Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Evolving bucket list, end 2015

[Numbers 1 to 40 written in Spring 2014. Numbers 41 to 96 and strikethroughs and comments on numbers 1 to 40 added 30 December 2015. First publication 30 December 2015.]

1. See Tool live. - They're touring in 2016, I think?
2. Visit Barcelona. - I expect it'll happen sooner or later...
3. Visit Iceland. - Do with someone as a couple?
4. Watch "1984".
5. Read War and Peace. - I read Anna Karenina instead; W&P can wait 20 years...
6. Visit New York City. - AAC?
7. Visit Venice and Rome. - AAC?
8. Visit Japan. - With whose money?! AAC?
9. Write a book. - But what, FFS!!!
10. Write a screenplay. - BWFFS!!!
11. Ride a motorbike. - Leave London and get a licence?
12. See Henry Rollins live. - He's touring in 2016...
13. Read one of Henry Rollins' books. - Let me save a few quid, then I'll do it.
14. Run my own business. - BWFFS!!!
15. Own a rock bar. - Leave London to do it?
16. Get married. - Ha. You kill me.
17. Have kid(s). - Should probably find a woman first. A keeper, I mean. See 16.
18. Watch Easy Rider.
19. Watch Dirty Harry.
20. Read Moby Dick. - Less keen now. I think it'd bore me.
21. Play a venue as a drummer. - Trying to join a band...
22. Shoot a gun. - AAC/Group?
23. Have a go at welly toss. - AAC/G?
24. Go to a football world cup game. - Eh. Whatever.
25. Meet Henry Rollins. - Christ, I need to find additional people to admire...
26. Visit South America. - Quit my job and do it? Wait 6 months? 12?
27. Visit Cuba. - See 26
28. Visit Vietnam. - See 26
29. Try a hallucinogen. - Less keen now. I like my sanity. Sort of.
30. Visit the highlands. - AAC?
31. Visit Ireland. Visit the rest of Ireland - AAC?
32. Visit New Orleans. - See 26
33. Be a radio DJ. - How?
34. Make a short film. - BWFFS!!!
35. Curate or programme a show or exhibition. - BWFFS!!!
36. Throw a throwing knife. - Or an axe? AAG?
37. Get over 1000 views for a single blog post. - Trying!
38. Own a car or motorbike. - Leave London?
39. Sail somewhere. - Haha, with whose money?
40. Visit Vegas. - See 26.
41. Play squash. - Unwrap the racket you've had for 18 months and find a friend who plays, you loser!
42. Get a short story published in print. - BWFFS!!!
43. Get a poem published in print. - Ha, you don't even read poetry!
44. Get a book review published in print. - Up your game, son!
45. Get a film review published in print. - Up your game, son!
46. Record an album. See 21.
47. See a million in my bank account (earned). Pounds, euros or dollars. - Erm... come back to me on this one.
48. Give blood. - Just do it, you useless shitsack!
49. Buy someone a present they really like, instead of your usual crap. - Erm... get to know ... people?
50. Design and build some furniture. - Leave London? No, not to build furniture. Give me a break! Take a woodwork class? Three years of them at school didn't achieve much...
51. Climb a mountain. - Any one will do. What's the nearest of the UK's big 3?
52. Climb Kilimanjaro. - See 26. Try not to be too big a tourist twat while you're about it.
53. Be in a good club for New Year's Eve - AAC/G. Not got long to do this one! Cos I'm 30 I mean, not cos it's Dec 30th.
54. Do a standup routine. - Whoa there! The most terrifying thing on two legs? But you aren't funny! Nick someone else's routine...?
55. Do some amateur dramatics. - Google some societies. Stop being a coward. Read a ... play? Read plays!
56. Get better at chess - Google some clubs. Improve online first? Clubs seem pretty unwelcoming!
57. See the northern lights. - Everyone else seems to want to! See 3.
58. Join a cult, just briefly. - Google "London cults?" Does Scientology count??
59. Live on a commune. - Not really compatible with most of the rest of the list, but sure... Does Scientology have any??
60. Go to another festival that involves camping. - Will never ever remember or be sufficiently alert to get Glasto tickets again. Play Glasto?! See 21.
61. Go to a festival in Barcelona. - See 2.
62. Go to Burning Man. - See 40.
63. Meet the President of the USA. - Build a really complicated clock??
64. Go to space. - May as well aim high... See 47.
65. Do something selfless. - Try thinking about someone other than yourself for two minutes??
66. Get an academic paper published. In print or Open Access online. - Get a PhD? Wait, maybe start with a Master's? BWFFS!!! Leave London?!
67. Walk across the roof of the O2. - Find out how much it costs. (£35. Not horrendous.) AAC/G?
68. Run up the stairs of a massive building, for or not for charity. - Start trying doorhandles?
69. Do an oil painting. - Google painting classes? Buy a pipe and slippers, granddad?
70. See a desert. - See 26.
71. See the pyramids. - See 26.
72. Read Homage to Catalonia. - Visit Bookmongers. Get some Amis too.
73. See Underworld live. - Start saving. AAC/G?
74. Do a driving holiday. - Take refresher lessons? Get a bike license? (No, saddle sore!) AAC/G?
75. Go canoeing or kayaking, whichever is easier on the back - AAC/G?
76. Try surfing! - See 26.
77. Live in a foreign country for at least 6 months. - Leave London? (Duh!) - Now?!
78. Collaborate on something. - Get good at something! BWFFS!!!
79. Get a mentor. - Join the ... circus? No. Approach older men in bars and ask them for life advice?
80. Be a mentor. - BofWFFS!!!
81. Run a marathon. - Keep checking websites for signup dates.
82. Try fell running. - Try not to fall on the fell. Find a fell. What's a fell?!
83. Own a nightclub. - See 47. Alternate with 15?
84. Try falconry. - Google it? AAC?
85. Take piano lessons. - See 47. Drumming would come first, FFS.
86. Visit Moscow and St Petersburg and Lake Baikal. - After Russia pulls out of the Crimea, stops killing journalists and dissidents and lets gay people live... Topple Putin?
87. Conduct an interview you're really, really pleased with. - Decide who you'd really, really like to interview. BWhoFFS!!!
88. Get a GOOD feature published in print. BWFFS!!!
89. Try skiing and/or snowboarding. - See 26.
90. Get fluent at German. - Keep hammering DuoLinguo? So dull! Move to Berlin?
91. Read Madame Bovary. - Bookmongers again.
92. Read at least the first volume of A la Recherche de ... - Bookmongers? The library?
93. Read Dubliners. - In German parallel text?
94. Get a dog. - Leave London?
95. Watch The West Wing and The Wire. - Scope some charity shops?
96. Think of something better than 95...

Christ, I'd better get cracking...

Sunday, 27 December 2015

The freedom of the city

I love living in London, as opposed to the small-town-outskirts-turning-to-fields I grew up in. And even after more than eight years, I'm still discovering new reasons why.

I already knew I love the galleries, talks and other cultural events; the interesting buildings and amazing views; the possibilities and anonymity of massive crowds.

Today I added, while staring out the window of a rail-replacement bus service on the first leg of my journey back to London after Christmas: the physical freedom.

I realised that on some level I'd always thought a person's physical freedom to roam increases in proportion with the rurality of their surroundings. This probably came about because of notions like the freedom of the open road, adverts for offroaders and places like Ireland and the Scottish highlands, and received cultural wisdom like the desirability of Thoreau's great wilderness.

But it's bollocks. If anything, something like the opposite is true.

The fields around where I grew up are all farmland, meaning that they're private property: no trespassing is allowed. The roads around them offer few turnoffs, and what you find down those rare turnoffs is just more of the same, rendering your taking them pointless. Plus you need some kind of vehicle, or at least a bike, to get around them: the drab fields go on forever.

It's slightly better in the suburbs, but even there all roads only lead to houses, commercial property or dead ends. You probably can go down most of them, but chances are someone will want to know why, or you'll find nothing worth seeing anyway.

Compare that with cities. OK, the majority of the land in cities is increasingly owned by corporations or oligarchs, but at least you still have the freedom to wander it, and what you find at the end of one street might be just another street, but it might be a nice church, a soaring glass edifice, a tiny crooked alleyway, a public park, a river, a surprise square, a set of steps or any number of things you'll more than likely be free to explore as much as you like.

I live on the border of zones 2 and 3 in London, and within minutes of leaving my (admittedly shared) flat for a run, I can be passing nightclubs and 20-story buildings, ducking under a railway overpass and then joining a canal for a few kilometers before hitting, if I have the stamina, a massive public park. Or I can take a different route down to the river, or I can head north for views of the whole city...

Or if I'm out for a walk, I know I'm guaranteed to find streets I haven't walked before, and down them surprises I'd never even suspected.

It's not just London: Copenhagen a few weeks ago was the same, and I'm sure Amsterdam, New York, Toronto, Delhi, Mexico City or any city would be likewise.

Probably national parks offer the ultimate in physical freedom, but how many of us can live within easy reach of one? And by easy reach of one, I don't mean a 30-minute drive.

Outside of national parks on one's doorstep, it's cities that offer the freedom to roam. The suburbs stifle.

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Merry Christmas!

This guest post is a transcript of a speech given by Flloyd Leesam, Chair of the Global Retail Association Board, to invited guests at the GRAB Christmas party.

We all love gifts, don't we ladies and gentlemen - both giving them and receiving them.

But the best thing about gifts, as we all know, is their inefficiency.

When someone shops for themselves, they might buy some things on impulse that they don't really need - and that's great - but for the most part they're buying what best fits whatever needs they have.

Gifts, on the other hand, are bought for one person by someone else who usually has only a vague idea of what the first person needs. And they might not even have any needs at all: it might just be Christmas, a time for showing how much you love someone by lining our pockets! [Gestures expansively]

[General laughter]

Chances are the recipient would never have bought that gift themselves and doesn't really want it. Or they might even already have it - the Holy Grail!


But today, I'd like to urge you to think differently about what it is that we do.

Let's think outside the box for a moment. What can we do to take that magical inefficiency of gift-giving and replicate it at other times of the year? After all, we all know that Christmas only lasts from August until Boxing Day!

Most obviously, we could think about new occasions for gift-giving, taking inspiration from the greeting cards sector. "Congratulations on passing your driving theory test!" Hello Barry, hello Gill! [Waves to people in room].

For example, what about an "anti-versary": another anniversary at the half-way point between the last and the next - the furthest point from being able to express your love again. Oh, my heart-strings! [Clutches breast]


But let's not limit ourselves to gift-giving. What about playing on people's hopes and dreams like the lottery does - is Andrew in the room? [Scans room] Oh no, that's right, he's spending Christmas in the Azores. Nevermind.

What do I mean? Imagine a day - lucky Friday, say, or super Saturday - where customers are given the chance to swap the thing they want to buy for a mystery alternative that might be worth a lot more or - most likely [winks] - might be some old stock we want to get rid of!


Who could pass that up, eh?

Subscription services, bundling, built-in obsolescence - these are just the tip of the diamond. So let's eat, drink and be merry, but let's not forget this festive season what we're all about: convincing people to leave their brains at the door and their money in our tills!

Merry Christmas everyone!

[Seriously though: Merry Christmas! :)]

Saturday, 12 December 2015

First-world problems and free hugs

[I recently looked back through some old unpublished posts. There's better stuff there than some of the dross I've recently seen fit to publish , so I thought I'd apply some finishing touches and say to hell with it...]

I like the term "first-world problems". You hear it too often [or you did at the time this post was written], but it's a pithy reminder that if you live in the developed world, chances are you don't have that much to complain about. On a recent stag weekend in eastern Europe, a friend complained of having too much foreign currency to fit in his card holder. First-world problems.

It is easy to forget how good you have it, relatively speaking. I've just arrived home from a conference in Prague on palliative care - care for those with a life-threatening or terminal condition and their loved ones. One particularly powerful talk was about the "total pain" of people with HIV/AIDS in Africa [I think it might have been Lucy Selman from KCL talking about people in Kenya and Uganda]. Total pain is all the problems a person faces, physical, psychological, etc. For the speaker's sample this included not just agonising physical pain that had to be borne without analgesia, but also having no family support, inadequate shelter and no food.

The speaker pointed out that this was somewhat worse than it having been raining in Prague for the past 4 days, which was probably the most pressing problem in the lives of many of the people in the audience at that time. First-world problems.

[Although, to be fair, the Czech Republic did declare a state of emergency shortly after the conference ended, it rained that damn much.]

But that doesn't mean we in the first world don't have our own issues to deal with. Sitting in another talk, at the end of a very long day and probably no longer entirely with it, mentally speaking, I found myself dazedly contemplating how odd it is that we - society/the state - only really start to care about people's wellbeing and quality of life once we know they're dying or frail.

Generalists and non-palliative care specialists only treat whatever condition someone presents with, and society doesn't care how you feel unless there's something seriously wrong with you. These are resource issues: health care systems have only so much money, and there's only so much sympathy to go round.

Maybe we need something like palliative care for the general population. Nothing so specialised as knowledge of how to soothe pain, dampen nausea or quell breathlessness, but something along the lines of the friendly ear, massaging hands, warm smile and dedication of time.

Someone might sit down with you, listen to your issues with a sympathetic ear and a cup of tea, and then remind you of your health and socioeconomic status and gently show you the door with a friendly flea in your ear, your concerns soothed and your perspective restored at the same time.

Free hug, anyone?

[It does occur to me now that this might be what the Samaritans do, but aren't they a suicide helpline? I was thinking more something like surrogate grandparenting...]

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Book review - Vade Mecum, Richard Skinner (2015)

A vade mecum, the final few lines of Vade Mecum tell us, is a "guide or handbook, kept close at all times and used for instruction". I wouldn't go as far as keeping VM with me at all times, but I did take it away with me on a long weekend, and I do intend to keep it within handy reach for a while now that I'm back home, even though I've finished it. Why? Well, the main thing it has going for it is that it's a slim but dense source of things that sound interesting and that I want to check out...

This will be easiest for music, in this age of Spotify: there's a 12-page essay on dub as a musical style, for example - the longest entry in the book - and I want to listen to pretty much every musician and track mentioned in it.

Then there's the entry that consists solely of a list of moments / aspects from films, without any explanation of what they have in common. They're obviously bits Skinner likes / attributes something to, but why / what? Some explanation would have been nice actually, but you get the gist: the films are worth seeing.

I love collections of criticism and comment that span different media, and VM is a worthy addition to the likes of Adair's Surfing the Zeitgeist and Hitchen's Arguably. It's not quite on the same level, but it's a denser source of promising trails to follow, and well worth keeping close to hand for that reason alone.