Mom and Pop

20 Aug


So, mum and dad are currently hurtling across the sky somewhere over the Atlantic in a small metal box (Planes… hmmm… I’m still sceptical…) and are due to arrive in Denver late this evening. They’re here for the next 11 days and so it is my duty to show them a good time, give them a feel for the ‘REAL’ midwest and be an alround awesome long-distance son. No small feat! (SIDENOTE: Had to look up how to spell ‘feat’, 20 minutes later ended up on a wikipedia page on Boba Fett. When you’re an inquisitive but dyslexic nerd the internet is a dangerous labyrinth indeed!) So, here are some of the things I’ve planned to do.

1. Banjo Billy Bus tour of Denver

I’ve seen this around downtown and it looks mental! Basically a rickety bus, with a crazy guy with a banjo shouting facts sbout the city. Normally I wouldn’t go in for the whole ‘tour bus’ routine but this seemed just weird enough to be entertaining. “Hear ghost tales, crime stories, and history while sitting on a couch, recliner or saddle as the bus rolls through the core of the city”. Here’s hoping my parents can leave their British cynicism behind… otherwise this could be excruciatingly awful…


2. Waterworld! (Sans Kein Costner… actually you know what, hands up, I liked that film)

So this is honestly one of my favourite places in the whole of Denver, plus I have a season pass so it’s cheap. This could be a bit hit and miss, mum and dad aren’t exactly the extreme waterslide types. (I have this terrible image of my dad going down ‘Flat Line’ and only his swimming trunks coming out the other end…) Still, we used to go to a small waterpark in Greece all the time and I know mum and dad loved the lazy river. Also the Burittos are really really good! So I think as long as we can get a nice spot by the pool (shade for dad, blazing sunshine for mum) I think it could be great. Fingers crossed I don’t kill my parents…


3. Drive to Wyoming

So I’m trying to tick as many states off as possible whilst I’m here, here’s my (depressingly empty) map so far


So it makes sense to get all the adjoining states to Colorado in the bag, we’ve already done New Mexico. Wyoming is the next one on the list. Therefore a 2 hour drive should get us to Cheyenne… of which I know absolutely nothing. When I have told Denver locals that I’m taking my parents to Wyoming the general response has been ‘Why?’ and ‘Do your parents like wheat fields or something?’. Oh well, that’s what everyone said about South Park, that there was nothing there worth seeing, and that turned out to be AWESOME! Anyway, even if Cheyenne turns out to be really dull I think it will be cool for my parents to see more than one state during their trip. (If anyone knows what’s good in Cheyenne drop me a comment please)

4. Trip to a dive bar

So I had never heard of a ‘dive bar’ before coming to the US but it basically means a small, intimate, cheap and rather eccentric liquor bar. The kind of place where the more colourful local characters hang out. My favourite is called ‘Nob Hill’ (snigger) on Colfax Avenue. The bartender is always friendly and full of sexist/racist jokes, plus they serve my favourite brand of Whiskey. I think dad will like the idea of drinking in a ‘proper’ midwestern bar and I think mum will love being chatted up by the locals! And if they’re up for it I might drag them both to Charlies (a gay cowboy bar) and get them linedancing… if this happens the photos WILL be on facebook!


5. Boulder

So with a name like Sacha and with a sister called Sunshine you might guess the kind of people my parents were back in the 60’s/70’s. So, whilst neither of my parents sport dreads and (thankfully) they’re not you’re archetypal hippy parents I really think they’d get a kick out of Boulder. For those who don’t know Boulder is a smallish town outside Denver that is known for being a hippy eco haven. There is, I hear, a sign as you leave Boulder which reads  ‘Now re-entering reality’. I’ve been to Boulder a couple of times and to be honest the whole gaia-earthmother-hippy-potsmoking-rainbow-faery thing is all a bit put on, all the same it does remind me a little of Camden Town in London (where I grew up) so I think mum and dad will like it. Other than looking at the shops and drinking chai lattes I’m not really sure what to do with them. Any suggestions?

6. Eat Bullock Bollocks

Yeah you read that right. So since moving here I’ve wanted to go to the infamous Buckhorn Exchange in Denver. At this rather pricey restaurant you can eat pretty much anything that once had a heart beat. From alligator steaks to moose burgers. Not only this they have a speciality called ‘prairie oysters’. Remember, Colorado is landlocked… yup, these ‘oysters’ are deep-fried bull’s testicles. We’ll see just how adventurous mum and dad feel. I know I’m game!


Audience participation time please: So have I missed anything else? To those people from Colroado what have I neglected? What do you do when your mum and dad come to visit? To those Brits reading this, what would YOU want to do if you came to Colorado? What would your Denver bucket list look like?


Why I Belong in a Museum

13 Aug

Let’s face it, most of us feel a bit like this when we go to a Museum:

I’m the first to admit that my experiences of visiting Museums can mostly be placed into two categories.

A) School trips: You and the rest of your class are dragged around room after room of old stuff, wishing you hadn’t scoffed your packed lunch on the coach and waiting till you can go to the gift shop and buy a glow in the dark keyring pencil thing.

B) ‘Cultural’ holidays; You’re in Rome/London/NY/Athens and you have to tick off the highbrow bit of your Lonely Planet guide. So you go to ALL the Museum(s) and spend the whole time bored, hot, angry and waiting till you can go to the gift shop and buy a glow in the dark keyring pencil thing.

BUT surprisingly there is also a 3rd experience (dun dun dun)

C) Go to Museum, learn something, enjoy yourself and leave feeling engaged and inspired!

This third option is obviously what most Museums aim to provide, sadly most of the time they fall short. This is a real shame because I believe Museums are AMAZING places even if they don’t always get the best rep and, understandably, aren’t always the first thing on people’s to-do list.

So with my limited experience as a Museum worker/volunteer/visitor I thought I would write a little bit about why I think Museums are great but why they often don’t seem so great. Also, without being massively patronising I’d like to give a few tips on making a Museum trip a pleasurable experience rather than the boring hassle filled sweat-fest that they often are. So without further ado…


Uh, yeah, thanks for that Indie. (Yeah I really had to shoe-horn that in, so shoot me!) So why are Museums awesome? Well most Museums do 3 important things that I think makes them great:

ONE they’re a place which aims to educate the public and inspire children. Lessons and books are all well and good but real, concrete things are much more powerful learning tools. When it comes to getting kids excited about the world they live in what can beat a REAL apatosaurus skeleton, lump of Mars rock or gladiatorial helmet? I’m all about packaging science and knowledge in ways that get people excited and Museums are the perfect place for this. Interactive exhibits and big flashy visual displays may seem kitsch or ‘gimmicky’ but if they inspire future scientists, artists, mechanics and astronauts how can that be a bad thing?

TWO I feel Museums level the playing field somewhat, not all Museums are free (GO POST-THATCHER UK, WOO!) but even those that require an admission fee have free days throughout the year. This means that visitors from all  backgrounds get the opportunity to see things they might not normally have access to. Also, current research, science and art has always been something for the elite. Expensive universities, private schools, personal collections and incomprehensible journals make knowledge a kind of magic; inaccessible, arcane and completely irrelevant to the lives of most people. Occasionally ‘science’ gets wheeled out by the tabloids in ‘intelligent’ articles such as this but otherwise it belongs entirely to the ‘Powers That Be’. Museums take all this knowledge and give it back to the community and for that I think they should be applauded.

THREE Many museums are hugely important centres for research. True, the specimens, objects and curios that are owned by Museums are (normally) dead BUT through research they are brought to life. Without Museums we wouldn’t know that many dinosaurs had feathers, that some famous artworks actually hide previous discarded sketches and paintings or about the ‘sexual depravity’ of penguins! So, much more than simply being great storehouses for old stuff, Museums are some of the worlds most productive research institutes paving the way for future knowledge.

But lets face it Museums can be overcrowded hell-holes, with elusive toilets, confusing signage and overpriced food. And because of this most visitors to the Museums I have worked in don’t look like this


They tend to look like this

How can you appreciate the wonderful objects on display when surrounded by a heaving miasma of screaming children, lost tourists and dodgy air conditioning? So here are my 5 (blatantly obvious) tips on how to enjoy a Museum more.

1) Go when there are fewer people. This mainly applys to the bigger museums but the first day of the school holidays, or early on a Saturday are likely to be HEAVING. Go midweek, or if you go at the weekend go in the afternoon, 2 hours before closing is always nice and relaxed. That way you’re not swimming through a sea of school groups, hassled parents and careening buggies. Particularly if you’re bringing children going at a more relaxed ‘slower’ time of day will really help you take some of the pressure off.

2) You don’t have to see EVERYTHING. Pick a few things, a couple of choice exhibits and check those out. Having to drag yourself (and your kids) around every exhibition and every gallery is a chore. Go for the things you know you’ll find interesting, or ask of the visitor assistants what they’d recommend. A short 1 hour stint in a Museum where you see 3 things you like is SO much more rewarding than 5 hours seeing everything but remembering and caring about nothing!

3) Bring Lunch. Museum food is expensive, understandably as Museum’s need the money but if you don’t want to spend £8/$13 on a stale sandwich and a coke prepare. Also use the lunch break, go outside if the weather’s nice, have a picnic and use the time to plan what you’re going to do next.

4) Hidden Gems. So most Museum’s have some interesting little quirks. (For example the dodo in the Natural History Museum of London is made out of bits of swan and the dioramas at the Denver Museum of Nature and science have fairies hidden in them). Every Museum will have a specimen with a great story, or a secret annex, or something worth looking at. If you can go armed with a couple of ‘in the know’ facts before going (google is your friend) then your trip will be more fun and more personal. Staring at an ornate wooden stick is all well and good but when you know that the curator who found it used it to kill a king cobra suddenly its a lot more interesting.

5) Special events: Most Museums will hold evenings once a month, or the occasional themed night. These ticketed events really show the Museums off in their best light. You’ll often get to meet some of the scientists, go behind the scenes, see things that aren’t normally on display and have a glass of wine (or six) whilst you’re at it. Believe me, a silent disco under a replica of Saturn = AWESOME!

So yeah, support your local museums and all that.

 [Shameless self promotion] Here is a link to a video I made for the Natural History Museum which kind of expresses why its such a special place. [/Shameless self promotion]

So you’re about to move abroad…

10 Aug

It’s now been 4 months and a bit since I packed up my old life and moved to Denver, I can honestly say that I’m still learning and adapting every single day so I’m nowhere near living-abroad-Nirvana. With that said I’d like to offer 5 tips; bits of advice etc that (should I find a handy time machine) I would want to tell my pre-USA self. Also, if you find yourself in a similar situation, about to move far away from home then hopefully these might be of some use. Everyone’s different so I’m not sure how applicable these titbits will be for everyone about to take the big step, anyway, enough with the apologetic preamble: These are the 5 things I would definitely bear in mind.

1. Finding friends:
So if you’re at all like me your friends are pretty much your world and one of the most exciting/terrifying experiences is having to start from scratch. As soon as moving to the US my first goal was to find friends, I had set myself a friend finding mission! Now, call me arrogant, but I didn’t think it would be too hard to make a new set of mates. I think I envisioned it as being a repeat of Fresher’s week, rather stressful but after 2 weeks I’d have all my BFFs sorted. NOT SO! If you are moving in your mid-twenties or later remember that most people your age have already found their friendship groups so unlike Fresher’s week it is JUST YOU on ‘the friend finding mission’. And as they are unaware of ‘the mission’ this means that whilst many people will be friendly, chatty and more than happy to share their evening with you, don’t expect to find those deep kind of friendships that you had back home straight away. I met a few people in a bar who seemed reasonably friendly, we swapped numbers and I patted myself (metaphorically) on the back, Mission Achieved! Or was it… I went out with said people and felt like a total hanger on the entire night. Whilst these guys were friendly enough it turned out we had very little in common and I found the number of injokes whipping over my head completely bewildering. Safe to say I ended up feeling drunk and more homesick than ever before. So my advice, be constantly open to making friends BUT, remember, it may take some time till you meet ‘your people’. Don’t be hard on yourself, enjoy the company of all those you meet but don’t worry if it takes a while. (Also, don’t drink at altitude whilst homesick and slightly lost in a new city… not fun!)

2. Work IS good for you:
Maybe you’re moving with work, if so ignore this. If on the other hand you don’t have a job lined up then read this it’s important! I came to the US without work, without even a work permit or social security company. Whilst I had tried to mentally prepare myself for a number of months without work I still think I underestimated the impact it would have. It really is worth mentioning that being jobless and friendless in a new place is not at all easy. The first 2 weeks were fine, I had so much to see, there were so many things to organise that I barely had a free moment anyway. It was a month or so down the line where I found myself watching yet another episode of Flashforward in my underwear (eating scrambled eggs out the pan) that things got rough. Now of course if you’re the kind of person who can set yourself exciting projects and tasks then more power to you. Unfortunately whilst I had all these ideas for projects (start a website, edit a showreel and write a story) the incentive to do them was often lacking. Personally I am a product of living in highly controlled work-orientated western society, I need structure even if I don’t think I do! So my tips to those of you moving abroad without work, obviously try and manoeuvre yourself into a position to get work as soon as possible but before then KEEP BUSY! The best thing for me has been volunteering, not only will this fill time, make you feel useful, it will also help you make connections that could end with gainful employment. (Those of you moving to the states definitely look up the American Red Cross, they’re a great organisation and have really helped me keep myself occupied.) Also coffee shops are your friend, take your laptop and a book, buy a Starbucks and you’ll suddenly find yourself being 100x more productive. Not only that but the simple process of leaving the house and going out to a place with people is an incredibly positive experience!

3. Don’t be a Troglodyte:
Thank god I live in the 21st century. Skype is really your friend when you move a kabillion miles from home. Talking with your friends and family and being able to see them is really really good. It makes you feel the distance between you drop away, and being able to share all your new experiences with them via facebook is just fantastic. I worried about overusing these tools, I feared they would become a crutch and thought I would have to be more hard on myself. Luckily a well-travelled friend (thanks Tom!) told me that I should not try and hold myself back. Being able to drop in on your friends back home does NOT make you feel more homesick, the opposite is true, it reassures you that they are still there and still thinking of you. Embrace the future people!

4. Homesickness, there is no vaccine:
Some people never feel homesick when they move and that’s great but most of us will and do. Either way prepare yourself for it, you probably will have moments where you miss your friends and family terribly. Sometimes really stupid things can trigger it, finding a note of your own currency in an old bag, not being able to find the same brand of cream at the supermarket or seeing your friend’s photos from a night out. With this in mind just see it as part of the process, you WILL be fine just give yourself 25 minutes to wallow then go out and do something in your new home. Go for a walk around downtown, find a new cafe or get a bus to anywhere. Even if you feel like crap whilst you’re doing it, it will help you cement the idea that this is home now and you’ll soon be too distracted to feel lonely. Also, why not send your friends an email telling them about what you’ve seen, keep it positive and upbeat, sharing your experiences helps. You knew this wasn’t going to be easy right? So be strong and keeps busy.

5. Embrace the cultureshock:
Things will be different, possibly very very different, from home. Even if the language is the same, the food people eat, the things people say, what is acceptable humour and all those other little cultural nuances may be new and frightening. Very rarely have I found this to be a huge problem, in fact I’ve quite enjoyed all the cultural differences I’ve noticed, that’s part of the reason I moved. This leads into my point, embrace the differences, this is your home now so try the local cuisine, see the local sports and adapt. This doesn’t mean change yourself to fit in, I just think that if you’re flexible to what’s on offer in your new home then you’ll get so much more out of the experience. Also, if you resist everything and anything that differs, people may regard you as a snob and nobody wants to buy a snob a drink. Cases in point: I would never snowboard in London: This winter I am going to embrace the winter sports here as much as possible. I would cringe at anyone saying ‘dude’ in the UK: here is the US if you bump into someone ‘sorry dude’ is informal, courteous and not ridiculous.

Your Very Extended Family

6 Aug

So, this is likely to be a big, vague, ‘PROFOUND’ post but I will try to pepper it with pictures and stuff so it hopefully won’t be too dull.

So for those of you who don’t know I’m a bit of a science-buff, in particular I am an evo-nerd (Yes, that is now a word… its my blog so shut up!). I’ve always been fascinated by natural selection, genes, the way in which animals and man are connected yada yada. I studied evolutionary anthropology and whilst I was no prodigy it felt like a good fit: It’s just something that always seemed hugely important, something that on some level I wanted to devote my life to. And by devoting my life I don’t mean studying evolution, I just don’t have the patience, but promoting it, teaching it and making it something fun accessible and relatable.

BUT I’ve had to ask myself does the world really need people who think evolution is cool and want to shout about it? Is that really contributing, is it useful? There are so many worthy occupations, things that the world could do with; Things like doctors and nurses, (good) politicians, teachers and environmentalists, social workers, psychiatrists, international aid workers not to mention plumbers, electricians, engineers and farmers. I’m not saying that the human race has to function like a giant ant colony, but on a personal level I need to feel like I’m doing something good and useful, I’m a bit utilitarian like that.


So the conclusion I have come to? YES I think evolution is important and YES I think it is relevant. Why? Well here goes: I think there is one massive point you can take from evolution as a concept, something that I feel could do the world of good (pun, lol!) and it is this: We are all so very closely connected, so much more closely connected than I think most people even realise. Genetics, evolution and anthropology really helps to give us some perspective on this. Let me elaborate.

In one of my first lectures on human genetics our class was asked how closely related everyone in the room was. We all looked around at each other, we were a class of roughly 10, all of us were caucasian that much was clear. Also as it turned out all of us were of European descent; largely British but we had a Dutch guy and an Italian girl. So clearly we must be reasonably closely related. With this in mind and the little we knew about human migration and origins, we went for what we though was a reasonably short time ago relatively speaking. I think we arrived at about 40,000 years ago. Our lecturer nodded, smiled to himself, and made a note. We were then asked to estimate when we though the ancestor for EVERY living person on the planet lived. This person would connect every single living person on the planet today…

Ok FREEZEFRAME first I want you to get an idea of the sheer enormity of this question. So let me put this in perspective. Take a look at the 11 people below.


Firstly an introduction, these people are (in no particular order) The Queen of England, Yu Yang the disqualified Chinese olympic badminton player, Nicholas Biwott the Kenyan billionaire, Kajol Mohammed a 9 year old snake charmer from Uttar Pradesh in India, Bill Gates, Angelina Jolie, the woman who served you at Starbucks last month, Terri Munro the 2008 Australian Big Brother winner, Stanzin Namgyal a Ladakhi tour operator, Andry Nirina Rajoelina the president of the high traditional authority of Madagascar, and Zeinia Zaatari the Lebanese born, feminist activist. Phew… now to add one more person into the mix. YOU.

Right, so these 12 people (that’s including you) come from almost every continent on the planet. You are a mix of men and women and you represent a host of age groups, religious backgrounds, political persuasions, ethnic classifications. Some of you are hugely rich, some incredibly poor and as far as I know none of you have ever met and probably never will. (You don’t even have any mutual facebook friends) So, with this in mind, how long ago do you think the person lived who linked all of you 12 people? …..A long time ago, am I right?

Now expand that further, massively further, to every single living man woman and child on the face of the Earth. As a class we imagined that it must be a really loooooong while ago. We had a rough idea that the human species evolved around 3 million years ago. So we predicted that the last time all of the disparate peoples of the world would be able to trace a line back to a single ancestor would be back in Africa, back when the human species was located in one place and not scattered accross the globe. Therefore the very earliest would be 50,000 years ago, around the latest time in which humans began to leave Africa.

Our lecturer made another note, smiled again, and then told us what the current estimate was…

How wrong we were…

The most recent genetic and computer modelling evidence puts the most recent ancestor for ALL living humans at just 5,000 years ago. In fact this is really a conservative estimate, the ancestor could easily have lived as recently as 2000 years ago. This is not back in the mists of Palaeolithic time, this is well within recorded history. At the most we’re talking Ancient Greece, or pre-Christian Rome.

This blew my mind. Every single person on this planet could be traced back to one person just 5,000 years ago. Also, 5,000 years ago is actually the LONGEST time between any two living people. This would also mean that on average most people would in fact be far more closely related to each other. For example Europeans, yup that includes all Americans, South Africans and Australians of European descent, you all share a relative roughly 1,000-1,500 years ago. (arguably Charlemagne, the horny bugger!).

Now I don’t know about you but I think that is AMAZING!

Right, I’m sorry if this post has become woefully overblown, flabby and long-winded. Let me return to the point, why does evolution and genetics matter? Why should we all know where we came from and how closely we are related? I believe that the knowledge that every person we come across, no matter what culture or ethnic background, is actually our brother or sister of (at the very very most) 310 generations ago. That knowledge I think, if instilled at an early age, can help to bridge the gap between cultures. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that wars will end and the world will become one big happy John Lennon song BUT I think if you can start to think of every living person as a relative, as a member of our own vast extended family then maybe it can at least help.


Maybe it will help inspire future leaders and activists to be humanists and to care a little bit more about each other. Also, going back even further, the fact that EVERY living thing shares a common ancestor means that every organism is also part of an even larger and even more extended family. So without going all ‘Ferngully’ I think teaching evolution and trying to make it something relevant and important is actually a worthwhile persuit.
Addendum: WOW, you made it this far? That was a lot of preachy happyclappy babble! Forgive me if that came across as condescending self-justifying rubbish, but you know what… I stand by it! So now for one final cheesy statement: Hey bro, hey sis, whoever you are take care, let’s try and make our great (x 309) grandfather/grandmother proud!

Having an accent in the USA: Why I love it, Why I hate it.

3 Aug

So one of the first things you will notice on arriving in the states as a Brit (unless you are mute, deaf or incredibly quiet) is that they love the accent. Now, obviously in big metropolitan cities like Washington, New York and San Francisco this is much less salient. You might get politely asked where you’re from, asked about the Olympics, the Queen etc, but quite frankly they’ve met more Brits than you’ve had hot dinners and they’re too busy going to art galleries and sealing deals to discuss the difference between courgettes and zucchinis, thank you very much. BUT outside of these so-over-euro areas having an accent is kind of a big deal. Now as an attention seeker ego-vampire I actually love it; I open my mouth to ask where the ‘washroom’ is and people are in rapture, fantastic! But there is a downside… with great power comes great responsibility. So here, for those who care, is a wee list of the good and the antigood things about living in the USA with a British accent.

The Good
1. This one’s obvious, people love it which by association means people love you. The accent will buy you drinks, make you friends, get you layed (probably!), hired, fed and endlessly complimented. As egotisitcal as this all sounds I challenge any Brit, even the most modest of you, to not enjoy having a group of excited Americans introducing you to everyone and buying you ALL the alcohol.


2. People think you’re clever. There seems to be a strong association in the American psyche between a British accent and intellect. What is normally seen as blatant bullshit by my British friends is taken as fact by many Americans all because of the accent. This may seem decidedly Machiavellian but there is some small pleasure that I get from having a few points added to my IQ… especially when a lot of what I say is a load of rubbish. This also helps in interviews, apparently (and luckily for us) the stereotype of the Oxford educated British Gent has much more power than the Daily Mail reading football hooligan.

3. Instant conversation/icebreaker. I know some people can’t stand small talk, I understand this, but for me it is endlessly preferable to those… long… awkward………. silences. Whether its at the hairdresser, or whilst waiting at a bus stop the accent can be very very useful when it comes to filling air. As soon as they hear it people will ask where you come from (London or Scotland are the only acceptable responses) and then you can spend a leisurely 10 minutes talking about the queen, tea, Harry Potter and dentistry before you can leave. Sounds silly but with my secret X-Men power of making any mildly-awkward social situation COMPLETELY UNBEARABLE this is a really really good thing!

4. Wow you’re funny! You never were all that funny back in the UK, I mean you make your friends chuckle occasionally and some people like the joke about the hidden horse and the cheese (masque-a-pony, hahahahaha). And then you arrive in the states. Suddenly you merest utterance is very very funny. Sometimes people laugh when you don’t intend to be making a joke and you feel a bit like Hugh Grant, bumbling and somewhat confused, but someone just bought you a drink and shouted ‘I love this guy, he’s funny’ so you must be doing ok!

The Bad

1. So it’s very charming how much they love your voice… but sometimes you wish they would just listen to WHAT you’re saying. Classic example whilst in a bookshop yesterday.

Me: Hello, I just came to pick up my boo-
Shop Assistant: Ooooh, just keep speaking!
Me: Haha, cheers… so I was hoping to get the-
Shop Assistant: He said Cheers! You ACTUALLY say that?
Me: Uuuuh, yes, che- thanks… can I have my-
Shop Assistant: I used to have such a crush on Daniel Radcliffe!
Me: BOOK! Can I please have my book! Now! Please THANKS! CHEERS!

So it’s all very flattering, but when you just want to be heard it can get in the way. There are times when you realise that the person has no real interest in talking TO you, they’re just observing your accent like some exotic butterfly. This can be a royal pain in the arse, especially when you’re trying to make friends: Great, everyone likes your accent but very few people want to actually know anything about you.


2. Dance monkey dance: Say that phrase from that film! Say ‘pavement’! No say it more British! SAY IT, SAY IT!!!!!! Similar to the previous gripe, people will want you to perform. Again this is fine for a laugh, and once you’ve made a few friends it can be quite amusing but when it’s with a bunch of new acquaintances and you’re homesick and/or feeling a bit like a sore thumb having people point out repeatedly how ‘funny’ you sound can grate.

3. Now I know my American accent is terrible, I sound like a reject gay OC character with a speech impediment. But the thing is at least I know how bad I sound! Now, a lot of Yanks really really pride themselves on their British Accent (or as they say Bri-‘ish Ats-eh’). I’m not offended that for the most part these accents are terrible, I mean they’re no worse than my American accent, but its continuously being asked to appraise them, by total strangers… that can get old! At a pub in Lodo I ended up surrounded by 4-5 yanks all speaking Bri-‘ish at me. I felt like I was trapped in a Dick Van Dyke Nightmare, or some budget Australian production of Oliver Twist. Again, this behaviour can make you feel isolated and also slightly highly strung. Again it all depends on the situation, I often make my American friends speak Bri-‘ish as it is hsyterical, but when it’s a bunch of strangers, and it keeps happening, and you keep having to tell people that, no, I’m afraid ‘spot-a- tea in the mornin tip top elo elo mi-jubblies’ is not really going to cut it…


Anyway I hope that was even slightly sensical and not too whiney, patronising or egotistical. As I say over and over again the people here in Denver are incredibly kind, sensitive people. The points I make in these blogposts are mainly generalisations so do take them with a massive pinch of salt.

(This post was brought to you by too much iced Mocha and excessive playing of Xenoblade Chronicles.)

5 Random Songs, 5 Random Memories

24 Jul

Whilst I was walking in the pissing sunshine (aside: In London we have ‘pissing rain’ when it is unrelenting, unpleasant and leaves you drenched, in Denver we have ‘pissing sunshine’ which has more or less the same affect) listening to my music, I started wondering about the relationship between songs and memory. I know that some songs, like smells, are intrinsically linked with certain times, places, people etc. So much so that if that song comes on the radio it can take you right back. So I set myself a challenge, for every song that randomly shuffled on my IPhone I had to think if there were any memories associated. Once I opened myself up to this idea I found that every single song had really strong associations (If you’re bored one time, give it a go, it’s amazing the things that get triggered.) So here I have decided as a small experiment, and a way to waste half an hour, I am going to put my Itunes on shuffle and whatever 5 song comes on I’m going to put down my associations. Yes this is very self-indulgent, yes no one else cares, yes it is navel gazing and yes it’s MY blog so eff off!

1. Sam’s Town – The Killers

Right so this one’s easy, I used to listen to this whole album when working at the behavioural neuroscience lab in York. During the 10 weeks I spent at the university that summer I worked on a study of reptilian behaviour. So it was me, a tortoise called Moses and a maze. I remember singing along to this song whilst sitting in the tiny spare room we used for the study. Moses was slowly inching his way around the maze whilst I recorded his movements on a clipboard. I remember the smell of the small electric heater we used, a bit like burnt toast, and of Moses, who smelt a bit like dried fruit! Bless him, he now lives with his owner in Vienna… oh and he turned out to be a she! I do still miss my little transgender tortoise *sniff*

What Ever Happened – The Strokes

Two memories here! One is of being a spotty 16 year old and downloading this song off Napster, I remember it took about 3 hours to download each song and I was constantly terrified of the cyber police breaking through the window and arresting me. The other memory is of THE BEST NIGHT OUT EVER ™ at university. On this fabled night me and two of my good friends from university went to see ‘Marie Antoinette’ at the cinema, ate Mcdonalds and went to an indie club… I can’t say why it was SO great but all three of us agreed that this was the most fantastic night out! I know we drank a lot, decided that ‘We Are Your Friends’ by Simian was our personal friendship song and I tried to pick one friend up and dropped her on the dancefloor. Students are very simple creatures. This song was on the ‘Marie Antoinette’ soundtrack which I borrowed off Alex (one of the two friends) and this is how I have this song today.

3. Waiting for the 7:18 – Bloc Party

One rainy British summer I worked at my dad’s office for a few weeks to make a little money. One of his coworkers would make copies of his CD’s for me and Bloc Party was one of them. I’d heard them before but this was the first album I owned. I used to listen to this song on the 30 minute tube journey from Tufnell Park to Barbican, squashed like battery farmed chickens with the rest of North London! The work was dull, my hands were always covered in papercuts and covered in dust, but it was an all right time… getting excited about Fresher’s week, seeing my friends, meeting boys… all that. This song pretty much sums up being a 19 year old student for me.

4. Beautiful – Athlete

I got this album for my 17th birthday, I remember it being an extraordinarily sunny day (rare for my birthday) and I think I remember wishing I could go to a music festival, except I had school and no money. Instead, I was revising for my AS Psychology exam with this playing in the background. Nothing too profound just a warm summer evening after a day spent pretending to revise with friends on Hampstead Heath.

5. Can’t Stop – The Red Hot Chilli Peppers

Now this I really remember! I used to listen to this album at my friend Carmen’s house, we would sit in her bedroom and draw these hugely intricate drawings of mice… It all started in an English lesson I think, but we would just sit and draw these really strange Where’s Wally/Waldo style pictures of mice. We also were trying to make a house in the style of The Borrowers and a cardboard version of all the Houses of Harry Potter. Yeah we were weird and geeky but those summer nights were great, we’d order in a pizza and just make things all day with this album playing in the background.

Space Invaders…

10 Jul

So I haven’t written an entry for some time, months in fact. This is for a good reason; I have been busy enjoying the sights of Midwestern America, applying for jobs, volunteering, making friends and all kinds of important self-building stuff.


This represents me being all fulfilled and stuff…

So what is my comeback article about? Something profound about the political system here? A comment on attitudes to gay marriage in America? Obamacare? Turkey and Syria? Well… I considered writing a little something about all of these things but you know what? I just couldn’t muster the energy nor the inclination to write something that has been written 10 million times before by people who don’t use Wikipedia as a major source of factual information! So instead, I’m going to tell you a little about my strange rather screwed-up 20 year long relationship with a certain Spielberg creation.

Last night I woke up in the middle of the night, covered in perspiration and with my heart racing. I couldn’t remember much about the dream other than the fact that it had terrified me. Slowly, I lay back down and let myself fall back asleep. It was already there waiting for me…. Two long gnarled fingers flutter spastically towards me as a bright witchy red light pulsed rhythmically beneath its membranous chest. A rattling intake of breath down that long tubular neck as it leans forward into a single beam of moonlight. Now I can see the light of cold distant stars reflect in its eyes, eyes staring out of the tight hairless face of some starving nightmare child. Nope, sadly this was not the deformed baby from Eraserhead, nor a Stephen King Horror or some other acceptably scary Lovecraftian monstrosity… Say hello to the loveable 80’s family film creation E.T. AKA everyones favourite extraterrestrial AKA the main character in my nightmares for roughly 22 years!

How shameful to be having nightmares about E.T. and at my age?! I mean seriously, I spent a lot of this morning wondering if I was losing my mind. I mean I haven’t dreamt about the little bugger for many years now but the fact is, this isn’t a new occurrence; From the age of 3 to 12 I used to have a frequently recurring nightmare which my parents knew only as ‘the hand’. Even at this young age I never admitted that the hand actually belonged to everyone’s favorite cuddly alien, I knew it was stupid. All the same that film terrified me, I mean seriously terrified me! And now, at the tender age of 25, worldwise and all grow’d up, he’s back…

So I did what any normal (albeit slightly neurotic) 21st century person would do, I googled it. And people, especially those of you sniggering, I am not alone! There is an entire community of people out there who were disturbed by E.T.. People who as children found the freakish bald monkey with a telescopic neck waiting for them night after night and who, to this day, are still occasionally visited by him.

So where does the irrational fear come from? True many people are terrified of spiders and snakes, but at least that makes sense… What is it about E.T. That scared me so badly that even now I am haunted by his presence? Well let’s go back to where it all began, Christmas 1989, I remember receiving the VHS from my parents. I had never heard nor seen the film before but apparently my misguided hippy parents thought it would be a heartwarming film that would teach me about friendship and racial harmony during post-Cold War 90’s paranoia. FAIL. Even the box scared me, I mean look at it!


That is not a nice child-friendly hand it’s clearly the cold probing reptilian appendage of some horrific space-pedophile… clearly. *cough*

So anyway the film starts with some sinister warbling wind instrument as our ‘hero’ scurries around with his other interstellar-abortions fondling plants and scaring rabbits with his clammy fingers. The next hour is full of such things as a mystery shadow in a creepy shed, a set of swings moving by themselves and a scene in a corn field where E.T. appears and screams like some demented tongueless banshee (see clip below).

And don’t start me on the scene with the sleeping bag and the skittles… Jon Carpenter eat your heart out! So all in all my impressionable 3 year old brain blew a fuse. I remember fleeing the room and my older sister trying (and failing) to console me. I never actually saw the second half of the film until I was well into my teens, and even to this day I have this vague sense of uneasiness, as if my inner child somewhere deep in my subconscious, is screaming its head off!

Right so I got that off my chest, sort of. I’m none the wiser as to WHY E.T. freaked me out, he just did. But safe to say, those strange things that scared you as a child; that episode of Thomas the Tank Engine or the faceless puppets in Play Days, they stay with you! You have been warned, also feel free to share any things that used to freak you out as a child so that I feel less ridiculous. Thanks.


P.S. You see, someone else gets me!