 years ago!!! In another 6 years time I’ll be in my thirties. (Yes I know I’m incredibly young and that 30 is not old at all blah blah blah) Facebook, I’m sure, will be alive and well, and I’m sure I will still be using it. There comes a point when Facebook will become a frightening testament to your youth. I’ll be able to look back and see myself age over time. I’ll see people who are no longer in my life for one reason or another. With every click I’ll see my life drift away like the pages of a calendar in a cheesy 80’s time-passing montage.

So, in a moment of obsessive compulsive clarity I did this. I took an image of my face from every birthday party (all of which are recorded on the Book’o’faces) and laid them end to end. Could I see a change? Would I feel anything looking at 7 different me’s from birthday’s past? So for your viewing pleasure here they are, my grinning mug on May 23rd for the past 6 years!
Image

Kind of disturbing isn’t it? One, seeing that many shiny drunk faces in a line. Two, that any sane person would spend 45 minutes putting something like this together… But there you have it, that’s me from 19-25. I really can’t say I’ve changed all that much, I was skinnier back then. I had slightly worse haircuts… but really there was no real revelation to be had.

So what’s all the fuss about? Why should Facebook scare me so? Well because one day it won’t look like that, one day I will start to see changes. Over 20, 30 years I’ll see myself growing older, my hairline recede, my hair grey and my skin wrinkle. So I’ve started to feel as if Facebook is the loading of a progress bar, with 100% being death. Yes this is vain, melodramatic and rather morbid, but that’s why Facebook scares the crap out of me. Facebook is a rather chilling reminder of my own mortality. One day, when I’m gone all that will be left will be photos of me drinking beer, posing in front of dinosaurs and giving thumbs up. (Along with insightful comments like ‘Just had the BEST sandwich’ and ‘I got banana in my laptop disk-drive.’)

Sorry for the downer folks!

The Land of Forgotten Projects

26 Feb


This is a bit of an odd post, especially after such a long hiatus but whilst walking home today I started having this germ of an idea, within minutes I was convinced I had this great arty, existential, project that would be awesome and cool… and then I remembered that I’ve gone down this road before…

Many times before in fact…

I am the kind of person who has ‘amazing ideas’ for ‘awesome arty projects’ and then never ever follows them through. After really thinking about the logistics, the time, the reality, well I just can never muster the energy to do them. So, rather than just let this idea ebb away, I thought I would record it here. Not just that, I thought I’d list 3 ‘awesome’ ideas I’ve had but never actually done anything about.

The reason for doing this? Partly because I feel sorry for all these little ideas that never get born; this is a way to give them a place to exist. Also as an impetus to actually do some of them by holding them up to public scrutiny. And finally, because I think they’re cool! They’re waaaaay pretentious, yeah, BUT COOL!

1. I found this T-shirt…

So, this was today’s proto-project. The premise is to get 100 T-shirts printed. Plain white T-shirts with text on the front. Each would be left randomly around a city, indoors and out, left to be taken by strangers. Each would read ‘I found this T-shirt’ and then where the T-shirt was left. For example, ‘I found this T-shirt whilst buying coffee’ in a local coffeshop, ‘I found this T-shirt whilst learning about dinosaurs’ in a Museum and ‘I found this T-shirt in the library’ in, well you guessed it, the library. The reason I would do this? Well, that’s a little difficult. I like the idea about starting something, creating something that will mystify people and doing something that will brighten people’s days. After finding these T-shirts people would wonder who created them and why? Yup, it’s pretty egocentric but I like the idea of starting a mini-cult, something people might talk about on the internet. Who knows, maybe ‘finders’ would try and track down other T-shirt wearers. I know that if I found a ‘mystery’ T-shirt whilst out and about I would think it was pretty awesome, I’d treasure it.

2. OneTwoKnow

When I moved to the US I had this idea for a project to keep me occupied before I could work. I wanted to create a website called OneTwoKnow where people could submit videos. The videos would all be about things that people ‘know’, things they’re an expert on. Starting among my friends I would get my mates to help me make videos on things they are passionate about and experienced in. The idea would be that ‘experts’ would write a brief script or record a voice over for a video to be created by someone artistic or creative. Therefore all videos would be short, concise and visually entertaining. Think a sockpuppet explanation for string theory, stop motion outline of the history of the European Union or stoicism illustrated using youtube videos of cats. I think the idea came from watching videos on http://www.ted.com/. I love the idea of having hundred of fun, inventive, bitesize factoids instantly accessible. A bit like a simplified video-wikipedia. This never really came to be because 1. I can’t create websites 2. I was too lazy to teach myself and 3. I could not motivate myself to do much more than watch Netflix when I first got here.

3. Letters on the Tube

Similar to the T-short project, this one is perhaps even more egoistic. I wanted to write letters to strangers. I would introduce myself, write secrets that I’d never told anyone, talk about my worries, doodle pictures. These letters I would then leave on the London Underground (the Tube) simply entitled ‘Read Me’. The reason? Well, it’s all a bit wanky-selfloving-pseudoexistential… but I guess it’s all to do with fearing death, wanting to be remembered, wanting to leave something behind and wanting to make an impact on people blahblahblah. I like the idea that people would read these letters, wonder who wrote them. I know that when I am moved by a stranger, connect with someone I’ve never met, it always gives me a thrill.

So there you go, not sure why this post felt so important to write… it just did. Aaaaaaand, that’s it! Something a bit more readable and accessible soon… promise.

The way you’d imagine heaven must look at night

29 Oct

Image

They say what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. It’s been called: Sin City, Lost Wages, Disneyland for grown ups and the desert mirage. When you tell people you’re going to Vegas people raise an eyebrow and smirk, as if you just told a dirty joke. When Stephen King wrote his end-of-the-world epic ‘The Stand’, all the good guys go to Boulder (obviously) and all the bad guys go to Vegas. So having now spent 4 days and 3 nights in that big-little town in the desert I thought I’d try and surmise my experiences.

To start with, as shown in the titular Chuck Palahniuk quote, Las Vegas is a place of contrasts, light and dark. So I’m going to try and divide this into the dark and light side, the things I love and the things that made me feel less comfortable (and occasionally frightened.) So without further ado here’s why you definitely should/shouldn’t go to Vegas.

Vivaaaaaaaa las Vegas!

Image

First let me start with this, I had an amazing time in Vegas. From start to finish I enjoyed every moment of it. Whether it was indulging in Margaritas by the lazy river, enjoying some cava by the fountain at the Wynn or simply strolling through the indoor reproductions of Paris and New York, I loved everything.

Image

The Strip itself is a lot to take in; brightly coloured signs glare and flash, jarring with reproductions of world wonders in glitzy neon, all crowding for your attention. And it’s not just a visual assault, there is constant noise, whether its 90’s power ballads, gushing fountains, shouting pirates or the merry clinking and boinging of the slot machines. I can honestly say I spent my time perpetually stimulated, euphoric and excited. It all took my breath away!

Image

And Christ on a bike it’s fun! Rollercoasters and waterfalls at every turn, boredom just isn’t an option in Vegas. Other than a few quiet hours by the pool I think I spent the entire time in pupil-dilating hyperactivity! Also whilst Vegas is famous for being tacky and over the top, if you take in the scale of everything it somehow stops being tacky, it becomes amazing. Not only this, some of the design and sheer imagination that went into Vegas is staggering: The lightshow at the Wynn was incredible, we were completely taken aback when a giant woman rose out of the water, or when two giant flowers appeared and danced in front of us. Nothing in Vegas is subtle or small scale, yes, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have moments of incredible artistry and beauty.

Image

I would also recommend wondering through Paris and New York New York. They’re complete fabrications, more movie sets than accurate adaptations of the real places, but walking outdoors/indoors never ceases to amaze. Also get the bus down to Freemont, the older side of Vegas, it’s seedier and less slick than the strip but the Freemont light experience and seafood buffet at the Golden Nugget are worth the trip alone.

Image

Finally, I felt like one of the Jetsons; If you decide to use the monorail, which is sincerely recommend, despite being in the middle of the desert you can spend the entire time in hermetically sealed air-conditioned bliss. I felt so space-age flying through the themed hotels in a glass bullet and never even having to even set foot outside. Yes, Las Vegas is luxurious and oppulant first and foremost it’s not ‘classy’ or ‘clever’, so forget any pretensions of ‘real culture’ just go with it: See the sights, ride the rides and be prepared to spend way more than you budgeted!

There are no clocks in Vegas…

Image

Vegas has a dark heart. There’s the friendly neon exterior that you see; the brightly coloured drinks and the smiling waitresses, and then there is the side you don’t see, at least not overtly. The underlying manipulation of people, the push to spend more, care less, keep gambling, bet higher and raise the odds. The music is always inane and optimistic and whilst having a coffee at 10am I noticed that the lyrics were packed with references to gambling and taking risks: ‘It’s taking me higher!’ ‘I can’t get enough, I can’t get enough’ ‘show them what your worth’ etc.

Image

As I stated in the heading, there are no clocks, the lighting is always the same whether it’s 4pm or 4am. The tinkling of the slot machines is endless and mesmerising. One game shouts ‘you’re the best!’ and ‘you’re awesome’ at every crank of the handle. I later found out that the exact pitch of the sounds is actually engineered to be reinforcing as they trigger the reward centres of the brain. So there were times, particularly when I was by myself, and I found myself listening to the heartbeat of Vegas, the chimes and tinkles, when I felt a little like I was sitting in a giant Pavlovian box.

Image

And it’s obvious, but worth mentioning, the pure extravagance of a place like Vegas is built on the fact that the house always wins. Over all, Vegas has to make more than it loses, it wouldn’t exist if it were any other way. Now, for a lot of the people that come and go in Vegas, gambling is just fun and you expect to lose. But what of the sad slumped figures at the slot machines, day or night, cigarette in mouth and money in hand? I saw my share of heavy gamblers, none of them in tuxedos surrounded by sexy ladies like in the posters on the walls, all of them vacant and radiating a sense of loss.

Image

Gambling is designed to be addictive and Vegas plays on this, makes it an art-form. The oxygen they pump into the hotels, the timelessness of the casinos and the bright lights are designed to tap into that reptilian part of the brain, the part that can’t say no. So there is definately a dark manipulative side, Vegas is designed to be fun, it taps into everyone’s inner child; the love of theme parties and magic tricks. Do you remember Pleasure Island in Pinnochio? Just like that, the fun is a vaneer, and underneath is a well oiled machine; Once you pass through Vegas, one way or another it will take the cash out of your wallet, just make sure that it only takes what you can afford to give.

Image