Homesickness 

I wrote this last year for Six Months in Sydney, but a chat with Adam on Twitter reminded me of it. Some who follow me closely will know my Australian citizenship application had been approved and I have the ceremony next month: thoughts of home and what home is exactly are in my mind again. 
Timehop reminded me this morning that three years ago I was about two weeks away from leaving the UK and that this fact, having suddenly hit me, was causing my emotions to be pretty messy. I suppose it was to be expected, aside from the thoughts of everything I was leaving behind, I had also, earlier in the week, put the majority of my possessions, packed into tea chests, onto a truck bound for a shipping container. I very much felt like I was in some sort of ‘limbo’; halfway between two lives. I’d done all the admin, all the packing, booked my flights, tidied everything up. Aside from saying goodbye to people I wanted to say goodbye to, I was ready to go.

During the previous couple of weeks I had spent most of my time busying myself with the packing and with the admin, but once everything was done, once I was able to just stop, it hit me: shit, this is really happening.

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I had a couple of mini meltdowns, had episodes where I’d just break down into tears for no real reason and then after about five minutes I’d be fine. It was a strange time for me, emotionally.

Three years later, I feel very settled. That ‘limbo’ feeling is long gone – honestly I have never really felt it here. I expected to feel homesick perhaps, but I never have. Perhaps things like Skype help. but I’m sure it goes deeper than that. I feel no real desire to be in the UK. Sure I miss family and friends, and have a desire to physically be with them, but there’s not much about England itself that I long for, and as time passes, the UK feels ever more like a foreign country. When I’m there, of course, it feels like home, but being so far removed in my day-to-day life means that any associations with “home” are reserved now for people rather than the place.

On my last day in Leeds, I sat in City Square and cried, but now that feels so long ago, as though it were another life. I thought I wouldn’t be able to cope without the BBC, but I find myself only rarely catching ip with British TV shows on iPlayer, and I haven’t once in the last three years listened to Radio 1 online. I don’t feel that longing for supermarkets, the pub, fish-and-chip shops, British roads, the Pound, that I thought I would. I just feel settled.

A friend on Twitter said this, and it echoes my thoughts beautifully:

So perhaps that’s it. I don’t feel any longing for England because I have no need to long for it. Any time I want it, I can have it. Looking back three years, I wish I’d known it then. But even three years later, it’s a comforting thought.

 

follow me on Twitter: @supercroup

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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.

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 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.

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.