Tuesday, 16 December 2014

"Light Lag" - Seasonal Jet Lag From Flying North/South

I am a medical science pioneer, because I think I've found a black hole in medical knowledge: jet lag from flying north or south.

This week I flew my 10th mega-haul flight, i.e. 24+hrs and 2+ plane trips.

This one was 25hrs from Melbourne to London. 25hrs is about the shortest flight you can do between the UK and Aus/NZ, and this felt like one of the easiest.

So why do I still feel terrible 5 whole days later?

Because I've gone directly from warm long bright days to freezing short dark days.


Everyone says "West is best" for jet lag. This is science, because the body (apparently) adjusts to longer days more easily than shorter ones.

I've always been confused by this, because I've found it easier flying East to New Zealand than flying West to UK.

Sure, NZ is not technically "East" - it's on the opposite side of the world, +12hrs from UK.*

But if it's the same time change going each way, why have I always felt great getting in to New Zealand, but awful adjusting back in the UK?

6 of these mega-haul flights were in UK autumn and NZ spring - between September and November.

  • Each time flying NZ to the UK, the daylight and temperatures were about the same. Cue standard jet lag for 3-4 days, including tight muscles, feeling generally rubbish and low energy.
  • Each time flying UK to NZ, the daylight was much increased - leaving darker, colder days for longer, warmer days. And I felt great - slightly upset sleep patterns for 2-3 days, but energised and upbeat during the daytime.

The other 2 flights were in July/August, which is NZ winter and UK summer. I definitely felt the effects going both ways, but I don't remember much difference between them.

Are there any studies? Does anyone care?

Okay, this is all anecdotal, and as a rationalist I often remind people that anecdotal evidence is not evidence.

But a quick look around the internet suggests no-one seems to be taking this idea seriously - that seasons affect jet lag.

Wikipedia hilariously says...
"North–south flights that do not cross time zones do not cause jet lag"
...while also saying...
"Light is the strongest stimulus for re-aligning a person's sleep-wake schedule"
Which is funny, right? Because when it says...
"A ten-hour flight from Europe to southern Africa does not cause jet lag, as travel is primarily north–south"
...you'd think light could be a major factor if you're flying in June, from the longest days of the year in Europe, to the darkest days of the year in southern Africa.

The same goes for Sydney and Tokyo, Santiago and New York, and so on.

Do we need another name like "Light Lag"?

If you're in the same time zone, midnight is still midnight and noon is still noon.

And if you're flying 2 hours north/south, near the equator, even at midsummer or midwinter the difference won't be very strong. You might not even notice it.

But if your departure and destination are both quite far north and south on the planet, the time that the sun rises is going to be pretty different, especially in June or December. And your body will notice it.

  • If you fly Cape Town to Helsinki in December, your time zone is the same, but the sun rises 4 whole hours later.
  • So in terms of light, how is this different from flying 4 time zones West?
  • Added to that, the day isn't just shifted forward a few hours - it ends 5 hours earlier too. So your body has 2 different things to work out (as well dealing with a massive drop in temperature!).

With jet lag, your body only has to move its cycle by a few hours. If you're staying on the same longitude, the day pattern is the same, and your body can adjust easily.

In contrast, rapid seasonal change means your body has to change its entire response cycle, because times between light-dark and dark-light are both completely different.

To me, it seems clear that "jet lag" should either include this seasonal effect of north/south flying - which current discussion clearly ignores - or we need another term like "light lag" to account for it.

So if there isn't already a term, I'm claiming one. I officially declare I have coined a new phrase "light lag". Consider this as me sticking a little linguistic flag in it. (Or RSC "Rapid Seasonal Change". That sounds a bit more legit.)

Boom, I just medical-scienced all over this blog.

Emotions and warmth

In fairness, your emotional state can also affect your body's health and performance.

So, flying to New Zealand always gives me feelings of a) excitement, from the idea of starting a new adventure, and now also b) happiness, from the sense of "coming home" to a country I have very happy memories of.

Then again, I always feel happy coming back "home" to England too, to see my UK family and friends.

More definite is that landing in a warm climate or season (e.g. Thailand or NZ spring/summer) helps your body get around and do things. Right now, my body is tight and tense, and I think that's directly related to going from warm Australian spring to the 0-5 degrees of UK December.

This is my first UK December since 2007 and I am cold!

No-one cares about the Southern Hemisphere...

Just finally, one of my personal bugbears from living 6yrs down under is how northern-hemisphere-oriented the world is.

I think Kiwis and Aussies are used to it. They grow up with a British colonial cultural heritage, they get up in the night to watch sports matches. They're perfectly used to the news talking about things happening in a different hemisphere.

Me on the other hand, I'm a demanding European. Everything usually happens in my hemisphere!

So when it's solstice in June, the whole internet is talking about "summer solstice" - completely forgetting it's winter for literally half of the planet.

And there's the mental block Americans and Europeans have about millions of people celebrating Christmas in summer. Everyone in Europe and the USA knows this, but they find it very hard to focus on, like something that's always in the corner of your eye.

  • Unless the novelty of beaches and barbecues is specifically the topic of conversation, Christmas is always in winter - that's just how it is.
  • Likewise, unless the southern hemisphere is specifically the topic, the default hemisphere is the northern hemisphere.

To be fair, the southern hemisphere only has 12% of the world's population. That's Australasia, Oceania, South America and southern Africa. The northern hemisphere has most of the land and most of the human race: northern Africa, Europe, almost all of Asia, and North and Central America.

So maybe it's no wonder that there's very little attention to north-south flights across significant changes of latitude.

But hey, don't forget us down past the equator.

* It's usually +11hrs (UK summer) or +13hrs (NZ summer) because of daylight savings in both countries.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

I Lied To My Friends And Family All Year (And It Was Totally Worth It)

Greetings from warm tropical Thailand ENGLAND.

London Liverpool Street after my MEL-LHR flight.
25hrs = easy peasy
I'm a bad liar, which made this entire operation all the more impressive.

After 6 years living in NZ and Australia, I thought it was time for a surprise visit back to the UK for Christmas.

This was my last chance too. And it went perfectly.

My mum's reaction - expecting someone else at the door - was just to stare for about 3 seconds while her brain worked out what was going on. My brother managed it in about 1 second, before blurting out "Holy FUCK".

It wasn't quite like you see in the movies, but it was pretty bloody good.

All year I told absolutely everyone I was going to Thailand to travel over Christmas and new year, except for 5 people. 5! There were:
  • 2 workmates when I booked my flights, who I'd probably never see after finishing the contract that week,
  • my 2 friends in Thailand who would actually be bummed out by me not turning up in Thailand (sorry guys!), and
  • a close UK friend who could buy me a ticket - MUCH SECRET VERY CONSPIRACY - to the Manic Street Preachers "Holy Bible" gig on the same day as my friends.
Telling the colleagues was careless. Telling my Thai friends was difficult but necessary. Telling my good friend was a unexpected necessity - but I really really didn't want to!

I lied to everyone. My family. Close friends in the UK. Close friends in Australia and New Zealand. My housemates. Colleagues. People I barely knew.

The lie became so deep I started believing it myself - that I had actually bought a ticket to Thailand, and just secretly changed it or something. I never bought a ticket to Thailand.

Things started getting fairly weird last week:
  • I had a 30 minute conversation with a colleague about where I should go in Cambodia. She later sent me a whole email with helpful links she'd found. (I'm so sorry.)
  • I had to invent an itinerary for my mum about roughly where I'd be over the 6 weeks, looking up different flight codes and bus routes. (She sent my Christmas present to Thailand about 3 hours before I knocked on the door.)
Why such massive secrecy? Couldn't I have told anyone?

Firstly, I'm a bad liar. My face gives everything away. To convince people about this weird idea - that I was leaving Australia to spend Christmas and new year in Thailand without any friends or family - I knew had to believe it myself. (I passed it off as "well, it's a weird plan, but I'm weird, so it kinda makes sense!" - and people believed this, because it did kind of make sense. And actually, I stand by the idea that travelling over Christmas is totally okay.)

Secondly, the world is a small place, and social media makes it smaller. You don't know if telling a stranger at a party in May means your secret gets to your Facebook friends in October. Absolute lockdown required.

And finally, it's about basic psychology. Telling 1 person a big secret doesn't just mean 1 extra person knows. It means you're both thinking about it. If you see them again, you're going to talk about it again, and the risk multiplies. And if you're thinking about it, it makes it 1000% more likely you'll tell someone else. This is why I even lied day after day to my housemate and good friend @desdrata. Sorry T!

Of course, looking back, maybe my intentions look "obvious". And I've already had 3 predictable people claiming they knew all along I was coming back for Christmas, despite not saying anything all year ;)

I didn't lie about anything else. I'm still headed back to Melbourne for the summer (January-March), and I'm still off to Chiang Mai for a couple of months before finally moving back to the UK.

You can totally trust me on these things. No really. Really!

So here I am, back for my first UK Christmas since 2007. It's pretty bloody chilly and I'm not quite sure my Aus winter clothes are up to the challenge.

I've already been to London and felt the mad, crowded busyness which simply doesn't exist in Melbourne.

I've had British ale pumped by hand, and been out with my mates.

It's good to be back.

And you know what? I'm not that sorry. I still have a big grin that I pulled it all off.


Friday, 5 December 2014

Melbourne As A Woman Was Everything I Expected

A year ago I wrote about all the cities and countries I'd seen in 2013 as if they were lovers. All but London were women - I'm straight, but like I described, London for me is definitely a guy.

And at the end of such a weird but perfectly-executed year, waiting patiently for me with her hair done and a bright smile, was Melbourne.

She is sunny, warm and delightful; maybe 32, looking 28.

She is tall, slim, and always impeccably dressed - often in that black wide-brimmed hat popularised several years ago.

She is cultured and intellectual, with an extensive knowledge of all kinds of music, from classical composers you never heard of to underground Situationist dance troupes you also have never heard of.

She loves Europe - maybe a little too much.

She is witty and well-spoken and every so often sarcastic with a smile.

She loves cocktails and gin and craft beer, although being honest, her taste in craft beer has some way to go yet.

And for historical reasons, she has a lot more money than Wellington.

I fly off to Thailand next week, and while it's not the end of our fling yet, I felt like marking a whole year in Melbourne - and another whole year in the Southern Hemisphere (it's a real place, summer starts in December, Christmas is in summer, that's totally okay, etc. etc.).

There'll be more of some kind of wanky retrospective in late March - autumn - when I really am leaving Melbourne, and finally heading back to the UK.

But for now, I say thank you kind lady, and I'm looking forward to another summer together.x

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

"Cunt", Australia's favourite word

As your correspondent in Australia, I want to explain its culture and language, and both of these include the word "cunt".

I should warn you - you've read the word "cunt" three times now, and if you're feeling upset or offended you shouldn't carry on reading. Because I'm going to write the word "cunt" a lot of times, and I'm not going to censor any of them. Let's begin!

New Zealand has good cunts...

At a house party in Wellington, 2 months after moving to NZ, a huge guy slapped me on the shoulder and drunkenly called me a "good cunt".

I immediately thought I was in a fight.

Thankfully it turns out "good cunt" in New Zealand is a compliment. A brash, crude, bogan compliment, but still a compliment. Most Kiwis wouldn't use the phrase at all, but everyone's heard it and everyone knows it.

To clarify, calling a stranger "cunt" in New Zealand is still massively offensive - and like in the UK, it's often used between young friends as a jokey insult.

But "good cunt" (or "GC") loosely means a person is reliable, dependable, has a good character, a nice guy, or just simply someone worth knowing.

...Australia just has cunts. Lots of them

Now let's look at Australia, where there's plenty of "cunt"s to go round.

Here's 2 amusing videos, made by Australians about Australia:

Australia in 2 minutes by Neel Kolhatkar


  • This video manages to offend just about everyone, and Kolhatkar deliberately crosses the line to make racist generalisations
  • However, the video crams in a lot of crude stereotypes in a short time, and they all tell a lot about Australian culture, humour and society
  • The magical line "Give us ya fucking money, cunt" is sometimes used with props (a banana for tropical Queensland, digging up money for mine-riddled Western Australia) - but more effectively, the video just repeats the exact same clip with a different place name each time.
Kolhatkar is not just jokily suggesting most of Australia is thuggish, trashy and wants your money - he's showing how often you might hear the word "cunt" here in the Lucky Cuuuuuuuunt-ry. Which brings us to:

Australia Day - with Ken Oathcarn [RAP NEWS 11] by Juice Media


  • Juice Media's 11th episode of the wonderful "Rap News" very articulately covers the unethical history of Australia's national holiday: Australia Day AKA Invasion Day, which I wrote about here
  • By using stereotypical bogan character Ken Oathcarn, the video enthusiastically throws around "cunt" to ridicule the crude, racist and bigoted parts of Australian society
  • It even opens with a banner saying "Warning - contains Australian language"
  • The video re-works the Team America song "America, Fuck Yeah" as the even more crass "Australia Day, Yeah Cunt!" (full version here) for hilarious and cynical effect:
Australia Day, yeah cunt!
Coming again to celebrate invasion
Australia Day, yeah cunt!
Denial is the only way, cunt
Refugees, you're fucking screwed, if you try to come into
Australia! Yeah cunt! Cunt cunt cunt cunt cunt cunt cunt cunt cunt "Australia Day, Yeah Cunt" by Juice Media/Ken Oathcarn

The word "cunt" is not news in Australia

But how about a third example: Eddie McGuire, owner of Collingwood AFL team and sports/comedy TV presenter.


In April this year, McGuire called AFL player Kane Cornes "cunt" live on TV at 7:30pm. It was a slip, an accident - not that he didn't mean to say it, because it was clearly an affectionate joke - but just that he didn't mean to say it at 7:30pm on national TV.
"Good on you mate, congratulations, go and have a rub, sing your song, enjoy yourself, all those things mate, you might have to have two rubs being an old cunt" Eddie McGuire

You can say it's remarkable that dropping a C-bomb in friendly conversation felt so natural to McGuire, a veteran broadcaster, that he did it on live TV. (And hell, I'm definitely a fan of the unscripted, relaxed nature of Aus/NZ TV interviews and news coverage, which make their UK equivalents seem sanitised, reptilian and pathetic.)

But what's truly telling about Australian society is that it was news for about half a day, then it stopped being news, because the word "cunt" is simply not news in Australia.

I'm trying and failing to imagine a British equivalent - Alex Ferguson maybe, as one of Britain's best-known football managers, or Chris Tarrant, host of UK's Who Wants To Be A Millionaire (McGuire hosts the Aus version) - jokingly calling someone a cunt at 7:30pm on live TV without it being a national outrage.

And as you can see, Cornes clearly didn't take offence:

(Kane plays for Port Adelaide, in case you wondered)

Everyone's working class here in Straya

The fact is for young Australians, and male Australians of all ages, "cunt" is simply not the shockingly unsayable swearword that it is in other countries: prudish US, uptight Britain, even hardy New Zealand.

People of all these countries will use it as a genuine trashy insult - the kind of thing you'll hear from angry young men on a Saturday night, where a drunken fight might break out.

But for young Australians, this is a word casually used among friends on a regular basis. And it's used a lot.

It's very much connected with the working class outlook that soaks all Australia's social levels: to call an enemy a cunt is still an insult, but to jokily call your friends this horrible word shows how comfortable you are with each other.

It's also generally a masculine trait - showing how tough you are by using the worst possible word in the English language. But young female Australians use it too, and certainly more than British or Kiwi girls and women, which again reveals something about Australia's culture and (white, colonial) history: brash, tough, no-nonsense.

Some people might doubt "cunt" really is said more in Australia than in the UK or NZ. To be fair, young Brits do love the C word, and say it in a particularly British way. And it's probably hard for some prudish outsiders to tell the difference between NZ (frequent) and Aus (constant) on the cunt scale.

But just hear the regular stories of Aussies landing in London, having a great time with their new friends and workmates at the pub, and then casually calling someone "cunt" - to horrified reactions.

Even in Britain, a C-bomb dropped at the wrong time creates an explosion of silence.

Want more proof? Here's the search results in Youtube for "Australia" and "cunt". Go for gold mate, there's plenty to watch.

Swearwords: Treasure them

I'm a fan of swearing. It's often healthy to swear, and it's unhealthy to deny it happens.

But even I've been surprised by the amount I've heard the C word this year in Australia.

"Cunt" is a beautiful word.

I don't necessarily mean in the noble way feminists are trying to reclaim it - although after all, like many swearwords, its origins are fascinating and hardly dirty or taboo. And I've deliberately avoided discussing the meanings, origins and potential sexism of the word "cunt", because that is a whoooole other massive topic.

I think it's beautiful in its simplicity.

It is small but devastatingly effective. It is crude and yet perfectly formed.

But we are all in danger of overusing it. Aussies are just ahead of the English-speaking world in this cultural trend. The more you hear "cunt", the more ordinary it becomes. And I think both the prudish and the crudish would agree we don't want that to happen. Not too rapidly anyway.

The value of swearwords is in using them rarely, with respect.

And on that note, thanks for reading cunts.