Sunday, 23 November 2008

NO UP actual book out now!

I am an author!

You can now order a real copy of my new book No Up over the internet from Lulu is the wonderful website that has lets you upload files and publish them as real books. The awesome things about it are that they only make copies when people order them, and you can order from wherever you are in the world. Well, almost anywhere - right now I'm thinking about the UK and NZ!

If you don't know anything about No Up, it's an action/comedy/sci-fi/adventure with magic and monsters and cheeky British humour - you can find out more and read chapters for free on the No Up minisite.

The published copy costs £5 ($13 NZD) + P&P, which is reasonable for books in this day and age.

Obviously I'm pretty happy to have my first book actually in print - I wrote my first book when I was 10 and have been writing for 15 years, and I've enjoyed writing this book even more than others, but it's just really cool to have something physical to show people.

Happy ordering everyone, many thanks and I hope you enjoy it!

Thursday, 13 November 2008

After-thoughts to my American post below

Okay, an American friend I've made here in New Zealand has checked me on a couple of points in this blog post. To be fair, it is rather one-sided and harsh - I'm certainly not saying America is the only bad country in the world, or that Britain hasn't done shitty shitty things in the past, especially when it was a world power. This blog post was more about my personal feelings and thoughts towards today's superpower, the driving cultural force I've grown up with in the world.

On specific points:

- The US hasn't "forced" its culture on other countries - many countries have indeed taken its food, films, language etc. voluntarily, and largely because America has been such an attractive powerhouse in the second half of the 20th century. I would suggest that America's economic influence is at least partly conscious and directed as a means of non-military influence around the world. But there is an appeal to its cultural exports that countries and societies have signed up to, voluntarily. This is quite a core concern to me because national identity is such a strong part of personal identity, and its strange and frustrating to see young people take up habits and language of the world's major player, and not as a part of the natural evolution of languages. But hey, cultures develop by shocks as well as slow evolution. And in this global village, we're not exactly the 51st state quite yet.

- Obama attended a large evangelical Christian church, and most probably took donations from it, as well as others. So I guess my point is really the kind of views each kind of church contributes to the Democrats, Republicans, and individual candidates ... which certainly cuts my point down a bit.

Anyway I don't like going back on stuff I say, as you know, and the positive aspects of the post definitely remain. But as you also know I'm someone who occasionally shoots (his mouth off) and asks questions later, so I'm trying to be good with some self-aware analysis.


Monday, 10 November 2008

Wellington & NZ - the good, the bad, and the neither

A new update about Wellington, New Zealand and the Southern Hemisphere. For those of you interested =]

Good stuff

- Expressive, creative attitude towards fashion without the pressure. If I see someone who looks like a scenester, I no longer feel the urge to strangle them like I would in England. Because chances are they're not.

- Cuba Street. What can I say.

- Pleasant attitude of young people. A kid asked the other day if I could buy "smokes" for his mate. I said no. And bizarrely, he answered "okay".

- Simple street layout without the American identi-kit city plans.

- Fashion part 2: hardly any girls wearing heels during the day. Hey, heels are hot, but save them for a special occasion! Again, a lack of pressure. Even the boots don't have heels!

- Space. Even the capital city has more space than my home town Chelmsford.

- No-one is mad about politics, but no-one is really anti-politics. Not like people are in Britain. Sign outside the pub on election day said "VOTE. BEER."

- Wicked Asian/Oriental food. All types of restaurants in Wellington city centre, you could pass a couple of dozen in a 5-minute walk.

- CULTURE both high & low & everything in between. Cafes and bars and poster boards in cafes for gigs and events.

- People are nice =]

- Bars that double as cafes, and cafes that double as restaurants, and bars that double as restaurants too. Restaurants, cafes and bars that double as venues. Places that are all four.

- Buses everywhere in Wellington. They even have trains here! (Most of NZ does not.)

- Kebab houses built like palaces! I sat in one with wooden furniture and huge flat screen and a kebab the size of my head. Wrapped in tin foil. Then I ate it.

- Pies are kept in hot cabinets, not in fridges. Why keep pies in a fridge?!

- Strong mix of fruits, including European, Asian and native NZ

- Lack of poncy bars and flash clubs.

Rather annoying things

- ID. The law here is that you're asked for ID if you're buying alcohol and you look under 25, even though like Britain, the legal age for buying drink is 18. What the fuck. It's silly enough in Britain where the supermarket thinks I still look "under 21". It doesn't take flaming x-ray vision to tell if someone's under 18 or not. I look 25, give or take a year or two. I've got lines for christ's sake. And yet they still won't accept my UK provisional driving licence at a number of bars.

- Weather (in Wellington). "Changeable" does not describe it.

- EFTPOS. We learnt about EFTPOS as a useful tool in Year 9 IT, age 14. Here, it's shouted about everywhere almost like it's a brand name.

- You have to pay for wireless. WHY.

- Cars turning left on red. Cars threatening to run you over when there is definitely a green man. WHY.

- Internet. Here, you have a download limit on your broadband plan. WHY.

Not good or bad just notable

- The sun goes the other way in the sky. The other way!!!

- Bizarre mix of music everywhere, e.g. uber-strange pop followed by loud goth metal in a cafe, 3pm Sunday afternoon.

- Strong American influence on a largely independent, culturally-British country, e.g. films, language, products etc.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

How could an anti-American be so inspired by America?

I'm 25. I remember being 17 and watching America elect George W Bush - or rather, not elect him. I was already a cynic about the world's only remaining superpower, but the last 8 years of my late youth have defined me as a person, and during this time people have known me as an open, vocal critic of the United States of America.

During this year, and as of last night, this has changed.

12 months ago very few people in Britain had heard of Barack Obama. The next president was going to be Hillary Clinton - I knew that, you knew that, and Americans tired of the Bush-Cheney regime knew that. I liked Bill Clinton, and I prefer the Democrats to Republicans, so I was more than happy for Hillary to become the first woman president of the USA. When I heard a black man was running for president too, I was frustrated that the excitement of a black person running would divide the centre-left that wanted to get rid of the Republicans in the White House.

But Barack Obama was not just a black man running for president.

Obama spoke about equality and justice, about the millions of Americans without health insurance in a nation where medical care costs money. Obama spoke about the mess of the Iraq war and the deception that took the US, UK and other countries into it, when few American public officials would be so critical. Obama spoke about race, even giving a speech almost entirely on that subject. Most of all he spoke well, articulately but in a way that anyone could understand and connect.

I am still a critic of America.

During the last 8 years, I openly and honestly defined myself as someone legitimately anti-American - not with the screaming hysteria of flag-burning crowds in some Muslim countries, but with a genuine critical view. America's recent history is littered with attempts to stifle democracy in other countries (CIA assassinations in Latin America), and violent wars and secret bombings of countries that posed little threat (Vietnam, the carpet bombing of Laos). America has pushed its clothes, music, language, heroes, food, ideals onto other countries at the expense of their own cultures. It has harboured racism, bigotry, discrimination and a rejection of science at the highest levels of government. America is the country of Guantanamo Bay and the "war on terror", of Abu Ghraib and secret torture sites in Eastern Europe. Most of all America has promoted a model of liberal capitalism around the world which has increased inequality between rich and poor countries, and rich and poor people. And all the time the people of America seem wrapped up mindlessly saluting the flag, and telling the rest of the world how great their country is without knowing where the rest of the world is.

I have changed, and my views have changed.

These concerns do not give way just because Obama has become president. You could put Mahatma Gandhi in charge of the mafia, and it wouldn't change the structure or the purpose of the organisation.

But over time I have realised my concerns are not with "America". They are with the US government, the US state, and the corporate and religious interests that have dominated the country.

If the people of America don't know much about the rest of the world, it is down to a lack of education, not wilful ignorance.

This is a country that has been held prisoner by an aggressive and negative administration for the last 8 years, and millions of people around the world like me have identified themselves as "anti-American" when what they mean is anti-Bush, or anti-Republican, or anti-war, or anti-discrimination.

Barack Obama's campaign and election has been simply awesome, in the genuine meaning of the word (as Eddie Izzard explains). His campaign has been about working towards a better America. It was as much about the original American ideals of liberty and opportunity as the need for economic equality and education. It was about restoring America's reputation in the world by both reaching out to other countries and doing the right things for the American people. Most significantly, it was built on the donations and work of ordinary people, not big business or evangelical churches. It was about reclaiming the American dream from the rich.

Obama is the first non-white president of the USA. This is a touching, private milestone for America - this is a cleansing of its history of segregation and, I would declare, Martin Luther King's assassination. His skin colour is also important for the world, and hopefully will bring down walls that discourage ethnic minorities in other countries reaching the heights of office.

But Obama's achievement here is renewing America. I would have given anything to be in Grant Park, Chicago when he made his acceptance speech - the sheer joy and hope and happiness could be felt through the TV screen I was watching. Obama is everything America should be, and many things other countries could and should aspire to. Obama's biggest achievement is making a cynic like me so inspired, impressed and amazed by what America can and should be.

He did it

He did it.

Whatever happens today, tomorrow, the next 4 years, no-one can erase what has been done by this man, his campaign, and the millions of Americans who voted for him.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008


Please forgive all the capital letters, I hope you can appreciate I'm pretty excited about being here. Anyway it's a bit over a week since I flew into Auckland - I guess I should give you the lowdown...

- 29-hour flight from London to Auckland via Hong Kong. Not too bad as I've done a 28-hour flight before (in 3 flights), but still hits you. Was waking up at 3am for several nights after.

- Spent some time with my uncle's family outside Auckland, then a day with my aunt inside Auckland. Very nice to see them.

- Bus from Auckland -> Wellington: 11 hours overnight, $72.
- Flight from Auckland -> Wellington: 1 hour, $70.
With a laptop, guitar, suitcase and bag, what would you choose?

- Stayed at a hostel for a couple of nights - first night I got in, went out with some Germans/Irish/English, saw a rock band, and got a French girl's number. Mmm French people.

- Currently holed up at a couchsurfer's, a student flat of 5 girls who've finished their exams. Most couchsurfs are around 2/3 nights. There's an American guy who's been here about 6 weeks! All really nice so I'm grateful for the chance to relax while I look for a flat.

- Flats in the centre of Welly vary from $110-150ish (£40-60ish) a week, and vary from "awesome pad" to "shithole" with hardly any relation to price. Seen some places, hoping to be actually moved in somewhere next week.

- The weather. 2 days now the wind has been so strong you could see my ribs through my coat. On Saturday, walking around looking at flats, the wind and rain were worse than anything I've seen, and I've lived in England for 25 years. The hills and the rain remind me of Bristol, but seriously.
The next day I went hiking, it was sunny and warm. Insane.

- Wellington central is laid out quite well so I already have some good bearings here, unlike my first year at Bristol which took weeks to get used to. It's also walkable, and combined with the straight streets makes even 30-min walks seem less far.


- Comspolitan and busy atmosphere without the tourist/hollow feeling of Auckland.

- Been meeting lots of people in various places, including the Wellington Couchsurfing group.

- Some good beers in this country thankfully, I recommend Speight's Dark and Mac's Red amongst others. Then again they do call 500ml beers a "pint" which is really not on.

...And of course, the accent has been a topic of conversation here. I recommend this video as something both instructive for those not familiar with the kiwi accent and rather funny for those who are.

The US votes and the world will change