Monday, 21 December 2015

Finally ... hello from London.

Greetings from London! Or more specifically, Frankfurt, ish.

I've been waiting a long time to write this post. I got back to the UK in May, and wanted to be settled in London - at least with a flat, if not a job - before writing it.

That took 6 months.

So it's doubly ironic that I've been 5 weeks into both a great job and a great house before finally finding the time to say hello: waiting in an airport, early for my flight. What can I say, it's becoming a habit.

This weekend has been 48hrs of Christmas markets with friends, including the marvellous @desdrata, who brought - all the way from Australia - a present of the fluff you get in the drier filter. I'll have to explain that one another time...

London is marvellous. It's busy, it's big, it'll eat you alive, etc. I feel like after 5 weeks of madness my life still hasn't calmed down; I guess I trade some kinds of madness for others.

Finding a job was frustratingly just as frustrating as finding one in a different country. Being away 7 years means you miss out on the little things, even having popped in to catch up on the big things.

I had my first Nandos in Bristol 12ish years ago; yet some time in the last 2 or 3, it has colonised the entire country.

People used to drink "bubbles"; now, UK offices are powered by the promise of Prosecco.

And in this same time, 2 changes happened:

- Everything became "digital". We live in Digital Britain now. So while I looked for jobs with "web content", agents asked me to make my CV "more digital". I'm now working in digital communications. I blame the Olympics.

- Everyone is a "manager". Not a manager of people. A manager of whatever your work is about. David Cameron's job title is probably now "British Affairs Manager". Your mum is probably a "Parenting Manager".

It's all fine, but moving back to your own country really is like moving to another country.

The irony of coming back to the UK thinking I wouldn't have to worry about  visas any more, is talking to agents on the phone who hear my accent and ask "What's your visa situation?"

I'm kind of pleased in a way, because I like my accent; I just correct people when they think it's Australian.

When you move to a new city, you have to make it work yourself. Even if you have friends there who can offer you a couch for a week or two. You need a job and a flat, preferably in that order.

But moving back to the UK, with my parents still living happily in our old semidetached family house in Essex, with my childhood books still on the bookshelf in the spare room (Animals Of Farthing Wood reprazent!)... They were happy to have me and I was happy to be there.

It just still felt strange when people would message me saying "How's London?" when I wasn't in London.

Just 50km away, after 7 years of saying "next year", I felt further from London than ever.

So, I was glad to have 3 months of straightforward web work at University Y. It was definitely what I needed at the time, if only so that employers would stop looking at my CV saying "Dis guy looks like an alien OR SUTIN".

But then finally, somehow, things went right; I got a great house with great people before I'd even started looking. It's the Isle of Dogs, which is already causing much amusement. I'm technically north of the river, despite being south of Greenwich. We have a garden and a lounge, which are both nearly extinct in London now (they've all been built on and turned into bedrooms respectively). And I can catch the boat most of the way to work - skipping the madness of the tube is my treat once a week.

And now I have a "proper" communications job in Public Sector Organisation H, which is interesting and engaging and important and even well-paid. (Well, it seems like a lot of money, but maybe I've just been brutalised by 7 years of temp & contract jobs down under.)

It's full of acronyms and legalistic language and needless bureaucracy and I feel very much at home.

There's plenty more I want to share with you, readers, the world, mainly because this blog is all about me and I have a crippling, debilitating need to be understood. But they can wait.

I've got a flight to catch.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

The "Paracetamol Challenge" Doesn't Exist And Everyone Is An Idiot

If the first you hear about a new "craze" is the backlash against it, it's probably not actually a "craze".

A few hours ago I saw a Facebook friend post an article about the terrifying "#ParacetamolChallenge", where children are apparently daring each other to overdose on paracetamol - which is, genuinely, extremely dangerous.

But looking for more information, all I could find was the same thing: news articles from major respected newspapers and media organisations saying "apparently" and "so-called" and "dangerous new craze".

There's very little actual information or examples of this "trend". Which is surprising, if it's a trend, right?

First here's the tweet from Coatbridge Police (it's in Scotland) which all the major stories have not just quoted but embedded:

Firstly you'll note it's from 5th May - 3 weeks ago. If this was a scary new trend, like the newspapers are reporting, how come we've heard nothing about it until the last 24hrs?

Secondly, this tweet only has 25 favourites and 79 retweets (at time of writing) - despite being 3 weeks old and embedded in stories by several major news organisations.

This is no surprise - moral panics and scare stories travel without any need for the original news they're based on.

If you hear phrases like "dangerous new craze", alarm bells should ring about the accuracy of whatever is being claimed.

Having written about the "New Trend In Portland" last year, this phrase and the topic bears a number of similarities in why this story has gone viral - regardless of whether it's true or not:
  • Drugs
  • Children and Youth
  • Health
  • "Trends", memes, and power of the internet

Usually stories like "New Trend In Portland" slowly creep up the food chain of smaller Facebook pages to bigger Facebook pages, as the owner of each bigger page works out they can gain new followers and attention from sharing whatever gross/funny/terrifying story that's going around.

But with this is powerful combination of factors, it's no surprise that #ParacetamolChallenge has rocketed up the media hierarchy to major news outlets.

What we've got here is an accidental case of Brass Eye's "Cake" drug story. While paracetamol is certainly not a "made-up drug" like Cake, the story is just as made-up as the story of "Cake", which even made it into the UK Parliament.

What information do we actually have on the so-called "so-called Paracetamol Challenge"?

As some links report, it "came to light" around March - so this story is 2 months old at least.

The Scotsman reported last week on the "craze". But scrape through the vague scaremongering and there is very little to be certain of:
  • that one person, probably a child, may have been hospitalised, "apparently" from being dared to overdose on paracetamol, and
  • that a lot of people were scared by it, with East Ayrshire schools sending out notices to parents and telling them to monitor their social media use (as if parents aren't constantly encouraged to do that already)
The article also embeds this tweet by from 7th May describing the challenge - but this is not evidence, and @Robbie_Demure could just be repeating what he saw or heard. It's still just "apparently".

So what we have is "apparently" a few kids in a small part of Scotland doing something stupid and dangerous - and that incident rapidly turning into a local scare story, which has now become a global scare story.

And all it needed was the word "Challenge" stuck on the end - probably by someone completely unrelated to the original incident - to mimic the name of 2014's Ice Bucket Challenge. Because there's nothing scarier than our children repeating a trend they saw on new technology in a new and dangerous way.

What would Marilyn Manson say?

There's also this article by the Mirror where a heartbroken mother who lost her daughter to a paracetamol overdose begs young people not to do it. But the crucial thing here, is that this girl died in 2011 - nothing to do with #ParacetamolChallenge. The story is justifiably tragic but tragedy is the only reason this article is popular, not accuracy or connection with this "dangerous new craze".

Here is a heartbroken woman begging children not to take part in a craze that does not exist.

On Twitter, the only results for #ParacetamolChallenge are people screaming how awful it is and how stupid kids are. I don't know how far back you'd have to go to find an actual example of, as the Mirror article claims, children "daring each other" to abuse paracetamol "on social media networks including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram".

A quick look at Instagram shows there is no hashtag for #ParacetamolChallenge.
Instagram may have removed it - they police and manage the available search terms - but even searching #paracetamol shows nothing about this "craze".
#ParacetamolOverdose is 8th on the list of available search terms, with 41 posts, the latest being 3 weeks ago.

And to be frank I'm not sure how anyone "dares" someone else on Instagram, seeing as it's a picture site. They allow short videos, sure - but it's clear the sheer mention of "social networks [hyperlinked] including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram" is specifically designed to press the right buttons, as described in the list above, of paranoid parents and judgmental readers, ready to react first and think later.

Talking of videos, what about Youtube? Considering the Ice Bucket Challenge spread specifically and directly through Youtube videos, you'd expect in a "craze" 3+ weeks old to find some kids daring other people to take the challenge, but no, nothing.

You'd also expect people to be shouting and raging about this dangerous new trend, but there seems to be just one video so far. 5 days old with 170,000 views, "The Newest Stupid Challenge That's F$%king Teens Up - SourceFed" claims "teens from all over the world are competing with each other to see who can take the most paracetamol". Really, guys?

They include a sample video of a kid spitting into a cup - it's even the thumbnail - as if this is an example video of the #ParacetamolChallenge, like some kind of proof it's really real. But we don't see him taking anything, there's no information about him, nothing - this is a kid from anywhere doing anything.

The male reporter with the toy giraffe on his head laughably says "campus cops are paying close attention to these trends", presumably unaware that British people hardly ever call high schools "campuses" and certainly don't have police in them! Which idiot at Sourcefed gave him this line?

The best irony is the presenters go on to describe other "trends" which are even more clearly made up, including taking drugs and alcohol anally "for a longer hit".

I should stop worrying about this - I've already spent an hour writing all this out, and my point is that kids are not actually dying, which is a good thing.

That's another point - if this was a real trend, we'd have heard about more than just 1 kid getting themselves into hospital, don't you think?

But what staggers me is how massively this story has been taken up, how literally and unquestionningly everyone takes it, and how seriously angry people are getting over something which is clearly not true. React first, think later.

Even international media have picked up the story - check the links below, and the hilarious Brass Eye video satirising fear of drugs way back in 1997.

The best past though? These scare stories and moral panics are poetically ironic.

This isn't even a lie or a conspiracy people are being fed - it's a lie people are only too happy to give themselves.

And it's a panic on social media about social media, when the only real event is the panic itself.

By the way, in case it's not clear - don't ever overdose on paracetamol, even if you do want to commit suicide. It's a horrifically painful and drawn out way to go.

Now I'm off to start the #MoralPanicChallenge. Anyone got any Clarky Cat?

P.S. By total coincidence the #CharlieCharlieChallenge is taking over Twitter at exactly the same time as the Paracetamol Challenge. Incredible. I wonder if it's a marketing gimmick for the Poltergeist remake?

Monday, 11 May 2015

One More Flight.

It's clear from the election I'm coming back to live in a Britain radically different from the one I left in 2008.

But that aside, I'm also nervous and excited for a whole bunch of reasons.

I'm writing this from Bangkok Suvarnabhumi airport. This is my last long haul flight I'll take for probably a long time, and I don't even have a good estimate when. Both of these things are very weird.

I've become used to airports. I like them now.

My joke from the last few weeks is that I'm glad job interviewers won't ask me about my visa status any more - except that, considering my accent, they probably will.

It's also strange when I think I've spent more of my life in both Bangkok (8 weeks) and Chiang Mai (5 weeks) than I have in most British cities.

I am woefully underprepared for moving to London. The original plan was to use my stable time in Chiang Mai to upskill and apply for jobs. Instead, I cut my trip short, took a manic trip to Macau and Hong Kong, and completely underestimated the unforgiving the heat of Thailand this time of year; all of these have all left me flapping around and simply desperate for normality.

I'm really, really looking forward to British weather.

I've discussed travelling vs backpacking with people a lot recently - if I was in any doubt, the last few weeks have confirmed for me how much I hate carrying my shit everywhere.

I left England with a guitar, laptop, suitcase and bag, and I am returning with these same 4 things. It's become part of the history and mythology of how I see myself and I my life. And being able to carry these things all at once, by myself, is an important symbol of my competence and independence.

But even just carrying my laptop and backpack through the sweaty streets of Macau for 2 days was enough to drive me mad.

Maybe one day I will go "backpacking" again. I hope to do more adventuring and exploring, even as a boring old fart in my 30s. But not now.

Now, I'm hoping to make London my home and Europe my neighbourhood.

I'm looking forward to studying again, and staying in the same place, and being productive. London is calling.

But right now, I'm looking forward to free drinks and movies on the plane.

See you soon.


Friday, 8 May 2015

GE2015: I Feel Like I've Been Punched In The Face, Again

Well that was an election and I should clearly stop being surprised by anything any more.

Firstly the winners and losers, so far, with results still being announced:

  • Conservatives - performed far beyond expectations, even scraping a majority
  • Scottish National Party (SNP) - also exceeded expectations, destroying major Labour MPs
  • UKIP - massive vote and strong turnout
  • Greens - again, huge vote
  • Labour - awful performance not only against SNP but against Tories in England
  • Scottish Labour - worth repeating, Labour have been annihilated in Scotland by SNP
  • Liberal Democrats - annihilated across the UK, reduced from 57 to 8 (current results)
Plaid Cymru and Northern Irish parties are stable.

Early this morning, 12 hours ago, I wrote about how "The UK Voting System Is An Insult To Democracy". It was pretty angry, and predicted a hung parliament which would reveal how appalling our voting system is.

I was right about our voting system, but wrong about the hung parliament. Everyone was. A huge late swing to Tories in England left all those polls - which were stable, fixed, unmoving from January right up until the shock exit poll some hours ago - completely ridiculous and miles off.

I followed the New Zealand election in September last year and felt sick with the surprise result. After 2 terms of selling off national assets (privatisation), spying scandals, environmental scandals, you name it - everyone I knew predicted a Labour/Green victory. Instead the rightwing National Party government gained a momentous victory.

It was a shock, even watching from "over the ditch" (Tasman Sea) in Melbourne, like a physical impact. The lefties did not see it coming because we did not know how most of New Zealand felt.

8 months later and virtually the same thing has happened in the UK. Why did Labour do so badly? How did it happen? Why were the polls so wrong?

It is a chaotic result - we now have many parties making huge impacts, but complicated by our frankly Stone Age voting system First Past The Post (FPTP).

For example, many countries - New Zealand, Australia, some in Europe - all understand multi-party politics, but our system is geared specifically to favour 1) large parties, like Labour and Conservatives, and 2) geographically concentrated parties, like the SNP.

So we have:
  • SNP destroying everything in their path, marching on Westminister with pitchforks and flaming torches (and separately governing the Scottish Parliament too). Nearly all of Scotland is bright yellow.
  • UKIP enjoying a huge number of votes (maybe 1 million or more) in the East and North of England. There will be many people who are proud they voted UKIP, a xenophobic party full of homophobic and racist members. In towns and villages, racists and thugs will feel more confident with public bigotry.
  • Labour reduced to the cities of England, ready to play the games of "blame everyone" and "sacrifice the leader". It is not a healthy place to be.
  • Conservatives swamping the English countryside and towns, even creeping into typically Labour seats in cities. Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls being unseated by Tories is the icing on their cake.
  • The Greens taking over 1 million votes across the UK - still only 1 seat, Caroline Lucas in Brighton, but a much stronger position than ever before.
  • And of course Lib Dem graves being dug all over the country, particularly England and Scotland, major politicians and cabinet ministers being kicked aside by the relentless SNP.

You know what, I was going to write some personal analysis and interpretations, but I'm really tired - mentally - and I don't have the energy. Nothing I write here now about "voters decided at the last minute" and "emotional decisions, not rational ones" (no shit Sherlock!) will be helpful or practical in any way.

It's hard to tell which is worse, the shock surprise or the result itself.

I find it very hard to remember the last election in UK, NZ, Australia, which I felt really happy about.

I'm going to have a whiskey, mix some loud music, and go to bed early.

The UK Voting System Is An Insult To Democracy.

I write this in the sweltering Bangkok heat, and I live in 2 worlds: the social media world, where the UK election is raging, and the world of Thailand, where the UK election doesn't exist.

It is 30 degrees C at 3am. This is normal in hot season.
Summary: Sign this petition to change the UK voting system and get ready to get angry.

The simple fact is this: the UK electoral system is barely "democracy", and we can't be proud of it while this historical relic is still destroying the will of the people.

I get back to the UK in 4 days - not to visit this time, but to live, after 7 years in NZ and Aus. I have so many draft blog posts to finish: the follow-up to living in Chiang Mai; the one about Macau and Hong Kong; the one about how I almost certainly got herpes last year and why we need to talk about herpes. You're going to enjoy that one.

But here and now while I sweat in my guesthouse and people vote and argue 6hrs behind in the UK, this is the post I have to write.

The media say "our system is broken", but our system was always broken.

"First Past The Post" (FPTP) works by local areas electing a representative MP to send to Parliament, apparently to represent them.

Well, apart from the bare fact that Parliament decides law for the whole country, and MPs can only influence their area by huffing "I'm the MP! I'm important!", here's the simple version of why this system is fucked:
  • 40% votes is roughly the votes each MP wins in their constituency
  • 60% MPs is considered a strong government which can pass laws without problem
  • So, 40% x 60% = 24% of votes cast elect the UK government.
To be legitimate this number should be 51% or more. To make laws for all the country, your government should represent a majority of the country. Real democracies understand this.

The media say, what is happening now shows our 2-party system (Labour vs Conservatives) has become fragmented. That it no longer works. FPTP is supposed to deliver strong governments, and 2 elections in a row is has failed.

But this is clearly a fucking lie. It has always been broken - we are only now, in a very visible way, seeing that brokenness.

The causes for revealing the failure are not even about the system itself. The media points to the rise of the Scottish National Party (SNP) in Scotland and United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) in England, plus a strong rise for the Green Party. They show this as evidence our democracy is now "multi-party".

But the real drop in support of the two main parties is due to their failures to be convincing this election:
  • The Conservatives have governed over massive rises in food banks, inequality, welfare cuts - while the rich have gotten richer through the global recession. They d
  • Labour have failed to shoot the fish in the barrel, to provide clear policies that will protect people. After 5 years of failing in opposition, they have only looked convincing in these 4 weeks campaigning.
  • Both parties campaigned in a pathetically negative manner during the Scottish independence referendum, and both parties have failed to account for the white English working class who feel left behind and left out. Both are responsible for the rise of SNP and UKIP.
The third "main" party, the Liberal Democrats, also face losing half their seats because no-one believes anything they say after breaking their promises and supporting a rampant poor-hating Conservative party.

So here we are. Finally our voting system is revealed as the farce that it always was.

The media talks about the "national vote", the % of all votes each party wins, as if this matters.

It is a red herring.

Not only does it not decide who is in government, it is also highly misleading.
  • If the polls say 33% of all votes are for Labour, 
  • and 33% of all votes are for Conservatives, 
  • how many of those votes get thrown in the bin, because they are in losing constituencies?
Yes pundits and geeks will look at the stats, "Oh the Greens did well this time", "Oh look at UKIP's strong support", whatever.

The hard truth is that every vote that is not for a winning MP gets thrown in the trash.

So if Labour and Tories each win 43% seats (280 seats) that means 43% x 33% = 14%.

So the probable effective national vote of each major party - these are the big, dominating parties of UK politics - in 2015 will be 14%.


So we are supposed to ignore the fact Labour and Conservatives gain 19% of the "national vote", over half of all the votes they receive, in constituencies they lost.

We are supposed to pretend that it all kind of balances out, really, in the end, doesn't it, right?

What a fuck up.

Even New Zealand, a small poor country full of sheep and volcanoes and excellent beer, has a better system than the UK. It's called "Mixed Member Proportional" (MMP):
  • Each person gets a party vote and a constituency vote
  • So the constituency area is still represented in Parliament...
  • ...but each party in Parliament gets the same proportion of MPs as all the votes cast.
The superiority of the NZ Parliament over the UK Parliament is already clear. In an age where climate change is scientifically accepted, the New Zealand Green Party have 14 seats out of 120 (12%), while the UK Greens have 1 MP out of 650 (1.5%). The National Party's historic, monumental, landslide victory of 2014 saw them win 50% MPs and 47% of all votes.

So if you're an old buffer who believes proportional representation means removing constituency representation, go get fucked, because it doesn't.

While the UK bombs other countries for democracy, it is nice to finally see clearly our own system failing to deliver the representatives and the will of its own people.

Most hilarious of all, when our system "works" it swings like a pendulum: we go from strong Labour governments to strong Tory governments and back again - as if politics is either One World Outlook On All The Things or That Other World Outlook On All The Things.

The 2 big parties are supposed to sit opposite each other and shout at each other - that is how the House of Commons is designed! - instead of finding consensus and solutions which at least half the country would agree with.

The other parties sit at the end, like children sent to the children's table at Christmas dinner. You claim it's because there's no room but really it's because you're sick of the sight of them.

And let's not talk about the House Of Lords. We don't have to! They're not elected, so not actually part of democracy at all.

I don't have a problem with elected representatives. Constant referendums is a shoddy way to run democracy and it assumes too much of the public and the media.

I just wish our elected representatives actually represented the people who elected them.

I shouldn't have to feel fucking embarrassed when I explain to international people how my country's democracy does not work.

So. I'm sweating ALL OVER, and in 2 hours my alarm will go off - 6am Thailand time, midnight UK time. I will watch the results come in because politics is my football.

5 years ago I watched the 2010 UK election with international people in a sports bar in Wellington. I was despondent when it was clear we wouldn't get a result that day - or the next day, or even that week.

This incoming dog's dinner of results we will receive today will make 2010 look like a dance in a paddling pool.

People will be angry about why their votes aren't represented in MPs.

People will be angry that 2 parties who do not even have a majority of MPs OR votes, in a despicable system that favours them, will be shouting the word "LEGITIMACY" at each other in the press.

People will be angry that the top-hat wearing, poor-hating, student-hating, homeless-hating, jobless-hating, corporate tax-cut cretins we call "the Conservative Party" haven't been strung up by their austerity policies which every sane country has dumped in the bin.

With a little luck, and maybe Labour + Liberal Democrat + SNP courage, the media and the political establishment will focus on how to fix our constitutional shitbath before the next election delivers some kind of fascist military junta with a nuclear cat as Prime Minister and a shiny turd for Chancellor of the Exchequer.

I'm not betting on anything though.

Here is a petition to change our broken voting system. Nearly 100,000 people signed it before voting even finished. You should sign it too.

Friday, 10 April 2015

Why Do People Make Plans That Don't Make Sense?

In my last 6+ years of living, moving and travelling, there's been a lot of plans: plans made, plans changed, plans succeeded and failed.

For me, this has largely revolved around visas. All of my visas for NZ and Australia have been 1 year - which makes planning beyond that time very difficult.

That said, it's suited me very well. I don't need to know what I'll be doing in 5 years' time - I still scoff at the idea of 5-year-plans, at people going on dinner dates saying "So where do you see yourself in five years' time?"

Juggling rabbits? Owning the moon? Peru? Fuuuuuuuuuuuck off.

But I do like to have a very good idea about where I'll be in 1 year, and a fairly good sketch for 2 years. Having a guide is useful, and staying flexible is too.

In amongst all this, people often ask me things like:
  • "So why are you doing that?"
  • "Why can't you do that?"
  • "That's a bit weird isn't it?"
I've even asked myself these things too!

What people often don't know or see is the bewildering variety of factors involved - with two big ones being visas and money.

People asked me why I couldn't "just stay in New Zealand", as if being part of the Commonwealth means that visas just become this magical thing only unicorns have to deal with.

Particular skill sets, or a lack of, then become a factor. Yes I have skills, just not the right ones according to New Zealand Immigration.

The availability of particular flights, and reasons for choosing particular airlines, often guides some particular decisions (while blocking others).

All of this shapes decisions and plans like carving a sculpture, from something very simple into something most people don't understand unless they were the person who had to carve it.

And then, random events can turn up and change everything: hurricanes, breakups, a death in the family. These are usually frustrating (not to mention very sad) but can also be opportunities. In 2003, when SARS was breaking out everywhere, I got to change my ticket and visit Japan - something the original booking didn't allow.

These factors, from the long-term to the immediate, often help or force us to work out who we are - at least in any given year.

Do you think you've changed in the last year, 5 years, 10 years? What were the factors that lead to this change?

So here I am, sitting in the observation deck at Bangkok's Don Mueang airport, waiting for my flight to Chiang Mai (on an Adventure Time-themed plane!!!).

I'll be there for much shorter than I planned, before flying to Macau / Hong Kong before my visa expires, because extending it costs almost as much as a flight, so I might as well see another 2 countries, and I'm flying into Macau because it was cheaper and a better time than Hong Kong, but flying out of Hong Kong to Bangkok because I don't want to take the ferry twice...... you get the idea.

So, the next time someone tells you their plans or life story which don't seem to make any kind of sense, feel free to genuinely (and politely) ask what factors were involved - or just smile and nod, acceptingly, knowing the universe is full of this weird stuff.

And yes, I'm very much looking forward to living in a country where my visa status isn't an issue. Even if my accent means people ask where I'm from.

Update: My plane was not Adventure Time-themed. I'm devastated.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Packing 6yrs of your life is like a greatest hits with 12 songs

Well here we are.

I had so many Australia blog posts to write - the Mite Tasting (comparing 6 types of Marmite); that time the Invasion Day protest crashed the official Australia Day parade and it was totally awesome; why Aus & NZ buildings are made appallingly, because they still cling to a pioneer mindset; and so on.

But time has rushed away with me. It takes me so long to write blog posts I always put it off, and even then, I'm still not quite sure anyone really reads my blog...

But punctuation points in life require them. I started this blog in 2008 before I left on my big 1yr adventure to NZ, and here I am, nearly 7 years later, with a different accent and a different outlook about to begin to last leg back to England.

Talking of legs, if you think packing to live in another country is hard, packing to come back is like chopping off entire parts of yourself. No you can't take that. No you can't that take. No, that thing you were working on can't be part of life any more. No, that pile called "Absolutely Necessary" will have to be half that size.

I am worried people in my own country will keep correcting my English.

I am terrified there will be no one single neighbourhood in London, unlike Wellington or Fitzroy, where I can feel safe wearing a skirt.

But first, I have some time in Thailand, and maybe Laos too. Going to Thailand under the military rule - with democracy suspended - feels weirder than when I went to Laos, where they are communist and don't even pretend to be a democracy. Despite being a privileged foreigner, I will be more careful than ever what I say. But Thailand is depressingly used to coups by now, and I'm sure normal life continues for the most part.

I wanted to write blog posts about Melbourne, and Australia, and how I've barely visited Australia and just been staying in the progressive liberal cosmopolitan island that is Melbourne.

I wanted to write about how Australia DOES have a racism problem. Australia has mostly gotten over its petty European racism - hate and fear of Greeks, Italians, Irish and Catholics - and replaced it with ignoracism of boat people and refugees, and all the time, an utterly despicable treatment of Aboriginals. Australia is in the shadow of shame and is many, many decades from being free of it.

I wanted to write about how wonderful Melbourne is, but also how wanky it is, and how it takes a cynical Brit to see both of these together.

I wanted to write about my amazing housemate and Wellington friend Theresa, who has made my 15 months so so awesome.

I wanted to write about all the cool people I've met and the new friends I've made and the things I've learned in 15 months.

But here I am at the airport, like so many other blog posts, ready to travel without moving.

Unlike other blog posts, I'm about to mix a mocha and a pinot noir and finally create the dirty drink of my dreams: the mochapinot.

Cheers Australia, it's been good.

Mmmm, not bad.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Who's Unsustainable? Aboriginal "Lifestyle Choices" VS Agriculture Propped Up By Travellers And Cheap Labour

I'm very sad to make this one of my last posts from Australia. But here is one of the few unique things I can add to a really, really shitty time for Indigenous Australians.

As if they don't have it hard enough already.

I came to Australia on a working holiday visa for 1 year. You can apply for a second year, and living in Melbourne has been great, so I considered it.

The condition is you have to do at least 3 months' of "specified work" in a "designated regional area" - including plant and animal cultivation, fishing and pearling, tree farming and felling, mining, and construction.

So basically, agriculture, or mining and construction, out in the country.

I have 2 friends whose stories sum up everything I have heard:
  • the work is unpaid or underpaid,
  • frequently dodgy and undocumented with no work agreements or contracts,
  • by farms and rural employers taking advantage of foreigners desperate to stay another year.

Friend #1 went 2hrs north, only just outside of Melbourne. She worked on a cattle farm, doing standard cattle farm work - often dirty and physical, at very early hours, 6 days a week.

They were paid nothing. There were others doing the same work. They were also paid nothing.

Friend #2 barely even found work. She went to New South Wales and did some basic tasks for an old lady far from anywhere, but this only lasted a few weeks. Hearing about a zucchini farm over the border in Queensland, she caught a ride with a fellow traveller - only to find that the farm was so full of backpackers, the waiting list for work was 2 weeks long.

The farm had an army of unskilled labourers, all desperate to do back-breaking work for little pay, like a scene from Depression-era California in The Grapes Of Wrath.

Travellers paid for their accommodation, whether they were working or just waiting for work.

You're starting to get the picture, but let me add 2 points:
  • 457 visas: Australians are increasingly angry, rightly or wrongly, with rural employers abusing the 457 "skilled work" visa system to employ cheap labour from overseas - instead of employing Australian workers with decent wages and conditions
  • Brain drain, body drain: Younger Australians are increasingly leaving remote and rural communities for opportunities on the coast and in the cities

To me, the situation is clear. Australian agriculture and Australian remote communities are unsustainable.

Why does Immigration Australia need to bribe foreigners with a 2nd year in return for farm work? Why are Australians unwilling to do this work?

Because farms, and food suppliers, and supermarkets, and Australian consumers, are not willing to pay to the high wages it costs to do manual work in the middle of nowhere.

Then consider that it's more expensive to provide services - healthcare, schools, telecommunications, welfare, etc. - to remote villages and towns than the economic value they provide in return.

That's okay, that's how villages work. They're less efficient than cities, they're harder to access, but we subsidise them anyway, because we don't want to see services shut down and people have to leave their homes and communities.

Unless they're Aboriginals.

What's happening now is that the federal (national) government has announced it's withdrawing funding for services to remote Aboriginal communities in 2016.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who actually made himself Minister for Women when he hates women, similarly made himself Minister for Aboriginal Affairs before saying things like "there was nothing but bush" when white settlers arrived in 1788.

Abbott justified the funding cuts because it was unfair to prop up people's "lifestyle choices" if they wanted to live in remote communities.

Now the state of Western Australia has identified 150 Aboriginal communities it wants to close.

Let's get this straight. Indigenous Australians occupied a whole continent in hundreds of cultures with thousands of languages before white people turned up. Then from 1788 they got 200 years of colonialism, warfare, disease, rape, stolen generations, having languages suppressed, being wiped out in Tasmania, and most crucially having their land taken away from them.

This is not a case of "What did the Romans ever do for us?". This is not even on the same level as colonisation of the Maori in neighbouring New Zealand, where they have the Treaty of Waitangi.

Indigenous Australians suffered a sustained juggernaut of disease, war, and cultural suppression, which is why they are just 3% of today's Australian population and far more likely to die in prison, suffer mental health problems, drug and alcohol problems, have a lower life expectancy, etc. etc. etc.... It's a long list.

In modern Australia, the horrors of colonisation have been replaced with bureaucracy and numbers - these are easier to hide and ignore, especially with the highly conservative Australian media. So instead of sending in police and bulldozers to actively remove Aboriginals from their land, today's approach is simply withdrawing the funding necessary to sustain their communities.

Let's be clear. It is white colonialists who, by aggressively stealing land, forced Indigenous Australians to live in fixed isolated communities - battered, poor and disempowered - and forced them into a situation where federal funding support is necessary.

Now the Prime Minister calls it an unsustainable "lifestyle choice" which shouldn't be propped up by the taxpayer.

That's a crock of shit.

Protestors use the word "genocide". It's a highly emotive word and many people will call it overdramatic. But the problem is actually a limited understanding of what "genocide" means.

We understand today that "rape" takes many more forms than just the cliché of a stranger waiting in the bushes. So too, "genocide" is not simply massacre through bloody warfare - it's the consistent persecution and strangulation of an entire set of peoples.

I'm not a spiritual person. I don't think land is literally sacred. When people talk about Indigenous Australians' "connection to the land", I don't think it's mystical or magical. It is, however, cultural and economic.

This is about persecution and discrimination.

I don't think federal or state governments are actively racist, that they deliberately want to see the death of Aboriginal culture. The racist decisions made by governments are simply the result of a wealthy, ignorant and white political establishment, in the interests of mining profits and tax revenues, against populations without a voice.

Aboriginals are neither rich enough, nor numerous enough, to listen to. They certainly don't change elections.

Most of this is already being said in Australia: the appalling treatment of Indigenous Australians (and attitudes towards them) is well-known by most progressive Aussies.

The purpose of this blog post is to highlight the rank hypocrisy of punishing Indigenous communities as "unsustainable" when Australian agriculture would collapse without being propped up by cheap foreign labour.

It's also to explain the situation to my family and friends outside Australia who may know nothing about the situation here, or heard that Kevin Rudd "said sorry" so it's probably all kind of okay now.

Australia remains with a tiny brutalised indigenous population, an uncaring and ignorant majority, and a gaping hole where a treaty should be.

Take action

This is the tip of the iceberg - there are many other threats and issues facing Indigenous Australians, such as the Northern Territory intervention (military policing of Aboriginal communities in NT), and recent attempts by the Federal Government to remove Aboriginal legal aid. Even Australia's national holiday has no place for Aborigines.

However, this push to remove Aborigines from their communities is an imminent situation which has spurred huge numbers of people across Australia into action.

Whether you are in Australia or another country entirely, you can support Indigenous Australians and oppose these actions via the website and follow the Facebook page "Stop The Forced Closure Of Aboriginal Communities in Australia".

There is a mass nationwide (international?) day of protest on Friday 1st May.

Hashtags on social media include:

The Aboriginal Flag - learn more on Wikipedia

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Horned Warrior Friends web comic: The Story So Far!

Meet my little buddies Unicorn, Triceratops, Rhino and Narwhal. Together they make up the Horned Warrior Friends!

The Horned Warrior Friends
These guys have evolved from a simple joke on a T-shirt - Unicorns Vomit Rainbows, Rhinos Vomit Greyscale - into a fun and cheeky webcomic with fabulous characters, bright colours and deadpan humour.

They already have a Facebook page (look for Horned Warrior Friends) and I'm hoping to set up a new blog dedicated to their adventures and silly jokes.

But for now here's the story so far, by which I mean, all the comics so far.

Where it all started!
Remember you can get all of them on a print, T-shirt, mug etc. at my Redbubble page!

If you like them, share it around!

Unicorn and Narwhals at Triceratops Party

Noah Is A Total Jerk (Unicorn Narwhal Evolution)

We Ride At Dawn

Communicorn's Alignment

Penguicorn Insurrection

Llamacorn and Alpacacorn: They Fight Crime

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Mythical Creatures Chart explained

In mid 2012, I spent a week of late nights making an epic diagram of mythical creatures. Now suddenly, over the last 2 months, it's clocked up over 150,000 shares on Tumblr (thanks @Soopertreeman!).

So this is a blog post including the background and context I originally wrote up on the Redbubble product page (where you can buy it).

From assuming it would be an easy design taking 2 or 3 hours, it very quickly sucked me in as a huge project.

The more I looked up interesting mythical creatures I'd never heard of, like Uchchaihsharavas and Tikbalang and Makara, the more I was fixated on expanding and laying out this complicated diagram, ending up with 57 mythical creatures and legends made up from 17 real world animals.

Click to expand or check out products on Redbubble
And then I spent an entire week converting it into a underground subway map! You can see that below and buy it on Redbubble here.


I had an idea for a Venn/Euler diagram of mythical creatures, and someone showed me Unwin and Carline’s chart from 2009. This is a very classy diagram but there are some inaccuracies (e.g. Mermaid is human + fish, not narwhal) and I knew I could make a far more comprehensive chart.


Uchchaihshravas, flying 7-headed horse
in Hindu mythology. Image from Wikipedia
My research was conducted via Wikipedia and Google Images, along with my own knowledge and memories of playing Warhammer Fantasy Battle as a kid. I make no apology for this.


This was a difficult chart to create! I know that many people will either have a problem with the way I’ve laid it out, or a suggestion/complaint about something that hasn’t been included.

It's certainly not perfect, but this was the best I could do, and I’m happy with it.


Unwin & Carline's 2009 diagram -
classy but minimal
All creatures and characters listed in the chart have a heritage in historical mythology.

One of my problems with Unwin and Carline’s chart from 2009 is the “Mermahuataur”, which they just made up for a joke, which is fair enough. That is not happening here though.

Recent inventions like the Pegacorn are not included (much as I love the Pegacorn).

Cryptids like the Loveland Frog and Yeti are not welcome here. Or Manbearpig! Sorry not sorry.


Centaur, Ipotane, Tikbalang and Buraq are all different combinations of horse + human. Pegasus, Hippogriff and Hippalectryon are all different versions of horse + bird.

Russian folklore features both the Sirin and the Gamayun, but they are identical in form, so only the Sirin was included.


Sleipnir, 8-legged horse in Norse mythology.
Image from Wikipedia
As a fan of dinosaurs, it would have been easy for me to include Dragon as lizard + bird. But dragon wings are strictly lizard-like, scaly and/or leathery wings, not feathered (unlike the Cockatrice). So they had to go down as lizard + bat.


I felt strange including the Narwhal like Unwin and Carline, because it seems like a mythical combination of animals in its own right. But it’s a real, single creature!

For Unicorn, I could have used rhino instead, but the nature and shape of the narhwal’s tusk is far closer to the unicorn’s horn.


Gorgon is included instead of Medusa, but there is no clear name for a horse with wings, so Pegasus is included by name.

The same goes for humans or legends who are individuals and do not come from any species.


Longma, the Chinese "dragon horse".
Image from Wikipedia
This is a very hazy area, and one person’s religion is another person’s mythology. But I tried to stick to mythical creatures, rather than religious “gods”, and not including things like angels. Ammit, for instance, seems more of a mythical creature than the Egyptian gods like Anubis. Ultimately though I just used my own judgement.


Some creatures are sometimes known as having wings, but are not listed as part-bird, e.g. Chimaera. This is because some creatures are definitely, exclusively winged (e.g. the Lamassu) while some like the Chimaera and Manticore are not always winged.


Some legends are not clear about whether something is part lizard or snake (Ladon, Hydra), or part snake or fish (Ophiotaurus). I’ve done my best.


Uchchaihshravas – 7-headed flying horse from Hindu mythology
Hippalectryon – back end of a rooster, front end of a horse. Great name!
Zahhak – Persian legend with snakes rising from his shoulders
Hecatonchires – the “hundred-handed” (and fifty-headed) destroyers of the Titans from Greek mythology
Chimaera – lion’s body and head, goat head, lizard head and snake for a tail. Can’t beat it for totally bad-ass monster.


Argos Panoptes
Bai Ze
Chimaera (chimera)
Griffon (Griffin, Gryphon)
Hecatonchires (Hekatonkheires)
Hippocamp (Hippocampus)
Sun Crow (Three-Legged Crow)

Thursday, 1 January 2015

My To-Do List For 2015

It's a good thing I never compare my achievements of the year with last year's to-do list. I always bite off more than I can chew and it would make accomplishments look like failure.

The surprisingly straightforward 3rd album
I do waste a lot of time, and I constantly feel like I should be achieving more. But maybe we all feel like that?

Anyway, since diarykeeping + blogs = oversharing, here's what I did this year:
  • Moved to a new country and learnt a new city
  • Made heaps of new designs and expanded my web presence
  • Wrote, recorded and released a new album (plus artwork)
  • Developed Photoshop skills including automation and batch processing
  • Got into my stride with kink
  • Moved house 3 times and found 2 good jobs

The Bourbon Espresso!
It's literally a shot of bourbon and a shot of espresso.
Obviously I did heaps more than this, but "drinking lots of mochas" and "inventing the bourbon espresso" don't quite meet the threshold for major achievements.

2015's to-do list, however, does include lots of details. This is both good and bad.

Here for example are some of the "small but necessary" things:
  • Finally finish and re-release NO UP (really, it's been 5 years since it came out)
  • Finally complete archiving my old band F451 (seriously, we broke up 7 years ago)
  • "Do more gigs" (important but vague)
  • Read 5 good books (a tiny number, but still more than I read this year)

And so on. These things are shitty, precisely because they are so achievable - doing them is barely an accomplishment, but NOT doing them brings shame and fury from the self-police.

So really, this is the important list, the big stuff. I want to:
  • Move back to England, from Australia, via Thailand
  • Get a job in London
  • Move to London
  • Make a charity T-shirt design every month
  • Save more
  • Start a part-time masters
  • Learn Illustrator
  • Learn basic programming
  • Make a basic app
  • Start a business
Easy, right? Can't be too hard.

Anyway New Zealand has literally, this minute, celebrated 2015. Happy new year New Zealand!

And happy new year to all of you. Thanks for being awesome, please make the world a better place in 2015.

Jezo Kempo x