The One

A glance to the left. This is not a date, but oh! he is so beautiful.

The rocking of the ship moves with the beat. Ah ah ah ah.

I’m the one.
Love me, love me, love me, love me.

Another glance. Was it reciprocated or are my eyes deceiving me?
The urge to kiss him is so strong. Don’t do it. Keep it together, hold it in.

I’ll go and get pizza and maybe he’ll be there. Maybe he’ll say hello. I’m too shy to call him. Too shy to walk up to him and say hello. I’d do anything to have you near me.

Falling in love with him would be a very bad idea. If I get hurt again I’ll need a lifetime to repair.
But it’s too late.
Time is short.
I look at him again and again, over and over. Every photograph of him is a work of art, but to be in his presence, to look at his face, his physical body is perfection. I pull him in for a selfie. It’s the worst photo of him in existence. I cannot record this, only remember it.

Can you imagine…? Just suppose.

M People videos, a full rundown

I wrote a short thread on twitter earlier about my thoughts on some M People videos. Here is a full rundown.

Colour My Life

For a first video it’s okay. It’s just the band playing the song in a studio. but it’s well shot. Heather’s outfit is extremely 1991. We have a lady guitarist, which was very progressive back then. The backing vocalists do a bizarre dance that uses only their arms and bobbing up and down a bit. It’s quite endearing. ⭐⭐⭐

How Can I Love You More

More of the same really; just the and performing the song in a studio, but without the backing singers and their dance. Disappointing tbh. ⭐⭐

Someday

A further slide downhill. This is Heather singing alone against a black backdrop with some lighting , interspersed with some live show footage. They’d clearly run out of money by single #3. ⭐

Excited

Excited has two videos! The UK video is Heather dancing in front of interesting backdrops wearing office attire while the boys play pinball, with some shots of Heather wearing a rather gorgeous evening dress on a couch. It’s quite cute! ⭐⭐⭐

The US remake is where we finally get a LOCATION! They’re in the courtyard of a nice house with a stage set up in the middle of the pond (???) singing the song. People dance. They’ve thrown a bit of money at this, but not much. ⭐⭐⭐

One Night In Heaven

They went to Barcelona to film this video. They’re all drunk and/or high and carrying on while being filmed. Heather has two outfits – a lovely, if plain, dress and cardigan (a cardigan in Summer in Barcelona?!), and a horrible checked waistcoat and a shirt with a massive collar combo. The video’s a bit boring, but it’s nice to see them outside. ⭐⭐⭐

Moving On Up

We’re at a party and M People have been booked to perform. Some couples on the dance floor are fighting, Suddenly there is a cat and an iguana for some reason. Heather is wearing a long black dress and a lovely choker with matching earings. The boys are wearing pajamas. It’s all a bit confusing, but it’s fun and extremely 1994. ⭐⭐⭐

Don’t Look Any Further

They sent Heather and Mark to Berlin to film this and apparently left Mike, Paul, and Shovel at home. As such, Heather appears to have stayed sober. They’ve put her in gorgeous makeup with cute little heart earrings. It’s moody and dark. A really solid video actually. ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Renaissance

I think this could be San Francisco? We have a few shots of them singing and dancing in a studio that we’re supposed to believe is a hotel or something, and the rest of the video is Heather driving an enormous car around the streets of wherever they are and basically losing control. They must have used up all the budget for this album because we’ve got the dress from Moving on up and the earrings from Don’t Look Any Further. It’s fun, but not all that great. ⭐⭐

Sight For Sore Eyes

We’re back in the studio. There are some car shells and mechanics welding, but the car/mechanic theme is a bit half-arsed, because other than that it’s basically the Colour My Life video. Heather has finally discovered hoop earrings, and she is wearing what is honestly the most horrible jumper I have ever seen; it’s either from C&A or Dior. Paul is starting to look a bit rugged and has CHEEKBONES. Mike has grown a beard and his hair and is clearly starting his mid-life crisis. The only good bit of this video is when the drummer pretends to use spanners instead of drumsticks. ⭐⭐

Open Your Heart

Some solid CGI here. Heather’s in a CGI lift that might be in a hotel ur club or something and different characters & groups get in and out f the lift. Heather has a very lovely East-Asian-inspired dress and a diamond hair band. Paul’s eyes are BLUE. Mike’s mid-life crisis deepens he looks like he hasn’t even washed his hair.  There are gays, there are trans people, there are loads of people of color as well as Heather, there’s a supernatural spooky bit where Heather walks away and her reflection doesn’t until a few seconds later. It’s a bloody amazing video. ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Search for the Hero

An abandones warehouse or school or tower block or something. Children throw rocks at windows. The band stands in the middle of it and performs. Suddenly there is fire, and then the sprinklers activate. Another outstanding video that’s worth watching even if you hate the song. ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Love Rendezvous

A re-run of Renaissance, but they’re high in Rio instead of Barcelona. There’s a bit more narrative here as we’re also following a couple running through the streets to find each other and then they kiss. There’s some live footage from the tour, and shome travel show type shots of Rio and it’s people. ⭐⭐⭐

Itchycoo Park

Heather’s on the bed in a spotlight dreaming of walking through a country house and its gardens. She levitates. Gorgeous blue velvet dress and ruby choker. The video’s crap but the fashion is excellent. ⭐⭐

Just For You

Heather’s on a couch in a studio while the band play around her. Paul’s finally lost all his hair and has developed the sort of cheekbones that could cut diamond. There’s an orchestra. Oh, and CGI bugs. It looks like they spent a LOT of money on this. ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Fantasy Island

In a studio on a spinning platform with some CGI texture going on underneath. It’s extremely boring. ⭐

Angel St

This is mostly live footage and footage from rehearsals, backstage and stuff. It’s pretty good for what it is, but it’s not winning any prizes or anything. ⭐⭐⭐

Testify

ZOMG this video. Heather’s wearing a cloak and wandering through the forest in the snow while the Northern Lights are happening in the sky. She gets to where she’s going, shakes of the cloak and is there singing in the snow in a Warrior Princess outfit made of diamonds. It is amazing. It’s all CGI. ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Dreaming

Heather’s walking through the streets of London with a horrible filter applied to the video, like as if someone has gone to town with Snapseed. It is not good. Clearly they threw some money at this, but it was not well spent. ⭐⭐

A morning walk

Every morning on my walk to work from the station I pass an elderly couple walking into town. They walk quite slowly; it probably takes them an hour or more to get into town so it doesn’t matter which train I get on or how early or late I’m running; I always pass them.

They are old. So old. Certainly in their eighties at least. I’d guess they have half a lifetime of memories in India, shared. And they walk together, side-by-side, always in silence, and always very slowly.

They are always immaculately dressed, beautiful clothes, clean and pressed. Sandals even in winter. Long, flowing, and brightly colored fabric, probably decades old. And the smell of beautifully scented soaps and lotions fills the air as I walk by them,

It’s actually been a couple of weeks since I’ve seen them. We’ve never interacted, so I haven’t noticed that I haven’t seen them, I haven’t missed them — except yesterday I wondered about them as I walked past the tree where I would sometimes have to give way to them if we arrived there at the same time because the footpath isn’t wide enough. But it didn’t dwell on my mind.

Until today as I was walking to work from the station I passed him in the street. He was walking a little faster than normal. Alone. Wearing pajamas and slippers. Smelling slightly stale. I said hello; he didn’t answer me. I could see the pain on his face.

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Handwritten draft of the text

Anger

[This is part one of a short series on emotional abuse in domestic relationships. This piece discusses anger, aggression, emotional control and manipulation.]

“You’re a good influence on him. He’s more mellow with you. I love his bitterness, and you mellow him. You’re good for him.”

She told you that, and she was right. She’s known him longer than you have, and she knows how angry he can get. His angry outbursts. He gets angry quite a lot.

“That must be awful for you.”

Not really, right? He gets angry quite a lot, but only at other people. His anger is never directed at you. People piss him off a lot. Hell, it seems everybody pisses him off, people cross him and he gets angry. But his anger is never directed at you. He speaks to you calmly, never angrily. With you he is mellow. He tells you that you calm him down. His friends notice you calm him down. It’s so good that you met him: you’re the only person who he never gets angry at; he’s so lucky to have found you.

He’s manipulating you. This is emotional abuse. Emotional abuse that is directed at you, and you haven’t noticed. He’s tricking you into being afraid of him whilst believing you trust him.

No, you’re not afraid of him! You do trust him!

You’re not afraid that at some point his anger will be directed at you? That he’ll become aggressive towards you the way he is aggressive towards other people who piss him off? No, of course you’re not, because, see, he only gets angry and aggressive towards people who piss him off. All you have to do is never piss him off. All you have to do to avoid is anger is to simply not fuck up. You’ve got this. You can do this. Avoiding his aggression is something you are responsible for: just don’t fuck up.

And there. He’s got you. He’s controlling you. He’s manipulating your emotions; controlling your behavior. By withholding his anger he’s making you believe that you are in control of his anger and that if he ever does become aggressive towards you, it will have been your fault.

And one day he does lose his temper at you. You knew it would come eventually. You’ve seen how he gets with other people, just flies off the handle at any little thing that pisses him off, and you knew you couldn’t stay on his good side forever. You knew you’d fuck up at some point. But it was only a little fuck-up. And that’s just how he is. You can use this as a learning experience. Keep on his good side. Keep him mellow.

You’re the one who calms him down. He only gets angry at you sometimes, and it’s not like it’s for major things. It’s only for things that are inconsequential, so it doesn’t really matter. I mean, obviously you fucked up here, and he’s got every right to be angry. Anyone would be angry.

And, look, sometimes he gets angry and aggressive towards you for things that were not your fault, but that’s just how he is. You know him: anger is how he deals with things. He gets frustrated and aggression is just the way his frustration erupts out of him. All of this was out of your control, you didn’t do anything wrong here; he’s just upset. Anyone would be upset; you can’t hold that against him because anyone would be upset, so of course he’s angry. Of course he is angry.

And, look, you’re a team, right? You love him and he loves you. You trust him because he doesn’t get angry at you except when he does. You absorb his anger, that’s what you do. And he trusts you to. You calm him; you mellow him. And he trusts you enough to let himself show his anger to you. He trusts you to stay when he is angry because you calm him. Anyone else he is aggressive to runs away, but not you. He trusts you not to. His anger towards you is different from his anger towards other people. To you his anger is an expression of love. His aggression is an expression of trust.

You know that anger is his default emotion. This is the way he expresses himself. He needs a release. It’s good that he allows his emotions to show. It’s not really aggression as such; he’s just sharing his emotions with you. You have this emotional connection: trust going both ways. It’s despair and he needs to get it out, and you’re the one who makes things better. You have to be there for him.

You have to be there. He needs an outlet for his emotions. His anger and aggression is just an outlet for his emotions. And really, if you think about it, it’s better that his anger and aggression is directed at you instead of being directed at other people. Like, at least you know how to handle him. Other people don’t know how to handle him when he’s angry, but you do. You calm him when he is angry, so although he gets angry quite a lot, it’s never at other people. His anger is only directed at you. People piss him off a lot. Hell, it seems everybody pisses him off, people cross him and he gets angry. But his anger is only directed at you.

 

Witches, evil faries, and wicked queens

The worst fairy story is Cinderella because there is no witch or demon or anything; the baddies are just ordinary humans being intolerable cunts, and that is *not* the basis for a Force of Evil in a fairy tale. What I’m looking for in a fairy tale antagonist is some magical being who is smart — and maybe *too* smart. The absolute best fairy story villains go about their cruel schemes because of petty grudges rather than an attempt at amassing wealth or status.

Cinderella fails on all counts. The villain is a wicked stepmother, but she has no magic powers; she just has political power. She and her daughters treat Cinderella cruelly, but it’s simply because they are horrible people.

The best fairy tale (and not just for, but mainly for its villain) is Sleeping Beauty. In all its incarnations the evil fairy is spectacular, but I think Disney’s Maleficent is particularly good. This is the story of an evil fairy who cooks up an elaborate plan to kill a child out of pure spite. The sole motivation for her murderous plot is her not being invited to a party, and she spends nearly two decades dwelling on this petty grudge, allowing it to consume her. She’s magic; she’s evil; and, although she could have done the job with a single shot when she gatecrashed the party, she implements the most outrageously elaborate scheme to put a family through sixteen years of anguish before striking the fatal blow. Her demise is entirely because of this over-the-top scheme: it all gets too big for her. She is a victim of her own genius.

Hansel and Gretel is alright, but just alright. We start with the wicked stepmother who is just a dick because she doesn’t like children, but we move past this quite quickly into the main setting with the witch in the wood. Witches are great; I like witches, but overall this witch is a bit disappointing. Sure, she’s capable of doing magic (gingerbread houses have got to be magic, right?), but apart from that she is a basic bitch witch. Of all the possibilities in the world, she captures children because she wants to eat them — and even more dull, she physically catches them and locks them in a cage, and plans to cook them in an oven. Yawn. And quite the opposite of Sleeping Beauty’s wicked fairy who is a genius, Hansel and Gretel’s witch is a moron who is tricked by a chicken bone.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is quite good, but it spends way too much time on the Dwarfs (like, honestly, who cares?). The Wicked Queen is a solid villain: she uses magic, she’s a child killer, she lives her whole life consumed with outrageous vanity, she holds an utterly pointless grudge. In short, she’s my ideal villain. There are lots of incarnations of this story, with various demises for the Wicked Queen, and mostly they are good: she almost always falls victim to her own clever scheme. The Disney version where she falls off a cliff is rubbish, but other versions have wonderful endings for this baddie: as John points out, the version where the Queen is forced to dance to death in red hot iron shoes is wonderful for the ballet, but my favorite ending is the one where every mirror she looks into turns black and she is driven to insanity by never being able to gaze upon her own reflection ever again.

Roses are red

Every single Valentine’s day we have to argue over where to place boundaries when dividing a continuous spectrum into discrete sections, but human language adds boundaries progressively as time advances and violets are blue except in languages that have words for purple.

Roses aren’t red either, but red is such a linguistically ancient concept that it tends not to get divided up as quickly as other color concepts. The points at which red stops being red are much further from the center of red than the points at which blue stops being blue are from the center of blue. But excluding the violets that are white, we can say two things for certain:

  1. Violets are definitely blue.
  2. Violets are definitely not blue.

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No hate mail, please

Followers on Instagram and twitter may have seen I have updated my mailbox, adding a “No anti-marriage equality material” sticker next to the “no junk mail” sticker.

If you want your own that looks like mine, here is the PDF printable format (click the link). Print, laminate (if you like) and stick it on your mailbox.

This is a very small gesture, but I have stuck this on my mailbox for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I don’t want homophobic hate mail in my letter box. I don’t expect this will actually prevent this, but it might. Secondly I am marking my home as queer, or at least queer-friendly. In the past I might have been afraid to do this out of fear of threats to my physical safety and to the security of my home. Now I don’t care; I think it’s more important to be visibly queer, to send messages that we are everywhere, and that we are not going away.

This also, I hope, sends the message that objecting to receiving homophobic hate material is a normal and reasonable thing to do, that this ‘debate’ on marriage rights in Australia does not have to be balanced, and that we have no obligation to ‘hear both sides’.

Stay strong, comrades. xx

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A week of homophobic medical experiences

I’ve had a pretty shitty week, and here is the story. I want to express how I was really feeling at the time, so I’ll mostly copy-paste messages sent to friends and family with as little editing as possible.

I was sick on Monday (an upset stomach) and took the day off work so I had to go to the doctor to get a doctor’s certificate for work. I just went to the doctor round the corner instead of my usual doctor. As part of the consultation she was asked general health questions, and through her questioning it transpired that I’m gay: at this she got very flustered and her immediate response was to to say she wanted to send me for full STI & HIV tests immediately, so I was like WTF I’m just here for a medical certificate and I have a regular testing schedule anyway but she wouldn’t drop it and gave me a referral anyway.

That pissed me off, obviously. But anyway, there’s a pathology lab that I pass on my way home from work, so I figured I may as well just go in to do the urine test and throat swab because it’s free and I might as well.

On arrival I gave the lab tech the referral; she asked me to sit down and she left the room. She came back a few minutes later and said “I’m confused because your doctor has requested a throat swab for gonorrhea, and the swab is normally from the penis in men” so I was like, “OK but I need a throat swab”. She said that she didn’t know how to do it because there are no guidelines for doing a throat swab for gonorrhea in men (like WTF srsly?) and she couldn’t do it. She told me to either come back the next day, or go to a different pathology lab.

So I was furious. And I wrote to their office to complain.

I am writing to complain following a recent visit to your pathology collection centre on 15 August that has left me distressed and angry.

My doctor had ordered a urine test and throat swab for chlamydia and gonorrhoea, tests which I have had many times, and believe are very common. On arrival, I presented the pathology request to the technician, who asked me to take a seat and left the room. Some minutes later she returned and said she was confused because my doctor had requested throat swabs for chlamydia and gonorrhoea, and that there were “no guidelines” for how she should collect those because swabs for chlamydia and gonorrhoea are usually taken from the penis. I told her I have throat swabs for these tests regularly, but she reiterated that because there were no guidelines she did not know how to collect the required sample. She suggested I either return the following day or go to a different collection centre, and refused to collect the sample.

The impression I got was that either this collection center or this staff member (or both) was completely unprepared to collect a sample for a very common test for men who have sex with men. I personally felt humiliated by what seems to be clear discrimination based on my sex and sexual orientation, and angry that my health care and any treatment that may be necessary was delayed because of this. I am also very concerned more generally that experiences like this one discourage men who have sex with men and who live in this area from testing for STIs, putting the health of the community of which I am a part at unnecessary and unacceptable risk.

I would like to receive a response explaining why I had this experience, and what will be done to ensure that this experience will not be repeated, either for me or for other people.

But anyway I did go back the next day because I’m some sort of masochist or something. And it was terrible. I was furious.

I got there, handed over the urine sample that I had been carrying round with me all day and said “I’m here for the throat swab too”. It was the same technician as the previous day. She asked if I had called in the morning, and I said no, I’m here now. She told me that she had said to call in the morning to ask them which sample collection kit to use (!!!!), and I said, well, I couldn’t call in the morning.

She said she still didn’t know what the correct procedure for collecting the sample was (I mean come on, it’s a throat swab FFS) and I got quite angry and asked her why she didn’t know, and if it was really that uncommon. She said again that they only normally do the swab from the penis, and I snapped. I said “you do know oral sex is a thing, right?” and then she asked me to wait and that she would go and ask the doctor.

She came back and again said I should have called in the morning. By this point I was nearly in tears. She then picked up the phone and called (I think) another doctor, and by the sounds of it he didn’t know which sample kit to use either (I was there rolling my eyes because I know it’s the blue one, but she wouldn’t take my word for it), and after a far-too-long discussion they agreed that it was probably best if they used the blue one.

She put came towards me, and then went back and got out a face mask to put on (fair enough I suppose, but it felt like she was making a point, and I have never known anyone put a mask on to take a throat swab), and then jabbed me in the throat a few times with the swab. She printed some labels, pushed them towards me and said “check your details”. I told her they were correct, and she said “you can go now. See your doctor in three days”. And I left.

Fucking hell, I was furious. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so simultaneously angry and humiliated.

This was at a very large medical center in a big suburb. And it’s so concerning because there are a lot of married men on the DL in in that suburb and surrounds having sex with other men (and I know this for obvious reasons), and if it’s this much hassle for me — someone open and upfront about my sexuality & sexual behavior — to get the most basic test for very common STIs, I can’t imagine the local men, who need to test discreetly and quickly, are getting the care they need.

I’m very conscious that this was in an area where there are lots of men who have sex with men in secret. Primarily men of color. Shit like this — that makes testing for common STIs difficult and filled with judgment — discourages testing. Especially in suburbs like this, where culture and open homosexual behavior do not go together, this is a terrible thing. Instead of men being able to test and treat in secret, easily, there’s unnecessary discouragement. And so as well as increased prevalence of these STIs in the local network of MSM their wives are at much greater risk of STIs that they have no conscious reason to test for.

So I’m left angry and upset. Not just because of the effect it has had on my personally, but because homophobic and inadequate systems mean that our community is not getting the care it needs. We deserve a much better standard.

Our Relationship: The Inside Story of Gay Male Couples

Since same-sex marriage was legalised in 2014, the days of stigma and shame in gay male society have been replaced with those of liberation and tolerance. Emerging is a gay male world free from heteronormativity, self-loathing and internalised homophobia. To find out more about this new world of freedom I met five gay male couples living across the UK to ask about the inside story of their relationships.

Adam and Jeremy, Brighton

Adam and Jeremy have been together for ten years and have been married since they converted their civil partnership to a marriage last year. Living in a small flat in Brighton, most of their free time away from their office jobs is spent watching movies and playing video games.

“We have an active sex life too,” Adam confesses as he sips his fennel tea. “We don’t take drugs or drink alcohol so we can really experience sex to the fullest.” I ask if they have varied roles in the bedroom, or if they have fallen into strict top and bottom roles as many couples do.

“Oh, we don’t do anal!” says Jeremy with clear shock in his voice. “It’s not that we don’t enjoy it,” he clarifies as I lean forward, “it’s just that we’re not those kind of people.”

“Anal sex is fine for people without commitments,” adds Adam. “I tried it three times at uni.”

“Oh yes, you were a real slut,” laughs Jeremy as he picks up another of his homemade fondant fancies. “But I think we’ve both decided just to be more respectable now. We might even want to have children some day so we don’t want to fall into any habits that might affect their impressionable minds.”

“The adoption agency doesn’t view anal sex households too favourably” Adam explains. “So we try to stick to oral with a condom.”

I ask how they keep their sex lives interesting. Adam blushes, but Jeremy seems a little more willing to open up. “It was our anniversary last week,” he says, “and we tried frottage.” I try to press him further, but he tells me quite plainly: “That sort of skin-on-skin fetish isn’t really for us.”

Steve and Pete, Nottingham

I’m chatting to Steve over a protein shake as he waits for his boyfriend Pete – or his “brofriend” as he refers to him – to finish his workout. “I usually finish first,” he tells me “but I do a more intense session. Pete does more reps.” I ask about cardio. “Nah,” Steve responds, “cardio’s for chicks and poofters.”

Steve first met Pete via a popular gay dating app whilst looking for a ‘gym buddy’, though he admits he did not know what Pete looked like until they met in person. “Most of the guys worth meeting don’t show their faces,” he explains. “The ones who do are usually flaming queens and if I was looking to hook up with a chick I wouldn’t be on this app.”

I ask Steve – who doesn’t refer to himself as gay – if people ever think his statements are homophobic. “Nah mate,” he tells me, “it’s just how it is. I’m masc and I’m looking for masc.”

Steve straightens up, pushing out his muscular chest as Pete, a 5′ 11″ block of muscle and veins emerges from the gym. The two men bump fists as Pete approaches and asks “what’s up”, although he’s neither expecting nor receiving a response.

Pete tells me I’m lucky to have the chance to chat to them today – “We usually chill out in the locker room after a workout,” he says. “Yeah, we normally chill,” adds Steve. I enquire about the nature of their chill out sessions; Pete tells me about ‘brojobs’ – how he refers to oral sex. “Steve’s my bro,” he explains. “Most guys want a wife or something, but I’m looking for men who are men.”

“I’m a bottom,” he goes on, “but it’s all about muscle control. I’m masc so I’m not interested in sissy boys. Men should be men.”

“Yeah, cheers bro,” says Steve, with a nod before he downs the rest of his protein shake.

Mark and Richard, York

Mark and Richard from York are currently planning their wedding. They tell me they decided against a civil partnership, choosing to wait until same-sex marriage was legalised before forming their union. “We’re the same as straight people,” Mark tells me, “so why would we choose anything different?”

Richard nods as he turns the pages of the catalogue in front of him. “I have to pick a suit for the wedding, but they’re all pretty much the same” he says. “I reckon I’ll just let Mark decide.”

“What are men like?” Mark chuckles, standing up and clearing away the coffee cups. I ask if he wants any help. “No,” he says, “I’m going to be a housewife so I may as well act like one!”

“I’m the man of the house,” Richard tells me. “I wear the trousers.”

I join Mark in the kitchen and ask about the dynamics of their relationship. “It’s hard being the woman,” he says “but Richard does help around the house. Any time anything needs fixing he sees to it.”

I ask Mark if he really sees himself as a woman. He tells me it’s more of a mindset than a gender. “Every relationship needs a man and a woman. Just because we’re both men doesn’t mean that one of us isn’t the woman.”

Chris and Johnny, London

I meet Chris and Johnny at a vegetarian restaurant in central London. They arrive together; Chris is wearing black skinny jeans, a tee shirt with a slogan, black Converse sneakers and black-rimmed glasses, while Johnny wears a tee shirt with a print of a video game character, dark blue skinny jeans, grey Converse sneakers and brown-rimmed, circular spectacles. “I don’t need glasses to see,” Johnny says. “I just like the look”.

We’re sitting at a table outside, and after ordering starters – Chris and Johnny both order the butternut tart – they each take out their packet of Marlboro Lights and absentmindedly offer the other a cigarette.

“It’s how we met,” laughs Chris, running his fingers through his hair. “We were in a club before the smoking ban; I was out of cigarettes but I saw Johnny and figured he looked like someone who smoked Marlboro Lights.” It turns out that that was the case.

I ask how long they have been together. “Nine years.” Johnny tells me as he brushes his hair to the side with his fingers. “We moved in together five years ago. We had to get rid of so much stuff though because we basically had two of everything.”

We’re interrupted by the sound of Coldplay’s Speed of Sound. Chris and Johnny both take out their rose gold iPhone 6’s – Johnny answers his while Chris just chuckles. “Yeah, we have the same ringtone,” he tells me. “We didn’t even realise at first but I guess our tastes just align!”

While he has his phone out Chris takes the opportunity to show me some photos of himself and Johnny. I notice they have less facial hair in the photos from last year than the neatly groomed stubble they are sporting today. “Yes, we like to change things up a bit,” he explains. “It gets dull if we keep things the same all the time.”

Dan and Justin, Durham

Dan and Justin (not their real names) have lived together in their two-bedroom flat in Durham for just over a year. I’m meeting them at the flat, and after I’ve been waiting several minutes, Dan answers the door. “Oh thank god!” he exclaims.

He takes me through to their living room, shouting “don’t worry about unmaking the beds!” as we walk down the hall.

I’m confused, but Justin joins us after a minute or so and explains. “It’s in case my mum comes round,” he tells me. “She doesn’t know about us, so we make it look like both beds have been slept in.”

I’m shown around their rather large flat, including both bedrooms. They share a bed, but I ask which bedroom they pretend belongs to which of them. “It depends whose mum is round,” Dan says, and they both laugh nervously.

The flat feels strangely un-lived in – there are no signs of personality anywhere. No photos of the occupants, not even art or posters on the walls. I notice separate CD and DVD collections. “We really have to make it look like we’re just flatmates,” Justin says. “We even have separate cupboards in the kitchen.”

I ask if they think their families have any suspicions that they are a couple. “I don’t know” is Justin’s response. Dan says “I hope not. They’d probably be cool with it, but I just don’t want to tell them.”


John Avocado mainly tweets at @SuperCroup, often posts photos on Instagram and occasionally shoves posts on this here blog.

Tea Party for One

Originally posted on Six Months in Sydney

In a previous post I discussed my love of tea, and what is the perfect accompaniment to tea? Biscuits, of course! Dunkable or otherwise, a cup of tea and a biscuit is always delightful. Happily, that is equally true in Britain and Australia: tea and biscuits. I suppose it does make sense, rather than being an English curiosity. Even more happily, the blends of tea that are available are pretty much the same: English Breakfast (and the similar (and I hope ironically named) Australian Afternoon), Earl Grey etc.

However, the varieties of biscuits are vastly different. I’ll be blunt: I don’t really like Australian biscuits (bar a couple). I’m not sure if that’s because I genuinely don’t like them, or if it’s because I miss my beloved English biscuits. I suspect it’s a bit of both, but in any case I thought I’d try to find out with a scientific* experiment.

Before we get to the details of the experiment, however, a run down of some of my favourite biscuits that are available in England, but not here.

English Biscuits

rich tea

Rich Tea

Rich tea biscuits are very, very boring, and are the staple English biscuit. My Grandma always had these biscuits, and that’s probably the only reason I like them. They’re not all that good for dunking because they fall apart and collect in the bottom of the tea cup, but if you do manage to get a decent dunk, they soak up the flavour of the tea, and this the only way to make them even vaguely enjoyable.

There is a type of biscuit called Rich Tea available in Australia. These biscuits are quite different, and I discuss these below.

hobnob

Hob Nobs

Hob Nobs are made by McVities, and they are the most amazing things in existence. Obviously, the only ones worth eating are chocolate Hob Nobs. They’re oaty and crunchy and delicious. In L.A. I was willing to pay up to $12 for a packet of Hob Nobs. Alas, they are not available in supermarkets here, and I’m not prepared to go in search of a British shop, so I have to go without.

Pink Wafers

Wafer biscuits are available here: vanilla wafers, chocolate wafers, and strawberry wafers. What is not available, however, are pink wafers: those wafer finger sandwiches with cream in the middle. They are bright pink and don’t seem to have any actual flavour other than simply pink. I remember them from play school, and I think that perhaps they are children’s biscuits, but sometimes children’s biscuits are the best! Which leads me to…

party rings

Party Rings!

Oh yes! These are brilliant. They are definitely children’s biscuits because, well look at them. The main ingredient is, I think, food colouring, followed my sugar and then more food colouring. They come in a variety of flavours: pink, yellow, pinky-purple and fluorescent brown.

in essence, the actual biscuit is crap. It’s a very plain biscuit, but it is the brightly-coloured icing that makes them awesome. Definitely for children’s parties, but also a favourite at parties I went to as a student. I love the retro 80’s feel of these. But they just don’t exist here. People are also a little horrified when I describe them. I can’t imagine why.

Bourbons

I won’t go into too much detail, because these are a very basic chocolate sandwich biscuit. Similar things are available here, but they’re not called bourbons, and I think it is the name, rather than the actual biscuit I like.

The Scientific* Experiment

Okay, so not really a scientific experiment, but rather an afternoon session of me sitting and eating biscuits. Now, I did actually do it properly: I put out the biscuits on a nice plate, made a pot of tea, and tested each one, considering flavour, crunch and dunkability.

Shopping

A Packets

Arnott’s in Australia is basically what McVitie’s is in the UK. Now for this experiment, I splurged a bit and I bought Arnott’s. I could have got Woolworth’s own-brand, but I figure these wouldn’t have been as good, and I might have been accused of not conducting the test fairly. I also bought a pack of Anzac biscuits made in-house by Woolworth’s, and Rich Teas by Paradise biscuits, as Arnott’s rich tea either don’t exist, or aren’t available in my local Woolie’s.

The Party

B Plated upC Ready to Go

Like I said, I put the biscuits on a plate, as civilized people do, made a pot of tea (Yorkshire Tea, of course!), and sat down and started eating. Actually, it seemed rather daunting, the sight of all those biscuits, and knowing that I was going to have to eat them all. But first, a cup of tea to warm up my biscuit-eating muscles.

01 Tea

The Plain Biscuits

Nice and Milk Arrowroot

02 nice03 arrowroot

Nice aren’t particularly Australian, but they were included in the family pack of biscuits that I bought, so I thought I’d try them. They’re plain, but with a pleasing crunch. They dunk well, and the sweetness comes out when dunked.

Milk Arrowroots are very much like English Rich Teas, although they are oval instead of circular. They fall apart when dunked, and are an excellent option for a soggy biscuit.

04 choc ripple

Choc Ripple

Just a plain chocolate biscuit, with quite a nice texture. A good chocolate flavour, but it does not dunk well. I think it would probably dunk better in coffee, but the biscuit spoils the taste of the tea, and the tea spoils the taste of the biscuit.

This one definitely tasted chocolatey, which is unusual for commercially-produced chocolate biscuits that don’t have a chocolate coating or chocolate cream.

05 scotch

Scotch Finger

I don’t like Scotch Fingers really. They’re definitely Australian though. Essentially, they’re a shortbread biscuit, but not not nice like Scottish ones. These are very dense, and when chewed they sort of clump together in your mouth.

Sadly, they didn’t pass the dunk test either. There was no improvement to either texture or flavour by dunking in tea.

05 scotch dunk

06 teddy bear

Teddy Bears

A very disappointing biscuit. This is clearly a children’s biscuit, and going on this one might think that Australians do not like children or want them to have fun. This doesn’t even come close to the Party Ring or even the Pink Wafer. It is very plain, hardly even sweet. It’s an unpleasant dunker, falling apart quickly and finding itself at the bottom of the cup.

07 butternut snap

Butternut Snap

Now these are very nice biscuits. They come close, but not quite close enough, to Hob Nobs. They have a really good crunch and oaty texture, with a very smooth, buttery flavour. They dunk well (and from experience I know they dunk really well in coffee), and they hold their texture when dunked.

Milk Coffee & Rich Tea

09 milk coffee12rich tea

There is not much good to say about either of these biscuits. The milk coffee is very very plain, much like the teddy bear, but without even a fun shape. It totally disintegrated when I dunked it, and I had to fish out bits of it with a teaspoon.

The Australian version of the Rich Tea is very odd indeed. It’s completely different from the English biscuit. The texture is that of a tougher arrowroot, but it has a horrible orangey flavour that becomes really quite bitter, and dunking only makes it worse. It’s dotted with chewy currants too, which are really quite nasty. I will not be buying these again.

11 anzac

The Anzac Biscuit

Anzac biscuits are most definitely Australian, and they are gorgeous! The texture is chewy, but oaty, and they have a really good buttery flavour. They’re made with coconut, but the ones I had today didn’t really have a flavour of coconut. They are, however, still delicious.

Australia may produce some dodgy biscuits that make me pine for a Fox’s selection tin, but all is forgiven with the Anzac biscuit.

The Cream Biscuits

10 timtam

Tim Tams

I first heard about Tim Tams in 2009, and had an American licensed version of them shortly afterwards. They are really really nice, and not liking them is unAustralian apparently.

The thing they most compare to in the UK is the Penguin, although the actual biscuit part of Tim Tams is quite a bit softer, and the cream creamier. The only negative I have to add is that the chocolate is a little too sugary, but I should bear in mind that I had by this point already eaten a lot of biscuits, so my mouth was likely FULL of dissolved sugar.

Monte Carlo & Delta Cream

13 monte carlo16 delta open

The Monte Carlo is really nice. It looks crunchy, but really it isn’t. The cream is almost marshmallowy, and the raspberry jam around the outside of the cream is a really nice surprise. The Delta Cream is a lot like an Oreo, but not as chocolatey. Actually it’s not chocolatey at all. The cream is also very sugary, and although it is supposed to be vanilla cream, it doesn’t have any flavour at all. Disappointing.

14 orange slice

Orange Slice

Now, I’m not really a lover of orange flavoured biscuits; it makes no sense to me, so it’s not surprising that I didn’t like these. That said, the orange flavour was not very strong. The biscuit had no real crunch either. A really disappointing biscuit.

17 kingston

Kingston

The Kingston is a really very pleasant biscuit. It’s very much like two butternut snaps with chocolate cream in the middle.

The biscuit has a really good crunch and a pleasant oaty texture, and the chocolate cream was a nice surprise. It wasn’t that hard, flavourless chocolate cream, but rather almost like gooey melted chocolate. I could eat lots of these biscuits!

19 more munching

Shortbread Creams

Honestly, these are horrible. They have no flavour whatsoever, and the texture is not pleasant. The shortbread is like soft sand, and lacks that buttery flavour that Scottish shortbread has. The cream is sugary, but has no clear flavour.

I’ll be avoiding these.

The Conclusion

There are plenty of good things to say about biscuits in Australia, but I do miss my English favourites. My definite favourite out of all of these is the Anzac biscuit, but from the Arnott’s selection, either the butternut snap or the Kingston was in the top spot.

After all of these biscuits, I did feel rather sick, and I got a head rush from all the sugar, but I suppose it WAS in the name of research. And a tea party for one was a lot of fun!

follow me on twitter: @supercroup

Image credits:

Party rings photo:
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Mattbuck
mattbuck

Rich Tea (English) photo:
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Xyrael?uselang=en-gb
Sean Whitton

Complementary Albums

I try to save weekends for writing about – or even just sharing – things that bring me joy. Here’s some music that brings me joy!

Even in the age of streaming, playlists and songs, I’m still a lover of the the full-length album (and more specifically the pop album). Scot often laughs, but one of my criteria for a really good pop album is “flow” – how well the songs on the album work together in the order presented, and the overall feel of the album. Today I’m taking that a little further, and sharing my picks for pairs of albums that I think work so well together that listening to them together as one is pop music synergy.

Confessions on a Dance Floor, Madonna & System, Seal

Madonna’s Confessions on a Dance Floor is easily my favorite album to date: I love the songs and I adore Stuart Price’s production. Sitting alongside, though, is another favorite of mine, System by Seal, also produced by Stuart Price. Both are polished dance records with gorgeous layers, synths and sequences. Good beats.

Highlights from Confessions  are Get Together, Let it will be,  and How High, and my favorites from System  are Loaded, Dumb, and The Right Life.

Ladies of the Canyon, Joni Mitchell & Seventh Tree, Goldfrapp

A couple of breezy, folky albums that are perfect for Sunday afternoon listening. Although I’m definitely a fan of Goldfrapp, and love Seventh Tree, I don’t know much of Joni Mitchell aside from Ladies of the Canyon.

Top picks from Joni’s album are Conversation and The Circle Game, and, while it’s hard to pick the best tracks from Seventh Tree I’d suggest Happiness, A&E, and Caravan Girl are unmissable.

Zonoscope, Cut Copy & Made In The Dark, Hot Chip

Quirky dance albums are definitely my thing, and though male voices tend not to be, these two albums have the kind of posh non-American male voice that I find pleasing. Both albums are definitely what some people might call overproduced, but it’s the kind of thing I like. Also guitars and a mix of dance and pop will always win me over.

From Zonoscope I recommend Pharaohs and Pyramids and Haning onto every Heartbeat; and from Made in the Dark my stand-out tracks are Out at the Pictures, We’re Looking for a lot of Love, and Hold On.

A Joyful Noise, Gossip & The Family Jewels, Marina and the Diamonds

JB Hi-Fi files both of these very excellent albums under ‘Alternative’, but I’m not sure I agree with them. They’re both really good pop albums, just with growling. As is the (almost) theme, they are a bit quirky, quite dark in places, and have hard-hitting beats.

From A Joyful Noise my favorites are Move in the Right Direction and Into The Wild; and my favorite tracks from The Family Jewels are all of them, but particularly Shampain, Mowgli’s Road, and Hollywood.

Blood Like Lemonade, Morcheeba & The Reminder, Feist

I’m lying to myself a little here – I actually think the perfect companion to The Reminder by Feist is by Damien Rice, and I’ve had more than one evening with those two albums and good red wine, but I’m here suggesting pairing The Reminder with Blood Like Lemonadea perfectly nice and understated album by Morcheeba. Another couple of records that are a little folksy with some quirks, they bring me a sense of calm.

My picks from Blood Like Lemonade are Crimson, Recipe for Disaster, and Beat of the Drum. The Reminder is another one to pick favorites from, but if pushed I’d recommend So Sorry, The Park, and The Limit To Your Love. I also have a deep love for Brandy Alexander and I’m including it here because it reminds me of a friend.

Nico Hines could have got loads of dates

I think we’re all agreed that the article that Nico Hines wrote for the Daily Beast, in which he claimed to have used Grindr to arrange three dates with Olympic athletes, was very bad, homophobic, and put the lives of at least one Olympic athlete in very real danger. There have been a lot of responses to that (my favorite being Rebecca Shaw’s for SBS) so I don’t think I need or want to add anything there.

I’ve been more interested in the response from quite a lot of gay men on Twitter suggesting that Nico couldn’t possibly have got enough interest on Grindr to arrange three dates, simply because of his physical appearance. I’ll be fair, Nico isn’t smokin’ hot. He’s not the toned, bronzed Adonis that the stereotypical gay man seeks. And too, Grindr is full of generally dreadful men who body shame and won’t even have a conversation with anyone who isn’t toned, tanned, and under twenty-two. (I won’t go into the very real issues of racism here, but they deserve at least a nod.) And many of these men have taken to Twitter to express their dismay at the mere thought that someone who looks like Nico Hines would ever be contacted by anyone on Grindr.

nicotweet
@tobyparkin on Twitter: “I’m not about shaming, but, there is absolutely no chance he got 3 dates in 60 minutes on Grindr is there?”

In reality there’s every chance that Nico got three dates in an hour, and for lots of reasons.

For a start, beauty and attractiveness are very subjective. True, Nico isn’t the conventional ideal male body, but not everyone’s ideal is the conventional ideal. I’m sure plenty of men find Nico perfectly (at least physically) attractive – and I’m sure even some Olympians would. Hell, aside from those gay men who exclusively date people who look like themselves (and I refer you here to one of my favorite Tumblrs), what we, ourselves, look like doesn’t have much of a bearing on what we find attractive.

Looking deeper, and beyond attractiveness, there are other reasons Olympic athletes might get in touch with Nico to arrange a hook-up. Nico himself revealed that some of the people he connected with on Grindr were from countries where being gay is dangerous or illegal. And even in the world of sport, being gay means you mightn’t have the easiest time. So a a good proportion of male Olympic athletes looking for sex with men in Rio will be on the down low. Nico’s clearly not an Olympic athlete: he’s removed, so anyone really trying to stay on the DL might feel safer with him; might feel like this could truly be an encounter that would not ever come out; might feel like this could be something completely deniable with someone totally unconnected. This makes Nico’s actions all the more abhorrent, but it does explain a potential reason why Olympic athletes might have contacted him: when safety is a primary concern, physical attraction might not be.

Laws, culture, and safety concerns also mean that gay male Olympic athletes from certain countries might not be getting laid that often. Or at all. For them, maybe being in Rio for the Games was their only real chance of guaranteed sex with another man. Maybe a once in a lifetime chance. Maybe in their minds they couldn’t risk being picky; they couldn’t risk rejection from the ultra-toned stunners. They had a couple of weeks to get a shag and then perhaps never again. So they may have seen Nico as a sure thing. Someone who would almost certainly say yes.

A lot of discussion about Nico’s face, body, and overall appearance however, erases a sizable section of gay male sexual culture – one that involves dark rooms, glory holes, cottages, blindfolds – one that is truly anonymous, and one that doesn’t care about physical beauty or ideal bodies: it cares only about cock. It’s blunt, but it rejects heterosexist norms about courtship, romance and attraction and is all about animalistic sex. In that culture Nico’s appearance is irrelevant. His body shape, size, and tone are irrelevant. Every feature of his face is irrelevant. The only part of his body that is relevant is his cock. It’s not a culture we’re all part of, but it’s one that is valid and worthy of celebration.

An experiment

I wanted to know for sure if it could be possible to secure three hook-ups in the space of an hour on Grindr without being conventionally attractive. I wagered it would be possible with an almost blank profile. So I set one up. And waited.

grindr1

I put in some limited details, left out a photo and waited. Within five minutes I had three messages, all from men looking for casual sex immediately. (Note I’ve distorted the images for privacy.)

grindr2

Within ten minutes I had eight messages. I didn’t respond to the messages, and I deleted the profile straight away, but I could very easily have turned at least three of those into fake hook-up appointments with an hour, just like Nico did.

Thoughts?

Nico Hines’s actions were disgusting and harmful, but our response shouldn’t be this self-loathing body shaming. Of course Nico could have got laid in Rio – because men who have sex with men like having sex with men.

On colorblindness, clothes, and currency

Content notes: this post touches on casino gambling.

When I was 13 Auntie Sue bought me a pair of green jeans for Christmas. These were absolutely the height of fashion, but I was a timid 13-year-old and I did not have the confidence to actually wear them, so Mum took me to the shop, gift receipt in hand, so I could exchange them for a more traditional blue. I picked a darkish pair that I  thought suited my timid style. Something that would make sure I blended into the background, something that wouldn’t draw any attention to me or what I was wearing.

They were purple.

Mum didn’t tell me.

I’m red-green colorblind, which is the standard kind, although my color vision is pretty fucked up. I talk about it a fair bit, mainly because it leads to a fair number of amusing situations (like the purple jeans!), but also because some people seem to find it fascinating. For me it’s a source of frustration more than anything, but I do see how people find differences in perception interesting, so I’m happy to share.

fivedollars
Australian $5 note

The latest source of discussion came from an outburst of shock on my part yesterday when I read on the internet that the Australian five dollar note is pink. There it is over there. Pink as you like. Although not to me. To my eyes it is a sort of blue-green color. Although not to my eyes, I should say. To my mind. After much discussion on Twitter with John B, I worked out that my perception of the five dollar note being blue-green probably comes from my knowing (although not seeing) that the British five pound note is green (although I have always seen it as very definitely blue), and that I see the Australian five dollar note and the British five pound note as being the same color. It seems my brain sometimes perceives color based on not just (or not even) the information coming from my eyes, but from prior knowledge of the color of things that are similar.

fivepoundnote
British fiver that I grew up with. I’m told it’s green.

Curiosities and sources of amusement aside, color vision deficiency does have a fairly significant impact on many aspects of life. I won’t say that color vision deficiency is a disability (although some people argue that it is, and indeed a Brazilian court ruled that it is), but it does present challenges and there are things that, because of my color vision deficiency, I Just Can’t Do. Regular followers might know that I used to work as a casino dealer (and I still do moonlight as a dealer for those fun casinos that you often see at events), which is a job where being able to see and differentiate color is very important. The color of gambling chips designates their value, and roulette wheel checks come in different colors to be assigned to different players to give a couple of examples. Mostly I’m able to cope, as the colors are different enough that I can tell them apart, but there have been occasions where I have been stuck.

Outside my professional life, there are heaps of difficulties. The world is set up for people with normal color vision, and most notably the very common use of green/red to mean good/bad or on/off. Sometimes it’s impossible for me to see the difference – e.g. on a tiny LED, the red light and the green light look the same. Identical. Some product labeling that uses traffic-light-style information means nothing to me – or at least nothing at a glance, which is how it is designed. And people so often use colors that are difficult or impossible for people with color vision deficiency to tell apart on maps, charts, diagrams etc. (Public transport maps are notoriously difficult!)

Happily some people do care about this, and go to efforts to make the things they produce accessible to people with color vision deficiency. I was contacted in 2013 by Phillipa Demonte who was working on a paper for the Department of Geosciences at Boise State University and was keen to ensure that the figures that would be used in the paper were as accessible as possible from a color vision perspective. A few people responded to Phillipa’s call, and the general consensus among us was that bold colors and thick lines are easier to see than pastels and thin lines.

 

I hope more and more people take color vision deficiency into consideration when designing things – whether it’s public information, product labels, LED indicators on electronics, or figures and plots in scientific papers. But even if that does happen, I’ll still forever be haunted by those purple jeans. John B told me last night “You dress well and I admire your dress sense; I suspect that colourblindness helps you ditch some prejudices about colours though”. I’m not so sure. I remain super conscious that I might not be able to tell if the colors of the things I’m wearing complement each other or clash horribly. When preparing new outfits I always – always – check with someone that the colors don’t clash. I have to know the name of the color of every single piece of clothing I own – I simply will not wear anything unless I know the name of its color. (This, again, leads to some amusement as when my boyfriend buys me clothes as gifts, my response is almost always “I really like it; what color is it?”.) More often than most people, I Google color combinations the night before I wear anything just to be sure the things I wear will look okay.

Color vision deficiency seems normal and trivial to me, and a lot of the time I find discussion of color perception tedious. I’m predisposed to take into account other people’s color vision when designing things, and I would encourage anyone reading to do the same. And at the very least – warn your kids before they buy purple jeans.

Programming

At the end of 2014 I took a beginners statistics course and was introduced to R, which is a programming language and software environment for statistical computing. It was brand new to me, but I picked up the basics fairly quickly. As is my nature, I played around with it a fair bit, trying things out, and eighteen months later, I know enough to have convinced my boss that I am literally a magician based on what I can produce.

To complement, in the last year or so I’ve taught myself the basics (and a bit more) of LaTeX, which is a document preparation system and markup language. Perhaps just the basics, but enough to produce documents that I’m actually proud to present to management as my work, rather than the (especially now) disappointing documents I used to produce using Microsoft Word.

Despite all this, I still feel intimidated by the idea of programming languages that I don’t know. And it’s holding me back. I think it’s probably because I don’t really have any formal background in computing, and everything I’ve ever learnt has been self-taught, but I seem to pick up the basics of anything I try without any issue.

I taught myself enough HTML in 2003 to be able to build the website for the Leeds University LGBT society from scratch – I did the whole thing in Notepad (the ongoing management of the site was another issue, I hasten to add), but I was scared to learn any CSS because it was new.

When I was maybe 12, I wrote some games in BASIC – from memory a slot machine (poker machine, fruit machine, or what you will) that was pretty simple, but functional; and a safari park management sim – all text based (because I’m not artistic enough to do graphics). The object of that game was to balance the antelope and lion populations by culling or inseminating either lions or antelope on each turn – again, a simple game, but proof that I could write programs, and was good at it.

There’s little point to this post, other than for me to combat the impostor syndrome I suffer dreadfully from. I can’t go back to when I was 14 years old, change my mind and decide to do a Computing GCSE instead of Business Studies (even though, with hindsight, I totally should have) – that would probably have taken me somewhere. But perhaps this can be an inspiration to someone who can make that sort of decision.

No, your concerns about immigration are not about immigration

I wasn’t going to write this. I didn’t think I needed to write something parading my many privileges. But it’s been on my mind for weeks. Since Brexit, since Trump and now since Pauline Hanson, Sonia Kruger, since people all across the developed world are claiming they have concerns about immigration. For all sorts of reasons. But it’s doublespeak. It’s a cover for nasty prejudices that people would rather pretend they didn’t hold. But people are not really concerned about immigration. And I know.

know.

I know because I am an immigrant. But the nice kind. The kind that people don’t have a problem with. The white, middle class, childless kind. The kind who is steeped in privilege.

But going deeper, and removing the many layers of privilege, I have been a very bad immigrant. I have done many, if not all, the things that people who have concerns about immigration cite as reasons for their concerns. And none of the people who have these concerns have objected to me.

I moved from one country to another

In 2012 I moved from the UK to Australia. It’s glaringly obvious that I’m a migrant, but it still needs saying. None of the people I know who have concerns about immigration objected to my migration. Most thought it was a good thing. Some attended a party I had to celebrate my migration (and, ironically, discussed their objections to immigration with me at the party). But not a single person has ever objected to me – and specifically me – moving from one country to another. That’s how I know you do not object to the concept of migration – you didn’t object when I did it.

I arrived in Australia with no money

Many people who have concerns about immigration suggest that immigrants are a drain on the economy. It’s okay for wealthy people to migrate because they are able to support themselves, but people who do not have healthy bank balances should not migrate. They don’t have concerns about immigration per se; just about people who have little money migrating.

When I moved to Australia, I arrived with little more than enough money for a flight back to the UK in case some emergency meant I needed it. That’s all I had. And from people I know who have concerns about immigration I received words of encouragement and offers of support. That’s how I know you do not object to the concept of a person migrating with no money – you didn’t object when I did it.

When I arrived, welfare supported my family

When I moved to Australia I was unemployed and my partner was studying and receiving Austudy – a welfare benefit. For the time that I was unemployed, this was the majority of the money our family of two had coming in. People I told about this – people who have concerns about immigration – didn’t voice any objection to this. Some told me how it was good that we had some money coming in. That’s how I know you don’t object to the concept of immigrants relying on welfare – you didn’t object when I did it.

Shortly after arriving, I took a low-skilled job

Quite a lot of people who have concerns about immigration base this concern on unemployment. There aren’t enough jobs, and immigrants are taking those jobs. Immigrants are the cause of unemployment. Especially when immigrants are taking low-skilled jobs. It’s okay for highly-skilled immigrants: nurses, sports players, scientists – we need those kind of people, but low-skilled immigrants just contribute to unemployment.

When I arrived, after a couple of weeks of unemployment, I took a job cleaning ashtrays in a leagues club. A low-paid, low-skilled job that anyone could do. The response I got when I told people I know who have concerns about immigration was, strangely, a positive one. “That’s great!”; “Good on you!”; “It’s good that you’re earning money”. Nobody told me that I was stuffing up the economy and contributing to unemployment amongst Australian citizens. Nobody suggested I resign for moral reasons. That’s how I know you don’t object to immigrants taking jobs – you didn’t object when I did it.

There are probably a myriad other reasons people cite for having concerns about immigration – things that the faceless hypothetical immigrant does that cause untold damage to society and to the economy. I’ve probably done most of them. I arrived with no money but I had a mobile phone (I can’t have been that poor if I had a mobile phone!); I spend money outside of the Australian economy, sending gifts to my family overseas; I hang on to my culture and traditions, doing things I did in England; I haven’t adopted Christianity; I eat English food; not applicable here, but wherever I moved, I would have continued to speak my mother language; I watch English TV; I lived rent-free with adopted family for a while when I moved here; I’ve been a burden on the health service. Nobody has ever objected to any of it. Nobody.

So I know your concerns about immigration are really concerns about something else. Because you only have concerns about things that I have done when you strip away my privilege. When you take away my whiteness, you start having concerns. When you take away my middle-class upbringing, you start having concerns. When you take away my native speaker level of English, my childlessness, now my income, my abled body, my lack of religion, all of it. That’s when you start having concerns.

So let’s be honest – what are you really concerned about? And are you quite comfortable holding those concerns?

More letter writing, this time to the council

There’s a proposed development for a plot of land with a house currently on it in our area. I read the application, and I was very much “don’t care either way”. Then yesterday, a flyer found its way into our mailbox that was littered with racism and NIMBYism, and that pushed me very quickly from “don’t care” to “fully support”.

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SAY NO! – TO 28 ROOM BOARDING HOUSE

Chinese developer, Jiankai Pty Ltd wants to demolish the historic old home and gardens at 154 Welbank St, North Strathfield and replace it with a huge 28 room boarding house.

The boarding house, designed by architect firm Ghazi Al Ali, could be housing 60 or more renters on this small residential block.

This boarding house would be on an unprecedented scale for this area and if allowed could be the beginning of a tidal wave of similar developments destroying the value of our homes and the character of our beautiful and safe suburb.

Please contact Canada Bay council to submit your objection to this proposed development.

I was unable – and unwilling – to respond to this directly, as it did not say who it was from, and in any case it seemed more productive to take action against these people rather than engaging them in an ultimately pointless argument. But here are my objections to their objections:

  • Highlighting the Chinese name of the developer and Arabic name of the architect (when those details really are irrelevant) is out-and-out racism. We should oppose racism whenever we see it, even (and especially) when it causes some inconvenience to us.
  • The house and gardens are not historic. Neuschwanstein is historic. Taj Mahal is historic. Westminster Abbey is historic. An unremarkable three-bedroom house built on stolen land is not. The history of the Wangal clan of the Eora nation (of which I am, woefully, largely ignorant) is the history of this piece of land, and this house plays no real part in that history.
  • Change is good. The house is old and tired, and the architect’s previous projects are beautiful.
  • House prices falling would be a good thing for this area. More families being able to afford to live here.
  • This area is perfect for this sort of development. It has good transport links and is perfectly situated for access to Sydney, Sydney Olympic Park and Bicentennial Park.
  • This area is modern and multicultural, and this sort of development is in-keeping with that. Opposition to it is not.

In honesty, the development will cause a bit of inconvenience. It’ll be noisy and annoying, and the people who end up living or staying there might be noisy, rowdy or generally irritating. But the choice between that and supporting the cause of people who push a NIMBY agenda using racist rhetoric is a very very easy one.

So I wrote to the council to register my support for this project.

Dear General Manager
I write regarding the development proposal for 154 Wellbank Street, North Strathfield, and and I would like to register my full support of the proposal.
I have lived in the vicinity of this property with my boyfriend for three years, and I have never been particularly fond of the appearance of the 20th Century house that is on the block and I am irritated by claims from some in the local community that it has any historic value.
The property was sold last year for $2.25m, which is an outrageous price for a family home in any area. Some members of the local community have said that this development will lead to a drop in the value of homes in the area: given the astronomical price of this property at its last sale, a drop in house prices is certainly a good thing. Further, a $2.25m property being occupied by a single family seems to me to be a case of excessive under-occupation and I welcome the proposal to use the land more economically to house more people.
Although I have not seen the type of intended occupants of the proposed boarding house, developments of this kind tend to be marketed to either students or tourists. The location of this property is a perfect location to house either students or tourists. Its proximity to North Strathfield station would make it attractive to intended residents, giving a boost to the economy of the area.
There have been other developments in Wellbank Street recently, some of which are ongoing, and disruption and disturbance has been minimal. I am confident that the proposed development would not cause any excessive disruption to me or to other residents in the area.
I have researched the architect linked to the proposal, Ghazi Al Ali, and have found the other projects they have worked on, especially Omar Mosque in Auburn, to be modern and beautiful. The proposed development would be a welcome replacement to the tired, ugly building which is currently on the block.
North Strathfield is a modern, multi-cultural, and forward-looking suburb, and this development is exactly in keeping with its character. I hope council will recognize this and approve this proposed development.
Yours,
John Avocado

Here’s a fact sheet about the Wangal People, produced by Canada Bay Council. [PDF]

I’m making a hat

I have taken up knitting again. Not seriously, but just as a pastime. I have in the past knitted a couple of things – well a couple of scarves, because that’s all I knew how to do. But last week, I did a little bit of learning, including learning how to read a knitting pattern, and I found a very simple pattern that wasn’t a scarf and I made a start.

This is the pattern I found –  it’s a simple hat, “Cozy Cobblestone Cap”, and the pattern looked manageable.

I felt a little apprehensive about starting because it really is the first thing I have ever made from a pattern, but I was brave and cast on and knitted the first row.

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The first ten rows were garter stitch, so it was a pretty easy start, and got me well into the flow. And I progressed quite quickly. Then the tricky (not really) part. The second section was the “cobblestone” pattern bit – alternating between knitting and purling every couple of stitches – I’ve never managed to do that before, but a couple of YouTube video lessons, and I managed it. Day two and the pattern was emerging.

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By the third day I’d knitted enough that the pattern showed and I was able to wrap it around my head – it was starting to look like a hat!

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IMG_20160426_173607508Disaster struck on Sunday night though – after knitting about six rows, I noticed I was knitting on the wrong side – I’d either missed a row or added one somewhere, and I couldn’t see exactly where. I spent an hour or so on YouTube trying to learn how to rip back the stitches to get back on track, but… I wasn’t game enough to try. I decided to just add another row to get back onto the right side, and hope the inside-out section looks like it’s just part of the pattern.

Last night I finished the main section and started the crown. I had to learn to decrease – the simple but new-to-me SSK (slip, slip, knit) stitch. Again, a couple of YouTube lessons, and some practice on a practice bit of fabric that I have on the go. The crown didn’t take long, and the knitting of the hat is finished! All that is left to do is form the shape and sew the seam. So I think a couple of YouTube videos on seam-sewing will be the order of today.

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I’ll update when it is finished – hopefully it will be a hat and it will be wearable. And hopefully we’ll have a cold winter so I can wear it!

Last albums & pop goodbyes

I grew up listening to M People. I’d probably still say they are my favorite band, although I listen to them much less now than I did when I was 15. Mum & Dad bought me their album Bizarre Fruit II for Christmas in 1996 and I became addicted to it. Then in 1997 we went to see them live at the Hull Arena for their Fresco tour. I bought the album shortly after that and became addicted to that too.

Over the next few years most of my money was spent on building a collection of M People CD singles: their total of four albums I managed to collect quite quickly – and all the international versions thereof – but by probably 2000 I had managed to complete my collection. I owned every M People release.

After Fresco in 1997 and their subsequent Best Of album in 1998, I waited for their next album. It never came. And I never understood because they were at the top of their game, they were successful and so popular, but the next album just never happened. Heather Small made a solo album, and the band toured and kept touring for years – in fact they never split, so I always hoped. Even until last year when Heather finally announced she was leaving the band, I had hope that they might record new material. It didn’t happen.

Artists that I love do seem to have a habit of doing this. Not all of them, of course, but I become wary of getting too attached to bands and artists now. My favorites seem to do disappearing acts too often, so I tend to just assume that every album is their last nowadays.

I discovered Moloko pretty late in their career – towards the end of their promotion of Things to Make and Do which was their third album. I bought their fourth, Statues, on a whim and I fell in love with it. I am still in love with that album and I think I always will be. It was a wonderful final album for a band that I discovered I loved when I went and bought the rest of their albums on the strength of Statues, but like M People, they put out a Greatest Hits and then just stopped recording. Lead singer Roisin Murphy put out a couple of solo albums, but then even she disappeared for eight years before recording (the rather delicious) Hairless Toys last year. She’s got something new coming this year but because of what seems to happen with artists I love, I won’t believe it until I’ve bought it.

Confessions on a Dance Floor would have been a perfect final album from Madonna. To me it felt like a retrospective, like a goodbye, and like it was the album she had always wanted to make. It wasn’t of course – she’s put out another three since then. But I’ll say the same about her latest, Rebel Heart – it feels like it could be her last. I’m sure it won’t be.

Macy Gray’s Big should have been her last. I loved her first three records, but when I bought Big over Easter in 2007, I was sure she would never make a better one. To date she hasn’t. The Sellout was flat, her collection of cover versions was dreadful, and although she gave a good effort when she recorded a version of Stevie Wonder’s Talking Book in its entirety, it was disappointing.  I wonder if I would have lamented Macy Gray’s disappearance if she had quit after Big. I’m sure I would have.

Perhaps the Spice Girls should have given up after Spice World as well. Their two albums were pop perfection (despite most of the non-single tracks on Spice being garbage), and what became their last album seems to tarnish my memories of them. The Ting Tings, whose first album I adored, made a “could do better” second album, and then a third which honestly sounded like they were happy enough with demos of some songs they had written, and didn’t bother to do any real production on them. They should have quit while they were ahead.

So I wonder – was M People’s disappearance a good thing? Could they ever have made an album as good as their first four or would they have become tired and gone the way Macy Gray did? I’ll never know I guess.

But I wonder.

A Letter to First

Today’s glance through the archives has revealed parts of my personality that are probably not as far in the past as I think they are. I like to think I’m not quite as insufferable as I was five or ten years ago, but people are not always the best judges of their own characters. Either way, it’s been interesting to look back and see what I wrote in the past and think about how much of it represents who I feel I am today.

I used to be the sort of person who would write letters of complaint to companies for fun. I don’t really do that any more, apart from the occasional review on TripAdvisor, or a rant here on the blog or on Twitter.

Twitter’s an interesting one because more and more people are writing letters of complaint in 140 characters. I like it actually – when I do it, it makes me think about exactly what the issue is. With 140 characters you can’t ramble on, your complaint has to be precise, specific and targeted. But I also like that companies who use Twitter properly to engage with customers are increasingly understanding that a long letter does not necessarily mean a more serious complaint.

But I haven’t always been on Twitter, and as I said, I did used to write real letters of complaint. Here’s one from 2009 – it’s to First, the bus company, about a not completely out of the ordinary bus trip.

Dear First

I travelled this evening (June 4th) on the number 12 service in Leeds from Roundhay Road to Leeds City Centre, and was disappointed with the service.

As I boarded the bus I was ignored by the driver for around a minute (a rather long time) as he adjusted the sign on the front of the bus, making me feel particularly unwelcome on the bis.

Further along Roundhay Road, the driver stopped at a bus stop and waited for around five minutes with the engine left switched on. Whilst I understand that such waiting is necessary for timetable purposes, I was, and still a, unsure why the driver did not switch the engine off. Aside from environmental concerns, this appeared to me to be an unnecessary waste of fuel which, given the current economic situation and especially recent fare increases, is totally unacceptable.

Again, further along Roundhay Road, the service was further delayed as the driver parked the bus (once again leaving the engine running) by the Tesco Express store close to the Thomas Danby College. He left the bus, went to the store and apparently made a purchase (as he came back with a full carrier bag). This delay to my journey was clearly not for timetable reasons, and a delay for the driver to carry out seemingly personal business is both inappropriate and unacceptable.

I would add that my experience this evening is not typical of the First service, leaving me extremely disappointed by this journey, and I would therefore like a refund of my fare.

I look forward to hearing to you.

Best regards

John Avocado

And here is the response I got from First:

Dear Mr Avocado,

I am writing in response to your email of complaint recorded with us on the 05th June 2009.

We are currently investigating the matters highlighted and will send you a full response as soon as the investigation has been concluded.

Thank you for your continued patience.

Yours sincerely

pp scribble

Nicola Davenport
Customer Services Team

I did get a follow-up asking me to phone them to discuss the matter, but for the £1.80 fare I couldn’t really be bothered.

There are a few other letters and whinges hanging around in my sent items mailbox and probably in archives at my parents’ house somewhere. Maybe I’ll stick them up here.

Saturday 30th March 2002

As a teenager I kept a journal. I’ve looked back at it a few times over the last ten years, and it’s cringeworthy, but slightly amusing. Though also bloody boring – I didn’t lead the most exciting teenage life, and certainly not the sort of life that was worth documenting, but I did anyway.

My journals are in boxes now at my parents home, up in the attic somewhere, and I daresay I’ll retrieve them when I next visit, and may perhaps even publish more entries depending on what embarrassingly awful morsels I find.

In the meantime, here is my entry from 30th March 2002.

Saturday 30th March, 2002

I warmly welcome myself home from another ‘holiday’. We went to Otley near Leeds for the Easter weekend and arrived back today at five o’clock. We stayed at a hotel called ‘Chevin Lodge’, which was, by all standards, a most bizarre place, almost like Fawlty Towers; the staff were so dizzy it was untrue. Good/bad news: there were some waiters in the (rather nice) restaurant. To save space on the Love Web, I list them HERE!:

1/ Will, student (at Leeds uni!!), (longish) blonde [sic] hobbit-hair, v. attractive, but looks quite dim.

2/ Santiago (from Spain (?) ). Tall. Black hair (short). Not really that attractive, but he was a waiter.

3/ “Manuel” (unknown real name. From France (?) ). Short (yay!), but didn’t have the youth of the other two.

What is it with me and waiters?! No, but we had quite a nice (if somewhat amusing) time.

In other news (or (rather) the main news to everyone else …) the Queen Mother died.

I don’t remember now, but it seems I had a bit of a thing for waiters, which is an oddly specific attraction I think. Or maybe it was”just a preference”. (And in case you’re curious, the Love Web was basically just a list of all the boys I had crushes on, but organized, with any friendships and relationships they had with each other marked accordingly. I was a very odd teenager!)

I’m going to drive to work less

A statement I have made too many times is that I would go to work on the train (instead of driving), but my workplace is too far away from the nearest station, so it’s impractical and inconvenient.

What garbage.

A few weeks ago on Twitter, a friend briefly described his Public Health Utopia, and one of the points was that it involved more people walking more. And then it clicked. To walk to work from the station takes me fifteen minutes. Maybe twenty if I take it easy. But either way, it’s not a long walk.

So I’ve resolved to go to work on public transport more often.

The downside is that it takes longer overall for me to get to work, so I have to get up earlier in the morning, and if the weather is no good it’s not that nice, but otherwise it’s positive. I’ve found the walk from the station to work is a pleasant one: it’s relaxing and gives me some space to think. It’s suburban too, so the fresh (ish) air wakes me up, and I guess the walk itself loosens me up a little. I won’t pretend it’s a workout, but there must be some health benefits, even if minor.

Perhaps importantly, I like traveling by train. And I don’t like driving. Even though in the morning I drive away from the city, I still get stuck sitting in traffic, or otherwise have to deal with whatever dickhead drivers decide to assault the roads with their aggressive driving styles, and I arrive at work stressed. When I go on the train, this just doesn’t happen.

Although not a major motivation, it’s in my mind that tolls will be back on the M4 next year, and I would honestly much rather pay a train fare than a road toll.

I’m sure I’ll still drive to work sometimes; probably a lot at first, but hopefully less and less. Even then there’ll be days when I wake up and think “bugger it; I’ll drive”, or days when I just can’t work my personal schedule around the train timetable. But I hope that more and more this will become rarer and rarer.

In short, I’m working on becoming a proper train commuter, and I hope my life will be better because of it.

It might be interesting to say that I wrote this post on my phone on the train on my way home from work.

Microwave Cookery

I rather like cooking using the microwave. I know many people baulk at the idea of using a microwave for anything other than reheating leftovers, but there are some pretty great things you can do with a microwave.

Chicken

You can roast a small-to-medium chicken in a microwave in about half an hour, and it will be delicious and the meat will stay moist and juicy – no fear of a dry chook, which can happen if you overcook a chicken in the oven. Remember to shield the breast bone and the ends of the legs with foil though.

Eggs

You can buy those microwave egg poachers, which are quite handy, but what the microwave is really good for is making scrambled eggs when you are catering for a lot of people. Just whisk the eggs in a large bowl (and unlike when you’re making scrambled eggs the traditional way, you want to get them really really frothy here) and then microwave on low power, stopping every 30 seconds to whisk again, until they are done.

Cakes and puddings

Yes, you can bake in a microwave! The microwave is quite good for making sponge puddings – the type that has jam or syrup on the top – much quicker than steaming. And a pineapple upside-down cake is a great make in the microwave too. My favorite though is my microwave mug brownies. Ready in a flash, and so easy. Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients:

2 tbsp melted butter
¼ cup brown sugar
¼ cup flour
¼ tsp baking powder
2 tbsp cocoa powder
¼ cup milk

Method:

Mix all the ingredients together in a mug.
Microwave on high for 1 minute and 15 seconds

Tip: before adding the milk, mix everything else together first. Make sure everything is mixed together very well.

I Remember When Diana Died

David Bowie died this week, and it seems to have affected a lot of people. And it’s hit me a lot harder than I ever could have imagined. Collective grief, or call it what you will, perhaps, but it’s been very strange.

At the David Bowie disco we went to on Wednesday night I wondered if his death will end up being one of those famous deaths and events that I will always remember finding out about. The famous ones of the past were Elvis, JFK and the moon landing. Gen Y’s famous events I suppose are Princess Diana’s and Michael Jackson’s deaths as well as, of course 9/11. Will David Bowie’s death be added to that list?

On August 31 1997 I woke up unusually early – about 4 am. And I have no idea why. It was a Sunday so there was no alarm. Even more strange was that I couldn’t get back to sleep. After lying awake for some time I put the radio on – and it was the news about a car crash in Paris. Diana was in hospital. She was alive still. I lay in bed just listening to the radio, and then the news changed to reports that she was dead. That’s where I was when I found out – in bed on a Sunday morning, awake for no good reason.

On September 11 2001, I was in my A Level German class – a small classroom – there were only 6 of us in the class. We were packing up because it was the end of the day, and one of the French teachers came rushing into the classroom. “They’re flying planes into buildings in New York” he said. I remember those words, even though at that point it didn’t seem significant. Only when I got home and put the TV on did those words imprint themselves on my brain.

On 25 June 2009 I was at home on vacation, alone and watching TV for the evening – back in the days when I watched TV as it went to air. BBC1 to be precise, and I think I was waiting for Question Time to come on after the news, or maybe Question Time had just finished. But between programmes there was a short announcement that Michael Jackson’s death had been reported. I was drinking red wine.

On January 10 2016 I had just got home from work and was getting ready to go to the gym. I went into the spare room to put my socks on, sat on the bed and glanced at my phone. A new email notification was on the screen. I opened it – it was from the Dead Pool group that I’m in (a slightly morbid game where each December we predict famous deaths for the upcoming year, and score points should any of our predicted deaths occur). It was just a one line email – “Surely someone had Bowie”. It didn’t make sense. How could David Bowie possibly be dead? But I discovered, when I opened twitter, that it was no hoax. I went to the gym.

Ten Music Videos I Love

Driving home with Scot last night, he reported a conversation he was having on Twitter with Kat. She said that there hasn’t been a single good music video made since the 1980s.

I disagree, and here are my picks for amazing music videos made in the last 25 years.

1. Telephone – Lady Gaga & Beyonce

A ten-minute affair, telling the story of Gaga being bailed out of prison by Beyonce before going on a murderous killing spree. The story’s fun, the production is brilliant, the costumes spectacular, and there’s some pretty gorgeous choreography.

Let’s make a sandwich!

2. We are never getting back together – Taylor Swift

The song is [brilliant/a load of crap] (delete as applicable), but the video is fantastic. I’m generally a lover of one-shot videos, but here’s one that includes multiple sets and loads of costume changes. Fun stuff!

3. Happiness – Goldfrapp

Another one that appears to be one-shot, but I’m not sure it is. This features a guy bouncing around an English street (which must have been bloody tiring). I love the song, but the video is bouncy, uplifting and fun. Bonus points for various cameos from Alison Goldfrapp. Looks like quick costume changes, but I reckon it’s more like pretty slick editing.

4. Come Into My World – Kylie Minogue

Visually quite similar to Happiness by Goldfrapp, this sees Kylie walk round a neighborhood in several loops, and after each loop she’s joined by another Kylie making the same journey. Each loop sees order breaking down a little bit, as people and their situations are duplicated. I love it.

5. Keep This Fire Burning – Beverley Knight

Beverley walks through people’s apartments, collecting residents as back-up dancers as she progresses. It’s bonkers, and I love it.

6. Forever More – Moloko

A wonder of green screen and on-the-fly choreography. Roisin Murphy was filmed dancing to the song, and the dancers were added afterwards, attempting to follow her on a screen. No rehearsal, and a single take. Brilliant.

7. Be the One – The Ting Tings

I can’t even explain why I love this video too much. Boy and girl separated, go searching for each other, find each other, escape together. It’s the oldest story ever, but gorgeously told.

8. Say You’ll Be There – Spice Girls

I can’t think of a Spice Girls video that isn’t amazing, but this was particularly good. For absolutely no reason whatsoever, just a performance in the desert. There was a hint of a story, but I think we stopped caring after the first ten seconds.

9. Torn – Natalie Imbruglia

This is one of my favorite pop songs to date, and also one of my favorite videos. Natalie sings to camera as the story of the relationship that is breaking up is told in the apartment behind her. The video ends with the set being dismantled around her – an obvious but well-handled metaphor.

10. 1234 – Feist

I’m finishing with another one-shot video. This is simple, but fun and colorful. And I love colorful, and I love fun.

“Do ya too?”

It’s been a while, sorry! And it’s the weekend. I save the weekend for happy & creative stuff, so here’s a song I wrote in 2005 that I’ve never shared before. It’s called Do Ya Too?

For all those times I used to
stand around waiting,
For all the things I ever
gave to you.
For all those nights I used to
lie awake, faking,
I don’t know just what to
say to you.

When I remember you
and all the things you’d do
I have to say it’s true
that I
never had feelings for you.

Well I guess it’s been a year now,
and every now and then I think of you.
I don’t remember any good times,
but I guess there must have been a few.

When I remember you
and all the things you’d do
I hate to say it’s true
that I
know I had feelings for you.

Now I remember you
and all the things you do
I have to say it’s true
that I,
I still have feelings for you.
And I’ve
never seen nothing like you.

Five tips for top tea

Tea is wonderful! Here are my five tips for the perfect brew:

1. It’s all in the water

Quite literally! Look after the water you use and the water will look after your tea. Famous tea drinker The Queen pays particular attention to her tea water – according to ABC News she used to travel with a case of Malvern water specifically for making tea until the brand was discontinued in 2010.

Tap water is fine though (unless you live in Adelaide I’ve heard), but filtering it will make it better. But the two golden rules: it must be boiling (you cannot get a decent cup of tea on a plane because the water boils at such a low temperature) and you must never use re-boiled water.

2. Give your tea room to move

If you want the perfect cup of tea, you need to give it space – that means using a teapot and loose leaf tea, even if you’re making tea for one. This will allow the molecules to move about as much as they possibly can, and the result is a better flavor.

3. Timing is key

If, against all my advice, you choose to make tea in a mug with a teabag, give the tea time to develop. For English Breakfast Tea that means letting it brew for three to five minutes: a thirty-second dip in and out is just not good enough. For those who like a stronga cuppa, don’t be tempted to leave the tea to brew for longer; it will become bitter. Simply use more tea!

4. The question of milk

Some teas really don’t work well with milk – Earl Grey being one of them. But since this post is primarily about English Breakfast Tea, adding milk is an excellent idea. Add the milk to the tea, not the other way round. My recommendation would be to use skimmed milk, as the fat in whole milk does not work all that well with tea.

5. Make an occasion

Sometimes tea is all about the occasion, and none of the rules apply. The best tea I ever had was out of a flask in a pop-up storm shelter when we were stranded in bad weather in the North York Moors. We broke all the rules – it wasn’t hot (it was warm-ish), it was stewed, and we added powdered milk. But the situation made it the perfect cup of tea – an escape with friends. Sometimes tea exists just to facilitate an occasion – don’t fuss over the tea at the expense of the experience.

Five Resume Tips

I don’t claim to be an expert on resumes or recruitment, but I do read a fair few resumes, and I have to say I see a lot of, erm, interesting resumes. Some are interesting in a good way, catch my attention and make me want to read more, but some are painful to read. I used to feel I had some sort of duty to give each one I read equal attention, and to read it whether or not it grabbed me, but nowadays I’m quite happy for my advice to be “don’t hire this person” based on the briefest scan of a poorly constructed resume.

Here are my five tips to get your resume onto my maybe pile.

Ignore resume advice

The internet is full of advice on how to produce the perfect resume (this post is no exception), and most of it is absolute bollocks. Your TAFE course likely includes being taught how to write the perfect resume. Your careers centre at high school or uni will give you endless tips on resume-writing. None of these people have a clue. Why? Because they don’t hire people. People who hire people, people who read resumes – they know what they want to see in a resume. And they are literally the only people you want to listen to.

The golden rule on resume advice: do not listen to any advice from anyone who is not involved in hiring people. Anyone else will give you bullshit advice about fonts, making your resume stand out, being quirky, including buzz words, summarizing your character. Ignore all of it. People who actually read resumes (and read them for the purpose of finding candidates to interview) will tell you what they want to see in a resume, and since that is the sort of person who you’ll be sending your resume to, they’re the people you should be taking advice from.

Include signposts

I am very lucky: I don’t read resumes on a daily basis, and I whenever I do read resumes it’s rare that I have more than four or five to get through at once. But chances are wherever you send your resume, it will be in a pile of about ninety. The first time I read your resume, I probably have around fifteen seconds to spend on it, so it’s very important I don’t spend those fifteen seconds aimlessly searching for the information I am looking for.

The way to make sure that doesn’t happen is to make your resume look as standard as possible. It should be plain, and (for want of a better word) visually boring. And the most important part of the “standard look” resume is signposts. Guide me through it. I want to know what your experience it – show me, and in a way I can find it at a glance. I want to know where you work now – make sure I can see it instantly. Any super-important skills? Signpost them.

Your resume should stand out, but not because of a quirky design, but because of outstanding achievement that stands out because I can see it at a glance.

Don’t lie

Don’t lie. At all. Don’t be misleading. If it’s “technically true”, it probably counts as a lie. If you’ve worked somewhere for ten months, you haven’t worked there for a year.

The reasons are fairly straightforward: you’ll get caught (or if you don’t, you’ll spend months or years worrying about getting caught), or you’ll end up in a job that’s just not suitable for you so you’ll hate it.

In short: don’t lie. Sell yourself, but make sure that your resume is a true, fair, and accurate representation of your experience and achievements.

Talk shop

Your resume is a business document, and it’s a marketing tool. When I’m reading your resume, I’m looking for how well you will fit into the business. So I care about how well you have fitted into other businesses. I don’t care about your personal life (and that includes your hobbies). I don’t care about your family, what books you have read, what you watch on TV.

I promise, I assume you have a personal life. I promise I understand that it’s important to have a work/life balance, and I promise that I understand you agree. I promise that I understand that when you finish work you don’t stop existing. And I also promise that if your after-work activities involve nothing but sitting on the lounge with your cat, eating Doritos and watching reality TV, I’m okay with that – I’m only – only – only interested in what you will achieve at work.

(That’s not to say if you, for example, look after the finances and budget for your church as a hobby you shouldn’t include it, because that is something I want to know.)

Your opinion is irrelevant

The number one thing I will definitely ignore on your resume is any opinion you offer of yourself. Examples include good attention to detail, excellent communication skills, or great team player. You are using this document to sell yourself so of course you are think you are all of these things. So seriously, tell me about your achievements and let me decide whether that is indicative your communication skills or your attention to detail.

Read your resume again, and for every single statement ask yourself “is this a factual example of something I have achieved or is it a quality I am claiming to have”. If it’s the latter, replace it with the former or delete it altogether,

Your resume is a marketing tool, but it’s also a business document. Keep it relevant, keep it business-like, and keep it true. Your resume should stand out, but not because of gimmicks, but because of factual achievements that easy for the reader to find.

Good luck!


Any thoughts? Let me know in the comments! Any resume faux pas, or things you’ve seen that you loved? Let me know!

Cheaper public transport please

I talk about public transport a fair bit, and I love public transport. There are plenty of annoyances, of course, but I love the concept of buses, trains and ferries, and mostly I love them in practice. I hate sitting in traffic in the car, I like to be able to sit back and relax when commuting, and (perhaps most significantly) I like drinking alcohol, so a public chauffeur is necessary!

What I am generally less thrilled about is paying fares. Not because I don’t want to pay for transport at all, but because, to me, it seems to go against the ethos of public transport. So I offer my preferred solutions.

[Note: I am enormously in favor of publicly-owned public transport, so my ideas really only work with government-owned and -operated networks.]

Public transport that is free at the point of use

Free. Free buses, free trains. You want to go into town? Get on the bus. It’s free. Going to work? Jump on the train: nothing to pay. Easy. Of course public transport would still need to be funded, but I prefer the idea of everyone paying through the tax system.

I hear grumbling from drivers already. “Why should I pay if I don’t use it?” Firstly, of course, because good public transport is good for society as a whole, even if it doesn’t benefit you as an individual. But also, just because you are not physically sitting on a train doesn’t mean you are not using it. Really good public transport systems that lots pf people use do benefit drivers, mainly in the way of fewer cars on the roads. They’re also really useful when your car breaks down. Or, yes, when you’re drunk.

My instinct would be to restrict free public transport to local and commuter trains and buses, with fares remaining on intercity services, but I can’t really explain why.

However I am aware that totally free public transport is a difficult idea to push, so if we are continuing to pay fares:

Cut-price peak-time travel

At first thought, it goes against all logic. Everyone wants to travel at rush hour, so peak-time travel is premium travel, and people should pay more. Of course!

Nope.

There are two main reasons for premium pricing: either you want to discourage people from using the service at a particular time or you realize you can make a tidy buck by charging more for a service when more people want to use it. I hope it’s clear that I don’t want to be discouraging people from using public transport – ever – and I think that cashing in on people using services at particular times is pretty shady behavior.

I’m, again, assuming a state-owned public transport network, but really we want to be encouraging more people to use public transport at peak times. Again, fewer cars on the roads etc. I’d rather see people going to work on the bus or the train rather than driving in. So to me it is nonsensical to put fares up at precisely the time we want more people to use the service. In my world, rush-hour would be the cheapest time to use public transport.

Given the world we live in, I don’t expect either of these things anytime soon, but it’s nice to dream.