Sunday, 14 October 2007

Where does the time go?

What happened to September?! A minute ago it was August, and now it's October!


"What was that?"

"That was your life, mate!"

"Really? Do I get another one?"

"Sorry, mate, that's your lot!"

Wednesday, 29 August 2007

Who did shoot the deputy?

I'm feeling quite pleased with myself.

As you'll know, if you've dipped into the archived posts listed down the side of the page, I started guitar lessons in March of this year. Back then, I was attending a class alongside fellow students with an average age of about 8 years old. Not any more. No siree. The teacher, Vernon, soon realised that I was something of a natural and so suggested that I moved to the earlier class where my flair might be allowed to blossom more quickly, and the average age of 13 might mean I would feel more at home. But that's not the reason I'm feeling pleased with myself.

Over the summer there has been a break, and lessons start again next week. During the summer break we have been set bits of 'homework' to practice (or should that be practise? I'm never quite sure). One of these has been to continue to practice/practise the bass-line and the melody for 'I Shot the Sheriff' by Bob Marley. For those of you who don't know the song, it is in a reggae style where the rhythmic emphasis is outlined by the guitar playing chords on beats 2 and 4 and the bass drum accenting beat 3. At least, that's what I'm reliably told on page 26 of Guitar Encounters Book 1.

I am thoroughly sick of this song. I have been playing it over and over for what seems an eternity (it's actually only been a couple of months on and off, but still...). It's the bass-line that I find particularly awkward to play (even for me with my natural flair!). But today, I think I finally got it! I finally played it without any errors (well, pretty much) at full speed (I had found a way to slow down the version on the Guitar Encounters CD that comes with the book). I'm sure it was a fluke, but I don't care.

So that's why I'm feeling quite pleased with myself.

('The House of the Rising Sun' on page 30 looks particularly tricky so don't expect any further updates on progress this side of Christmas!)

Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Say Yes More!

I am reading Danny Wallace's book, Yes Man (published by Ebury Press). It's very good, and at just 50p (that's right, 50p!) it really was fantastic value. At that price, even I didn't have any inclination whatsoever to 'accidentally' walk out of WH Smith's without paying for it (if you really want to, you can click here for an account of when £3 was deemed to steep a price to pay...). In fact, it was one of several possible 50p purchases on this particular day in this particular shop, with it being sat between Into the Blue (covering the boy band Blue on tour) and From Alliance to Conference (a book about the history of the Vauxhall Conference football league). As I am neither an adolescent girl nor am I autistic, I decided to buy just Wallace's book (and paying out £1.50 would have probably given me a nose-bleed).

The basic premise of the book is that we should say 'yes' more! We should be more open to the many of life's opportunities when they come our way. Danny Wallace took this to an extreme by turning it into a way of life. Not content with just saying Yes more... he was going to say Yes to everything! He turned it into a manifesto for life.

As I say, I'm still reading the book but it seems to be working out well for Danny. I had a quick look at his website, and it would appear that they are to make a film based on Yes Man, starring Jim Carrey. Which I suppose is a good thing.

Monday, 20 August 2007

If God was a cuber

Following on from an earlier post, if God did play with a Rubik's Cube, He would be able to solve it in less than 26 moves. It's official. Researchers at Northeastern University in Boston have used a supercomputer to calculate that the least number of moves needed to solve any cube, no matter how mixed up, is no more than 26 (the BBC news page can be found here). Apparently, within cubing circles, the least number of moves needed to solve any Rubik's Cube is referred to as "God's number" as any omniscient being worth His (or Her) salt would be able to solve the puzzle in the minimum necessary moves. I mean, God is not going to want to waste valuable time taking unnecessary extra moves completing the cube, whilst there are tsunamis to create or earthquakes to organise.

The actual value of "God's number" is likely to be even lower than 26... theoretical work suggesting it is probably in the low 20's. Here's hoping it ends up being 23. That would do a nice job of confirming many people's belief in the mystical properties of the number 23!

Thursday, 16 August 2007

Inaudible whispers

I finally got round to watching the movie Lost in Translation this week. I'm not going to review it here because you can no doubt find reviews elsewhere (here for example!). And I'm no film critic. Suffice to say it is a film about two people, Bob (played by Bill Murray) and Charlotte (played by Scarlett Johnanson), who meet in Tokyo. Bob is an actor who is in Japan to film a commercial for a whisky, whilst Charlotte is accompanying her photographer husband on a business trip. The film follows how these two lonely people connect with each other.

The reason I'm mentioning it here is because in a scene towards the very end of the movie Bob whispers something into the ear of Charlotte before they part. (I don't think I'm ruining the film for you by telling you this... but you might want to watch the film first before reading further; at the very least it will give you a context!). Thanks to the wonders of YouTube (and my new-found ability to post YouTube videos...) you can view the scene below:

We don't get to hear what Bob actually says, apart from he ends by saying "...OK?", to which Charlotte respondes "OK". Of course, you're not supposed to be able to hear what he whispers (the DVD subtitles say "inaudible", I tried it), but I was interested to know whether a line was scripted for the scene, or whether Bill Murray improvised a line, or whether he just mumbled a few meaningless words. And it seems I'm not alone. For example, one of the reviews I read (at was followed by many comments relating to what Bob actually says (the other main concern seems to be where can you get hold of the cherry blossoms like those that Charlotte hangs in her hotel room). What's interesting, is that there are a range of opinions regarding what Bob says.

Suggestions include:

"You have changed me irreversibly... [inaudible] ...Stay here and I will be back for you in a week, OK?"

"I was ready... [inaudible] ...on the way back, you should tell him the truth, OK?"

"I'll always remember the past few days with you... don't part mad, tell him the truth, OK?"

"You want to have a better performance? Go up there and tell him you love him right now."

"I love you, and everything you did. Go back there and tell him to try, OK?"

"Promise me... [inaudible] ... on the flight back, tell him the truth, OK?"

So I'm not any closer to an answer! I have just listened again to the scene and to me it sounds as though he begins with "Promise me..." and ends with "...and you tell him that you love him, OK?".

Some of those speculating on Bob's words even put forward some evidence in order to support their claims. For example, one points us to this website, that has scripts for hundreds of films including Lost in Translation. But when I looked just now, Lost in Translation wasn't there (it goes from Lost Horizons to Lost Souls)! Another points to a different website, where you can play the clip either with 'normal sound' or with 'enhanced sound', claiming that when you listen with the enhanced sound Bob clearly says "I love you, and everything you did. Go back there and tell him to try, OK?". Finally, one person points us back to YouTube, saying that if you search for "Lost in Translation whisper", you will find the answer. Well, folks, I did that. And, because I can, I have posted it here. Are you ready for the answer?

No way! I listened to it that time, and was convinced he ended by saying something like "... and you tell him the truth, OK?". It definitely was not "...but I won't let it come between us, OK?".
So I think we are left with not knowing. And not knowing is probably better than knowing. Because knowing is bound to be a disappointment. At least this way, whatever Bob whispers into Charlotte's ear can be what we want it to be, and from what we've seen (and heard) it seems that's exactly what people are doing. The idea is that you aren't told what is whispered. It's up to you to decide for yourself. I'll leave you with the words of one of the comments on which ring very true:
"The script isn't punishing you by not letting you hear the whisper, it's a reward. That whisper can be whatever you think it is. Whether you're a romantic, a cynic, or somewhere in between, the unintelligible whisper provides a perfect ending. I know exactly what he said, but I'm not going to tell you. You have to figure it out for yourself (hint: turning up the volume will not help)."
So we'll leave it at that. It is what you want it to be. I'm happy with that.

(But if you do have any inside information regarding what Bob actually does say...)

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

Go with the flow

Another four-word phrase that has been going round in my mind for some time is 'go with the flow'. Some people seem to be better than others at doing this, allowing themselves to be guided by their environment and not getting unnecessarily upset when things don't always go to plan.

There's more I want to say on the idea of going with the flow, but for now I thought I'd share with you the video I stumbled across on YouTube (at the same time allowing me to show off that I'd figured out how to post YouTube videos to my blog!).

Saturday, 4 August 2007

Sliding Doors

One red paperclip

Kyle Mcdonald's story started with one red paperclip. He wanted to trade it for something better. A pen maybe. Or a spoon. His aim was to trade it for something slightly bigger and better, and then trade whatever he got for it for something slightly bigger or better again. His ultimate aim was to trade up to a house! And, do you know what... he did. Okay, it was a house in

You get to choose

I have a friend. Hard to believe, I know, but I do. At least I consider him a friend. In fact, he is one of my "official" friends certified by Facebook. So there's no denying it.

I'll call this friend Byron, primarily because this is his name. Hard to believe, I know, but it is (and if I was going to make up a name, I doubt 'Byron' would be in the frame...). He's also American. Not that there's anything wrong with that either. Some of my best friends are American. Byron, for example. (This is beginning to go round in circles.)

Now Byron likes his food. I'm not saying he's fat, because he's not. He's big, as in tall (I would guess around 6' 3") and he's not skinny. But he does like his food. Perhaps this is linked to the fact that he is American, I don't know. He particularly seems to like it when there is a wide range of choices for what or where to eat (and I think this is an American thing). If you were to visit Byron (and if you happen to know him, I'm sure he'd love to see you) then my guess is that he would reel off a long list of local eateries where you might be able to enjoy lunch or dinner together (depending on what time of day you visited). "Synchronization of stomachs" as he calls it. On occasions that I have visited him, he would be able to talk me through the menus (without even looking at them) for all the local restaurants and takeaways, whether they be Chinese, Indian, Thai, Italian, French, Mexican, or even, dare I say it, English or American.

The task ahead of us, then, was to pick one of these at which to eat. Now this was the stage of the process that I used to find really difficult. I would ask, "So which one do you think we should go to?", to which he would respond by uttering the four words that I didn't want to hear, "You get to choose!".

The thing is, I didn't want to choose. I felt that he was in a better position to make the choice, anyway, as he had been to these places and sampled the food and could therefore make a more informed choice. "They're all good", he would say, "you get to choose". But for some reason, I was really uncomfortable with being put in the position to choose where to eat. My protests of "but I really don't mind...!" tended to elicit the same four words in response. If I was being asked to choose for a larger group of stomachs in need of synchronization, I'd be a nervous wreck. Why did I have to choose? Why me?

And then, over a period of a year or so, the phrase “you get to choose” seemed to take on a much more profound meaning. It went from being an ever so slightly irritating prompt to get me to choose where we ate or what we would do next, to representing something much more important. I started to realise that in so many things in life you really do get to choose. Indeed, life is full of choices. Full of them. And often we feel that choices we may have made in the past may have been bad choices, or even ‘wrong’ choices. And we are now stuck with those choices. Our life is the way it is because of a choice, or series of decisions, we may have made five, ten, or even twenty years ago. And that’s that. We’ve made our bed and now we have to lie in it. Well, whilst I believe there is definitely some truth to that statement (in that we must live with and deal with the consequences of our choices), it is important to also remember that you always get to choose. Just as you got to choose back then, you still get to choose now. You can choose to change things whenever you want. Just because you have made your bed it doesn’t mean you have to lie in it. You could unmake the bed if you wanted to. You could choose to lie on the floor instead. Or you may choose not to lie down at all. Having made your bed you may decide you feel like jumping up and down on the bed, throwing the bedclothes out of the window, and weeing all over the mattress. I mean, it is your bed after all. Just remember, if you do choose to do this you will at some point probably need to retrieve said bedclothes and find a way of getting rid of the smell of urine. But hopefully you get my point.

Of course, the reason why we often feel as though we can’t change our minds once we’ve made our choice is that it can be difficult to feel as though we have the right to change our minds. Also, we may feel that it gives the impression of being indecisive and that would be awful to be thought of as indecisive, right?

Sometimes, though, there can just be fairly simple, but surprisingly strong, social pressures that prevent us from changing our mind. Let’s go back to the example of choosing restaurants that I lured you in with (“do we have to?” I hear you cry… no, we don’t have to, but on this occasion, I get to choose). Let’s imagine that I finally gave in and made a choice of restaurant. We go in and are shown to a table by the waiter (ooh, get him, waiter service), who then presents us with the menus before leaving us for a few minutes before he comes back to take our order. Now at this point, we haven’t eaten anything or even ordered anything. But what if, at this stage, you decide that you actually don’t want to eat at this particular restaurant? Maybe you feel that it’s actually a bit expensive or there is nothing on the menu that takes your fancy. Or maybe you feel that the waiter wasn’t very friendly, or the place it too dark or cold, or too bright and warm! Whatever the reason, you’ve changed your mind since you walked in. Now my bet is that you would find it quite difficult to tell the waiter that you’ve changed your mind and that you’re going to leave, or simply get up and walk out. At the very least, I would imagine that if you were to leave you would feel obliged to give an excuse to the waiter to explain your about-turn (“we have just had a phone call to say that our cat/aunt/friend has been run over/taken ill/won the lottery and we have to go and scrape her off the road/take her to the hospital/get pissed!”). More likely, however, is that you would politely remain seated and stay in the restaurant you have now decided you don’t like. Because there are strong social pressures that make it hard to act upon your change of mind. If you want to test this, then try it. It’s harder than you think.

But the fact remains that you always get to choose. You always have a choice.

Friday, 27 July 2007

Words to live by

There is a noticeboard next to the desk at which I am often sat when typing on the computer. Like most noticeboards it is fairly cluttered with pieces of paper, card, and other items that relate to things that have either recently happened or items that act as reminders for things that are yet to happen. One of these items that keeps catching my eye is this card that we picked up during our road trip across America earlier this year.

I have been wondering who "Solbeam" was, and from where these words to live by may have come. Somewhat surprisingly, it seems that they come from a fellow blogger. Her blog, as with most, if not all, blogs is a record of thoughts on life, death, and everything in between. The words on the card come from an entry posted on 7 August 2005 entitled "melted clocks". If you scroll down to the very bottom where she is talking about her 10-year school reunion, you'll see the words on the card come from the message she would yell to her 14 year-old self if she were able to travel back in time. But not all the words made it on to the card. Here they are in full:

“Fall in love or fall in hate. Get inspired or be depressed. Get confused or be straight. Flunk a class or ace a test. Become a slut or be reborn a virgin. Get fit or get fat. Make babies or make art. Speak the truth or lie and cheat. Live happily ever after or get divorced. Dance on tables or sit in the corner and be shy. Let me (scream or whisper) a secret to you: It's doesn't matter. Nobody’s actually watching. Life is divine chaos. Embrace it. Forgive yourself. Breathe. And enjoy the ride.”

I wonder if her 14 year-old self would have listened.

Get that cat away from me!

I read today that there is a cat in America, Rhode Island to be precise, who seems to be able to predict when the next patient at a nursing home is going to die. The cat, who goes by the name of Oscar (pictured right), invariably goes to sit by the unlucky person who's time has come in the final few hours of his or her life. Oscar's ability to predict these deaths has become so accurate that the nursing home staff have come to rely on his actions as a sure sign that the patient is about to snuff it!

I bet the patients love that. As soon as Oscar is seen lingering at the doorway to their room, I bet they're shooing him away, throwing slippers at him, and urging him to carry on down the hallway to somebody else's room (wasn't that the woman in room 304 that I heard coughing?).

As it happens, most of the patients in the nursing home are suffering from dementia so they probably don't know that the cat is there (or even what a cat is). But I'm not sure I'd like the cat of death to be circling as I sit and watch Countdown in my latter days. On the positive side, if the cat did come to sit by my side I would know that it was my final Countdown! (Sound of cymbal to emphasise crap gag.)

Click here for the BBC web page covering the story. The original piece that appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine is here.

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

Facebook: My arse

Now that I no longer smoke, I'm hardly ever asked this anymore, but when I did smoke, like most smokers, I would often be asked the question, "Got a match?". And every now and again, I would get great pleasure out of answering, "yeah, your face and my arse...". I would usually still have a broad grin on my face after my questioner removed his fist from it.

These days, whenever I now see or hear the mention of the social networking website Facebook it for some reason makes me think of that brilliantly childish response to a polite request for a match. And what's worse, I'm now hearing about Facebook more and more. Over the last month or so, I have been receiving requests from people inviting me to join them as a "friend" on Facebook. I deleted these email requests until I eventually relented when I received one from my brother.

Now that I am registered on Facebook I have, get ready for this... 10 "friends"! Count them. Ten. And one of them is my own brother! I know what you're thinking... these are just people I know who happen to be registered on Facebook and have a little too much time on their hands. But no, these are real "friends". I know that they are real "friends", because Facebook says so.

And, thanks to Facebook, I can find out when my "friends" are becoming "friends" with other people, what groups they are joining, when they are adding photos to their pages, and when they are adding or removing Facebook applications. I wonder if it can also tell me when any of my "friends" are wiping their arse? I have a feeling it probably can.

Social networking sites are all the rage these days... Facebook has something like 28 million registered users while it seems there are over 100 million registered on MySpace. Whatever. I can't see it catching on myself. Anyway, gotta go, one of my good "friends" is mid-wipe.

Tuesday, 19 June 2007

The Butterfly of Freedom

If life begins at 40, I turned -3 last Sunday (happy birthday to me, happy birthday to me...). Had a lovely weekend away. Really, really good... Anyway, I thought I would share with my friends (that's you) the card that I got from my parents.

It's called The Butterfly of Freedom, and it's a one of Edward Monkton's "interesting thoughts". In case the image doesn't load correctly, I'll explain the scene. Twelve simply drawn butterflies are depicted, of which 11 are within a drawn box. Our hero is the 12th butterfly who has broken free from the constraints the box and is flying away. The butterflies ask, "Why do you fly outside the box?" "I fly outside the box because I can." replies our hero. "But we KNOW the box. We are SAFE inside the box." "That, my friend, is why I leave it. For you may be SAFE... but I AM FREE!"

Now without wanting to get too serious (cue serious point), the question you have to ask yourself is... would you rather be safe or free? It seems to me that we often opt for security and in the process we give up our freedom. At least that's what it feels like.

I guess what I'm saying is: Fly outside the box... at least once in a while.

Friday, 15 June 2007

Donating my brain to science

Last week I was a subject in a psychology experiment. To be more precise I was actually a participant. Whereas in the old days I would have been labelled as a 'subject', these days we are participants in such things. Anyway, the procedure I was subjected to included filling in a cluster of personality questionnaires. Questions ranged from how often I trusted my hunches or instincts (I've got a feeling I answered that one wrongly) to whether I found it hard to make decisions (I left that one blank).

Following the questionnaires were a series of tasks. In one of these I had to arrange small wooden coloured blocks to match a pattern shown to me by the experimenter.

These were simple geometric shapes but the task for some reason reminded me of the joke in which a psychologist is showing one of his patients a series of Rorschach inkblots. "What do you see in this picture?" the psychologist asks as the first inkblot is shown. The patient hesitates for a moment before a replying "a man and woman having sex".

"And in this picture...?" the psychologist asks as he displays the second inkblot.

"A man and a woman having sex" the patient replies.

"And in this one?"

"A man and a woman having sex" comes the reply.

"I think you are preoccupied with sex" concludes the psychologist.

"I'm preoccupied with sex?" replies the patient, "you're the one with all the dirty pictures!".

Okay, I didn't say it was a funny joke. Sadly, the psychologist testing me didn't have any dirty pictures. At least none that he was showing me.

Tuesday, 5 June 2007

A "reader" confesses

I have a confession to make. And I'm asking for your help in deciding what I should do.

Some time last year, I can't remember exactly when, I was in a book shop. That's not the confession by the way. I'm not confessing to being a "reader". Otherwise, it would be me and you both. No, I haven't got to the confession bit yet. Around that time I was going to quite a few book shops and buying books. Mainly these were secondhand book shops and charity shops (Cancer Research shops seem to have the best selection if you're interested).

This particular shop was neither a secondhand shop, nor a charity shop. It was a branch of The Works, a large chain of stores that sell reduced price books alongside toys and craft materials. At the back of this particular store were a selection of books in the area of 'mind, body, spirit'... you know, the usual stuff: astrology, dream interpretation, that kind of thing. The book that caught my attention was a book on "cosmic ordering" called The Complete Guide to Cosmic Ordering: Make Your Dreams Become Reality by A. Moore. Now I've been fascinated by this notion of placing orders with the cosmos to get what you want in life since I read Barbel Mohr's book, The Cosmic Ordering Service. In fact I had read Mohr's book just a few months earlier so the idea was still fairly new to me and why I guess Moore's book caught my eye. (A future post will deal with cosmic ordering in more depth, but for now you can click here to see what Wikipedia has to say about it.)

Anyway, I flicked through a few pages and thought it would be an easy read and at only £3, reduced from £7.99, it was a bit of a bargain (or as the sticker announced “fantastic value!”). I carried it with me as I browsed round the shop a little further.

And then, as I neared the shop entrance, something happened. I suddenly realized that it would be oh so very easy to just walk out with the book in my hand. That’s right, my friend, I entertained the possibility of walking out of the shop without paying for it! I believe the technical term is “shoplifting”. Then, before I knew it, I was over the threshold of the door and out into the rest of the shopping centre with the book (technical term “stolen goods”) still in my clammy hand. I kind of reasoned that if I were caught then I would look down at the book I was holding and suddenly “remember” I had it in my hands and that I must have absent-mindedly wandered out of the shop without paying for it. An honest mistake anyone could make. I would then simply pay the £3 (“fantastic value!”) and be on my way. As it turned out I didn’t get caught. I carried on walking through the shopping centre and I was soon out of sight of the shop (technical term “scene of the crime”).

And that is my confession. In short, last year I nicked a book. Now, almost a year has passed and I have still not yet read the book. I find it interesting that for some reason I haven’t got round to at least scanning this book that I thought would be an easy read. It has sat quietly minding its own business on the bookshelf in between Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus (that would explain a lot!) and a book called Angels Do Exist (don't ask). It’s as though deep inside I realized that the book shouldn’t really be on that bookshelf. It wasn't mine to read. But every so often I have glanced up at it and thought to myself that I should at least read it, or take it back to the shop, or do something to appease my guilt. Perhaps I should add the book to those at our local Cancer Research shop or give the £3 I should have paid for the book to a suitable charity.

So here is where I need your help. What do you think I should do? Should I take the book back? Should I send The Works £3? Should I pass the book on to a charity? Or can you think of a more creative way of making good my misdemeanor? Please fellow “reader”, please help one of your own and post a comment to help me with my quandary! (It will also help me to see if anyone actually reads this stuff!) Thanks.

Friday, 1 June 2007

Gimme that gliding action

Have you noticed how kids seem to be gliding around these days? For a while, I was thinking either they're on drugs, or I am. It turns out neither is the case (as far as I'm aware).

Instead it would appear that Heelys are responsible... trainers that have wheels built into their heels. Now you tell me! If I'd known about them before that goddamn 10 kilometre run round Manchester, then I'm sure things would have been a little easier (well, at least for the flat parts and the downhill parts of the course... for the uphill parts all I can picture is me running and getting nowhere like Shaggy used to do in Scooby-Doo).

It seems as though they're all the rage these days. And it would appear they have been around for some time. Earlier this year, I spotted a scale model action figure of Our Saviour himself (pictured). The packaging proclaimed that the action figure had "poseable arms and gliding action". Closer inspection revealed small wheels peeking out from beneath his flowing robes. So that's how he did it... The little miracle-maker was clearly wearing early prototype Heelys sandals!

So my feeling is if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. I'm going to see if I get a pair in size 10's. If they're good enough for the Son of God, then they're good enough for me.

Oh brother!

Why do I do it? I know for a fact that I'm not going to stick it out for the next 247 weeks that it will be on the telly. And I just know that each time I do watch it, I'll be tutting loudly and voicing how much I detest this person and how much that person annoys me. But still, knowing all this, this week I tuned in to watch the live launch show of Big Brother 8.

I didn't disappoint myself... "What does she look like!", "How annoying is she gonna be after a few days?!", "Why did she even bother applying for the show!" Still, it was nice to see Davina not pregnant for a change. This year BB has decided to fill the house, at least to begin with, entirely with women. I don't know about you, but I'm thinking that it might be an idea to watch with the sound down, at least until they calm down a bit.

I gather that tonight they will be putting a male housemate in with the "ladies" (the words lamb and slaughter come to mind...). Probably a gay fella if I know Big Brother. Gay or straight, no doubt I will think he's a complete pillock and will voice my opinions accordingly. I can't wait.

Thursday, 24 May 2007

Lose weight: Fast

Looking forward to summer, but worried to about fitting into your swimsuit? Don't worry, just take the Special K Challenge. All you have to do is eat a bowl of Special K in the morning and another one in the evening for two weeks and you'll lose weight. I know, it's hard to believe, but apparently it's true. The clever people at Kelloggs have worked out that by effectively fasting for a fortnight you'll probably lose weight. Amazing.

Monday, 21 May 2007

They are exceedingly good cakes

Well, yesterday was the big day... the Great Manchester 10K Run. Before heading off to catch the tram into the city, I did the sensible thing and checked on the radio to see if the event had been called off because of a terrorist threat of some kind. But no such luck. It was all going ahead. There was no getting out of it.

Before long I was joining thousands of other runners in the Orange Wave due to start at 10am. They all looked a bit too serious for my liking. About 20 minutes before the start we were subjected to warm-up exercises by Mr Motivator, or some other annoyingly perky fitness trainer person who seemed to have far more energy than must be healthy.

Just before the start itself, I heard the man with the microphone announce that alongside him on the starter's podium was Tanni Grey Thompson. Seconds later there was a gunshot followed by an eerie silence. For an awful moment I thought they had shot Tanni. They can't do that! I mean she's a Dame isn't she? As the crowd of runners that surrounded me slowly edged forwards, I quickly realised that the gunshot had signalled the start of the race! In fact, as I jogged past the starter's podium Dame Tanni was sat there klaxon in hand cheering on the runners as they filed past. I wouldn't have minded but she sounded the klaxon right in my ear as I passed, so was I effectively deafened for the first 500 metre of the race. And to think, just moments before I had been mourning that woman.

The run itself was fortunately fairly uneventful. I managed to run pretty much the entire course, and surprised myself to finish in less than an hour! 56 minutes 46 seconds to be precise. I had said to myself that I would add another £10 to the money raised for BLISS for every minute over an hour that I took to complete the run. By my calculations, this means that I'm owed between £30 and £40 from the donations made so far! Okay, okay... I'll put in £10 for every minute under an hour, and even round it up to £40.

Thank you again to everyone who supported me and made a donation. It made it worth the effort. It's possible to donate via the justgiving page up until 20 July 2007, so if you would like to please, please make a donation. Just a pound or two (or even four... a quid for every minute under an hour!).

After the race, I wandered into the G-Mex (or Manchester Central as they are now calling it) to see if BLISS had a stall in the charity village. The Marie Curie Cancer Care folks were very generous with their malt loaf so I helped myself to two slices thank you very much (don't worry they had plenty, they were getting sponsored by Soreen). As I walked round the stalls I noticed that quite a few of the charities had a stock of food and drinks for their runners. I couldn't find a stall for BLISS, but next year I might run for Leukemia Research. They had cherry bakewells on their table.

Thursday, 17 May 2007

Targets Schmargets

Wow! You really are a generous lot... As of yesterday we passed the £500 target! Thank you all so much. And still the donations are coming in. Of course, the more money raised for BLISS the better, so please keep the donations coming in and tell all your friends (and enemies).

Now there's just the small matter of the 10 kilometres...

Sunday, 13 May 2007

Weak bin men need not apply

This time next week, it will all be over. Or at least I hope it is, otherwise I will have been dragging myself around 6 miles of Manchester's city centre for over 5 hours! Seven days from now, along with around 30,000 other runners/nutters, I will be partaking in the Great Manchester 10K Run. My legs quiver at the mere mention of it.

I wonder if it would be allowed to complete the course on piggy-back? I realise that it might be asking too much to ask one person to give me a piggy-back for all of the 10 kilometres, but it might be possible to set up some kind of relay system where I could be passed from person to person, so that any one individual would only need to carry me for a few yards. What do you reckon? Another thought I had was inspired by those outfits that some people run in that make it look as though they are being carried in a dustbin on the back of a bin man. My thought: Why not just get carried in a dustbin on the back of a bin man? Yet another idea was inspired by the godfather of ostrich-based comedy, Bernie Clifton. As you'll remember, Bernie often ran the London Marathon "on the back of" his yellow ostrich with a fake pair of legs hanging either side of the ostrich's neck. You see where I'm going with this? That's right. Simply replace the fake ostrich and the fake legs with a real ostrich and real legs and, bingo... Job's a good 'un, as they say.

In my runner's pack, I'm told I'm due to start at 10am in the Orange Wave with the "elite men" (irony noted, thank you). This means getting into the city centre for around 8am... On a Sunday! Gloria Hunniford and the Heaven & Earth show have never seemed so desirable.

Oh well, at least it's all for a good cause. At the time of writing, we've raised £468 (plus over £100 in gift aid) for BLISS! Thank you if you have donated. To add your donation click go to or click the "donate now" button on the right of this page).

Strong bin men or ostrich farmers can just drop me an email...

Tuesday, 8 May 2007

Bloody do-gooders

Thank you! You are a very kind bunch! I am very grateful to those of you who have responded to my appeal for donations for my "run" (still using that word loosely). I know it can be awful when you get those requests for sponsorship by email and it is very tempting to hit the delete button. But you didn't. And I thank you for that.

I also know it can be off-putting when you click the link and get as far as making the donation only to be given the choice between £20, £50, and £100! Whoa there! (Which means "stop a horse!"). I said I'd make a donation but upwards of 20 quid? Seem's a bit steep. But of course, the people at assume that by encouraging you to make the larger donation more money will be raised. Maybe they're right. But I think it can also put you off making a smaller donation, and could push some folks into not making a donation at all. So thank you for overcoming that awkwardness and making a donation of whatever value! It really is appreciated.

You do realise, though, that by making a donation I am now even more obliged to actually do the run. It's alright for you, your legs aren't quivering at the thought of running 10 kilometres!

Wednesday, 2 May 2007

Running Scared!

It seemed like a good idea at the time. And back in March, the 20th May seemed ages away. It’s now less than three weeks away! What’s happening on Sunday 20th May? The Great Manchester 10K Run, that’s what! And what worries me about that is that I’m supposed to be running all ten of of those K’s…

Perhaps I should explain. Late one evening in March, I was looking at a charity’s website ( for those of you who are interested), and clicked on the link that said “fundraise for BLISS”. Next thing I know, I’d gone and registered to take part in the Great Manchester Run on 20th May. How did that happen?!

As you may know, if you’ve been following the story so far, or may not know, I have been travelling across the United States in a car for almost 4 of the last 6 weeks. So I have not been exactly in “training”. And, between you and me, this is now a worry.

This week, after finally purchasing a pair of half-price running shoes I ventured out the front door to go for what I believe is called a “run”, in an attempt to begin my preparations for May 20th. I use the word “run” in a fairly loose way as running was only one of the behaviours I was engaged in for the 15 minutes that followed… Others included walking, bending, panting, gasping, sitting and crawling (well, perhaps not crawling but you get the picture). I covered perhaps a mile and a half in this time, but it wasn’t pretty. 10K is about 6 miles. The sudden realization that this is going to be harder than I thought came over me.

Anyway, the reason I’m telling you this is that on that evening I foolishly clicked the fundraising button on the BLISS website, I kind of said that I would aim to raise £500 for BLISS (a charity for premature babies). Crazy I know. But these things happen…

And this is where you come in. Yes, I’m asking for money. But only a small donation, and it is for a good cause after all. If you could donate any small amount, that would be great. And I mean any amount. 50p, £1, £5, anything. You can do this really easily by going to Or you can click on the link to the right of this page. It would also be a great help if you did anything you could to publicize my page.

Who knows, maybe karma will have a little reward for your good deed waiting for you round the corner. Or maybe not. Either way, you’ll be helping premature babies, and you’ll feel better for it. Go on. And think of those 10 K’s that you don’t have to run!

Thursday, 19 April 2007

More than a list of fish

I am a big fan of Derren Brown. I think his mind-reading and other psychological effects he and his team create are astonishing and his website is way cool. (Did I just use the phrase "way cool"?) His colour-changing hair trick is especially good... have you noticed how he has slowly become more ginger? No? I didn't really notice either until I happened to recently watch one of his Mind Control TV shows. It was the one where he predicts the idea the two ad agency creatives come up with for his chain of taxidermy shops and then 'reveals' that he influenced their thoughts through carefully placed cues on their cab journey to the office. Excellent stuff. Anyway, in that episode his hair was black. It's funny how you don't notice changes like this when they happen gradually over a long period of time, isn't it?

Anyway, I mention Mr Brown here because in the preface to his book Tricks of the Mind he relates a story from when he visited the London Aquarium. He makes no mention of the robot fish (he probably doesn't want to admit to the possibility of being duped himself). Instead, he quite rightly questions the utility of signs next to each tank that are in braille, observing that even if a blind visitor were able to locate these signs then all that they would be left with at the end of their visit would a list of fish. Hardly worth the £13.25 entrance fee!

Blind fish-lovers should instead make their way to the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California. For one, it's in California. And if that isn't reason enough to visit, blind visitors are provided with hands on bronze sculptures to give them an idea of what the sea creatures may be feel like. Sure, it's what they would feel like if they were made of bronze, but still.

Now all Derren needs to worry about is how do a version of his colour-changing hair trick that his blind fans can also enjoy!

Mystery Spot


Zimbardo prison experiment
Clint Eastwood

Las Vegas

Friday 13th
blue man group

grand canyon

david copperfield
hole in the ground

They came from outer space


Back and to the left

6th floor museum
don miller on the grassy knoll
Bill Hicks

Tuesday, 10 April 2007



Joe Nickell
world's only full-time salaried paranormal investigator.

Thursday, 5 April 2007

What do you mean "used"?

This isn't going to come as a big surprise to you all, I know, but much of your time on a road trip is spent on the road (go figure...). As a consequence, you find yourself paying an unhealthy attention to the things that catch your eye by the side of the road. For example, what's the deal with water towers? What are they for? And why so many in the US and so few in the UK? Answers on a postcard please...

I am also intrigued by how many different kinds of churches there seem to be in the US. Whether it's at a First Baptist Church, a Methodist Church, a Lutheran Church, or a First Church of Christ the King, Americans seem to be spoilt for choice in how they worship the Almighty.

Perhaps most unsettling are the road-side signs. The Kentucky to Tennessee leg of the trip seemed to provide the best of these, such as the confrontational "If you died today, where would you spend eternity?" (personally, I'm not so sure but I'm hoping it's not in Kentucky) or the straight-to-the-point "We Grow Hair". But the winner has to be "Used Cows For Sale". Yes, you read that right. And no, I don't know what it means either. A quick search on Google reveals that it's a known "wacky" sign, but doesn't reveal whether it's a serious sign or an indication of the zany sense of humour of Kentucky farmers. Who cares. Just sit back and enjoy:

Wednesday, 4 April 2007

This is Niagara Falls?

If you ever visit Niagara Falls, and you get the chance to visit the "Journey Behind the Falls" exhibit, don't bother. It's rubbish. The same goes for Stapeley Water Gardens in Cheshire. Don't let the title fool you... it's just a garden centre.

Monday, 2 April 2007

Ass (not arse)

It was one of those times when you start a sentence, not quite knowing how you’re going to end it. We had picked up our car from Boston (a blue Toyota 4x4), and we’d driven up to New Hampshire to visit Paul and Sally (friends of Rachel’s mum) in New London, New Hampshire. By the time we got there, the weather had got colder and there was now snow on the ground. The next day Paul drove us all in Sally’s car to visit Hanover (the home of Dartmouth College) and Eastman, a planned community covering 100’s if not 1000’s of acres of woods a few miles from New London. Paul and Sally had just bought a house there and so they showed us round. Needless to say, we were envious of how much more you could get for your housing dollar in the US (or at least in New Hampshire) compared to what you get for your housing pound in the UK.

In the car, with me in the front passenger seat and Rachel and Sally in the back, Sally explained that there were buttons you could press to heat either or both of the front seats. She leaned forward and pushed the button that heated my seat. Within seconds I could feel the seat becoming warm. If the truth be told, it was a pleasant sensation all round.

Now this is the bit about starting a sentence not knowing how you’re going to finish it. As my backside began to glow with warmth, I thought I would ask Paul if he'd like to share in the experience. So I asked him if he would like his seat warmer switched on. Only that's not what I said. Instead, I started to say something like “Paul, would you like a warm…”, and as I said the word “warm” I decided I would attempt to sound just a little American and end the sentence with the word “ass”. Only I didn’t say that. My Englishness got the better of me and so it came out as “arse”. Only I didn’t stop there. Something, I don’t know what, made me want to end the sentence with one more syllable. So instead of me asking Paul if he would like a warm ass, I asked him if he would like a warm arse hole.

I couldn’t believe it either! Within a matter of hours of meeting Paul I was enquiring if he’d like a warm arse hole! (I know, it doesn't get any better the more you say it...) Fortunately, I think he had anticipated the question and so was answering "yes" just as I uttered the word "hole", so I think I got away with it.

Still, the lesson here is to have an idea how you’re going to end a sentence when you start it. Similarly, I guess you should start a blog knowing how you’re going to end it. Otherwise, you might find you have to simply end it in the middle of a…

Saturday, 31 March 2007

64 no more

In 1964, my mum and dad and my sister, who was about a year old at the time, moved from north London to Boston for a couple of years. My dad had been offered a post-doctoral position at Massachusetts General Hospital, which I gather is linked to Harvard Medical School. I had always been quite proud of this fact, and so I was pleased we were taking a train up to Boston from New York to collect our hire car. We would get to spend a night in Boston and our road trip across America would officially begin there. We would also see if we could find 64 Kirkland Street, the house where my parents had lived between 1964 and 1966

We thought we might not get to sit together on the 4 hour train journey from New York, as it would seem that Americans have the ‘double-seat’ syndrome even worse than we Brits do. Each double-seat was taken up by a lone traveler with a strategically placed bag next to them. Even when Rachel asked a couple facing each other with their legs and bags on the vacant seats if we could sit on the unoccupied seats, they replied "our bags are there”. So helpful. We eventually settled for seats one behind the other, and I asked the lady (I say lady…) whom I would be sitting next to if she minded switching seats with Rachel behind so that we could sit together as we had work to do (a white lie, I know, but it sounded better than saying we wanted to sit together so we could hold hands).

“Does she have a window seat?”, the lady asked in return. Rachel didn’t have a window seat. “Then I’m not moving”. Cow. I decided instead to try my luck with an elderly Chinese woman (I don’t think it was the same one from Times Square…) a couple of seats back. Bingo. She seemed happy to move so that Rachel and I could sit together. You can say what you like about the Chinese but they do think of others (even to the point of warning you about the the mark of the Beast [see New York Times 2 post...]).

Once in Boston, our short stay (at the Omni Parker House hotel, the oldest hotel in the United States!) included the obligatory visit to the ‘Cheers’ bar, both the bar that was the original inspiration for Cheers, and the newer replica Cheers bar at Quincy market where I even got to sit in Norm’s seat! (Favourite Norm-ism is “Women, you can’t live with them… pass the beer nuts”.)

The next morning we took the T (Boston’s tube) to Harvard. Our mission this morning was to take a photograph of 64 Kirkland Street. Finding Kirkland Street was easy. Finding no. 64 was not so easy. That was because it wasn’t there. 62 Kirkland Street was there. But after that it went to a set of what I guess would be condominiums numbered 70-1, 70-2, up to 70-8. No 64! I tried knocking on the door of no. 62 to find out if they could shed any light on what had happened to 64 but alas there was nobody home.

So that was that. 64 Kirkland Street was no more. My parents' home from when they were here over 40 years ago no longer existed. And I guess that's it... it was over 40 years ago, and time moves on. Today is actually my parent's 45th wedding anniversary. So happy anniversary mum and dad! Here's to the next 45...

New York Times 2

Like other places filled with traipsing tourists, Times Square is filled with people trying to shove pieces of paper into your hand as you walk by. Some of these are simply trying to encourage you to visit a comedy club around the corner, or one of the many Broadway or off-Broadway musicals. All very well. What I found more interesting were the people holding out flyers for religious reasons. One of the more bizarre was the elderly Chinese woman who was handing out pieces of paper with the warning not to get the mark of the Beast, which is 666 if you didn't know (shame on you if you didn't). Of course I took the paper, and I read it with interest. and having done so, I'm not really sure what her point was. She wasn't trying to sell a particular church or anything. She just felt the need to warn people of the Beast and his mark. A free service as it were. And for that I suppose I should be grateful.

A little further along the sidewalk was Lloyd. I didn't know his name was Lloyd at this point, he was just another person handing out flyers to passers by. Lloyd's flyers were professionally printed glossy cards inviting us to go and watch an "orientation" video about the virtues of Scientology. Now normally I would just keep on walking and probably not even accept the card as it was held out to me. But not this time. This time I showed an interest, and I learned that the New York office of the Church of Scientology was just round the corner. We toyed with the idea of paying a visit, but the lure of the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building proved too much and so we assured Lloyd that we might come and view the film tomorrow.

And that's exactly what we did. The next day (after our return visit to the camera shop), we crossed Times Square to see what Scientology had to offer us. Inside the impressive church/office building, we were greeted by a receptionist who ushered us down some stairs to another receptionist. We explained to the second receptionist that we were here to see the orientation video. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, Lloyd appeared. He explained that the orientation video lasted about 45 minutes and that it would be showing again in about 20 minutes, but while we were waiting we could look at a display that explained some of the ideas behind Scientology and "Dianetics" the so-called science of the mind upon which much of Scientology was based.

It was at this point that I think both Rachel and I started to have concerns that maybe we had already taken things a little too far. For me, it was probably the slightly-too-firm grip of Lloyd's handshake as he asked us our names and led me by the hand down a corridor further into the building. We were already forming our excuses.

"We're keen to see the orientation video", I explained, "but we are due to meet friends in Central Park at around 3.30pm", I fibbed, looking at a clock to pick a time that would give us about 30 minutes to spare for the Scientologists.

"That's OK", said Lloyd, who had probably heard every excuse in the book. "I suggest you watch the Dianetics video. That lasts only 15 minutes, and gives you an introduction to some of the ideas behind Scientology." That sounded like a good compromise.

Lloyd led us into a small auditorium (i.e., a room with no windows) in which there were rows of seats laid out facing a cinema screen on one wall. We were the only ones there. Lloyd turned out the lights and left the room as the film started. The film was a glossily produced, but poorly acted, attempt to introduce the basic ideas behind Dianetics, a "modern science of mental health" devised by the founder of Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard. Some of the ideas I had no trouble with. For example, I'm happy to accept that we can be affected by events that have happened to us in the past, and that if we increase our awareness of how these influence us we might be better for it. This seems to be a major part of what Dianetics is saying. However, the reliance on what seemed to be pop-psychology concepts like the "analytical mind" and the "reactive mind" didn't sit too well. About half way through the video, both Rachel and I suddenly started to wonder how easy it would be for us to actually get out of the building. And once this panic set in, it was hard to shift. I even suggested that maybe they were recording everything we were saying, after which I was careful not to say anything critical about the insightful and well acted film we were watching.

The moment the film ended, the strip lights were turned back on (who needs retinas?), and a young man appeared holding a couple of clip boards. No sign of Lloyd. Oh dear, they're dragging us in, I thought! The panic was uncalled for. He simply wanted our opinions on the film, some contact details, and to know if we'd be interested in attending one of their seminars.

So we survived! We had a chance to talk further with Lloyd when he reappeared (how does he do that?), and we even bought a couple of books on Dianetics so we could do some further research. We re-emerged in Times Square and continued on our walk to Central Park to meet our "friends". All we need to do now is make sure we avoid getting the mark of the Beast.

More information about Dianetics and Scientology can be found at and (I don't think the elderly Chinese woman has a website.)

Friday, 30 March 2007

New York Times 1

Our first taste of Times Square seemed unreal. I think it was all the more impressive as we kind of stumbled upon it by accident (it was less than a block away from our hotel). It really was a case of bright lights, big city! The constant movement of the hugely colourful advertising displays against the backdrop of the clear blue sky, the stream of yellow taxis, and the thousands of people made London's Piccadilly Circus seem, well, a bit crap.

We were in need of a camera. As there were a few camera shops handily located on Times Square, we popped into one of these to see what we could pick up. We opted for a neat little Casio model in a rather fetching blue. At $350, it was probably a little more than we had hoped to pay but roughly equivalent to what we would have paid back in the UK. The $200 we had to pay for a 1Gb memory card seemed a bit steep but not completely unreasonable and something we needed if we wanted to take more than 10 pictures before having to download the pics on to the computer. At least we could now record the unreality of Times Square, the majesty of the Statue of Liberty, and the breathtaking views from the top of the Empire State Building. We even took a photograph of the nice man who sold us the camera with his not-at-all-gay friend (see below).

It wasn't until the next day that Rachel revealed that she had since looked on the internet and discovered that we paid well over the odds for the camera we had bought. Even more galling was the price of 1Gb memory cards online: $50! I believe we had been what is commonly called "shafted". In our rush to record the technicolour beauty of Times Square we had foolishly handed over more Monopoly money than we should have (Rach had actually put it on her credit card, but you get my point).

At this point we had two choices. Either we forget about it, put it down to experience and get on with things (vowing to take extra care in the future). Or we take the camera back and ask for our money back. We wanted our money back, but we knew this would not be an easy thing to do (we are British after all!). Once we had located the receipt, the decision was made for us. In block capitals across the slip of paper it stated, in no uncertain terms, NO REFUNDS. Shit. (It didn't say "shit" on the receipt... that's my reaction to the No Refunds bit. But you knew that, right?)

It seemed that all was lost. Until we noticed that it did say that exchanges could be made within 7 days. Maybe we could salvage something. Not a refund, but perhaps we could change the camera for a better model, or get a memory card with more memory. Or something. Anything that might make us feel a little less foolish. And if we had no success then at least we had tried. Then we could put it down to experience.

As we walked back to the shop we agreed that our best chance of having some success was to be as open and friendly as possible with the salesman rather than telling him exactly what we thought of him. In fact, all we initially complained about was the fact that camera had only come with a very basic instruction manual and so we weren't able to work the camera's various features. We told him that as we were now aware that we had paid well over the odds for the camera, we at least expected we should have an instruction manual! Almost immediately he offered to replace the camera for a different, more expensive, model. We tried to hide our delight. We must have been at least somewhat successful in doing so, as within minutes he also offered to replace the 1Gb memory card with a card with 4 (count them... four!) Gb of memory. Result. We thanked him and edged our way back out into the bustle of Times Square. We had learned an important lesson that day. In fact we had learned two lessons. First, a fool and his money (or her money) are soon parted. Second, and perhaps more importantly, smile when you're complaining and you might just get your money back (or a 4Gb memory card!).

The Lady Vanishes

What does it mean to be “free”? If we are free, what does this freedom allow or entitle us to do? One of America’s best known symbols of freedom has stood proudly in New York harbour since 1886, reminding US citizens that they are resident in the land of the free.

On the centenary of the Statue of Liberty’s erection (steady on…), magician David Copperfield made her disappear. In his uniquely smarmy way, he used nothing more than the power of his mind and a few tonnes of hydraulics to vanish Lady Liberty and remind America of what this monument symbolizes. In designing this grand illusion, he told the millions of TV viewers watching, he had explained to his co-conspirators that it was important that the statue must reappear. Yeah, right. Like he could figure out a way to make it “disappear” that didn’t mean it would have to “reappear”. Twat. He implied that without the Statue of Liberty, the USA would no longer have it’s Freedom. As I say… twat. It would appear that nobody told Dave that if the Statue disappears then your freedom doesn’t disappear along with it. (Check out Dave's smarminess and silver jacket as he makes the Statue disappear on youtube.)

(By the way, I presume I don’t I need to point out that this is not the same David Copperfield written about by Charles Dickens. Nor is it the same one who was the star of the 1980’s TV sketch show Three of a Kind, supported by Tracy Ullman and Lenny Henry.)

On our visit to Liberty Island, we too found this remarkable monument to be a worthy reminder of the “freedom” we so often take for granted. Especially as we had to pass through two airport-style security checks to reach the statue.

But the question still remains. What does it mean to be “free”? I found an interesting answer to this question in a quote from Jean-Paul Sartre displayed next to one of the exhibits in the museum in the Statue’s pedestal. It read “Liberty is not the power to do what one wants, but it is the desire to what one can.” Wise words mate.

Thursday, 29 March 2007

That darn cube!

Rubik's Cube

As I mentioned in a previous post, I was recently bought a Rubik's Cube as a Christmas present by my sister.
3 mins to 2 mins.
now focus on number of moves rather than speed

29 March 07: 120 moves

29 March: 101 moves
b njn

Bright Lights, Big City

"New York, New York! So good they named it twice..."

Well, that’s the easy bit done! Continental Airlines delivered us safely to Newark pretty much right on schedule (thanks dad, by the way, for the lift to the airport this morning through rush hour traffic… I hope you agree that the half eaten Jamaican Ginger Cake more than repays the favour!).

All we need to do now is negotiate our way across the 3,000 or so miles across the US to LA over the coming weeks. Piece of piss. But before we do that we want to experience all that NYC has to offer. They say that it is the city that never sleeps. Really? I'm not so sure... within half an hour of arriving at our hotel, both Rachel (or should I say Thelma) and I were fast asleep. So that's one myth busted already!

To be honest, I don't think this is a reflection on the Big Apple itself. Neither of us had slept on the flight as we watched the in-flight movie (Bewitched) and chatted to a Professor of Law in the seat next to us about the economic analysis of law and the concept of 'karma' (as you do...). So we were both in need of a nap.

On landing at Newark Liberty, we passed through Immigration without a hitch. We almost got caught out by those sneaky questions on the green Visa waiver we had filled out on the plane. But fortunately we were able to answer these honestly and say that we were not seeking entry to the United States to engage in criminal or immoral activities, that were had never been involved in espionage, sabotage or genocide, and that between 1933 and 1945 we had not been involved, in any way, in persecutions associated with Nazi Germany or its allies. (I wonder how many spies or Nazi sympathizers they catch with those?)

Our cab driver who brought us into Manhattan was Hassan. Rachel discovered that he was originally from Egypt. I say "discovered" as though she pieced together a number of subtle clues in much the same way Inspector Morse might have done, whereas her direct questioning ("where are you from?") was probably more in the style of Sergeant Lewis. Hassan proceeded to tell us that he now lived in New Jersey, having moved to the USA from Cairo 27 years ago. In fact, Rachel and Hassan struck up quite a conversation as Rachel explained she had visited Cairo some years before, and I was impressed to learn that she also knew one word of Arabic... "Enchala" (no doubt spelled wrong...). It means "God willing". I liked that. And the more Hassan turned to face Rachel in the back of the car as he veered from one lane to another the more I could hear the word going round in my head. But he did get us to our hotel, the Hotel QT on West 45th Street, in one piece so he earned his tip (which we had to pay in dollars as we had given away our last piece of Jamaican Ginger Cake that morning).

So, as I say, that's the easy bit done. Now the fun really starts...

Tuesday, 27 March 2007

Road Trip!

"California, here I come... right back where I started from!" Well, that's not strictly true. I didn't start in California at all. I started in a little place called Tarvin, near Chester, in England. But that's not important right now.

The important thing is that I'm coming/going (I don't know if I'm coming or going...) to California! In fact, not just California. California will be the end point of a road trip across the USA! We fly out to New York tomorrow, spend a few days there before taking the train up to Boston. In Boston we pick up a hire car, tour New England, and then pick a route across the States to ensure that we arrive in Los Angeles in time to catch a flight back home on April 21st. It is going to be a trip of a lifetime.

There are many reasons for this trip (although would you need a reason?). The main reason is that Rachel, my partner, has always wanted to do a road trip across America. This year she turns 30 and so it seemed as good a time as any to go and do it. And who am I to stop her? The original "plan" (there was no plan, we had just talked about it a little) was to maybe go in August. We would then have a few months to plan the trip and contact people we both knew in the States. Then things changed. Something inside suggested that we didn't need to wait until August. We could go at Easter. Before we knew it, we had booked the flights.

Coincidentally, (we'll talk about coincidences another time...) there are other reasons why this is a good time to go. One of these is that by going now I will have an opportunity to meet up with some potentially important people to do with my work (again, more on that another time). So it all seems to be working out.

It'll be just like Thelma and Louise! Only I'm not a woman... And we don't plan on killing anyone... And I hope we don't drive off any cliffs. But apart from that it will be just like Thelma and Louise!

Sunday, 25 March 2007

The Spiritual Zone

Is there a "Spiritual Zone"? Gary Quinn seems to think so. And he should know because he lives there. And he says you can too! I think Gary actually lives in Beverly Hills in California, but I'm guessing the Spiritual Zone isn't a geographical thing, nor is it to do with the size of the house you live in. No, according to Gary, the Spiritual Zone is "a welcoming place of trust, peace, love, belonging, joy and abundance". Cool. (A house in Beverly Hills is just a bonus.)

On a recent trip to the library, I picked up Gary's book Living in the Spiritual Zone (published by Hodder Mobius). The book's subtitle is 10 Steps to Change Your Life and Discover Your Truth. That's right. It's one of those New Agey type self-help books that in the past I would be so dismissive about. But that was the old me. The new me decided to borrow the book. And who knows, I might even get round to reading it.

That was a few months ago. Having re-newed the book with the library a few times, I did finally get round to reading it. And do you know what? It was actually pretty good! He talks about all the stuff that these kinds of books usually talk about (love, truth, forgiveness... that kind of shit) in a way that is very accessible and isn't too "preachy". In fact, it all made a lot of sense.

I guess the next step would be to put it into practice. But when I do, there'll be no stopping me... Beverly Hills, here I come!

Friday, 23 March 2007

Robot fish

Last weekend I found myself in London. I don't mean that in a "spiritual" sense, in the way that you might go to India to "find yourself", I mean that I just happened to be in London for a friend's birthday party.

Whilst there, we decided to visit the London Aquarium. As is the case with most aquariums (or should that be aquaria?), there was a good range of fish on offer from huge great sharks to tiny clownfish (which reminds me, I must watch Finding Nemo one of these days). One tank in particular caught my attention. The sign at the top said "Robot Fish", and swimming around inside were three fish that had small flashing lights on their backs. As far as I was concerned, if it wasn't for the flashing lights, these could have been real fish. They looked like real fish, they moved like real fish and, who knows, maybe they would have even tasted like real fish!

As I walked away from the robot fish, I was left wondering... if they can make those fish look and act like real fish, how do I know that the rest of the fish on display weren't also robot fish?

I can't help feeling I've been duped.

Elephants and Donkeys Grow Big Ears

Wednesday, 21 March 2007

Does God play with a Rubik's Cube?

If you're around the same age as me (I'll be 37 this year) you'll remember Rubik's Cube. It became massively popular in the early 1980's and you probably owned one when you were somewhere between 10 and 14 years old. I did. And I remember playing with it for hours at a time in my bedroom (at least that's my story and I'm sticking to it). Like anyone else who fiddled with it (the cube that is), I was trying to figure out how on earth you were supposed to get each of the six sides of the cube to be made up of a single colour! It seemed impossible. In fact, as far as I was concerned it was. Until I bought a book.

It was called something like How to Solve the Rubik's Cube and it explained how to, well, solve the Rubik's Cube (thereby justifying its title) by taking you through the different combinations of turns of each face of the cube you would need to do in order to solve it. It was complicated stuff and so you needed a heck of a lot of patience to follow the guide and solve the cube (or more accurately you needed to be in desperate need of a social life). Luckily for me, I had zero social life and patience is my middle name (it's actually David but I'm making a point here). So while my peers were out chasing girls, I was spending much of my precious time engaged in 'cubing'. And it was time well spent, as it wasn't long before I was able to solve the cube! Okay, it may have taken me a couple of weeks, but I had done it. And sure, I had needed the help of a book to achieve it, but nevertheless I had solved the Rubik's Cube! Friends of mine may well have been out losing their virginity, but I had found a way to make each side of a coloured plastic toy consist of all one colour. Do we need to ask which is more important?

With practice, I was able to reduce the time it took me to solve the cube. The second time I completed the cube it took me just a few hours. The third time I managed to solve it in less than an hour. Impressive, eh? With each attempt, the time it took to solve the cube got shorter and shorter. It wasn't long before I could solve it in less than 10 minutes and then in less than 5 minutes! My eventual record was 1 minute 22 seconds! (In fact I have a memory that on one occasion, while watching Blockbusters, I completed the cube in a fraction of a second under a minute but on the very final turn of the cube, a cheap imitation cube and not a "real" Rubik's Cube, the whole thing just fell apart).

I hear you asking: So what? What is so interesting about the fact that I, like thousands or possibly millions of other youngsters at that time, spent an unhealthy proportion of my teens playing with a Rubik's Cube? It's a good question, which is why I'm glad you asked it. And if I'm honest I'm not sure I know the answer. If nothing else, it's just a bit of nostalgia. And a bit of nostalgia never did anyone any harm.

The nostalgia was brought back with full force when I unwrapped a Christmas present from my sister last year. It was a Rubik's Cube. A real Rubik's Cube, not a cheap imitation one, but a real one! As I removed it from its packaging, I was amazed at how the mere feel of the cube took me back more than 20 years as I remembered how it felt to hold a cube back then. It was a strange sensation. As I started to slowly turn the faces of the cube, it triggered some long "forgotten" memories of having done this as a teenager. Within minutes I found myself remembering some fairly simple moves to complete the top layer of the cube (i.e., making one side a block of one colour, with the top layer of the four surrounding sides also in place). I impressed myself! What's more, without really thinking about what I was doing, a few turns later I had completed the second layer. The final layer was the hardest, because the aim is to get the remaining few pieces into place without displacing the pieces on the first and second layer that are already in place. But again, I soon found myself almost unconsciously remembering the moves that were required to solve the last parts of the puzzle. Within a matter of hours of picking up the cube for the first time in over 20 years, I had solved it! I was amazed (as I can tell you are). I was amazed that this information (and let's face it, fairly useless information) had somehow been tucked away in my brain all this time so that 20 odd years later I was able to retrieve it so readily. It just goes to show how much information seems to be stored in this big lump of goo in our head (please stop me if I'm getting too technical by the way).

I still sense you're sitting there (or standing, but probably sitting) thinking... "And? So? Your point is?!". Do I have a point? I guess the point is that I think we typically underestimate how much information or knowledge we hold on to in our brains without even knowing about it. Even though we don't realise it, things we may have done as a child are still stored away and you may be surprised how much you remember when something triggers that childhood memory. And who knows, maybe the Rubik's Cube is in some weird way symbolic of life itself. A puzzle to solve. 42 million combinations, but only one solution. Or maybe it's just a toy.

On this last note, I am reminded of the trendy vicar types who used to, and maybe still do, appear on Radio 4's Thought For The Day and might talk as I have about Rubik's Cubes thinking these are still a part of popular culture. And then, in a desperate attempt to crowbar God into things, might say something like, "...and, you know, in a funny sort of way Jesus is like a Rubik's Cube, isn't he?". Nice try vicar. But let's face it, He isn't.



Saturday, 17 March 2007

Big Issue

John Bird set up Big Issue.
Book: How to Change Your Life in 7 Steps.


Friday, 16 March 2007

Yo Mother!

It's Mother's Day on Sunday (I'm never sure if it should be Mother's Day or Mothers' Day?). Don't panic if you're reading this in the US (forever hopeful that my blog is being read across the Atlantic!)... you guys don't celebrate your mothers until May. So you still have plenty of time to leave present-buying to the last minute. Here in the UK, this time is already upon us.

The question is what to buy? A card from the petrol station round the corner doesn't really seem to do the job. I'm not sure it really says "Happy Mother's Day... thanks for all you have done for me, for giving me life, caring for me, loving me, and for still doing my washing for me even when I left home". Perhaps a box of chocolates would say that?

I don't know about you (how could I?), but I do often find buying presents quite a hard thing to do. Maybe it's because I'm a man, but buying presents can be quite stressful at times! Especially if you're buying for a woman, whether it's your mum or the other special lady in your life (no, I'm not talking about that woman who works behind the bar at the White Horse). Because women like different things to men, don't they? Things like creams, lotions, smelly candles, that kind of stuff (I can sense now that the men reading this are already beginning to drift off...). And how much do you spend? They'll tell you that it's the thought that counts, but I get the feeling that, by and large, more expensive thoughts count for more!

As Mother's Day approaches, not only do I think of my own mum (of course), but I also find myself thinking of another mum. A woman I've not met personlly, but who I find enormously inspiring. Her name is Gee Verona Walker. Many of you will not have heard of her, or will at least not know her name. However, some of you will have seen her in television news reports following the murder of her 18 year 0ld son, Anthony, in July 2005.

Late on 29 July 2005, Anthony Walker was waiting with his girlfriend and his cousin at a bus stop near his home in a suburb of Liverpool. While they were waiting, another teenager started shouting abuse at them, and so they decided to walk to the next bus stop, taking a short cut through a park. They were then ambushed by two youths, one of whom was now carrying an ice axe. Anthony was killed by a single blow to the head with the axe.

The judge at the murder trial, which found two men guilty of the killing, concluded that it had been racially motivated. Anthony was black, his attackers were white, and it had been racist abuse that had been shouted by one of his attackers earlier at the bus stop.

Why am I telling you this, I hear you ask. I started off with what seemed to be a light-hearted look at Mother's Day, and now I'm talking about a horrific murder that took place almost 2 years ago. And what has any of this got to do with being 'spiritual'??

Well, following Anthony Walker's murder, there was a huge amount of media coverage, first about the murder itself and then about the police investigation and the subsequent trial. During this time, it was the behaviour of Anthony's mother, Gee, that stuck in my memory. Gee Walker held a very strong Christian faith, and because of this she found it in her heart to forgive the men who had killed her son. She was truly able to forgive them for what they had done.

Following the conviction of her son's killers she sai
d, "Unforgiveness makes you a victim and why should I be a victim? Anthony spent his life forgiving. His life stood for peace, love and forgiveness and I brought them up that way" she said following the conviction of her son's killers. "I have to practice what I preach. I don't feel any bitterness towards them really, truly, all I feel is... I feel sad for the family."

I don't know how many of us would be able to do the same thing. To forgive someone for deliberately and so violently taking the life of our child. and the 'reason' being because of the colour of his skin.

Since Anthony's murder, Gee Walker has continued to work tirelessly to ensure that her son's death was not in vain. She and her family have set up the Anthony Walker Foundation dedicated to educate children about racism. All in all, a truly inspirational woman with an inspirational family.

So maybe I'm thinking too much about what I buy my mum for Mother's Day. Maybe it doesn't really matter, as long as I tell her and show her that I love her. Perhaps more importantly, I need to learn to tell her this more often, as one day one of us won't be there to say it or hear it.

Wednesday, 14 March 2007


Are you a smoker or a non-smoker? The question implies you are one or the other. So which is it to be? Smoker or non-smoker?

Today I am a non-smoker. And not just because it is National No Smoking Day. I have been a non-smoker for the past 2 months, 15 days, and about 8 hours (not that I'm counting...), having given up at the end of last year. But it's not the first time I have stopped smoking. Before this time, I gave up smoking around 7 years ago and didn't have a cigarette for over 6 years!

I smoked my first cigarette in my late teens. Both my parents smoked, and I used to go on at them about how they should stop smoking. Then one day, I thought I'd try one. I secretly took one of my dad's Silk Cut (I was straight on the hard stuff) and went upstairs and locked myself in the bathroom. I remember thinking the taste of it was awful as I lent out of the window. But it didn't stop me doing it again a few days later. And I suppose I eventually developed a taste for them, or at least I learned to ignore just how horrible they did taste. And I was at that age. I was just starting to go to pubs, and so perhaps I thought it was 'cool' to be smoking cigarettes... all the cool people smoke, don't they?

So I became a smoker for the next 10 years or so. And then I stopped and became a non-smoker for 6 years. Then last year, I started again and became a smoker. And now, as I've said, I am a non-smoker. Have been for the last 2 months, 15 days, 8 hours and 20 minutes (not that I'm counting...).

So I guess I'm saying it might make more sense not to think of yourself as a smoker or a non-smoker, but rather simply someone who has either recently smoked cigarettes or not. Maybe you'll carry on smoking cigarettes tomorrow, maybe you won't. After all, tomorrow is another day (how's that for profound?).

Now, if you're a smoker and you're wanting to become a non-smoker (although didn't I just say perhaps we shouldn't think of ourselves as smokers or non-smokers? Oh well...), you'll realise it is really hard. As well as dealing with the addiction to nicotine (does anyone else remember the stop smoking adverts on TV with the evil Nick O'Tine?), there is also the habitual aspect of smoking. When we give up smoking, we have to give up a way of thinking.

When you're a smoker (we're doing it again!) it is extremely difficult to think like a non-smoker. It is hard to imagine life without cigarettes. In fact, it is not until you are able to experience life without smoking that you can appreciate that it is possible to do without them, just like it was possible to do without them before you first started smoking. Yes, no matter how long you've been smoking there was a time when you weren't a smoker. Of course, I've never met you but I'm guessing you didn't arrive into this world with a Marlboro Light in your mouth asking the midwife if she had a light.

The thing with cigarettes is that once you have picked up the habit it becomes mightily difficult to imagine life without them. You can't ever imagine going to the pub and not smoking, or imagine not lighting one up when you sit down to enjoy your cup of coffee. But it is possible. It is possible to enjoy life without cigarettes. In fact, you get your life back. You get to choose where to go for lunch and not be restricted by where you can smoke (which will soon be even more restricted!).

I don't want to turn into one of those irritating ex-smokers who go on and on about the terrible habit that they've managed to conquer. And I don't want to nag anyone to give up smoking (been there and done that when I was a teenager). But if you are trying to stop smoking, or at least trying to not have a cigarette today, then best of luck. And if you don't manage to give up straight away, don't beat yourself up about it. You can always try again. But, believe me, it is worth the effort.