Abstraction, distraction and detraction

A few weeks ago I read Stephen King’s book on writing called, um, ‘On Writing’. If you haven’t read it, and you have any kind of literary aspirations, I thoroughly recommend you give it a go. Even if you don’t, as a biography of a successful writer’s career, and as an insight into how he does what he does, it’s well worth looking into.

I’d never read any Stephen King novels before reading that one, mainly because my entire understanding of his work until now consisted of just three pieces of information.

  1. He writes horror (which I’m not into).
  2. His stories often make surprisingly good movies – Shawshank Redemption, Stand By Me, The Shining, etc.
  3. His books have the word ‘fuck’ in them (a fact gleefully revealed to me by a friend at school when I was twelve).

But on the strength of reading the awesome On Writing I decided to give some of his work a go.

reading the king

The old me would me would have felt the need to start at the beginning, with Carrie, because reading people’s work in the order it was published somehow used to seem so important. The new me, who read all The Watch novels by Terry Pratchett first before going back and starting on the rest (and is very happy he did so) decided to start at the very top with what many consider to be his finest work; the 1421 page, complete and unabridged version of ‘The Stand‘.

I bought an old copy from Amazon for 1p, plus £2:80 postage and packing* (I was interested in seeing what it was like, but not that interested), and so far – 444 pages in – I’m enjoying it. Unsurprisingly, considering the length, it rambles a little, and there are an awful lot of characters to keep track of, but it’s well written, the idea’s really interesting, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it will play out.

* The old library copy I’d bought had an anti-theft sticker inside the front cover, a fact which caused me merry hell when I went shopping the other day – with alarms going off all the time, many a suspicious look and one apologetic bag search – until I finally figured out what was going on and ripped it out, taking part of the front cover with it.

For those of you that don’t know, the basic storyline (in a nutshell) concerns a genetically engineered super flu virus that escapes the lab and kills about 97% of the world’s population, and what the remaining 3% do afterwards to survive. It’s an interesting proposition which brings me, in a very roundabout way, to the actual point of this post.

I just read a chapter on the wave of natural selection that would happen if just such a disaster did occur. After the disease had done it’s thing some people, unused to and unprepared for a world without safety and technology, would die off pretty quickly from their own greed, ignorance or stupidity. We are told about a bunch of different people, and the tragic/stupid ways in which they meet their demise, and that made me wonder about the so called ‘sanctity of life’. We’re often told that all life is precious, that dying is bad and everyone is important. But is it true?

There are 7 billion people in the world; 7 billion! Let’s assume that most of them are either making the world a better place, or at the very least not actively trying to mess things up for the rest of us. Statistically speaking, there must be at least some people who are actually making the world a worse place to be. Even if it was just one tenth of one percent, that’s still 7 million people we’d be better off without. That’s a lot. I mean, that’s 7 million deaths that could make the world a better place. Faced with an idea like that it brings the whole sanctity of life thing into question don’t you think? It does for me anyway.

reading in the garden

That was where my mind wandered to on this sunny Saturday morn (NB: I feel ok in having thoughts like this because I’m not actually proposing we go out and start killing people!), when my mobile phone went *ding ding* and I got an e-mail. Train of thought ended. Something new had come along to distract my brain, abstract my thought pattern, and detract from my creative mental ramblings. And that’s what this post is really about.

We’ve made distracting ourselves into a full time thing, so much so that the distractions themselves fight for our attention. Message alerts and notifications want us to stop our lives and take notice of what our friends are getting up to on Facebook or Instagram, and we let them. No wonder we have short attention spans.

But we do it to ourselves too. Whilst I was writing this I heard my friend get up and go in the kitchen. She’s been away for a week and got back late last night, after I’d gone to bed. I felt a compunction to go say hello, see how she was, see how her trip went, and it actually took some effort on my part to stay focused on what I was doing so that it might actually get it finished.

I don’t know if we’d be better off if there were less people in the world, but I do know we’d be better off spiritually speaking if we turned our phones and our brains off once in a while and just stayed in one place – both physically and mentally – and did just one thing at a time. I suspect we’d be a lot happier, and we’d make more of this life that we’re all so keen on preserving.

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I Never Knew That!

I was telling someone in work the other day about the 20p coins that were accidentally minted without a date (and as such are worth a ton of cash if you find one!) and she in turn told me about this weird thing to do with the design on some of the coins.

Y’know the ones you get that have kind of bits of the design half off the side of the coin? Well it turns out that if you put those coins together you get a coherent pattern. Of course, me being me, I had to give it a go!

And, y’know what? She was totally right. If you put the right 1p, 2p, 5p, 10p, 20p and 50p together, this is what you get:

coin shield design

Can you see the shield design? How good is that!? 🙂

Bravo to whoever came up with that design. I can’t speak for the rest of the world; but I like it! 😀

Accidental Blashpemy

I blaspheme. Like, a lot! On a daily basis in fact.

As I go through life you’ll find my vocabulary littered with ‘God Damns’ and ‘Jesus Christs’ as I continually take the Lord’s name in vain whilst stubbing my toes or dropping things or, if I’m lucky, gazing in wonder and amazement at something magical.

But the important thing to remember is that I don’t mean it. These words have no more specific meaning to me than does the word ‘Coke’ mean specifically the brown sugar water made by the Coca Cola Corporation. When I say coke I mean any brown sugar water you have available (or at least did, when I drank brown sugar water). They’re just words I use to express a general meaning, and shouldn’t be taken seriously. Likewise my latest bit of blasphemy.

I’d seen this bookshop/cafe just round the corner from the hostel I’m staying in in Adelaide, and filed it away as a nice place to go and sit, drink tea, and read a book. And so, the other day, that’s exactly what I did.

Initially it seemed like any other bookshop you get; ie, full of books. But then as I was perusing the DVD shelves (I can’t help it, I see a DVD shelf, I have to peruse) I noticed that I’d heard of none of these movies; not a single one. ‘Ok,’ I thought, ‘So they get their supplies from some knock-off DVD supplier.’ It happens. Usually in 24 hour garages and back street newsagents though.

Then I spotted one with ‘Kirk Cameron Presents…’ emblazoned across the top, and a spark went off in my head. He’s a pretty well known Born Again Christian in the States. ‘So,’ I thought, ‘they have a religious DVD section. Ok, that’s cool. Each to his own.’

Then I headed to the cafe counter, passing lots of what appeared to be Self-Help books along the way. I stood waiting to order, my gaze drifting around the room, alighting on children’s books with the word ‘Jesus’ in the title, and adult books with the word ‘save’ on them somewhere, until it finally settled on a corner of the room separate from the rest that just had ‘Bibles’ written across the top of the entryway. I think around then is when I finally twigged I was in a Christian bookshop (and if that didn’t do it the t-shirt shop across the road selling ‘born again designs’, and the homeless guy with JESUS tattooed across his knuckles, really would have been the clinchers).

Now as I say, each to his own. It’s all good. But what made me chuckle to myself, and where the blasphemy comes in, is I was there to finish reading ‘Good Omens‘ by Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman, a light-hearted, tongue in cheek look at the Book Of Revelations and the End Of The World.

accidental blasphemy

If you haven’t tried it and you like a bit of a chuckle I suggest you give it a go. It’s a fun, well written book, that I thoroughly enjoyed. Apparently it’s a bit of a cult classic. I don’t know about that. I just picked it up in the book exchange at the hostel, figuring both these guys pen a good yarn, so together they’ll probably do alright.

But be warned, it doesn’t take The Bible entirely seriously. It doesn’t take much of anything entirely seriously in fact, but certainly not The Bible. That was why I felt kinda funny sitting there reading it in what was quite clearly a pro-Jesus establishment.

I’m happy to report though that I survived the experience. No one took umbrage at my presence or choice of reading material (though they would have had to have known it’s contents to do that, which seems unlikely in somewhere like that), and I was neither cast down, smote, nor rent asunder, which would have put a bit of a dampener on the rest of my day let me tell you.

I can only conclude that either God doesn’t care about that sort of thing or, as is more probably the case, She’s got a better sense of humour than most people give her credit for. Just look at the platypus for example. A prime example of someone having a laugh if ever there was one. 😀

The Icepo Hunter

As some of you may remember, in May I got involved in the icepo project, a worldwide effort to release captive icepos back into the wild.

Well, since then I’ve gone over to the other side. Kind of a game keeper turned poacher kind of thing. I am now an icepo hunter!

icepo hunter (in repose)

Hunting icepos is difficult. They are a rare and skittish breed. But a bit of research told me that one could be found in the San Francisco Public Library. Immediately I set to work (but only after a proper icepo hunting breakfast of tea and gingerbread pancakes!).

gingerbread pancakes

It takes great skill to hunt icepos; and a really big gun. Preferably one that shoots lasers and can turn into a sword. Mine does all that and more.

the hunt begins

Icepos are notoriously difficult to track,

looking for sign

but with a bit of patience (and a lot of luck) it can be done.

picked up the scent

Icepos hide out in the most normal looking of places.

icepo, in it's natural habitat

You’ve got to know what you’re looking for if you’re going to have a successful hunt. And even then you have to be careful for fear of spooking this rare and moody beast.

almost got him

But with skill and diligence victory can be yours!

victory!

Of course, I could never kill such a majestic creature. I hunt for the fun of it, not for the loss of life. Rest assured that icepo 99 was released back into the wild, and still roams free in the bookshelves of San Francisco Public Library to this day.

icepo, well and truly hunted

So, is there an icepo near you? How about hunting one of your own? 😉

It’s All Coming Together, Man

As I’ve mentioned already, I am now officially unemployed. I celebrated this by having a purge. I deleted a load of numbers from my phone that I haven’t used in ages, or will never use ever again. If you’ve never done it before I highly recommend it. It’s very cathartic. I started doing it when I lost my phone ages ago, and so lost all those numbers I used to call but who didn’t call me. At the time I thought it was a tragedy, but then I realised what a blessing it was. It freed me of all those old relationships that weren’t working, and allowed me to concentrate on the ones that do (if a relationship is working you’ll have other ways of getting in touch with them). It was such a liberating experience I do it on a regular basis now, deleting the chaff and just keeping the wheat. Definitely keeps things in order, just how I like ’em.

my ticket(s) to ride

The planning is finally starting to gather pace now. Yesterday I booked my tickets for the round the world flights, then I went online and did my visa applications for America and Australia. Today I book the storage, go buy a backpack, book a B&B plus the meditation in San Francisco, and I start to pack ready for the big move.

For those that are interested (and who isn’t?) I got the flights round the world for £1431:00. I go LON-SFO/LAX-SYD(PER)SYD-SIN/SIN-LON. That’s London to San Francisco, overland to Los Angeles, then L.A. to Sydney, a single to Perth, overland back to Sydney (eventually) Sydney to Singapore, and Singapore to London. Of course I’ll be doing stuff in between (I’ll let you know when the detailed itinerary is up on Yoga Bum) but you get the gist of it.

I was surprised to get the flights so cheap (and they’re good flights too! None of that early morning/late night crap) but what really surprised me was how expensive the insurance was. For 1 year it’s £515. I don’t buy insurance normally, so that seems a lot to me, especially compared to the flights. Apparently it’s because of the American leg of my trip. I shouldn’t be surprised, but still it is a shame, especially having to pay so much for something you may never use.

I’m officially excited about going away now. I actually danced a bit when I got back to the flat with my tickets. And then last night, as I went to bed, I caught myself singing (La Bamba for some reason?). These are not things I normally do (at least not just before bed!). I guess you could say I’m looking forward to starting my adventure.

Preparations And Considerations

16 days to go, and its all starting to feel a bit more real now.

I’m starting to book things. Flights to and from Munich. Shuttle transfer to the Ashram in Austria (crazy to fly to Germany to get to Austria, but there you go!). I’ve got a guy getting together a cost/itinerary for me for the round the world leg of the trip. I couldn’t give him all the details, as I don’t know them myself, but I gave him what I’ve got so far… (which is this)

planning

Everything up to the 26th of November is booked. Everything from then until the start of next year is planned, but not booked. And after the new year who knows? It’s all still a bit up in the air!

There’s a lot to think about when it comes to a trip like this. I mean you’ve got the obvious stuff – flights, accommodation, trips, etc. – but there’s plenty of other bits and bobs that are just as important but don’t spring immediately to mind.

Like getting online.

“Ha,” I hear you say, “Internet cafes!”

Well, yes, you’re right. But what I mean is the logistics of maintaining an online presence, like a blog, without carting around a laptop or external hard drive everywhere you go. I’ve been looking into it and the answer is simple… The Cloud.

little fluffy clouds

Online data storage is the way to go (just ’til you get back home anyway). I’ve already got a Dropbox account (3GB of free storage). Now that might be enough to keep me going, but I plan on taking a lot of pictures, so what else? Well, Flickr not withstanding (I’ll be uploading to there as usual, but I’m talking back-ups here), did you know you get 7GB of free online storage with Hotmail’s SkyDrive feature.

That’s right, sign up for a free e-mail account and get 7GB of online storage FREE! And even better, it’s backed up Microsoft Office, so if you store documents on there you can update them online, no muss, no fuss. I’ve already put some stuff on there to help me log in to my many online accounts that my computer automatically logs into at home (as I’ve forgotten all the passwords, lol). In fact I spent a good few hours the other day checking and changing all my logins just so I’d know what they all were.

I’ll also be storing flight and travel information on there too, as well as scans of my passport, visas, etc. just in case they go awol. No more crumpled, damp, degrading photocopies in the bottom of your backpack (though I’ll have those with me too) now everything you need can be backed up online and kept handy. I’m telling you, The Cloud is an absolute God-send.

But that’s just one aspect of it all. What about before I go away?

The past few weeks I’ve been eyeing up everything in my flat deciding what I need, what gets packed, and what goes in the bin. Most of it’s fairly straight forward. But then I thought the other day, what about the food?

a vast array of 'meats' and 'cheeses'

I mean perishables, ok, they get eaten or go in the bin. But is it ok to pack and store spices? Or do storage companies frown on that? Will I have to get loads of sealed plastic containers to put them in? And will that work? I’m telling you, it’s the details that do your head in. All I know is, I’m not giving up my spices without a fight!

And your plants. Who gets your plants? What do you do with your bike, leave it down here or take it with your car up to your brother’s place? There’s just so much to consider.

it's boring waiting for the sun to come out

Actually, I’m being a bit of a drama queen, lol. I’ve got it more or less figures out. Car, bike and computer go ‘oop norf’. Everything packable that’s not junk goes into storage. Everything in storage that’s not furniture goes in boxes, so if I’m overseas and I have to arrange to get it all moved and shipped it’s good to go. Likewise the car papers go with the car, so if I decide not to come back it’s all there ready to be sold.

Yup, you heard me, I might not come back!

I don’t know where all this is going to lead, but chances are once I leave London I won’t come back to live here again. And once I leave the UK, provided there’s things I want to do, I might not come back here to live again either. Anything could happen, so that’s what I’m planning for; anything and everything.

And finally, as a little aside, I’ve started another blog to detail my travels. It’s called the Yoga Bum but don’t go rushing over there just yet as it’s pretty empty (though if you’re interested you can go check out What a Yoga Bum is?).

And in fact it’s existence shouldn’t make any difference to you guys over here, as I’ll be re-posting anything I put on there here on My Brand New Life. It’s just a little yoga/travel based thing for the more ‘yogic’ (ie: innocent) of my friends to keep up with what I’m doing. And whereas there I have to be all polite and on topic, here I can write about all that and still post random stuff I find off t’inernet, come up with new recipes for you to try, post silly pics of silly things, cheeky vids of naughty things, and get away with saying words like ‘bollocks’ and ‘shlong’ and ‘boobs’. 😆

So you guys are getting the best of both worlds! How lucky are you?

(Answer: Very!) 😉

Get Your Head Around This

They say the original Blue Marble photograph really showed humanity what a singular and precious world we have.

NASA Blue Marble

For the first time ever mankind was able to see our home in it’s entirety. To see just how isolated we really are, how unique our planet is, especially within the vast emptiness of space. And to understand just how important it is for us to stop all this fighting and destruction and work together for a better future for all.

Well now we have another unique perspective of Earth to ponder; Earth, from another planet!

Earth From Mars
 
both images reproduced under license courtesy of Nasa Goddard Space Flight Centre

Seen from Mars our home planet is just a tiny dot, no hint of the complexity or confusion that lay upon it’s surface. There are more stars in the Universe than there are grains of sand, and many more planets than that (ie: the ‘star’ at the centre of our solar system is the Sun), yet ours is still the only one that we have found anything close to life on. The current Mars rover Curiosity is looking for any hint that there might once have been water on Mars. If they can prove that they will be pretty certain life could once have existed there. But what will that mean to most of us? In the great scheme of things, not a lot.

Water on Mars is a long way from little green men, and really that’s what most people are interested in, the idea of meeting other intelligent species. But let’s say, against all the odds, that we found them or that they found us. Do we really think they’d be impressed by how we treat one another?

Countless astronauts have said upon seeing Earth from space that it’s hard to believe such a thing as war could exist on such a beautiful and peaceful looking place. And many of them have even dedicated their life to humanitarian missions upon their return home, so moved and changed were they by their experiences. Sometimes all we need to make sense of the world is a slight change of perspective.

As Bill Hicks once said, “It’s a round world last time I looked.” We need to stop looking at our differences and start concentrating on our similarities, both inner and outer. It’s the only way to be if we want to get where we’re going (and be ready for when the sun goes super nova in about 5 billion years!).