Tuesday, June 5, 2012

'Not to set trip but my car jets west, as I drift over cliff, the sunset yes, it's me and myself.'

It’s a funny feeling when something, or somebody, has an impact on you. For me, it feels like a little niggle, an itch you can’t quite scratch, something implanted in the back of your mind that just won’t let up no matter how hard you try to get rid. I can remember one of the last times a film made a truly remarkable impact on me because the feelings I had weren’t entirely positive, and they lingered. I was sombre, retrospective, almost verging on numb. It was after I’d been to see Revolutionary Road, years ago now, and I struggled for almost a week afterwards trying to surmise how I felt about it in words. I couldn’t even discuss it eloquently, let alone put it to paper like I was meant to. To this day, I still don’t know what exactly it was that carried such an emotional weight for me. I still maintain it was because I felt so conflicted; I lacked sincere empathy and emotion for the characters, and yet I thought the point being made was a profoundly complex one; life had trapped these people and made them so desperately unhappy that is was almost unbearable to watch. It was a claustrophobic tale of suburbia that frightened me to the point that I couldn’t even reach a conclusion to whether I liked it or not as a piece of film.  Needless to say, Revolutionary Road still baffles me. Or should I say, the reaction I had towards it does.

There have been films that have touched me, left a marked impression and encouraged me to probe deeper into issues and my feelings towards them. To me, this is a stamp of incredible film-making. If you can carry a piece of cinema with you long after the credits have rolled, in this age of forgettable storytelling, you have achieved quite a feat. Senna does this.

I watched it twice within a matter of days, at the recommendation of a friend whose praise was so ridiculously high that I almost did it more to appease her than satisfy my own curiosity. I’ve always nursed a vague interest in Formula One. This comes from my days working Sundays at an old man’s pub in a neighbouring little village during one summer holiday from university. One of the regulars was an engineer and used to take great delight in explaining some of the finer details of the cars to me. Almost all of it went straight over my head, but I found a respect for the crafting and construction of the machines themselves.  When I think back, that is what I always liked about racing; the technical aspect, the innovations, the amazing engineering. I can safely say I never once thought about the ability or mindset of a Formula One driver. More the fool, me.

Enter stage left, Senna. I almost feel stupid for not having paid much attention to the name before, and for not realising the impact that his name alone has, both in sport and outside of it. The documentary itself is verging on flawless. It is brilliantly constructed, superbly edited and utterly compelling from the outset. An outpouring of adjectives, but justly so. The story, charting Senna’s rise to the top of F1, his bitter rivalry with one-time teammate Alain Prost to his ultimate death in Imola, is paced just right. There are no tangents or talking heads to distract the audience from the man himself and what he achieves on, and off, the track. The racing scenes, intercutting television archive footage and film taken from cameras on the cars themselves, are transporting. It is an extremely effective editing technique, setting the perfect sense of tone and pace, and creating insurmountable tension at the appropriate moment. And, of course, it’s the fact it is all real that really makes it pitch-perfect.

But all of this is serving a purpose, and that purpose is to highlight the fascinating scope of its subject. Senna is dedicated to the point of reckless, motivated by a desire to win that is verging on self-destructive, spiritual to an extent that his peers believe him to consider himself immortal. More than anything else, this is a film about a human being. There have been criticisms of Senna that suggest it doesn’t transcend much beyond a deftly-edited sports documentary or a well-rounded biography, and that it verges on voyeurism and hagiography. I think that perhaps these particular reviewers are maybe missing the point. What makes Senna work so brilliantly, in my humble opinion, is the attempt to truly try and understand this man. His dedication to his profession is resolute, and totally transparent. There are references to his desire to be the best, to win; underpinned by flashes of the lengths he will go to to do so. Yet, he is conflicted, constantly reminded of man’s own mortality and the ambiguous relationship this has with the very nature of motor racing. It is a portrait of an extremely complex man, whose compassion and success made him for somewhat of a national idol in his native Brazil. Senna himself borders on the edge of paradox; on one hand, here is a man who oozes humanity, who will risk his life mid-race at the scene of a crash to help an injured driver; on the other, here is a man who knows no bounds, who will force collisions and place those around him in jeopardy, in order to win. It is almost mystifying how one person’s values and beliefs can clash with such intensity.

For me, the real impact of Senna is Senna himself. I found that racing took on this new philosophical level for me that I didn’t really know to be possible. I had never looked at it from that angle before, never paid it any consideration at all really, until this film. That these men have a certain connection with their own mortality on a day-to-day basis is sort of staggering in my eyes. Then, when you try to place it into some context and realise that this relationship centres upon a basic, competitive desire to be the best – that is when the whole concept transforms into something else entirely. These are men who face death for the thrill, the enjoyment, the adrenaline. But they also do it to win. To beat everybody else. This is what separates them from bungee-jumpers, sky-divers, white-water rafters, other adrenaline junkies. Ayrton Senna once said "By being a racing driver you are under risk all the time. By being a racing driver means you are racing with other people. And if you no longer go for a gap that exists, you are no longer a racing driver because we are competing, we are competing to win. And the main motivation to all of us is to compete for victory, it's not to come 3rd, 4th, 5th or 6th." The notion that in order to be a true competitor you must flirt with danger and put yourself on the knife edge is enthralling, yet startling. Racers are a different breed. They know the risks, become the closest spectators to crashes, injuries and deaths, accept it and carry on regardless.

There is a video I came across while I was trying to find out more about the mentality of the drivers which moved me to tears. It is the footage of the 1973 Dutch Grand Prix in Zandvoort, which shows a frantic David Purley witness Roger Williamson’s car crash, skid along the circuit and burst into flames. He stops his car, runs across the track and tries to flip the burning vehicle before grabbing a fire extinguisher from a nearby fireman and attempts to the put out the blaze. He is almost frenzied in his efforts, clearly exasperated by the lack of help he is getting from the stewards and race personnel, who have nothing to protect them from the flames. It is not until the end of the recording, when his efforts prove futile and he is led away, that the desperation of the moment truly hits you. Purley is distraught, fuelled by anger in this moment, this one moment when nothing was done. A man’s life was lost and drivers were not stopping, fire engines were not racing to the scene, communication had broken down. It is gut-wrenching. People may say that it is ‘instinct’ to react in the same way in that moment, that ‘anybody would do the same’, but that footage shows a remarkable man embark on a selfless act of valour alone, beaten by circumstance  and a system unable to cope with the destructiveness that can occur within the blink of an eye. And yet, did it stop David Purley from racing? I doubt I even need to provide the answer.

Drivers rarely talk about this aspect of the sport but, when they do, they generally speak of an ability to shut the possibilities from their minds, a refusal to think of the consequences of a serious shunt. And that is a gift given only to the young. As one gets older, one's own mortality forces its way into the conscious mind and racing becomes more of a balance between the risks and the enjoyment. That is the point at which thoughts of retirement from F1 begin to occur.

This observation is particularly interesting to me, mostly due to the reference of ‘shutting the possibilities from their minds’. There is a lot of talk of mental strength in sport, but I would argue that such a high level of focus is not necessary in most sports professions. That said, I am not a sportsperson, so am ill-equipped to make an informed comment, but the concentration required from a racing driver seems to eclipse most other high-profile examples I can think of. I was having a conversation with a friend recently about F1 in which he likened the intense focus of the mind during a race to that essential to the fundamental ability to meditate. To paraphrase somewhat, he said drivers must block out all other thought and concentrate solely on the present. Thought of the future is limited to the immediate; what manoeuvre they must subsequently make, which corner on the circuit is next, how to overtake the driver in front. Everything else must be blocked from the mind, including fear, anxiety, self-consciousness and anger. Sometimes you can see it happening. Drivers let outside forces enter their minds and a mistake is made, the race can be lost, and sometimes, the faltering grip they have on the present leads them to crash.

“For a racing driver to gear his mind up to the level of concentration where his instinctive reactions can be relied upon totally can be quite a stressful process of preparation, involving purging the mind of all extraneous considerations. Outside influences are not welcome during this period. As five-times World Champion Juan Manuel Fangio observed: 'A driver gets very tense when someone comes to talk to him before a race. That is a time when one prefers to be alone, to think, and to be calm and collected.’”

“The moment you pass the chequered flag boom! - your mind goes down. You're just holding your mind, holding it, holding it, to the chequered flag. Then it falls to the ground. At Francorchamps this year, where we all had to go through the stress of three starts, when I saw the red flag come out for the second time, I had to suppress a desire to jump out of the car and walk away for the rest of the afternoon. It can be that intense! – Senna

The psychology of a racing driver is absolutely fascinating, but also relatively difficult to comprehend properly. Having never experienced it, you find yourself relying on the testimony of the drivers themselves, who seem fairly reluctant to fully discuss it. Senna is one of the few drivers who seemed willing to express himself honestly, and talked frequently about his faith and spirtuality. I found a few articles connecting to ‘flow’ which, according to Wikipedia, which is obviously always right, is ‘the mental state of operation in which a person in an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energised focus, full involvement and success in the process of the activity’. Wikipedia includes Senna as one of its examples;  

"I was already on pole, [...] and I just kept going. Suddenly I was nearly two seconds faster than anybody else, including my team mate with the same car. And suddenly I realised that I was no longer driving the car consciously. I was driving it by a kind of instinct, only I was in a different dimension. I felt as though I was driving in a tunnel. The whole circuit became a tunnel... I had reached such a high level of concentration that it was as if the car and I had become one. Together we were at the maximum. I was giving the car everything - and vice versa."

I suppose this is why all of this ended up having such a profound impact on me. Like I said, it takes something truly remarkable to not so much alter your way of thinking, but to really enhance it in some way. I found that Senna triggered a completely different level of understanding about racing, and my perception of the sport is now entirely different. I have a level of respect and awe for it that never really existed in me before. The name Ayrton Senna now comes with all of the connotations that it has for so many other people, and not because the film was biased or promoted an agenda, but because it prompted me to go off and do my own research and thinking about the man. I don’t believe you need to be an avid follower of Formula 1 to really connect with his state of mind and his perceptions of competing and being the best person can be, both personally and professionally. While obviously not perfect, he is an inspiring figure, and I’m glad the film managed to really convey that. Just like Revolutionary Road, Senna baffles me. But for entirely different reasons.

We are made of emotions, we are all looking for emotions, it's only a question of finding the way to experience them. There are many different ways of experience them all. Perhaps one different thing, only that, one particular thing that Formula One can provide you, is that you know we are always expose to danger, danger of getting hurt, danger of dying."


Tuesday, May 15, 2012

'My home town is a whole different scenery, the old timers on the stoop leaning leisurely, the new jacks up in the bar smoking greenery'

Reality. 'The world or the state of things as they actually exist, as opposed to an idealistic or notional idea of them, eg:  "he refuses to face reality".' Intense, right? I, myself, much prefer the ever-omnipresent Urban Dictionary's #1 rated effort;

'A delusionary mental status caused by a pronounced deficiency of alcohol in the bloodstream'

Or, if you want to really go for a full-throttle, philosophical, life-reassessing definition, try entry 11;

'Reality has become a commodity. When money dictates the content of Wikipedia entries, reality may be defined by the highest bidder.' It's a bit much, but I like the real depth of feeling with that one.

I've heard the word a significant amount over the last week and a half. To give you some context, I've been away from the UK for nearly three years, pulled off a nifty little surprise and bounced right back into this so-called little reality last week. Australia for a year, New Zealand for nearing on two, Thailand for just five weeks. I've not been trekking through jungles for months on end, I've not been living up a nondescript mountain trying to find myself down the path of true enlightenment and I have certainly not been hopping from place to place the entire time. Hell, I haven't even lived in a non-English speaking country. What I've been doing isn't that different from life in the UK at all. It may involve a lot more jagerbombs than the normal human being would deem healthy, but aside from that, people do exactly what I did in my time away in thousands of places all across the globe. So what then, I hear you ask, is so fucking big and clever about travelling? Why have I come home feeling weird and antsy, and not quite ready for all of this 'reality' shit everybody keeps banging on about? In short, what makes coming home so hard?
Let's start with the obvious:

Why does one go travelling in the first place?

There's not really a cookie-cutter answer for this question. Reasons vary from person to person depending on circumstance and whatnot. I was only intending on going to Australia for a month when I first left, egged on by my brother, who had done a three and a half year stint in times gone by, to extend it to a year. A year became two, became three. My motivations were pretty much that I had just finished uni, didn't fancy the bright lights of London, the green fields and endless roundabouts of Hampshire or the 22,000 students of Cardiff when I was not one, and was real adverse to the idea of going full whack straight into a job that could define the next ten years of my life. I'd like to stress that this was because I had no idea what I wanted to do for the summer of 2009, let alone the ten summers after that. The people who know what they want to do with their lives should never forget that they really are extraordinarily lucky. Most importantly, I thought it would be a great way to extend the glory days of university; meeting new people, drinking myself blind and having next to no responsibility. My 20-year-old self liked to party, what can I say. My 23-year-old self still thinks she's 20.

OK, I get that. But where exactly is the value in it?

This is something that bothers me a great deal and I have an image of myself in 20 years being asked this question and gritting my teeth, rolling my eyes and counting to ten. It's like asking for the value in forging a career, getting a mortgage, settling down with your partner; things that society place great emphasis on in order to make you happy. If travelling makes you happy, isn't there an unbelievable value in it? And is it not slightly ignorant to even ask the question if that is the case? And if you really want to go further than that completely fucking obvious point, then let's go all out. I cannot stress enough how valuable I believe travelling can be for people. It builds your self-confidence in a unparalleled way, pushes you into new situations, makes you a great deal more open-minded and at times, forces you to really look in the mirror and come to terms with the things that perhaps ain't so pretty. I know that this is probably one of the most cliched terms that people use when discussing the merits of travel, but it's fucking true and that's why people say it: you learn a great deal about yourself. I will not apologise for saying that, as cheesy as it is, because I believe it whole-heartedly. So there.

But don't you miss home??

Sure. It'd probably be weirder if you didn't. The biggest thing I faced when I was away was loneliness. You make friends and have some relationships that will continue for years, but there are sometimes periods where things aren't so rosy and that's where the real test is. You may wonder what you're doing, where you're going next, you may get bored, unstimulated, confused. Home is maybe the first thing on your mind in those situations. But such is life; you go through ups and downs while travelling just like anybody else. It's not a perfect existence where you avoid the realities of being a human being; there are amazing times and there are shitty times. Some days you think of home, some days you don't. A lot of people make a decision, sooner or later, to go back to wherever home may be. Some people regret it, some don't. Whatever the case, home will always be a huge part of your life.

So, you're home. Back to reality. What are you gonna do now?

Jeepers. This is the question that terrified me on coming home. I threw myself headfirst into the wolfpack on my return; without really thinking through the inevitable 'HOLY SHIT!' thought processes that I was sure to experience, I decided to surprise my whole family at my Mum's 60th birthday party. 80+ people, some of whom I'd not seen for over ten years and all of them dying to ask the same question: 'So Francesca, what will you do now?'. After a barrage of these in a multitude of forms, I nearly decked the last person who asked me, which would've been a shame as I've known him as long as I can remember and he really does have a lovely vegetable garden. I made to sure to ask him about that before I made my excuses and ran away screaming into the night wondering what on earth I had done. I am slightly exaggerating, of course. But it's a difficult question to process within the first 24 hours of landing on home soil, particularly if you've not paid the concept much attention beforehand. Nearly two weeks later, it hasn't gotten much better. Most people I encountered, mostly those in my parents generation, thought after three years I would have 'gotten it out of my system' and would finally be ready to 'settle down' and get a 'real job'. I don't know. What the fuck is a 'real' job anyway? My experience of 'proper' jobs comes in the form of my friends, who after graduating have moved to the city, edged their way up the career ladder by working their asses off and in the process are doing pretty darn well for themselves. I am nothing but proud of them for that. The one thing I wish I could articulately explain is why I don't feel the need to do this yet. I totally get why they have made those decisions and I applaud them for it. Truth is, I am just not ready. I don't think it's wrong, I don't think it's invaluable and I don't think it's a waste. Far from it. I just know it's not the path for me yet. I have met a lot of people who have done the 9-5 thing, the career, the money and the professional and personal status. Some of them thrive on it. Some are miserable. Everybody is different and I just wish I could get across that all it is is a difference of perspective. Life can be as fulfilling travelling as it is when you have a made another move upwards in your career, or a step forwards in your personal life. The happiness that derives from travel has a simplicity that life in a career-driven place like the UK does not. As a good friend of mine said to me just yesterday;

'Traveling let's you appreciate the moment, not the impending stress of the future... I think it's more open minded, and for me, more relaxed and fair... You appreciate the smaller stuff. Happiness isn't measured in success or social standing. If you are happy you are happy.'

If this means you work 50 hours a week serving wet pussies and slippery nipples to shitfaced travelers in a backpacker bar, so be it. If it means you slave away in the sweltering sun picking various seasonal fruits on a farm in the middle of fucking nowhere, then you do what you gotta do. If it means handing out tedious flyers for ridiculous promotions on a dark winters night, at least you can console yourself that it is for a purpose. It is, for the most part, a means to an end; you do it so you can experience the world in the process and you should never look down on somebody for doing something that, in turn, will make them happy.

At the end of the day, that is what this very long-winded, nonsensical verbal diarrhea that I've just spouted is about - being happy. I think one of the main things I've taken out of my time away is to just try and make sure that that's what I am. However it is achieved, life really is too short for otherwise. The majority of Western culture, in my humble opinion, is over-populated with materialistic values, the craving for status and the inane need to make other people believe that you are succeeding in life. I find all of this a bit suffocating, and one of my favourite things about travelling is that it is an opportunity to give you an alternative. That said, I'm only 23 and I still have a hell of a lot to learn. I just hope I can do it with a little bit of pazazz, and a great big goofy grin on my face.

'For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move; to feel the needs and hitches of our life more nearly; to come down off this feather-bed of civilization, and find the globe granite underfoot and strewn with cutting flints.'
- Robert Louis Stevenson

Thursday, June 2, 2011

'One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine. Ten.'

1. Never let no-one know how much dough you hold, 'cause you know the cheddar breed jealousy.
2. Never let 'em know your next move. Don't you know bad boys move in silence or violence.
3. Never trust nobody.
4. Never get high on your own supply.
5. Never sell no crack where you rest at.
6. That goddamn credit, dead it. You think a crackhead payin' you back, shit forget it.
7. This rule is so underrated, keep your family and business completely separated.
8. Never keep no weight on you. Them cats that squeeze your guns can hold jobs too.
9. If you ain't getting bags stay the fuck from police.
10. A strong word called consignment, strictly for live men, not for freshmen. If you ain't got the clientele say hell no, 'cause they gon' want they money rain, sleet, hail, snow.

A headline, one that quickly got pushed down the list of most "important" stories for today I'd like to point out, on the BBC website today: 'Global war on drugs 'has failed' say former leaders'. Three words, and excuse my French: No fucking shit.

I think the 'War on Drugs' probably grinds my gears more than the 'War on Terror', and that bad boy gets more than a grimace when brought up in conversation. In fact, all 'wars' that are waged against a concept or social or cultural problem get me agitated. As once quoted by my beloved Wire:

'You can't even call this shit a war.'
'Why not?'
'Wars end.'

And therein lies a fundamental problem, no? How on earth do you wage war against a global problem that nobody really knows how to fight. Or if people do have possible solutions, current governing bodies wholly disagree and choose instead to fund a 'war' that, as many have pointed out, is based more upon the idea of prohibition and imprisonment that true rehabilitation or getting to the heart and soul of an issue. My big, big problem with the 'War on Terror' and the majority of Western attitudes to fundamentalism in general, lie in the extreme lack of understanding. If you're not prepared to educate and understand why this happens; why people turn to extremism, how fundamentalists manipulate the Qur'an and for what purpose, how will you ever be able to defeat the values that are the true heart of what 'terror' really is. Instead, governments throw money at shock and awe tactics, on violence and well, terror. Although obviously a slightly different scenario, the 'War on Drugs' lies on the same principles - most notably, lack of understanding.

This is all just my two cents on the matter of course. I do not truly think I know more about what's best for the whole wide world when it comes to drugs. I'm no nun and definitely no saint. But hey, life'd be boring if we all didn't have an opinion and I guess I'm just more of an opinionated fuck than most. As it turns out, there are quite a few former world leaders who also had a bit of an opinion on the matter, and their report has concluded that the war on drugs 'has not, and cannot, be won'. Probably the most interesting solutions they propose are:

  • End the criminalisation, marginalisation and stigmitisation of people who use drugs but who do no harm to others.
  • Encourage experimenation by governments with models of legal regulation of drugs, especially cannabis, to undermine the power of organised crime and safeguard the health and security of their citizens.
  • Offer a wide and easily accessible range of options for treatment and care for drug dependence, including substitution and heroin-assisted treatment, with special attention to those most at risk, inc. those in prisons and other custodial settings.
  • Countries that continue to invest mostly in a law enforcement approach, despite the evidence, should focus their repressive actions on violent organised crime and drug traffickers in order to reduce the harms associated with the illicit drug market.

Yikes, radical. I'm sure that will shake a few feathers in the global community. And, of course, the White House has already basically said that the report is a crock of shit, cleverly disguised by the word 'misguided'. And then come the figures, and the back and forth, and the blah blah blah. I think we can probably all safely say that drug production, use and supply is pretty out of control. Even if most of us don't know facts or figures, the evidence is all around us. Most have tried them, and if they haven't, they'll know shitloads who have. Most will know somebody who sells drugs, and if they don't, they'll sure as hell know a friend of a friend who does. The rule gets slightly iffy when it comes to production itself, but drugs are undoubtedly immersed in our culture. And then there's the media, the film industry, the music industry. Today, we watched The Departed - a movie centred on a violent organised crime boss who does what? Produces and supplies drugs. There are constant drug-related news items; drug mules, drug-fuelled crimes, drug arrests, drug crackdowns.. you get the picture. And then, of course, hip hop. I don't want to be a dick that generalises because, of course, it's not always the way, but this is a genre where a lot of kids have come from an environment that lives and breathes drugs; they come from the corners and they turn to music. They write about what they know, and what they know is a shitload about drugs. People think it's all egotistical bullshit about fucking bitches, popping gats or whatever and doing mountains of cocaine off some chick's tits, but listen to some of the lyrics and really listen. Put on some Nas, Notorious, Wu-Tang, 2pac, Jay-Z, even Lupe and Mos Def and they come from a real place where this shit really happens, where 12-year-olds are slinging drugs on street corners and there really aren't a whole lot of options. Not a place you'd particularly want to be.

And then comes The Wire (c'mon, you knew it was coming.. it's pretty much the fictional love of my life). These are a group of people who get it. They see the effect drug has on communities, on families, on cities and on a whole class of people. David Simon, the creator of The Wire, is pretty much a pioneer of trying to tell the world of how the drugs industry facilities the erosion of American cities. His take on the 'War on Drugs'?

"[The US government's war on drugs is] nothing more or less than a war on our underclass, succeeding only in transforming our democracy into the jailingest nation on the planet."

Man doesn't beat about the bush. According to DrugSense (they get their stats from crime reports and the FBI, but a pinch of salt, as with anything please) arrests for drug law violations in the US in 2011 will be more than the 1,663,582 people arrested in 2009, and somebody is arrested for drug-related matters every 19 second. And apparently, the U.S. government spent $500 a second on the 'War on Drugs' in 2010, equating to about $15billion for the year alone. If that's the case, think about how much money has been spent fighting a concept-war since Richard goddamn Nixon first coined the phrase in 1971. Scary shit.

So, what do you do? In Season 3 of The Wire, a very brave Major decides to see what would happen if he were to legalise drugs. All under the table of course, he sets up a zone where drug dealers and addicts can freely do their business with no police interference. It works like a charm, the crime stats drop, the violence rates decrease and everybody seems pretty happy. Everybody, that is, apart from his bosses who consequently fire his ass when they find out. It might not exactly sound like Utopia, but see where the writers are coming from and they may have a point. Perhaps not to the extent where legalising smack, crack and cocaine would be the best idea ever, but relaxing the rules and taking a less oppressive approach to drugs may not be all bad. When I read Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets (it's non-fiction, it's set in the 80s, it's brutal and it's absolutely amazing), I was genuinely shocked. There is a class of people that live in the underbelly of American society as a direct result of drugs. And the worst part seems to be that there's very little help out of the hole. As I said before, I always feel like the best way to be able to fight something is to understand it fully. Understand the drug industry; where it comes from, why it sells, where it sells and who to, who foots the bills, who makes the money, why cities are crumbling to it and what makes an addict an addict, add it all together, do the maths and figure it the fuck out. Because whatever the global community is doing right now to fight drugs clearly isn't working. And if Kofi Annan knows it, surely the rest of us can't be that far behind.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Declare this an emergency, spread a sense of urgency, and pull us through..

I don't think I have ever been in a point in my life where I have been so acutely aware of what is going on around me. That was an unbelivably vague opening line, well done. By that I mean all the batshit crazy events that seem to be unfolding at quickpace around the world; Japan being the most recent natural disaster to top the list of 'holy fuck!' moments.

Being in New Zealand is a completely different kettle of fish to being back in the UK for these sorts of things. Over here, especially since the last two earthquakes in a shaken-to-shit Christchurch, you begin to pay more and more attention to them. I felt the September 4th earthquake, my very first as a thankful natural disaster virgin. It was teensy, like a lorry grumbling past your window at some sleepy hour in the morning, but there it was none the less. I was sleeping off a horrendous hangover for the last one, but there it was.. a nasty little surprise that nobody really saw coming apart from some whacked out moon man with his theories of tide and time and earth movement. Perhaps calling him 'whacked out' is slightly hurtful, he's just a guy with some ideas, and I'll give him his kudos. If his next prediction turns out to be true, we could be getting slapped with another nice gift from Mother Nature, a 9.0+ earthquake that's supposed to be arriving sometime next weekend. Though I'm more of a skeptic than a sponge, it'll be at the back of my mind as I spend the 3-day window in an open field, near no copious amounts of water (back off, Lake Wakitapu) or unsturdy looking buildings with suspicious looking balconies.

Here, your awareness is different. When Christchurch Strike #2 kicked off, the whole country was skitsed out. You never really realise, thousands of miles away, in your nice earthquakeless country, how huge the rammifications of these things are. Of course, you are aware, and you understand, but when out of the line of fire, perspectives change. I wasn't in Christchurch, I didn't lose my house, my work, time, money, sleep, my friends or my family. But 300km away, people did. We still live here, on a lovely little faultline that likes to awake from its slumber every now and again and stir up some epic shit, in a country where the six degrees of separation rule probably isn't too far off.

If you consult the image above, of the omnious sounding 'Pacific Ring of Fire', you will notice that New Zealand sits smack bang in the middle of a nice little orange line that is supposed to represent where two plates meet. The UK sits out of view, somewhere to the top right of that picture, with no blobby orange lines to speak of. At home, your attention falls to different kinds of worries: an undeniably wellspoken public schoolboy running our country, economic shitstorms, Prince Andrew being pals with a sex offender. You know, the usual. I can think of only once that I ever remember the earth moving back home. I think a couple pictures fell off walls and people went apeshit. Over the last few weeks, conversations along the lines of 'What would you do if there was an earthquake here??' have been aplenty, followed by hypothesising over countless scenarios (the lake turning into a tsunami being Big Concern Number One) if it did hit big. Moonman's March 19th-21st prediction for Otago has been a hot topic, overtaking the usual stories of who slept/banged/vommed in which toilet in which bar.

One of the big ways I notice the difference in how NZ and the UK react to these things is Facebook. That sounds shit, as if it's the gateway into people's innermost thoughts and feelings or something, but check out those statuses and there'll be a big difference. I have not seen one single status update about Christchurch or Japan come from the UK, whereas there's been an inundation from people I know in NZ. Maybe my friends back home all just have hearts made of steel. Or maybe it's that level of proximity thing.. because an event just seems so unreal, you can't identify. Fuck, I can't identify either, but whether people think about it briefly just once, or it keeps popping up in your mind, it's out there - it could happen here. It did, 5 hours
away and that was close enough (take note, Mother Nature).

I'm not really sure where I'm going with this. Guess it's just one of those things I like to have a little ponder about. Any more than that and I'd end up scaring myself shitless and probably would never come out of hibernation from underneath a reinforced desk or sturdy wooden doorframe. I have a horrible fascination with natural disasters, which makes me sound like a weird, morbid freak, but there's something so interesting about what nature can do. I don't think the amount of National Geographics and David Attenborough documentaries floating about at home helps matters. Today I learnt that a whale's penis can be up to 12ft, and one of its balls can weigh up to a ton. Although still centered around genitals, it makes a nice change to the usual conversation that takes place. As I type this, in the Google search bar at the top right of the page, is 'tubgirl'. Google it, I dare ya. But you have been warned.
(P.S. These links are pretty interesting. I've included Moonman's theories because, like I said, he be a hot topic right now. Decide for yourself, and party hard 'til 2012!

Just incase.)

Friday, October 1, 2010

It's 6 million ways to die, from the seven deadly thrills, eight year olds getting found with 9mills..

I always struggle with knowing exactly how to start these posts. Considering I leave about six months between each one, there's about six million thoughts of incomprehensible length and variety to choose from.

Today, I'm shooting with The Big Picture.

The last two weeks have been interesting. I have successfully managed to be the moodiest, negi, uber-bitch in probably the whole of the southern hemisphere. There has been this niggling feeling of dissatisfaction that has been looming over me and for some reason I just couldn't shake it off. I won't lie, it's pretty difficult to try and write it down because I'm so used to stuttering over my own words, going off on a million different tangents as I try and explain to everyone and anyone what exactly is going on in my head. My head, it turns out, is lacking stimulation, and doesn't like it all that much. I'll let you in on a well-known secret about Queenstown: it's small. Very small. Which means that a lot of people here suffer from Small-Town Syndrome.

Let us explore Small-Town Syndrome a little bit. STS (not to be confused with STIs, thank you) is a terrible condition which affects people inhabiting an area that extends roughly around four blocks. Under the influence of STS, people tend to have an unflinching desire to know each other's business, enter into frequent bouts of pointless gossiping and perhaps also over-politicise situations so that even the most mundane event becomes an 'ohmigod!' scenario. I'd like to point out that STS does not affect everybody, but a fair few people fall victim to the entrapments of Small-Town Syndrome, and undoubtedly, the effects can be tragic.

This, in turn, puts me off Queenstown a fair bit. I've been here for four months. Four months of cold (nb., Mother Nature, not helping), retarded gossip, more than one or two nights that have become lost to me because of severe intoxication and well, not really having a stable job. I just have two relatively unstable jobs instead. So, this sounds like I'm having a fucking awful time right, and I bet whoever is reading this is just sat pondering why I don't just pack up my trusty Berghaus and fuck right off. Well, the thought has tempted me many a time before. A lot, actually, over the last few weeks. But now, all has become clear. The clouds have parted and I have had my brilliant, shining, halo-ridden epiphany. Queenstown has its pros (beautiful scenery, some of the most terrific people you'll ever meet, and the fact you know everybody means you'll never go hungry for a shot of vodka), and moving onto a new place for a while is problematic for many reasons. The biggest one being, I think my Grand Plan For 2011 is do-able. I didn't think it before, but of course, that is because I never sat down and took the time to work it all out. I have now done this. And this is what is going to happen.

In February 2011 I will depart New Zealand for Sydney. To see my staunchettes and finally go to that fucking Chinese Friendship Garden and do that bloody Botanical Gardens walk and all the shit I never did when I actually lived there (fuck, I'm such a procrastinator). Then, leave Sydney for Singapore. Once I find myself thrust into Asia, I will somehow find a nice route that incorporates Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand and lands me in Bangkok at the end of a six to eight week stint. I will then fly from Bangkok to Mumbai and do exactly the same in India, finding myself in Dehli to catch a flight back to London in May/June.

That, ladies and gents, is The Grand Plan. Shit me, if it happens, I will be probably the most proud person in the world. I've done digging through Expedia for the flights, I can definitely afford them. It's just the rest. I don't want to go into boring budgeting details on here, but I am feeling fucking positive about the whole affair. I know I can do it, I saved in Sydney and my life there consisted of rounds upon rounds of Jager shots, Thai dinners and shopping. If I can save in Sydney, I can save in Queenstown.

And then, well, this is the hazy part. Home has been like a broken record on my mind lately. Everything keeps spinning right back to it. I know it's because Queenstown is so transient that it becomes impossible NOT to think about home. Jesus, everybody here is leaving right now. Shoulder season has well and truly set in, and everybody is departing for greener pastures. For a lot of people, the green is home. So, when the shoulder season blues sink in, home becomes a natural little thing ticking away in the back of your mind like a really irritating timebomb. I don't know if a timebomb can really be irritating but in this case it is. For me, it's practicality. I can't stay over here forever, and truth be told, I see no life for myself in New Zealand or Australia. They are amazing, beautiful places, but fuck me, I could never spend the rest of my life here. It's too slow, and backwards, and there is no opportunity in all reality. Plus, the chocolate is shit. And I never want to spend 40 bucks on a tub of foundation ever again. In fact, I think I might write an angry worded letter about that last point. Dear Mr Cosmetics, Please decrease your prices in the Australasia region, I can no longer afford to pay my weekly wage to ensure I don't scare children in the street. Kind Regards, Scary-Faced Frankie.

So. It's like, where next? I can't work in Asia, or India. And truthfully, I do see myself going back to the UK at some point. I inevitably know I will get the blues, or perhaps even full-blown clinical depression, but I don't intend it to be forever. It is merely a stop-gap to raise money for the next chapter of travelling. The issue now is what to do when I get there. I still want to do my PGCE, and ideally a TEFL on top of it, and so it's just deciding whether to apply for it not. I figure, might as well, not a lot to lose really. I don't HAVE to go. The Education Grim Reaper isn't going to come bounding after me with his little axe thing if I choose to sack it off. But I HAVE to do it soon if I want to go back into education for next September, I'm sort of running out of time with that one. I know now that Brighton is where I want to be for a bit, just a year or so. Hang out, see a new city, live somewhere else that's most definitely not Hampshire, and somewhere that very much isn't Welsh. Yowza, home. It's still a weird notion for me to get my head around.

Fuck, this post is boring, isn't it?

Maybe I should delete it all and tell you instead about the incredibly hilarious situations I've been in recently, which perhaps in retrospect I should just keep to myself. Imagine me drunker than I have ever been in my life and you're about a tenth of the way there.

The Big Picture is a fucking nuisance. But now I'm closer to figuring it all out, I feel so much better. The negativity is fading, the bitch in me is going back to under her rock and the moodiness has been replaced with something that I think resembles a big grin. I want now to just book the flights, have a set date, and get fucking excited. Seriously, this trip has been something I've wanted to do for over six months now, and getting closer to actually doing it is epic. Massively, massively epic. If I can pull it off, get the money together, see myself through it alive and without losing an eye, a limb or a passport, I'll be pretty motherfucking stoked.

And then, just maybe, I'll be seeing my bestests in June. And what a day that one'll be :)

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

I will beg my way into your garden, I will break my way out when it rains..

This is just a quick update of what's going on in my life as it turns out I am the laziest person probably known to mankind. Aside from that obtusely fat man who had to get craned out of his house. I think he was on Jerry Springer. I don't intend to go down that route, but I do promise to try and update this more frequently. Facebook sucks and I'm not sure why I have this passionate relationship with it when all it is is boring status updates such as "Tony is pissed off it's raining"; "Mandy is in the bath :) <3";>
Fuck you, I don't care. The only ones I do care about are my chums, and people who are travelling because I guarantee it's 110% more interesting that 99.9% of people on social networking sites. Speaking of travellers, bring back news feed photos! Man, I miss it.

In one week, I leave for New Zealand. I've been massively jumping the gun and looking up flights to SE Asia and India and Africa and everywhere else ever in the world. I probably won't get to any of those places past Asia (although whoaa flights to Mumbai are pretty cheap if you look in pounds, I'm mega tempted! Anyone in?) but it's fun to look. I am so, super ready to get out of Australia. It's been a blast but I'm getting itchy feet to get moving again. Leaving The Argyle was like the greatest thing ever, a lot like leaving Lloyd but this time it was almost more sad. Eeee landscapes and mountains and SNOW. My oh my, get me outta here already. For some reason I've been thinking about what life would be like going home and ARGH, DON'T MAKE ME GO! I can't imagine it in any way, really. I have this horrible mental image of landing in Heathrow and being nostalgic for oh, all of five minutes and then doing the horrible drive back to Hampshire and slowly realising where exactly in the world I am. Jesus, it makes me feel totally gross just thinking about it. That said, I need some mental stimulation so I need to buy some more books in NZ and I'm definitely going to try and learn Spanish: boca! Es una chiste! Tranquilo! It's such a fun language and thanks to Soo I really do want to learn. I'm not going to talk about him on here 'cos that's massively gay, but that is really the one reason I'm sad to leave.

Anyway, I want to travel everywhere ever with no money (I really need some dollar, this will be my downfall and the reason I end up on this doom-ridden journey from Heathrow to Hampshire) so if anybody fancies it, let's fucking do it! INDIA! VIETNAM! CAMBODIA! LAOS! Let's, let's, let's!!

I bid you adieu Sydney (just got back from a weekend in Melbourne which is probably the coolest Australian city, it's so 'sick!!1!'), pumped for Queenstown.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Nothing here's real and everyone's alike, 'cos everyone dreams of the millionaire's life

Hello, wish list.
*nb: the picture of Leighton Meester, though she is adorable, is me longing for brown hair.